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Steve Sheffey's Pro-Israel Political Update

Calling balls and strikes for the pro-Israel community since 2006

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November 26, 2023

Key Takeaways from an only slightly longer-than-usual newsletter:

  • The return of 50 hostages abducted by Hamas in violation of international law and all norms of decency on the day that Hamas murdered more Jews than have been killed on any single day since the Holocaust is welcome news, but Israel and the civilized world must continue to fight for the release of all the hostages and for the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.

  • Hamas bears the blame for the undeniable suffering of innocent Palestinians trapped by a terrorist organization that embeds itself in civilian infrastructure such as the Shifa Hospital.

  • President Biden asked Congress to approve an aid package for Israel and Ukraine that included humanitarian aid and $14.3 billion for Israel on October 20. More than a month later it has not reached his desk because instead of passing it, House Republicans attempted to condition emergency aid to Israel on cutting funds for the IRS, a pet project favored by their donors. Republicans are good at saying what we want to hear at rallies; they are not good at supporting Israel during its time of need.

  • But Republicans found time to force a vote on an amendment that ostensibly would have fought antisemitism on college campuses but was, as Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) explained, "cheap political gamesmanship" and "unconstitutional value-signaling nonsense." We should commend those who voted against this amendment, which will likely not survive scrutiny by adults in the Democratic-controlled Senate. (Nadler is the most senior Jewish member of Congress and represents a district with one of the largest Jewish populations in the country.)

Read to the end for corrections, what you may have missed last week, fun stuff, and upcoming events.

You're welcome to read for free, but if you want to chip in to help defray the cost of the newsletter, click here to pay by credit card or PayPal. Just fill in the amount of your choice. If you see something that says "Save your info and create a PayPal account," click the button to the right and it will go away. You don't need a PayPal accountOr you can Venmo @Steven-Sheffey (last four phone digits are 9479). You can send a check too. But no crypto or gold bars.

Hi Steve,

Following nearly seven weeks of intense diplomatic engagement between Israel, the U.S., Qatar, and Egypt, 50 of the 240 hostages held by Hamas are expected to be released (separately, Hamas seems to be releasing non-American and non-Israeli nationals at the same time). In return, Israel will release 150 women and juvenile Palestinian security prisoners, suspend the war for four days, and suspend the war an additional day for each additional ten hostages Hamas releases. In violation of international law, Hamas continues to prevent the Red Cross from visiting the remaining hostages and providing medication.

Rabbi Jay Michaelson writes that "the hostage deal requires Israeli leaders to compromise on several core moral and political imperatives: Don’t negotiate with terrorists. Don’t settle for an imperfect agreement. Don’t give Hamas what it wants. And don’t allow violent criminals to go free. But painful compromise is exactly what leaders have to do sometimes."

There is no moral equivalence--Hamas is releasing innocent civilians it abducted under brutal circumstances and Israel is releasing violent criminals (yes, women and those under 18 can be violent). Israel is releasing three security prisoners for every hostage Hamas is releasing. This is the distasteful price when dealing with terrorists.

Michaelson notes that "as much as there may be a moral imperative not to negotiate with terrorists, so too Judaism has its own moral imperative to rescue captives — pidyon shvuyim — which, in traditional Jewish law at least, trumps almost all other moral considerations."

David Horowitz explains that Israel agreed because the need to free the hostages is urgent; Israel can take months or years to defeat Hamas, but the hostages must be released now, and this was the only way.

Horowitz writes that "the fact that cabinet ministers voted 35-3 in favor of the deal with the terror group that seized and is holding most of the hostages, and that organized and led the slaughter of 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7, underlines how potentially advantageous Israel’s political and security leadership believes the deal to be."

Israel's objectives have not changed: release of all the hostages and destruction of Hamas's military capacities. Until then, an unconditional ceasefire or a ceasefire of indefinite duration should remain off the table. Hamas has made innocent Palestinians pay a heavy price for the war it started with Israel. Video evidence proves that, as Israel maintained, Hamas conducted terrorist operations from within Shifa Hospital. The blame for the images we are seeing on TV rests with Hamas, not Israel.

Hamas murdered 1,200 people on October 7 (as a percentage of Israel's population, the equivalent of 40,000 Americans). More Jews were killed on that day than on any day since the Holocaust. Over 8,900 were wounded and evacuated to hospitals. The murder victims include 33 under the age of 17, 25 people over 80, and 304 with foreign citizenship. On October 7, 237 people were abducted to the Gaza Strip (in addition to the four abductees held by Hamas prior to October 7), including 43 minors – of these, ten were less than five years old. Hamas kidnapped 18 over the age of 75 and 26 with foreign citizenship (including dual).

Over 250,000 Israelis have left their homes because of at least 10,500 Hamas rocket attacks since October 7. Men aged 18-40 who were civilians on October 6 have been called up to fight in Gaza, which is a tremendous drain on Israel's economy. Israel's population is only nine million. It does not have a large standing army. To expect Israel to forego the strategic bombing campaigns necessary to remove Hamas installations prior to its ground campaign and sacrifice its own soldiers is to expect Israel to adhere to a standard no country can or should adhere to.

How many countries with the military power to stop this immediately would tolerate more than 10,500 rocket attacks in 50 days following the murder of 1,200 people and the kidnapping of 240 more? What country in history has acted with more restraint under similar circumstances than Israel?

The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry reports 14,532 Palestinians have been killed. If we accept this number, and if we deduct the hundreds or thousands of Hamas terrorists included in this number (they don't wear uniforms), it is undeniable that thousands of innocent Palestinians have died. They would be alive if Hamas did not start a war with Israel on October 7. They would be alive if Hamas allowed them to leave or evacuated them. They would be alive if Hamas did not use them as human shields.

Those who want the fighting to end--which I hope includes all of us--should not be calling on Israel to relent. No country under similar circumstances would or should tolerate this situation. Instead, we should pressure Hamas and its supporters and allies to release all of the hostages immediately and end its campaign of terror against Israel permanently. If you think that's too much to ask then you've implicitly acknowledged why Israel cannot agree to a permanent ceasefire yet.

John Spencer explains that Israel is complying with international law, but "there is no escaping that pursuing a terrorist organization touches off a nightmarish landscape of war. The visually repulsive imagery in Gaza essentially recreates the same scenes that unfolded under American and allied campaigns fighting Al Qaeda, ISIS and other terror groups, because that is what it looks like when you are forced to uproot a sadistic terror organization embedded in an urban area. Sadly, successful US-led or supported campaigns in places such as Mosul and Raqqa caused billions of dollars in damage and killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians; that is the hellish reality of defeating terrorism.

"Like all similar conflicts in modern times, a battle in Gaza will look like the entire city was purposely razed to the ground or indiscriminately carpet bombed – but it wasn’t. Israel possesses the military capacity to do so, and the fact that it doesn’t employ such means is further evidence that it is respecting the rules of war. It is also a sign that this is not revenge – a gross mischaracterization of Israeli aims – but instead a careful defensive campaign to ensure Israel’s survival."

Republicans continue to play games with Israel and antisemitism. Following the announcement of the hostage deal, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that "it is past due and urgently necessary for Congress to pass a bipartisan emergency supplemental with funding for Israel’s defense, humanitarian relief, Ukraine, and Taiwan. Neither Israelis fighting to eliminate Hamas, Gazans running out of critical supplies, or Ukrainians preparing for a hard winter can afford to wait.”

But Republicans think they can wait. Imagine America abandoning one of our closest allies in the world in its greatest moment of need. Unbelievably, this is exactly what House Republicans did by conditioning critical security assistance to Israel on cutting funding for the IRS. Israel is working to defeat Hamas, to ensure this barbaric terrorist group can never again massacre innocent Israelis in their homes. America should stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally, but while the GOP might say the right things, their actions speak louder than their words. The GOP wants to condition the vital support that Israel needs to win this war. Our support for Israel at this critical time should be unconditional and unequivocal as Israel works to protect its people.

Instead of passing President Biden's aid package for our allies, Republicans waste time on meaningless but attention-grabbing theatrics. On November 15, Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) offered an amendment (No. 114) to H.R.5894, the Fiscal Year 2024 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which would prohibit funding going to any higher education institution that supports an event where antisemitism allegedly takes place.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and other Democrats voted against the amendment (which passed the House and probably will be removed in the Senate) because, as Nadler explained, "threatening to pull federal funding from the universities and college campuses that need our help the most is, at best, wildly counterproductive. Moreover, the amendment is so broad that it threatens to defund institutions that are working in good faith to fight antisemitism on campus. Under Representative Lawler’s construction, a university might lose its funding if a single student showed up to a single event with a single antisemitic sign—even if that student had no affiliation with the school. It should also be noted that Congress doesn't cut funding to universities when individual students on campus use vile racist or homophobic speech."

Or as Nadler more succinctly tweeted, Lawler's amendment was "cheap political gamesmanship "and "unconstitutional value-signaling nonsense." That's the Republican approach to Israel and antisemitism in a nutshell.

In addition, Lawler's amendment would use--you guessed it--the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism (the IHRA definition) as its sole definition of antisemitism. What goes through these people's heads? We have many better definitions of antisemitism, but Lawler thinks to himself, "hmm...let's not use or even mention those. Instead, let's take a definition that is literally, by its own terms, a working definition that is not legally binding and codify that into law."

Corrections. I'm entitled to my own opinions but not to my own facts, so I appreciate it when readers bring errors to my attention. No one brought any mistakes to my attention last week, so it looks like last week's newsletter was perfect.

In Case You Missed It:

  • On November 17, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) led a letter with 55 members of Congress to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to address escalating violence in and along the West Bank that threatens a two-state solution. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for a two-state solution, not to create barriers to a two-state solution. Please thank these members of Congress.

Tweets of the Week. Yair Menchel and Aviva Klompas.

Twitter Thread of the Week. Dov Ben-Simon.

Best response to an unbelievably stupid question of the week. Eylon Levy.

Video Clips of the Week. To avoid any confusion: The John Spencer I quoted in the body of the newsletter was the urban warfare expert from West Point. This is the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. (But it would have been cool if Jon Spencer, not John Spencer, had written that article.)

And watch Tom Hanks and others from 1985 doing Jerry Seinfeld.

For those new to this newsletter. This is the newsletter even Republicans have to read and the original home of the viral and beloved 2022 and 2023 Top Ten Signs You're At a Republican Seder. If someone forwarded this to you, why not subscribe and get it in your inbox every Sunday? Just click here--it's free.

I periodically update my Medium posts on why Democrats are better than Republicans on Israel and antisemitism and on why the Antisemitism Awareness Act and the IHRA definition are the wrong solutions to real problems. You can read my most recent effort to define "pro-Israel" here (it's a work in progress, as am I).

I hope you enjoyed today's newsletter. Donations are welcome (this takes time to write and costs money to send). If you'd like to chip in, click here and fill in the amount of your choice. If you see something that says "Save your info and create a PayPal account," click the button to the right and it will go away. You don't need a PayPal account. Or you can Venmo @Steven-Sheffey (last four phone digits are 9479). You can send a check too. But no crypto or gold bars.

The Fine Print: This newsletter usually drops on Sunday mornings. Unless stated otherwise, the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of any candidates or organizations I support or am associated with. I value intellectual honesty over intellectual consistency, and every sentence should be read as if it began with the words "This is what I think today is most likely to be correct and I'm willing to be proven wrong, but..." Read views opposed to mine and make up your own mind. A link to an article doesn't mean I agree with everything its author has ever said or even that I agree with everything in the article; it means that the article supports or elaborates on the point I was making. I read and encourage replies to my newsletters but I don't always have time to acknowledge them or engage in one-on-one discussion. I'm happy to read anything, but please don't expect me to watch videos of any length--send me a transcript if it's that important. Don't expect a reply if your message is uncivil or if it's clear from your message that you only read the bullet points or failed to click on the relevant links. If you share an excerpt from this newsletter please share the link to the newsletter (near the top of the newsletter). My newsletter, my rules.

Dedicated to my daughters: Ariel Sheffey, Ayelet Sheffey, and Orli Sheffey z''l. Copyright 2023 Steve Sheffey. All rights reserved.

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