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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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September 24, 2023

Key Takeaways:

  • The substance of President Joe Biden's meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday exemplified what "pro-Israel" means in 2023.

  • Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, went on an antisemitic rant on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. No Republican organizations, no Republican members of Congress, and none of Trump's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination condemned him. Antisemitism is acceptable within the GOP, which is why the GOP should be unacceptable to us.

  • Trump's policies were not good for Israel but even if they were, they would not excuse his antisemitism or the GOP's toleration of antisemitism at the highest levels of leadership.

  • President Biden brought home Americans held hostage in Iran at no cost to American taxpayers. In return, $6 billion that was owed to Iran will now be available under procedures ensuring that it can only be used for humanitarian purposes.

  • If we care about Israel, if we care about the United States, then we should care about the democratic values that are the foundation of both countries as we know them today and that are the foundation of the alliance between the U.S. and Israel. Please urge your member of Congress to join the growing list of cosponsors of H.Con.Res.61 in support of Israeli democracy.

  • Wishing everyone fasting for Yom Kippur an easy fast. I won't be sending a newsletter on October 1 because that's the second day of Sukkot (Chag Sameach) or on October 8 because that's Simchat Torah, so look for a weekday newsletter at some point and then back to our regular Sunday morning schedule starting October 15.

Read to the end for corrections, what you may have missed last week, fun stuff, and our event with Senate candidate Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) on October 6.

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.

Hi Steve,

On Wednesday, President Biden, the leader of the Democratic Party and its presumptive 2024 nominee for president, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The substance of his meeting provides a good working definition of what "pro-Israel" means in 2023. The readout is not long and I'm not going to summarize it. Please take a moment to read it.

Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, went on an antisemitic rant on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Trump posted on Truth Social that "liberal Jews" voted to "destroy America & Israel" and warned Jewish Americans "let's hope you learned from your mistake." Leading Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), condemned Trump's post as antisemitic

Neil Steinberg wrote that “liberal Jews” "is one of those qualifiers intended as a fig leaf to the obscenity of hate, like 'illegal immigrants.' A distinction without a difference." If you think there is a distinction, remember that 75% of Jewish Americans voted for Biden--the "liberal Jews" Trump referred to are the vast majority of Jewish Americans. Maybe Trump likes 25% of us. But as Yair Rosenberg explains, those who "make lists of bad Jews or suggest that Jews aren’t proper Jews if they don’t adopt a certain ideology are not allies of the Jews. They’re the people laying the groundwork for persecution."

To date, no Republican organizations, no Republican members of Congress, and none of Trump's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, now or in the past, has condemned Trump for any of his antisemitic rhetoric. As JDCA CEO Halie Soifer pointed out, "the only conclusions we can draw are that they agree with him and think they will not pay a price for refusing to confront blatant antisemitism from within their own party."

Trump is not an outlier in the Republican Party. He is not some out-of-pattern member of Congress. Republican voters chose him to lead their party in 2016 and 2020. He is far ahead in the Republican polls today. His antisemitism is not an exception within Republican leadership.

The top four House Republicans, all elected by their GOP peers, have histories of antisemitism:

  • Republicans elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), an election denier, as their House Leader and Speaker of the House. In 2018, McCarthy posted and then deleted an antisemitic tweet about Jewish money in politics following outcry from the Jewish community. He never apologized, and he doubled down by refusing to admit it was antisemitic. His Republican colleagues responded not by censuring him, asking him to resign, or stripping him of committee assignments, but by electing him Leader. (Republicans seem to have a thing for this antisemitic trope — in that same election cycle, at least six Republicans ran ads featuring Jews clutching cash.)

Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden has no history of antisemitism. Unlike House Republican leadership, Democratic House leadership has no history of antisemitism. Unlike Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Congress are swift to condemn antisemitism within their ranks. To be fair, antisemitism from rank and file Democrats in Congress is much less common than antisemitism from rank and file Republicans in Congress. If you want receipts, I've got them.

But what about Trump's policies on Israel? JDCA CEO Halie Soifer wrote in her Haaretz op-ed, What Donald Trump Doesn't Understand About U.S. Jews, that Trump's "policies on Israel, whether good or bad, are not a defense to his bigoted, hateful and dangerous rhetoric."

But let's examine his policies. Trump did nothing to further prospects for a two-state solution. Iran was weeks away from nuclear weapons capability when he left office--it was more than a year away when Trump entered office and before Trump broke the Iran Nuclear deal while Iran was still in compliance. Trump's policies were good for settlement expansion and good for those who value cheap talking points over substantive efforts to protect Israel's democracy, secure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state, and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If you need a refresher on Trump's record on Israel, I've got it.

But what about Biden's deal to rescue American detainees from Iran? This is a manufactured controversy if there ever was one. If you are against this deal, you are against Americans coming back home and you are against Iranian people having access to food and medicine.

The deal does not cost American taxpayers a dime and will not fund Iran's nefarious activities. The deal did not involve the unfreezing of assets but rather the release of money sitting in South Korean banks owed to Iran for oil purchases but not yet paid by South Korea to Iran. The U.S. facilitated the payment that Iran would have eventually received to get the hostages released now. This diplomatic achievement becomes more significant when one realizes that these hostages were dual nationals. We considered them Americans--and they are Americans--but Iran considered them Iranian, which added a layer of complication and emotion.

The account in South Korea was not a frozen or blocked account under U.S. laws. The funds were in South Korea because, in 2018, the Trump administration approved certain designated countries—including South Korea, India and Turkey--to continue to buy oil and deposit the funds in special accounts available to Iran for “bilateral non-sanctionable trade” between Iran and those countries. The accounts in India and Turkey were spent subject to those restrictions. The funds in South Korea were not spent due to administrative and logistical challenges associated with those accounts, among other reasons.


As part of the detainee deal, the U.S. allowed the funds to move to Qatar, where they will be useable in Euros, but available only for a limited category of humanitarian trade: food, medicine, agricultural goods, consistent with U.S. sanctions. The U.S. has stringent due diligence and oversight arrangements in place to ensure the funds are used as intended. If they are not, we can stop further transactions. We have not lifted any of our sanctions on Iran.

Watch this two-minute explainer from Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO). Read this short thread from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). Read Barbara Slavin's September 13 testimony (not long) before the House Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs.

As Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "the monies that were freed up were Iranian funds that they had gotten from the sale of oil that were stuck in a bank and that, from day one, had been exempt from our sanctions. In other words, the Iranians have always had the right to use those funds for humanitarian purposes. We moved them from one bank account to another in another country with very clear controls on them to make sure that they could only be used for humanitarian purposes. Not a single taxpayer dollar is in involved...This is all for humanitarian purposes. So I think in order to get Americans home, that was a pretty good deal...

"From day one, our sanctions, the penalties that we try to impose on countries that are engaged in activities like Iran is that we profoundly object to, have always, always exempted humanitarian needs. [Regarding fungibility] the Iranians have always found a way to spend money for the nefarious actions that they’re engaged in. They’ve done it before sanctions, during sanctions, after sanctions."

Urge Congress to support Israeli democracy. Shared values are the basis for an enduring U.S.-Israel relationship. If either country succumbs to its authoritarian undercurrents the relationship will be irredeemably damaged. Please urge your member of Congress to cosponsor H.Con.Res.61, Rep. Jan Schakowsky's (D-IL) resolution in support of Israeli democracy. The number of co-sponsors continues to grow but Steve, if your member of Congress is not among them, we don't have enough.

This resolution is supported by Politics with Dana and Steve, Jewish Democratic Council of America, Jewish Democratic Outreach of Pennsylvania, J Street, Israel Policy Forum, UnXeptable, Partners for Progressive Israel, Ameinu, NY Jewish Agenda, Americans for Peace Now, Union for Reform Judaism, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, and T’ruah, among others, including the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area.

Does your area's JCRC support this resolution? Is your member of Congress a co-sponsor? If not, ask why not--if they claim to represent you, they owe you an explanation.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly on September 22. Netanyahu noted in his speech that the Palestinians are only 2% of the Arab world but did not note that they are roughly 50% of the people in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza (or that Jews too are only 2% of the region). He also displayed maps of Israel, one purportedly from 1948, that included the West Bank. The West Bank is not and never has been part of the modern State of Israel; it has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Contrary to Netanyahu's characterization, the Abraham Accords are normalization agreements, not peace agreements.

You wouldn't know from Netanyahu's speech that Israel needs a two-state solution to remain Jewish and democratic or that his government is pursuing policies inimical to that goal. Nor would you know his government is proposing a judicial overhaul that would endanger Israel's democracy within the pre-1967 lines. But those of us who support a secure, democratic State of Israel know it. That's why we support the protest movement in Israel and speak out for democracy at home and abroad--including in Israel. An Israel that looked like the Israel on Netanyahu's maps might be Jewish or it might be democratic, but it would not and could not be both.

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 the previous newsletter was perfect.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Michael Koplow: "For years, it was the American left that supposedly did not understand Israel or know what was going on there. Today, it is crystal clear that it is the American right that is entirely out of touch with what is unfolding in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem."

Tweets of the Week. Aryeh Lebowitz and David Zvi.

Tik Tok of the Week. Halie Soifer.

Video Clip of the Week. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA). I could watch this on repeat over and over again. This is how you respond to nonsense. And this. And this.

Upcoming Event. Politics with Dana and Steve, Jill Zipin, and a growing host committee is hosting a light breakfast and conversation with U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in Highland Park, IL on Friday, October 6, from 9:00 a.m. CT to 10:00 a.m. CT. RSVP here.

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.

My most popular Times of Israel posts are How Not To Define Antisemitism and Pro-Israel Or Pro-Bibi? I periodically update my Medium posts on why Democrats are better than Republicans on Israel and antisemitism. 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.

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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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