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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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February 4, 2024

Key Takeaways:

  • Israel has taken more measures to avoid needless civilian harm than virtually any other nation that's fought an urban war. Israel is the aggrieved party, and any ceasefire should be on terms acceptable to Israel, which must include return of all the hostages.

  • Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson lacked the moral compass to oppose a one-sided ceasefire resolution. Chicagoans should remember everyone who voted for this impactless but divisive and offensive resolution.

  • Republicans have yet to provide Israel and Ukraine the emergency funding requested by President Biden on October 20, choosing instead to play political games.

  • The Biden administration announced further measures to promote peace, security, and stability in the West Bank via an Executive Order authorizing sanctions against those participating in violent activity in the West Bank. Pursuant to that order, the State Department sanctioned four settlers. The order pertains to activity in the West Bank, not Israel.

  • Urge your members of Congress to oppose the Antisemitism Unawareness Act, which is a step backward from President Biden's National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.

Read to the end for corrections, what you may have missed last week, fun stuff, and our upcoming event with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

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,

On October 7, 2023, Hamas brutally murdered 1,200 people, murdering more Jews on any one day since the Holocaust. Hamas took 240 hostages and wounded thousands. Hamas still holds 136 hostages, including Kfir Bibas, who turned one year old in captivity, and at least 27 whom they've murdered. Every minute matters for those still alive. Roughly 250,000 Israelis have been displaced and cannot yet return to their homes.

Hamas's barbarism, its savage sexual violence, and its horrible mistreatment of hostages are beyond reasonable doubt. Yet despite the gruesome documentation (much of it provided by Hamas itself), witnesses, and hostage accounts, some continue to deny, erase, minimize, and rationalize these atrocities.

No one is denying the immense suffering in Gaza. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on January 30, "if Hamas actually cared about the needs of the Palestinians in Gaza, they would end this conflict today. This is a conflict Hamas set in motion on October 7, when they carried out the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust. And so, the entire international community should call on Hamas to lay down its arms, to stop using civilians as human shields, and to release every single hostage."

John Spencer, the chair of urban warfare studies at West Point, writes that "Israel has taken more measures to avoid needless civilian harm than virtually any other nation that's fought an urban war" and that "the sole reason for civilian deaths in Gaza is Hamas. For Israel's part, it's taken more care to prevent them than any other army in human history."

Israel is the aggrieved party. The only acceptable ceasefire is a ceasefire acceptable to Israel, which would include return of all the hostages. Israel has made substantial progress in degrading Hamas's capabilities, which makes an extended pause in exchange for hostages more likely. Pauses can lead to more pauses, and moving Israel out of war mode for extended periods might also make it easier to remove Netanyahu from office, which itself would be a major plus.

My kind of town, Chicago was. Last month, San Fransisco Mayor London Breed issued the statement that, if he had any moral compass, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson would have issued, noting that neither city council members nor mayors are elected or qualified to weigh in on foreign policy issues like these. Illinois Governor JB Pritzker noted the resolutions's deficiencies and said, “It’s a nonbinding resolution that passed just barely, 50-50, in the City Council. It doesn't send much of a message” to Washington.

The same day Johnson cast the deciding vote in favor of a wrongheaded ceasefire resolution, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed a ceasefire resolution, and he lived to tell the tale. Fortunately, what Chicago alders think about foreign policy won't sway anyone in Congress. But their votes should sway Chicagoans anytime they see the names of those who voted for this resolution on the ballot, starting with Brandon Johnson. I would not be surprised if he puts ketchup on hot dogs.

The Republican response is to deny Israel emergency funding. Republicans say they support Israel (gullible much?) but on September 29, 2023, 198 House Republicans — 90% — drafted, brought to the floor, and voted for legislation that included cutting aid to Israel by 30%, which would have violated our Memorandum of Understanding with Israel. Democrats unanimously opposed it and it failed despite overwhelming GOP support. If five or six Democrats is a Squad, what are they--a battalion?

President Biden asked Congress for $14.3 billion in emergency aid for Israel on October 20, 2023. After weeks of inaction, on November 2, 2023, Republicans conditioned emergency aid to Israel on cutting funding to the Internal Revenue Service to make it easier for tax cheats. As Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) pointed out in JDCA's California Senate Democratic Primary Issues Forum on Friday, the U.S. has never conditioned aid to our allies while they were at war, and now is not the time to start.

David Frum wrote on January 28 that "when it comes to aiding allies in a shooting war, rather than a culture war, suddenly [GOP House Speaker Mike] Johnson and his caucus are nowhere to be found ... when Hamas murdered 1,200 people in their homes and workplaces, House Republicans seized the opportunity to come to the rescue not of Israel but of TurboTax." On November 15, 2023, Republicans attempted to move the same bill in the Senate and failed.  

Republicans, despite telling us that we have a border crisis, are refusing to pass a package that would include border security and aid to Israel and Ukraine. Some members of the Democratic caucus want to attach conditions on aid to Israel--but not Democratic leadership.

But Republicans did have time to introduce a bill that expands the current bar against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad members from entering the U.S. from entering the U.S. to include individuals not currently banned who took part in the October 7 massacre. All members of the PLO would be subject to additional visa restrictions under this bill, H.R. 6679. How many would be affected and what impact these additional restrictions will have, I don't know. It is not clear whether the Senate will vote on, let alone pass, this bill.

It passed the House 422-2-1 and it distracted, for the day, from the GOP failure to approve emergency aid for Israel and Ukraine. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) and Cori Bush (D-MO) were the two no votes, giving Republicans the chance to howl about 0.05% of the Democratic caucus voting the wrong way while the entire GOP caucus refuses to even allow aid to Israel to come to the floor for an up or down vote. If this vote proves anything, it's how little influence Tlaib and Bush have within the Democratic caucus on Israel--even a majority of the Squad voted for it. Any organization that fundraises off this is an organization not worth your support.

On February 3, Speaker Johnson said that he now wants to pass stand-alone funding only for Israel, with no IRS cuts, which seemed to be indispensable to him the last time around. No mention of the aid to Ukraine or border security that President Biden requested. He's asking the House to abandon Ukraine and border security for Israel--an easy lift for Republicans, many of whom (including Trump) seem to support Putin and would prefer that the border crisis remain unaddressed, but another political stunt designed to put Democrats in a box.

His proposed bill would provide $17.6 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to provide military assistance to "our great ally" Israel and to fund costs incurred by the U.S. military for support in the region. 

We learned last week that Johnson "has particularly close relationships with leaders of Christian dominionism, a radical sect of Christian fundamentalism that supports establishing an entirely Christian nation, opposes LGBTQ rights, and even defends slavery."

That's not good for Jews. Johnson is the #1 House Republican, but some individuals and organizations in our community prefer instead to focus on a handful of out of pattern on Israel Democrats known collectively as the Squad, despite their lack of influence within the Democratic Party.

Therein lies the difference between the two parties. The Republican Party and its leadership traffics in antisemitic rhetoric at the highest levels and has blocked aid to Israel. President Biden's entire supplemental aid package would have passed the House in October if Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) had been Speaker of the House.

Which party controls Congress matters, and if supporting Israel and fighting antisemitism matter to you, you should be working toward Democratic majorities in both chambers and on re-electing President Biden.

I'd rather have a functioning democracy with a Democratic majority that included a few outliers than a Republican majority committed to undermining our democracy, banning abortion, and abandoning our allies, even with a pristine Democratic minority. We need to get our priorities straight, and by "we," I mean anyone who supports Republicans for Congress or the presidency or who supports organizations that do.

The Biden administration announced further measures to promote peace, security, and stability in the West Bank. On February 1, President Biden issued an Executive Order establishing U.S. authority to issue financial sanctions against those directing or participating in certain actions, including acts or threats of violence against civilians, intimidating civilians to cause them to leave their homes, destroying or seizing property, or engaging in terrorist activity in the West Bank.

The order noted that "high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction — has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security, and stability of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, and the broader Middle East region. These actions undermine the foreign policy objectives of the United States, including the viability of a two-state solution and ensuring Israelis and Palestinians can attain equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom." There have been nearly 500 settler attacks against Palestinians since October 7.

However, the order applies to acts committed by settlers and Palestinians. The test is what is being done, not who is doing them. The West Bank is not part of Israel and the Executive Order does not apply to Israel. The authority established by the order applies to acts committed in the West Bank--what matters is what is being done, not who is doing them, as it is the actions themselves that are destabilizing and against U.S. interests. The State Department imposed sanctions on four settlers on February 1.

This Executive Order serves to reiterate the Biden administration's commitment to a two-state solution and its commitment to cracking down on those on either side who seek to derail a two-state solution through violence and intimidation. It also signals that Israelis who support a two-state solution and oppose settler violence have an ally in the White House. Most Israelis, understandably, are not in the mood right now to hear about a two-state solution. No one thinks a two-state solution is around the corner. The key is to prevent bad actors from seizing the moment and pushing a two-state solution further from reach.

There is no moral equivalence between Hamas and the settlers, and the Biden administration has repeatedly reiterated Israel's right to self-defense and its legitimate need to eradicate Hamas. Violent settler activity, though, is a serious obstacle to peace, and this Executive Order recognizes that fact.

What to do about UNRWA. Roughly 10% of the United Nations Refugee Relief Agency's employees--which serves only Palestinian refugees and their descendants--have ties to terror groups. But even if you think it's just a few bad apples, Chris Rock's logic applies here, and that's a few too many.

UNRWA might be rotten to the core. And one can question why a separate agency just for Palestinians is needed at all. The problem is that in the short run, we need an agency to funnel humanitarian aid into Gaza, and an alternative to UNRWA that can act in the short-term has not been identified. For now, writes Alex Lederman, UNRWA remains indispensable to Israel's interests and to mitigating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

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:

  • Some people say Israel should somehow use surgical strikes instead of bombing, as if Israel wouldn't if it could, but last week, when Israel killed three terrorists and only three terrorists in an operation that could have been something out of Fauda, Israel was accused of violating international law. If it's any consolation, Israel was accused of violating international law when it rescued the hostages in Entebbe.

  • Many world leaders issued statements on Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention Jews. But once again, Donald Trump--on the verge of winning the GOP nomination for president for the third time--leads the pack. His 2017 statement mentioned neither Jews, Judaism, nor antisemitism. None of his rivals for the GOP nomination, including Nikki Haley, have ever called Trump out for any of his antisemitism. Why would they? The GOP base doesn't care and, if anything, sees it as a plus. After all, as Dear Leader has told us, there are very fine people on both sides.

Tweets of the Week. Israel in Chicago, Nimrod Novik, Mariana Z and Rex Huppke

Twitter Thread of the Week. John Spencer analyzes the civilian casualty numbers in Gaza, arguing that facts matter.

Video Clip of the Week. Comedian Dan Ahdoot via Adam Abilya.

Music Clip of the Week. Their last public performance, 55 years ago last week--I guess they were the Taylor Swifts of their era even though they were never invited to perform at the halftime show.

Upcoming Event. Please Join Dana Gordon, Steve Sheffey, Jill Zipin, and

Democratic Jewish Outreach PA PAC for a Zoom fundraiser for Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, at 4:30 PM ET. RSVP here to get the Zoom link. This will be a close race and holding this seat is key to holding the Democratic Senate majority.

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 posts on why Democrats are better than Republicans on Israel and antisemitism and on the IHRA definition of antisemitism. My definition of "pro-Israel" is 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. Don't send me videos or podcasts--send me a transcript if it's that important (it's not only you--it's the dozens of other people who want me to watch or listen to "just this one"). 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. I write about what's on my mind, not necessarily your mind; if you want to read about something else, read something else. If you can't open a link or if you can't find the newsletter in your email, figure it out--I'm not your IT department. 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 2024 Steve Sheffey. All rights reserved.

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