From his childhood, to his time as mayor of his birthplace, to his three terms as governor of New York, George Pataki fostered a close relationship with the Jewish community. If he decides to run for president in 2016, a much broader Jewish constituency will get acquainted with Pataki. “I grew up in this little town of Peekskill, but it was a very ethnically diverse town,” Pataki said in an interview with JNS.org. “I went to many a bar mitzvah and talked to many of my Jewish friends and their parents, primarily about Israel. I developed by jump shot in basketball at the synagogue in Peekskill. And then when I first got elected to office and was mayor [of Peekskill], I was pleased to welcome a yeshiva, Ohr HaMeir, to our community, and help them make sure that the community embraced them with open arms... I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to get to know so many members of the Jewish community in New York so well over the course of my time as governor and even before that.” Pataki, who has flirted with a presidential run multiple times, said he is “far closer to making a favorable decision to run than I’ve been at any point in the past.”
Resolutions that formally condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in the Tennessee and Indiana state legislatures mark what a group of pro-Israel organizations and grassroots activists hope is just the start of a new trend in fighting BDS on U.S. soil.
Rising anti-Semitism and the issue of Palestinian statehood will be among the factors in the equation for Jewish voters when the United Kingdom heads to the polls on May 7 to determine the country’s next ruling political party and prime minister. The election’s two major contenders are the Conservative Party, led by current Prime Minister David Cameron, and the left-leaning Labour Party, led by Member of Parliament (MP) Ed Miliband. Though Miliband is Jewish himself, he has been heavily criticized by his own religious community due to Labour’s stances on Israel, particularly the party’s support for a unilaterally established Palestinian state. But British pro-Israel activist Fiona Sharpe told JNS.org that “what is of greater concern and a much more immediate concern [for Jews in the U.K.] is the issue of anti-Semitism.”
Jewish organizations and leaders have been racking their brains trying to address the issue of skyrocketing anti-Semitism on college campuses. But at least one prominent pro-Israel activist is reassured by the presence of a student more than five decades his junior. “Justin Hayet lets me sleep at night,” says Alan Dershowitz, the 76-year-old former Harvard Law School professor. Hayet, a 21-year-old student at Binghamton University - State University of New York, says that while many of his peers “run away and try to ignore” anti-Semitism, he is “running toward it” and wants “to fix it.” Dershowitz tells JNS.org that Hayet “is a guy who can really become a major leader in the pro-Israel community.”
The fact that 40 percent of the world’s oil ships pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait gives some idea of the global impact the current conflict in Yemen could have. It is tempting to regard Saudi intervention in Yemen as welcome, insofar as it targets Iran. But we should be wary of any arrangement that gives Arab states a regional policing role. Like other Arab states, Saudi Arabia has responded to Iran’s nuclear ambitions with similar ambitions of its own. In the long run, Saudi military empowerment could be just as negative for Western and Israeli security as an Iranian nuclear bomb, not the least because of the Saudi kingdom’s historic role as an incubator of radical Sunni Islamism, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
You could call it Israel’s version of former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chat.” President Reuven Rivlin sat down with English-speaking reporters in advance of his first Israel Independence Day as head of state, and laid out both his vision and his concerns for Israel’s future. Since he took office last July, tone of the Rivlin presidency has been markedly different than that of Shimon Peres, his predecessor. Peres was seen as a senior statesman of the world, counting presidents and celebrities amongst his admirers, while Rivlin displays a more down-to-earth demeanor. He articulates what many regular Israelis may feel—but how many other world leaders question the future existence of their state? “For me, until now, it’s not obvious that we are in a position that Israel is a fact and will last forever,” Rivlin says.
The 80th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.
Three years ago, kayaking coach Roei Lev found Ilya Podpolnyy crying on the steps of the Jordan Valley Sprint Kayak Club overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Podpolnyy, then 17 years old, had just been disqualified from the Israeli kayaking championship. He couldn’t survive the heats. He didn’t make the start line. He was devastated—and he had no one with whom to share his hopes, his dreams, and his disappointment. His divorced parents still live in Russia, and he has been estranged from his father since making aliyah at age 15. But on April 18, 2015, Podpolnyy stood on the podium of the same Israeli kayaking championship to receive five gold medals, and now he has his sights set on the Olympics.
Over the course of more than three decades working for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Meir Shlomo has represented the Jewish state in India, Denmark, Peru, El Salvador, and Boston. But this globetrotting diplomat says he never saw “such a level of grassroots support” for Israel like what he has witnessed in the Southwest United States. Shlomo, the Consul General of Israel to the Southwest U.S., ends his Houston-based assignment in mid-May and will return home to assume a post as the Israeli foreign ministry’s second-ranking diplomat dealing with North American affairs. His previous role was Head of Mission at the Israeli Consulate in New England. “It’s really almost overwhelming,” Shlomo tells JNS.org, describing support for Israel in the Southwest. He says that the support comes not just from Israel’s usual advocates such as Jews and Evangelical Christians, but also from “the regular Americans” in that region.
University of California, Riverside (UCR) is offering a class cited by 20 watchdog and advocacy organizations as meeting the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. The UCR Spring 2015 listing of student-initiated courses includes a class called “Palestinian Voices” whose syllabus reveals a different title: “Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid.” The 20 organizations wrote in a letter to UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox, “The course schedule is filled with egregiously one-sided, anti-Israel readings and films that falsely paint Israel as a settler-colonial and apartheid state, hold Israel to a double standard to which no other democratic country is held, vilify and demonize Israel and Israel’s supporters, and argue for an end to the Jewish state.”
If the anti-Israel thought police on college campuses ran a real police force, the pro-Israel students and academics they didn’t manage to arrest would be driven underground. Consider the case of Andrew Pessin, a philosophy professor at Connecticut College who has been the target of a persecution campaign spearheaded by one of his own students. The Pessin saga shows that it is no longer controversial on campus to portray an affiliation with Zionism and Israel as a thought crime. With this disturbing groupthink in place, pretty much anything that is ideologically unsound can be deemed offensive or hateful, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
Piercing war stories depicting Israel’s 50-day conflict with Hamas last summer continue to surface. Some soldier accounts reveal battlefield heroism, others the tragic loss of life. Then there are stories of those who, unlike the Israeli-born soldiers who are subject to compulsory conscription, volunteered to risk their lives in Gaza. The stories of “lone soldiers”—the term for soldiers whose parents do not live in Israel—offer a unique perspective on the Jewish state during a time of crisis and on the culture of the Israel Defense Forces. These accounts also explain why, despite the trauma of war, joining the IDF remains an attractive opportunity that many young people born outside of Israel choose to pursue.
When Jewish coach David Blatt was hired by the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. After early-season struggles, the former Israeli basketball coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since 1964. “Everything here is bigger,” Blatt said. “In Israel... I can tell you that scrutiny is great and seemingly everyone in the country knows and follows Maccabi [Tel Aviv]. You don’t see that in most other countries in Europe. But here, just the mere volume of media, whether it be TV or radio or Internet or whatever, the volume is just so great. It’s everywhere, it’s almost overwhelming.”
Two months after the student government at UCLA raised concerns over the Jewish background of Rachel Beyda, a candidate for the school’s student judicial board, an eerily similar incident has emerged at Stanford University, where student senate candidate Molly Horwitz’s Jewish background was called into question by the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) during an endorsement session for elections. An SOCC member asked Horwitz, “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” Horwitz later said, “I am running for the Stanford Undergraduate Senate in order to help foster an inclusive and welcoming environment at Stanford. I am upset that SOCC, a group which purports to encourage such an inclusive environment, instead engaged in anti-Semitism.”
The 79th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.