Latest News on Israel and the Jewish World

JNS.org freelance reporters and staff editors strive to provide high quality news coverage of the latest news from Israel and the Jewish world. In this section JNS.org offers analytical reports and commentaries on politics and international affairs, culture and lifestyle features, arts and sports content, and religious news. For the latest news on Israel, we also include exclusively syndicated content from Israel Hayom, a major daily newspaper in Israel. If you are interested in a specific topic, please browse through the content “categories” in our navigation bar or search our site.

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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.”

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.

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.” 

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.”

In the aftermath of the recently reached framework understanding on Iran’s nuclear program, the agreement’s fate on American soil could rest in the hands of just a few U.S. senators. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which on Tuesday was unanimously passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would require the Obama administration to submit a final nuclear deal to Congress for review. President Barack Obama previously vowed to veto the bill, but may now approve a modified version. If Obama does exercise his veto power, a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives would be needed to override the president. “[Without Congressional review of a deal], we could face the possibility that the U.N. Security Council... gets to vote on the Iran agreement, but not elected officials from our 50 states. Understandably, that might not go over well at all with the American people,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris.

As Iran and P5+1 nations reached an agreement on a preliminary nuclear deal on April 2, the Islamic Republic is forging ahead with its quest for dominance in the Middle East region. How will the result of the negotiations affect Iran’s regional ambitions, and what is the current extent of the Islamic Republic’s power play? JNS.org spoke with experts for a snapshot of Iran’s influence in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza.

As Ukraine continues to unravel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will try to help that country’s Jews celebrate as normal of a Passover holiday as possible in chaotic times. As a tenuous cease-fire holds, aid organizations are working to provide relief to civilians caught in the crossfire. Among them, JDC is currently assisting more than 4,600 Jews displaced by the conflict or stranded in separatist-controlled regions. Despite the upheaval, JDC-run Hesed social welfare centers and JDC-supported Jewish community centers will hold a variety of Passover events—including seders, matzah baking, and cooking workshops—for thousands of Ukrainian Jews. “Now there is an atmosphere of insecurity in Ukraine,” said Oksana Galkevich, JDC’s Ukraine director of external affairs. “An absolutely safe place does not exist.” 

Former secretary of state James Baker, a prominent figure in president George H. W. Bush’s administration and a critic of the Israeli government’s policies, is under fire from conservatives and pro-Israel activists for his decision to speak at the annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. But should the pro-Israel community’s concern extend to former Florida governor and presumed presidential candidate Jeb Bush, for whom Baker serves as a foreign policy adviser? “Baker is not a key adviser to Jeb Bush; he has about a dozen policy advisers, all of whom are strong supporters of Israel. ... Jeb disagrees with [Baker] on the U.S.-Israel relationship and the way forward in the Middle East,” said Fred Zeidman, a Houston businessman and Republican fundraiser who is close with the Bush family.

Fresh off a decisive election victory, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in yet another diplomatic storm with U.S. President Barack Obama over pre-election comments that a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch. Netanyahu later clarified that he wants “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.” But were his initial remarks even a policy change to begin with? While mainstream media outlets reported that Netanyahu’s pre-election remarks were a significant departure from a 2009 speech he gave at Bar-Ilan University, in which he backed a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state, both supporters and opponents of Netanyahu within Israel say that the prime minister’s policy on a two-state solution has been consistent.

On Monday, nearly 500 college students attending the annual J Street conference in America’s capital gathered outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for a two-block march to the headquarters of Hillel International to express disappointment that the Jewish campus umbrella’s CEO and president, Eric Fingerhut, cancelled his appearance at the conference. Fingerhut had pulled out of the gathering after learning that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has compared Israel to the Islamic State terror group and defended Hamas, was also speaking at the conference.

When the champion of the U.S.-Israel alliance sounds the alarm, something about the steadfast allies’ relationship is more contentious than usual. Last week, the staunchly bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—which does not frequently issue public statements, let alone criticize a sitting American president—urged the Obama administration to “recommit to improving” U.S.-Israel ties. Tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama is nothing new, but seems to have escalated to an even higher level. JNS.org reviews five current sources of bitterness in the leaders’ relationship: Iran, the two-state solution, the U.N., Israeli Arabs, and alleged U.S. funding of anti-Netanyahu campaign efforts.

Near the entrance to the city of Ariel in the heart of Samaria lies an Arab strip mall of sorts, where Jews and Palestinians alike can get fruits and vegetables, a car wash, pet supplies, hummus, and falafel. The former mayor of Ariel, Ron Nachman, used to joke that the area is Ariel’s “duty-free zone.” It’s located right on the border of Israeli-controlled and Palestinian-controlled territory, so no one really knows exactly to whom the shop owners pay taxes. It’s also where JNS.org got a sampling of the range of Palestinian reactions to Israel’s March 17 election.

On Wednesday in Jerusalem, JNS.org caught up Israelis who were fresh off casting a ballot the day before. Given that in the city of Jerusalem, the gap between Likud (24 percent of the vote) and Zionist Union (10 percent) was even more pronounced than the disparity between those parties in the rest of the country, it wasn’t surprising to see voters in the Israeli capital’s Old City celebrating the decisive victory by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. After Likud defied pre-election polls in which the party trailed the socioeconomically focused Zionist Union, security was at the forefront of Netanyahu supporters’ minds. “Bitachon (security) is the most important thing. We know he won’t give away our land,” says Aaron Selam, who mans a table selling yarmulkes on the landing overlooking the Western Wall courtyard.

After trailing in the polls leading up to Tuesday’s Israeli election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party defied those projections with a sweeping victory over the Zionist Union party, according to official results released Wednesday. Netanyahu is in strong position to extend his current six-year run as prime minister. Though the pre-election sentiment was that Israeli voters would prioritize domestic economic issues over security and foreign policy, it may have been security that ultimately swung election day in Likud’s favor. “My experience and my understanding in Israel is that ultimately, security is the issue on the minds of Israelis: left, right, center,” Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of Steinreich Communications, a New Jersey-based public relations firm that also has an office in Israel, told JNS.org. “The economy and the economic outlook are important, but secondary.”

Organizations representing religious minorities in the Middle East have submitted a memorandum to the United Nations in New York City, asking that U.N. missions from various countries call on the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution against the Islamic State terror group’s persecution of minorities and to take tangible steps to save those vulnerable groups. “We are hearing from thousands across the globe who either want to fight on behalf of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria... Because we believe in the rule of law and the dignity of humankind towards one another, we cannot but hope that the U.N. listens to the world’s peoples and acts on our call for action,” David William Lazar, chairman of the American Mesopotamian Organization, told JNS.org.

For nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, which all have Sunni Muslim-majority populations, Iran—which is a Shi’a Muslim and ethnically Persian country—has long been viewed as a regional rival. Now, the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has given Israel and those Arab states a shared concern. Recent media reports said that Saudi diplomats expressed their willingness to lend Saudi Arabia’s airspace to Israel for a possible attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Although those reports have been officially denied by both Riyadh and Jerusalem, this kind of cooperation makes strategic sense,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council think tank, told JNS.org. “Saudi Arabia and Israel both feel betrayed by the current negotiations underway with Iran, and both feel they need to make alternative plans to cope with what both view as an existential threat to its existence.”

After speaking to Congress on March 3 despite the objections of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “a prime minister in Israel must be able to stand up even to our closest ally and tell the truth.” In an interview published Friday by Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed exclusively by JNS.org, Netanyahu said his speech about the Iranian nuclear threat was “well worth the cost of confrontation” with President Barack Obama. “What are we expected to do with such a fateful issue?” asked Netanyahu. “Put our heads down?

In perhaps the most widely debated address ever given by a foreign leader to Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described a “fateful crossroads” on the Iranian nuclear threat and said that the emerging deal between Iran and world powers is paving the way for a Middle East “littered with nuclear bombs.”