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.
U.S. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other officials met for approximately two hours in the Oval Office on Wednesday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and the American offensive against the Islamic State terrorist organization. Chief among the prime minister’s concerns was the Iranian nuclear issue, against the backdrop of perceptions that the U.S. is diplomatically edging toward Iran in the effort to combat Islamic State.
In a historic victory for American victims of terrorist attacks in Israel, a jury in a U.S. federal court recently found the Jordan-based Arab Bank liable for knowingly funding Hamas-affiliated individuals and organizations during the Second Intifada. But more tellingly, the case, which asserted violations by the Arab Bank of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, could affect policies by banks worldwide. Terrorists and their funders are now “on notice that the U.S. judicial system will protect the right of the American victims to seek recovery, hold those [terrorists] fully accountable, and gain justice through our American courts,” one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Richard Heideman, told JNS.org.
As world leaders converged on New York City for the 69th United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to remind them that the threats Israel faces today could be their own problems tomorrow. “Israel is fighting a fanaticism today that your countries might be facing tomorrow,” said Netanyahu, who described all Muslim extremists—from Islamic State to Nigeria’s Boko Haram to Hamas to Iran—as branches of the same “poisonous tree.”
As the Republican party pushes to retake the majority of the U.S. Senate in the upcoming November midterm elections, which would give it control of both houses of Congress, a partisan shift in power may significantly affect a broad range of foreign policy and domestic social issues that are prioritized by American Jews.
As the Hebrew calendar turns to the year 5775, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shares his perspective and strategy, and analyzes the changing realities in the Middle East. "[Israel is] doing better while facing a harsher reality," he says in an interview with Israel Hayom. "The reality around us is that radical Islam is marching forward on all fronts. ... We are actually doing better now because on one of those fronts, Hamas has received a debilitating blow, the likes of which it hasn’t received since it seized control of the Gaza Strip."
Following Israel’s Operation Protective Edge this summer, Hamas continues to control the Gaza Strip and openly considers any truce with Israel as a time to re-arm for the next conflict. Across Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah has been fighting to preserve the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but still poses a danger to the Jewish state. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has exploded across Iraq and Syria in a spectacle of unprecedented brutality that could one day also knock on Israel’s door. What should Israel’s strategy be regarding this triumvirate of terror groups? JNS.org took the pulse of three Middle East and terrorism experts on the issue.
After a contentious debate lasting several years on the presence of anti-Israel texts in the public schools of Newton, Mass., a Boston suburb, an independent third party has issued a comprehensive 152-page report to try to bring some clarity to the situation. The Verity Educate non-profit's new report addresses more than 300 specific points of inaccuracy and inconsistency in the Newton school district’s Mideast curricula. But the school district did not respond to Verity Educate's three attempts to discuss the report before its release. “It actually was an anomaly,” Verity Educate Executive Director Ellen R. Wald told JNS.org regarding the Newton district's non-response. “In other instances, we’ve not only received responses, but have found that school districts were very interested in what we had to say and have responded not just cordially, but in many instances positively.”
A recent in-depth report of think tank financing in the U.S. has raised eyebrows in the pro-Israel community as well as questions about how much influence sponsors of think tanks have over those institutions’ research. The New York Times reported that the Brookings Institution think tank received a $14.8 million donation last year from the government of Qatar—a major sponsor of the Hamas terrorist organization. The Hamas-backing nation's gift to Brookings has spurred allegations of a conflict of interest because earlier this year, the think tank’s vice president and director of research, Martin Indyk, served as America’s special envoy to the Middle East and directed the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Since the declaration of a final cease-fire between Israel and Hamas last month, there has been very little movement to resolve the situation in Gaza. With the Middle East preoccupied by the threat of Islamic extremism as well as the growing rivalries between Arab states over how to handle these threats, there appears to be little appetite in the Arab world to deal with the Palestinian issue. “It is striking to me that even during [this summer’s] Gaza war, you were seeing widespread demonstrations in Europe, but not in the Arab world,” Elliott Abrams, who served as deputy national security advisor for President George W. Bush, told JNS.org.
“Open Hillel” wants the Jewish campus umbrella represented at more than 550 schools to allow the expression of more diverse points of view, including those critical of Israel. Hillel International believes it is already highly inclusive, but will not compromise on guidelines that state it will not “partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel.” On Sept. 9, Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut said he met with Open Hillel student representatives in Boston “in order to listen to their concerns and to personally convey that Hillel welcomes all Jewish students no matter their politics or perspectives.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Jewish state, has called for the creation of an independent Kurdish state. But some experts question the viability of the idea, citing the Islamic State terror group’s initial ability to overwhelm the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. “It showed the limitation of what the Kurds can do without American support and without the consent and support of the two big neighbors, Iran and Turkey,” said Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street states that it opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, but its campus arm has sometimes come under scrutiny for partnering with anti-Israel organizations. In response to the latest such test case, at Swarthmore College in eastern Pennsylvania, J Street is clarifying that it in fact does “not have any problem” with co-sponsoring programs with pro-BDS groups.
The Islamic State terrorist group, experts say, has managed to brilliantly leverage its acquisitions—including land grabs, hostages, and oil—in a style that is part mafia, part bureaucratic. The group continues to be well-armed, flush with cash, and in possession of American and European captives. “[Islamic State’s] criminal activities—robbery, extortion, and trafficking—have helped the organization become the best-funded terrorist group in history,” U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Marco Rubio wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “This wealth has helped expand their operational capacity and incentivized both local and foreign fighters to join them.”
This summer’s 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which has come to a close if a ceasefire reached last week holds, has spurred a sharp rise in both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents around the world. At the same time, the boundary between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has become increasingly blurred, particularly on American college campuses. Trouble for Jewish students got underway even before the start of classes, as a Jewish student at Temple University was physically and verbally assaulted at an orientation event. “We are expecting that things can get very ugly this year on many college campuses, including some that were quiet in the past,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.
After at least 11 failed attempts at achieving a lasting cease-fire between the Hamas terrorist group and Israel, negotiators in Cairo on Tuesday announced that they reached an indefinite cease-fire deal. But will the agreement hold up this time around? Some experts are skeptical because the talks leading up to the deal lacked the three major elements they believe are required for a successful cease-fire: negative leverage, positive leverage, and a credible third-party broker.
With old alliances being frayed and new threats emerging, making sense of the rapidly changing Middle East is increasingly difficult for even seasoned observers and analysts. Disgruntled by President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in the region, some long-time American allies such as Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have begun openly criticizing the U.S. approach to issues like the Gaza conflict, with some even pivoting towards Russia. At the same time, civil wars in Syria and Libya as well as instability in Iraq have proven to be fertile breeding ground for new and more brutal terrorist organizations, forcing regional and international actors into new alliances to meet this common threat.
Leading up to the start of a new academic year in Israel, parents in the rocket-battered south are saying they do not feel safe sending their children back to school. Israeli officials agree that safety is the top consideration guiding the decision on whether or not to begin the school year as scheduled on Sept. 1. “Under no circumstances will we return to our normal routine under fire,” said Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni.
The Obama administration was forced to go on the defensive last week regarding accusations published in The Wall Street Journal that it held back Hellfire-missile transfers to Israel for further review. The WSJ strongly implied that President Barack Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at an all-time low as a result of perceptions among U.S. officials that Israel is not doing enough to end its conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Some pro-Israel observers say they feel betrayed by the reported delay of the Hellfire missiles, regarding the move as the Obama administration breaking its promise not to allow political and diplomatic disagreements to interfere with U.S.-Israel security cooperation.
For the first time in 80 years, the United States could find itself without an international export credit agency if Congress does not reauthorize the charter of the United States Export-Import Bank, which is set to expire on Sept. 30. A failure to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank by that deadline could have significant financial implications for countries like Israel, which is home to companies accustomed to receiving loans from the bank.