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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Seventeen Republican presidential candidates are vying for the support of evangelical Christian voters from the swing states of Ohio and Florida, to the cornfields of Iowa, to the small towns of the Deep South. Within the varied spectrum of 2016 election issues such as the economy, immigration, and health care, do evangelicals highly prioritize candidates’ positions on Israel and the Middle East? “Yes,” say major evangelical leaders in America. “Israel should be top-of-mind when evaluating GOP presidential candidates,” Republican candidate Mike Huckabee told JNS.org.

While Iran’s funding of the Palestinian terror group Hamas is well-documented, the Islamic Republic’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA) is less frequently discussed. But that pattern may start to shift after the recent announcement of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s planned trip to Iran in November. “Depending on how [Abbas’s visit] goes, it may be a sign that he has fully gravitated away from diplomacy with Israel if he invests in his ties to the Islamic Republic,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Aug. 13 released, for the first time in 60 years, a document outlining Israel’s defense strategy. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot’s decision to make the document public affords a rare glimpse into the Jewish state’s official defense doctrine. The 33-page document, titled “IDF Strategy,” reviews changes the military has already undergone as well as plans it will implement in the future to meet the challenges posed by Middle East dynamics. Some of the changes include improving the effectiveness of ground maneuvers and enhancing the IDF’s cyber capabilities.

The Christian Zionist organization Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN) convened a special session at the United Nations in New York City on Aug. 11 to help Christians learn more about the impact of genocidal anti-Semitism. “Our goal for the program was to reach ambassadors of predominately Christian nations and to help them understand anti-Semitism and how to deal with it,” Laurie Cardoza-Moore, president of PJTN, told JNS.org. The session was attended by diplomats from 13 countries: Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, Panama, Cyprus, Israel, Canada, Palau, Poland, Japan, and the Holy See.

As President Barack Obama attempts to convince a skeptical American public on the Iran nuclear deal, he has presented the pact as limited to reducing Iran’s capacity to produce a nuclear weapon and not part of a broader plan. But other comments by Obama and his administration have indicated that the deal is indeed a stepping-stone for diplomatic developments that U.S. allies who are critical of the deal—like Israel and Saudi Arabia—consider worrisome. “Even though the Obama administration says this is transactional, that it is only intended to deal with the nuclear program, the real thrust of this is that it is intended to be transformational. It is intended to be a confidence-building measure that potentially allows for a reset in relations with Iran and the United States,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council think tank.

Israel stood on the sideline for most of the Aug. 6 primetime Republican Presidential Primary Debate, hosted by Fox News at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. But that changed an hour and 43 minutes in, when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) was asked about his previous proposal to cut all financial aid to the Jewish state. Other Mideast topics covered during the debate included the Islamic State terror group and, not surprisingly, the recently reached nuclear deal with Iran.

While the White House and Congress prepare for a final showdown over the controversial Iran nuclear deal, three American prisoners and one missing American in Iran are awaiting their own fate. One of the prisoners is Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor who has been detained in Iran since 2012 after setting up an orphanage there. Abedini has become the international face of the brutal persecution of Christians by Iran. “We can use the example of Pastor Abedini to shine a light on the true nature of this [Iranian] regime and how it makes it clear how futile it is to try to reason with them,” said Christians United for Israel Executive Director David Brog, referencing the nuclear deal.

The July 14 announcement of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has drawn much public criticism, praise, and punditry—in the Jewish community and beyond—and will continue to do so over the course of the ongoing 60-day period for the U.S. Congress to review the agreement. But which so-called “regular citizens” are taking the time to actually read the deal? That question is arguably most pressing in the New York City metropolitan area, home to more Jews than any region of its kind nationwide. Not surprisingly, then, the “Big Apple” has been the epicenter of both education and advocacy, including events ranging from discussions to protests, in the weeks since the Iran deal was reached. 

He’s a Jew from Brooklyn. He’s running for president. But is Israel on his radar? Once considered a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has gained significant momentum in recent weeks. Though he grew up in a Jewish-heavy area and spent time on an Israeli kibbutz after he graduated from college, Israel has taken a backseat on Sanders’s Congressional agenda to issues such as income inequality, challenging Wall Street, and raising the minimum wage. At the same time, the senator’s progressive political base harbors increasingly negative attitudes about the Jewish state. What would that mean for a Sanders presidency? “Even if Sanders is relatively quiet on Israel, there’s a good chance that his leftist supporters are more critical,” said Tevi Troy, who served as White House liaison to the Jewish community under president George W. Bush.

Beyond the recently reached nuclear deal’s implications for Iran’s nuclear program itself, much of the fear about the agreement centers on how the substantial sanctions relief (as much as $150 billion) it provides to the Islamic Republic might open the floodgates to increased Iranian exporting of terrorism. “It is clear to me that the sanctions will be thoroughly gutted,” Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank, told JNS.org. “There will be little way of financial pressure that the U.S. and its allies will have after the implementation of the deal.”

While the ink dries on the newly signed nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, America’s largest pro-Israel organization is seeking to help defeat the pact in Congress through the work of its nascent office in Washington, DC. San Antonio-based Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which during 10 years of existence has grown to 2.2 million members, is beginning to hire staff for a new entity dubbed the “CUFI Action Fund.” Gary Bauer—head of the Action Fund and the U.S. under secretary of education in the administration of former president Ronald Reagan—said that because the Iran nuclear deal has failed to meet the Obama administration’s own stated standards, “we’re going to go all out, as challenging as it will be, to get the 67 votes that we will need in the United States Senate” to nix the agreement.

Having spent a decade growing into America’s largest pro-Israel organization, with 2.2 million members, the journey of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) arrived at a historic crossroads Tuesday. The same could be said for the rest of America and much of the world. Upon the announcement of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, CUFI deployed thousands of Christian Zionists to lobby members of the Senate and House of Representatives to support Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat. Though the complete details of the agreement reached in Vienna were not immediately available, CUFI’s Tuesday-morning lineup of speakers struck a defiant tone. “The magic number, the magic number of the United States Senate is 67. If we get 67 votes in the United States Senate, we can override the president’s veto,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Six American presidential candidates made their pitch on Israel and the Middle East to thousands of prospective Christian Zionist voters on Monday at the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Washington Summit. Gary Bauer—a former U.S. presidential candidate himself and head of CUFI's new 501(c)(4) Action Fund—said that the 501(c)(3) non-profit CUFI, though limited in what it could previously do in terms of “overt politics,” has always told its supporters “that when they’re looking at a candidate for federal office or state office, it’s imperative that that this issue (Israel) be a priority with other things that they care about.”

The late-May flood in Houston, which damaged 500 Jewish homes and three synagogues in that city, garnered national media attention in the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster. But while the attention from the press has subsided, the Jewish community’s recovery process remains at a critical juncture. Enter the Nachum Segal Network (NSN) and “JM in the AM,” the Jewish radio show whose three-hour broadcast garners between 75,000 and 100,000 listeners each weekday morning. On July 7, host Nachum Segal and his production crew left the confines of their New Jersey-based studio for Houston, where they witnessed the flood damage firsthand and recorded their July 8 show at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center. “There are people who we’re affiliated with who think it’s really important that if something happens somewhere in the Jewish world, whether it be France, or Israel, or somewhere here in the United States, that we should be there; that we should be lending an ear to the community, giving a voice to this community, to listeners who care,” Segal told JNS.org.

The United Church of Christ (UCC) last week became the latest mainline Protestant denomination to approve a resolution calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel. But given the UCC’s declining membership, coupled with prominent issues such as the growing atrocities faced by Middle East Christians at the hands of Muslim terror groups like Islamic State, some observers are questioning the relevance of this latest divestment resolution. “The UCC is the fastest-shrinking mainline church on my radar,” said Dexter Van Zile, Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. “It has lost about 50 percent of its members since its founding in the 1950s. And shrinking churches like the UCC and the Presbyterian Church USA are the most easily hijacked by anti-Israel activists.”

In the middle of a phone interview with JNS.org, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump leaves his desk to scan the wall of his office for awards he has received from the Jewish community. Trump reads the text of some relevant plaques before returning to his desk. But before the reporter can move on to the next question, Trump eagerly points out that he was the grand marshal of New York City’s annual Salute to Israel Parade in 2004, in the middle of the second Palestinian intifada. There are already 13 declared Republican presidential candidates, but Trump argues—in his typically brash and blunt fashion—that his history with the Jewish people and the Jewish state can set him apart from the rest of the GOP field on the Israel issue. “The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” he says. “The rest of them are all talk, no action. They’re politicians. I’ve been loyal to Israel from the day I was born.”

The setting was informal on a recent Sunday afternoon in New York City: a small-but-dry room providing a haven during a Central Park downpour that followed the Celebrate Israel Parade. But the large crowd and the weather outside were far from the mind of John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Instead, ahead of a July 7 deadline (extended from June 30) for a final nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, the vocal supporter of Israel and former official in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations honed in on a different kind of storm. “My focus is on the threat of a nuclear Iran and how close it is to creating deliverable nuclear weapons,” Bolton said in an interview with JNS.org. “That, and how serious the threat of a nuclear Iran is to Israel and the United States.” 

After more than a decade of intermittent negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the P5+1 nations missed a June 30 deadline to reach a final deal with Iran and have a new deadline of July 7. But with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejecting several key components agreed to under a framework reached in April, such as access by inspectors to military sites, many observers fear that negotiators might agree to a weak deal with Iran or no deal at all. Against that backdrop, JNS.org examines the positions of each of the P5+1 countries as they approach of the deadline.

The U.S.-based Israel education group The Israel Project on Friday sent an email asking supporters to sign a petition urging Philadelphia’s Drexel University to withdraw an honorary degree it gave anti-Israel activist Noam Chomsky earlier this month. Chomsky, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology emeritus professor in linguistics, has gone as far as embracing the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah and calling the policies of the Gaza-ruling terrorist organization Hamas “preferable to the policies of America and Israel.”

Though it shares a border with Syria, Israel has tried to stay out of the four-year-long civil war to its north. But recent gains by rebel groups and Islamists in Syria have threatened the Druze—an ethno-religious minority mainly residing in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel—including a massacre resembling what other Mideast minorities such as Christians, Kurds, and Yazidis have faced. As a result, there have been strong calls within Israel’s influential Druze community to intervene of the behalf of the Syrian Druze.