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.
In the midst of a perfect storm of major Jewish and Israel news stories this week, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked—a 39-year-old rising star in Israeli politics—had no shortage of talking points for both a speaking engagement in Boston and an interview with JNS.org. The topic that was freshest in everyone’s mind Thursday was clearly the Palestinian terrorist attack in Samaria, in which the armed wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party murdered Israelis Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in a drive-by shooting in front of the couple’s four children. “I think this [attack] is the result of Mahmoud Abbas’s incitement, like what we saw yesterday at the [U.N.] General Assembly,” Shaked told JNS.org. “His speech was full of lies and anti-Semitic statements. It was really sad that he got so much applause in the U.N.”
As untouched mounds of trash piled up on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, in recent months, with no one coming to clean it up, a social movement began protesting under the motto “You Stink.” This “garbage crisis” has led to violent clashes between protesters and police and has showcased the broader dysfunction of the Lebanese government. Operating on a parallel track with domestic unrest, fighters from the Lebanese Shi’a Muslim terror group Hezbollah—a longtime enemy of Israel—are reportedly joining Iranian forces in providing ground support to complement Russian airstrikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil-war torn country. Besides its involvement in Syria, Hezbollah has been a domestic political force in Lebanon. How has Lebanon’s internal strife affected Hezbollah and the terror group's approach to Israel? JNS.org puts together the pieces of this complex regional puzzle.
While much attention has been paid to the recent high-profile United States visit of Pope Francis, Israel’s Catholic community finds itself represented by leaders who are increasingly seeking to redefine the meaning of “pro-Israel,” begging the question of whether or not Israeli Catholic laypeople will ultimately side with the pro-Palestinian tone of the Vatican’s local representatives (vicars) in the Jewish state. Notably, the Israeli vicars are taking direction from a Pope Francis-led Vatican that officially recognized Palestinian statehood earlier this year. The latest point of tension indicating a strong pro-Palestinian voice within Israel’s Catholic leadership came from a recently ended strike affecting 47 Israeli Christian schools, 40 of them Catholic.
The bloody Syrian civil war has taken a new twist, with reports emerging that Russia has started to significantly beef up its military presence to help its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, continue his fight against rebel groups and terrorist organizations like Islamic State. At the same time, Israel has grown increasingly wary of the continued destabilization of Syria and Russia’s possible exacerbation of that situation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow this week, with the trip highlighting “Israel’s serious concern about the possibility of advanced weapons reaching Hezbollah, as well as concern that Israel will accidentally clash with the Russian military,” said Anna Borshchevskaya, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.
With President Barack Obama securing the 41 Senate votes he needed to prevent a Congressional resolution disapproving of the Iran nuclear deal, the political calculus for the deal’s opponents has been altered. Now, those who have strongly campaigned against the agreement face a choice: continue their vociferous opposition, or call for the strictest possible implementation of the deal. Though the deal is “a disaster that basically is unverifiable and leaves in place the nuclear infrastructure that the president had vowed to eliminate,” it should now be a top priority to “very carefully and closely monitor Iran’s actions to ensure that it lives up to the terms of the agreement,” said Mitchell Bard, head of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.
A Palestinian member of the al-Fatah Revolutionary Council has condemned the self-declared Israeli Sanhedrin’s recent letter to Pope Francis, which demands that the pope rescind his recognition of the “State of Palestine” or face trial in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin—a contemporary version of the Second Temple-era Jewish religious High Court composed of 71 sages—decided to try the pontiff after the Vatican in May signed its first comprehensive treaty with the “State of Palestine,” thereby officially recognizing its statehood.
Israel’s 2015-16 state budget bill passed its first Knesset reading Sept. 2, following a marathon session that ended with 57 MKs voting in favor and 53 MKs voting against it. At $108.2 billion, the two-year plan is the largest budget in Israel’s history. It includes $26 billion to cover government debts, $14 billion for defense spending, $12 billion for education, and $7 billion for health care.
The Iran nuclear deal has dominated the foreign policy debate in the U.S. this summer, with Congress in the midst of a 60-day period to review the agreement. But America is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the accord reached in July between Iran and the P5+1 world powers. JNS.org examines how the Iran deal is being considered within the Western European nations that participated in the nuclear negotiations. Compared to the robust American debate about the deal, the lighter discourse in Western Europe—along with the eagerness of governments and businesses there to reignite relations with Iran—indicate “fatigue and mass cowardice about confronting terrorism and rogue regimes,” said Berlin-based scholar Benjamin Weinthal.
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).