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.

Latest News

The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Thursday shouldn’t change how the Gulf nation treats its relations with Iran and Israel, experts say. Saudi Arabia remains determined in its opposition to the Iranian nuclear program, and while that gives them at least one shared interest with Israel, a Saudi ambassador’s anti-Israel remarks at the United Nations on the same day as Abdullah’s death served as a reminder that the Saudi-Israeli relationship isn’t exactly friendly. “Saudi Arabia doesn’t believe it shares common interests with Israel. Some Israelis may believe there are common interests, [but] the Saudis see that as a fantasy,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Israeli police officials praised the actions of Herzl Biton, the 55-year-old driver who was the first of 12 people to get stabbed by Palestinian terrorist Hamza Muhammed Hassan Matrouk on Wednesday aboard a bus in Tel Aviv. Despite being seriously wounded, Biton managed to use pepper spray on the assailant and fight him off while simultaneously opening the bus doors to allow passengers to flee. The attack did not end in a single death. After slipping into a coma as a result of his injuries, Biton regained consciousness on Thursday.

Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union’s newly announced counter-terrorism plan comes despite longstanding reports of jihadists using the Turkish border to cross into countries where they join Muslim terrorists. In particular, a Turkish official recently admitted that Hayat Boumeddiene—the girlfriend of Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who took nearly 20 hostages at the Paris kosher supermarket—had crossed into Syria through Turkey. At the same time, an already strained Israeli-Turkish relationship has further deteriorated over Turkey's hosting of the Hamas terrorist group's new Istanbul headquarters and Turkish officials’ anti-Israel rhetoric relating to the Paris attacks.

The Israeli government has launched a public diplomacy campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent decision to start an inquiry into what the Palestinians call Israeli “war crimes” in the disputed territories. Israel’s campaign will focus on the fact that the because the ICC charges were filed by the Palestinian Authority, which is not a state, the court has no authority to act.

 

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Bob Corker (R-TN) on Friday released a joint statement calling on the U.S. government to defund the Palestinian Authority (PA) over its decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the same time, three Republican senators who are rumored to be running for president in 2016—Marco Rubio (FL), Rand Paul (KY), and Ted Cruz (TX)—have similar stances on how the ICC bid should affect American funding to the PA, with Paul going as far as initiating a bill to end that funding. 

In a traumatic week for Paris that saw the murders of 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, four hostages killed at a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, and a police officer executed in Montrouge—all coming at the hands of Islamist terrorists—the violence was accompanied by the usual anti-Israel conspiracy theories. Middle East Forum President Dr. Daniel Pipes, who has written two books about conspiracy theories, told JNS.org, “The fevered imagination of far-left and far-right have invariably blamed one or the other of two conspirators: a secret society or the Jews. ... Every high-profile [case] with some element of violence and mystery comes back to these two, even the disappearance of a Malaysian airplane.”

In the wake of Islamist terror attacks that killed a combined 16 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket in Paris, the leader of a prominent Christian-Jewish aid group told JNS.org that he is exploring ways to help French Jews immigrate to Israel. “There’s no question in my mind that incidents like this [and] the many others recently are increasing the risk for the Jewish community in France and their desire to leave,” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), told JNS.org.

Several months of campaigning for unilateral Palestinian statehood recognition culminated in a diplomatic blitz by the Palestinian Authority during the last few days of 2014. But the campaign ground to a halt on Dec. 30, when the United Nations Security Council rejected a Palestinian resolution that called for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank by 2017 and the establishment of a Palestinian state with borders based on the pre-1967 lines. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS.org that his sense “is that Palestinian unilateralism is losing its luster at the United Nations, but also on the Palestinian street.”

The past year was arguably one of the worst in recent memory for many members of the Middle East’s beleaguered Christian minority, as hundreds of thousands were forced by the Islamic State terror group to flee their homes in what is being described as a genocide. “It is genocide when you take over an area and strip people of their homes [and] their lives, and send them to an ambiguous future,” Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, told JNS.org.

Jewish-American aid worker Alan Gross arrived home to celebrate Hanukkah after five years in a Cuban prison, prompting the Jewish world to celebrate. But analysts say Gross’s humanitarian release and the subsequent U.S.-Cuba prisoner swap have little to do with the prisoners and everything to do with the Obama administration’s final two years—and the reverberations might be felt in the Middle East. “Obama has made clear on several occasions that he is appalled by Israeli policy in the West Bank. But he has not had the guts to impose sanctions on Israel... that might be next,” said Piero Gleijeses, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has found Muslim-majority allies hard to come by. Yet an improbable romance continues to develop between the Jewish state and Azerbaijan. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon took a surprise trip to Azerbaijan in September, marking the first-ever visit by the holder of his position to a Muslim-majority nation in the Southern Caucasus region. Though it is most often attributed to a shared interest in combating the threat posed by Iran, experts say the blooming Israeli-Azeri friendship goes much deeper.

There are two kinds of olim (immigrants) these days in Israel: those who are living through their first sudden call for early elections, and those old-timers who have seen it all before. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jettisoned two members of his coalition’s cabinet, the Knesset scrambled to dissolve itself on Dec. 8 and set elections for March 17, 2015. While they struggle to understand the rules of the game, the newer immigrants’ faces look hopelessly befuddled. “I try to understand it, but it’s very confusing. … This system seems to generate so much insecurity,” says Peruvian immigrant Betty Anschlawsky.

Everyone knew that Dec. 4 wasn’t the usual Thursday night at the Rami Levy supermarket in the Mishor Adumim Industrial Park near Jerusalem. The customers knew and the workers knew. There were still people pushing their carts through the parking lot with groceries in the distinctive pink Rami Levy bags, but everyone could see the place was uncommonly low on shoppers stocking up for Shabbat due to the Palestinian terrorist stabbing of two Israeli men at the store one day earlier. JNS.org reports from the scene of the attack.

A meeting on Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (leader of the Yesh Atid party), intended as a bid to salvage Israel’s coalition government, ended in a stalemate. As a result, a new election is expected in the country. On Tuesday, Netanyahu proceeded to fire Lapid as well as Hatnuah leader and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Jewish students at Wellesley College, a Boston-area school for women, fear that anti-Semitism is growing on their campus following what they call the school administration’s lax response to the anti-Israel activities of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Wellesley also decided to eliminate the staff positions of Hillel director and Jewish chaplain, a move some Jewish students describe as the removal of their support system.

 

The Nov. 18 killing of Israeli Druze police officer Zidan Saif, who was the first officer to enter the scene of a Palestinian terror attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue, has spotlighted the Druze and Jewish communities’ united front against Muslim terrorism in Israel. Another Druze policeman was killed Nov. 5 in a Palestinian vehicular terror attack on a Jerusalem light rail station. “Most in Israeli society view the Druze very positively,” Shmuel Shamai, a professor at the Golan Research Institute and the Tel Hai College in Qiryat Shemona, told JNS.org.

With the gruesome images of the Nov. 18 terrorist attack at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem still fresh in the minds of Israelis and not likely to go away anytime soon, leaders of synagogues around the country are grappling with setting the right tone and safety procedures for an uncertain future. “By attacking people in a synagogue, they attacked us where it hurts the most, literally at the heart of the Jewish people,” says Gabie Sykora, a board member at the Kinor David synagogue in Ra’anana.

There are few subjects in Israel these days that arouse greater passion than prayer rights at the Temple Mount. The dramatic uptick in Palestinian terror attacks on Jews in Jerusalem in recent weeks has raised the temperature of the long-simmering debate over control of the holy site to a boiling point. Increased Muslim riots have prompted police to further clamp down on Jews visiting the site. “The real question is, why would we not have the right to pray at the Temple Mount, the holiest spot in the Jewish world? But now, if you are caught swaying, you can be arrested,” said Jeff Bell, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh.

What message is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sending to the Jewish community through its recent selection of White House aide and social entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt to succeed longtime National Director Abraham Foxman? While some are praising ADL for thinking outside the box with its hire and trying to appeal to a younger demographic, others are concerned that Greenblatt is too visibly partisan and that his past experience may signal ADL’s de-emphasis of the fight against anti-Semitism in favor of civil rights work.

After recently advancing in the legislative process, a controversial bill to ban free print newspapers in Israel has reignited a debate in the country about journalism’s relationship with democracy and capitalism. The bill, which passed a preliminary reading in the Israeli Knesset on Nov. 12, is widely viewed as an attempt to shut down Israel Hayom, the only Hebrew-language print newspaper that is distributed to the Israeli public free of charge. Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, head of the Media Reform Project at the Israel Democracy Institute, submitted a legal opinion to the Knesset that says the bill “impinges on the right of freedom of expression and the press, and is a threat to democracy.” Others argue the bill flies in the face of capitalism and is motivated by the desperation of Israel Hayom’s reeling competitors.