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

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 occupied fighting against 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 school curriculum of the Boston-area suburban city of Newton, Mass., 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. The school district, however, refused to comply with the report. “It actually was an anomaly,” Verity Educate Executive Director Ellen R. Wald told JNS.org regarding the Newton district’s failure to respond to outreach before the reports release. “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.”

As Rosh Hashanah approaches and the Jewish calendar turns to 5775, JNS.org takes a look at the biggest Jewish news stories from the past year, including the Israel-Hamas war, Palestinian unity and failed peace talks, anti-Semitism in Europe, the rise of Islamic State, and more.

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. 

The British newspaper The Guardian turned down an advertorial piece penned by famed Harvard Law School professor and pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz. In the ad, whose rejection was first reported by JNS.org on Friday, Dershowitz refutes statements by many media outlets that all of Gaza is densely populated, a claim that has been used to justify the use of human shields by Hamas in its recent conflict with Israel. “The British media is divided,” Dershowitz said. “But The Guardian, which holds itself out to be a purveyor of diverse truth, clearly reflects a bias against Israel on its editorial pages, as well as in its presentation of the news. Now that bias has spread to the advertising pages.”

Although the 2016 presidential election is still a long way off, prospective candidates are already testing the waters for possible presidential bids—primarily candidates considering running in the currently wide-open Republican race. Thus when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky), one of the most visible potential contenders in 2016, said that he had never proposed to cut foreign aid to Israel, many in the pro-Israel community took notice.

SDEROT—With only a short time to recover from their jet lag, a group of 51 Evangelical Christian pastors representing every U.S. state and the District of Columbia embarked on a journey to the frontline of the recent Gaza conflict as part of a three-day mission organized by Christians United For Israel (CUFI).

 

After being vacant for nearly a year, the role of America’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom will likely soon be occupied by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. While his liberal political views sometimes put him at odds with conservative-leaning Jewish organizations, most observers feel Saperstein’s experience in the issues relevant to the religious freedom post make him a good fit.

Few issues in the U.S. Congress have as much bipartisan support as pro-Israel legislation. It is difficult to find a member of the Senate or House in either party who, at least publicly, is not claiming undying love and support for Israel and its military’s Operation Protective Edge. But last week, there was a rare moment of uncertainty in regards to where emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system would come from, and whether the proposed funding could survive the partisanship and inaction Congress is known for.