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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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.

A political upheaval is seemingly underway in Turkey, as the Islamist AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to win a parliamentary majority in the country’s June 7 election. Does the setback for Erdogan, who has been known for his anti-Israel foreign policy and anti-Semitic rhetoric, mean an impending shift in Turkey’s future as well as its relationship with Israel?

A University of Missouri fall 2015 honors tutorial that pro-Israel students felt would promote bigotry and misinformation on their college campus has been cancelled. “Perspectives on Zionism,” which was scheduled to be taught by self-proclaimed “post-Zionist” and “Nakba Jew-in-law” George Smith, was nixed due to no enrollment, according to a June 10 announcement. Yet the catalyst behind the cancelled course—Smith, a tenured biology professor who pushed for a curriculum that the instructor himself said would have included works by anti-Zionist authors such as Ilan Pappé, who has accused Israel of ethnic cleansing—is very much active.

“Israel is the most embattled democracy on earth. And what a democracy it is—robust and rollicking, with an often rancorous parliament,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said via video feed June 7, addressing 1,500 people at the Jerusalem Post newspaper’s annual conference in New York City. Indeed, “rollicking” is one way to depict the three-ring circus that performed at the Jerusalem Post event. When World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder took the stage, he encouraged Jewish unity and mutual respect, saying, “If we disagree in how we get there, let’s do it in private. In public let’s speak with one voice.” But less than one hour later, a panel on Iran went in the complete opposite direction.

As the Middle East grapples with the fallout of the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions and the rise of terror groups like Islamic State, Arab states such as Egypt have sought increased military and intelligence cooperation with Israel. But it remains to be seen if this cooperation will lead to deeper Arab normalization of bilateral relations with the Jewish state. Egyptian historian Maged Farag recently drew headlines when he called for his country to normalize relations with Israel and to ditch support for the Palestinian cause. Does Farag’s statement represent a new realization among Egyptians, or does rampant societal anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Egypt still constitute a barrier to normalizing ties with Israel?  

With the Syrian civil war well into its fifth year, President Bashar al-Assad’s government has outlasted many observers’ predictions of his demise. But recently, major setbacks for that government have led many to question whether or not these are indeed the Assad regime’s final days and to ponder what a post-Assad Syria might mean for neighbors such as Israel. “Bashar [Assad] is the devil we know, and with [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah we have some sort of a ceasefire,” said Prof. Eyal Zisser, a Syria expert at Tel Aviv University. “But [Hezbollah] has 90,000 rockets [pointed towards Israel]. The Islamic State is not as strong as they are, but very dangerous and cannot be deterred. ... God knows, it’s either Hezbollah or the Islamic State, and they are both terrible options.”

Mainstream Jewish organizations—including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah, and a local Jewish Federation—are raising concerns about a Boston University-affiliated high school workshop over what they consider to be its anti-Israel bias and questionable pedagogical techniques. In April, Jewish communal attention was initially drawn to the issue when the advocacy group Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) released a video on Axis of Hope’s (AOH) “Whose Jerusalem?” workshop, which specifically selects Jewish students to act as members of the Palestinian terror group Hamas during mock negotiations. “It’s very concerning, when as a way to teach conflict resolution, we’re having kids role play this particular organization (Hamas),” said Robert Trestan, director of ADL's New England Region.

Illinois on Monday became the third state in a month to pass legislation formally opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. But going further than non-binding anti-BDS measures in Tennessee and Indiana, the Illinois bill took concrete action against those who boycott the Jewish state. The legislation—which unanimously passed both the Illinois House (102-0) and Senate (49-0), and will be signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner—prohibits state pension funds from including BDS-participating companies in their portfolios.