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.
The leaders of the eight political parties running in the upcoming Israeli Knesset election participated in their first televised debate on Feb. 26. When Israelis enter the “kalfi” (Hebrew for ballot box) on March 17, they will be casting votes for entire parties—not for specific candidates. The new Israeli government will be established based on how many seats each party wins, and the leader of the party that wins the most Knesset seats must then form a governing coalition with other parties. JNS.org gives a rundown of Israelis’ choices when they head to the polls.
The number of Assyrian Christians captured by the Islamic State terror group in northeastern Syria continues to rise, marking the latest brutal campaign waged by Islamic State against Christians and other minority groups in Syria and Iraq. “We are absolutely appalled, but not surprised, by the actions of the Islamic State,” Jeff Gardner, a spokesman for Restore Nineveh Now Initiative, a group promoting protection and relief for Assyrian Christians, told JNS.org. “They (Islamic State) continue to do what they do—terrorize, murder, and pillage.”
Ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s much-debated March 3 address to a joint session of Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat, former U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the focus on protocol and the speech’s venue, rather than on the content of Netanyahu’s message, “plays into the hands” of the U.S.-Israel relationship’s opponents. “I find it stunning to see the comments out of the White House on this issue,” Rumsfeld said in an interview with Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed exclusively by JNS.org. “It plays into the hands of those people who are not in favor of the relationship [between Israel and the U.S.], who are not in favor of Israel, or who are in favor of Iran, and the idea that people are saying what they are saying I find most unfortunate.”
A New York City-based federal jury on Monday ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay $218.5 million in reparations to American citizens who were targeted by terror attacks in Jerusalem, and to the victims’ families. The ruling is seen as a major victory for those seeking to hold so-called moderate Palestinian factions accountable for terrorism. “This is a significant ruling because the jury has discarded the long-held fiction that the Palestinians are not responsible for their actions,” Stephen M. Flatow, a New Jersey-based attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad in 1995, told JNS.org.
Two recently passed student resolutions initiated by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement advocates in California share a common twist: lumping additional nations and political entities with Israel as divestment targets. Pro-Israel advocates give JNS.org their perspective of this BDS movement strategy.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has become a rising star in the Democratic Party through her focus on economic and social issues, triggering calls for her to run for president. Less is known about her views on Israel, but two recent moves may shed light on her outlook. Warren was one of four Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee to vote against the latest bipartisan Iran sanctions, and was also not among the 75 senators to sign a letter stating that the senators would not support foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority until the Obama administration reviews the PA’s unilateral bid to join the International Criminal Court. “The best place for the pro-Israel community to be is in a place where they have bipartisan support. … I would hope that Senator Warren would return to the bipartisan consensus position in the future,” said Tevi Troy, who served as White House liaison to the Jewish community under President George W. Bush.
Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot on Monday began his role as the new chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, succeeding Benny Gantz. Eizenkot assumes command of the IDF during a time marked by the potential for further escalations in Gaza, concern over the growing unrest among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, and a volatile situation on Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon. “The Middle East is changing and it has become very volatile,” Eizenkot said. “Under my command, the IDF will prioritize its readiness, its operational skills, and its ethical fortitude, so we may wield whatever force necessary in the defense of the Israeli public.”
A former New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer is suing the force for $150 million after facing what he claims was years of vicious anti-Semitic discrimination and abuse at the hands of his fellow officers, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by JNS.org. Former NYPD officer David Attali said he was subjected to daily anti-Semitic harassment and ridicule by his colleagues, who constantly referred to him as “Jew,” “dirty Jew,” and “f***ing Jew,” according to the legal complaint. Attali, a 31-year-old New York City resident who holds dual American and Israeli citizenship, said he endured the abuse for years before filing a complaint and resigning from the force just six years into his career.
The latest episode in a history of tension between the Obama administration and Israel has escalated to a new level, with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden opting out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech before a joint session of Congress on the Iranian nuclear issue and radical Islam. American vice presidents—who also serve as president of the U.S. Senate—are normally in attendance when foreign leaders address Congress, usually sitting behind the podium along with the speaker of the House. “Given the stakes and the hour, Biden’s decision to not even listen to Netanyahu’s speech is an abdication of his most basic responsibilities,” David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), told JNS.org. “It is the victory of politics over duty.”
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he remains “determined” to give his March 3 address before a joint session of Congress on the dangers of a nuclear Iran and radical Islam, the stakes surrounding the controversial speech continue to rise. The speech, which has drawn sharp criticism from the Obama administration, has left Democratic members of Congress and American Jewish leaders facing a difficult scenario: they can choose to support Netanyahu’s plans and by extension, Israel’s use of any means at its disposal to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, but doing so would mean defying the White House. “American Jewish leaders are in a bind,” said Dan Diker, a Mideast analyst at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress. “They’re being forced to deal with the perceived problem of dual loyalty, and no Jewish American ever wants to be in that position.”
Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence, the leader of a Jewish-sponsored institution that has been at the center of several recent controversies, sent an email on Friday afternoon that announced he would be stepping down at the end of the current school year. A highly regarded civil rights scholar, Lawrence's tenure at Brandeis since January 2011 has been marked by concerns about free speech.
Who was behind the Jan. 28 attack on northern Israel that killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven others? The easy answer would be the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, which claimed responsibility for the attack. But the wider suggests Hezbollah’s state sponsor: Iran. According to Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Iran and Hezbollah have been working for months to take advantage of instability in Syria in order to create a forward military position against Israel in Syria’s Quneitra region. “This is actually an Iranian project,” Karmon told JNS.org. “They have around 1,500 people on the ground in Syria, most of whom are counseling or training Syrian militias, and they have Hezbollah providing military support.”
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.
As the world continues to grapple with a new wave of Islamic extremism, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has emerged as an unlikely Middle East leader willing to confront terrorism both militarily and ideologically. In a recent speech at Egypt’s historic Al-Azhar University, El-Sisi declared an ambitious plan for a “revolution” in Islam, in order to reform the faith that he believes has made the Muslim world a source of “destruction” that is “making enemies of the whole world.” El-Sisi should be commended for delivering his remarks “at the center of Egypt’s religious establishment” and going “right into the belly of the beast,” said Oren Kessler, deputy director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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.