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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Former secretary of state James Baker, a prominent figure in president George H. W. Bush’s administration and a critic of the Israeli government’s policies, is under fire from conservatives and pro-Israel activists for his decision to speak at the annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. But should the pro-Israel community’s concern extend to former Florida governor and presumed presidential candidate Jeb Bush, for whom Baker serves as a foreign policy adviser? “Baker is not a key adviser to Jeb Bush; he has about a dozen policy advisers, all of whom are strong supporters of Israel. ... Jeb disagrees with [Baker] on the U.S.-Israel relationship and the way forward in the Middle East,” said Fred Zeidman, a Houston businessman and Republican fundraiser who is close with the Bush family.

Fresh off a decisive election victory, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in yet another diplomatic storm with U.S. President Barack Obama over pre-election comments that a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch. Netanyahu later clarified that he wants “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.” But were his initial remarks even a policy change to begin with? While mainstream media outlets reported that Netanyahu’s pre-election remarks were a significant departure from a 2009 speech he gave at Bar-Ilan University, in which he backed a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state, both supporters and opponents of Netanyahu within Israel say that the prime minister’s policy on a two-state solution has been consistent.

On Monday, nearly 500 college students attending the annual J Street conference in America’s capital gathered outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for a two-block march to the headquarters of Hillel International to express disappointment that the Jewish campus umbrella’s CEO and president, Eric Fingerhut, cancelled his appearance at the conference. Fingerhut had pulled out of the gathering after learning that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has compared Israel to the Islamic State terror group and defended Hamas, was also speaking at the conference.

When the champion of the U.S.-Israel alliance sounds the alarm, something about the steadfast allies’ relationship is more contentious than usual. Last week, the staunchly bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—which does not frequently issue public statements, let alone criticize a sitting American president—urged the Obama administration to “recommit to improving” U.S.-Israel ties. Tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama is nothing new, but seems to have escalated to an even higher level. JNS.org reviews five current sources of bitterness in the leaders’ relationship: Iran, the two-state solution, the U.N., Israeli Arabs, and alleged U.S. funding of anti-Netanyahu campaign efforts.

Near the entrance to the city of Ariel in the heart of Samaria lies an Arab strip mall of sorts, where Jews and Palestinians alike can get fruits and vegetables, a car wash, pet supplies, hummus, and falafel. The former mayor of Ariel, Ron Nachman, used to joke that the area is Ariel’s “duty-free zone.” It’s located right on the border of Israeli-controlled and Palestinian-controlled territory, so no one really knows exactly to whom the shop owners pay taxes. It’s also where JNS.org got a sampling of the range of Palestinian reactions to Israel’s March 17 election.

On Wednesday in Jerusalem, JNS.org caught up Israelis who were fresh off casting a ballot the day before. Given that in the city of Jerusalem, the gap between Likud (24 percent of the vote) and Zionist Union (10 percent) was even more pronounced than the disparity between those parties in the rest of the country, it wasn’t surprising to see voters in the Israeli capital’s Old City celebrating the decisive victory by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. After Likud defied pre-election polls in which the party trailed the socioeconomically focused Zionist Union, security was at the forefront of Netanyahu supporters’ minds. “Bitachon (security) is the most important thing. We know he won’t give away our land,” says Aaron Selam, who mans a table selling yarmulkes on the landing overlooking the Western Wall courtyard.

After trailing in the polls leading up to Tuesday’s Israeli election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party defied those projections with a sweeping victory over the Zionist Union party, according to official results released Wednesday. Netanyahu is in strong position to extend his current six-year run as prime minister. Though the pre-election sentiment was that Israeli voters would prioritize domestic economic issues over security and foreign policy, it may have been security that ultimately swung election day in Likud’s favor. “My experience and my understanding in Israel is that ultimately, security is the issue on the minds of Israelis: left, right, center,” Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of Steinreich Communications, a New Jersey-based public relations firm that also has an office in Israel, told JNS.org. “The economy and the economic outlook are important, but secondary.”

Organizations representing religious minorities in the Middle East have submitted a memorandum to the United Nations in New York City, asking that U.N. missions from various countries call on the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution against the Islamic State terror group’s persecution of minorities and to take tangible steps to save those vulnerable groups. “We are hearing from thousands across the globe who either want to fight on behalf of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria... Because we believe in the rule of law and the dignity of humankind towards one another, we cannot but hope that the U.N. listens to the world’s peoples and acts on our call for action,” David William Lazar, chairman of the American Mesopotamian Organization, told JNS.org.

For nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, which all have Sunni Muslim-majority populations, Iran—which is a Shi’a Muslim and ethnically Persian country—has long been viewed as a regional rival. Now, the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has given Israel and those Arab states a shared concern. Recent media reports said that Saudi diplomats expressed their willingness to lend Saudi Arabia’s airspace to Israel for a possible attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Although those reports have been officially denied by both Riyadh and Jerusalem, this kind of cooperation makes strategic sense,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council think tank, told JNS.org. “Saudi Arabia and Israel both feel betrayed by the current negotiations underway with Iran, and both feel they need to make alternative plans to cope with what both view as an existential threat to its existence.”

After speaking to Congress on March 3 despite the objections of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “a prime minister in Israel must be able to stand up even to our closest ally and tell the truth.” In an interview published Friday by Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed exclusively by JNS.org, Netanyahu said his speech about the Iranian nuclear threat was “well worth the cost of confrontation” with President Barack Obama. “What are we expected to do with such a fateful issue?” asked Netanyahu. “Put our heads down?

In perhaps the most widely debated address ever given by a foreign leader to Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described a “fateful crossroads” on the Iranian nuclear threat and said that the emerging deal between Iran and world powers is paving the way for a Middle East “littered with nuclear bombs.”

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.

Amid a rocky week for the relationship between U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and the pro-Israel community, Rice’s assessment of the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers put her at odds with attendees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Monday night. In the aftermath of Rice's remark that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Congress speech is "destructive" for the U.S.-Israel relationship, which prompted a widely condemned newspaper advertisement that accused her of having a "blind spot" on genocide, Rice experienced discord with the AIPAC conference audience on Iran sanctions and the parameters of a nuclear deal.

A day before his much-debated speech about Iran to a joint session of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday attempted to assure the 16,000 people attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference—an annual showcase for the U.S-Israel relationship—that current tension will not derail the countries’ friendship. “Disagreements in the family are always uncomfortable, but we must always remember that we are family,” Netanyahu said.

 

As 16,000 people gathered for the 2015 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference from March 1-3, much attention was transfixed three weeks ahead on the calendar. Beyond the short-term hoopla surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, looming large was a March 24 deadline for Iran and world powers to reach a political framework agreement in their nuclear negotiations. Prognostications were abound on what shape a framework agreement may take and what the response of Congress would be to a deal—or the absence of a deal. “I do think the negotiators have made enough progress that they will declare by the end of March that they have an understanding on a political framework,” said Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction. “My guess is, Congress does not pass new sanctions [against Iran] with a two-thirds vote over a presidential veto, and Congress does not reduce the existing sanctions,” said U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

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.