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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Fresh off his first official visit with President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again shifted his focus towards bolstering Israel’s alliances beyond the North American continent. Netanyahu took a historic trip to Australia this week in a bid to refresh Israel’s relations with an important and longtime ally. Yet the prime minister’s visit also came at a time of questions—including within Australia’s political opposition—over the future of the two-state solution and Israel’s settlement policy. “The biggest danger for Israel is losing the bipartisan support, like we have seen over the last week or two inside the Labor Party,” said Shahar Burla, an Israeli-born journalist based in Sydney, referring to that Australian party's push for Palestinian statehood recognition.

Amid a sea change in U.S. politics and an ever-changing Middle East, Israel has counted on a constant source of support for nearly half a century: the engagement of America’s most influential Jewish organizations. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week convened its annual mission to Israel with a delegation of more than 110 leaders from the umbrella body’s 53 member groups. Conference of Presidents CEO Malcolm Hoenlein told JNS.org that “the diversity of participation” is what distinguishes the group from any other that visits the Jewish state.

In 1996, when Boaz Ganor founded Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, top security figures around the world gave short shrift to the academic study of terrorism. That is, of course, until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Only then did the world take note of the great importance of bridging the gap between academics and practitioners. But while the study of counter-terrorism is now considered crucial in the fight against global terror, the “art” of counter-terrorism, as Ganor calls it, is anything but intuitive for heads of state. The Israeli academic and his team believe that world leaders often self-sabotage with counter-productive policies and doctrines. Israel correspondent Eliana Rudee reviews the factors that counter-terrorism experts like Ganor deem some of the most important current challenges in their field.

The chances of a formal peace agreement between Israel and the wider Arab world in the near future are slim, contrary to media reports and the posturing of Israeli opposition politicians, experts say. Citing unidentified former senior Obama administration officials, the Haaretz newspaper reported Sunday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had met with Egyptian and Jordanian heads of state in a secret meeting last year in Jordan, in order to promote a regional peace agreement. The talks led nowhere, and Haaretz’s report blamed Netanyahu for the negotiations’ failure because he backed out over opposition from within his governing coalition. “This was a one-sided leak by Obama officials, suggesting there is no reason to believe there was any real prospect of negotiations on serious terms,” said Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law and an expert on international law.

Islamic State-affiliated armed organizations are challenging the Hamas terror group’s rule in the Gaza Strip and are seeking to topple the Islamist regime, which they accuse of being un-Islamic and lacking in jihadist spirit. The complex situation reflects how Hamas prefers to exploit the current absence of a full-scale conflict with Israel to build up its military wing, fill up its rocket depots and dig tunnels for future cross-border attacks. Yet at same time, the Islamic State-affiliated smaller groups, known as Salafi jihadists, insist on armed conflict with Israel right now. 

American Jewish leaders are enthusiastically applauding President Donald Trump’s call on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to remove anti-Jewish hate material from its school books. At his press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Feb. 15, Trump said “the Palestinians have to get rid of” the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish material that appears in PA school texts. “They're taught tremendous hate,” he said. “I’ve seen what they’re taught…it starts at a very young age and it starts in the school room.” Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.org, “The U.S. government should use all leverage at its disposal to do something about changing the Palestinian school books, especially when the U.S. provides the Palestinians with over $350 million in aid each year.” 

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held their first joint press conference Wednesday at the White House, ahead of a private meeting that was expected to herald warmer ties between the Israeli and American administrations. Yet the leaders’ public comments highlighted some of their disagreements, with Trump calling on Israel to “hold back” on settlement building and to show more “flexibility” in negotiations with the Palestinians. 

Israel’s standing as a global cybersecurity powerhouse advanced in recent weeks, with the U.S. House of Representatives passing new legislation that would improve American-Israeli cooperation in that sector. The United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017, which passed in the House Jan. 31, creates a cybersecurity grant program for joint research and development projects. The legislation’s advancement comes as cybersecurity is one of the world’s fastest-growing security fields—not just for governments, but also for terrorist groups. “Israel and the U.S. share the same enemies in the cyber realm, consisting of both jihad groups as well as hacktivist groups associated with the likes of [the international hacker network] Anonymous, who also target the Jewish community worldwide online,” said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Officials from the Turkish and Israeli foreign ministries met for the first time in more than six years earlier this month, striving to draft a roadmap to promote cooperation in areas such as energy and commerce. As Turkey and Israel ease into a new era in their relationship, collaboration on more sensitive issues like security has been slower to emerge. Israeli Consul General in Istanbul Shai Cohen said that the normalization of Turkish-Israeli ties is “starting step by step, mainly on ‘soft powers’ like trade, culture, academic ties and tourism, issues that are ready to be enhanced in the short-term.”

Days after the settlement outpost of Amona was evacuated by order of Israel’s High Court of Justice, the Knesset passed legislation to retroactively legalize all settlement housing sitting on property that has been identified as private Palestinian land. The law is being hailed by supporters of the settlement movement as a step toward extending full Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories, while opponents have called the law a “land grab” that violates international law. Yet several leading legal scholars say the “Regulation Law” does not contradict Israeli law, and that precedents both inside and outside Israel can justify its passage within the context of international law. “I wouldn’t call it a land grab,” Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Israel’s former ambassador to Canada. “These people have been already living where they are living for many years. The opposition to this law is more of a political issue.”

The controversy over Israel’s security checkpoints is heating up in the wake of a new investigative report showing that the perceived hardships endured by Palestinian travelers are much less severe than critics of Israel have charged. Human Rights Watch asserted in its most recent annual report that waiting times at the checkpoints are “onerous,” and Amnesty International claimed the waiting times constitute “collective punishment.” But filmmaker Ami Horowitz, in the “Palestinian Road Trip” video, presented interviews he conducted at the Kalandia checkpoint with Palestinian travelers who all said it took 10 minutes or less to get through the checkpoint. “That included waiting time and the time it took for the Israeli soldiers to check their identity papers,” Horowitz told JNS.org.

Israel carried out the much-discussed evacuation of the Jewish outpost of Amona last week in a process that raised renewed questions about the future of Israeli settlements, with Israeli lawmakers seeking to retroactively legalize numerous outposts and the Trump administration possibly offering newfound support for the settlement enterprise. For Israeli supporters of settlements in the West Bank, the evacuation of 40 families and hundreds of protesters from Amona—located approximately 10 miles north of Jerusalem—was a painful event that stung at the core of their nationalistic and ideological beliefs about settling across the land of Israel. “We were mutilated, violated, symbolically, metaphorically, I don’t know what to say,” said Eli Greenberg, who along with his wife and eight children lived in Amona for nearly 20 years.

President Donald Trump’s administration issued new sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program Friday, marking a major step toward realigning U.S. policy in the Middle East away from the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the Iranian-Shi’a axis and back toward supporting the interests of America’s traditional Sunni regional allies as well as Israel. Former President Barack Obama had pursued warmer U.S. ties with Iran by making concessions to reach the 2015 nuclear deal and by not responding to aggressive Iranian actions. Trump’s shift in approach comes as Iran’s regional ambitions continue to spread deeper into Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. “What we see with Trump is simply a return to the normal bipartisan position that ties U.S. relations with Iran to its regional behavior,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and an expert on Iran.

With $221 million in U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) possibly hanging in the balance, American Jewish leaders and organizations across the political spectrum are denouncing the PA’s reported use of torture against prisoners. Israeli Arab journalist Khalid Abu Toameh charged last week that the PA’s Jericho Central Prison has become a “fort of torture.” Writing for the Gatestone Institute think tank, Toameh cited a new report by the Arab Organization for Human Rights that the PA’s security forces committed more than 3,000 human rights violations in 2016. Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress for North America, said “it is outrageous that American tax dollars intended to help build peace with the Palestinians by supporting basic services such as education and health care, are instead used to enable the abusers of human rights.” Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, said, “We are definitely concerned by such practices, and believe that they should stop, even if they are done in the course of the PA’s close security cooperation with Israel to fight terrorism.”

Before being elected last November, President Donald Trump described the Iran nuclear agreement as “the worst deal ever negotiated” and said he would act to dismantle it. This position echoes the frequent comments on the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet it remains far from clear whether the defense establishments of Israel and the U.S. would like to see the nuclear deal canceled, despite the deep misgivings and concerns they both hold about the accord. Prof. Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the founding director of the School of Communication at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said there is wide agreement across the Trump administration that the nuclear deal is insufficient, yet it also “remains unclear how Trump and the Pentagon wish to fix its shortcomings….In Israel too, there is an agreement that the deal is not good, but there are disagreements over how bad it is, and what can be done to address its faults.”

Following the Israeli government’s approval of nearly 800 apartments in Jewish communities located in contested eastern sections of Jerusalem, experts and officials say the new housing projects will not hinder Israel’s ability to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nadav Shragai, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, contended that the newly announced Jerusalem housing units are in well-established Jewish neighborhoods and will not shift the demographic borders between the city’s Jewish and Arab communities. “Building these apartments has no impact on the possibilities for a Palestinian state,” said Shragai, who explained that what is usually referred to as east Jerusalem “is not only the eastern sections of the city. It is north, south and east.” Jerusalem City Council Member Arieh King said the new construction has less to do with issues of applying Israeli sovereignty and more to do with alleviating a housing crisis. “There is a great need for more apartments in Jerusalem….Young couples are leaving the city because they cannot afford the prices of apartments,” he told JNS.org.

Aside from its centrality to Jewish peoplehood as the home of the ancient Jewish Temples and now the modern state of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem is also synonymous with Judaism for many Bible-reading Christians. As such, prominent pro-Israel Christian organizations are lining up to express their support for President Donald Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to hold the president accountable for his words. “Hundreds of millions of Christians around the world understand from their Bible the spiritual significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, and that it was established as the capital of Israel some 3,000 years ago by King David,” said Susan Michael, U.S. director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, adding that Christians “want to see the U.S. standing in support of Israel and enjoying the blessings of doing so.”

Israel’s relations with Russia remain friendly and pragmatic, yet full of tension, in the early days of America’s Trump era. Following President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric on seeking rapprochement with Russia, his administration signaled its willingness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. A measuring stick for shifting American-Russian ties could be the positive working relationship between Israel and Russia, despite the disagreements in the latter relationship over Moscow’s support for Israeli enemies like Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Yuri Teper, an expert on Russia and a postdoctoral fellow at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that Israel's relations with Russia “it seems, for the most part, are handled with mutual understanding of each other’s interests.” But Anna Borshchevskaya, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “While [Russian President Vladimir] Putin did bring Russia closer to Israel over the years, it was always for purely pragmatic reasons.”

The human consequences of implementing the recent United Nations resolution about Israel would be devastating, say American representatives of Israeli schools, synagogues and other institutions in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured in 1967. A number of major Jerusalem neighborhoods are situated in what the U.N. calls the “occupied Palestinian territory” of “East Jerusalem,” including French Hill. “I live in French Hill,” award-winning Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi told JNS.org. “So the recent U.N. resolution has criminalized me and my family as occupiers.” Institutions that could be adversely affected by the U.N. measure include the Ilan Residential Home for Handicapped Young Adults and the Beit Or Home for Young Autistic Adults, forests and housing projects sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, portions of the Hebrew University campus, and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

Ahead of this year’s marking of International Holocaust Remembrance Day Jan. 27, new details have been revealed concerning how much the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration knew about the Nazis’ euthanasia policy, and why the U.S. failed to respond.