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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As both the holiest site in Judaism and home to a 1,400-year-old mosque, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is a natural flashpoint of Jewish-Muslim tension. But the conflict over the holy site has been particularly heated over the past year, with the latest incidents coming during the recent Passover holiday. The Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian status quo at the Temple Mount bans Jewish prayer there and restricts non-Muslim visitation to certain days and hours. While Jordan’s government recently warned of “serious consequences” for Israel over what it has described as “the invasion of settler groups and Israeli occupying forces in the Al-Aqsa mosque,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to resist calls by members of his own political party and ministerial cabinet for increased Jewish access to the Temple Mount. “If we do not think carefully and act wisely with regard to the Temple Mount, 1.6 billion Muslims, fueled by religious fervor, are liable to mobilize and become active participants in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Prof. Yedidia Stern, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. “Arguments based on principle, as important as they may be, must be weighed against the likely outcome of their implementation.”

Iowa on April 27 became the latest U.S. state to pass legislation designed to undermine the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In a 38-9 vote with three excused absences, the Iowa Senate passed one of the strongest anti-BDS bills in the country. The prospective law would prohibit both investment and contracting by the so-called “Hawkeye State” with companies participating in BDS, either against Israel or “territories controlled by Israel.” The bill also prohibits secondary boycotts by extending its ban to boycotters of those who do business in Israel or the “territories.”

With Syria’s civil war raging on in its sixth year, Israel has largely managed to keep a comfortable distance from the bloody conflict, in no small part thanks to the Jewish state’s strong presence in the strategic Golan Heights—a territory that has belonged to Israel for nearly 50 years, but is considered disputed territory by the international community. After acquiring and defending the Golan in wartime, Israel now faces a diplomatic battle over its control there. Recently, a circulated draft of talking points in U.N.-sponsored Syrian civil war peace talks featured a call on Israel to return the Golan to Syria. On April 17, the Israeli cabinet chose to hold its weekly meeting in the Golan Heights in order to affirm the Jewish state’s sovereignty in the area. The Arab response to that move proved to be a rare moment of unity for leaders on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war, who both stressed the goal of returning the Golan to Syrian control. “The perpetual hatred of Israel and blaming Israel for the region’s problems is the lowest common denominator,” said Middle East expert Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. But global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, has what one expert called potential “ripple effects” on the Middle East. “If indeed we have a full-fledged war between these two, it is not hard to imagine Turkey involved in some way on the Azerbaijani side,” said Amberin Zaman, a Turkish-born public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Then I can see Iran helping Armenia. Instability in the Caucuses region is always going to be very destabilizing for the wider region. There would be multiple negative ripple effects.”

The smoke billowing from a burning bus. The sirens of the first responders. The smell of explosives. All of those came back to haunt Jerusalem on Monday when a bomb detonated on Egged Bus 12 as it made its way from the Talpiot neighborhood to the city center. Twenty-one people were injured in the blast, which shattered what had been relative silence on Israel’s terrorism front during the months of March and April. According to the Israeli security establishment, there were 620 “substantial” terror attacks in the country in October 2015, dropping to 326 that November, 246 in December, 169 in January, 154 in February, 20 in March, and only three during the first week of April. But Monday’s bus bombing provided a rude awakening and evoked memories of the sophisticated attacks of the second Palestinian intifada more than a decade ago.

When it comes to projecting the Jewish vote in 2016, understanding demographics might lend some semblance of sanity to an election that most observers would compare to a roller coaster ride. As America’s primary election season is inching closer to its conclusion, five candidates remain in the race. Against the backdrop of the unpredictable primary stretch and the possibility of a contested Republican convention, JNS.org surveyed Jewish demographic experts for their take on how American Jews might vote in the remaining primaries and in November’s general election. Many voters nationwide appear to feel torn about both parties’ candidates, a sentiment that echoes in the Jewish electorate. “I think you have a whole corps of Jewish voters, Republicans and some independents, and even maybe a few Democrats, who in a sense are holding out until they see what happens in Cleveland at the Republican convention in July,” said Jewish demographer Dr. Steven Windmueller.

In its latest attempt to enhance Israeli lawmakers' knowledge of American Jewry, the Ruderman Family Foundation last week brought a delegation of Members of Knesset (MKs) to the U.S. During the mission, now in its fourth year, the six visiting MKs met with American Jewish leaders and U.S. government officials in order deepen the Israeli leaders' understanding of the challenges facing U.S. Jewry amid the unpredictable future of the U.S.-Israel relationship. “We just want a higher level of discussion in Israel about the American Jewish community,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told JNS.org.

Close observers of the anti-Israel Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have long kept a weather eye on California. But that attention has mostly focused on university campuses, including the prominent 10-school University of California system. Now, the Golden State is the latest battleground in a nationwide effort to draft and pass anti-BDS laws in U.S. state capitols, and pro-Israel advocates hope that success on the state-government level will curb the boycott movement’s momentum on campus. The pro-Israel side believes that state capitols present a more favorable battleground than campuses. “While you were doing your campus antics, the grown-ups were in the state legislatures passing laws that make your cause improbable,” said pro-Israel activist Noak Pollak, conveying the message that anti-BDS state legislation sends to the boycotters.

Is the current wave of Palestinian terrorism waning? The Israeli Shin Bet security agency’s latest data says yes. But the agency maintains that the Islamic Movement in Israel is still trying to stir violence on the Temple Mount holy site, and that terrorist groups plan to perpetrate large attacks against Israeli targets in the coming weeks. One of the chief concerns, the Shin Bet says, is that the current lull in violence is designed to conceal preparations for the next large wave of terror. Speaking at Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, the head of the Shin Bet research division told government ministers that there has been a dramatic decline in the number of Palestinian terrorist attacks in recent weeks. He added, however, that efforts to perpetrate complex attacks such as suicide bombings or abductions of soldiers still pose a concrete threat.

Indonesian officials rebuffed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent call for normalization between the countries. Experts say that Israel has much to gain by establishing diplomatic ties with the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, while continuing its strategic pivot to Asia, but the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process will likely put the brakes on any Israeli-Indonesian breakthrough in the near future. “I believe that there exists a great deal of potential for a formal diplomatic relationship between [Israel and Indonesia, and certainly there is interest on both sides, but we are still a long way off,” said Shira Loewenberg, director of the Asian Pacific Institute for the American Jewish Committee. “There is a lot of groundwork that must be laid, relationships to be built and strengthened, before we get to an official diplomatic relationship between the two.”

Activists and lawmakers say that more needs to be done to promote a positive view of Israel in Latin America, where two archenemies of Israel—the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Iran—are gaining traction and influence. “The reality is that Latin American support for Israel has been eroding gradually over the years,” said Leopoldo Martinez, the Latin America director of the Israel Allies Foundation, which recently sponsored the Second Annual Latin America Summit on Israel in Miami. “Sympathy has…increased for the Palestinian cause as populations of Arab and Palestinian descent in various Latin American countries have become more nationalistic and radicalized. Growing Iranian influence in Latin America has become a major concern,” Martinez told JNS.org. During the Israel Allies Foundation’s Miami summit, parliamentarians from 13 Latin American and Caribbean nations signed a resolution in support of Israel and against BDS. 

It is widely presumed that the Islamic State terror group is responsible for the near-eradication of the entire Assyrian Christian population. But understanding the complexities of how world powers interact with the Middle East reveals surprising reasons for the plight of one of the region’s oldest Christian communities, according to retired lieutenant colonel Sargis Sangari, an expert on the Assyrians and founder of the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement think tank. Sangari is an Assyrian Christian who was born and raised in Urmia, Iran, and immigrated to the United States at age 10. He is a decorated Iraq War veteran who served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, and he currently serves as one of the American advisers to Dwekh Nawsha, the Assyrian Christian militia force in the Middle East. “The Christians come last, and economic benefits to nations and global powers come first,” Sangari told JNS.org.

Debate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is often heard loudest from Jews in America and the rest of the Diaspora, perhaps most notably when it comes to anti-Israel activity on college campuses, rather than focusing on what leaders in the movement’s stated target—Israel—are saying. Yet “Stop the Boycott,” a March 28 conference in Jerusalem hosted by Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet, focused on BDS from a fully Israeli perspective. American actress and comedian Roseanne Barr, who gave remarks at the gathering, took the Israel-focused message to heart in a post-conference phone interview. “I think people should listen to what Jewish people say that live here, in Israel, rather than those people that live in Chicago and especially those that aren’t even Jewish,” Barr, who has become known for expressing strongly pro-Israel sentiments on Twitter, told JNS.org. “Jewish people need to be the ones to talk about it—not [Pink Floyd’s] Roger Waters or the pope. It’s a Jewish subject. The rest of the people should keep their mouths shut and listen for a change.”

“Every week there is an attack at the U.N. against Israel,” Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said in an interview at the recent AIPAC conference. In the week that followed the interview, the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed a Canadian legal expert who has expressed anti-Israel views to the post of special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. The UNHRC also adopted a measure that calls for the creation of a database—or what Danon called a “blacklist”—of businesses “involved in activities” in Judea and Samaria. But what can Israel actually do about its concerns on decades of U.N. bias? Danon told JNS.org that double standards should still be called out for what they are, Israel also needs good cop advocacy at the world body. “When I stepped in, I told my staff we would push a positive agenda,” he said. “That’s what we are doing. Almost every week we have an event at the U.N. It can be an Israeli singer, or it can be a panel about water technology in Israel. We create the atmosphere, and it is working—that Israel is not all about the conflict with the Palestinians, but we have a lot to offer the U.N.”

The tragedy of Israeli deaths in the recent Istanbul suicide bombing might have somewhat of a silver lining for Israel, with the attack generating a brief moment of solidarity between the Jewish state and Turkey as they seek to confront the mutual threat of Islamic terror emanating from Syria. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Turkish leaders were quick to send condolences to Israel and made other goodwill gestures. “Israel was able to fly in army planes and Israeli soldiers were on Turkish soil [after the Istanbul attack], which you haven’t seen in a very long time,” Louis Fishman, an assistant professor of history at Brooklyn College who has lived in Turkey and writes about Turkish-Israeli affairs, told JNS.org. “It is almost like they snapped back into how they used to work together many years ago.” At the same time, overcoming years of Turkish leaders' anti-Semitic rhetoric and fundamental disagreements over Israeli policies towards the Palestinians might still make full Turkish-Israeli reconciliation a tall order.

At the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, each of the remaining U.S. presidential candidates—except for Democratic contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, who did not appear—essentially laid claim to be the most pro-Israel candidate. But those were only speeches. What candidates espouse on the campaign trail is almost never a fully accurate foreshadowing of what their policies will be once they’re in office. When it comes to Israel, which has long been touted by the AIPAC lobby and other pro-Israel groups as a bipartisan issue, there have been some policy shifts in recent years, says Amnon Cavari, a lecturer at Israel's Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy. “Democrats are still more supportive of Israelis than Palestinians, but the gap is smaller [than it is for Republicans],” Cavari told JNS.org. “We started to see Democratic support for Israel slip in the 1990s, and it has dropped dramatically during the 2000s.” Meanwhile, Dennis Ross—who has served as a key Mideast adviser for both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations—believes that a president’s Israel policy depends less on the president and more on the president’s advisers. Even U.S. administrations with strong pro-Israel records have contained within their foreign policy contingencies “a group that saw Israel as more of a problem than a partner,” Ross said in a recent lecture.

Belgium and all of Europe are reeling from the March 22 terror blasts at Brussels’s Zaventem airport and Maelbeek subway station. The latest counts say that 31 people were killed and 270 were injured in the Brussels attacks, for which the Islamic State terror group has claimed responsibility. In Israel—a country long accustomed to dealing with terrorism like rocket attacks from Gaza as well as the current wave of Palestinian stabbing, shooting, and car-ramming attacks—several politicians have harshly criticized Belgian authorities for what they see as insufficient security protocols across Europe and the continent’s lax policy on allowing in Middle Eastern refugees. Dr. Amira Halperin, an expert on radicalization in Europe and researcher for the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told JNS.org that many “legal, political, and policy” reasons have prevented European nations from acting as thoroughly as they could have on terror threats.

In a much-anticipated speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Monday, Republican presidential primary front-runner Donald Trump said that dismantling the “disastrous” Iran nuclear deal would be his top priority as president. Trump also unveiled a three-pronged strategy for dealing with Iran, offering the type of detailed policy talk that critics have accused him of leaving out of previous speeches. Trump was warmly received by the AIPAC crowd after being the subject of much pre-conference debate regarding whether or not the pro-Israel lobby should have invited him, due to his controversial policy proposals such as banning Muslim immigration. But he earned far more cheers and laughter than boos during his speech, resulting from his jokes, his stylistic choices such as his repeated use of the phrase “believe me,” and his well-known propensity to make sweeping declarations.

As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican contender Donald Trump emerge as the clear front-runners for their respective parties’ nominations, Clinton on Monday told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference that she is a “steady” alternative to Trump when it comes to Israel and the Middle East. “We need steady hands. Not a president who said he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday…Israel’s security is non-negotiable,” Clinton said, referring to Trump’s recent comments that he would be a “neutral” peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s Republican rivals have also targeted those remarks.

Three Israeli tourists, among them two dual Israeli-American citizens, were killed Saturday when a suicide bomber detonated himself on a busy shopping street in the heart of Istanbul, the fourth such attack in Turkey so far this year. The attack will raise further questions about NATO member Turkey’s ability to protect itself against a spillover of violence from the war in neighboring Syria.