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 win in the Iowa caucus, Sen. Ted Cruz has emerged as a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination. While pro-Israel statements have been far from uncommon in the current GOP field, Cruz’s backers say that in both words and actions, the senator stands out from the crowd in his support for the Jewish state. “I hope that whatever else happens in the campaign, both parties will try to outcompete each other in signaling to the new president a more pro-Israel foreign policy,” said Gary Bauer, the U.S. under secretary of education for president Ronald Reagan and himself a Republican presidential candidate in 2000. “But I personally think that Senator Cruz is the best bet to do that.”

Members of the family of Hadar Cohen, the Israeli Border Police officer who was killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday, gathered at their home in Or Yehuda on Thursday to mourn their loss. Her aunt, Zehavit Cohen, expressed her dismay that the 19-year-old rookie policewoman who had not yet completed basic training was posted at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate—a spot notorious for being the site of numerous terrorist attacks. “After a mere two months of service, I think it was too much,” Zehavit said. At the same time, Cohen killed one of the terrorists at the scene on Wednesday, helping prevent what could have been a larger attack.

The Israeli government’s passage of legislation that authorizes egalitarian prayer in a soon-to-be-created 9,700-square-foot, NIS 35 million ($8.85 million) section adjacent to the southern part of the Western Wall (Kotel in Hebrew) has been called groundbreaking, empowering, dramatic, and unprecedented. Beyond the blueprints, the ratified plan is a paradigm shift—a powerful statement about the overt impact Diaspora Jewry and global Jewish leaders could have on Israeli decision-making. “I am sure that the [Israeli] government must now take into account—should take into consideration—the position of world Jewry on the decisions it makes,” Hagay Elizur, senior director of diaspora affairs for Israel’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy & Diaspora Affairs, told JNS.org.

The 2016 U.S. presidential race has been high on twists, with billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump and socialist Bernie Sanders leading in many polls. But the topsy-turvy journey might just be getting started. As voters prepare to cast their first ballots in Iowa and New Hampshire, former New York City mayor and Jewish billionaire Michael Bloomberg, whose net worth dwarfs even that of Trump, is reportedly considering an independent run for president. “[Bloomberg] would make an exceptional candidate for a variety of reasons, in particular for the Jewish community. He has always shown himself to be a big supporter of Israel in different ways, such as donating his personal money in various charities,” said Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of Steinreich Communications, a New Jersey-based public relations firm that also has an office in Israel.

While a high-profile Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini, saw his freedom as part of Iran’s recent release of five American prisoners, the persecution of Christians in Iran rages on with no end in sight and no indication that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will prioritize the release of about 100 Christians who have been imprisoned for believing in a faith other than Islam. 

The Indiana House of Representatives this week passed new legislation that targets businesses or other entities that engage in the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, marking the latest victory in the fight against BDS on the U.S. state level. House Bill 1378, which was introduced by Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and was passed unanimously by the legislature on Jan. 25, requires “the public retirement system to divest from businesses that engage in action or inaction to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.” The Indiana bill follows the passage of anti-BDS measures in Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois, while similar legislation has been proposed in California.

While millions of people around the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, an Iranian government-sponsored Holocaust cartoon contest was in the works. This year’s competition is not the first of its kind, but carries added significance in the aftermath of last summer’s nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 nations. “What’s different this year—and most alarming—is that policy makers in the U.S. and Europe view the Iranian regime as a stabilizing force in the imploding Middle East. This is a horrific mistake,” said Charles A. Small, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy.

Although they both support the Obama administration-brokered nuclear deal with Iran, the top two Democratic candidates running for president now find themselves in a high-profile disagreement about American policy on the Islamic Republic. During the latest Democratic debate on Jan. 17, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for normalization in relations with Iran, which would represent a radical shift in U.S. policy in the Middle East. Former first lady Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term, said she considered such a move to be premature. Supporters of Clinton were quick to blast Sanders’s position. “Sadly, I’m not shocked at Bernie’s newly stated position. It follows his most-liberal-at-any-cost naïveté on some foreign policy matters,” Steve Rabinowitz, who has worked on the national staffs of nine U.S. presidential campaigns and served as White House director of design and productions for former president Bill Clinton, told JNS.org.

While Germany takes pride in confronting its Holocaust past and maintaining a strong relationship with Israel, the European nation’s recent influx of more than a million Middle East migrants—many originating in countries like Syria and Iraq, which have deeply rooted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic cultures—has generated fear among German Jews that the refugees will undermine their safety. Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, argues that Germany has “failed to internalize that modern anti-Semitism—hatred of the Jewish state and the delegitimization of Israel via product labels, for example—is the main problem.”

After narrowly defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucus, Hillary Clinton bolstered her status as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential race. If elected, how would U.S.-Israel relations fare under her watch? To gain insight into the prospect of a Clinton administration for the Jewish state, JNS.org looks back—in reverse chronological order—at her words, policies, and relationships as they relate to Israel over the course of the various stages of her political career.

For two of the three major monotheistic religions, the connection to Israel’s current wave of terror—whose recently killed 29th and 30th victims are Dafna Meir, a mother of six stabbed in her home, and Shlomit Krigman, who was stabbed at a grocery store—is clear. While Jews like Meir and Krigman have been targeted by numerous stabbing, shooting, and car-ramming attacks, Israeli leaders point to Palestinian incitement over an Islamic holy site, the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa mosque, as a root cause of the violence. But how do the 166,000 Christians living in Israel fit into the picture? Comprising 2 percent of the country’s population, Christians are fully integrated members of Israeli society—including their rising voluntary enlistment in the IDF—standing in stark contrast to the widespread persecution of Christians elsewhere in the Middle East. Israeli Christians interviewed by JNS.org say that daily life during the terror wave essentially goes on as normal, but with extra vigilance and a little more faith.

Almost three months after the landmark visit of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj this week followed suit with a two-day visit to Israel amid increasingly warm ties between the two countries. “I am a personal advocate of strong ties between India and Israel, so I am very happy to see that our relations are progressing so well in all our fields of engagement,” said Swaraj.

Following an intensive manhunt, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security agency on Tuesday apprehended the suspected 16-year-old Palestinian terrorist who murdered Dafna Meir, an Israeli mother of six, in her home in Otniel on Sunday. Meir was laid to rest in Jerusalem on Monday. “Mommy, my beautiful mother, my best friend,” said Dafna’s eldest daughter, Renana, who saw her mother being stabbed to death in the family’s kitchen. “Do you see how many people care about you? You left an enormous void in all of our hearts.”

While the threat of border clashes with Islamic State terrorists fighting in the Syrian civil war has concerned Israeli leaders for some time now, the recruitment of Israeli Arabs to form their own terror cells or launch lone wolf attacks inside of Israel—akin to the Paris and San Bernardino attacks late in 2015—has recently become a more serious threat for the Jewish state. “This is a developing threat for Israel, the possibility that [Islamic State] will take advantage of the new recruits to study the Israeli arena and obtain information to be used for promoting terrorist activities in Israel,” said Daniel Cohen, an expert on cyber-security and a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Two left-wing, pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs—Ta’ayush and B’Tselem—have come under fire in Israel after their senior leaders were exposed last week on Israeli Channel 2’s investigative television program, “Uvda,” for helping the Palestinian Authority (PA) detain, torture, and potentially kill Palestinians who are selling land to Israeli Jews. The PA prohibits Palestinians from selling land to Israeli Jews. The exposé was made possible by hidden camera footage filmed by members of Ad Kan (Hebrew for “up to here”), a group founded to uncover malpractice by left-wing groups in Israel. A police investigation has been launched into the revelations, and the allegations were bolstered after the prominent member of Ta’ayush featured in the program was arrested Monday by Israeli authorities while allegedly attempting to flee the country via Ben Gurion International Airport. “Anyone who has followed the activities and agendas of the fringe anti-Israel NGO network should have seen the signs of immoral behavior behind the human rights façade,” Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor, told JNS.org.

The ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorism that has plagued Israel since last fall has also brought to the fore the Palestinians’ frustration with their own leadership. While Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has been blamed for inciting violence against Israelis, many Palestinians have become disillusioned with the PA’s corruption and inability to attain statehood. As such, Israeli leaders are increasingly concerned that internal Palestinian dissatisfaction could bring about the PA’s collapse, resulting in a dangerous political and security vacuum in the West Bank. “The PA handles a great deal of the day-to-day governance issues that Israel is very happy not to fulfill. The PA also plays a significant role in minimizing the dangers of Hamas in the West Bank. A full PA collapse would be calamitous from Israel’s perspective,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Amid heightened tensions between the two most powerful Muslim nations in the Middle East, experts say the loudest sound might be American silence. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shi’a Muslim dissident who was arrested in 2012 by Saudi authorities, was one of 47 men executed on Jan. 2 by Saudi authorities in the largest mass execution in decades. While nearly all of the 47 men killed had ties with Sunni Muslim terror groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, the inclusion of al-Nimr set off outrage in Iran, which views itself as the protector of Shi’a Muslims. The next day, Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran over the execution. This led several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, to cut or downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran. Dr. David Andrew Weinberg, an expert on Saudi Arabia and Gulf states for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Saudis “are inclined to lash out because they don’t feel America has their back.” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, similarly said, “The silence out of the White House is deafening.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday announced the future closure of five diplomatic missions abroad due to budgetary considerations. Despite the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia’s presence among the closures, public policy experts say the development will not adversely affect U.S.-Israel relations. “In the last decade many countries, including the United States, have closed consulates. It’s never a good thing, but we should not exaggerate the impact. This will have no impact on U.S.-Israel diplomatic or political relations,” Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank as well as a former official in the George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan presidential administrations, told JNS.org.

With an eye on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, California State Assemblyman Travis Allen (R) on Monday introduced Assembly Bill 1552, which would ensure that California doesn’t contract with businesses that engage in boycotts based on race, color, religion, gender, or nationality. “California strongly opposes discrimination. Of particular concern lately is the fact that boycotts of entities and individuals affiliated with specific countries can amount to ethnic, religious, racial and/or national origin discrimination. No group better demonstrates this fact than the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), whose use of false, demonizing and delegitimizing propaganda against the State of Israel has become a pretext for the expression of anti-Jewish bigotry,” said Allen.

Following the Vatican’s recent release of its latest document on Jewish-Christian relations, the takeaways for mainstream media were manifested in headlines making such pronouncements as, “Vatican says Catholics should not try to convert Jews,” or “Jews don’t need Christ to be saved.” But those who have worked to foster Jewish-Catholic ties for decades have more nuanced perspectives on the new document and the history that preceded it. At its core, “A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate’” rejects both replacement theology and the notion that the covenant of the Jews with God has been negated. “In parts, the document is written in specialized Catholic theological terminology, inevitable because of the complexity of the topics it discusses. Therefore, it can easily be misconstrued by readers unfamiliar with relevant past texts or recent topics in the dialogue,” said Philip A. Cunningham, president of the International Council of Christians and Jews.