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.

Latest News

In the middle of a phone interview with JNS.org, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump leaves his desk to scan the wall of his office for awards he has received from the Jewish community. Trump reads the text of some relevant plaques before returning to his desk. But before the reporter can move on to the next question, Trump eagerly points out that he was the grand marshal of New York City’s annual Salute to Israel Parade in 2004, in the middle of the second Palestinian intifada. There are already 13 declared Republican presidential candidates, but Trump argues—in his typically brash and blunt fashion—that his history with the Jewish people and the Jewish state can set him apart from the rest of the GOP field on the Israel issue. “The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” he says. “The rest of them are all talk, no action. They’re politicians. I’ve been loyal to Israel from the day I was born.”

The setting was informal on a recent Sunday afternoon in New York City: a small-but-dry room providing a haven during a Central Park downpour that followed the Celebrate Israel Parade. But the large crowd and the weather outside were far from the mind of John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Instead, ahead of a July 7 deadline (extended from June 30) for a final nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, the vocal supporter of Israel and former official in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations honed in on a different kind of storm. “My focus is on the threat of a nuclear Iran and how close it is to creating deliverable nuclear weapons,” Bolton said in an interview with JNS.org. “That, and how serious the threat of a nuclear Iran is to Israel and the United States.” 

After more than a decade of intermittent negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the P5+1 nations missed a June 30 deadline to reach a final deal with Iran and have a new deadline of July 7. But with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejecting several key components agreed to under a framework reached in April, such as access by inspectors to military sites, many observers fear that negotiators might agree to a weak deal with Iran or no deal at all. Against that backdrop, JNS.org examines the positions of each of the P5+1 countries as they approach of the deadline.

The U.S.-based Israel education group The Israel Project on Friday sent an email asking supporters to sign a petition urging Philadelphia’s Drexel University to withdraw an honorary degree it gave anti-Israel activist Noam Chomsky earlier this month. Chomsky, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology emeritus professor in linguistics, has gone as far as embracing the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah and calling the policies of the Gaza-ruling terrorist organization Hamas “preferable to the policies of America and Israel.”

Though it shares a border with Syria, Israel has tried to stay out of the four-year-long civil war to its north. But recent gains by rebel groups and Islamists in Syria have threatened the Druze—an ethno-religious minority mainly residing in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel—including a massacre resembling what other Mideast minorities such as Christians, Kurds, and Yazidis have faced. As a result, there have been strong calls within Israel’s influential Druze community to intervene of the behalf of the Syrian Druze.

A political upheaval is seemingly underway in Turkey, as the Islamist AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to win a parliamentary majority in the country’s June 7 election. Does the setback for Erdogan, who has been known for his anti-Israel foreign policy and anti-Semitic rhetoric, mean an impending shift in Turkey’s future as well as its relationship with Israel?

A University of Missouri fall 2015 honors tutorial that pro-Israel students felt would promote bigotry and misinformation on their college campus has been cancelled. “Perspectives on Zionism,” which was scheduled to be taught by self-proclaimed “post-Zionist” and “Nakba Jew-in-law” George Smith, was nixed due to no enrollment, according to a June 10 announcement. Yet the catalyst behind the cancelled course—Smith, a tenured biology professor who pushed for a curriculum that the instructor himself said would have included works by anti-Zionist authors such as Ilan Pappé, who has accused Israel of ethnic cleansing—is very much active.

“Israel is the most embattled democracy on earth. And what a democracy it is—robust and rollicking, with an often rancorous parliament,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said via video feed June 7, addressing 1,500 people at the Jerusalem Post newspaper’s annual conference in New York City. Indeed, “rollicking” is one way to depict the three-ring circus that performed at the Jerusalem Post event. When World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder took the stage, he encouraged Jewish unity and mutual respect, saying, “If we disagree in how we get there, let’s do it in private. In public let’s speak with one voice.” But less than one hour later, a panel on Iran went in the complete opposite direction.

As the Middle East grapples with the fallout of the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions and the rise of terror groups like Islamic State, Arab states such as Egypt have sought increased military and intelligence cooperation with Israel. But it remains to be seen if this cooperation will lead to deeper Arab normalization of bilateral relations with the Jewish state. Egyptian historian Maged Farag recently drew headlines when he called for his country to normalize relations with Israel and to ditch support for the Palestinian cause. Does Farag’s statement represent a new realization among Egyptians, or does rampant societal anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Egypt still constitute a barrier to normalizing ties with Israel?  

With the Syrian civil war well into its fifth year, President Bashar al-Assad’s government has outlasted many observers’ predictions of his demise. But recently, major setbacks for that government have led many to question whether or not these are indeed the Assad regime’s final days and to ponder what a post-Assad Syria might mean for neighbors such as Israel. “Bashar [Assad] is the devil we know, and with [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah we have some sort of a ceasefire,” said Prof. Eyal Zisser, a Syria expert at Tel Aviv University. “But [Hezbollah] has 90,000 rockets [pointed towards Israel]. The Islamic State is not as strong as they are, but very dangerous and cannot be deterred. ... God knows, it’s either Hezbollah or the Islamic State, and they are both terrible options.”

Mainstream Jewish organizations—including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah, and a local Jewish Federation—are raising concerns about a Boston University-affiliated high school workshop over what they consider to be its anti-Israel bias and questionable pedagogical techniques. In April, Jewish communal attention was initially drawn to the issue when the advocacy group Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) released a video on Axis of Hope’s (AOH) “Whose Jerusalem?” workshop, which specifically selects Jewish students to act as members of the Palestinian terror group Hamas during mock negotiations. “It’s very concerning, when as a way to teach conflict resolution, we’re having kids role play this particular organization (Hamas),” said Robert Trestan, director of ADL's New England Region.

Illinois on Monday became the third state in a month to pass legislation formally opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. But going further than non-binding anti-BDS measures in Tennessee and Indiana, the Illinois bill took concrete action against those who boycott the Jewish state. The legislation—which unanimously passed both the Illinois House (102-0) and Senate (49-0), and will be signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner—prohibits state pension funds from including BDS-participating companies in their portfolios.

Controversy is swirling over conflicting reports as to whether or not the Pope Francis called Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas an “angel of peace” during a meeting at the Vatican on Saturday. The episode comes after the Vatican last week recognized the “State of Palestine” in its announcement of a new treaty. Both incidents were roundly criticized by the Israeli government and pro-Israel commentators.

The Palestinian terror group Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis and launched thousands of rockets at the Jewish state, finds itself facing a threat to its rule in Gaza. Over the last month, Islamic State-inspired jihadist groups in Gaza, who ironically argue that Hamas has been too lenient towards Israel and has failed to implement Islamic Sharia Law, have launched a campaign entailing both propaganda and physical attacks on Hamas. “There is ongoing public disenchantment against Hamas inside of Gaza,” said Neri Zilber, a visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Their popularity did spike after the [last summer’s] war [with Israel], as a sort of ‘rally around the flag’ effect. But conditions inside of Gaza are still quite terrible and much worse than they were before the war.”

An independent analysis has confirmed the greatest fears of 20 watchdog and advocacy organizations who had expressed concern that University of California, Riverside (UCR) is offering a course that meets the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. A preliminary report on the issue by Verity Educate, an independent non-profit group that analyses the educational accuracy and objectivity of classroom curricula, determined that the student-initiated “Palestinian Voices” class at UCR “reflects a singular interpretation” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and presents Israel exclusively “as an ‘occupying’ power... guilty of ‘settler-colonialism.’”

May 8 marked what many consider an ignominious 10-year anniversary of Mahmoud Abbas becoming the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), given his official term expired more than six years ago. Since Abbas took over for Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, the political and economic situation in the West Bank has become more untenable than ever. With no clear successor to Abbas in the fold and reports of rampant corruption, nepotism, and cronyism, the PA faces an uncertain future. “The state of affairs in the PA right now is paralysis,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. “Abbas has a stranglehold on political power, and he appears to be intent on remaining in office for the foreseeable future. There is no vice president. There is no succession plan, and there is no oxygen for political challengers to articulate their vision for the future.”

When Iran was in the incipient stages of its nuclear program, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored the Iran Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act of 1998, a bill that passed in the House of Representatives but not in the Senate. Seventeen years later, Menendez looks back with concern on how his initial calls to action on the nuclear issue went unheeded. “We had not listened to the alarm bells… I wish others were right and I wrong, but, I was right and they were wrong,” Menendez said in an exclusive interview with JNS.org, referring to his colleagues in Congress. “We have allowed Iran to advance to the point that we are now willing to accept that a great amount of [nuclear] infrastructure will stay in place, even though it may be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”  

From his childhood, to his time as mayor of his birthplace, to his three terms as governor of New York, George Pataki fostered a close relationship with the Jewish community. If he decides to run for president in 2016, a much broader Jewish constituency will get acquainted with Pataki. “I grew up in this little town of Peekskill, but it was a very ethnically diverse town,” Pataki said in an interview with JNS.org. “I went to many a bar mitzvah and talked to many of my Jewish friends and their parents, primarily about Israel. I developed my jump shot in basketball at the synagogue in Peekskill. And then when I first got elected to office and was mayor [of Peekskill], I was pleased to welcome a yeshiva, Ohr HaMeir, to our community, and help them make sure that the community embraced them with open arms... I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to get to know so many members of the Jewish community in New York so well over the course of my time as governor and even before that.” Pataki, who has flirted with a presidential run multiple times, said he is “far closer to making a favorable decision to run than I’ve been at any point in the past.”

After a devastating earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale hit the impoverished mountainous country of Nepal over the weekend, killing more than 4,000 people, Israeli and Jewish humanitarian and governmental organizations have assumed their traditional role on the frontline of relief efforts for a natural disaster. “I think that is one of the outstanding features of the Jewish community, its ability to come together and respond to crises and to show its dedication to tikkun olam (repairing the world),” said Michael Geller, communications director for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

 

Resolutions that formally condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in the Tennessee and Indiana state legislatures mark what a group of pro-Israel organizations and grassroots activists hope is just the start of a new trend in fighting BDS on U.S. soil.