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.
More than five months after the Pew Research Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” survey drew widespread pessimism over rising intermarriage and assimilation, as well as declining connection with synagogues and other institutions, proponents of a newly released study believe they may have the antidote for what ails the Jewish community. On March 10, the Jewish nonprofit Hazon and six funders released “Seeds of Opportunity: A National Study of Immersive Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE).” The acronym, although coined specifically for the purpose of the study, is lingo that the report’s supporters hope will grow to define a movement and become part of the Jewish vernacular.
Imagine that your child is born seemingly normal, but by age 1 or 2 her or she has mental and physical disabilities. By 3, the child has epilepsy and is virtually vegetative. This phenomenon, known as Progressive Cerebro-Cerebellar Atrophy (PCCA), affects dozens of Israeli families of Iraqi and Moroccan-Jewish descent. But thanks to the team of Dr. Ohad Birk, that number may soon be reduced. On March 8, just four years after Birk’s discovery of genetic mutations in Iraqi and Moroccan Jews that lead to PCCA, he announced that his lab has identified a different genetic mutation that leads to another similar disease in Moroccan Jews, a disease he is calling PCCA2.
While international attention continues to focus on the Iranian nuclear program and diplomatic efforts to address it, the Israeli Navy’s March 5 interception of an Iranian ship full of Syrian-made missiles bound for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza sheds new light on other dimensions of the Islamic Republic’s strategy. “The nuclear program is the fast mover in international discussions, but the delivery capabilities are extremely important,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC, told JNS.org. “The Iranians are working very diligently on expanding the scope and legality of their missile program (a delivery vehicle for nuclear weapons).”
The U.S., U.K., and Dutch governments are helping to fund a March 10-14 conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” which attempts to sway Evangelical Christian opinion against Israel and whose themes have anti-Semitic undertones, according to a new report by the watchdog group NGO Monitor. The report titled “Christ at the Checkpoint: How the U.S., U.K. and Dutch Governments Enable Religious Strife and Foment in the Mideast Conflict,” first obtained by JNS.org, examines how the American and European governments are directly and indirectly funding the conference.
After he was apparently criticized by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for comments he made last month on boycotts of Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry in his Monday address at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference sought to allay skepticism on nuclear negotiations with Iran and Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations.
Close to half a million members of Israel’s haredi public rallied on Sunday protested a proposed bill that would mandate them to participate in the Israel Defense Forces and would criminalize those that refuse conscription. Some political parties—led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid—have made the issue of religious enlistment a focal point of their political agendas, while religious leaders, who are conspicuously absent from the current governing coalition, are digging in their heels to fight the impending change in the status quo. “What we are witnessing is the politicization of an important social process,” Professor Yedidia Stern, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, told JNS.org.
In early 2014, the partners controlling the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields off the northern coast of Israel signed supply contracts with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, establishing the Jewish state as a formidable regional energy supplier in the Middle East. The deals, and the degree to which they can be successfully implemented, highlight a growing number of continuously fluctuating regional developments that affect Israel’s geopolitical position.
For well over a century, Christian Zionists have been steadfast in their support for a Jewish homeland. Emerging from this movement, Evangelical Christians have formed the foundation of the Christian Zionist movement due to a number of theological, moral, and political reasons. At the same time, there has been a movement among mainline Protestants, including the Presbyterian Church, who have grown more critical of Israel. With the support of anti-Israel Palestinian groups as well as non-governmental organizations funded by liberal philanthropists like George Soros, some are seeking to threaten Evangelical support for Israel. Can Israel and the Jewish people take Evangelical support for granted? Or will Evangelicals follow the path of mainline Protestant groups and their growing criticism of Israel?
Coming off of what many observers characterized as an off year in terms of getting its agenda implemented in Washington, DC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is welcoming upwards of 14,000 attendees at its March 2-4 annual policy conference, which will set the pro-Israel lobby’s 2014 initiatives. Chief among the organization’s priority items will likely be America’s continued negotiations aimed at preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and the emerging contours of a possible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority being brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry.
For four days, from Feb. 16-19, 2,135 people—61 percent between the ages of 18 and 34— participated with world Jewish leaders in an online “jam session” organized through a joint initiative between the government of Israel and an entity being termed world Jewry. The initiative, said Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, was about “hearing new ideas and empowering Jews from around the world to take part in the debate over which direction Israeli-Diaspora relations should take in the years to come.” Both insiders and outsiders say there are still too many unknowns to judge whether the project can and will be successful.
Following a slow start mobilizing support to block bipartisan efforts in the Senate and House to place additional sanctions on Iran, opponents of new sanctions—backed by the White House—have organized to make their voices heard. By working behind the scenes, this bipartisan group may have been effective in stopping Congress from acting on sanctions legislation.
Presbyterian Church (USA) has come under fire for its new study guide on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which critics contend is a “hateful document” that “promotes the eradication of Israel” by targeting the core tenets of Zionism and Christian Zionism. The guide promotes historical figures who have “lost the argument over the need for a Jewish state and then presents them as credible voices to non-Jews,” said Dexter Van Zile, Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
Aviva Sufian was just 8 years old when her mother took her to an American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors event in Philadelphia in 1985. She remembers survivor after survivor standing up and announcing, “My name is, and this is where I’m from.” Sufian— whose career has focused on the elderly, both in the Jewish communal and government sectors—in late January was named the first special envoy for U.S. Holocaust survivor services. “In many ways, I feel like stepping into this role is coming home to an issue very near and dear to my heart,” she said in an interview with JNS.org.
Efforts to keep a significant collection of artifacts seized from Iraq’s Jewish community by Saddam Hussein from being returned to the Gulf nation by the United States may be picking up steam on Capitol Hill. With just months to go before a June deadline mandates the return of the religious archive, U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are shepherding a resolution that asks the State Department to renegotiate an earlier agreement reached with the Iraqi government.
With the Winter Olympics underway in Sochi, Russia, the Jewish debate on the games mirrors the discourse taking place in the broader international and athletic communities. While some Jews say they view the games purely as sport—with social or political issues not factoring into their evaluation—not all can ignore Russia’s controversial “gay propaganda” legislation, political detentions, allegations of Olympic corruption, and the recent terrorist threats against the games.