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 support for Israel erodes in many Western countries, especially among liberals and the millennial generation, American-Christian backing for the Jewish state is considered one of the bulwarks against such trends. But not all Christians feel warmly about Israel. During the past several years, a number of leading mainline Protestant churches have considered resolutions supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In May, at the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) general conference, UMC committees rejected four resolutions that called for divestment from companies doing business in Israel. While the UMC’s rejection of BDS and a similar rejection by the Episcopal Church in 2015 mark positive developments for pro-Israel advocates, there remains a broader challenge to win over more support from other mainline Protestant churches. Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ voted to divest from companies doing business in Israel in 2014 and 2015, respectively. “I think the average Presbyterian in the pews has little understanding of the vote to divest from Caterpillar, HP, or Motorola. In general, Presbyterians are driven by concern for social justice, and the plight of Palestinians certainly appeals to them,” said Michael Gizzi, a professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University who serves as a ruling elder in Presbyterian Church USA.

France is convening an international summit on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but excluding Israeli and Palestinian leaders from the meeting. Egypt is seeking to host a trilateral peace summit with Israel and the Palestinians, following comments by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that he would like to broker peace between rival Palestinian factions as a precursor to renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers the Egyptian track. But which proposed peace initiative is actually in Israel's best interests—France's, Egypt's, both, or neither? JNS.org asks an Israeli Knesset member, a former George W. Bush administration national security official, a former Mideast advisor to multiple U.S. secretaries of state, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt, and the leader of the umbrella body for 50 American-Jewish organizations.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel might be garnering the most headlines when it comes to college campuses and the business world, but the Israeli government is taking the battle against BDS to the United Nations. On May 31, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon is hosting an international conference that seeks to equip and empower more than 1,500 attendees—students, diplomats, academics, legal professionals, and others—to become “ambassadors against BDS.” Israel's Permanent Mission to the U.N. has decided that it “cannot ignore BDS anymore,” Danon told JNS.org. “I believe [the conference] will empower the students and the activists…to fight and win. I think we can win against BDS, but we have to fight back,” he said.

One-hundred years ago this month, British colonel Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Marie Denis Georges-Picot divided the Middle East loosely and arbitrarily between Great Britain and France. Following that division, which became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a series of further treaties and conferences resulted in power battles, internal uprisings, coups, and revolts. A century later, the chaotic Middle East is still experiencing the aftershocks of the 1916 Sykes-Picot pact. “Sykes-Picot is the poster agreement for the poisonous legacy of European imperialism in the Middle East,” Richard Drake, a professor of history at the University of Montana, told JNS.org. “My conclusion on Sykes-Picot is that it really is the source of many of the ongoing evils in the Middle East.” James A. Paul—author of the 1991 book “Syria Unmasked”—said, “The drawing and redrawing of borders is not the way to go.”

After enduring an angry mob of 50 anti-Israel activists, Jews at University of California, Irvine were thankful for the protection they received from police, but were left wondering why they were escorted away from the scene while the anti-Israel protesters were allowed to remain there. “They can protest whatever they want, I understand that. But don’t we have the same rights? Don’t the Jewish students have freedom of speech?” said Israeli veteran Eran Izak, who answered the audience's questions about the Israel Defense Forces at the event that drew the protest, a May 18 screening of the film “Beneath the Helmet.”

Since the end of the latest Israel-Hamas war in 2014, both Israel and the international community have taken steps to rebuild Gaza in order to ease the humanitarian situation there and prevent another conflict. But chaos in the rest of the Middle East has put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the back burner of regional priorities. An April 2016 World Bank report revealed that leading Muslim nations have failed to live up to their pledged donations to Gaza. At a 2014 conference in Cairo, the international community pledged roughly $3.5 billion for Gaza, but so far only $1.4 billion has been delivered compared to the scheduled $2.7 billion. Qatar, which promised $1 billion, has donated $152 million. Saudi Arabia has delivered 10 percent of its promise of $500 million, and the United Arab Emirates has sent 15 percent of its $200 million pledge. By contrast, the U.S. has sent all of its pledged $277 million and in May announced a new $50 million aid package for Gaza. Arab states’ support for the Palestinians “has often been generous but unpredictable,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Palestinian Authority official.

Israel has endured terrorism for decades. But ever since 9/11 and subsequent major terrorist attacks worldwide, more countries are starting to ask the same question: What motivates terrorists? It’s a question that is as pertinent as ever for Israelis amid the current months-long Palestinian terror wave. The immediate answer on the question of motivation is often one that many politicians like to give: Terrorists are poor and don’t have anything to live for. But according to a series of studies, that premise is wrong. Instead, the studies reveal, terrorists tend to be better educated and more financially stable than the casual observer would expect. Research conducted by Prof. Claude Berrebi, a public policy scholar at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found that among a group of 285 Palestinian terrorists, 16 percent—compared to 31 percent of Palestinians in general—were characterized as poor. “Political activity is mainly the work of better-educated individuals and people of a higher socioeconomic status. If you start to think of terrorism as a political move, it makes more sense,” Berrebi told JNS.org.

North Korea has provided the technology or weapons for Hamas’s cross-border attack tunnels from Gaza to Israel, Hezbollah’s Scud-D missile stockpile in Lebanon, and Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility. Yet the totalitarian state in East Asia doesn’t seem to frequently enter the Western public discourse on Middle East threats. With the January 2016 North Korean nuclear test, which represented a significant advance in North Korea’s strike capability and the fourth time the nation has exploded a nuclear device, analysts such as Dr. Bruch E. Bechtol—the author of four books on North Korea—say it is time for the United States to pay closer attention to the rogue state’s military proliferation in the Middle East. “Israel already knows, understands the threat that Iran presents. It knows the threat North Korea presents. The U.S. needs to take these threats more seriously,” Bechtol told JNS.org.

Earlier this month, a Pew Research Center survey found that while sympathy for Israel among American voters has remained relatively consistent over the past few decades, there has been a slight uptick in sympathy for the Palestinians—14 percent to 19 percent—from July 2014. The data also revealed a substantial increase in sympathy for the Palestinians among respondents ages 18-29—also known as “millennials”—from 9 percent in 2006 to 27 percent today, while liberal Democrats were shown to sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel, 40 percent versus 33 percent. Dr. Steven M. Cohen, a research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, said the survey results echo “parallel trends in Europe among people with a similar liberal view of the world.” But Dr. Jonathan Rynhold, author of “The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture,” maintained that “American liberals are far more sympathetic to Israel than the European left. The gulf remains huge.”

An Israeli diplomat indicated last week that the Jewish state and Turkey are continuing to make a concerted effort to rebuild a relationship that has been strained under Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan, despite the doubts cast on the stop-and-go reconciliation process by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s recent resignation. Policy experts, meanwhile, say that the misperception of Davutoğlu’s “moderate” tack means his resignation wasn’t a game-changer. “Davutoğlu was actually in many ways the primary driver of antagonism toward Israel at the highest levels of the Turkish government, and I do not think it is a coincidence that the real downturn in relations coincided with his elevation to the Foreign Ministry,” Michael Koplow, an expert on Turkey and the policy director for the Israel Policy Forum think tank, told JNS.org.

Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom have voiced their displeasure with the Labour Party amid an anti-Semitism scandal within its ranks that continues to engulf the country’s second-largest party. With the reported suspension of at least 50 Labour members for anti-Semitic comments over the past two months, British-Jewish voters are also indicating that the scandal may have damaged their perception of the liberal party. Although the Labour Party’s candidate for London mayor, Sadiq Khan, defeated Conservative Party candidate Zac Goldsmith in the city’s May 5 election, results from other local and regional elections around the U.K. on the same day showed losses for the Labour Party among Jewish voters, including in Manchester, home to the country’s second-largest Jewish community. 

Why should the casual observer care about the seemingly obvious need to prosecute and convict Nazi war criminals, whether it be during the Nuremberg trials of the 1940s or similar proceedings in more recent years? “The Nuremberg trials only convicted the leaders and a relatively small number of people,” retired Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told JNS.org. “Even for the trials that occurred thereafter, we’re talking about just hundreds of people…and for years they were protected. And there’s no statute of limitations on genocide and war crimes. So it’s very important that everybody in the world who is contemplating committing genocide understand that they will never be able to live out their life without being held legally accountable.” Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler, renowned human rights attorneys and pro-Israel advocates, took center stage in the Polish city of Kraków on March 4 for a symposium held to mark the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws and the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials. While the Nuremberg Laws were a precursor to the Holocaust, the Allied forces’ military trials of 13 prominent Nazi leaders served as a foundation for contemporary international humanitarian law. “We’ve learned that if you do not bring war criminals to justice, what you do is you not only encourage impunity, you embolden the war criminals and you encourage more war crimes,” Cotler told JNS.org.

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.