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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In recent years, the AIPAC lobby’s policy conferences have centered on hot-button issues such as the emerging and later finalized Iran nuclear deal, tension between the Obama administration and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress, and the surprising rise of candidate and now President Donald Trump. For the 2017 iteration of arguably the world’s largest annual pro-Israel gathering, the issues remained sensitive, but reality set in. The Iran deal and a Trump presidency have become facts of life, albeit highly contested ones. The Obama era has come and gone. The discourse on AIPAC’s flagship issue—the U.S.-Israel relationship and its associated priorities—has shifted from changing or creating reality, to managing reality.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly sent signals that he could call for early elections due to a public broadcasting controversy. Yet some experts doubt that Netanyahu’s governing coalition would be disbanded over what many consider an issue that is not of grave national import. “Netanyahu already has his mandate. And there is no reason to go to elections over this issue. This is the last thing the country needs,” said Mitchell Barak, director of KEEVOON Global Research, an Israeli survey research and strategic communications firm.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced turmoil within his governing coalition back at home, the Israeli leader embarked on a groundbreaking visit to China, which has the world’s second-largest economy. Netanyahu’s trip was part of an effort to grow the Jewish state’s relations with non-traditional allies, particularly in East Asia. “The economic aspect plays the most important role in the present-day Sino-Israeli relationship, proved by the large business delegation that accompanied Netanyahu during this visit,” said Shu Meng, a research fellow at Shanghai University’s Middle East Studies Institute. “China is promoting its ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy and Israel is located along the road. The strategy may bring new vigor and new chances to bilateral economic cooperation.”

Unidentified assailants gunned down Hamas terrorist Mazen Faqha outside his home in the Gaza Strip Friday, fleeing the scene without leaving a trace. Soon after the assassination, members of the terrorist’s family, key Hamas figures and other anti-Israel terror groups were quick to blame the Jewish state.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently declared the Palestinian National Fund a terrorist organization for its “continuing and ongoing activity in providing massive support for elements responsible for committing severe acts of terrorism against Israel.” But designating an organization as a terrorist group is only the first step in effectively combating global terror, said Dr. Eitan Azani, deputy director of Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Appropriate steps include international cooperation as well as a better understanding of terrorists’ rationale and motives within governments and counter-terrorism practitioners, Azani said.

A Jewish teenager with dual Israeli and American citizenship living in the Israeli city of Ashkelon was arrested Thursday in connection to the wave of more than 100 bomb threats against JCCs and other Jewish institutions across North America since the beginning of 2017. The unnamed suspect, 19, was arrested by Israel’s Lahav 433 police unit in the wake of a months-long investigation by Israeli authorities, who worked alongside the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies.

What steps can the West take to defeat Islamic State? The U.S. and Israel should work to push the Syrian Kurds away from the Iran-Shi’a axis and Russia, and toward an alliance with the Americans and the Israelis, leading experts on Syria and the Kurds told JNS.org.

An official peace treaty and deepening economic ties seem to indicate that all is well between neighbors Israel and Jordan. Yet Jordan’s recent treatment of the cases of anti-Israel terrorists may reveal seething tension. Two incidents—the early release of Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier who murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls, and Jordan’s refusal to honor a U.S. extradition request for Palestinian terrorist Ahlam Tamimi—have brought the strength of Israeli-Jordanian relations into question. “It is shocking that [Jordanian leader] King Abdullah would permit this unrepentant and unrehabilitated killer to be released from prison….It’s an indication that Jordan is drifting further and further away from the democratic West and into the camp of the Middle East extremists that are overwhelming the regime,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of the Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center civil rights group.

After Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman reiterated his plan for population swaps in a future peace deal, some Mideast experts and Israeli politicians have deemed the concept unrealistic and potentially harmful for security. Lieberman suggested including Israeli Arabs in a Palestinian state, saying, “It cannot be that a hegemonic Palestinian state will be established, without a single Jew…and Israel will be a bi-national state with 22 percent Palestinians.” Yet the proposal may narrow Israel’s land and cause the Jewish state to lose some ability to deploy security forces near the 1949 armistice line. “Legally, [Lieberman’s] option might be realized only as part of an agreement between both sides, but it is not reasonable to do such a thing without the will of the people themselves,” said Kobi Michael, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

When it comes to Israel, Hezbollah is usually associated with its vast arsenal of rockets pointed at the Jewish state. But the Lebanese Shi’a terror group is also involved in more covert efforts to strike Israel—using the internet to systematically recruit operatives from the West Bank, Gaza and Israel’s Arab sector. Yoram Schweitzer, head of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told JNS.org that Hezbollah strives “to take advantage of Arab Israelis...both as collectors of intelligence for Hezbollah purposes, as facilitators and from time to time, also as perpetrators [of terror attacks].”

As the Islamic State terror group faces setbacks in Syria and Iraq, its affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has turned its sights on the region’s Coptic Christian minority as part of its ongoing insurgency against the Egyptian government. More than 350 Christian families have recently fled from the Sinai city of El Arish, near the Egyptian border with Gaza and Israel. The mass displacement of Coptic Christians from the Sinai was prompted by a string of murders and threats by Islamic State terrorists in that region since late January. “The Islamic State is losing in Iraq and Syria, and has decided to lash out through its affiliates in places like the Sinai Peninsula,” said Robert Nicholson, director of the Philos Project, an organization that promotes “positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, for more than five hours in Jerusalem Monday night amid the Trump administration’s efforts to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been frozen since 2014. 

Israel’s Knesset last week passed landmark legislation against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement—representing just one of several setbacks this month for BDS around the world, including in the U.S., Spain and Switzerland.

Long admired in pro-Israel circles for his book, “The Case for Israel,” former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz is now making the case against the BDS movement. “I try to make the argument it’s anti-peace and anti-two-state solution. If you’re in favor of peace and the two-state solution, you should fight against BDS,” Dershowitz said at a recent anti-BDS conference in Los Angeles. More than 250 people representing Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy groups gathered March 4-6 for the annual anti-BDS summit hosted by StandWithUs, to exchange ideas and strategize in the face of the boycott movement’s multifaceted threat against Israel.

A number of Jewish critics of the Trump administration have resorted to increasingly harsh rhetoric in recent weeks, although some have backtracked after questions were raised about their choice of language. For instance, Jay Michaelson, a nondenominational rabbi, in an article for The Forward referred to “the Trump administration’s assaults on Muslims, Mexicans, Australians…the environment, public education, health care, women and Jews.” Asked by JNS.org for examples of the Trump administration’s assaults against Jews, Michaelson clarified that by “assaults,” he actually meant rhetoric, not physical assaults.

With recent reports indicating that the Trump administration’s planned budget cuts could extend to the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, the potential nixing of the position shines a light on questions regarding the specific nature of the envoy’s work and the future utility of the position. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told JNS.org that his group “strongly supports having a special envoy on the condition that it is the right person who will emphasize Muslim anti-Semitism, which is the driving factor for the increase of anti-Semitism in Europe, in the U.S. and on college campuses.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday approved President Donald Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, following a groundswell of support for the nominee from conservative and centrist pro-Israel organizations and staunch opposition from liberal Jewish groups.

“There is no place in the Bible…that any of these people can hang their hat on,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, founder and president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, in a rebuke to Christians who promote the BDS movement against Israel. “It is fake theology, like it is fake news!” she said, earning a thunderous applause at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) International Christian Media Convention. NRB—whose stated mission is to “advance biblical truth; to promote media excellence; and to defend free speech”—made Christian support for Israel a major theme at its conference this year.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has significantly stepped up the scope and frequency of its combat training, as sub-state jihadist enemies around the Jewish state build up their power. In the event of any future large-scale conflict—whether it be against Hezbollah in Lebanon or in Syria, against Hamas in Gaza, or against other foes—Israeli military planners believe they will need a ground offensive involving maneuvering divisions, in addition to the use of massive firepower against enemy targets. “The IDF’s readiness is very high. It would not be a good idea to test it,” said Gabi Siboni, an Israeli defense consultant and a former military commander.

The most recent round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations failed because the Palestinian Authority (PA) responded to each Israeli concession with new demands and the Obama administration kept taking the Palestinians’ side, according to a veteran Israeli negotiator. Michael Herzog, a member of Israel’s negotiating teams since 1993, in a recent essay disclosed previously unknown details about the U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian talks that took place in 2013-2014. On one occasion, Secretary of State John Kerry hoped to convince the PA to extend the talks by pressing Israel to release 400 imprisoned terrorists. David Bukay, a Mideast Studies professor at the University of Haifa, told JNS.org that Herzog’s account demonstrates how the key problem in the negotiations was the Obama administration’s failure to understand that the PA’s goal is ultimately to conquer Israel “in its entirety.”