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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President Donald Trump on Jan. 12 outlined his intentions to “fix the terrible flaws” of the Iran nuclear deal, giving the pact what he called “a last chance” and setting in motion a 120-day timetable for the U.S. to reach an accord with European nations that would strengthen the deal by imposing stricter terms on Iran. Israel and the U.S. are largely on the same page about policy towards Iran. But can Trump get Europe on board?

A U.S. Senate staffer allegedly suggested that anti-Semitism is of lesser concern than discrimination against other minority groups, stating twice that “we don’t care about anti-Semitism in this office,” JNS has learned. The revelation has sparked concern among groups that work to raise American lawmakers’ awareness about anti-Semitism.

The IDF is gearing up for a major relocation to southern Israel, where it plans to create new environs replete with academia and high-tech firms, and to give a significant boost to the Be’er Sheva area. “We are moving the best people to the Negev,” said Lt.-Col. Itai Sagi, who heads the branch responsible for establishing the IDF’s futureC4i (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence) and Cyber Defense campus. “Next to me are the university and tech companies, with their own labs. We are creating a very significant ecosystem.”

Some prominent Jewish proponents of the decades-long peace process between Israelis and Palestinians now claim that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s controversial speech on Jan. 14 disqualifies him as a negotiating partner, while other dovish Jewish leaders are accusing the Trump administration of provoking the Palestinian leader. In a two-hour address to the Palestinian Central Council, Abbas had called Israel “a colonialist enterprise that has nothing to do with Judaism.”

The Trump administration’s approach to the Palestinians represents what Mideast experts and Israel advocates are describing as a paradigm shift in Washington—acknowledging that Palestinian rejectionism lies at the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather than reflexively blaming the Jewish state for the impasse in negotiations. “Dozens of Congressmen and Knesset members from across the political spectrum are embracing this new paradigm for ending this conflict and these steps…are welcome aspects of a new era in relations between the U.S. and Israel,” Member of Knesset Oded Forer (Yisrael Beiteinu) told JNS.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India is occurring against the backdrop of a massive and still growing river of defense sales and technology transfers from Jerusalem to New Delhi. “This has been a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Vinay Kaura, an assistant professor of international affairs and security studies at India's Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice. “India has diversified its arms purchases while getting highly advanced weapons. Israel has benefited substantially monetarily.”

As the anti-regime protests wind down in Iran, the U.S. said it is “deeply concerned” about reports that Iranian authorities have arrested thousands of citizens, with some purportedly being tortured or killed. Meanwhile, the head of the Mossad intelligence agency said Israel has “eyes and ears” inside Iran and would “be very happy to see a social revolution” in the Islamic Republic. But could the U.S. and Israel more aggressively promote regime change in Iran through supporting dissident minority groups, including by arming them?

While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has been arguably the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. A new report by the Christian charity group Open Doors has found that most of Israel’s neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are among the world’s most dangerous places for Christians. Susan Michael, U.S. director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, told JNS that “Islamic extremism originated in the Middle East and is the main cause of persecution of Christians in the world today. It is a dangerous and violent ideology that must be stopped.”

Leaders of several major American Jewish organizations told JNS they support the Israeli government’s decision to prevent the entry of foreign citizens who promote boycotts of Israel. Rebecca Vilkomerson, director of the barred group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), described the Israeli ban as “bullying.” But Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said JVP’s complaint “is the height of hypocrisy given their tactics,” referring to incidents in which JVP activists have harassed pro-Israel speakers. 

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry on Jan. 7 published a list of 20 organizations affiliated with the BDS movement that will be barred from entering the country, marking the Israeli government’s first major step to ban entities that seek to undermine the Jewish state since legislation targeting such groups was passed last year. Prof. Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of the NGO Monitor watchdog group, told JNS that the government’s move signals that Israel “won’t turn a blind eye to those who work to delegitimize it, but the downside is that it also serves to raise the profiles of these groups.”

A Hamas cease-fire with Israel is being undermined by the second-largest terrorist faction in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Both Hamas and PIJ are ideologically committed to the Islamist goal of destroying Israel. Yet Hamas is keen on preserving a truce with Israel at this time, as a new conflict now would jeopardize its base in Gaza. Hamas finds itself in a “very uncomfortable situation in the event of a clash with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and therefore, we are continuing to live in the unsolvable equation in Gaza,” said Prof. Uzi Rabi, a Middle East expert from Tel Aviv University.

At the start of 2018, a purportedly emboldened Israeli right initiated political measures that seemingly enhance Israel’s sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. While the mainstream press, led by The New York Times, branded the moves as “annexation” and “apartheid,” legal expert Avi Bell told JNS that the Israeli initiatives are almost entirely symbolic and have “no meaningful legal consequences.”

Amid the continued protests throughout Iran, what will the future hold for the country’s terror-funding Shi’a regime? “Does the regime have both the will and ability to keep itself in power? If it lacks both, it is finished. If it has either, it should be able to weather this crisis,” said Dr. Harold Rhode, a former adviser on Islamic affairs in the U.S. Department of Defense. Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that “regardless of [the protests’] perceived success or failure, they show the international community that the Iranian people are willing to risk their life for their beliefs.”

Many major Jewish groups are expressing support for the idea of reducing U.S. aid to the Palestinians after President Donald Trump mentioned the possibility of a cut. Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS that the Palestinian Authority “has proven tone deaf to every previous U.S. warning about its actions, so perhaps some reduction in aid would finally get its attention.”

President Donald Trump has not shied away from challenging conventional stances on domestic and international issues. Will Trump’s approach extend to U.S. funding for UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency that is solely dedicated to the Palestinians? “The original intent of American foreign policy [on UNRWA] was resettlement, repatriation and reintegration [of Palestinian refugees]. On all three accounts we have failed,” Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East nonprofit, told JNS.

The Reform movement has started to retreat from its opposition to the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On Dec. 6, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) expressed “serious concern” about the recognition. But on Dec. 22, the URJ publicly denounced the U.N. for condemning Trump’s decision. Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, former executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, told JNS that the Reform movement “is now supportive of what I believe should have been our position from the beginning.”

A new elite IDF infantry unit is about to take up its position along the Israel-Gaza border. The Haruv unit, named after a renowned force that operated in Israel’s southern desert borders in the 1960s and 1970s, was once a regular infantry battalion focusing on operations in Judea and Samaria. Several months ago, the IDF decided to convert this battalion into an elite unit, and to give it the training and equipment it needs to fight in Gaza. “The Gaza Strip requires complex preparations, which begin three to four months in advance. Preparing to operate in Judea and Samaria is simpler than Gaza,” Maj. Nir Mor, deputy commander of the new unit, told JNS.

Although experts believe it is too soon to tell how the renewed anti-regime protests in Iran will affect Israel, Meir Litvak, director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that if the demonstrations continue to grow, Iran might be forced to divert attention and resources from fighting the Jewish state to domestic affairs. Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum think tank, said that if the protests lead to regime change in Iran, “For Israel, this means its most powerful enemy vanishes. I can hardly imagine better political news.”

Love him or hate him, 2017 was a year dominated by President Donald Trump. The U.S.-Israel relationship was no stranger to that, ranging from Trump’s visit to the Jewish state in May to his historic decision on Jerusalem in December. At the same time, some of this year’s other major stories in the Israeli-American arena had little or nothing to do with Trump. JNS takes a look back at five key moments in U.S.-Israel relations during the past year.

Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states supported last week's U.N. resolution opposing U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but they didn’t make a lot of noise over it. Ron Prosor, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.N., said the Arab bloc’s vote at the world body has two sides. “On the one hand,” he told JNS, “Muslim countries will naturally support the Palestinians. But suddenly, after many years, Israel and the Saudis have coinciding interests, primarily because both countries see Iran as a major threat.”