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.
Highly publicized severe water shortages in Palestinian villages in the northern West Bank have caused tens of thousands of local residents to suffer without an adequate water supply, bringing negative attention to Israel in international media. The current situation has been caused by a number of factors relating to Israeli-Palestinian water policy, damaged infrastructure, and an extended heat wave. Yet the shortages—which also affect neighboring Israeli villages, albeit to a much lesser extent—are raising serious questions about the overall state of Israel’s water supply, water policy, and a crumbling water infrastructure that was never designed to serve so many residents. “What has been happening over the last few weeks is a combination of problems. Number one, a critical pipe bursting; number two, the [regional water supply] network cannot supply the demand; and thirdly, water in this area is prioritized toward Israelis over Palestinians,” Dr. Saul Arlosoroff—former director of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company—told JNS.org.
A Mideast-focused media watchdog group is criticizing the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency for what it called the “clear and blatant” conflict of interest of employing the chairman of the anti-Israel Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) as a reporter on Israeli-Palestinian affairs. While Nasser Abu Baker reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for AFP for more than a decade, he also held senior positions with PJS, according to a recent report issued by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). In one instance, while Abu Baker covered Israel’s detainment of Mohammed al-Qiq, a Palestinian journalist with ties to the Hamas terror group who was held for months without trial, he also campaigned on behalf of PJS for his release.
The Turkey-Israel normalization deal—reached June 27 after months of speculation that an agreement was imminent—“is presented by the Turkish government as a major victory in foreign policy,” said Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank who formerly served as a member of the Turkish Parliament. “Clearly, Turkey is a taking a step back from its earlier ideological and adventurous foreign policy rooted in Islamist principles rather than traditional republican values,” Erdemir told JNS.org, explaining that the deal with Israel is also a significant shift for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has “made a career out of polarization through sensational and anti-Semitic rhetoric.” At the same time, experts are skeptical about the deal's ability to alter Turkey-Israel disagreements over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When it comes to content that incites terrorism, how can social media be regulated? And will social media platforms’ owners and users get on board with such efforts? Former senior Israeli Mossad spy agency operative Uzi Shaya, speaking at a conference hosted by the Shurat HaDin legal rights NGO, says that social media companies hide behind phrases like “freedom of speech,” but that if driven to do so, these platforms could partner with other entities to stop incitement. After the November 2015 Paris attacks, Twitter deleted 125,000 accounts associated with the Islamic State terror group within a matter of days, Shaya points out. “I presume this is an intentional coincidence,” he quips. “If there is no legal justification for deleting the accounts after the attacks, they should have remained operational. If there is legal justification, they should have been deleted beforehand.” Twitter’s cleanup work on terror stopped at Islamic State, as Hamas’s senior leaders continue to have Twitter and Facebook accounts.
In a historic referendum on Friday, the United Kingdom voted to leave the 28-nation European Union (EU), sending shockwaves throughout Europe and the international community. The results of the so-called “Brexit” vote—52 percent in favor of exiting the EU and 48 percent opposed—call into question the identity and strength of the EU while leaving many nations, including Israel, wondering how the vote will affect policy and trade in the years ahead. “There is no doubt that Israel will be left to follow the agreements that will be made between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and to adjust its economic and trade relations with Britain accordingly,” Dr. Oded Eran, the former Israeli ambassador to the EU, told JNS.org.
A newly released 10-minute online video produced by the Center for Near East Policy Research says that many of the Palestinians who have murdered Israelis during the so-called “stabbing intifada” were educated in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Among other footage, the video reveals a military-themed school play held at the UNRWA Nuseirat School in Gaza, in which students hold an Israeli hostage at gunpoint and emerge from a tunnel in order to carry out an attack against Israelis. Documentary filmmaker David Bedein, director of the Center of Near East Policy Research, says that the U.N. member states who are the funders of UNRWA schools should be held accountable for the agency’s hate education. At the top of that list is the United States—UNRWA’s largest donor, providing $400 million of the organization’s annual $1.2 billion budget. For UNRWA, says Bedein, the film “should be cause...to carry out a self-introspection.”
Since taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been fraught with tension. Even within the framework of that tension, strong American military aid for Israel has been a constant during the Obama years. But during the last few weeks, that support has been called into question by the White House’s expression of opposition to additional funding for Israel’s highly touted missile defense systems. “It seems like this whole [defense funding] issue is being manipulated by both sides for political interests internally and externally,” Arik Puder, president of the New York City-based public relations firm Puder PR and a former senior media consultant for Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, told JNS.org. “A lot of it has to do with egos and tensions between the two leaders. It is no secret that the relationship between them isn’t the best.”
In a span of less than a week, deadly shooting sprees at the hands of gunmen affiliated with Islamic terror movements rocked Orlando and Tel Aviv. In America, the mass killing of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub has strengthened calls for stricter gun control laws. Yet in Israel, where many civilians carry firearms, questions on how the Tel Aviv terrorists acquired their weapons did not spark national debate. “Random gun violence is low here because people are more serious,” Avi Dobular, master shooting instructor at the Magnum 88 Range in Jerusalem, told JNS.org. “Israelis grow up in a gun culture. They see people carrying guns from a young age. They serve in the army, where they are taught discipline and responsibility.”
The influx of migrants and refugees into Europe has presented that continent’s leaders and policymakers with some of their greatest current challenges. Those challenges “defy silver-bullet solutions,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken at the 2016 Herzliya Conference. During the June 14-16 conference in Jerusalem and Herzliya, the topic of migration reappeared in many of the dozens of speeches and panel discussions throughout the three-day Israeli event. The migrant crisis has been accompanied by an uptick in European nationalism and support for nationalist political parties, as well as amplified concerns about employment and Islamic terrorism. “[Europeans] fear the new cheap labor endangers their jobs. Others have fury because they have been searching for cheap housing for a long time. They think the politicians have no money for them—only for the refugees,” said Prof. Jurgen Ruttgers, former prime minister of the North Rhine-Westphalia state in Germany.
The prospect of Democrat Hillary Clinton competing against Republican Donald Trump in November's presidential election is all but assured. Yet a recent poll conducted by NBC News via SurveyMonkey showed that roughly six out of 10 Americans dislike both candidates to some degree. Some Jewish voters do not have a specific partisan affiliation, and even for some of those who do register with a particular party, the choice between Clinton and Trump may not fall along those partisan lines. Will on-the-fence Jewish voters choose Clinton or Trump? Is not voting an option? JNS.org surveys the landscape of the “conflicted” Jewish electorate.
After years of discontent with the European Union (EU), the British people will decide on whether or not to leave the 28-country bloc in a June 23 referendum. For the British-Jewish community—which has faced growing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism both within the United Kingdom and the EU—and for Israel, the decision holds a wide range of implications. “It is important to have the U.K. around the table with other EU leaders. The U.K. is a thriving liberal democracy and an important country in Europe. The U.K. has been supportive of Israel, so if it was no longer in the EU, you wouldn’t have those pro-Israel voices at the table,” James Sorene, CEO of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, told JNS.org.
After four Israelis were killed Wednesday in a Palestinian terrorist shooting at the Sarona market in Tel Aviv, many international media outlets came under fire for initially reporting misleading information about the attack and in some cases not describing the shooting as terrorism. What some commentators considered the most-jarring headline came from Russia’s state-funded English-language news network Russia Today, which initially reported about the attack with the headline, “2 ‘ultra-Orthodox Jewish’ gunmen kill 3 in central Tel Aviv.” The headline referred to how the shooters, according to Israeli police, disguised themselves as Orthodox Jews. Although the reporter used single quotation marks around “ultra-Orthodox Jewish,” the headline could have still been interpreted to mean that the perpetrators might have been Jewish. “Russia Today wins the prize for most off-the-wall, inaccurate headline,” Andrea Levin, executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, told JNS.org.
It’s not really a question of “how” Jason Greenblatt, the real estate transactions lawyer and son of Hungarian-Jewish immigrants who grew up in New York City’s Queens borough, became a presidential candidate’s adviser on issues related to Israel. For him, it’s more a question of “what”—what will he do with the immense opportunity he has been given? Greenblatt, who in April was named as a primary Israel adviser to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, spoke to The Jewish Link and JNS.org in a jointly published interview about the honor he carries with him in his role each day. “That phrase, of being a ‘light unto the nations,’ is in my mind every single day, it’s part of the responsibility I feel every morning when I get into the car and drive to work. I run that theme through my mind, to make sure I adhere to that principle,” he said. In fact, history-altering roles have contributed to Israel’s very establishment and continued vibrancy by Jewish ad hoc presidential advisers—most notably Eddie Jacobson, who parlayed U.S. president Harry Truman into meeting with future Israeli president Chaim Weizmann before Israel was recognized by any other nation.
One report last month said the Obama administration will soon get “tougher” with Israel over an alleged surge of Jewish settlement construction. A subsequent report said Israel is currently halting new settlement construction. What’s the real story? JNS.org interviews experts for a history of U.S. policy on settlements and an assessment of the recent conflicting reports. According to Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is caught between the settlement enterprise’s supporters and critics. “Netanyahu has been keeping the pressure against expansion beyond [Israel’s West Bank] security barrier,” Abrams said. “Many in the settler movement are angry at him for this, but he also gets no thanks from the Obama administration or the [political] left in Israel.”
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 hosted 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.