News from Israel and the Jewish World

JNS.org is an editorial content and business-services resource for media, reaching global Jewish communities. Below you will find the most pressing, breaking news from Israel and the Jewish world. JNS.org is updated regularly and includes special Israel news through exclusive English-language syndication of content by Israel Hayom, one of Israel’s leading daily newspapers.

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“You are living in a paradise in comparison to the Syrian people. Shame on you. We are being killed,” said Issam Zeitoun, who lives in the Syrian portion of the Golan Heights, in response to Arab-Israeli students who accused him of being a traitor because he was speaking in Israel. Zeitoun was one of two Syrian opposition figures who addressed Israelis Jan. 17 at Hebrew University's Truman Institute. The event featured Sirwan Kajjo, a Syrian-Kurdish author from the city of Qamishily, and Zeitoun, who lives minutes from the border with Israel in the village of Bet Jan. Asked about his views on Israel's best course of action in the bloody Syrian arena, Kajjo said the Jewish state should “make more friends in Syria,” calling that approach “the right thing to do in this chaotic environment.”

Two separate investigations into the conduct of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have dominated headlines in the Israeli media during the past several weeks. While Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has yet to announce whether any indictments are forthcoming and many details of the cases remain unknown, many Israeli journalists and members of the political opposition are piecing together initial details to reach what experts are warning could be prematurely negative conclusions on the prime minister’s conduct. Dr. Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya university, said it should come as no surprise that many journalists are “hostile” to Netanyahu. “For those that think this is an obituary for Netanyahu, that obituary has been written many times,” said Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster and public opinion expert.

Hearing complaints about Israeli checkpoints that supposedly restrict the movement of Arabs in Judea and Samaria, filmmaker Ami Horowitz of Fox News decided to see for himself. He hired a Palestinian driver and experienced what it’s like for Palestinians crossing at the checkpoints that separate Israel from Palestinian Authority-controlled areas for the purpose of preventing weapons smuggling. Horowitz asked three different Palestinians at the Kalandia checkpoint how long it takes them to get through on a typical day, and all three said, “10 minutes.” Therein lies the trade-off when it comes to Israeli checkpoints, writes JNS.org columnist Stephen M. Flatow: a 10-minute delay for Palestinians versus hundreds of possible terror attacks against Israel each year.

After raising some pro-Israel concerns early in his campaign by saying that he would remain “neutral” in navigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Donald Trump has increasingly taken positions that mirror the Israeli government’s views, including his vows to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But upon his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump’s emerging Cabinet contains a mix of assurances and mysteries when it comes to the officers’ pro-Israel credentials. JNS.org examines the Israel-relevant records of six Trump Cabinet nominees and one appointee with Cabinet-level status.

While the change of presidential administration in Washington may strengthen Israel's diplomatic position for the immediate period, and while the Palestinians will have to get to the back of the line in terms of international priorities, the Palestinian question itself will not disappear. We can assume that if President-elect Donald Trump does a 180-degree turn on President Barack Obama's approach to the Israelis, the narrative of the Palestinians—ignored by America, facing 50 years of "occupation" under Israel—will become emblematic of public resistance to the foreign policies of the Trump administration, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.

American victims of Palestinian terrorism are applauding Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson’s criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and are urging him to press the PA to take specific anti-terror steps. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson said that while the PA has renounced terrorism, "it's one thing to renounce it and another thing to take serious actions to prevent it." He also said Palestinian leaders have to do "something to at least interrupt or prevent [terrorism]" before there can be "any productive discussion around settlements.” Sarri Singer, who was seriously wounded in a June 2003 Jerusalem bus bombing, said she is “encouraged” by Tillerson’s comments and urged Tillerson to press the PA to honor the 36 requests Israel has submitted for the extradition of Palestinian terrorists. Arnold Roth, whose teenage daughter Malka was killed in the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem, said he hopes the incoming Donald Trump administration will “actively pressure” the PA to reform its educational system.

Some 2.9 million people visited Israel last year, a 3.6-percent rise over 2015. Earlier this week, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism released a report summarizing international travel to Israel in 2016, with the largest influx of visitors coming in the last quarter of the year. Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attributed the increased travel to the government’s significant investment in targeted marketing initiatives and outreach to “new markets.” JNS.org presents 10 noteworthy facts contained in Israel’s tourism report.

In the aftermath of the Obama administration’s refusal to veto the U.N. resolution against Israel's settlement policy, Israeli political figures are increasingly mulling the idea of annexing the West Bank and implementing a “one-state solution” during the incoming Donald Trump era. “The U.N. resolution destroyed any residual chance there might have been to achieve peace with the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization),” said Caroline Glick, an influential Israeli-American columnist and author of the book “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.” Eli Hazan—director of communications and international relations for Israel’s ruling Likud party—said that despite how Trump’s victory is “raising hopes and expectations on the right regarding government policy in Judea and Samaria,” he believes “the status quo will continue despite all the talk.”

On an unseasonably warm Friday, the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” drew more than a hundred baseball fans to an empty lot in Beit Shemesh, a small town nestled in the hills outside Jerusalem. In a country where Little League Baseball is unheard of and Cracker Jack snacks are nonexistent, this was no typical weekend in the Jewish state. Jan. 6 marked the groundbreaking for the new Beit Shemesh Baseball Complex, which will be Israel’s fourth major baseball field. The excitement was palpable for an event attended by 10 current and former American-Jewish Major League Baseball players who will represent Team Israel at the March 2017 World Baseball Classic. Many in the crowd recently immigrated to Israel. Jewish National Fund (JNF) spreads awareness for the sport in Israel through its Project Baseball initiative, a relevant endeavor for American immigrants. “This initiative gives children who have made aliyah a taste of home and an opportunity to get close to their Israeli peers,” said Eric Michaelson, JNF’s chief Israel officer.

The incoming Donald Trump presidency likely means a sharp break from President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. For Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries that have peace treaties with Israel and two of the most reliable U.S. allies in the Middle East, the Trump administration will provide new opportunities and challenges going forward on issues such as Islamic extremism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of Jerusalem. JNS.org interviews Mideast experts about prospects for the region's future dynamics during the Trump era, including how American policy might affect relations between Israel and Arab states.

Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO, is chaired by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and is often perceived in the West as “moderate.” Hamas is the Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza. The two factions don’t always get along, but they’ve found at least one thing they agree on. Jan. 5 was the 21st anniversary of the death of infamous Hamas bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash. Hamas honored Ayyash with a photo essay on its website, complete with images of the bodies of some of his hundreds of Israeli and American victims. But the “moderate” Fatah admires Ayyash just as much as the “extremist” Hamas, celebrating Ayyash’s atrocities with a glowing feature about him on its website. This really tells us all we need to know about the Palestinian cause, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

Two days into her first Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, during which she led a group of 40 Americans around Israel, columnist Eliana Rudee heard the news of the Obama administration’s unprecedented refusal to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israel's settlement policies. In the most meaningful moment of the trip, the group of Americans stood with Israeli soldiers atop the Masada fortress as they recalled the ancient story of their ancestors choosing self-agency—even if it meant taking their own lives. Despite Israel's U.N. setback, Rudee writes that the change she witnessed in the Birthright participants during their 10-day journey kept her optimistic.

A former State Department official’s new plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace is the latest in a long series of Foggy Bottom proposals for a Mideast solution that went nowhere. Writing on the op-ed page of The New York Times Jan. 5, former Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk argued that dividing control of Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the key to “moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward.” JNS.org's Rafael Medoff recounts 10 major State Department proposals for Israeli-Arab peace.

A Palestinian driver rammed a truck into a crowd of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem Sunday, killing four and injuring 16 others in a terror attack that immediately drew comparisons to recent vehicular attacks in Nice (July 2016) and Berlin (December 2016). But Dr. Mordechai Kedar, senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, took the comparison a step further, likening the Jerusalem truck-ramming to the attacks of September 11, 2001. “It’s just like airplanes that were crashed into skyscrapers,” Kedar told JNS.org “Whether it is a car, a truck or an airplane, it is the same idea—to take something which looks innocent, which looks peaceful, which looks constructive, and to turn it into a deadly weapon.”

Jewish leaders are criticizing a former U.S. diplomat for using what they say is “dehumanizing rhetoric” in his denunciation of Israeli settlements. David A. Korn, who served at American embassies in the Middle East and Africa, ignited the controversy with a Jan. 3 letter in the Washington Post, in which he wrote that “settlements speckle the area like a rash.” Rabbi Dr. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, former chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, said, “I favor a two-state solution, but I strongly object to the demonization of the settlers and the tarring of all of them with the brush of a marginal few fanatics.” Korn said it is “ridiculous” for Jewish leaders to consider his rhetoric offensive, telling JNS.org that he is “not going to apologize to anyone.”

In his recent speech about Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry unfairly blamed Israel and minimized Palestinian violence. But he also did something else: he grievously dishonored the African-American civil rights movement, just weeks before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Kerry charged that Israeli policies are creating “segregated enclaves” for Palestinians and a “separate but unequal” system for Israelis and Palestinians. Yet he got it exactly backwards. It is the Palestinians, not Israel, whose behavior is similar to the segregationists of America’s civil rights era, writes JNS.org columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

The 1948-1949 War of Independence was Israel’s longest, costliest and most fateful war, says one veteran, who at age 97 still speaks to audiences about his experiences. Harold (Smoky) Simon, a South African-born accountant who became chief of air operations of the nascent Israeli Air Force in May 1948, is just one example of the kind of person whose story led an American immigrant to create an organization dedicated to preserving and publicizing the testimonies of those who founded the state. On a recent evening at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot Museum, Aryeh Halivni, founder of the Toldot Yisrael organization, introduced the dapper and articulate Simon to a large group of English-speaking immigrants brought together by the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency. Toldot Yisrael's goal is to inspire an understanding of the need for a Jewish state and to supplement the work of historians who have written about the state’s early history. “Without oral testimony you can’t understand history,” asserts Toldot Yisrael videographer Peleg Levy. 

Ahead of her father’s visit to Israel, when he will devote one morning to praying at the Western Wall, Leah Aharoni writes that without the established religious prayer traditions at the Kotel, the Jerusalem holy site would become just another tourist site and would not have the emotional pull it has today. It would stop being a place of prayer, writes Aharoni, the co-founder of an organization devoted to preserving the sanctity of the Western Wall.

Silently cruising in the depths of the seas, near and far from Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, the Israeli Navy’s growing submarine fleet conducts missions that are shrouded in secrecy and are considered essential for national security. Yet recently, the submarines made headlines for all the wrong reasons after Israeli media outlets accused government decision-makers of being in a conflict of interest when they ordered three additional submarines from German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. The controversial order is designed to replace Israel’s three oldest submarines with state-of-the-art vessels, enabling the Jewish state to maintain a modern fleet of six submarines. “One of the problems when discussing the question of whether to acquire three more submarines is that I, as a researcher, cannot say anything [about what they do]. I really do not know,” said Yiftah Shapir, head of the Middle East Military Balance Project at the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies.

Arabs in Israel maintain a higher quality of life than their brethren elsewhere in the Middle East, yet a significant number continue to support the Palestinian-Arab struggle against the Jewish state. One of the latest incidents occurred in the Arab city of Nazareth, where the municipality held a recent event that ended up glorifying terrorist murderer Baha Alyan, who along with an accomplice murdered three Israelis on a bus in Jerusalem last year. Additionally, Arab Member of Knesset Basel Ghattas is under investigation for allegedly smuggling cell phones and SIM cards to Palestinian security prisoners in Israel. Dr. Mordechai Zaken, head of minority affairs in the Israeli Public Security Ministry, told JNS.org that Israel’s Arab public can be divided into various parts and should not be generalized. Arabs can be grouped according to location, religion, sect, professional affiliation and other factors, he said.