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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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.

David Friedman was confirmed Thursday through a U.S. Senate to be the American ambassador to Israel. But that was only after a highly contentious debate, and unfortunately, only because there is a Republican majority in the Senate. The same was true of Friedman’s prior approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What made Friedman’s confirmation so contentious? Columnist Sarah N. Stern explains.

America’s strong pushback on the recent United Nations report accusing Israel of apartheid and, even more remarkably, the U.N. secretary-general’s disavowal of the report sent a surprisingly strong message to the Palestinians. With the world getting sick of Palestinian intransigence, and the U.S. determined to stick by its sole democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel can afford to wait for real peace rather than surrendering its rights for a deal that will give them neither peace nor security, writes JNS.org Opinion Editor Jonathan S. Tobin.

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.

As reports of the savage terrorist attack in central London March 22 emerged, it was clear that British authorities were dealing with an incident straight from the Islamist terror manual. Such terror, of course, is nothing new. In the Middle East, Hezbollah and Hamas have been in the Islamist terror business since the 1980s. But somehow, these two bloodstained organizations are never regarded by the West in quite the same way as Islamic State. Amid Hamas’s attempt to convince the world of its newfound political moderation, JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen writes that the Palestinian group’s makeover attempt is likely to dissolve without a trace, yet the security threat it poses remains intact.

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.

Beyond the scent of potent cannabis drifting about the venue, there was an extra buzz in the air this year at Israel’s third annual CannaTech medical marijuana innovation conference. Earlier in March, the Israeli Knesset passed a new law essentially decriminalizing recreational marijuana use nationwide. Given that development, it was high time for this week’s CannaTech conference. But amid the attention-grabbing legislation on recreational marijuana, CannaTech continued its traditional focus on showcasing the ingenuity of Israel’s medical marijuana practitioners. This year’s conference was “double the size” of last year’s summit, said Saul Kaye, CEO of the iCAN: Israel-Cannabis organization, which runs the annual gathering.

Israel critic Peter Beinart has announced that when his children “near adulthood, I’ll encourage them to visit the West Bank.” Why? “So they can see for themselves what it means to hold millions of people…without free movement or due process,” he wrote in his column for The Forward. The Beinart children are in for quite a surprise. In his various articles and media appearances, Papa Beinart regularly accuses Israel of occupying and oppressing the Palestinians. But when the young Beinarts arrive in Judea and Samaria, they will discover that dear old dad wasn’t telling them the whole story, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

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.

Who did the most damage to Israel’s security during the “knife intifada” that began in the fall of 2015? About 40 Israelis were murdered in the wave of stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks, yet the most successful terrorist did not kill any of them. The terrorist who inflicted the most damage did so while lying passively on the ground, and has far less name recognition than the soldier who shot him, writes the Israel Democracy Institute’s Prof. Yedidia Stern.

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].”

Diplomats never pretend to be experts on acting, yet for some reason actors constantly present themselves as experts on international affairs. Hollywood award ceremonies are now dominated by awardees delivering pretentious political diatribes. The latest presumed fount of wisdom is Richard Gere, who visited Israel last week to promote a film in which he plays a character modeled on the American Jewish businessman from whom Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accepted large bribes. When you’re “impossibly good-looking,” you can get away with pro-Palestinian hypocrisy, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

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.