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.
When it comes to Iran’s latest Holocaust cartoon contest, JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen confesses to being more bored than shocked. Such imagery is hardly new, as the contest submissions’ depictions of Jews come straight out of Nazi propaganda. The Islamists who run Iran may be many things, but creators of pathbreaking art they are definitely not. As fashionable as it is in President Barack Obama’s circle to pretend that the Iranian regime is in the throes of dramatic change, with a surging “moderate” wing that wants to engage the West, the cartoon contest demonstrates that the mullahs’ cannot kick their enduring pathology: striking a blow at the global Jewish conspiracy by wiping Israel off the map. Even if we accept for the sake of argument that the regime can be simply bifurcated into “moderates” and “hardliners,” those Iranian leaders identified in the West as “moderates” come out of this latest cartoon scandal looking far shabbier than their “hardline” rivals, writes Cohen.
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.
Slowly and determinedly in 1947, Shmuel Matza carved the following into the wall of Jerusalem's Kishle prison: the emblem of the Irgun paramilitary organization; the Hebrew phrases for “only thus,” which suggested that the Jewish people would use force to achieve freedom in their land, and “long live the Hebrew state;” and his name. A few days later, the British transferred Matza to the Latrun detention camp, from which he was released in April 1948, just ahead of the Israeli War of Independence. Matza went to law school, married, and had children and grandchildren, quietly closing the previous chapter of his life. Yet that chapter was unexpectedly reopened more than 50 years later, when archaeologists discovered Matza’s carvings—still bold, confident, and defiant—on an interior wall of the Kishle. Archaeologists began excavating around the area of the Kishle after Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War, during which the Jewish state reunified Jerusalem following 19 years of Jordanian control in the city’s eastern portion. The capital’s reunification is celebrated by Israelis each year on “Yom Yerushalayim” (Jerusalem Day), which falls on June 5 this year. “I am now 89 years old and I am still excited about the State of Israel,” Matza tells JNS.org.
There are numerous ways that Jewish advocacy groups advise students to counter anti-Israel activity on college campuses, ranging from holding demonstrations to simply ignoring the threats. Promoting a positive connection to Israel is instrumental in countering anti-Zionism, according to The Jewish Agency for Israel, which together with Hillel International created the Israel Fellows program—a network of 75 Israeli young professionals serving as “ambassadors” at more than 100 North American university campuses. The fellows—who come from Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Indian, European, and central Asian backgrounds—work to demystify Israel for those who have little knowledge about the country. They seek to organize events in which students from different cultures can discover shared values, fostering a climate of mutual respect. While anti-Israel groups “try to separate people,” Israel Fellows “try to bring people together,” said Shachar Levi, an Israel Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.
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 is hosting 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.
Ever wonder why it is that Congress passes so many strongly pro-Israel bills, yet they never seem to be implemented? For example, a bill was passed to move the Embassy of the United States in Israel to Jerusalem—but the embassy was never moved. Legislation was passed to restrict U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA)—but it was never restricted. Now a bill has been passed to permit families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia—but in fact, it will actually block such lawsuits. What all three of these laws have in common is a deceptive little tactic called a “national security waiver,” explains columnist Stephen M. Flatow.
The cultural differences between Israel and America are substantial, reminding "Aliyah Annotated" columnist Eliana Rudee of a major reason why she moved to Israel 10 months ago. In the U.S., the interpersonal norm is "polite and insincere." In Israel, it's "impolite yet sincere." Yet Rudee writes that she wouldn’t characterize Israelis as "rude" as much as sincere and to the point, just as she wouldn’t characterize Americans as "insincere" as much as polite and friendly. There is a kernel of truth in both the Israeli and American perspectives, she writes.
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.”
In an interview earlier this month with The Forward, Dalit Baum, a leading Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement activist, boasted about an increased focus on corporate social responsibility—the idea that companies and investors ought to make decisions based on ethical principles beyond legal requirements and business interests. In reality, however, Baum and anti-Israel BDS campaigners are attempting to manipulate the concept of corporate social responsibility to advance their highly discriminatory anti-Zionist ideology. Baum masks her single-minded agenda against Israel through loose language such as “universal human rights,” which, as seen through her actions, are far from universal, writes NGO Monitor researcher Robin Joshowitz.
Dr. Sara Bedoya was raised in a small Cuban town. She was a member of the town’s only Jewish family. Though she knew of her faith and heritage, she was raised without access to a Jewish education or resources. When her mother passed away 12 years ago from cancer and her family moved to the city of Camaguey, where there are more Jews, she decided to honor her mother by learning more about her religion. Soon, Bedoya began to observe Shabbat and take part in community events. Three years ago, she was elected president of the Camaguey Jewish community. Last week, she and nine other Cuban-Jewish women visited Israel for their first time on a trip sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. “I have so much love for this country. It was so perfect,” Bedoya told JNS.org regarding Israel on the final day of her nine-day trip.
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.
Israel has endured terrorism for decades. But ever since 9/11 and subsequent major terrorist attacks worldwide, more countries are starting to ask the same question: What motivates terrorists? It’s a question that is as pertinent as ever for Israelis amid the current months-long Palestinian terror wave. The immediate answer on the question of motivation is often one that many politicians like to give: Terrorists are poor and don’t have anything to live for. But according to a series of studies, that premise is wrong. Instead, the studies reveal, terrorists tend to be better educated and more financially stable than the casual observer would expect. Research conducted by Prof. Claude Berrebi, a public policy scholar at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found that among a group of 285 Palestinian terrorists, 16 percent—compared to 31 percent of Palestinians in general—were characterized as poor. “Political activity is mainly the work of better-educated individuals and people of a higher socioeconomic status. If you start to think of terrorism as a political move, it makes more sense,” Berrebi told JNS.org.
Palestinian terrorist attacks that result in only a few casualties vanish quickly from the headlines. The victims are hospitalized, the politicians issue condemnations, the Palestinian Authority praises the attacker, and then the episode is quickly forgotten. It’s rare that anybody is still paying attention weeks later, when the attacker appears in court. That’s a shame, because sometimes what comes out during the legal process can be very revealing—such as the actions of accomplices who sheltered the terrorists, laughed at the victims, or refused to call an ambulance, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.
Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film directed by Eyal Resh. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. “Telling Israel’s Story” seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. Spinning shots depict the natural beauty of Israel’s geography and landmarks. Viewers glimpse the religious passions underlying the society; the business and artistic ventures for which Israelis are known; and the violence that all too often puts Israel in the news. Sirens blare as a rocket streaks across the night sky. But when the rocket is later revealed to be part of a festive fireworks show, the music and montage resume with renewed vigor, depicting the celebration of life that underlies Israeli existence. “I see it as my responsibility to use my abilities to change Israel’s image in the U.S. and the world,” Resh tells JNS.org.
Member of Knesset Michael Oren (Kulanu), the self-described “resident old man,” surveys the scene unfolding before his eyes with growing astonishment. Seven-hundred pounds of grilling meat, 20 bags of charcoal, 150 gallons of Negev beer, and 600 new immigrants from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, France, Chile, Japan, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa, India, Greece, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Venezuela, and Guatemala, all coming together last week to celebrate Israel’s 68th Independence Day at JNFuture Israel’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut barbecue. Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. shakes his head in astonishment. “I don’t know whether to be excited or to cry,” Oren quips as he enjoys a hot dog right off the grill. “I’m a little envious. We had nothing like this when I came to this country. Zero. Israel was a frontier country then.”
Earlier this month, a Pew Research Center survey found that while sympathy for Israel among American voters has remained relatively consistent over the past few decades, there has been a slight uptick in sympathy for the Palestinians—14 percent to 19 percent—from July 2014. The data also revealed a substantial increase in sympathy for the Palestinians among respondents ages 18-29—also known as “millennials”—from 9 percent in 2006 to 27 percent today, while liberal Democrats were shown to sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel, 40 percent versus 33 percent. Dr. Steven M. Cohen, a research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, said the survey results echo “parallel trends in Europe among people with a similar liberal view of the world.” But Dr. Jonathan Rynhold, author of “The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture,” maintained that “American liberals are far more sympathetic to Israel than the European left. The gulf remains huge.”
An Israeli diplomat indicated last week that the Jewish state and Turkey are continuing to make a concerted effort to rebuild a relationship that has been strained under Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan, despite the doubts cast on the stop-and-go reconciliation process by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s recent resignation. Policy experts, meanwhile, say that the misperception of Davutoğlu’s “moderate” tack means his resignation wasn’t a game-changer. “Davutoğlu was actually in many ways the primary driver of antagonism toward Israel at the highest levels of the Turkish government, and I do not think it is a coincidence that the real downturn in relations coincided with his elevation to the Foreign Ministry,” Michael Koplow, an expert on Turkey and the policy director for the Israel Policy Forum think tank, told JNS.org.
On the campus of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), they’re partying like it’s 1948—and Israel’s usual detractors are staying silent. Advocates of Israel celebrated Israel Independence Week at UCLA, participating in numerous activities courtesy of Bruins for Israel. As is the case with a number of the schools in the 10-campus University of California system, UCLA is regarded as a staunchly anti-Israel campus. According to the anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, there have been 13 incidents of anti-Semitism at UCLA over the past 18 months. Yet during UCLA's Israel Independence Week this year, the campus chapters of anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace chose not to stage protests at the pro-Israel events.