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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While much of the media focused on the recent terror attack in Nice, the failed coup in Turkey, and the Republican National Convention, thousands of evangelical Christians gathered in the nation’s capital this week to show their support for Israel as part of the 11th annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Washington Summit. Although world events may have overshadowed its latest gathering, CUFI’s base of support—3.1 million members—is louder than ever. CUFI has become not only the self-described largest pro-Israel organization in America, but also likely the largest evangelical Christian organization of its kind. Much of CUFI's momentum stems from how Israel has become “one of the top issues for evangelicals” in a post-9/11 world. “All of a sudden [after 9/11] this distant land of Israel, battling these Islamic enemies, many realized that we are also facing the same threats and enemies,” said David Brog, one of CUFI’s founders and the director of its executive board.

"Israel Girl" columnist Eliana Rudee praises the extent to which the Israeli police worked to ensure marchers' safety at Jerusalem's 2016 gay pride parade. She writes that she is thankful for the Israeli public’s progressiveness on LGBTQ issues; significant police and political support; and the safe space that Israel offers for the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim LGBTQ communities. She left this year's Jerusalem parade with hope and confidence for the future.

Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city. Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. In this gentrifying neighborhood, Israeli investors are hoping to find some of the remaining affordable gems in the German capital’s increasingly competitive housing market. According to Gili Waldman—an investment consultant for Berlin Inspiration, one of several Israeli real estate companies marketing Berlin properties to Israeli investors—Berlin property values increase at a rate of about 10 percent a year. The rising costs have made Israeli investors in Germany turn east for real estate bargains.

Israel’s parliament this week took action in response to an Arab Knesset member’s public support of a terrorist who murdered an American-Jewish peace activist. But if you read the account by New York Times correspondent Isabel Kershner, you wouldn’t know anything about the terrorist or his victim—all you would learn is that Israel’s rulers are suppressing dissent and might be infected by “budding fascism.” It’s as if Kershner and her editors are living in some kind of alternative universe in which Israel is always guilty, Arab extremists are always innocent, and the 141 Americans who have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists simply don’t exist, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer told JNS.org. Last month, Kremer became the first Israeli citizen to sign with an MLB team. The right-handed pitcher was selected by Los Angeles in the 2016 draft and subsequently joined the Dodgers’ Ogden Raptors minor league affiliate in Utah. “I was raised in the Jewish tradition and we speak Hebrew at home,” said Kremer, who grew up in Tel Aviv. “Everything will stay the same [while I’m playing professional baseball], but it is difficult, especially when we get meals catered here. But I try not to eat pork….The values and morals of a Jewish person were instilled in me, and that’s the way I live my life.”

In the era of e-books, tech and publishing companies compete aggressively for market share. Writers, artists, and readers often get caught in the fray. While new media innovations empower individuals to experiment, creative works are readily exploited. In 2013, this situation prompted Israeli innovator and children’s book author Prof. Mel Rosenberg to found Ourboox.com. Described as “the world’s simplest platform for uploading and sharing digital picture books of any genre, in any language, for free,” the Ourboox community is growing rapidly in Israel. “We have books on 70 different genres, including biographies, picture books…you name it, and we’ve got it,” Rosenberg tells JNS.org.

On July 11, the History Channel reaffirmed its commitment to accuracy and truth by revising its “Albert Einstein: Fact or Fiction?” webpage to replace erroneous wording tending to negatively portray Israel: “Though he (Albert Einstein) was very sympathetic to Israel, he was never an ardent Zionist—he believed in ‘friendly and fruitful’ cooperation between Jews and Arabs.” There were two problems here: the erroneous characterization of Einstein’s attitude toward Zionism, and the erroneous implication that Zionism and Israel from the outset did not believe in cooperation between Arabs and Jews. The History Channel’s revised wording reads, “Einstein was, however, very sympathetic to Israel. In 1947 he expressed his belief in Zionism as well as the importance of ‘friendly and fruitful’ cooperation between Jews and Arabs.” The case for revision was made to the network by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), writes CAMERA research analyst Myron Kaplan.

The omission of Palestinian statehood from this year’s Republican Party platform is neither a radical change nor a departure from immutable U.S. policy, as some critics are claiming. In fact, both parties’ platforms have repeatedly changed positions on Israel-related issues over the years, in keeping with the preference of the presidential nominee or the changing mood among their rank and file, writes historian Rafael Medoff.

After a selection process that more closely resembled a reality television show than the usual political appointments, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday tweeted that his choice for vice president is Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who beat out flashier contenders such as former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. For the pro-Israel community, Pence is viewed as a strong advocate for the Jewish state who can bolster Trump’s sometimes shaky relationship with Jewish leaders. Pence, an evangelical Christian, has noted that his strong support for Israel is rooted in his faith. “Let me say emphatically, like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, my Christian faith compels me to cherish the state of Israel,” Pence said in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2009, while he was serving in Congress. 

On Tuesday, the Republican Platform Committee unanimously approved significant changes to its platform in an attempt to further set the party’s pro-Israel credentials apart from the Democrats. The GOP’s platform changes included removing language encouraging a two-state solution as well as reinstating a reference to an “undivided” Israel that was previously included in the party’s 2008 platform, but was removed in 2012. The push to bolster the Republican Party’s language on Israel follows a four-year effort by pro-Israel leaders to reach out to the party’s base—evangelical Christians—as well as to Jewish and other ethnic groups to reach a Republican consensus on Israel policy. Most recently, pro-Israel groups worked on the platform changes with the campaign of presumptive nominee Donald Trump. “It’s the most pro-Israel platform that either party has ever issued, so we’re obviously very proud of the accomplishment,” David Friedman, one of Trump's Israel advisers, told JNS.org.

Ten years on from the trauma and devastation visited upon Israeli and Lebanese civilians alike in the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah is stronger than ever in southern Lebanon, and still faithful to its tactic of embedding itself within the civilian population. Far from disbanding, as mandated by the U.N. Security Council, Hezbollah fighters have been refining their battlefield skills in the defense of Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in neighboring Syria. The cost of the Syrian war upon Lebanon has been merciless. The Lebanese population of 4.5 million has now been joined by a staggering 1.5 million Syrians. Alongside this humanitarian crisis is a political one. Lebanon has not had a president since the stalemate election of 2014, a dire situation fully exploited by Hezbollah, which has never respected Lebanon’s sovereignty and which regards the republic as little more than a staging post for its attacks on Israel. The stakes of another war involving Israel, then, are frighteningly higher this time around, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.

The current fight for access to the Kotel (Western Wall) by Women of the Wall and the Reform and Conservative movements is real and legitimate, yet at the same time is based upon a limited conception of the holy site as only a place for prayer. Reimagining the Kotel requires a radical shift to imagine new and other possibilities befitting the "start-up nation" of Israel. What would happen if we were to shift our understanding of the Kotel problem from one of access, to one of modern design based on its original functions? It may be time for the Jewish people to use the modes and ethics of the computer world to rethink this problem. In other words, it may be time to hack the Kotel, writes Joshua Ladon is the San Francisco Bay Area manager for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.

Russell F. Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), believes that Israel has reached an important milestone in its development as a nation. “I think this is our moment of real Zionism,” he tells JNS.org, intimating that the Zionist experiment has come of age. The turning point in history invoked by Robinson presents new opportunities for Israel’s oldest philanthropic organization, as well as for individuals interested in exploring Israel. The nascent Jewish state was initially impoverished and represented “the gathering of the exiles,” but the new Israel “is a place where people can go by choice,” he reflects, explaining that instead of organizing to ensure Israel’s survival, “now we get to be Israel’s greatest partner.” As such, JNF has in recent years rolled out several programs geared towards creating awareness of Israeli culture and stimulating investment in Israeli public works projects.

The recent op-ed by Yair Sheleg, “Israel’s battle for peace between religion and state,” is troublesome in several ways. While he portrays himself as a dispassionate analyst, it is clear that Sheleg’s essay intends, on the contrary, to inflame passions. Sheleg’s statement to the media is notably more accurate than his opinion piece: there is no “ultra-Orthodox offensive,” but rather an effort by liberal movements to enact drastic changes in Israel to draw attention away from their self-inflicted decimation at home in America, write Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Rabbi Pesach Lerner.

The relationship between religion and state in Israel is stormy. Lately, it seems the ultra-Orthodox have launched a new offensive on several fronts. First, representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community went back on their Western Wall compromise agreement. Second, judges from the Petach Tikva rabbinical court recently took a bold step when they attempted to revoke conversions conducted by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a prominent Orthodox American rabbi. Third, ultra-Orthodox legislators presented a bill stipulating that any immersion in a public mikveh must be handled according to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s rules. This new ultra-Orthodox offensive must be fought, writes Yair Sheleg, director of the Religion and State program at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Sometimes, "Israel Girl" columnist Eliana Rudee can’t believe it has already been a year since she made aliyah, and other times, she can't believe it has only been one year. Everything has changed in her life, but nothing really has, she writes.

The Republican Party has reportedly reinstated language endorsing an “undivided” Jerusalem into the party’s platform ahead of its national convention in Cleveland later this month. According to CNN, which cited a draft of the party platform that it obtained, the Republicans would reinstate a reference to an “undivided” Jerusalem while removing a reference to “Palestine” in support for a two-state solution. The Republicans’ move comes in the aftermath of advocacy on the issue by the lobbying affiliate of Pastor John Hagee’s influential Christians United for Israel (CUFI) non-profit. In a letter obtained by JNS.org that was sent to Republican convention delegates on July 6, former Ronald Reagan administration official Gary Bauer, director of the CUFI Action Fund lobby, called for the GOP platform to “strengthen its language in support for Israel with Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘undivided, enteral’ capital.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a historic multi-nation trip to Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia this week, stressing the importance of improved diplomatic ties and economic cooperation after several decades of strained Israeli relations in Africa. In the first decades of Israeli statehood, the Jewish state had good ties with many countries across the 54-nation African continent. But following decisive military victories by Israel over its Arab neighbors in the 1967 and 1973 wars, Arab nations pressured many of those countries to break off relations with Israel. Yet today, with Israel growing into an economic, technological, and military leader, African nations are understanding the potential value of renewed cooperation with the Jewish state. “What Netanyahu is doing right now is very important, but it should have been done a long time ago. It’s overdue,” Zvi Mazel, whose former roles include Israeli ambassador to Egypt and deputy director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry in charge of African relations, told JNS.org.

The nuclear agreement signed on July 14, 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 powers—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany—was a watershed event in international diplomacy and a key moment for U.S. President Barack Obama, who staked his legacy on the deal’s success. One year later, should world nations, and perhaps most notably Israel, still view the Islamic Republic as a nuclear threat? Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council think tank, told JNS.org that the Iranians “remain within the letter of the agreement but not the spirit” of the deal. “They have been a little more transparent in their nuclear processes, but it has not fundamentally changed Iranian behavior,” he said, alluding to Iran’s continued military buildup; support for terrorist organizations; and hostility towards Israel, the U.S., and America’s Arab allies.

As Hillary Clinton begins her general election campaign against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the Democratic Party held a July 8 discussion on its national platform, including a review of its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The party's platform committee rejected proposed language on Israeli "occupation" and "settlements" during that meeting. Yet some political analysts still fear that the more critical views on Israel of Clinton's former primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, may have left their mark on the presumptive Democratic nominee, “I will be watching carefully to see what happens with the platform and which, if any, Sanders aides join the Clinton team post-convention,” said Tevi Troy, a presidential historian and former White House aide for the George W. Bush administration.