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 1996, when Boaz Ganor founded Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, top security figures around the world gave short shrift to the academic study of terrorism. That is, of course, until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Only then did the world take note of the great importance of bridging the gap between academics and practitioners. But while the study of counter-terrorism is now considered crucial in the fight against global terror, the “art” of counter-terrorism, as Ganor calls it, is anything but intuitive for heads of state. The Israeli academic and his team believe that world leaders often self-sabotage with counter-productive policies and doctrines. Israel correspondent Eliana Rudee reviews the factors that counter-terrorism experts like Ganor deem some of the most important current challenges in their field.

A Palestinian terrorist who murdered two Hebrew University of Jerusalem students has found a new ally, the far-left Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) group. How mainstream Jewish liberal groups respond to JVP’s hosting of Rasmea Odeh at its national conference in March will be telling, writes JNS.org columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

The chances of a formal peace agreement between Israel and the wider Arab world in the near future are slim, contrary to media reports and the posturing of Israeli opposition politicians, experts say. Citing unidentified former senior Obama administration officials, the Haaretz newspaper reported Sunday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had met with Egyptian and Jordanian heads of state in a secret meeting last year in Jordan, in order to promote a regional peace agreement. The talks led nowhere, and Haaretz’s report blamed Netanyahu for the negotiations’ failure because he backed out over opposition from within his governing coalition. “This was a one-sided leak by Obama officials, suggesting there is no reason to believe there was any real prospect of negotiations on serious terms,” said Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law and an expert on international law.

The morning after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first official meeting with President Donald Trump, multiple headlines proclaimed Feb. 16 that the two-state solution was fast approaching death's door. JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen suggests that those who interpret the outcome of the Trump-Bibi meeting in that manner should dig a little deeper. There is something of a revolution in thinking going on, and what's being overturned is what you might call the "Palestine First" strategy of regional peacemaking. But that doesn't have to mean that a solution involving Palestinian sovereignty has been extinguished, writes Cohen.

Islamic State-affiliated armed organizations are challenging the Hamas terror group’s rule in the Gaza Strip and are seeking to topple the Islamist regime, which they accuse of being un-Islamic and lacking in jihadist spirit. The complex situation reflects how Hamas prefers to exploit the current absence of a full-scale conflict with Israel to build up its military wing, fill up its rocket depots and dig tunnels for future cross-border attacks. Yet at same time, the Islamic State-affiliated smaller groups, known as Salafi jihadists, insist on armed conflict with Israel right now. 

American Jewish leaders are enthusiastically applauding President Donald Trump’s call on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to remove anti-Jewish hate material from its school books. At his press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Feb. 15, Trump said “the Palestinians have to get rid of” the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish material that appears in PA school texts. “They're taught tremendous hate,” he said. “I’ve seen what they’re taught…it starts at a very young age and it starts in the school room.” Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.org, “The U.S. government should use all leverage at its disposal to do something about changing the Palestinian school books, especially when the U.S. provides the Palestinians with over $350 million in aid each year.” 

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held their first joint press conference Wednesday at the White House, ahead of a private meeting that was expected to herald warmer ties between the Israeli and American administrations. Yet the leaders’ public comments highlighted some of their disagreements, with Trump calling on Israel to “hold back” on settlement building and to show more “flexibility” in negotiations with the Palestinians. 

David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel, has managed to anger Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and the Union for Reform Judaism. It’s a safe bet that every Jewish leftist who ever cut a check to the New Israel Fund is enduring sleepless nights. The response to Friedman’s nomination is indicative of a growing chasm in the American Jewish community between liberal Jews who are incapable of separating their Jewishness from allegiance to the Democratic Party, and the growing number who are rejecting the party of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, write columnists Abraham H. Miller and Paul Miller.

Israel’s critics are all abuzz over the news that the U.S. ambassador-designate to Israel is connected to the financing of a handful of apartments in a Jewish settlement. Yet many of those same critics are fully aware of the fact that a previous U.S. ambassador apparently was directly involved in giving money to a settlement. Nobody ever said a word out loud about the previous ambassador’s action—either at the time, or since then. Columnist Stephen M. Flatow asks: Why the double standard?

Israel’s standing as a global cybersecurity powerhouse advanced in recent weeks, with the U.S. House of Representatives passing new legislation that would improve American-Israeli cooperation in that sector. The United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017, which passed in the House Jan. 31, creates a cybersecurity grant program for joint research and development projects. The legislation’s advancement comes as cybersecurity is one of the world’s fastest-growing security fields—not just for governments, but also for terrorist groups. “Israel and the U.S. share the same enemies in the cyber realm, consisting of both jihad groups as well as hacktivist groups associated with the likes of [the international hacker network] Anonymous, who also target the Jewish community worldwide online,” said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Officials from the Turkish and Israeli foreign ministries met for the first time in more than six years earlier this month, striving to draft a roadmap to promote cooperation in areas such as energy and commerce. As Turkey and Israel ease into a new era in their relationship, collaboration on more sensitive issues like security has been slower to emerge. Israeli Consul General in Istanbul Shai Cohen said that the normalization of Turkish-Israeli ties is “starting step by step, mainly on ‘soft powers’ like trade, culture, academic ties and tourism, issues that are ready to be enhanced in the short-term.”

Days after the settlement outpost of Amona was evacuated by order of Israel’s High Court of Justice, the Knesset passed legislation to retroactively legalize all settlement housing sitting on property that has been identified as private Palestinian land. The law is being hailed by supporters of the settlement movement as a step toward extending full Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories, while opponents have called the law a “land grab” that violates international law. Yet several leading legal scholars say the “Regulation Law” does not contradict Israeli law, and that precedents both inside and outside Israel can justify its passage within the context of international law. “I wouldn’t call it a land grab,” Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Israel’s former ambassador to Canada. “These people have been already living where they are living for many years. The opposition to this law is more of a political issue.”

To hear the news media tell it, Israel’s Knesset has approved extreme right-wing legislation that will steal Palestinian land by legalizing illegal outposts and thereby demolish the last hopes for Middle East peace. The truth, of course, is very different. The Israeli government has not authorized the establishment of a new Jewish community in Judea and Samaria since 1992. But the 1993 Oslo Accords did not resolve the status of empty land in the disputed territories. The outposts in question have not displaced any Palestinians and were set up on empty hilltops, writes JNS.org columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

The controversy over Israel’s security checkpoints is heating up in the wake of a new investigative report showing that the perceived hardships endured by Palestinian travelers are much less severe than critics of Israel have charged. Human Rights Watch asserted in its most recent annual report that waiting times at the checkpoints are “onerous,” and Amnesty International claimed the waiting times constitute “collective punishment.” But filmmaker Ami Horowitz, in the “Palestinian Road Trip” video, presented interviews he conducted at the Kalandia checkpoint with Palestinian travelers who all said it took 10 minutes or less to get through the checkpoint. “That included waiting time and the time it took for the Israeli soldiers to check their identity papers,” Horowitz told JNS.org.

Israel carried out the much-discussed evacuation of the Jewish outpost of Amona last week in a process that raised renewed questions about the future of Israeli settlements, with Israeli lawmakers seeking to retroactively legalize numerous outposts and the Trump administration possibly offering newfound support for the settlement enterprise. For Israeli supporters of settlements in the West Bank, the evacuation of 40 families and hundreds of protesters from Amona—located approximately 10 miles north of Jerusalem—was a painful event that stung at the core of their nationalistic and ideological beliefs about settling across the land of Israel. “We were mutilated, violated, symbolically, metaphorically, I don’t know what to say,” said Eli Greenberg, who along with his wife and eight children lived in Amona for nearly 20 years.

It’s hard to believe that 27 female recent high school graduates living in a few modest buildings on a hilltop northeast of Jerusalem are the cause of an intense debate within Israel’s national-religious population. The young women are students at Mechinat Lapidot, one of only two pre-army preparatory programs in Israel for girls who come from Torah-observant homes. The community where their preparatory academy has been located for two years, Ma’ale Michmas, recently voted to ask the program to leave. The decision reflects a split in Israel’s national-religious sector, with some families preferring that their daughters pursue the traditional national service option after high school, rather than sign up for army service. But a growing number of Torah-observant girls are opting to take on more challenging roles in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world—for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it,” God says in a Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah. For more than a century, Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which calls itself “Israel’s largest environmental organization,” has followed that tenet by preserving nature in the Jewish state. The organization, which marked its 115th anniversary last month, launched a nationwide campaign for the Tu B’Shvat holiday in which more than half a million people are expected to participate in planting events through Feb. 17. JNS.org recounts the history behind how both the Tu B’Shvat holiday and the KKL-JNF organization have become synonymous with planting trees in Israel.

Did you know that the transformation of Tu B’Shvat from an obscure Kabbalistic holiday to its current incarnation can trace its origins to a Christian-oriented, proto-environmentalist activity in 19th-century Nebraska? Hizky Shoham, a research fellow at the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute, recounts the story behind a little-known quirk of timing and history surrounding the “Jewish Arbor Day,” which falls on Feb. 11 this year.

President Donald Trump’s administration issued new sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program Friday, marking a major step toward realigning U.S. policy in the Middle East away from the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the Iranian-Shi’a axis and back toward supporting the interests of America’s traditional Sunni regional allies as well as Israel. Former President Barack Obama had pursued warmer U.S. ties with Iran by making concessions to reach the 2015 nuclear deal and by not responding to aggressive Iranian actions. Trump’s shift in approach comes as Iran’s regional ambitions continue to spread deeper into Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. “What we see with Trump is simply a return to the normal bipartisan position that ties U.S. relations with Iran to its regional behavior,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and an expert on Iran.

With $221 million in U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) possibly hanging in the balance, American Jewish leaders and organizations across the political spectrum are denouncing the PA’s reported use of torture against prisoners. Israeli Arab journalist Khalid Abu Toameh charged last week that the PA’s Jericho Central Prison has become a “fort of torture.” Writing for the Gatestone Institute think tank, Toameh cited a new report by the Arab Organization for Human Rights that the PA’s security forces committed more than 3,000 human rights violations in 2016. Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress for North America, said “it is outrageous that American tax dollars intended to help build peace with the Palestinians by supporting basic services such as education and health care, are instead used to enable the abusers of human rights.” Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, said, “We are definitely concerned by such practices, and believe that they should stop, even if they are done in the course of the PA’s close security cooperation with Israel to fight terrorism.”