JNS.org offers the latest Jewish news and commentary from the United States. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.
Another Presidents Day, another whitewash of a president’s “joke” about Jews. The latest offender is Susan Butler’s “Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership” (published in March 2015), a recent entry in the very long list of books about president Franklin D. Roosevelt. It “describes in meticulous detail the proceedings at the Tehran and Yalta conferences,” according to Kirkus Reviews. The Christian Science Monitor agrees that Butler has “a firm grasp on the details.” Except for one detail that Butler skipped and the reviewers haven’t noticed: an unpleasant “joke” about Jews that Roosevelt told Stalin at Yalta in 1945. Butler is the latest in a long line of FDR-admiring authors and historians who have omitted or minimized what Roosevelt said to Stalin about Jews, writes historian Rafael Medoff.
2016 may well be remembered as the year that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel finally died its death—in a clinical sense, at least. Across the U.S., state legislatures are passing bills that will outlaw state authorities from investing public funds in, and entering into contracts with, companies and other entities that engage in a boycott of Israel. You have to imagine that, at a certain point, the smarter inhabitants of the BDS movement will figure out that they are campaigning for a set of demands that, in effect, cannot be implemented, because the sanctions that potentially come with implementation are too great. So where, then, will this movement go? BDS will not disappear—it will adapt, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
Last week’s deaths of seven Hamas terrorists in the collapse of a tunnel they were digging coincided with complaints by residents of an Israeli town near Gaza that underground digging has come so close to their homes that they have felt their floors shake. We thought the Hamas terror tunnels were a thing of the past. They were supposed to have been destroyed in the 2014 Gaza war. The Obama administration promised that safeguards would be in place to ensure that cement entering Gaza would be used for houses that were damaged in the fighting. But the Israelis were right that cement would be used for terror tunnels. Now it’s time for all the Obama administration officials who had a hand in this fiasco to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and to endorse Israel’s right to intervene, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.
For one weekend at the Westin Pasadena hotel in the Los Angeles area, hallway conversations were conducted mostly in Russian and Hebrew, with English taking a back seat from Jan. 29-31. The weekend marked the inaugural convention on the West Coast for Limmud FSU, an organization dedicated to sparking a cultural renaissance among Jews who trace their roots back to the former Soviet Union. “There’s no America without coming to the West Coast,” said Chaim Chesler, the organization’s founder. “To cover the united states you have to start with the east and go to the west.”
The 2016 U.S. presidential race has been high on twists, with billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump and socialist Bernie Sanders leading in many polls. But the topsy-turvy journey might just be getting started. As voters prepare to cast their first ballots in Iowa and New Hampshire, former New York City mayor and Jewish billionaire Michael Bloomberg, whose net worth dwarfs even that of Trump, is reportedly considering an independent run for president. “[Bloomberg] would make an exceptional candidate for a variety of reasons, in particular for the Jewish community. He has always shown himself to be a big supporter of Israel in different ways, such as donating his personal money in various charities,” said Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of Steinreich Communications, a New Jersey-based public relations firm that also has an office in Israel.
During a recent mission to Israel by students from Yeshiva University (YU) and its affiliate for women, Stern College, the students immersed themselves in the challenges Israeli citizens are facing during the current wave of Palestinian terror. They met with victims of terror; engaged with first responders from emergency service groups; dialogued with lone soldiers; paid a shiva call to the family of slain mother of six Dafna Meir; and learned from leaders such as Rabbanit Chana Henkin, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in October 2015. “I do a lot of sharing on social media so people know what’s going on in Israel. I pray—but I see that the best solidarity is coming to Israel,” says YU junior Shlomo Anapolle.
In Huffman, Texas—on the outskirts of Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, yet seemingly in the middle of nowhere—there’s a cross-bearing building in an otherwise empty grass field that houses the Global Peace Initiative (GPI). These are quite the humble environs for GPI’s founder, Indian-born Dr. K.A. Paul, a man who has been described as “the world’s most popular evangelist” by The New Republic. Paul says his charity and peace work has reached 148 countries, hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows in need, and the millions of people who have attended his peace rallies. Global media have reported on how he convinced Liberian dictator Charles Taylor to resign and persuaded Haitian rebel leader Guy Philippe to lay down his arms. Also in Paul’s travel log: meetings with late Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Paul is best described as an international man of mystery. He’s also staunchly pro-Israel, which may surprise you given the aforementioned characters he has met with. His mission last summer: defeat the Iran nuclear deal. His current mission: muster the power of America’s 90 million evangelical Christians to help defeat Democratic contender Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
The Indiana House of Representatives this week passed new legislation that targets businesses or other entities that engage in the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, marking the latest victory in the fight against BDS on the U.S. state level. House Bill 1378, which was introduced by Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and was passed unanimously by the legislature on Jan. 25, requires “the public retirement system to divest from businesses that engage in action or inaction to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.” The Indiana bill follows the passage of anti-BDS measures in Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois, while similar legislation has been proposed in California.
Whenever the Iranians demonstrate to us that they view our democracy and our way of life with contempt, there will be a chorus of Western politicians and commentators who try to change the subject, typically by talking about the malicious designs of Israel’s elected leader. President Barack Obama has set the standard on this one for the last eight years, and his media echo chamber dutifully follows. They’ll even make stuff up if that’s what’s needed, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
While millions of people around the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, an Iranian government-sponsored Holocaust cartoon contest was in the works. This year’s competition is not the first of its kind, but carries added significance in the aftermath of last summer’s nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 nations. “What’s different this year—and most alarming—is that policy makers in the U.S. and Europe view the Iranian regime as a stabilizing force in the imploding Middle East. This is a horrific mistake,” said Charles A. Small, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy.
The U.S. State Department has been so pro-Palestinian for so long that it might seem startling to suggest that there is a current of anti-Palestinian racism at Foggy Bottom. But just consider: The official Palestinian Authority daily newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, published an article on Jan. 21 suggesting that the U.S. carried out the 9/11 attacks in order to have a pretext for causing “creative anarchy” in the Arab world. But if you ask anybody in the State Department about that kind of Palestinian conspiracy theories, they will invariably say that we should not take it seriously, because “that’s just how the Palestinians talk.” According to such rationalizations, the Palestinians are inherently incapable of being rational and reasonable. Columnist Stephen M. Flatow asks: If that’s not racism, what is?
Although they both support the Obama administration-brokered nuclear deal with Iran, the top two Democratic candidates running for president now find themselves in a high-profile disagreement about American policy on the Islamic Republic. During the latest Democratic debate on Jan. 17, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for normalization in relations with Iran, which would represent a radical shift in U.S. policy in the Middle East. Former first lady Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term, said she considered such a move to be premature. Supporters of Clinton were quick to blast Sanders’s position. “Sadly, I’m not shocked at Bernie’s newly stated position. It follows his most-liberal-at-any-cost naïveté on some foreign policy matters,” Steve Rabinowitz, who has worked on the national staffs of nine U.S. presidential campaigns and served as White House director of design and productions for former president Bill Clinton, told JNS.org.
After narrowly defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucus, Hillary Clinton bolstered her status as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential race. If elected, how would U.S.-Israel relations fare under her watch? To gain insight into the prospect of a Clinton administration for the Jewish state, JNS.org looks back—in reverse chronological order—at her words, policies, and relationships as they relate to Israel over the course of the various stages of her political career.
Immanuel Paul looked somewhat out of place in a leather jacket and priest’s collar, seated by himself in a Hollywood ballroom where a conference put on by a watchdog of anti-Israel media bias was in full swing. The conference, hosted Jan. 18 by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), aimed to unmask efforts to turn evangelical Christians away from supporting Israel. Paul, a Hindu-born Apostolic Christian priest who was born and lives in India, is a flesh-and-blood example of the conference’s topic: a Christian with a deep, religious connection to the existence of the state of Israel. “As King David says, pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” he said. “We always keep that in mind.” Yet the pro-Israel contingent in the U.S. depends on the political support of evangelicals as much as their prayers. The CAMERA conference, titled “The Assault on Evangelical Christian Support for Israel,” addressed attempts to divert people like Paul from their Zionist leanings.
Malicious campaigns to intimidate Jewish and other pro-Israel students and faculty into silence are occurring on far too many North American college campuses. Driven by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and its many off-campus enablers, the campaigns are loud and they do not care about appearing extreme. They create chaos and feed off the ensuing controversy to gain attention for their anti-Israel accusations. The goal: to create an atmosphere of political conformity based on an assumption of ill-will against Israel and its supporters. Yet the campaigns will not succeed, write Roz Rothstein and Yitzhak Santis of the pro-Israel education and advocacy group StandWithUs.
Conservative Judaism has always had something akin to middle child syndrome: squeezed on both sides by the Orthodox and Reform movements. But lately, its identity crisis has become acute. This week, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ)—an umbrella body that represents Conservative congregations across North America—is set to receive the results of an audit it commissioned that reached more than 1,000 Jews, most of them Conservative, in an effort to better understand and meet their spiritual needs. The results will not immediately be made public. The audit is part of a rebranding that USCJ’s leadership describes as no less than a sea change in how Conservative Judaism operates. “The current synagogue model up until this time was a 2,000-year-old experiment,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of USCJ, told JNS.org. “And it just no longer has the capacity to meet the challenges, and so it has to be reinvented.”
So numerous were the omissions, distortions, and flights of extraordinary fancy in President Barack Obama’s Jan. 12 State of the Union address that you’d be hard-pressed to pick the most egregious passage, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen, who singles out this one: “On issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight. That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.” Cohen is dumbfounded by the notion that Syria is even in a position to “pursue a lasting peace.” With the civil war entering its fifth year, Syria no longer exists as a unified country. That half of the country’s population of 11 million has either been killed or forced to flee is a gruesome testament to that fact, as well as the unmitigated failure of the Obama administration's policy, writes Cohen.
It’s that dirty little secret which nobody wants to talk about, because it makes everybody uncomfortable. It hovers in the background, it’s hidden in the closet, and it lingers in the recesses of our minds. But it’s there, written in black and white in the Oslo Accords, and it can’t be erased: the Palestinian Authority (PA) is obligated to surrender to Israel any terrorist whose extradition the Israelis request. Omar Nayef Zayed, a Palestinian terrorist who escaped from an Israeli prison 25 years ago, is now being given shelter in the PA’s consulate in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Silence is the enemy of justice, and as long as friends of Israel remain silent, Zayed will continue to escape justice, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s planned closing of a consulate in Philadelphia and future opening of a consulate in Chengdu, China, can be understood as part of a shift in geo-politics from West to East, with China—among other Asian states—assuming a higher profile in the Jewish state’s agenda for this century. No doubt, Israel is preparing the way for growing its worldwide business and governmental relationships, writes Dr. Steven Windmueller, the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.
Amid heightened tensions between the two most powerful Muslim nations in the Middle East, experts say the loudest sound might be American silence. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shi’a Muslim dissident who was arrested in 2012 by Saudi authorities, was one of 47 men executed on Jan. 2 by Saudi authorities in the largest mass execution in decades. While nearly all of the 47 men killed had ties with Sunni Muslim terror groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, the inclusion of al-Nimr set off outrage in Iran, which views itself as the protector of Shi’a Muslims. The next day, Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran over the execution. This led several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, to cut or downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran. Dr. David Andrew Weinberg, an expert on Saudi Arabia and Gulf states for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Saudis “are inclined to lash out because they don’t feel America has their back.” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, similarly said, “The silence out of the White House is deafening.”