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Seventeen Republican presidential candidates are vying for the support of evangelical Christian voters from the swing states of Ohio and Florida, to the cornfields of Iowa, to the small towns of the Deep South. Within the varied spectrum of 2016 election issues such as the economy, immigration, and health care, do evangelicals highly prioritize candidates’ positions on Israel and the Middle East? “Yes,” say major evangelical leaders in America. “Israel should be top-of-mind when evaluating GOP presidential candidates,” Republican candidate Mike Huckabee told JNS.org.
Two very different ways to respond to terrorism were on display this week. On a train headed to Paris, unarmed American civilians risked their lives to subdue a Muslim terrorist who attempted to machine-gun train passengers. In New York City, the Obama administration successfully intervened in court on behalf of Palestinian terrorists who are trying to avoid paying compensation to their victims. The juxtaposition of these two incidents reminds us of the choice that faces America and the entire civilized world today: the choice between fighting terrorists and appeasing them. Stephen M. Flatow, who undertook the first federal lawsuit against Iran for sponsoring the Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995 in which his daughter Alisa was murdered, has bitter personal experience with U.S. government efforts to interfere in attempts by terror victims to gain restitution.
Decades ago, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein cracked the seemingly cryptic code on relations between Jews and evangelical Christians, arriving at a groundbreaking distinction between “witnessing” and “proselytizing.” Today, Eckstein’s International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has a base of 1.5 million individual Christian donors for whom “witnessing” means blessing the Jewish people and Israel. In 2014, The Fellowship raised $136 million for global Jewish needs such as aliyah, poverty, and security. Amid the release of “The Bridge Builder,” a new biography of Eckstein, the rabbi is mulling what might be his next “Mission: Impossible”—thwarting the widespread persecution of Middle East Christians, most notably at the hands of the merciless Islamic State terror group. Eckstein looks back and ahead on his life’s work in an interview with JNS.org.
As the 10-campus University of California system considers the adoption of the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, there are critics who seek to discredit the entire definition with three fictions presented as fact. Groups like Palestine Legal and Jewish Voice for Peace have launched an all-out campaign that falsely claims first, that the definition conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, second, that the definition has been discredited, and third, that its adoption is inimical to free speech, writes R. Amy Elman, the Weber Professor of Social Science at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.
On a hot mid-August day in Boston, when many of the city’s tens of thousands of college students had yet to arrive in their parents’ SUVs and U-Haul trucks, more than 60 pro-Israel student leaders from across North America huddled together in a hotel. While most people their age might be holding down gritty summer jobs or vacationing on a beach, these students were passionately discussing topics ranging from media bias on Israel, to the BDS movement, to the persecution of Middle East Christians as part of the Aug. 16-19 Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). A media watchdog organization that doesn't hesitate to take on giants like the New York Times or the Associated Press when it sees inaccuracies or bias, CAMERA imparts the same type of fearless attitude when it comes to anti-Israel activity on college campuses.
Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. “Kosher bakeries sell versions that are dry and filled with over-processed fillings, giving the cookies a fake, too-sweet taste,” says kosher pastry chef Paula Shoyer. “As a result, I rarely buy them, or even eat them, at kosher events. The only rugelach I have enjoyed in years are from Zabar’s in New York, and those are good because they are made with butter and have so much chazerei (Yiddish for junk) in the filling.”
“Batman” has died. And it doesn’t matter that the recently deceased Leonard “Lenny” Robinson lived in the suburbs of Baltimore, rather than Gotham, for all of us to feel the pain of that loss. Robinson took his black Lamborghini—which looked like the Batmobile—and for many years became an icon representing all that could be good not just in his Jewish life, but in every walk of life. Dressed in a Batman costume, he’d drive to wherever the calling was. He wasn’t stomping out bad guys in comic book form, but rather, walking into almost any pediatric ward in the Baltimore and Washington, DC areas, and little children with chemo pumps and no hair would get hugs and high fives. Phil Jacobs, the former editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, offers an appreciation of the "Baltimore Batman."
More than 250 supporters of Israel, including dozens of high school and college students, packed into a Chicago-area AMC movie theatre on Sunday for a screening of the documentary “Crossing The Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism On Campus,” a half-hour film that takes a look at when criticism of Israel “crosses the line” into anti-Semitism on North American college campuses.
The Iran deal has been accompanied by a large amount of crystal ball gazing as to how the legitimization of Tehran’s nuclear capacity will impact its behavior. It is tempting to err on the side of caution by not forecasting earth-shattering future developments. At the same time, caution closes off our willingness to imagine radical, unexpected potential outcomes—which is what happened with the demise of the Soviet Union. But the problem is that the Iranians are, in some ways, ahead of where the Soviets were during the Cold War. We have launched a policy of detente after their invasions. We have no control over how they spend their sanctions relief windfall. From this vantage point, it seems fanciful to believe that Iran will be a dramatically different state 15 years from now, when the “sunset clause” in the nuclear deal sets in, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
As President Barack Obama attempts to convince a skeptical American public on the Iran nuclear deal, he has presented the pact as limited to reducing Iran’s capacity to produce a nuclear weapon and not part of a broader plan. But other comments by Obama and his administration have indicated that the deal is indeed a stepping-stone for diplomatic developments that U.S. allies who are critical of the deal—like Israel and Saudi Arabia—consider worrisome. “Even though the Obama administration says this is transactional, that it is only intended to deal with the nuclear program, the real thrust of this is that it is intended to be transformational. It is intended to be a confidence-building measure that potentially allows for a reset in relations with Iran and the United States,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council think tank.
When Israel went into Gaza to stop the random death raining from the skies on its southern cities last summer, columnist Abraham H. Miller's friend awoke him from a deep sleep one night to start sobbing into the phone about the children dying in Gaza. Miller reminded her that in all the exchanges between Israel and Gaza, never once did she ever express any sympathy for Israeli children, and that Gaza is ruled by terrorists. But she merely continued to sob. Miller, an emeritus professor of political science for the University of Cincinnati, writes that his friend is the epitome of the progressive-minded Jew. Such Jews voted twice for President Barack Obama and will support his Iran nuclear deal regardless of what the consequences are for Israel, writes Miller.
Israel stood on the sideline for most of the Aug. 6 primetime Republican Presidential Primary Debate, hosted by Fox News at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. But that changed an hour and 43 minutes in, when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) was asked about his previous proposal to cut all financial aid to the Jewish state. Other Mideast topics covered during the debate included the Islamic State terror group and, not surprisingly, the recently reached nuclear deal with Iran.
The night the Iran nuclear deal was announced was a sleepless one for retired Harvard Law School professor and pro-Israel activist Alan Dershowitz, who was utterly distraught by the terms of the agreement. “I got up and emailed my eBook publisher and said, ‘I have an idea. What if I do an eBook that could be out in time for the congressional debate?’ He thought it was a great idea,” Dershowitz said in an interview with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. “He gave me two weeks to write it. He got it in 11 days.”
“Both Jews and Muslims have a lot in common. What are we fighting over? Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork, we don’t celebrate Christmas, we both use ‘ch’ in our pronunciation, and we are both hairy creatures of God,” says comedian Ahmed Ahmed. “The only real difference between Jews and Muslims is that Jews never like to spend any money and Muslims never have any money to spend.” So goes one of the jokes featured in the “Laugh in Peace” comedy routine of Ahmed and Rabbi Bob Alper. The unlikely duo’s show will be coming to Israel (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa) and the Palestinian territories (Ramallah) for the first time from Aug. 12-17. Together, Ahmed and Alper have performed more than 150 times during the last 14 years—throughout the U.S., Canada, and England—at synagogues, churches, mosques, theaters, and college campuses. Their story began as a gimmick by a savvy publicist, but has transformed into both a fruitful business partnership and a personal friendship.
While the White House and Congress prepare for a final showdown over the controversial Iran nuclear deal, three American prisoners and one missing American in Iran are awaiting their own fate. One of the prisoners is Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor who has been detained in Iran since 2012 after setting up an orphanage there. Abedini has become the international face of the brutal persecution of Christians by Iran. “We can use the example of Pastor Abedini to shine a light on the true nature of this [Iranian] regime and how it makes it clear how futile it is to try to reason with them,” said Christians United for Israel Executive Director David Brog, referencing the nuclear deal.
Which poll to trust? That always seems to be the question that pollster Nathan Klein is asked. The answer involves shades of gray, but the bottom line is that any honest evaluation of the data shows a Jewish community divided over the Iran nuclear deal. “Support” is definitely not a word that can be used. Today, the Jewish community is split, with a slim plurality opposing the deal. Yet two surveys in particular have misrepresented that reality, writes Klein, the founder of Olive Tree Strategies and the deputy polling manager for the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign.
In the days leading up to the July 28 revelation of the U.S. granting parole to imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, former State Department counsel Abraham Sofaer charged that Pollard’s actions have provoked anti-Semitism in America. Sofaer, who was part of the U.S. team that investigated the Pollard affair in the 1980s, claimed Pollard “created a terrible situation for American Jews who then obviously [were] all the more suspected.” The fear that Pollard’s actions would cause anti-Semitism was also articulated at the time of his arrest by many prominent American Jews, conservatives and liberals alike. But as it turns out, Jewish fears of being seen as disloyal are not supported by evidence and were just as misplaced in the 1980s as they are today, writes historian Rafael Medoff.
When it comes to the deal agreed to a fortnight ago in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program, there’s a pattern evolving that should be worrying the Obama administration: the more you know about it, the less you like it. The current agreement fails to address painfully large holes in the inspection regime, and a better deal means getting Iran to accept the “anytime, anywhere” principle on inspections. A better deal also means getting absolute clarification on the existence of concealed nuclear facilities, as well as a candid and honest account of Iran’s past nuclear activities—chiefly, the military aspects of such work. During this long, hot summer, the American people should tell those whom they elect that they are no longer prepared to accept the false choice of “take this deal or risk another war,” writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
Though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its 25th anniversary should be celebrated, we must acknowledge that the U.S. still has a long way to go on disability rights. While the ADA exempts private membership clubs and religious institutions from its mandates, we have a moral and religious obligation to work with and for people with disabilities in their fight for basic human dignity. We cannot forget that we are all b’tzelem Elohim, created in God’s image. In the next 25 years, let’s build upon the dreams of the ADA and the Torah’s words to create a world where people of all abilities are afforded full civil rights, writes William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy at The Jewish Federations of North America.
The July 14 announcement of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has drawn much public criticism, praise, and punditry—in the Jewish community and beyond—and will continue to do so over the course of the ongoing 60-day period for the U.S. Congress to review the agreement. But which so-called “regular citizens” are taking the time to actually read the deal? That question is arguably most pressing in the New York City metropolitan area, home to more Jews than any region of its kind nationwide. Not surprisingly, then, the “Big Apple” has been the epicenter of both education and advocacy, including events ranging from discussions to protests, in the weeks since the Iran deal was reached.