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As a novelist, Michael Chabon has a vivid imagination. One of his novels centers around a world in which there is no state of Israel, only a large Jewish refuge in Alaska. Chabon’s imagination was on full display last week, when he toured Israel and denounced an “occupation” that exists only in his mind. Together with other American Jewish critics of Israel, Chabon visited Hebron. Afterwards, he told The Forward that “the occupation [is] the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.” Now keep in mind that 80 percent of Hebron is occupied by the Palestinian Authority. But for some reason, Chabon is concerned only about the 20 percent controlled by Israel, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.
Iowa on April 27 became the latest U.S. state to pass legislation designed to undermine the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In a 38-9 vote with three excused absences, the Iowa Senate passed one of the strongest anti-BDS bills in the country. The prospective law would prohibit both investment and contracting by the so-called “Hawkeye State” with companies participating in BDS, either against Israel or “territories controlled by Israel.” The bill also prohibits secondary boycotts by extending its ban to boycotters of those who do business in Israel or the “territories.”
As recently as the 1940s, anti-Semitism was so common in the United States that even the president privately told offensive jokes about Jewish immigrants in a faux New York Jewish accent. Yet in the past few months, a candidate who is the son of Jewish immigrants and has a pronounced New York Jewish accent has won 18 presidential primaries and caucuses. He has received donations from more than 4 million Americans—the largest number of individual contributors to any political campaign in U.S. history. Have American public attitudes toward Jews changed so drastically? And if so, how did it happen? The unexpected achievements of Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders illustrate a remarkable transformation in public attitudes that has taken place, in which the cranky old Jewish socialist of yesteryear is now viewed affectionately through the prism provided by “Saturday Night Live” and “Seinfeld,” writes historian Rafael Medoff.
Every people has its betrayers. And if Jews needed a reminder of that adage, 11 Jewish law students and alumni at Harvard Law School just might have provided it. Indeed, the surprise was that it was only 11. These students and alumni became witting apologists for Husam El-Qoulaq, the Harvard law student and Palestinian activist who invoked the anti-Semitic stereotype of the smelly Jew, when he hurled a question at former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni as to why she was so “smelly.” The Jewish apologists really outdo themselves when they say they are adding “context” to the incident, writes columnist Abraham H. Miller.
A successful legal campaign against the American Studies Association's boycott of Israel will likely rebound onto the other faculty associations that have endorsed this insidious campaign. The boycotters will repeat over and over again that such action encroaches upon their First Amendment rights. Like every single one of their assertions, this too is a lie. Nobody is questioning their right to preach this coarse and hateful discourse. Implementation of their political program, however, is a vastly different story, as it involves active discrimination and requires civic organizations to ditch their own charters, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
Leading up to May 2016, JNS.org's Jacob Kamaras was expecting to perhaps write a reflective piece on the one-year anniversary of Houston’s 2015 Memorial Day flood, which hit the city’s Jewish neighborhoods of Meyerland and Willow Meadows particularly hard. But his assignment editor, in this case nature, had different plans. On April 18, about 11 months after the previous flood, a deluge of similar magnitude wreaked renewed havoc on America’s fourth-largest city and the same Jewish neighborhoods. The 2015 flood had already damaged about 500 Jewish homes and three synagogues, including more than $1 million in damage for the congregation Kamaras belongs to, United Orthodox Synagogues. As a member of the media coming at this event from a more personal perspective, Kamaras wonders if the 2016 flood and the local Jewish community’s now-compounded plight will receive the attention it deserves, or if journalistic “fatigue” for a repeat storyline will set in. With the Jewish future in a major city at stake, he writes that he hopes his industry colleagues take notice.
At every event on the campaign trail, Ohio Governor John Kasich tries to convey that he has a realistic plan to get people back to work and keep America safe. But he says it’s even more important to share this simple message: the Lord made you special and He has a plan for your life that’s bigger than you. In a pre-Passover op-ed that is first published online by JNS.org, the GOP presidential contender writes that around the time of this Jewish holiday, he is reminded that God uses ordinary people to show mercy and justice to those who live in the shadows. Whatever your situation, you have the opportunity to bless people in ways you may not even realize, and in doing so, fulfill God’s purpose for your life, writes Kasich.
When it comes to projecting the Jewish vote in 2016, understanding demographics might lend some semblance of sanity to an election that most observers would compare to a roller coaster ride. As America’s primary election season is inching closer to its conclusion, five candidates remain in the race. Against the backdrop of the unpredictable primary stretch and the possibility of a contested Republican convention, JNS.org surveyed Jewish demographic experts for their take on how American Jews might vote in the remaining primaries and in November’s general election. Many voters nationwide appear to feel torn about both parties’ candidates, a sentiment that echoes in the Jewish electorate. “I think you have a whole corps of Jewish voters, Republicans and some independents, and even maybe a few Democrats, who in a sense are holding out until they see what happens in Cleveland at the Republican convention in July,” said Jewish demographer Dr. Steven Windmueller.
In its latest attempt to enhance Israeli lawmakers' knowledge of American Jewry, the Ruderman Family Foundation last week brought a delegation of Members of Knesset (MKs) to the U.S. During the mission, now in its fourth year, the six visiting MKs met with American Jewish leaders and U.S. government officials in order deepen the Israeli leaders' understanding of the challenges facing U.S. Jewry amid the unpredictable future of the U.S.-Israel relationship. “We just want a higher level of discussion in Israel about the American Jewish community,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told JNS.org.
Hillary Clinton didn’t grow up celebrating Pesach. But over the years, she has attended seders where she was inspired by the remarkable story told in the haggadah—a tale of a people who, sustained by fortitude and faith, escaped slavery and reached their freedom. In a pre-Passover op-ed that is first distributed by JNS.org, the Democratic presidential candidate offers a few of her own thoughts on ancient lessons that still hold wisdom for today’s world.
When JNS.org's Jacob Kamaras sat down for an interview with Alan Gross—who was imprisoned from 2009-2014 in Cuba for helping the Jewish community there access the Internet—what stood out the most were not Gross's insider’s perspective on Cuba and his deep reflections on life in prison, but rather his real personal qualities. Five years of arbitrary detention did not harden his heart. While Cuba controlled his physical whereabouts for five years, he explains, the regime couldn’t and still can’t control his emotional reaction to the situation. “What anger does over an extended period of time, it becomes an anchor, and it drags everybody down,” Gross says. “If you can’t let go of the anchor, even just a little bit, you’re not going to move forward. I’d much rather focus on the next five years than on the last five years.”
Close observers of the anti-Israel Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have long kept a weather eye on California. But that attention has mostly focused on university campuses, including the prominent 10-school University of California system. Now, the Golden State is the latest battleground in a nationwide effort to draft and pass anti-BDS laws in U.S. state capitols, and pro-Israel advocates hope that success on the state-government level will curb the boycott movement’s momentum on campus. The pro-Israel side believes that state capitols present a more favorable battleground than campuses. “While you were doing your campus antics, the grown-ups were in the state legislatures passing laws that make your cause improbable,” said pro-Israel activist Noak Pollak, conveying the message that anti-BDS state legislation sends to the boycotters.
Bishop John E. Putnam stood at the podium and exclaimed to the crowd, “Who here loves Israel and the Jewish people?” The thunderous applause indicated the ecstatic approval by more than 500 pastors, ministers, and their families attending a recent conference of United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI). Putnam, superintendent of UPCI’s Wisconsin District, had fired up the crowd, exhorting them to incorporate biblical principles in their everyday lives. Just outside the main hall of the April 5-7 conference in Elkhart Lake, Wis., was a large booth containing informational brochures published by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. Bilingual Spanish and English tours to the Holy Land were marketed towards pastors in order to encourage more churches to bring their congregations to Israel. According to the American Political Science Association, Pentecostalism is the world’s fastest-growing religious movement. A Pew Forum analysis estimates that there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians internationally. UPCI has 4,602 member churches in North America and 9,085 ministers, along with a total global membership of about 3 million adherents.
A new Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorist group has emerged—and by appearances, it may be expanding. In less than two years, Harakat as-Sabeeren Nasran il-Filastin (The Movement for the Patient Ones for the Liberation of Palestine), also known as al-Sabireen, has committed several terrorist attacks against Israel, drawn worries from rival terror groups, and promoted its “brand” through an ambitious social media presence. Yet major U.S. print and online news outlets have failed to report the rise of this group, which calls for Israel’s destruction and openly advertises the support it receives from the Islamic Republic of Iran, writes Sean Durns of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
There is no chance that Iran is going to perform a 180-degree turnaround in its foreign policy, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry knows it. In Syria, Iran has worked with Russia to stabilize the bloodstained tyrant Bashar al-Assad, while in Yemen and elsewhere in the Gulf, it is systematically baiting the conservative Sunni monarchies quivering in the face of rising Shi’a power. Still, one can only say that Kerry has failed if one believes that the Obama administration’s policy is aimed primarily at curbing Iranian provocations. If you look at the administration’s policy on Iran, it becomes clear that Kerry’s expressed concern about Iran’s behavior was a sop to his Bahraini hosts. When it is remembered that current administration policy is to disengage from the region, thereby empowering Iran, it can be argued that Kerry’s results have actually been a resounding success in the context of that policy, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
Ask the average Israeli where he or she has visited in the U.S., and you’ll likely hear New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. But that’s changing, and one of the catalysts is the burgeoning economic relationship between Israel and Midwestern states. In March, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon led a delegation of state officials on a trade mission to Israel. The visit was focused on strengthening partnerships, increasing exports, and recruiting new high-tech foreign investment to the “Show Me State.” This week, from Missouri’s neighbor of Kansas, Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer joins a handful of other regional governors on a similar trade mission. “It sometimes kind of surprises people,” Colyer told JNS.org regarding his U.S. state’s ties with the Jewish state. “Israel is an important business relationship for us. A lot of things are happening here.” In 2015, Kansas exported around $75 million worth of goods to Israel, according to Colyer, and imported more than $80 million, according to the International Trade Administration. Missouri imported more than $161 million from Israel, Iowa a bit more than $91 million, and Indiana around $109 million.
In recent years, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been making headlines—but not only for academic or athletic achievement. Acts of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have been rampant among the school’s press clippings, adding UCLA to the list of American colleges that have made many Jewish students feel unwelcome and even fearful to be on campus. A recent national study by the AMCHA Initiative revealed that 99 percent of campuses that host anti-Israel groups and/or events have experienced anti-Semitic activity. But Jewish and pro-Israel students at UCLA are taking back their campus. Deflecting some attention away from the annual anti-Israel showcase that is "Israeli Apartheid Week," pro-Israel student groups at UCLA organized "Israel Unity Week" in an effort to “bring different people together.”
Academic conferences on rising anti-Semitism—such as an April 2-6 gathering at Indiana University—are essential for boosting understanding of why, seven decades after the end of the World War II, the taboo around anti-Semitic invective has been broken. Historians, sociologists, and political scientists play a decisive role in determining how the trajectory of anti-Semitism changes even as its core themes, like implacable opposition to Jewish sovereignty and dark warnings about powerful Jews working against the national interest, remain the same. Perhaps most notably, scholarly unmasking of the BDS movement’s anti-Semitic aims is finally making a mark, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
“It’s nice that he understands both English and Hebrew,” Father Gabriel Naddaf tells his interpreter at Houston’s Royal Sonesta hotel while JNS.org's Jacob Kamaras goes back and forth between the two languages during his interview with the Israeli Greek Orthodox priest. Hebrew is Naddaf’s stronger tongue, and Kamaras's is English. But despite having an interpreter at his disposal, something about the pastor’s simultaneously commanding and soothing presence encourages Kamaras to ask Naddaf some questions in his choppy Hebrew. But why does the language issue matter? Naddaf is best known for his efforts to bolster Arab Christians’ integration into Israeli society through their voluntary enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces. Naddaf’s pro-IDF stance is often accosted by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, so much so that his son was physically assaulted for that reason in December 2013. Yet Father Naddaf has pushed on with his IDF recruitment efforts, and it’s clear that he exudes Israeli pride. What language other than Hebrew, then, would have been appropriate for this interview? “I’m coming [to America] and I’m meeting my brothers,” Naddaf says. “My Jewish brothers and also the Christians, the real believers, who believe in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and follow the right path. So both of them, the Jews and the Christians, they are my brothers and I hope that I will keep meeting my brothers.”
The passing of a television writer is not the sort of event that usually raises questions about the future of American society. But the recent death of Earl Hamner, Jr., creator of the 1970s series “The Waltons,” coming as it does in the midst of an exceptionally tumultuous political season, invites fresh consideration of the state of the country—and its implications for American Jewry, writes historian Rafael Medoff.