JNS.org offers the latest Jewish news and commentary from around the world. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.
France is convening an international summit on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but excluding Israeli and Palestinian leaders from the meeting. Egypt is seeking to host a trilateral peace summit with Israel and the Palestinians, following comments by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that he would like to broker peace between rival Palestinian factions as a precursor to renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers the Egyptian track. But which proposed peace initiative is actually in Israel's best interests—France's, Egypt's, both, or neither? JNS.org asks an Israeli Knesset member, a former George W. Bush administration national security official, a former Mideast advisor to multiple U.S. secretaries of state, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt, and the leader of the umbrella body for 50 American-Jewish organizations.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel might be garnering the most headlines when it comes to college campuses and the business world, but the Israeli government is taking the battle against BDS to the United Nations. On May 31, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon is hosting an international conference that seeks to equip and empower more than 1,500 attendees—students, diplomats, academics, legal professionals, and others—to become “ambassadors against BDS.” Israel's Permanent Mission to the U.N. has decided that it “cannot ignore BDS anymore,” Danon told JNS.org. “I believe [the conference] will empower the students and the activists…to fight and win. I think we can win against BDS, but we have to fight back,” he said.
One-hundred years ago this month, British colonel Sir Tatton Benvenuto Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Marie Denis Georges-Picot divided the Middle East loosely and arbitrarily between Great Britain and France. Following that division, which became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a series of further treaties and conferences resulted in power battles, internal uprisings, coups, and revolts. A century later, the chaotic Middle East is still experiencing the aftershocks of the 1916 Sykes-Picot pact. “Sykes-Picot is the poster agreement for the poisonous legacy of European imperialism in the Middle East,” Richard Drake, a professor of history at the University of Montana, told JNS.org. “My conclusion on Sykes-Picot is that it really is the source of many of the ongoing evils in the Middle East.” James A. Paul—author of the 1991 book “Syria Unmasked”—said, “The drawing and redrawing of borders is not the way to go.”
Dr. Sara Bedoya was raised in a small Cuban town. She was a member of the town’s only Jewish family. Though she knew of her faith and heritage, she was raised without access to a Jewish education or resources. When her mother passed away 12 years ago from cancer and her family moved to the city of Camaguey, where there are more Jews, she decided to honor her mother by learning more about her religion. Soon, Bedoya began to observe Shabbat and take part in community events. Three years ago, she was elected president of the Camaguey Jewish community. Last week, she and nine other Cuban-Jewish women visited Israel for their first time on a trip sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. “I have so much love for this country. It was so perfect,” Bedoya told JNS.org regarding Israel on the final day of her nine-day trip.
North Korea has provided the technology or weapons for Hamas’s cross-border attack tunnels from Gaza to Israel, Hezbollah’s Scud-D missile stockpile in Lebanon, and Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility. Yet the totalitarian state in East Asia doesn’t seem to frequently enter the Western public discourse on Middle East threats. With the January 2016 North Korean nuclear test, which represented a significant advance in North Korea’s strike capability and the fourth time the nation has exploded a nuclear device, analysts such as Dr. Bruch E. Bechtol—the author of four books on North Korea—say it is time for the United States to pay closer attention to the rogue state’s military proliferation in the Middle East. “Israel already knows, understands the threat that Iran presents. It knows the threat North Korea presents. The U.S. needs to take these threats more seriously,” Bechtol told JNS.org.
While President Barack Obama prepares to become the first president to visit Hiroshima since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city in 1945, JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen explains that the problem with turning Hiroshima into a universal symbol is that the historical context around the tragedy is removed. We have to remember that Japan was still fighting fiercely in August 1945, after its Nazi German ally had been defeated, and was prepared to sacrifice its entire population to counter the Allies. A land invasion in this environment would have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops. That was a key consideration behind the decision to end the war by dropping the bomb. While post-war Germany has faced up to its past, has paid reparations to survivors, and continues to memorialize the 6 million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazis, nothing remotely similar has taken place in Japan, writes Cohen.
Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom have voiced their displeasure with the Labour Party amid an anti-Semitism scandal within its ranks that continues to engulf the country’s second-largest party. With the reported suspension of at least 50 Labour members for anti-Semitic comments over the past two months, British-Jewish voters are also indicating that the scandal may have damaged their perception of the liberal party. Although the Labour Party’s candidate for London mayor, Sadiq Khan, defeated Conservative Party candidate Zac Goldsmith in the city’s May 5 election, results from other local and regional elections around the U.K. on the same day showed losses for the Labour Party among Jewish voters, including in Manchester, home to the country’s second-largest Jewish community.
Why should the casual observer care about the seemingly obvious need to prosecute and convict Nazi war criminals, whether it be during the Nuremberg trials of the 1940s or similar proceedings in more recent years? “The Nuremberg trials only convicted the leaders and a relatively small number of people,” retired Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told JNS.org. “Even for the trials that occurred thereafter, we’re talking about just hundreds of people…and for years they were protected. And there’s no statute of limitations on genocide and war crimes. So it’s very important that everybody in the world who is contemplating committing genocide understand that they will never be able to live out their life without being held legally accountable.” Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler, renowned human rights attorneys and pro-Israel advocates, took center stage in the Polish city of Kraków on March 4 for a symposium held to mark the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws and the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials. While the Nuremberg Laws were a precursor to the Holocaust, the Allied forces’ military trials of 13 prominent Nazi leaders served as a foundation for contemporary international humanitarian law. “We’ve learned that if you do not bring war criminals to justice, what you do is you not only encourage impunity, you embolden the war criminals and you encourage more war crimes,” Cotler told JNS.org.
“Do you remember when Leonard Nimoy said, ‘Live long and prosper?’” Dr. Frederick Krantz asked an audience at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal. Listeners chuckled in approval of his “Star Trek” reference, indicating that a large percentage were familiar with the iconic TV series and had fond memories of the late Canadian-Jewish actor. Krantz continued, “Well, that is very true. Israel is not only a power in the Middle East, but will be a power in space.” The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research last month held its 28th anniversary gala, an event titled “Israel in Space.” It was North America’s largest-ever gathering dedicated to Israel’s space exploration achievements, according to Krantz, the Jewish research institute's director.
By being cast as the ultimate insiders, controlling everything from the global economy to U.S. foreign policy, Jews end up as the ultimate outsiders in the public imagination—too suspect to benefit even from the niceties of the United Kingdom's generally anti-racist political culture, especially once their emotional, familial, or other ties with the State of Israel are brought into play. This is a problem that goes much deeper than just the Labour Party's anti-Zionist leader, Jeremy Corbyn, or the party's newly suspended lawmaker who suggested the “relocation” of Israel, Naz Shah. The problem is also certainly not restricted to the U.K. That’s why George Orwell was absolutely correct when he counseled that “antisemitism should be investigated—and I will not say by antisemites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune to that kind of emotion,” writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. But global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, has what one expert called potential “ripple effects” on the Middle East. “If indeed we have a full-fledged war between these two, it is not hard to imagine Turkey involved in some way on the Azerbaijani side,” said Amberin Zaman, a Turkish-born public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Then I can see Iran helping Armenia. Instability in the Caucuses region is always going to be very destabilizing for the wider region. There would be multiple negative ripple effects.”
For Americans, it has been the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attacks, the San Bernardino shooting, and school shootings. For Israelis, it’s the daily threat of terrorism. Last month saw massive terror attacks in Istanbul and Brussels. As Sarri Singer puts it, terrorism knows no borders and doesn’t differentiate between race, religion, and geography. “We all share something that bonds us for life. The idea is to work together to not let [terrorism] destroy us, but to move forward by building a future of peace and being productive members of society,” says Singer, the founder and director of Strength to Strength, a non-profit organization that brings bereaved family members and victims of terror from around the world together to heal. From April 5-12, Strength to Strength’s Young Ambassadors Program brought together 25 participants from ages 16-20 who have lost a parent or other immediate family member in a terrorist attack, or were injured themselves. The participants—who came from Argentina, Colombia, France, England, Ireland, Spain, Israel, and the U.S.—spent a week together in New York City.
A proper investigation into Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death could well lead to a re-examination of the AMIA Jewish center bombing, whose victims have been denied justice for more than 20 years. As the court investigation proceeds in the Nisman case, it’s imperative that Jews outside Argentina understand what is at stake. The AMIA atrocity in Buenos Aires was the worst single anti-Semitic crime since World War II, and Iran was responsible for it. Nothing less than the conviction and sentencing of the perpetrators is acceptable. No more compromises and no more backroom deals, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
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.
The United Nations recently designated the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up of musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories, and other parts of the Middle East, as a Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding. Certainly, artistic collaboration promotes cultural understanding among the participants and serves as a symbol of hope for the public. By seeking to prevent such associations, the cultural BDS campaign against Israel does the entire world a terrible disservice. Boycott proponents claim that cultural exchange whitewashes Israel’s alleged misdeeds. If we denounce this anointment by the U.N. because it serves as a cover-up for a legacy of destruction, are we echoing the boycott argument? When people we perceive to have harmed the world have also done some good, do we cheer or do we jeer? Columnist Lana Melman unpacks the issues at play.
Indonesian officials rebuffed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent call for normalization between the countries. Experts say that Israel has much to gain by establishing diplomatic ties with the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, while continuing its strategic pivot to Asia, but the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process will likely put the brakes on any Israeli-Indonesian breakthrough in the near future. “I believe that there exists a great deal of potential for a formal diplomatic relationship between [Israel and Indonesia, and certainly there is interest on both sides, but we are still a long way off,” said Shira Loewenberg, director of the Asian Pacific Institute for the American Jewish Committee. “There is a lot of groundwork that must be laid, relationships to be built and strengthened, before we get to an official diplomatic relationship between the two.”
Activists and lawmakers say that more needs to be done to promote a positive view of Israel in Latin America, where two archenemies of Israel—the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Iran—are gaining traction and influence. “The reality is that Latin American support for Israel has been eroding gradually over the years,” said Leopoldo Martinez, the Latin America director of the Israel Allies Foundation, which recently sponsored the Second Annual Latin America Summit on Israel in Miami. “Sympathy has…increased for the Palestinian cause as populations of Arab and Palestinian descent in various Latin American countries have become more nationalistic and radicalized. Growing Iranian influence in Latin America has become a major concern,” Martinez told JNS.org. During the Israel Allies Foundation’s Miami summit, parliamentarians from 13 Latin American and Caribbean nations signed a resolution in support of Israel and against BDS.
It is widely presumed that the Islamic State terror group is responsible for the near-eradication of the entire Assyrian Christian population. But understanding the complexities of how world powers interact with the Middle East reveals surprising reasons for the plight of one of the region’s oldest Christian communities, according to retired lieutenant colonel Sargis Sangari, an expert on the Assyrians and founder of the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement think tank. Sangari is an Assyrian Christian who was born and raised in Urmia, Iran, and immigrated to the United States at age 10. He is a decorated Iraq War veteran who served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, and he currently serves as one of the American advisers to Dwekh Nawsha, the Assyrian Christian militia force in the Middle East. “The Christians come last, and economic benefits to nations and global powers come first,” Sangari told JNS.org.
“Every week there is an attack at the U.N. against Israel,” Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said in an interview at the recent AIPAC conference. In the week that followed the interview, the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed a Canadian legal expert who has expressed anti-Israel views to the post of special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. The UNHRC also adopted a measure that calls for the creation of a database—or what Danon called a “blacklist”—of businesses “involved in activities” in Judea and Samaria. But what can Israel actually do about its concerns on decades of U.N. bias? Danon told JNS.org that double standards should still be called out for what they are, Israel also needs good cop advocacy at the world body. “When I stepped in, I told my staff we would push a positive agenda,” he said. “That’s what we are doing. Almost every week we have an event at the U.N. It can be an Israeli singer, or it can be a panel about water technology in Israel. We create the atmosphere, and it is working—that Israel is not all about the conflict with the Palestinians, but we have a lot to offer the U.N.”
The Eastern European countryside is haunted by the ghosts of countless shtetls whose surviving residents have long since scattered. For the most part, those landsmen and their descendants tend to remain scattered. But on March 22 at Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, hundreds of Holocaust survivors and their descendants from one particular locale, Drohobych-Boryslav, gathered to connect with their shared history. “The story of this exhibition is our story,” said Daniela Mavor, the gathering’s principal organizer, standing in front of a semicircle of vertical black banners, each displaying a snippet of the town’s Jewish past. In lieu of the town’s annual gathering of survivors and descendants, normally a no-frills event drawing a small number of participants, the exhibition doubled as a chance to reconnect with old friends and trace out long-forgotten branches of family trees.