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Several Viennese Jews have made a lasting impact on the world. Sigmund Freud’s investigations changed the face of modern psychology. Composer Arnold Schoenberg’s innovations in atonal music changed the face of music. These days, even more Jews—in particular, Israeli Jews—are changing the face of Vienna’s culinary scene with innovations in…the art of the pita.
About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this one, brought to campus by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education organization, and Students Supporting Israel, a national network of pro-Israel campus groups. Having traveled to Israel and the West Bank on the inaugural trip for the South Africa-Israel Forum in January 2015, she and law student Jamie Mithi undertook a whirlwind southern California speaking tour, weighing comparisons between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the South African apartheid regime.
France’s announcement that it will try to convene an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been strongly criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But before anyone concludes that only “right-wingers” oppose such a conference, it’s worth recalling that one of the most outspoken critics of the conference idea was prominent peace process player Yitzhak Rabin, 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.”
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.
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.
There are too many recent examples to work with. The hacking to death of rabbis at prayer. The Charlie Hebdo, Hyper Cacher, and November 2015 Paris massacres. The knifing of pregnant women, and of a mother of six in front of her children. Each of these attacks draws a decent amount of condemnation and outrage. But then you immediately start hearing something else as well. Not the comments of those who support these murders; that’s for another conversation. It’s those people who, in the interest of being fair-minded, start trying to explain and make sense of these murders. The latest high-profile example of this trend is the rhetoric of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, writes Andrew Pessin, a professor of philosophy at Connecticut College.
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.
Some academic networks seeking to exclude Israeli scholars from their associations are pernicious enough, but in the parlance of the medical profession, their moves do no physical harm. On the other hand, the 71 British doctors proposing a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association, by seeking to hinder the funding of medical research, would slow down and/or prevent future medical cures from reaching not only the Israeli-Jewish population, but also the Palestinian-Arab population as well as the rest of the global population. Since these British doctors are proposing a measure that will inflict future physical harm, they are violating their Hippocratic Oaths, writes neurosurgeon Nathan Moskowitz.
While Germany takes pride in confronting its Holocaust past and maintaining a strong relationship with Israel, the European nation’s recent influx of more than a million Middle East migrants—many originating in countries like Syria and Iraq, which have deeply rooted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic cultures—has generated fear among German Jews that the refugees will undermine their safety. Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, argues that Germany has “failed to internalize that modern anti-Semitism—hatred of the Jewish state and the delegitimization of Israel via product labels, for example—is the main problem.”
Another week, another litany of ugly incidents targeting Jews, along with expressions of concern about rising anti-Semitism around the globe, and even the odd solution offered up. But as we’ve been slowly learning since the turn of this century, not much really changes. Each community targeted by anti-Semitism has its own strategy of dealing with the problem, and its own set of relationships with national authorities. What is very much a global challenge lacks a global strategy, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
Almost three months after the landmark visit of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj this week followed suit with a two-day visit to Israel amid increasingly warm ties between the two countries. “I am a personal advocate of strong ties between India and Israel, so I am very happy to see that our relations are progressing so well in all our fields of engagement,” said Swaraj.
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.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday announced the future closure of five diplomatic missions abroad due to budgetary considerations. Despite the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia’s presence among the closures, public policy experts say the development will not adversely affect U.S.-Israel relations. “In the last decade many countries, including the United States, have closed consulates. It’s never a good thing, but we should not exaggerate the impact. This will have no impact on U.S.-Israel diplomatic or political relations,” Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank as well as a former official in the George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan presidential administrations, told JNS.org.
Following the Vatican’s recent release of its latest document on Jewish-Christian relations, the takeaways for mainstream media were manifested in headlines making such pronouncements as, “Vatican says Catholics should not try to convert Jews,” or “Jews don’t need Christ to be saved.” But those who have worked to foster Jewish-Catholic ties for decades have more nuanced perspectives on the new document and the history that preceded it. At its core, “A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate’” rejects both replacement theology and the notion that the covenant of the Jews with God has been negated. “In parts, the document is written in specialized Catholic theological terminology, inevitable because of the complexity of the topics it discusses. Therefore, it can easily be misconstrued by readers unfamiliar with relevant past texts or recent topics in the dialogue,” said Philip A. Cunningham, president of the International Council of Christians and Jews.
Brazil says it will not confirm the Israeli ambassador-designate to the South American nation, Dani Dayan, because it does not want to “show support for the settlement enterprise,” for which Dayan has been an activist. But anyone familiar with Brazilian history knows that it has an extensive “settler” history of its own, writes historian Rafael Medoff.
It’s not enough to close our eyes and wish we could fast forward to a new U.S. presidential administration in January 2017. In the year between now and then, much can happen—will happen—unless the Iranians are told clearly to back off, with the consequences of not doing so unambiguously laid out. For years, President Obama told us that “all options” were on the table in dealing with Iran. He has not, so far as I am aware, backed down on that formula, which now needs to be revived in the Syrian theater. If it isn’t, the atrocities, the refugee outflows, and the spread of deadly Islamist ideology will reach new heights, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
When the government of Sweden recognized a Palestinian state in 2014 and significantly increased foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, it was unclear to what extent Swedish-Israeli relations might become further strained. Swedish leaders’ recent rhetoric on Israel seems to have provided the answer—and the picture is increasingly grim. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom recently linked the Paris terror attacks to Palestinian frustration with Israel, and later accused Israel of "extrajudicial executions" of Palestinians. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the ongoing Palestinian stabbing attacks do not constitute terrorism, but later backtracked on that remark. Magnus Norell, a former analyst for the Swedish Secret Service and Swedish Military Intelligence, told JNS.org that Wallstrom’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are based on her particular “way of looking at the world. If more Palestinians than Israelis are getting killed, then Israel must be the bad guys....It’s a disgusting way of looking at things, but very, very, common here [in Sweden].”
Among Thailand’s most sought-after tourism destinations are the tropical islands—Ko Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao. Israeli regulars to Thailand will offer several reasons for why they keep coming back: the beautiful beaches; luxury resorts that can go for $50/night; cheap, professional massages on every corner ($12/hour on average); and the smiles of the Thai people. Those in search of Jewish spirituality should opt for Chabad’s Friday night services, about five minutes away from “hookers row,” a grimy street lined with unkosher massage parlors and Thai prostitutes who are known to call Israelis “kamtzan” (miser) if they refuse their aggressive advances. But Chabad is the cure. A mixture of post-Israeli army trekkers, partiers, honeymooners, and businessman unite with the tribe for beautiful song and divrei Torah provided by Rabbi Mendy’s outgoing, wholesome daughters. If you want to go easy on the sleazy, try the quieter Ko Samui beaches, like Lamai Beach, home to brand-name and specialty five-star resorts, writes recent Israeli tourist in Thailand Orit Arfa.
As a citizen of the State of Israel, it is clear to Middle East expert Arye Gut that the leadership of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan has not only incorporated attitudes toward Jews that transcends mere tolerance into its policies, but also into the fabric of its society. Furthermore, it is evident and clear that Jews and Muslims in Azerbaijan have peacefully coexisted as brothers—and have become forever linked through common history and destiny, writes Gut.