(September 27, 2016 / JNS) As Rosh Hashanah approaches and the Jewish calendar turns to 5777, JNS.org takes a look at the biggest Jewish news stories covered over the past year.
Israel’s Wave of Terror
Since September 2015, a wave of more than 200 largely lone wolf Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis has engulfed the Jewish state. These attacks, which mostly occurred in Jerusalem or the disputed territories, have been fueled by Jewish-Muslim tensions over the Temple Mount, as well as by Palestinian incitement against Israel.
Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
France, Egypt and Russia all proposed leading renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has objected to France’s multilateral peace initiative because it excluded Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Amid ongoing strained relations between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20, Obama said that Israel “cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” However, this did not stop the U.S. and Israel from making history in mid-September by signing the largest ever $38 billion military assistance package between the two allies.
Anti-Semitism in the U.K.’s Labour Party
Over the summer, Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom became outraged with the Labour Party amid an anti-Semitic scandal within its ranks. More than 50 Labour MPs were suspended for anti-Semitic comments, beginning with Labour MP Naz Shah. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was also suspended for saying that Hitler “was supporting Zionism.”
The scandal also highlighted distrust in the Labour Party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is known for his denunciations of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), his reference to the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends,” and for his connections to a Holocaust denier. In spite of this, Corbyn was reelected as Labour leader on Sept. 24 with nearly 62 percent of the vote, sparking fury in the British Jewish community and the resignation of at least one Jewish Labour party member in protest.
Israel and Turkey agreed to normalize ties after a six-year rift in their diplomatic relationship since the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident. According to reports, the normalization deal includes $20 million in Israeli compensation for the families of those killed in the flotilla incident, an end to all Turkish legal claims against the Israeli military over the interception, and the mutual restoration of ambassadors. Turkey will be allowed to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza and to invest in infrastructure there.
Expansion of Israeli diplomacy
Israel has been making efforts to improve its economic and cultural relations with Asian nations including Indonesia, South Korea and China, Israel’s third-largest trading partner (after the U.S. and Europe) and its largest business partner in Asia. Netanyahu also took a historic multi-nation trip to Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia to engage the diplomatic support of these African nations, particularly at the U.N.
Iran and the Syrian Civil War
Under the Iran nuclear agreement with the P5+1 in January 2016, the U.S. and other countries lifted international sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic. (The U.S. also secretly flew planeloads of cash to Iran, including $400 million in exchange for the release of American hostages and an additional $1.3 billion from money the U.S. was holding since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The $1.7 billion in total has reportedly been earmarked for military use by the Islamic Republic, but experts say the U.S. has been giving Iran more money than that, with estimates as high as $30 billion according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Experts agree the money will be used by Iran to continue to sponsor terror activities.)
Also in August, a report from the U.S. Defense Department said that Iran has amassed a large inventory of missiles capable of reaching U.S. military bases and Israel. On Sept. 21, Iran threatened Israel during a military parade of its latest missile and naval technology.
While Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian conflict, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) focused on some military Syrian targets relating to the Iran-supported Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is fighting in the Syrian Civil War on the side of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Netanyahu also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish a mechanism preventing “misunderstandings” between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria, which have been bombing targets in the conflict-torn country. In August, Russia dispatched warplanes to bomb Syria through an Iranian airbase, a move that worried Israeli officials.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
This year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the first-ever executive order prohibiting any state agency or authority from engaging in a boycott of Israel or promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities. Fifteen other states have passed similar legislation. Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon hosted an international conference in New York intended to empower more than 1,500 attendees to become “ambassadors against BDS.”
While several European banks closed accounts owned by BDS-supporting groups, Norway also joined Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands in contributing funds to an organization funding NGOs that promote a boycott of Israel. Some American activists from the Black Lives Matter movement have also expressed solidarity with the BDS movement, creating what many now see as a wedge in Jewish and African-American relations.
U.S. Presidential Election – Democrats
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) faced off in a contentious Democratic primary campaign. Sanders, who is Jewish, worried some voters by accusing Israel of “indiscriminate” attacks on Gaza and inflating the number of Palestinian civilian deaths during Operation Protective Edge. He also briefly hired an activist involved with J Street and the “Open Hillel” movement— both of which have been criticized for whitewashing Palestinian terrorism – as his campaign’s Jewish outreach coordinator.
Ahead of Passover, Clinton wrote an Op-Ed to the Jewish community stating that she has opposed anti-Semitism, and has “proudly stood with the state of Israel for [her] entire career.”
Just before the Democratic National Convention (DNC), U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D- Fla.), the Jewish chairwoman of the DNC, resigned from her post due to a WikiLeaks revelation of emails showing that DNC officials openly preferred presumptive Clinton to Sanders.
U.S. Presidential Election – Republicans
Along with several controversies surrounding Republican candidate Donald Trump, he has been accused of anti-Semitism partly for not immediately disavowing some anti-Semitic supporters. Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and New York Observer-owner Jared Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter and Judaism convert Ivanka Trump, wrote an Op-Ed defending his father-in-law.
Trump has also been criticized for announcing that he would take a “neutral” position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, he also spoke out in support of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and against the Iran nuclear deal. In a speech accepting the GOP nomination, Trump said the U.S. must work with all of its allies, including Israel, to destroy radical Islamic terrorism.
Trump has launched a campaign in Israel to target American citizens, who are eligible voters, living abroad in the Jewish state. Trump told Netanyahu, in a closed door meeting in New York City ahead of the first presidential debate, that “he agreed with the Israeli prime minister that the Israeli people want a just and lasting peace with their neighbors, but that peace will only come when the Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”