5776: The Jewish Year in Review
JNS.org – On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5777, JNS.org takes a look at the biggest Jewish news stories covered over the past year.
The Palestinian Terror Wave in Israel
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 occurred mostly — but not exclusively — in Jerusalem and the West Bank, have been fueled by Palestinian incitement against Israel, using a false claim about the Temple Mount to foment tension.
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 excludes Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Amid ongoing strained relations between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 20, Obama said that Israel “cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.”
Earlier that month, the US and Israel signed the largest-ever $38 billion military assistance package between the two allies. However, that deal also included newly imposed restrictions on Israel’s use of that money and a strict cap on additional money Congress may want to give Israel, among other controversial elements.
Antisemitism in the British Labour Party
Over the summer, Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom became outraged with the Labour Party amid an antisemitic scandal within its ranks. More than 50 Labour politicians were suspended for antisemitic 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 Labour Party 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 September 24, with nearly 62 percent of the vote, sparking fury in the British Jewish community and the resignation of at least one Jewish Labour member in protest.
Israel and Turkey agreed to normalize ties after a six-year rift in their diplomatic relationship, which began in 2010, and surrounded the “Free Gaza” flotilla incident. According to reports, the normalization deal includes $20 million in Israeli compensation for the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara, and 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 and African nations, including Indonesia, South Korea and China, Israel’s third-largest trading partner (after the US 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, particularly in the UN, of these nations.
Iran and the Syrian Civil War
Under the Iran nuclear agreement with the P5+1 in January 2016, the US and other countries lifted international sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
The US 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 US was holding since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The $1.7 billion total has reportedly been earmarked for military use by the Islamic Republic, but experts say the US 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 terrorist activities.
In August, a report from the US Defense Department said that Iran has amassed a large inventory of missiles capable of reaching US military bases and Israel. On September 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 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, as both have bombed 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 Governor Andrew Cuomo issued the first-ever executive order prohibiting any state agency or authority from engaging in a boycott of Israel or promoting BDS activities. Fifteen other states have since passed similar legislation. Israeli Ambassador to the UN 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.
US Presidential Election — Democrats
Ahead of Passover, Clinton wrote an op-ed to the Jewish community stating that she has opposed antisemitism, and has “proudly stood with the state of Israel for my entire career.”
Just before the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Jewish Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the then-chairwoman of the DNC, resigned from her post due to an email scandal. A WikiLeaks revelation exposed that DNC officials openly preferred Clinton over Sanders as the party’s nominee, and some email exchanges suggested that actions were taken to ensure that outcome. One email from a top DNC adviser questioned Sander’s religion, saying “Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist.”
US Presidential Election — Republicans
Along with several other controversies surrounding the Republican candidate, Donald Trump has been accused of antisemitism, partly for not immediately disavowing antisemitic supporters. Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, owner of the New York-based paper the Observer and married to Jewish 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 US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has criticized the Iran nuclear deal. In a speech accepting the GOP nomination, Trump said the US must work with all of its allies, including Israel, to destroy radical Islamic terrorism.
Trump has launched a campaign to target eligible American 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.”