News from February 15 to February 21

Israel-Syria prisoner exchange, Biden calls Netanyahu, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for how to make News of the Jews better at If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @skaps1.

Israel and Syria complete prisoner exchange:

What happened? Last week, Israel traded two Syrian prisoners for an Israeli woman held in Syria in a deal brokered by Russia. Reports have also suggested that Israel transferred $1.2 million to Moscow to buy COVID vaccines for Syria to complete the trade. The episode marks a rare exchange between Syria and Israel, two nations that do not have diplomatic relations.

Walk me through what happened: Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of Israel’s cabinet ministers to discuss a humanitarian incident in Syria. The incident was so sensitive that cabinet ministers were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to participate in the meeting. Still, reports quickly emerged that Russia was mediating discussions with Syria over the matter. 

Now that the exchange is complete, Israel has allowed many more details to be made public. The woman, who has reportedly attempted to enter Syria, Gaza, and Jordan before, crossed Israel’s border into Syria purposefully. When she entered a town on the Syrian side of the border, inhabitants alerted Syrian intelligence, who arrested her on suspicion of being an Israeli spy. When they determined she was not an intelligence officer, Syrian authorities alerted Moscow, who sought to broker a deal with Israel. Initially, the Israelis offered to trade Diab Qahmuz, who is in prison for smuggling explosives into Israel for Hezbollah, and Nihal Al-Maqt, who is in jail for incitement in exchange for the Israeli woman. However, both Qahmuz and Al-Maqt are Druze residents of Israeli-controlled towns and Qahmuz refused to be deported to Syria. Instead, Israel transferred two Syrian shepherds who entered Israeli territory in exchange for the Israeli woman, who was transferred back to Israel from Moscow last week. In addition to the prisoner exchange, Israel reportedly paid Russia over a million dollars to buy vaccines for Syria.

Anything else? You can expect to see the exchange pop up in Netanyahu’s election campaign. He is known to tout his relationships with global leaders during campaigns, and he can use this episode to promote his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Recovering citizens and soldiers held abroad is always popular.

In addition to the Russian-mediated prisoner exchange with Syria, Israel is also reportedly seeking another prisoner exchange with Hamas. According to a Saudi Arabian news report, Israel has asked Egypt to mediate negotiations. Hamas is believed to want enhanced fishing rights, the construction of a seaport, and the release of prisoners in exchange for Israeli prisoners. Hamas holds Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed, as well as the remains of Israeli soldiers Hadar Golden and Shaul Aaron. 

Further reading:

Biden speaks to Netanyahu for the first time since the inauguration:

What happened? Last week, President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu for the first time since the former’s inauguration in January. As President Biden has already spoken with many world leaders since taking office, some had interpreted the relatively long delay to reflect changing priorities in the Biden administration. For comparison, President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the day after he was inaugurated, and President Trump called Netanyahu on his second day in office. However, White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki dismissed claims that the delay was particularly significant, saying, “Obviously, we have a long and important relationship with Israel, and the president has known him and has been working on a range of issues that there’s a mutual commitment to for some time. It is just a reflection of the fact that we have been here for three and a half weeks, he’s not called every single global leader yet, and he is eager to do that in the weeks ahead.” Netanyahu was the first leader Biden called in the Middle East.

Netanyahu talking on the phone with President Biden. Source: Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

What did they talk about? According to the White House readout of the call, Biden and Netanyahu discussed the United States’ support for Israel, security cooperation, and regional developments (including Iran). Biden also expressed his support for the normalization agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors and advancing peace with the Palestinians. According to the Israeli readout of the call, President Biden also commended Netanyahu on his leadership during the Coronavirus crisis, though the White House did not mention the praise. 

Anything else? Although some have made a big deal of the delay, officials on both sides have downplayed its importance. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has spoken with CENTCOM commander Kenneth McKenzie, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has talked with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Gilad Erdan has been speaking regularly with American officials. 

Further reading:

Honorable Mentions:

9 Surprising Facts About Purim You May Not Know” by Leah Kadosh (Kveller)

Gina Carano’s ‘The Mandalorian’ Firing, Explained” by Karla Rodriguez (Complex) (Carano was fired in part due to antisemitic social media posts)

Fauci to ToI: Israeli vaccine effort ‘a model for rest of the world’” by Jacob Magid (Times of Israel)

Arab-Israelis lag behind in Israel’s vaccination success story” by Sam Sokol (Forward)

‘We saved lives’: Texas Jewish communities mobilize to get food, medicine to those in need” by Faygie Holt (JNS)

North Carolina’s lieutenant governor has Jewish community on high alert” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)

‘SNL’ under fire for ‘anti-Semitic’ joke about Israeli COVID vaccine rollout” by Jesse O’Neill (NY Post)

Josh Mandel goes all in for the Trump lane in Ohio’s Senate race” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider) (Meanwhile, Alex Lasry, the Jewish co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, has entered the 2022 Wisconsin Senate race)

Gabe Plotkin, hedge funder who tried to short GameStop, tells Congress he received anti-Semitic messages” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

Zach Banner and other Black athletes hold online panel about fighting anti-Semitism” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

Want Israeli-Palestinian Peace? Try Confederation” by By Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour (NYT) (This is an op-ed that has made waves over the last week)

Equatorial Guinea announces embassy move to Jerusalem” by Lazar Berman (TOI)

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News from February 8 to February 14

Jewish National Fund, Iran deal, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for how to make News of the Jews better at If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @skaps1.

Jewish National Fund reportedly set to begin buying land in West Bank

What is the Jewish National Fund? The Jewish National Fund, or JNF, is an organization that raises money to buy and develop land in Israel. The JNF was founded at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901 to purchase land in Ottoman Palestine for a future Jewish country. By 1948, when Israel was founded, the JNF owned 12.5% of Israel’s land. Since then, the JNF has focused on developing the land by planting trees, building roads, and providing employment for new immigrants. Its most recent major initiative is to develop the Negev desert, which makes up a sizeable portion of Israel but is sparsely populated.

What happened? Since 1967, the JNF has avoided buying land in the West Bank due to the polarizing nature of settlement building. However, after a pro-settlement politician assumed leadership of the JNF last October, the organization has begun exploring options to support settlement construction in the West Bank. The JNF’s draft proposal suggests only buying land that is privately owned by Palestinians, adjacent to existing settlements, and only in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank (Area C). The JNF does not plan to build new settlements.

Why is this controversial? Jews around the world often have very polarized views on settlements. Some feel that settlements are inconsistent with international law and that Israel should refrain from building on land that could make up a future Palestinian state. Others believe that Jews have a right to build settlements in their ancestral homeland, regardless of the political ramifications. In deference to Jews who are uncomfortable funding settlement activity, many of whom are from outside Israel, the JNF has not purchased land in the West Bank. Thus, the JNF’s proposed policy change could substantially impact fundraising and support from abroad.

How have people reacted? 

Union of Reform Judaism: As the largest Jewish Movement in North America, we remain committed to a democratic and pluralistic Israel, and two states for two peoples. Accordingly, we emphatically and continually oppose all land acquisition by the Jewish National Fund (KKL) outside the sovereign borders of the State of Israel, known as the Green Line. The activity of the Zionist institutions must reflect and support a broad consensus of the Jewish people and Israeli society... Consequently, we have declined to accept a major sponsorship proposal from KKL for the upcoming URJ Biennial in Chicago in December, the largest gathering of Jews in North America. As a Movement, we will continue to be guided by our vision of a just and peaceful State of Israel.”

United States State Department: In response to a question about the JNF’s new policy, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “We believe it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.” He later added that the unilateral steps include “annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolition, incitement to violence [and] the provision of compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.”

Jewish National Fund: “Throughout the years and till this very day, KKL-JNF has been operating in all parts of the land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria [the biblical name for the West Bank]. The preliminary discussion, that took place today revolved around general principals of action, based on a legal opinion that was requested and received during the previous management term. At this stage, there is no intention of opening up a new area in Judea and Samaria. Regardless, KKL-JNF’s policy remains that every contribution for every project in Israel is confirmed by and coordinated in advance with its donor, in accordance with the laws of the donor’s country.”

Further reading:

Iran deal update:

What happened? As you may recall, President Joe Biden hopes to return to the initial parameters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran deal. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, oppose returning the agreement as it stands because they believe it is fundamentally flawed and will ultimately help Iran develop nuclear weapons. Unlike the Obama administration during the initial JCPOA negotiations, the Biden administration plans to update and coordinate with Israel as negotiations with Iran proceed. This week, American National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat held a meeting with other officials to discuss Iran. The meeting was their second in as many weeks, and it comes after Netanyahu reportedly named Ben-Shabbat Israel’s point person on Iran matters.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Source: Coca Cola Foundation.

Where do negotiations with Iran stand? The United States and Iran are currently playing a game of “who will blink first?” Ever since the United States withdrew from the JCPOA and reinstated sanctions in 2018, Iran has steadily begun violating the deal’s terms by enriching higher grade Uranium and producing other materials necessary to make nuclear weapons. President Biden has said that he will only return the United States to the JCPOA if Iran returns to compliance first. Unsurprisingly, Iran believes that the United States should lift sanctions before it returns to the deal. This week, Iran threatened to halt International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of declared nuclear sites if Biden does not return to the agreement. However, Biden has not indicated he has any plans to lift sanctions until Iran ceases its violations.

Anything else? In case you missed it, the Biden Administration named Robert Malley its envoy for Iran. When he was named, many Republicans opposed the pick because they believed he was too dovish on Iran. In contrast, many human rights advocates and diplomats signed a letter in support of Malley. For a good profile of Malley, check out this recent New York Times piece

In other news, President Biden has not yet called Prime Minister Netanyahu. Some Israelis are not pleased with the delay; former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon tweeted his frustration to President Biden and included an old phone number for Netanyahu’s office. However, the White House indicated that a call would happen soon. 

Further reading:

Honorable Mentions:

First-ever virtual 'Israel Summit' launched by Harvard, Columbia University” by Sarah Chemla (JPost) (This was a really neat event that students put on with high profile names like Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Gilad Erdan, Senator Mitt Romney, and former Canadian President Stephen Harper. You can watch the entire summit here.)

Why did Trump’s impeachment lawyer David Schoen keep putting his hand on his head?” by Laura E. Adkins and Ron Kampeas (JTA)

UK’s Karim Khan elected next ICC prosecutor, will replace controversial Bensouda” (TOI)

Israel's Netanyahu enters plea in court in corruption trial” (BBC)

Nikki Haley broke with Trump. It could make her a Jewish GOP favorite in 2024.” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

Israel makes top 10 (again) in ranking of world’s most innovative countries” (JNS)

Director, Producer and Philanthropist Steven Spielberg Announced as the 2021 Genesis Prize Laureate” (The Genesis Prize Foundation)

Guardian columnist says he was fired because of ‘joke’ about US aid to Israel” by Cnaan Lipshiz

Sassy grandmas get real on new podcast ‘Call Your Grandmother’” by Doree Lewack (NY Post) (The podcast is amazing!)

‘Scary,’ ‘spunky,’ ‘wackadoodle’: How Jewish constituents of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert describe their new congresswomen” by Ben Sales (JTA)

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Zach Banner to lead panel with athletes about anti-Semitism” (JNS)

The Complicated Jewishness of Stan Lee” by Emily Burack (Hey Alma)

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News from February 1 to February 7

Israeli election update, a big International Criminal Court ruling, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for how to make News of the Jews better at If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @skaps1.

Israeli election update:

Background: As you may recall, in Israel, voters elect parties, not individual candidates. To determine the order of the candidates on each slate, the parties will either have primaries or appoint candidates to strategically target specific demographics or interest groups. Mergers are another factor that shapes party slates. If parties do not appear likely to cross the threshold of votes necessary to enter the Knesset (3.25% of the total electorate), they may merge with other parties to raise their chances of winning Knesset seats. Alternatively, sometimes parties will combine to promote a particular candidate for Prime Minister. Since the President tasks the MK they think has the best chance of forming a government with the first “mandate” to do so, parties may merge to ensure their preferred candidate has the most seats. This was the case during the last three elections when a group of parties combined into the Blue and White party to promote Benny Gantz. 

What happened? Thursday, February 4, was the official deadline for Israeli political parties to submit their candidate slates before the election. One of the main headlines this week was that the many center-left parties did not consolidate. Though many had expected parties like Telem (run by former IDF Chief of Staff Bogie Ya’alon), The Israelis (run by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai), and the New Economic Party (run by economist Yaron Zelekha) to join larger parties like Labor, Yesh Atid, and Meretz, they never coalesced, and there was not a single merger on the center-left. Huldai and Ya’alon’s parties decided not to run, and Zelekha chose to continue running, despite most polls projecting his party would not cross the threshold. It remains to be seen if the fragmentation on the center-left will hurt or help the political camp. 

On the right-wing side of Israeli politics, the most significant piece of news was that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly encouraged a variety of far-right parties to run together and maximize their chances of crossing the threshold. Netanyahu’s suggestion is controversial because several of the parties he called on to merge are known for being racist or outwardly homophobic. One of the parties, Otzma Yehudit, is led by admirers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose party Kach was banned from the Knesset and eventually designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. Another one of the parties, Noam, is known for its intense anti-LGBTQ platform. Many Jewish organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), criticized Netanyahu for similar political maneuvering last year. Another far-right party, Jewish Home, announced that it would not run in the election but would support Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party. 

How will these mergers and non-mergers affect the election? It’s hard to say definitively, but all indications are that the moves ahead of Thursday’s deadline have not materially affected Israel’s political scene. Right now, Netanyahu does not appear to have enough support to form a governing coalition. Opposition parties might be able to form a government, but they are extremely broad ideologically, so it is not clear what the coalition would look like. One interesting story to follow is that Ra’am, previously one of the Joint List’s parties, decided to run independently. Its leader, Mansour Abbas, has indicated a willingness to work with Netanyahu before, so some have speculated that he might join a Netanyahu government (though this is still pretty unlikely). Ra’am is unlikely to cross the threshold.

Further reading:

International Criminal Court approves investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes:

Background: As you may recall, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is considering launching an investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes. When ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda determined that she had enough evidence to merit an inquiry in December, she asked a panel of judges at the ICC to first determine if the ICC has jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories. Since Palestine is not universally recognized as a state and Israel has not signed the Rome Statute, which governs the ICC, Bensouda wanted the ICC to determine if it could even rule on a potential Israeli and Palestinian war crimes case.

What happened? An ICC pre-trial chamber ruled that the ICC has the jurisdiction to launch an investigation into alleged Israeli and Palestinian war crimes. Although the ruling–which Israel, the United States, and many other countries oppose–does not automatically trigger an investigation, it will allow the ICC to initiate a probe if the chief prosecutor decides to do so. Specifically, the ICC may look at the 2014 Gaza War, the IDF’s use of lethal force during Hamas’ “Great March of Return,” and whether Israel’s settlement activity post-2014 should be considered a war crime. The Palestinians may also come under investigation for indiscriminate rocket fire and incitement of terrorism, though the probe will likely focus on Israel.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in 2014. Source: Wikimedia.

Will the ruling have any immediate impact? Probably not. First, it’s not clear whether Bensouda will open the investigation now or leave the decision to her successor, who will be named in June. The investigation is likely to be lengthy, so it is unlikely that there will be any immediate consequences. However, if the ICC does eventually issue indictments, some Israeli officials may not be able to travel outside of Israel since the ICC could issue warrants for their arrest. Still, it will be a while before any potential investigation reaches that step.

How have people reacted?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure anti-Semitism...the court established to prevent atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people is now targeting the one state of the Jewish people.” He also said that Israel would “fight this perversion of justice with all our might!”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh: “[This is] a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families.”

Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz: “The decision of the judges at The Hague is grave and has no basis in international law. The proceeding…is conducted without authority and is unfounded...The defense establishment, together with the other state bodies, will act resolutely to prevent harm to IDF commanders and soldiers, and to members of the entire defense establishment.”

Hamas: “Any decision that contributes to supporting the rights of the Palestinian people and defends their freedom is an appropriate decision.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi: “[The decision] rewards Palestinian terrorism and the PA’s refusal to return to direct negotiations with Israel, effectively contributing to further polarization between the parties...We call on all states that see the importance in the international legal system and oppose its political exploitation, to respect the sovereign right of states to choose not to agree to the jurisdiction of the tribunal.”

United States State Department Spokesperson Ned Price: “The United States objects to today’s International Criminal Court decision regarding the Palestinian situation. Israel is not a State Party to the Rome Statute.” The State Department later issued a formal statement, saying, “We have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. The United States has always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it, or that are referred by the UN Security Council.”

Further reading:

Honorable mentions:

Congress removes Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

Why Conspiracy Theorists Like Marjorie Taylor Greene Always Land on the Jews” by Yair Rosenberg (Tablet)

Listen: Israel’s 2021 Eurovision song entry, by Ethiopian-Israeli pop star Eden Alene” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

Senate votes 97-3 to keep US embassy in Jerusalem” (Israel Hayom)

The controversy over California’s ethnic studies curriculum, explained” by Ben Sales (JTA)

IAEA inspectors in Iran said to find evidence of possible nuclear weapons work” (Times of Israel)

Tiffany Haddish, Nick Cannon and Mayim Bialik among 170 to sign statement launching Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

Can Gideon Sa’ar unseat Netanyahu?” by Amy Spiro (Jewish Insider)

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News from January 25 to January 31

New Delhi explosion, Israeli election update, Jewish space lasers, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for how to make News of the Jews better at If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @skaps1.

Explosion reported near Israel’s embassy in New Delhi:

What happened? Last week, an explosive device detonated near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi in what Indian police have described as “a mischievous attempt to create a sensation.” Although the blast damaged a few cars, nobody was wounded or killed in the explosion. Indian police have not announced any suspects, though local media has reported that an Indian terrorist group called “Jaish-ul-Hind” claimed responsibility. A note addressed to Israeli Ambassador to India Ron Malka–who the letter referred to as a “terrorist of the terrorist nation”–said that the explosion was “just a trailer” and that he should “count his days.” Israeli media has since reported that the Mossad is involved in the investigation and that Iran may have played a role in the incident. The blast occurred just as Israel and India marked 29 years of diplomatic relations.

Why would Iran be involved in this? We still do not know if Iran actually played a role or not, but some have suspected Iran’s involvement due to the letter and the recent geopolitical tensions. For one, the letter specifically referenced “Iranian martyrs” Qassem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakrizadeh. In case those names do not sound familiar, Soleimani was an extremely powerful Iranian military commander who was assassinated in an American airstrike early last year. Fakrizadeh was an influential nuclear scientist tied to Iran’s nuclear weapons program who was killed in an assassination many blamed on Israel. As a result of both assassinations, Israel has been bracing for potential Iran retaliation (though Israel has not taken direct responsibility for either killing) at home and abroad; Malka said that the embassy had raised the level of alert due to threats they received in the days before the explosion. Still, Indian authorities have not named any suspects, so it is important to avoid jumping to any conclusions.

Anything else? In Israel, Aviv Kochavi, the Chief of Staff of the IDF (highest-ranking military officer in Israel), gave a speech declaring that an American return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) would be “wrong” and that Israel was drawing up new plans for a military strike on Iran. After the speech, Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the headquarters of Israel’s Depths Corps, which is responsible for long-range attack operations. Israeli leaders seem to be signaling their willingness to use military power to both Iran and the United States as negotiations over the revival of the Iran nuclear deal begin. However, it does appear that some high-ranking officials are more amenable to the JCPOA; on Sunday, Mossad Head Yossi Cohen criticized Kochavi’s speech for being “irresponsible.” 

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. Source: Wikimedia

Further reading:

Israeli election update:

What happened? The latest polling shows that, once again, none of the major parties have a clear path to forming a government. According to a Channel 12 poll, if the election happened today, this would be the breakdown of the 120-seat Knesset:

Likud: 30

Yesh Atid: 17

New Hope: 14

Yamina: 13

Joint List: 10

Shas: 8

United Torah Judaism (UTJ): 8

Yisrael Beitenu: 7

Labor: 5

Meretz: 4

Blue and White: 4

If this poll holds true, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud would likely fail to form a coalition because only UTJ and Shas (and possibly Yamina) would be willing to sit in a government with Netanyahu. Even with Yamina, Netanyahu would still fall short of the seats necessary to form a government. Still, there does not appear to be a viable alternative. A potential anti-Netanyahu coalition would require parties with vastly different ideologies to join together. It is not impossible, but it is still pretty unlikely. It is worth noting that nearly 10% of Israel’s electorate reportedly support parties that will likely not cross the vote threshold to enter the Knesset (in Israel, a party has to achieve a certain percentage of the total vote to win seats in its parliament). 

Anything else? Former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, the second candidate on the slate of  Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s the Israelis party, announced he would not run in this election. As it stands, the center-left is fractured between Labor, the Israelis, Meretz, Yesh Atid, Blue and White, and a few other parties that will likely not pass the threshold (Pensioner’s party, Telem, etc.). To ensure that the center-left maximizes its representation in the Knesset, many of the parties will have to merge because they risk not passing the threshold if they run separately. New Labor party leader Merav Michaeli reportedly demanded that Huldai drop Nissenkorn to cement a potential merger. It is now increasingly likely that Labor and the Israelis will merge, and more parties may join them before Thursday’s deadline to finalize electoral slates.

Further reading:


Jewish Space Lasers: While reporters scoured freshman Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s old social media post last week, many took notice of an old Facebook post where she blamed “Rothschild Inc.” for starting the 2018 California forest fires. According to her theory, the company used space-based solar power lasers to ignite the forests. Predictably, many have (amusingly) mocked her claims.

A personal note: Though her antisemitic theory may be entertaining (it’s not every day that “Jewish Space Laser” is trending on Twitter), it is important to remember that some people actually do believe her and the normalization of antisemitism has dangerous consequences. It’s always bad when elected leaders, regardless of who they are, promote antisemitism, so we–Jews and non-Jews–must always act to prevent these types of conspiracies from becoming mainstream political discourse. Call it out when you see it!

Here are a variety of condemnations from Jewish groups

Honorable mentions:

In case you missed it, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was Wednesday, January 27. Here are a variety of noteworthy stories/clips/statements from last week (there are many, many more):

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (His step-father is a Holocaust survivor):

Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Amb. Gilad Erdan: On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the world must apply 'Never Again' to Iran” by Gilad Erdan (Fox News) (Erdan is Israel’s Ambassador to the United States)

Wolf Blitzer shares his personal ties to the Holocaust” (CNN) (Blitzer’s grandparents were killed at Auschwitz)

Statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day from the United Arab Emirates’ Embassy in the United States

Benny Gantz: My Holocaust survivor mother made me a better IDF general” by Benny Gantz (JTA)

Survivors get a vaccine on Holocaust Remembrance Day.” by Megan Specia (NYT)

Facebook directs users to Holocaust education when searching for denial” by Zachary Keyser (JPost)

Kate Middleton and Prince Charles Represent the Royals on Holocaust Memorial Day” by Erin Vanderhoof (Vanity Fair)

Angela Merkel participates in historic Torah scroll writing ceremony” by Toby Axelrod (JTA)

Other news:

Amar’e Stoudemire, now a Brooklyn Nets coach, doesn’t work on Shabbat” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

Pakistani Supreme Court tosses charges against man convicted in murder plot against Daniel Pearl” by Jerry Dunleavy (Washington Examiner) (Pearl was a Jewish reporter who was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002)

Biden’s U.N. ambassador nominee pledges to support Israel at the U.N.” by Marc Rod (Jewish Insider)

Israel Extradites Teacher Accused of Abuse in Australia, Reports Say” by Patrick Kingsley and Livia Albeck-Ripka (NYT)

Conservative Jewish leaders condemn Israel’s rejection of Ugandan Jews from immigrating” by Shira Hanau (JTA)

Police say they were helpless to stop funeral of rabbi that drew 10,000” (TOI) (ManyIsraelis are frustrated with what they believe is a double standard of lockdown enforcement for ultra-religious and secular Israelis)

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News from January 18 to January 24

Andrew Yang, Larry King, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for how to make News of the Jews better at If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @skaps1.

NYC Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang denounces BDS in op-ed:

What happened? Last week, former presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang wrote an op-ed in Forward laying out his vision for New York City’s Jewish community. Yang–who many consider the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination–outlined his connection to the Jewish experience, views on the boycott, divest, and sanctions (BDS) movement, and antisemitism in his piece, which you can read here

Andrew Yang. Source: Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore

What did he say? Here are some highlights from the piece:

On his connection to the Jewish experience: “Jewish immigrants who overcame extraordinary odds and persecution in Europe, including but not limited to the Holocaust, were once again tested in the United States. But the community persisted and has achieved remarkable success in all areas of American society, all the while maintaining a deep communal commitment to social justice and family. That story resonates deeply for me. My parents immigrated from Taiwan, where my dad grew up with dirt floors on a peanut farm. I’m so proud they made it here, and that I have had opportunities my parents once thought weren’t possible for their children. American Jews showed families like mine the possibilities that existed here.”

On antisemitism: “We need to do a better job at guarding against all hate crimes, including antisemitic ones. The NYPD, in conjunction with federal authorities, must focus on rooting out hate and gun crimes rather than nonviolent offenses. But not all hate crimes are committed by organized neo-Nazis. We need to build better relationships between different neighborhoods throughout the city.”

On BDS: “A Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment. Not only is BDS rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses, it’s also a direct shot at New York City’s economy.” (Some have taken issue with Yang’s comparison of BDS to Nazi Germany)

On circumcision: “I will not get in the way of anyone’s right to circumcise their children and maintain the traditions of their faith. I have and always will attend friends’ brissim to celebrate this important religious milestone in the life of their new children.” (Yang notoriously embraced anti-circumcision activism during his presidential campaign)

How have people reacted? Just after Forward published the op-ed, figures across the political spectrum weighed in on his positions. Here are a couple of examples:

Democratic Majority for Israel: “A powerful op-ed from [Andrew Yang] recognizing the vibrancy of NYC's historic immigrant communities, emphasizing the importance of strong U.S.-Israel ties, and opposing BDS, which he notes is ‘rooted in antisemitic thought and history.’”

Adalah Justice Project: “This is simply wrong. [Andrew Yang] misrepresents BDS to pander for Jewish votes. BDS is a Palestinian call for the international community to boycott Israeli state institutions and businesses until Israel respects international law and gives Palestinians basic freedoms. It is not a boycott of Jews. To say so is antisemitic. There is nothing Jewish about military occupation, brutal siege, and bombing.”

Further reading:

Jewish television icon Larry King passes away:

What happened? In case you missed it, legendary television host Larry King passed away last week. Known for his interviews, Larry King, who was born Lawrence Zeiger, hosted his talk show on CNN between 1985 and 2010. King claimed at one point that he had interviewed over 50,000 people, which includes every president since Gerald Ford and other prominent figures ranging from the Dalai Lama to Jerry Seinfeld. 

How did Larry King feel about his Judaism? I highly recommend you check out this article Jewish Journal put together about Larry King’s contribution to the book “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” after Daniel Pearl was killed in Pakistan. Here are a few highlights:

“Now, let’s get this straight: I am not religious. I guess you could say I am agnostic. That is, I don’t know if there is a God or not (if there is I sure have a lot of questions for him—or her). But I’m certainly culturally Jewish. I love the Jewish sense of humor. The shtick of the Jewish comedian burns in me. I love a good joke. I don’t mind jokes about Jews told by Jews. Jewish humor has become universal.”

“Judaism is both a religion and a race. It’s an imprint I carry with me everywhere. I was taught to hate prejudice. I was taught the values of loyalty—the values of family. Even though I was not fortunate enough to go to college, I was certainly embedded with strong Jewish values of education and learning, no matter what the form.”

“I remember how proud I was on my trip to Jerusalem with my brother a few years back. Seeing all of the street signs in Hebrew, feeling a sense of identity and belonging...Again, having no strong religious affiliation, I must say the trip really hit home to me. The very flavor of Jerusalem stayed with me long after I left. I liked all the people of the region, including the many Palestinians I met. I felt a sense of belonging and I thought a lot about my late parents, who would have loved to step on that soil.”

In 2017, he told the Jerusalem Post that, “I love being Jewish, am proud of my Jewishness, and I love Israel. But in 60 years of broadcasting and asking questions, I still don’t understand prejudice and why people kill each other. We have such a limited time on Earth, why in so little time would we waste energy or lose life over hating each other? It’s insanity. Fighting over land is nuts, and it overwhelms me how far we’ve advanced technologically but so little on the human side. I’ve interviewed just about every major religious leader in the world except the pope and nobody has been able to answer that question.”

Anything else? In 2016, King donated an autographed pair of suspenders for a fundraiser held by the American Jewish Historical Society.

Further reading:

Honorable Mentions:

All the Jews Joe Biden has tapped for top roles in his administration” (JTA)

Ossoff sworn in on Hebrew Bible from synagogue bombed by white supremacists in the 1950s” by John Bowden (The Hill)

Olmert: I hate everything Sheldon Adelson loved about Israel - opinion” by Ehud Olmert (Jerusalem Post) (This opinion piece is significant because Israel’s former Prime Minister wrote it)

Israel officially opens embassy in United Arab Emirates with arrival of envoy” by Lazar Berman (ToI) (Meanwhile, Israel has closed Ben Gurion Airport for a week to keep new mutations of COVID-19 out of the country)

Hawaiian-Jewish surfer Makua Rothman may have ridden the largest wave of all time” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

Meet the woman behind Bernie Sanders’s viral mittens” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)

18 Things to Know About Benny Blanco” by Emily Burack (Hey Alma) (Benny Blanco is a Jewish producer and songwriter who is very accomplished)

TV: Mossad chief to meet Biden, set out terms for overhaul of Iran nuclear deal” (Times of Israel)

What Zoom Does to Campus Conflicts Over Israel and Free Speech” by John Leland (NYT)

Chrissy Teigen’s First Shabbat Was ‘Perfect’” by Maddy Albert (Kveller)

Israel bars anti-Zionist groups from lecturing in schools amid B’Tselem claims of ‘apartheid’” by Israel Kasnett (JNS)

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