That was the year that was

That was the year that was

Peace tops news list, but politics and economy rank high

The year 5771 began and will end with the Middle East firmly at the top of the news ““ general and Jewish. In between, presidential politics and an ailing economy edged their way onto Jewish news pages, as did the so-called “Arab Spring” and even some bizarre incidents of anti-Semitism (think Charlie Sheen) Even the weather made headlines. What follows is a brief look at the stories that made Jewish news in 5771.

September 2010

Despite offers of increased U.S. military equipment, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides against extending the 10-month west bank settlement freeze.


President Obama’s top two Jewish aides – Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser David Axelrod, both with offices within shouting distance of the Oval Office – announce that they will be leaving the administration.

For the first time in history, the U.S. Supreme Court convened with three Jewish justices.

A Knesset proposal to require loyalty oaths of non-Jews wishing to become Israeli citizens wins the endorsement of Israel’s cabinet and prompts protests in Tel Aviv. The proposal is later amended to include Jews, as well.

The Anti-Defamation League lists a Jewish group, Jewish Voices for Peace, on its list of top 10 anti-Israel organizations in America.

A month after the collapse of renewed peace talks with Israel, Palestinian Authority officials begin talking publicly about declaring statehood unilaterally.

Packages containing explosive devices are mailed from Yemen to Jewish institutions in the Chicago area, but are intercepted before they reach their intended targets.


In the Republican Party’s near sweep of the 2010 midterm elections, six Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives lose their seats.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Claims Conference disclose that the organization had discovered thousands of fraudulent claims, including ones filed by its own employees; 17 people are arrested. By mid-2011, more than $50 million in fraudulent claims had been found.

A review panel established by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate threatens to invalidate thousands of conversions performed under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces. The Knesset moves to safeguard the IDF conversions.

Israel allows another 8,000 Falash Mura from Ethiopia to immigrate.

WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of classified U.S. documents shows Arab leaders expressing grave concern about Iran’s nuclear intentions and urging the United States to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

The National Museum of American Jewish History opens in Philadelphia with a gala headlined by Vice President Joe Biden, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and entertainer Bette Midler.


Forty-two people are killed and 12,000 acres are destroyed by a massive forest fire in northern Israel that prompts firefighting assistance from countries around the region.

In a speech to an Arab-American group in Michigan, former White House journalist Helen Thomas says that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street are “owned by the Zionists.” The remark prompts the Society of Professional Journalists later to drop her name from an annual lifetime achievement award.

Newly released Nixon-era tapes include recordings of Henry Kissinger saying the theoretical gassing of Soviet Jews wouldn’t be an American concern.

A Seattle group pays for ads to run on buses in the city that accuse Israel of war crimes. The ads are pulled before they ever run, prompting a lawsuit.

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is convicted of rape.

January 2011

Jews worldwide mourn the passing of Debbie Friedman, a popular singer and songwriter who is widely credited with reinvigorating synagogue music and best known for her composition “Mi Shebeirach,” a prayer for healing that is sung in many North American congregations.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona, is shot in the head during a public campaign appearance in Tucson, triggering a national outpouring of sympathy and prayer. First responders later credit the emergency bandage colloquially known as “the Israeli bandage” with saving lives in the aftermath of the shooting that left six dead and 13 wounded.

Newly leaked maps detailing Palestinian and Israeli negotiations over the west bank in 2008 show how close the two sides were on some issues – and how far apart they were on others. With Lebanon in turmoil and a Hezbollah-backed prime minister poised to take power in Beirut, Israel is concerned at the prospect of a tectonic shift in the regional balance.


Massive street protests drive Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of Israel and the United States, from power. Coming on the heels of a similar turn of events in Tunisia, Mubarak’s fall raises hopes that a wave of democracy has been unleashed- and fears, especially in Israel, that what is being called “the Arab Spring” will end with radical Islamic forces in power.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, a tough-talking Jewish Democrat from California, suddenly decides to quit Congress in a sign of the precarious position of the Democratic Party’s centrist bloc.

An annual survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy finds that America’s most generous citizens gave less in 2010 than they have over the past decade, with Jews remaining among the top givers.

At the Academy Awards, Jewish winners included Israel-born Natalie Portman for her portrayal of a tortured ballerina in “Black Swan” and 73-year-old “The King’s Speech” screenwriter David Seidler, himself a stutterer whose paternal grandparents perished in the Holocaust. Oscars were handed out, as well, to American filmmakers Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman for “Strangers No More,” a short documentary on the Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv, and Susanne Bier, the Danish director-writer of “In a Better World,” who studied for two years at the Hebrew University and the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem.

An Israeli backpacker is among the dead after an earthquake hits Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. The city’s Chabad house is destroyed.

Actor Charlie Sheen’s rant against his Jewish boss is called borderline anti-Semitism by the Anti-Defamation League and, after some additional outbursts by Sheen, results in his eventual firing from the popular CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”


The fashion house Dior fires acclaimed designer John Galliano after a video surfaces of him praising Hitler.

In a terrorist attack in the west bank Jewish settlement of Itamar, five members of the Fogel family are massacred as they sleep. Two Palestinians in their late teens are arrested; one is found guilty by an Israeli military court. The other suspect is awaiting trial.

Israel’s Navy intercepts a ship laden with weapons bound for Gaza.

Jewish groups and Israel begin sending aid to Japan as it struggles to respond to a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

American Jewish contractor Alan Gross is sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba for subversive activities. The United States says Gross was in the country to help Cuba’s Jews.

A car bomb explodes in central Jerusalem, killing one.

Groups on the Jewish left express outrage after a Knesset subcommittee votes to convene hearings on J Street, the Washington-based lobby that calls itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” NGOs condemn the hearing as part of an Israeli government campaign to target NGOs critical of Israel.

Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor, who maintained a support for Israel after converting to Judaism in the late 1950s, dies.

Protests sweeping the Arab world spread to Syria.


Richard Goldstone, author of the controversial U.N. report on the 2009 Gaza War that accused Israel of war crimes, withdraws the central tenet of that report in an Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post. That prompts an unsuccessful drive by Israel and its supporters to void the report formally in the United Nations.

A bomb explodes outside a Chabad center in Southern California. The suspect turns out to be Jewish.

Obama picks Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Jewish Democrat from Florida, to chair the Democratic National Committee.

The Union for Reform Judaism names Rabbi Rick Jacobs as its choice to succeed Rabbi Eric Yoffie at the helm of the movement. Jacobs comes under fire for his affiliations with J Street and the New Israel Fund. He is later confirmed by the union’s board.

The Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions announce that they are reconciling, prompting calls for the U.S. government to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority. However, a Hamas-Fatah unity government fails to materialize.


Osama bin Laden is killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces, prompting questions about whether the liquidation of al-Qaida’s leader makes a follow-up attack more or less likely and whether Jews could be targets.

In a controversy over the Israel positions of Jewish playwright Tony Kushner, the City University of New York first cancels, then reinstates, plans to grant Kushner an honorary degree.

Capping more than three decades of legal drama, a Munich court rules that former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk, 91, was a Nazi war criminal.

Thousands of Arabs storm Israel’s borders from Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere to mark the Nakba – the anniversary of the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding. Caught unprepared, Israeli forces hold the crowds back and more than a dozen Arabs are killed.

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York on sexual assault charges represents a particularly harsh blow for many in France’s Jewish community. Law enforcement officials would later report that major questions have emerged about the credibility of his accuser, but not before he resigns his post at the International Monetary Fund. His planned candidacy for the French presidency is considered dead.

San Francisco approves a ballot measure for November to outlaw circumcision of minors in the city. A judge later strikes the ban from the ballot, saying the city has no authority to ban circumcision.

President Obama delivers a major speech on Mideast policy in which he states that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should be based upon “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” The formulation sparks a fiery debate over whether the president was simply reiterating longtime U.S. policy or pressuring Israel. Soon after, the president holds a tense news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Both leaders speak to thousands of pro-Israel activists at the annual AIPAC policy conference. Later, Netanyahu receives multiple ovations during remarks to a joint session of Congress.

After a deadly tornado strikes Joplin, Mo., the Jewish community sends help.

In the chasidic village of New Square, N.Y., an arson attack that leaves a Jewish man severely burned raises questions about religious violence in the name of fealty to a rebbe.

The Obama administration says it will not participate in the so-called Durban III conference at the United Nations in September to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.N. anti-racism gathering in South Africa, which turned into an anti-Israel hate fest. By mid-September, other countries boycotting the conference include Canada, Australia, Israel, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and the Netherlands.


One of the most ardent pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, New York’s Anthony Weiner, is engulfed in scandal over lying about illicit messages sent on Twitter. He eventually resigns. In a special election held in September to fill the seat in Weiner’s heavily Democratic district, Republican candidate Bob Turner wins an upset victory in a race many describe as a bellwether for national discontent with President Obama.

Yale University shutters its Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, saying it failed to meet certain academic criteria. Critics, however, claim the program was killed for shining a light on Muslim anti-Semitism.

Cottage cheese, a national staple in Israel that has seen its price rising steadily, becomes the focus of a consumer revolt and a symbol of frustration with the high cost of living in the Jewish state. Later, the protests broaden and focus on the shortage of affordable housing in the country, with mass demonstrations and tent cities popping up in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.


The lower house of the Dutch parliament passes a ban on kosher slaughter, spurred on by the unlikely convergence between animal rights activists and the country’s far-right, anti-Muslim movement.

After a flotilla of ships to Gaza fails to launch from Greece, protesters announce a planned “fly-in” to Israel to protest its treatment of the Palestinians.

Jewish communities in New York and Houston are rocked, respectively, by the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who was abducted walking home from summer day camp in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and a car crash that instantly killed Josh and Robin Berry, 41 and 40, and left two of their three children paralyzed from the waist down.

For the first time since 1945, the Maccabi Games – the so-called Jewish Olympics in Europe – are held in a German-speaking country. Maccabi officials said the crowd made up the largest gathering of Jews in Vienna since the Holocaust.

Israel passes a law that penalizes those seeking to boycott Israel or west bank Jewish settlements. American Jewish groups slam the law as undemocratic.

As media mogul Ruport Murdoch’s News of the World is engulfed in a phone-hacking scandal and shuts down, some Jews worry that a pro-Israel voice in the media will be muted.

British Jewish singer Amy Winehouse, 27, dies.

Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian anti-Muslim extremist who wrote a manifesto expressing sympathy for Israel’s plight, bombs a government building in Oslo and goes on a killing spree on the nearby island of Utoya, killing 77.

Israelis protesting the absence of affordable housing and the high cost of living in Israel stage massive demonstrations, erecting a sprawling tent city in Tel Aviv and blocking roads around the country. Amid the crisis, the prime minister cancels an overseas trip and proposes a series of changes. The movement gains steam throughout the summer, culminating in a protest of hundreds of thousands in early September. A few days later, the tent city in Tel Aviv is disassembled. Activists vow to continue their campaign.


Standard & Poor’s says ratings for the loan guarantees that Israel obtains from the United States dropped commensurate with its downgrading of the U.S. credit rating.

The Obama re-election campaign hires Ira Forman, the ex-chief of the National Jewish Democratic Council, as its Jewish outreach director.

The brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Jewish scholar murdered in the 1991 Crown Heights riots, decries the Rev. Al Sharpton’s participation in a synagogue event on the riots’ 20th anniversary. Sharpton pulls out of the event and pens an Op-Ed in the N.Y. Daily News acknowledging that he made some mistakes during the riots.

Obama calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign in the wake of attacks by his government that have killed thousands.

Eight Israelis are killed in a terrorist attack along the Egypt-Israel border that sparks a diplomatic crisis with Egypt when Israeli troops pursuing the terrorists open fire on Egyptian soil and three Egyptian security forces inadvertently are killed. Israel quickly apologies, but expresses concern that terrorists from Gaza are using the Egyptian Sinai as a route to attack Israel. Meanwhile, Israel and Gaza rocket crews trade airstrikes and rocket fire.

Libyan rebels topple Muammar Gadhafi from power, but fighting between Gadhafi loyalists and rebels continues in points around Libya. With Gadhafi the third Arab dictator to fall in nine months, analysts wonder if Syria’s Assad is next.

Menachem Youlus, a rabbi who claimed that he rescued Torah scrolls lost during the Holocaust, is arrested on fraud charges and accused of fabricating the stories.

Hurricane Irene churns up the East Coast of the United States, killing more than 30 people, flooding towns, disrupting transportation, and causing damage to buildings and homes.


Lauren Bush, granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush and niece of President George W. Bush, marries Ralph Lauren’s son in a ceremony presided over by a rabbi.

Turkey expels Israel’s ambassador to the country and downgrades diplomatic and military ties.

The Obama administration confirms it will veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood ahead of an anticipated U.N. vote on a Palestinian state.

An Egyptian mob breaks into the Israeli embassy in Cairo, ransacking the building and tearing down its security walls. Israeli personnel are stuck inside for hours until Egyptian commandos arrive at the scene. The Israelis later are evacuated from the country by Israeli Air Force jets. The attack exacerbates fears in Israel that it is losing a once-reliable ally to the south.

In a special election held in September to fill the seat in former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s heavily Democratic district, Republican candidate Bob Turner wins an upset victory in a race many describe as a bellwether for national discontent with President Obama. Poll results, however, suggest that other factors played key roles in Turner’s win.

President Obama goes before the U.N. General Assembly to warn against taking any moves regarding the Middle East peace process that does not include Israel’s legitimate security concerns. French President Nicolas Sarkozy then took the podium and urged the body to take a middle-of-the-road stance-improving the Palestinians’ status but delaying for now granting them statehood.

JTA Wire Service          

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