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The Jewish year in review:

#MeToo, the embassy move, and a growing gap between Israel and the Diaspora

By Ben Harris

(JTA) — For American Jews, the Jewish year 5778 began with tensions between Israel and the Diaspora over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and ended with more tension over a controversial nationality law. In between, American Jews grappled with the impact of the #MeToo movement, the Trump administration relocated the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and actress Natalie Portman made headlines for turning down a chance to collect a top prize in Israel.

 

September 2017

A survey finds that American Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance. The poll, conducted by the American Jewish Committee, shows that 77 percent view Trump’s performance unfavorably and 21 percent view it favorably — figures considerably worse than Trump’s performance in polls of the general population conducted around the same time.

Edie Windsor, whose landmark Supreme Court case paved the way for gay marriage in the United States, dies at 88. Windsor’s 2013 lawsuit resulted in the court’s overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage for federal purposes as the union between a man and a woman.

Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner is sentenced to 21 months in prison for transferring obscene material to a teenage girl. The former House of Representatives member from New York had pleaded guilty in the case, which followed multiple instances of sharing sexually explicit material online.

 

October 2017

The U.S. announces its intention to withdraw from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over its anti-Israel bias, which will go into effect at the end of 2019.

Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Mirimax, later the Weinstein Co., with his brother Bob, is fired from the film production company in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. The Weinstein revelations spur similar allegations against numerous powerful men, leading to the #MeToo movement.

S.I. Newhouse Jr., the billionaire media mogul who ran dozens of magazines and newspapers, dies at 89 in New York. The grandson of Russian immigrants, whose initials stand for Samuel Irving, since 1975 had run the magazine division of Advance Publications, known asConde Nast, which publishes Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

Monty Hall, host of the long-running television game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” dies at 96 in Los Angeles. Born MonteHalperin in Winnipeg, Canada, Hall hosted thousands of episodes of the show over more than two decades.

Leon Wieseltier, the influential Jewish scholar and magazine editor, is fired from the New Republic following revelations of multiple accusations of sexual harassment during his long tenure at the magazine.

 

November 2017

Alex Bregman stars as his Houston Astros win their first World Series championship. The Jewish infielder hits two home runs and in Game 5 becomes the first Jewish player to win a Series game with a walk-off hit. On the losing side, outfielder Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers breaks the record for most homers in a Series by a Jewish player with three, beating the mark of two set by Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in 1934.

The Jewish Federations of North American demands Israel reverse its “divisive and damanging” steps to freeze an agreement on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, warning that ignoring the concerns of non-Orthodox Jews could undermine the Zionist vision. A resolution slamming Israel’s moves on pluralism is adopted by the JFNA board of trustees at its annual General Assembly in L.A.

Israeli actress Gal Gadot is named GQ magazine’s 2017 Woman of the Year. Gadot soared to international celebrity as the star of the blockbuster film “Wonder Woman.”

Actress Natalie Portman is named winner of the 2018 Genesis Prize. The award, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” honors individual Jews of outstanding professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values. The award comes with a $1 million prize.

Far-right marchers in Warsaw, Poland, shout“Jews out”and other racist slogans at an Independence Day march by 60,000 people, constituting one of the largest nationalist gatherings anywhere in Europe.

 

December 2017

President Trump commutes the sentence of Sholom Rabashkin, the former CEO of the kosher meatpacker Agriprocessors, who had been convicted of bank fraud and money laundering. Rabashkin had served eight years of a 27-year sentence.

Sen. Al Franken announces he will resign from Congress following accusations of sexual misconduct by several women.
The Minnesota Democrat had faced increasing calls to step down by leading members of his own party.

Trump signs a proclamation recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and directing the State Department to begin planning for a U.S. Embassy in the city. Soon after, the president signsa waiver delaying the embassy move for another six months.

Billionaire philanthropist Barry Sherman and his wife, Honey, are found murdered in their Toronto-area home. Sherman, chairman of the drug makerApotex, was the 15th richest Canadian with an estimated net worth of over $4 billion Canadian. The Shermans gave tens of millions of dollars to Jewish causes and sat on the boards of several Jewish groups.

A Brooklyn woman and three of her children are killed in a house fire sparked by a Hanukkah menorah. Aliza Azan, 39, and children Moshe, 11, Yitzah, 7, and Henrietta, 3, are buried in Israel. Yosi, three other children and a cousin sustain injuries in the blaze.

 

January 2018

The Reconstructionist movement announces that its rabbinical school and congregational umbrella will change their names to Reconstructing Judaism and the College for Reconstructing Judaism, respectively.

A Pew Research Center poll finds that the split between Democrats and Republicans over Israel is the greatest since 1978. The survey reports that 79 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians.

Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Israel for a two-day visit. Pence delivers a speech to the Knesset, visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and prays privately at the Western Wall.

Singer Neil Diamond announces he will cease touring following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The Jewish singer and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee has 10 No. 1 singles to his credit and starred in the 1980 remake of “The Jazz Singer,” in which he played a synagogue cantor who pursues a pop music career.

Singer Neshama Carlebach speaks out about allegations of sexual misconduct against her father, the late Jewish composer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Longstanding allegations against the elder Carlebach had resurfaced amid the national reckoning with sexual misconduct sparked by the #MeToo movement. “My sisters, I hear you. I cry with you. I walk with you,” Neshama Carlebach writes in a blog post.

Poland’s parliament passes a controversial law that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The law triggers a diplomatic row with Israel, prompting the law’s amendment to remove criminal charges against would-be offenders.

Anti-Semitic incidents reach a record high in Britain and Ukraine.

 

February 2018

Malcolm Hoenlein announces he will step aside as executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after more than three decades at the helm.

The Anti-Defamation League reports a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017. The 1,986 acts recorded in the U.S. that year represents a 57 percent increase over the 1,267 in 2016, representing the largest one-year rise ever. The ADL says the jump is due in part to an increase in people reporting incidents of anti-Semitism.

Iceland and Denmark each draft precedent-setting legislation proposing a ban on nonmedical circumcision of boys under 18. Amid protests and intense lobbying by internationalJewish organizations, politicians from the ruling parties in each country express opposition to both projects.

 

March 2018

The president of the World Jewish Congress issues a rare rebuke of Israeli government policies. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Ronald Lauder excoriates Israeli actions that threaten the two-state solution and enshrine Orthodox control of various aspects of Israeli life, including marriage and organized prayer at the Western Wall.

The heads of 139 Jewish day schools sign an open letter urging Trump and federal and state legislators to take action on gun violence following a deadly shooting at a Florida high school. The letter calls for“common sense legislation that addresses all factors contributing to a safe and secure educational community, including restrictions and safeguards related to guns.”

Tens of thousands of Gaza demonstrators approach the Israeli border in the so-called March of Return, launching months of protests on successive Fridays that turn violent and result in the deaths of some 156 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier shot dead by a sniper. In one protest in May, 62 protesters are killed; Hamas claims 50 as members.

Israel’s actions prompt international outrage, with the U.N. General Assembly condemning Israel for an excessive use of force. GazaPalestinians later turn to sending incendiary airborne objects into Israel, resulting in the destruction of thousands of acres of farmland and natural forest.

Mireille Knol, a Holocaust survivor from Paris, is brutally murdered in her apartment in what authorities say was a robbery where she was selected as a target because she was Jewish. More than 10,000 people march to what was her home in the French capital to protest her alleged murder.

 

April  2018

Dov Hikind, an outspoken New York state assemblyman who has represented Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn for more than three decades, announces his retirement. A former follower of the right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane, Hikind, a conservative Democrat, was first elected in 1983.

Natalie Portman says she won’t attend the Genesis Prize ceremony in Jerusalem because she does not want to appear to endorse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In response, the Genesis Prize Foundation announces it is canceling the award ceremony and the Jewish actress will not get to distribute the prize money to charity, but declines to rescind the honor outright.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, publicly advises Jews to avoid wearing kippahs in some urban settings following the assault of an Arab-Israeli man who is trying to prove to his friend that wearing a yarmulke is safe in Germany.

 

May 2018

In a speech he deems a “history lesson,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says that Jews caused the Holocaust with their “social behavior,” including money- lending, prompting swift condemnation from both liberal and conservative groups in Israel and across the Diaspora.

President Trump declares he will not waive sanctions on Iran, effectively pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Philip Roth, the towering literary figure and legendary chronicler of the American Jewish experience, dies at 85 in New York. An immensely celebrated novelist, Roth won virtually every major literary accolade, including two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and the Man Booker International Prize.

Israel wins the Eurovision song contest, with the song “Toy” by Netta Barzilai securing the victory in the finals in Portugal. “You have brought the State of Israel a lot of pride. Next year in Jerusalem!” Netanyahu writes on Twitter, referencing Israel’s duty as the previous year’s winner to host the 2019 competition. It is Israel’s fourth Eurovision victory.

The United States dedicates its newly established embassy in Jerusalem in a high-profile ceremony attended by Treasury Secretary StevenMnuchin and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The embassy move, mandated by a 1995 law but delayed on national security grounds by successive presidential administrations, is widely condemned by other world leaders.

Shoshana Cardin, the first woman to chair the powerful Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, dies at 91. Cardin, a Baltimore philanthropist, also was the first female president of her city’s federation and the first woman to lead the national umbrella body of Jewish federations.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigns hours after the publication of a report detailing allegations of physical abuse by four women. In a statement, Schneiderman denies he had ever assaulted anyone or engaged in nonconsensual sexual activity.

The foundation created by Holocaust survivor and philanthropist George Soros announces it is closing its operations in Hungary, citing government “repression.” Soros, a native of Hungary, had been the target of a series of actions by the nation’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who had warned that Soros’ advocacy was responsible for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East gaining admission to Europe. Some Jewish critics of the government’s efforts allege that they encouraged anti-Semitism, but leaders of Hungarian Jewry dispute the claim.

Ken Livingstone, a former mayor of London and harsh critic of Israel, resigns from Britian’s Labour Party amid a review of his claims that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism. Livingstone’s membership exposed the party to allegations that it tolerates anti-Semitism under the leadership of its hard-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

 

June 2018

Twenty-six Jewish groups sign a letter calling the U.S. policy of separating children from their migrant parents “unconscionable.” The signatories included three major Jewish religious movements — Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — as well as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, HIAS, Jewish Women’s International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization.

“The Band’s Visit,” a musical based on an Israeli film about an Egyptian band stranded in a hardscrabble Negev town, dominates the 72nd annual Tony Awards, winning 10 awards, including best musical.

An Israeli court convicts a 19-year-old American Israeli of making hundreds of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and schools across the United States. Michael Kadar’s threats in the first three months of 2017 — along with eight made by a St. Louis man — had forced widespread evacuations of American Jewish institutions and sparked fear of resurgent anti-Semitism.

The United States withdraws from the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing the body’s bias against Israel. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says the council is “not worthy of its name” and that the decision to withdraw had come after a “good faith” effort to reform the body had failed.

Czech President Milos Zeman announces that he will work to move his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — the first such public pledge by a European head of state.

 

July 2018

Continued incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza by Palestinian protesters ignite countless fires in Israel, with one of the largest burning in southern Israel’s Kibbutz Or Haner.

Several women accuse Steven M. Cohen, a leading Jewish sociologist, of sexual misconduct, leading him to resign from his position as director at the Berman Jewish Policy Archive. UJA Federation of New York says it will no longer seek his expertise.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travels to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders discuss Syria, Iran, Israel’s security needs — and the 2018 World Cup.

The Knesset passes a surrogacy law in Israel that expands access to surrogates to single women but not single men and gay couples, prompting an LGBTQ group to organize a strike and massive protests in Tel Aviv and across the country.

The Knesset passes a controversial nationality law that cements Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people” and recognizes Hebrew as the sole official language, among other proclamations. The measure prompts anger from Jewish and Arab groups in Israel and Jewish groups in the Diaspora that view the bill as discriminatory.

Israeli police detain a Conservative rabbi in Haifa for performing a non-Orthodox wedding under a 2013 law that deems all weddings performed outside of theharedi Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Dov Haiyun tells JTA that he is disappointed “that this is what’s happening in my country.”

Britain’s Labour Party adopts a definition of anti-Semitism that is laxer than the one used by the country’s executive branch. It prompts the worst crisis yet over anti-Semitism within the party under leader Jeremy Corbyn, triggering a spate of resignations and a senior member of his party calling him an “anti-Semite and a racist.”

(JTA’s Europe correspondent Cnaan Liphshiz and editorial fellow Charles Dunst also contributed to this report.)

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