The Jewish year in review: #MeToo, the embassy move and a growing gap between Israel and the Diaspora


JTA – For North 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, North 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.


March 2018

Two senior Jewish members of the Trump administration – Gary Cohen and David Shulkin – leave their posts. Cohen resigns as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. He  reportedly had been considering leaving the previous year following President Trump’s equivocal response to the violence surrounding a white supremacist rally in Virginia. Shulkin is fired as Veterans Affairs secretary after becoming embroiled in scandals, including overspending on travel and infighting with senior White House officials.

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 Canadian House of Commons unanimously passes legislation establishing the month of May as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. The bill had previously passed the Senate.

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. Gaza Palestinians 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

B’nai Brith Canada reports a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. Its annual audit shows 1,752 incidents of harassment, vandalism and violence, which is a 1.4 percent increase over the 1,728 from the previous year. The vast majority take place in Ontario and Quebec, the nation’s two largest provinces.

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. Hikind did not give a reason for his retirement.

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 the group 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. Israel had been pressing Trump to withdraw from the agreement, which trades the removal of economic sanctions for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Germany, France and the United Kingdom all urge Trump to remain in the deal.

Bernard Lewis, a leading scholar of Islam and the Middle East, dies in New Jersey at 101. A professor emeritus at Princeton University, Lewis was an expert in the history of Islam and his views were admired by architects of the 2003 Iraq invasion. Lewis was the author of 30 books and hundreds of articles.

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.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens resigns after facing months of scandal stemming from an extramarital affair and other alleged misdeeds. A former Navy SEAL and the state’s first Jewish governor, Greitens had been considered a rising star in the Republican Party.

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 Steven Mnuchin 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.

Rabbi Aaron Panken, the president of the Reform movement’s rabbinical seminary, dies while piloting a small aircraft in upstate New York. Panken, a licensed commercial pilot, was 53 and had led the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion since 2014.

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 Britain’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. The play also takes home trophies for best actor in a musical, best direction of a musical and best original score.

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 is convicted on several counts, including extortion, conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering and assaulting a police officer. 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 condemns all weddings performed outside of the haredi 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.)