2019-01-02 / Home

The top 10 Jewish stories of 2018—plus 1

By SAM SOKOL JTA


These 11 worshippers were killed in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting on Oct. 27. JTA collage. These 11 worshippers were killed in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting on Oct. 27. JTA collage. The year 2018 was a hectic and often bewildering one for the global Jewish community. From the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the past 12 months brought surprises and shocks, and in ways that often divided Jewish opinion.

Here are the stories of 2018 with perhaps the longest-lasting repercussions.

THE PITTSBURGH SHOOTING

On Oct. 27, gunman Robert Bowers walked into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue during morning Shabbat services and opened fire. Shouting “All these Jews need to die,” he sprayed the sanctuary with bullets, killing 11 worshippers and injuring six. It was the worst attack on a Jewish community in U.S. history and was seen as part of a wave of anti-Semitic incidents that shook American Jews.

THE U.S. EMBASSY MOVE

In May, the Trump administration officially moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, designating the already existing consulate in Israel’s self-declared capital as the official seat of American representation in Israel. President Donald Trump had already recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, setting the United States apart from the international community.

Since Trump’s recognition, Russia and Australia have recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while Honduras, Brazil and the Czech Republic were among the nations to indicate interest in moving their respective embassies.

THE PARKLAND SHOOTING

Another shooting that shook America was the Feb. 14 killing of 17 students and staffers at a high school in Parkland, Florida. While not an anti- Semitic attack, five of the victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High were Jewish and gunman Nikolas Cruz had previously posted online about his hatred of “jews, ni**ers [and] immigrants.”

Among the teenage survivors taking a leading role in advocating for more stringent restrictions on firearms ownership was a Jewish student, Ryan Deitsch. Fred Guttenberg and Andrew Pollack, Jewish dads who each lost a daughter in the attack, have taken opposing views in the debate, each becoming a symbol for their respective side.

MICHAEL COHEN TURNS ON TRUMP

Michael Cohen once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump—but stuff happens. The president’s longtime personal attorney turned on his former client this year, testifying in federal court that Trump had directed him to pay off two women with whom he allegedly had extramarital affairs. Cohen’s assertion that Trump ordered the payments is seen as creating legal and political jeopardy for the president.

According to reports, the attorney’s decision to turn on his one-time patron was partly motivated by a conversation with his father, a Holocaust survivor. Maurice Cohen reportedly told his son that he did not survive the Nazi genocide to have the family name dragged through the mud by Trump.

JEWISH DEMOCRATS RIDE THE BLUE WAVE

The 2018 midterm congressional elections saw the fortunes of several Jewish Democrats rise as a blue wave swept the House. More than three quarters of American Jews cast their ballots for Democratic candidates, compared to only 19 percent who supported the Republicans. Jews figured disproportionately in Democratic upsets. Eight Jewish candidates entered the House, Jews won governorships in Illinois and Colorado, and Jacky Rosen won her Senate race in Nevada—all are Democrats.

The next House of Representatives will have 28 Jews, and there will be nine Jewish senators.

ANTI-SEMITISM ALLEGATIONS ROIL THE WOMEN’S MARCH

This was a tough year for the Women’s March, an organization founded in the wake of President Trump’s 2016 electoral victory to fight for women’s issues and against the new administration. While it initially galvanized millions of women, two years on the national organization is in disarray.

And for Jewish women there is an added layer of anguish: Top leaders of the main organization have been accused of engaging in or condoning anti-Semitism, and failing to heed the concerns of its thousands of Jewish backers.

The controversy surrounding the march arose from organizer Tamika Mallory’s ties to anti- Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour, meanwhile, earned widespread Jewish ire for her comments that American Jewish liberals are putting their support for Israel ahead of their commitment to democracy.

NATALIE PORTMAN SNUBS NETANYAHU

A-list American actress Natalie Portman made waves in Israel this April when she announced that she would not attend a prize ceremony in Israel because of her feelings about its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and “atrocities” committed on his watch. In the wake of her decision, the Genesis Prize Foundation said it would distribute the $2-million for the so-called Jewish Nobel to women’s rights groups as Portman intended.

A DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE SPARKS A DEBATE ON JEWISH IDENTITY

Julia Salazar, a progressive candidate for a State Senate seat in New York, prompted a heated debate over the nature of Jewish identity this year after journalists suggested that she had embellished her claims to Jewish roots. Family members denied that the Latina candidate had such roots and reports cast doubt on her claims to have converted to Judaism while at Columbia University, while a number of friends from her college days vouched for her Jewishness. Salazar won her election, but the debate over who gets to claim Jewish peoplehood— and who gets to be Judaism’s “gatekeeper”— remained unresolved.

THE DEMONIZATION OF GEORGE SOROS

A Holocaust survivor who struck it rich in the United States and went on to fund democratization projects around the globe, George Soros has long been a bugbear of the far right and the subject of debunked conspiracy theories alleging that he had collaborated with the Nazis as a child. President Viktor Orban of Hungary ran a public campaign demonizing Soros that many considered obliquely anti-Semitic.

The rhetoric appeared to have an effect on at least one extremist—in late October, a bomb was found in the mailbox of Soros’ New York home.

JARED AND IVANKA ON THE HOT SEAT

Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and a senior White House aide, had a busy year fighting allegations of overly chummy relations with the Saudis (the crown prince is reported to have bragged that he had Kushner “in his pocket”); and having his security clearance downgraded from top secret to secret. Kushner ended the year on a high note when he proved instrumental in helping pass much-needed criminal justice reform.

Ivanka Trump elicited harsh criticism in the media, both Jewish and general, after it emerged that the president’s daughter had used personal email for government business, despite her father’s repeated calls for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be jailed for the same offense.

JEREMY CORBYN’S “EXISTENTIAL THREAT” TO BRITISH JEWRY

Britain’s three Jewish newspapers, usually vigorous competitors, united in publishing a front-page editorial warning of the “existential threat” to British Jewry that a government led by the far-left Corbyn would pose.

Over the course of 2018, it emerged that Corbyn had laid a wreath at the graves of Palestinian terrorists; accused the BBC of having “a bias towards saying that Israel…has a right to exist;” met with a terrorist group’s leader several weeks before his men carried out a deadly attack in Jerusalem; and said that “Zionists” don’t understand British culture. Britain’s former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, labeled Corbyn an “anti-Semite” and warned that Jews are making plans to leave Britain over fears of an anti- Semitic backlash precipitated by him. 

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