To mark the close of this century’s terrible teens, The Times of Israel asked its reporters and editors to choose one significant shift in their areas of coverage and explain how this issue may continue to influence their beats in the future.
We received answers as varied as the fields the writers report on, filled with the perspective gained from seeing news played out live on the frontlines.
Ranging from rising anti-Semitic violence in the United States alongside a disunited Jewish community, to an Israeli government in paralysis, to a global environmental crisis, to an Iran ceaselessly seeking to expand its military power in the Middle East, our reporters spoke about what they believe are the decade’s most pressing issues.
All, of course, is not doom and gloom: It was a booming decade for Israeli startups and tech — and one correspondent even shows us how some of that tech is bringing Holocaust eyewitness testimony to the future.
And, going out with a bang, we learn just what’s so Jewish about the super-popular Marvel Universe, as well as how Israeli TV is dominating streaming markets worldwide.
More, and more vicious, anti-Semitism in the Diaspora
Amanda Borschel-Dan, Jewish world editor
As we close the decade with numerous reports of attacks on Jews in New York, it’s clear that violent anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States.
While at the beginning of the decade the Anti-Defamation League reported a drop in anti-Semitic incidents throughout the US, the ADL’s Center on Extremism recently reported that New York City alone has experienced at least 256 anti-Semitic incidents from January 2019 through November — a more than a 17 percent increase from the previous year. This already worrying figure does not include the series of violent attacks that took place in December.
Most media attention is naturally focused on physical violence against Jews, but incidents of verbal violence, especially those that took place on social media, nonetheless have spawned an environment rife with existential distress for many American Jews.
Today, loud and proud US Jews debate whether it is wise to be seen on the streets wearing overtly Jewish symbols such as yarmulkes and Star of David necklaces. Leaders call for more police protection at synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
Is this US Jewry’s new abnormal? After decades of relatively low-burn, hidden anti-Semitism, are American Jews now joining their brethren the world over who have long prayed behind guarded gates?
The biggest question for me, as an observer of Diaspora Jewish life from my home in the Jewish state, is whether this new, in-your-face anti-Semitism in the US will cause the fractious Jewish community there to rally and unite. Or, in an era of trigger-finger smartphone responses, could American Jews themselves become more extreme, more entrenched in their own divergent positions?
As undoubtedly well-intentioned philanthropists create new foundations and new plans of attack to fight the oldest hatred, I wonder: Can the old adage of two Jews, three opinions be put aside — along with some justifiably large egos? Might it be possible for Jewish institutions to become more strategic with their resources and create one platform, one army, one unified front to fight this war on the Jews?
The Jewish people’s history is still being written. Will the next chapter be one of darkness or light?
The Netanyahu years
Raoul Wootliff, political correspondent
Critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have often likened the way he sees himself to the phrase used to describe Louis XIV’s attitude toward the 18th century France he ruled — “L’etat, c’est moi,” meaning, “I am the state.”
For my nine-year old daughter, Yael, and for anyone else born from the year 2010 onward, there is no question. This is Netanyahu’s Israel. For her, and a generation of Israelis who gained political consciousness since he came to power for a second time in 2009, the words “prime minister” and “Benjamin Netanyahu” are intrinsically linked.
For the prime minister’s legion of supporters, the Netanyahu Era is defined by his effective management of a small, embattled country in a volatile region, a series of diplomatic breakthroughs placing the country at the center of world affairs, and Israel’s growing, innovative economy. Netanyahu’s detractors, however, say that over the decade he has demonized political opponents and Israel’s Arab minority by embracing populism, squandered opportunities to reach peace with the Palestinians, and too often put his personal ambitions above the long-term good of the country, even now being poised to rewrite the rules of democracy to save himself from prosecution.
With Israel entering the 20s and Yael starting to interact with democracy in a meaningful way for the first time, she faces a divided and divisive public discourse in a country teetering on the verge of political collapse.
She also faces a country at a potential turning point, which, in the coming weeks and months, will decide whether the next decade will also belong to Netanyahu.
A booming decade for Israeli tech
Shoshanna Solomon, startup editor
The last 10 years have seen the so-called Startup Nation flourishing, with increasing numbers of multinationals taking notice, snapping up Israeli companies and technologies and setting up local R&D centers.
Startup entrepreneurs, once eager to sell their firms to the highest bidder as soon as they could, are now holding out longer and raising more money from venture capital or private equity funds to grow their companies on their own.
The past decade has also seen entrepreneurs who sold their businesses come back to the tech arena to set up other companies, this time equipped with more daring, skills and experience, and train a fresh generation of tech entrepreneurs.
Delegations of company representatives and foreign government officials have been visiting Israel to study its tech ecosystem and see how they can copy the formula, while universities have also hopped on the bandwagon, offering entrepreneurship courses within their ivory towers.
Companies that have been sold to multinationals, like Mobileye, Mellanox Technologies Ltd., and Habana Labs, are preserving their independence within the conglomerates, rather than disappearing inside the larger firms. The decade witnessed Israel’s biggest acquisition deal ever, Mobileye’s sale to Intel.
The boom seems set to continue, with Israel positioning itself as a leader in a number of hot tech fields: cybersecurity, autonomous cars, health technologies, food technologies and artificial intelligence.
Challenges also loom large. A shortage of skilled workers threatens to stall the nation’s chugging tech engine, and startups like AnyVision and NSO Group have been scrutinized and criticized for the use of their products by authoritarian governments to abuse human rights — highlighting the fact that technology, for all its benefits, can also have a very dark side.
Iran tries to expand its grip
Judah Ari Gross, military correspondent
Early on in the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, Iran started what is now nearly a decade-long effort to expand its military presence in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic did this by directly backing dictator Bashar Assad along with Russia and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The attempt to expand continued in the Yemen civil war, which began in 2015, with support for the Houthi rebels, and is picking up in Iran’s neighbor to the west, Iraq, where Tehran controls a number of powerful militias.
Over the decade, Iran has seen some significant accomplishments to this end, with several bases now directly under its control and many more operated by its proxies. These have been used to direct attacks against its enemies in the region — notably Israel, from Syria, and Saudi Arabia, from Yemen.
As a result, over the same period the Israeli Air Force conducted hundreds, if not thousands, of strikes on Iranian-linked targets throughout the region to diminish and deter Iran’s military presence.
Prior to 2010, the security situation with Syria was long seen as calm — save for the bombing of the country’s nascent nuclear reactor in 2007 — and the farther-flung locales of Iraq and Yemen, while not entirely forgotten by Israel, were very different from the pressing issues they are today.
Both Iran’s military support for Shiite militias andl its direct interventions in the region through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force are showing no signs of slowing down and, according to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, may lead to some form of direct conflict between Israel and Iran in the near future.
A nation of immigrants builds fences
Melanie Lidman, social affairs reporter
Israel is a country built on the dreams and backs of immigrants. From the hardworking kibbutzniks of the First Aliyah to the refuseniks who struggled their way out of the Soviet Union, this cultural hodgepodge of a country enshrined immigration as a central tenet of the state’s foundation.
As Israel developed economically in the past 30 years, it has also become a destination for a different type of migrants — ones who are not Jewish but are searching for a better life: thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, agricultural workers from Thailand and health aides from the Philippines and Nepal.
The conservative, anti-foreigner wave sweeping much of the world, embodied in US President Donald Trump’s desired wall, the UK’s vote for Brexit, and others, has washed over Israel as well, worsening the situation for the country’s economic migrants.
Many of the asylum seekers arrived in Israel in the later part of the 2000s and have spent the entire decade of the 2010s in Israel. The same goes for many foreign workers, who came legally but overstayed their visas.
With each election cycle, politicians find the country’s weakest residents, those without legal status, an easy target as they seek to strengthen their position with their base of conservative voters. Even when Netanyahu tried and failed to deport thousands of African asylum seekers, the Interior Ministry announced a fresh wave of deportations of Filipino workers this past summer.
In the coming decade, I fear the country that immigrants built will become even more hostile to immigrants, making the lives of people living on the margins of society even more difficult.
Settlers go from evacuation to annexation
Jacob Magid, settlements correspondent
Just over a decade ago, the settlement movement appeared to be on shaky ground with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert offering to withdraw more or less to Israel’s pre-1967 border in exchange for peace. Ten years have passed and we find ourselves in an entirely different era, which has in many ways been influenced by the permanence of Israeli presence beyond the Green Line along with a far more confident generation of settler leaders as a result.
What certainly intensified this confidence was the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump. It is unlikely that they could have dreamed of an administration more friendly to their cause — from senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose family foundation has given tens of thousands of dollars to Israeli settlements, to Ambassador David Friedman, who previously served as president of the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center.
Not only has Trump refrained from raising a finger against the spike in settlement construction authorization in all parts of the West Bank, but his administration has thrown out the traditional playbook on the issue and announced this year that it no longer even considers settlements to be illegal.
Of course, settler leaders did not wait for Trump before tweaking their own strategy, which includes the formation of master plans for transportation that will fully integrate West Bank roads into the broader Israeli highway system, as well as passing legislation to regulate thousands of homes which for decades have remained in legal limbo.
Now, when Israeli leaders discuss the settlement movement, it is in the context of formalizing its permanence through annexation, rather than scaling it back through evacuation.
A missed opportunity for the environment
Sue Surkes, environment reporter
With politics so focused on Greater Israel, Iran and its proxies — not to mention corruption cases — in the past 10 years Knesset members have failed stupendously to internalize the importance of climate change and to prepare for it, in a region where temperatures are expected to soar 2 degrees Celsius (3.6° F) above averages for the rest of the world.
While Europe pledged earlier this month to aim for carbon neutrality by 2050, sunny Israel, which currently produces just seven percent of its energy from renewable sources such as solar power, is putting most of its eggs into the basket of natural gas — a fossil fuel, albeit a cleaner one than coal — while also still encouraging oil exploration.
Tiny Israel may not have an impact on global warming, but its outdated focus on fossil fuels condemns its populace to continuing pollution.
The Environmental Protection Ministry is underfunded, understaffed and unable — or unwilling — to stand up to the powerful Energy Ministry.
And neither the government nor the Energy Ministry will confront the small number of big industrialists who control the country’s natural resources.
But the public, environmentally unaware until recently, is starting to become concerned — and therein lies the hope for pressure on the politicians in the decade to come.
Jews mold modern mythology
Jordan Hoffman, film and television critic
There are two major stories from the world of entertainment this decade. The biggest is how streaming platforms have steamrolled over physical media (not necessarily a bad thing) and irrevocably altered theatrical exhibition for motion pictures (possibly a bad thing). While the ripple effect hasn’t fully made itself clear, the diversity of options and ease of access feels like a miracle to consumers old enough to remember waiting years for movies to show up on TV, cropped and with commercials. This isn’t a “Jewish” story per se — though there no doubt is plenty of Israeli tech under Netflix’s hood — but it becomes one when we get into just what we watched for the last 10 years.
It’s either a point of pride or a source of sheepish embarrassment, but the most ubiquitous storytelling idiom of the 2010s were superhero movies, specifically those derived from Marvel or DC Comics. Wrapped in science fiction or fantasy tropes, these are ultimately simple morality stories, “modern mythology” rooted in relatable or aspirational characters, almost all of which emerged from the last century and, important to our conversation, mostly created by Jews.
“Avengers: Endgame” is the biggest money-making motion picture of all time. The gargantuan team-up capping the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe arc is wall-to-wall Jews.
Sure, one can quibble over which character is canonically Jewish (Peter Parker is surely coded that way, even if his name is quite goyish), but what makes a superhero anyway? An outsider to society with a secret identity, a source of power that provides inexplicable gifts that can be a light unto the nations if used properly? I don’t need a rabbinical footnote to explain that.
Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Chris Claremont, Len Wein and so many other Jewish creators, some of whom first got into comics because it was a “low” art form and therefore the only one that would have them, are the primary architects of our current pop culture, even if they are not directly involved in the current slate of movies. It’s a success that shows no sign of abating as we enter the next decade.
Holocaust memory leaps into the future
Matt Lebovic, Jewish world correspondent
Increasingly, face-to-face encounters with Holocaust survivors are being replaced with “virtual” interactions. From recreating evidence presented during the Nuremberg Trials to a “walk-through” of Auschwitz-Birkenau, virtual reality (VR) designers are seeking to connect adolescents to the Holocaust by using the latest gaming technology.
While some museums already display “interactive Holocaust survivor holograms,” designers are creating simulations based on “experiencing” — for example — the conditions inside a barracks at Auschwitz, or the process of digging mass graves as a forced laborer. Not all projects have met with positive responses, and a new crop of VR-based simulations (such as “AuschwitzVR”) are attempting to learn from past mistakes.
Although the US Shoah Foundation captured the testimony of many thousands of survivors on video, there has not been much done with those interviews.
Soon, Holocaust educators will no longer be able to rely on encounters with a survivor to convey a sense of immediacy and intimacy. Simultaneously, VR designers will find new ways to incorporate primary sources into their increasingly realistic simulations.
In the PA, is the only solution a two-state solution?
Adam Rasgon, Palestinian affairs correspondent
One thing that has remained largely constant over the past decade is the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership’s support for the two-state solution. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has consistently, and often vehemently, backed the formula in speeches and statements, and many of his advisers have echoed him.
The Palestinian public, however, has seen slight, then substantial, changes in its support for the two-state model. In December 2012, 52% of Palestinians said they support the solution; in March 2015, 51% said they back it; and in April 2018 that number went down to 48%, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), a prominent polling and research center in Ramallah.
More recently, especially following US President Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House, the Palestinian public’s backing of the two-state solution has taken an even deeper nosedive. Support in September 2018 stood at 47%; in December 2018 the number had sunk to 43%. In December 2019, 42% said they want two states, according to PCPSR.
Abbas, an octogenarian who has frequently expressed support for negotiations and nonviolence, likely will remain a strong proponent of the two-state solution. But, with waning public backing for the paradigm, his successor or successors may be less emphatic about it.
In the coming decade, observers and policymakers will almost certainly continue to follow the Palestinian public’s support for the two-state solution. A major question will be whether Palestinian attitudes change if a new US president is elected in 2020.
The decade in Israeli TV
Jessica Steinberg, culture and lifestyle Editor
When I began covering culture and lifestyle for The Times of Israel at its inception in 2012, I learned to say that I cover all the fun stuff, which can include music, dance, theater, food, travel and film. Now, as we head into 2020, I’d put film and television at the very front of the list, with food as a close second.
In 2012, “Homeland,” remade from Israel’s “Hatufim,” was already on its second season in the US. In fact, a look back at my archives shows one of my first stories from January 2012 was about the Israeli TV show “The Prime Minister’s Children,” written by Yitzhak Rabin’s granddaughter, Noa Rothman, and screened on HOT. My next was about “Srugim,” the wildly successful TV show about religiously observant Israelis in Jerusalem, which had just broadcast its final episode of its third and final season 3.
That March, Joseph Cedar’s film “Footnote” was up for an Oscar for best foreign language film and “Avoda Aravit,” or “Arab Labor,” Sayed Kashua’s tongue-in-cheek comedy about his life as a reporter for a Jewish newspaper, swept the local TV awards ceremony.
It’s been a heady decade for Israeli television, with shows getting plucked for Netflix (a process that began in 2013) and Amazon Prime, and winning the hearts of local and international audiences.
All of these sabra screen successes — among them “Fauda,” (created by Times of Israel correspondent Avi Issacharoff), “When Heroes Fly,” “Shtisel” and “Shababnikim” — tell of people and places whose stories resonate far beyond these borders.