JTA — The past year was not a quiet one, to say the least.
From the tumultuous first year of Donald Trump’s presidency to a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers to the flood of high-profile sexual harassment allegations, Jews — like so many others — found it hard to take their eyes off the news in the past 12 months.
As 2017 draws to a close, JTA looks back at some of the moments that had the most significance for Jews, sorted below by date.
Trump takes office, bringing Ivanka and Jared with him
Trump took office in January following his unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in November, pledging in his inaugural address to put “America first.” The use of the slogan — also the name of an isolationist and often anti-Semitic movement leading up to World War II — alarmed some Jews, but Trump said the phrase had no connection to the earlier usage. Trump brought with him a cadre of Jewish advisers, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. The couple, both of whom are observant Jews, would take on critical roles in the administration as senior advisers to the president, with Kushner in charge of a thick portfolio that included brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
North American JCCs targeted with more than 100 bomb threats
From January to March, Jewish community centers, Jewish schools and other institutions were hit with more than 100 bomb threats. None of the threats, many of which were called in, turned out to be credible, but they forced evacuations and spread fear among local communities. Several Jewish cemeteries were also vandalized, prompting some to blame the threats on the rise of the “alt-right” — a movement, some said, that was legitimized following Trump’s election. However, neither of the two men arrested for making the threats turned out to be motivated by far-right beliefs. One of the accused, Juan Thompson, was arrested for making bomb threats against eight Jewish institutions in the name of an ex-girlfriend in a revenge plot. The main suspect, however, turned out to be an Israeli-American Jew, Michael Kadar of Ashkelon, who was arrested for making hundreds of threats. Kadar, 18 at the time of his arrest, reportedly sold his bomb threat services online and, according to his lawyers, suffers from a brain tumor.
Trump shouts down reporters’ questions about rising anti-Semitism
In February, the president shouted at two journalists who asked him about an increase in anti-Jewish sentiments and incidents, and said he “hates” being called an anti-Semite, although neither reporter called him one. After asking for a “friendly” reporter, Trump interrupted a question by a haredi Orthodox journalist — the president accused the journalist of lying about his intentions — and claimed to be the “least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life.” Trump’s response drew criticism from Jewish groups, many of which had already criticized him a month earlier for releasing a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that notably did not mention Jews. His defenders said the president’s critics were politically motivated.
On his first overseas trip, Trump visits Israel
Trump paid a visit to the Jewish state in May on his first overseas trip as president, which also included stops in Italy and Saudi Arabia. The two-day trip featured a stop at Yad Vashem and meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Trump, accompanied by Ivanka Trump and Kushner, also stopped at the Western Wall for a private visit, making him the first sitting US president to visit the holy site and earning him high praise across Israel. A few months after the visit, Trump dispatched a team of top aides, including Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Dina Powell, to visit Israel and other Middle Eastern countries in an attempt to revive peace talks.
Israel freezes pluralistic Western Wall agreement
A June decision by Netanyahu’s Cabinet to put on hold the establishment of an egalitarian section of the Western Wall drew the ire of American Jewish leaders. Some leaders, also angered by the advancement of a bill to give the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate complete control of conversions performed in Israel, warned of a growing schism between American Jews and Israel. (The decision negated a deal that had been struck in 2016.) Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, also joined critics of the decision, saying it “will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.” In August, the Israeli Supreme Court said the government must either reinstate the agreement or provide an explanation as to why it had put a hold on it.
Chicago Dyke March bans women for carrying flags with Jewish stars
In June, a Chicago lesbian march ejected three women for carrying gay pride flags adorned with Jewish stars, saying the march was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.” The move generated a heated debate, and the Jewish reporter who first wrote about the incident for a Chicago LGBTQ newspaper said she was removed from her reporting job as a result of the article. The Dyke March controversy — as well as similar debates about the role of Zionists in the feminist movement and whether demonstrators could bring banners with Jewish stars to a Chicago feminist march — illuminated a growing challenge for Zionist Jews who feel unwelcome in liberal spaces.
Neo-Nazis rally in Charlottesville
Neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in a Virginia park in August to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and “unite the right.” The far-right protesters chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, including “Jews will not replace us,” and brawled with counterprotesters. One counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a suspected white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd. Trump waffled on condemning the protest, calling out neo-Nazis and white supremacists in one remark, but blaming both sides for the violence at other times, saying there were “some very fine people” in both camps. Jewish groups, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and the president’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, criticized Trump for his response, saying he was not doing his part to condemn hate.
Hurricane Harvey floods Houston
Homes were flooded and lives were turned upside down as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August, forcing mass evacuations across the state. Over 70 percent of the city’s Jews live in areas that experienced high flooding, and synagogues, schools and other Jewish community buildings sustained significant damage. Recovery from the hurricane is expected to take years, but the disaster also served as a rallying point for for the community, as Jewish groups came together to distribute donations and local Jewish camps offered housing to those with nowhere to go.
Allegations against Weinstein open floodgates of assault accusations
In October, The New York Times and The New Yorker published articles containing allegations by more than a dozen women that Jewish Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them. That report led to Weinstein’s firing and prompted a flood of other allegations against him and other prominent men in the worlds of entertainment, politics and media. Newspapers around the country published accounts of sexual harassment and assault, and social media users shared their experiences using the hashtag #MeToo. Prominent Jews were among the accused, including Sen. Al Franken, director and writer James Toback, former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, producer Brett Ratner and actor Jeffrey Tambor. The Conservative Jewish youth movement, USY, also grappled with allegations against former staff members. The allegations ignited conversations in Jewish homes around the country, as well as in Israel, where women had been sharing similar stories for years.
Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
The president reversed decades of US policy when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying he would eventually move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv. The decision earned Trump praise from the Jewish state, most Jewish organizations and American evangelicals — but the rest of the world was less enthusiastic. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would refuse to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during an upcoming visit to the region and that he would no longer accept the US involvement in peace negotiations. The US vetoed a resolution at the United Nations Security Council — supported by all other 14 member states — to force Trump to rescind his decision. Days later the UN General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting any recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with 128 votes in favor, 9 against and 35 abstentions.
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