Week in Review: Obama’s State of the Union, Scarlett Johansson, Pete Seeger and more!

January, 30 2014

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama reinforced Israel’s status as a Jewish state and a key ally of the United States. “As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there,” Obama said. “To achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel—a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.” The president’s remarks about Israel as a Jewish state echo one of Israel’s key demands in its ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians. This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s chief demand is “recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people,” and called Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as such “the root of the conflict.”

After publicly criticizing Netanyahu’s plan for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett has been asked by the Prime Minister’s Office to apologize. Netanyahu told reporters at the Davos Economic Forum that he would not dismantle any settlements—and that Jews should be given the choice of living under future Palestinian rule in the West Bank if peace talks succeed. Two days later, Bennett responded: “We did not return to the land of Israel after two thousand years of longing to live under the government of Mahmoud Abbas,” adding, “You know why Israelis can’t live under Palestinian rule? Because the Palestinians would kill them.”

Scarlett Johansson announced Wednesday that she is stepping down from her position as one of Oxfam’s global ambassadors after a controversy erupted about her role as a spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli company that manufactures home soda makers in the West Bank.

Legendary folk musician and activist Pete Seeger—perhaps best known for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” during the Civil Rights Movement—died this week at the age of 94. Seeger, who recorded a version of the Hebrew song “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” with The Weavers in 1950, had a complex relationship with Israel, which he visited several times. He was a supporter of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions but, later in life, seemed unsure of his earlier commitment to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

NPR takes a look at the history of Iranian Jews in the United States.

A long-delayed UNESCO exhibition on the history of Jews in Israel is slated to open this June in Paris. The exhibit, “Book, People, Land—the 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People With the Holy Land,” had been postponed after 22 Arab member states of UNESCO said in a letter the exhibit would disrupt peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Conservative groups in Israel are criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu over his son’s alleged relationship with a non-Jewish Norwegian woman. “As the prime minister of Israel and the Jewish people, he must display national responsibility via the values he presents inside his own household,” Nissim Ze’ev, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, told the Jerusalem Post.

Following his recent run-in with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, New York-based Modern Orthodox rabbi Avi Weiss writes in the New York Times that the religious body is “seen and experienced by many Jews in Israel and abroad as an intrusive and coercive religious body.”

From the Archives: Monday was International Holocaust Day. To commemorate the occasion, take a look back at some of Moment’s best stories about the Holocaust. Click here to learn about Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, here for a profile of the Catholic priest on a quest to uncover the mass graves of nearly two million Jews, and here for a retrospective on the life of author Elie Wiesel.


Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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