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Israel

By Joey Rosen

On the plane back from my Year-In-Israel as part of my first year of rabbinical school at HUC-JIR, I had the privilege of sitting next to a man who had participated in a Christian mission trip in Israel. It was a pleasure sharing with him my journey that led me to rabbinical school, a conversation he might have never had before. I also got to enjoy a different perspective on seeing Israel for the first time, as I had no previous knowledge of how a Christian mission trip to Israel works. But before he said ‘God Bless’ and dozed off for the nine hour flight, he made a comment to me about how the Christians of America were cheering for us in our war against the Muslims, who are polluting the land with violence and treachery.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a coalition government after his Likud Party’s resounding victory in the March elections. As positions in the government have been given out to coalition partners, and agreements made about government priorities, we’ve started to get a sense of what this government coalition will mean for Israel. While laws have yet to be passed, political parties—and the Members of Knesset in them—are starting to stake their claims for how they want the government to respond to challenges throughout its term. Here are some of the developments we’ve been watching:

The Reform Movement’s slate for the 2015 World Zionist Congress elections won by a wide margin, according to results released Thursday. The Reform Movement’s ARZA slate won 56 out of the United States’ 145 possible seats (or 39% of the vote), which was more than the second and third place numbers of seats combined.

Ethiopian Israelis staged another protest Wednesday night in the heart of Tel Aviv, blocking the heavily-trafficked Begin Road. Some protestors had been promising violence, and some minor scuffles did break out after 8 p.m. Israeli time, but the protest was much smaller than those at the beginning of last month that saw thousands of Ethiopian Israelis turn out to protest discrimination and police violence.

We’re closing in on just one month from the deadline for a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program, and there’s still much that needs to be figured out before all the parties can reach an agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry will be flying over to Geneva, Switzerland on Saturday to continue talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Amirhossein Zamani-Nia stated that 30% of the work of writing out the technical details of the agreement are yet to be completed, and while there’s a possibility that the negotiations could stretch beyond the end of June, US officials are focusing on finishing by the June 30 deadline.

Early Wednesday, the Vatican used the term “State of Palestine” in an official document, a move that has been strongly criticized by the Israeli government. The Vatican had already recognized the entity after it was granted “non-member observer status” at the United Nations in 2012, but this document marks one of the highest profile occasions in which the “State of Palestine” term has been used. The document comes in advance of an agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinians.

Late last Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the final deals to form his new coalition government. The coalition, which has a bare majority of 61 of the 120 Members of Knesset, comprises five parties: Netanyahu’s Likud (30 seats), ultra-nationalist Habayit Hayehudi (8 seats), ultra-Orthodox Shas (7 seats) and United Torah Judaism (6 seats) and center-right Kulanu (10 seats). Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ, sent a note of congratulations to Prime Minister Netanyahu:

On Thursday, the Senate passed important legislation for the Iran nuclear talks, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (also known as “the Corker bill”), by an overwhelming vote of 98-1. Applauding the vote, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the RAC, released the following statement:

We applaud the passage of a clean Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. The overwhelming support for this important bill makes clear that stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is a bipartisan issue of concern to all Americans.  We call on the House of Representatives to quickly pass the Senate’s version of the bill, so that attention can turn to the issue that really matters: negotiating a deal that ensures that Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons. To that end, we reiterate our call to the Obama administration to remain firm in its commitment to resolve the negotiations successfully on favorable terms.

Over the last week, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest discrimination and unequal treatment by law enforcement against the Ethiopian minority in Israel.

We’re excited to welcome our Consultation on Conscience participants to Washington, D.C. in just over a week! In addition to briefings with public policy decision makers and the Reform Movement’s own social action leaders, we’ll head to Capitol Hill for a lobby day, meeting with Senators and Representatives to lift up our Reform Jewish voices on key policy issues.