The Year That Was
Fri, 01/14/2011
Staff Writer

 JANUARY

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces the construction of a border fence with Egypt to help prevent illegal immigration, saying that illegal immigration is a huge threat to Israel’s economic and social livelihood.


President Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union address. Many Jewish groups are upset over his lack of specifics on health care and the threat of Iran.

After a devastating earthquake in Haiti, Jewish nonprofits mobilize to provide aid. Israeli volunteers, officials, nongovernment organizations and industries maintain a long-term presence in Haiti to help with rebuilding and relief efforts.

Uganda proposes legislation outlawing homosexuality, prompting the American Jewish World Service to mobilize against the bill.

FEBRUARY

In a speech at the University of California, Irvine, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, is interrupted continually by protesters and ultimately forced to prematurely conclude his remarks. The school eventually recommends a one-year suspension for its Muslim Student Association, which is named as the group behind the heckling. In between, at a three-hour meeting in March of the University of California Board of Regents, hundreds show up to decry the recent spate of racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic violence plaguing University of California campuses from Davis to San Diego; UC President Mark Yudof calls the unrest “the worst incidents of racism and intolerance I’ve witnessed in 20 years.”

Due to Israel’s stringent standards for competing, Israel sends just three of its athletes to the Olympic Winter Games — its smallest delegation in 12 years. At the Vancouver Games, a U.S. Jewish ice dancer, Charlie White, teams with Meryl Davis to win a silver medal.


The assassination of a Hamas operative at a Dubai hotel by agents thought to be from Israel and bearing forged passports from European Union countries and others friendly with Israel prompts outrage among many of Israel’s friends and results in the expulsion of Israeli diplomatic personnel from a variety of countries.

MARCH

Israel’s half-century jinx at the Oscars continues when “Ajami,” a gritty film about the Jewish-Arab tensions in the mixed quarter of Jaffa, loses out for best foreign language film. Three Jewish-themed films vying for the best picture nod — “Inglourious Basterds,” “A Serious Man” and “An Education”— also are passed over. Christoph Waltz takes the Oscar for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Hans Landa, aka “The Jew Hunter,” in “Inglourious Basterds.”

On the day of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel for talks, Israel announces plans for 1,600 new housing units in eastern Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the announcement takes him by surprise as well and he offers an apology — which Biden accepts, but other U.S. officials continue to press the issue.


With tensions still high over the Jerusalem building flap, AIPAC speakers at the organization’s annual policy conference call on the Obama administration to keep disagreements with Israel behind closed doors — an approach rejected in an otherwise friendly speech by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


President Obama’s massive overhaul of the U.S. health care system draws praise from most Jewish groups.

New Supreme Court Justice and Upper West Sider Elana Kagan with Chief Justice John Roberts. getty images

APRIL

A plane crash in Russia kills Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 96 other members of the Polish elite. Amid weeks of condolences and reflections sent by heads of state, including Israeli President Shimon Peres, many reflect on Kaczynski’s positive impact on Polish-Jewish relations.


Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak and wrestler Bill Goldberg are among seven prominent Jewish sports figures inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.


The volcanic ash cloud over Iceland effects 6.8 million passengers, including 48,000 people stranded traveling between Europe and Israel. British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks found himself stuck in New York.

MAY

The Israeli author Amos Oz is the first recipient of a new literary prize awarded at the 2010 International Book Fair in Turin.


President Obama announces the nomination of solicitor general Elena Kagan to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Her confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August marks the first time that three women and three Jewish members serve on the high court at the same time.

Indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians begin.

The poster for the Oscar-nominated film “Ajami,” co-directed by an Israeli and a Palestinian.

JUNE

Kosher meatpacking executive Sholom Rubashkin is sentenced to 27 years in a federal prison for his conviction on federal financial fraud charges. Earlier in the month, Rubashkin was acquitted on 67 counts of child labor violations.


Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the longtime leader of the Reform synagogue movement, announces that he will be stepping down in two years.


Nine Turkish passengers on board a flotilla of ships seeking to break the international blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza are killed after attacks on Israeli soldiers who boarded the ships. An estimated 36 additional rioters, as well as seven Israeli soldiers, are injured in the confrontation. Many political, religious and cultural leaders worldwide condemn Israel’s actions, but Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups defend the raid as a legitimate attempt to thwart Hamas.


Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas says that Jews living in Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine.” Thomas later issues an apology and resigns.


The UN Security Council passes new and stronger sanctions against Iran, with 12 of its 15 members voting in support. The new sanctions package isolates the regime until the country’s nuclear development becomes more transparent. AIPAC applauds the sanctions and urges organizations such as the European Union to adopt similar policies.

The Israeli Supreme Court’s decision that segregationist practices against Sephardic girls in a haredi Orthodox school are discriminatory adds to the tension between secular and religious Jews.

JULY

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the White House, capping months of tensions between the two administrations over settlements and the timing of construction in eastern Jerusalem. Meant to heal the rift, the meeting is reported by both sides as overwhelmingly positive.


Israeli Knesset member David Rotem introduces a conversion bill that would consolidate ultimate authority over conversions in the office of the Chief Rabbinate. Diaspora Jewish leaders from the North American federation umbrella group and the Conservative and Reform movements say the measure would be disastrous for the unity of the Jewish people and could disqualify converts from the Diaspora as Jews or render them ineligible to make aliyah. Netanyahu concurs, and a deal is reached to postpone any vote on the bill for at least six months.


In one of the most-watched interfaith marriages ever, Chelsea Clinton marries Marc Mezvinsky, a Jewish hedge-fund trader, in a ceremony that includes a chupah and ketubah, as well as the Jewish tradition of the breaking of the glass. A minister and rabbi co-officiate. The groom wears a tallit and kipa.

Helen Thomas, the former White House correspondent for UPI, made disparaging comments about Jews. getty images

 

AUGUST

Thirteen Jews are among the 40 mega-philanthropists to sign the Giving Pledge — a program by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get the super-rich to give away more than half their wealth during their lifetimes.


A brouhaha erupts over plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in lower Manhattan. As protesters and counter-protesters take to the streets and to the airwaves — alternately describing the imam behind the center as a model moderate or a potential fellow traveler of terrorists — Jews come down on both sides of the issue. The Anti-Defamation League raises eyebrows by calling on the center’s leaders to relocate the mosque even as the organization affirms the Muslims’ right to build near Ground Zero.


President Obama organizes a summit meeting in Washington with Israel’s prime minister and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt to kick-start a one-year program of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Ahead of the White House summit scheduled for Sept. 1, the contours of the talks remain vague.

SEPTEMBER

Despite pressure from the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority, Israel allows its 10-month moratorium on building settlements beyond the Green Line to expire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking to placate right-wing members of his coalition, pledges that Jews will continue to be able to live — and build — in any part of Jerusalem.

OCTOBER

Israel draws criticism following the decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet to require non-Jewish candidates for citizenship to pledge allegiance to the country as a Jewish state. While the pledge is symbolic and affects only the small number of Palestinians who apply for Israeli citizenship after marrying Israeli Arabs, it is seen in some circles as a strike against the nature of democracy in Israel.

A National Museum of American Jewish History opens on Independence Mall in Philadelphia after a $150 million fund-raising campaign. The five-story building is the most prominent new Jewish museum in the country since the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in lower Manhattan.

NOVEMEBER

After an 11-month federal investigation, 17 Brooklyn residents are arrested on charges that they bilked the Claims Conference, which administers reparations payments to Holocaust survivors, out of $42.5 million. The alleged fraud included pensions paid to survivors from Germany, as well as payments from the former Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries.

DECEMBER

The largest forest fire in Israeli history destroys more than 12,500 acres in the northern part of the country, in the Haifa area. The most-recent death count: 44 people. And more than 250 homes were damaged or destroyed. Despite fears that the blaze was an act of terrorism, Israeli police called it an accident, caused by a careless teenager in the woods. Several nations, including Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Germany and the United States send personnel and fire-fighting equipment to aid Israel.

Dozens of Israeli rabbis, including several municipal chief rabbis, rule that it is forbidden for Jews in Israel to sell or rent homes to gentiles, especially Arabs, to avoid non-Jewish values and the chance of socializing with non-Jews. The rabbis’ declaration brings criticism from a wide range of people, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hundreds of rabbis in the Diaspora.

During a continued impasse in Middle East negotiations, and following the decision by the United States to stop pressuring Israel for a freeze of expanding Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority reintroduces an old proposal: to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state. The threat, which would preclude a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, receives little enthusiasm outside a few South American governments.

Moshe Katsav, the president of Israel who resigned his figurehead position in 2007 because of rape and sexual harassment charges, is convicted on two rape charges. The rape case stemmed from when he earlier served as minister of tourism. The 65-year-old native of Iran, who came to Israel as a child in 1951, had been active in Likud politics, and served as mayor of Kiryat Malachi and a Knesset member. The father of five children, he faces at least four years in prison.