A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

ADL reports spike in anti-Semitism since 2016


Anti-Semitic acts have become significantly more widespread in the United States since the beginning of last year, nearly doubling in the first quarter of 2017, according to a national report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The U.S. saw a 34 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, with an additional 86 percent increase in the first three months of this year, according to the ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released on April 24. The audit shows a year-over-year comparison of harassment, vandalism and assault linked to Jew-hatred.

In addition to the national report, the ADL released a companion report for incidents in its Pacific Southwest region, which includes Los Angeles. In California, the audit noted 211 incidents of anti-Semitism in 2016, up 21 percent from 2015.

The reports come on the heels of a pair of polls conducted by the ADL, published earlier this month, that found 14 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

CR_XXXX_2016-17 Audit-graphics_Q1_v3Amanda Susskind, Pacific Southwest regional director for the ADL, noted a number of alarming trends in the audit, some of which she said likely are tied to the national political environment and the November election of President Donald Trump.

“We believe the 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere may have played a role in some of the increase,” she told the Journal.

Though the reports provide only a rough assessment of anti-Semitic acts, Susskind pointed to some causes for concern, namely, the proliferation of swastikas as a hate symbol and, among youth, “a feeling of freedom to express themselves verbally in hateful ways.”

The regional audit notes a Riverside County elementary school vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “Burn Jews,” and an Indio high school student who wore a Nazi uniform to high school for Halloween.

Susskind said the president’s failure to appropriately check his supporters who express virulently anti-Semitic views helped create a permissive atmosphere for hateful speech.

“I have no doubt that it trickled down into the mainstream and ultimately into the school yards and playgrounds, where kids are starting to become more loose-lipped,” Susskind said.

Nationally, the ADL reported “a doubling in the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”

“Seeing [anti-Semitism] in K-12 is pretty disturbing,” Susskind said. “Not that it’s not disturbing in college, but it’s newly disturbing to us this year.”

As for the swastikas, she said, “I hope it’s an anomaly.”

She noted an “extraordinarily large” number of incidents where swastikas were etched into cars, presumably owned by Jews. The regional report makes note of swastikas scratched into cars in heavily Jewish neighborhoods, including Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills.

The national audit makes particular note of an uptick in anti-Semitic activity since the presidential election. Of the 1,266 acts included in the report “targeting Jews and Jewish institutions” in 2016, almost 30 percent of them occurred in November and December.

During the first three months of 2017, there were 541 incidents, far more than the 291 reported during the same time period the previous year. The 2017 count includes a national wave of phony bomb threats against Jewish institutions.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016, and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release.

Susskind was careful to indicate that the incidents in the audit represent only those reported to the ADL or that ADL staffers read about and followed up on, and also that the information was anecdotal rather than scientific.

Moreover, she said there are other arenas where anti-Semitism is entrenched that are not included in the reports.

Susskind said the ADL continues to monitor cyberhate, for instance, which has not abated since the election. She said haters are emboldened when the White House fails to condemn acts of anti-Semitism quickly and strongly.

“There’s a failure of leadership consistently, and in that vacuum, hate rushes in,” she said.

100 anti-Semitic incidents reported in US post-election, watchdog finds


One hundred anti-Semitic incidents occurred in the 10 days following the presidential election, representing about 12 percent of hate incidents in the U.S. recorded by a civil rights watchdog.

The report released Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center looked at 867 hate incidents that occurred in the 10 days following the election of Donald Trump. The incidents targeted various minority groups, including Jews, immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and the LGBT community. Incidents counted had been submitted through the watchdog’s website or reported in the media.

Of the 100 incidents classified as anti-Semitic, 80 were “vandalism and graffiti incidents of swastikas, without specific references to Jews,” while others targeted Jews more overtly, such as the harassment of  individuals or vandalism of a synagogue, the report said. Many of the vandalism incidents included references to Trump, the nonprofit said.

The report referred to an attack prior to the election on a historically black church in Mississippi as “a harbinger of what has become a national outbreak of hate, as white supremacists celebrate Donald Trump’s victory.”

JTA has reported on anti-Semitic incidents following the election, including acts of vandalism featuring swastikas and Trump-related themes left in public areas as well as on the homes of Jewish individuals.

Earlier this month, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, said anti-Jewish public and political discourse in America is worse than at any point since the 1930s.

The election season saw the rise of the “alt-right,” a loose far-right movement whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”

Many alt-right members, including prominent white nationalists, have been vocal in their support for Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. and likened Mexican immigrants to rapists.

The president-elect said last week that he did not want to “energize” white supremacists and denounced an alt-right conference in Washington, D.C., where speakers railed against Jews and several audience members did Hitler salutes.

The Southern Poverty Law Center report said that the 867 incidents “almost certainly represent a small fraction of the actual number of election-related hate incidents,” citing a Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate that two-thirds of hate crimes are not reported to the police.

The document also noted that 23 of the incidents reported were anti-Trump, including harassment of supporters of the president-elect.

Anti-Semitic incidents on US college campuses doubled in 2015, ADL reports


Anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses nearly doubled in 2015, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

In addition, the number of anti-Semitic assaults across the country increased by more than 60 percent, according to the audit of such incidents released Wednesday.

A total of 90 incidents were reported on 60 college campuses last year, compared with 47 incidents on 43 campuses in 2014. Campus anti-Semitic incidents accounted for 10 percent of the total.

 

In one incident in January, swastikas were spray-painted on the exterior wall of a Jewish fraternity at the University of California, Davis on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz from the Nazis.

In another in November, students chanted anti-Semitic slogans at a protest at City University of New York’s Hunter College in Manhattan after organizers on Facebook called for participants to oppose the school’s “Zionist administration.” Protesters, who ostensibly gathered to fight for free tuition and other benefits, shouted, “Zionists out of CUNY! Zionists out of CUNY!”

The ADL audit recorded a total of 941 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2015, an increase of 3 percent over the previous year.

Fifty-six of the incidents were assaults, the most violent category recorded in the audit, up from the 36 reported in 2014.

The incidents of assault included attacks on visibly Jewish men as they returned home from synagogue in New York and Florida, and a kippah-wearing high school student in Denver who was struck with a rock by an assailant who also called him “Jewboy” and “kike.”

A high school student wearing a kippah was approached by two other high school students who made statements including, “Hey Jewboy, come over here,” and, “Hey Jewboy, do my bills for me.” One of the assailants then shouted, “Hey you kike, when I talk to you, you talk back,” before throwing a large rock that hit the victim in the back.

Anti-Semitic incidents were reported in 39 states and the District of Columbia in 2015. In addition to the assaults, 377 of the incidents were vandalism, up from 363 in 2014, and 508 were harassment, threats and other events, down by five incidents from the previous year.

Continuing a long-standing trend, the most-Jewish states had the most anti-Semitic incidents. But amid the upward national trend, New York, the state with the largest Jewish population, and California saw declines. New York, which has the biggest Jewish population, had 198 incidents in 2015, down 17 percent from 231 in 2014. California recorded 175 incidents, down from 184.

“We are disturbed that violent anti-Semitic incidents are rising,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, said in a statement about the audit. “And we know that for every incident reported, there’s likely another that goes unreported. So even as the total incidents have remained statistically steady from year to year, the trend toward anti-Semitic violence is very concerning.”

Online harassment has increased in recent months, and appears to correspond to the current presidential campaign, the ADL said. Much of the harassment has been directed at Jewish journalists and other public figures. The ADL recently launched a Task Force on Online Harassment and Journalism to investigate the issue of anti-Semitism directed at journalists through social media and to develop recommendations on how to respond to it.

The ADL has been tracking anti-Semitic incidents since 1979.  During the last decade, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents peaked at 1,554 in 2006 and has been mostly on the decline ever since.

Dependable steps to defeat BDS


By its own admission, the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to use economic and political pressure to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel. Since BDS has not been able to gain traction among serious foreign policy thinkers of any political stripe, it has focused its efforts on organizations that typically do not specialize in international relations. Working closely with the American Jewish Committee and AJC Chairman Dean Schramm, we recently provided pro bono legal assistance to a group of University of California (UC) graduate students who successfully overturned a BDS resolution that was adopted by their local union. In so doing, we relied on a number of arguments that can be applied in other contexts and in the broader struggle against BDS.

In 2014, the union which represents UC graduate student workers—UAW Local 2865—adopted a resolution endorsing BDS and encouraging an academic boycott of Israeli universities.  With our support, a number of courageous UC graduate students appealed this discriminatory resolution to the UAW International President, who ultimately found that BDS violates the UAW’s Constitution by, among other things, promoting “discrimination and vilification” against Jews and Israelis.  This decision was unanimously affirmed by a diverse panel of independent legal scholars, known as the UAW Public Review Board, who fully supported the UAW’s forceful rejection of BDS.

The UAW International’s decision was a major defeat for the BDS movement, which had invested significant time and resources seeking to gain control of UAW Local 2865. While the UC graduate students who successfully appealed the resolution did a masterful job of defending Israel, our decision to go on the offensive and attack BDS also proved effective. For this reason, we would encourage advocates in a similar situation to consider emphasizing the following points:

Focus on the Harm to American Workers. In our case, we were able to explain how BDS would harm other UAW members by targeting companies that employ thousands of unionized workers. While it is all too easy for BDS activists to distort Middle East history, they cannot deny — and indeed readily admit — that BDS seeks to harm major corporations that play an important role in the U.S. economy. In the end, it became clear to UAW officials that the debate over BDS was really about balancing the political preferences of a few radical activists against the jobs, health care and pensions of thousands of hardworking men and women.

Shine a Spotlight on Racist Rhetoric. To expose the true face of BDS, we highlighted the remarks of several BDS activists who were involved in the UAW campaign. These individuals advanced classic anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews, argued that pro-Israel UAW members should be denied the “right to speak,” and even charged that the Zionist movement made covert “deals” with the Nazis to bring “Jewish settlers to Palestine” in exchange for “sacrificing the vast majority of European Jews” during the Holocaust. This rhetoric undermined the credibility of the BDS proponents and damaged their effort to present themselves as peaceful human rights activists.

Explain the Practical Consequences of Endorsing BDS. In our case, we presented evidence of the profound division caused by the debate over BDS and highlighted the significant harassment and discrimination faced by Jewish and Israeli UAW members in connection with the BDS campaign. Among other examples, we offered testimony from a UCLA student who stopped wearing clothing or jewelry that would identify her as Jewish out of a fear of public shaming, and we pointed to the frightening experiences of a UC Berkeley student who left the union after she was verbally harassed and physically intimidated for speaking out against BDS. These examples brought into sharp focus the significant negative consequences of endorsing BDS, especially for any organization that values collaboration, cooperation and goodwill among its membership.

Expose the True Aims of the BDS Movement. To expose the true goals of the BDS movement, we highlighted the opposition of UAW BDS activists to resolutions supporting the two-state solution and “the Jewish right to self-determination,” as well as their claim that “bringing down Israel really will benefit everyone in the world.” This helped UAW officials to recognize that BDS is not about promoting peace but instead seeks Israel’s destruction.

Moving forward, we expect that the UAW’s forceful rejection of BDS — and its clear recognition of the discrimination inherent in this movement — will serve as a powerful precedent for other labor unions and national organizations. We also hope this decision will underscore the counterproductive nature of BDS, and make clear that direct negotiations are the only path to the peace and justice that Palestinians and Israelis alike so richly deserve. Until that time comes, however, our community must be prepared to effectively push back against efforts to transform our democracy’s most important institutions into weapons to attack Israel. 

SCOTT EDELMAN is a partner at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and the Los Angeles regional president of the American Jewish Committee.

JESSE GABRIEL is an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and chairman of the Community Engagement Strategic Initiative of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Canada’s post office halts delivery of Toronto-area anti-Semitic newspaper


Canada’s post office says it will no longer deliver a Toronto-area newspaper described as openly anti-Semitic.

Judy Foote, the federal minister responsible for Canada Post, issued an order on June 6 against the future delivery of Your Ward News, a free, low-budget newspaper sent to homes in the east end of Toronto.

The publication has been the subject of complaints for years, the Canadian Jewish News reported. It has railed against “cultural Marxism” and lashed out at Zionists, Jewish communal leaders, feminism and welfare recipients, and has mocked the Holocaust. The newspaper has defended itself as satire protected by free speech.

 

B’nai Brith Canada said it has received “literally hundreds of phone calls and emails from people who have felt victimized by the content in this publication.”

Amanda Hohmann, national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, said her group was pleased to see that the government “has taken appropriate steps to protect Canadians from this kind of hate propaganda.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also hailed Canada Post’s move.

“Freedom of speech – a core Canadian value – is cheapened and corroded when it is cynically used by extremists to justify the dissemination of hate,” said CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel. “The fact that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has supported efforts to ban the delivery of Your Ward News reflects a broad consensus about the nature of the racist propaganda featured in this newsletter.”

As of June 8, the paper’s website said the paper is delivered by Canada Post to 305,000 homes, business and apartments, “with a readership of over one million.”

Your Ward News editor James Sears has filed a request for a review of Canada Post’s decision. An appeal would consist of a panel appointed by the minister. He called the Canada Post order “a temporary inconvenience.”

“We’re just a satirical, offensive newspaper,” Sears told CBC News. “It has been found multiple times by Canada Post lawyers that we’re not breaking any hate-speech laws.”

Sears is a former Toronto medical doctor who was stripped of his license in 1992 after a court found him guilty of sexually assaulting female patients.

‘Anti-Semitic’ Taft letter opposing Brandeis nomination to be auctioned


A letter written by former President William Howard Taft opposing the nomination of Louis Brandeis to become a Supreme Court justice and called anti-Semitic is on the auction block.

The four-page letter, which Taft wrote to the Washington-based Jewish journalist Gus Karger and making reference to Brandeis’ Jewishness, is part of an online auction Thursday by Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles.

Bidding for the letter, which the auction house calls “historically important and anti-Semitic,” has been set to start at $15,000. It is said to be in fair to good condition.

Brandeis, who would go on to be the first Jewish justice on the high court, was nominated by Taft’s successor, President Woodrow Wilson. Taft reportedly felt slighted at not being the nominee.

In the letter, Taft rips Wilson’s ”Machiavellian” and ”satanic skill” in his selection of Brandeis, whom he calls ”cunning,” a ”hypocrite” and a ”power for evil.”

Taft wrote: “The intelligent Jews of this country are as much opposed to Brandeis’ nomination as I am, but there are politics in the Jewish community, which with their clannishness embarrass leading and liberal and clear-sighted Jews. I venture to think that the leading Jews of New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and the other cities, who are not bound up in emotional uplifting, and who do not now tend to socialism, are as much troubled over this appointment and as indignant as any of us can be, but Brandeis’ foresight as to himself has strangled their expression lest they arouse bitter criticism against themselves by their own people.”

Taft called Brandeis’ “extreme Judaism” a “plant of very late growth,” alleging that he embraced Judaism  in order to secure an appointment as U.S. attorney general, which he did not get, Taft says, because “the leading Jews of the country told Wilson that Brandeis was not a representative Jew.”

Taft said “Brandeis has adopted Zionism, favors the new Jerusalem, and has metaphorically been re-circumcised. He has gone all over the country making speeches, arousing the Jewish spirit, even wearing a hat in the Synagogue while making a speech in order to attract those bearded Rabbis whose invitation to the silver wedding in such numbers you promoted. If it were necessary, I am sure he would have grown a beard to convince them that he was a Jew of Jews.”

In 1916, the Senate approved the Brandeis nomination by a vote of 47-22.

Jewish groups slam Ted Nugent for anti-Semitic gun control post


Right-wing rocker Ted Nugent came under fire from Jewish groups for an anti-Semitic Facebook post blaming prominent Jews for pushing gun control.

On Monday, Nugent shared a graphic featuring images of 12 Jews — including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer — branded with images of Israeli flags below the words: “So who is really behind gun control?”

Screenshot of the graphic posted on Ted Nugent’s Facebook page

Alongside the graphic, which has previously appeared on anti-Semitic websites, Nugent wrote:

“Know these punks. They hate freedom, they hate good over evil. They would deny us the basic human right to self defense & to KEEP AND BEAR ARMS while many of them have tax paid hired ARMED security! Know them well. Tell every1 you know how evil they are. Let us raise maximum hell to shut them down!”

Jewish organizations quickly condemned the post.

“Ted Nugent has a long history of being an equal opportunity offender. But his latest share on Facebook, making the outrageous suggestion that Jews are behind gun control, is nothing short of conspiratorial anti-Semitism,” said an Anti-Defamation League statement signed by CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement: “Ted Nugent has every right to advocate against gun control laws. However he won’t be getting a free pass for his anti-Semitic bigotry. There are Jews on both sides of the gun control controversy and Nugent knows it. He owes our community an apology. He can start by removing the offensive graphic and if he won’t we urge Facebook to do it for him.”

In the graphic on Facebook, the Jewish politicians and activists are labeled with descriptions, such as “Jew York City Mayor Mikey Bloomberg” and “Sen. Chucky boy Schumer.” Over Emanuel’s face, the text reads: “Served in Israel’s army during Gulf war.”

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, are also among those targeted.

Nugent, the voice of 1970s hits like “Stranglehold,” is an avid hunter, a board member of the National Rifle Association and a strong supporter of the Republican Party. He has a history of making inflammatory statements.

In response to the recently released Michael Bay film “13 Hours” about the highly politicized attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, Nugent said President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should be “tried for treason and hung.”

Do stabbings of French Jews mean end of ‘Marseille miracle’?


Only three years ago, the Jews of Marseille were able to congregate without security and in relative safety in their synagogues and community centers. While violence by Muslim extremists rose throughout France, it largely spared the southern port city, where 80,000 Jews and 250,000 Muslims live.

When I visited in late 2012, I was able to enter the unlocked door of the city’s main synagogue with no one asking questions – a far cry from the fortress-like security common elsewhere in France then and now. Michele Teboul, the president of the Marseille office of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities, back then called it the “miracle of Marseille.”

Today, that sense of relative safety has been shattered by a recent spate of stabbings of Jews, most recently of Benjamin Amsellem, a teacher who was attacked Tuesday near his synagogue. Amsellem used a religious book as a shield against his attacker, according to one news website, which carried a photo of the blood-stained volume.

The alleged assailant was a 15-year-old boy of Turkish-Kurdish descent, who lightly wounded Amsellem with a machete before being apprehended by police. The boy told interrogators he was inspired to commit the attack by the Islamic State.

Contradicting initial reports that police believed the stabber was insane, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it “a revolting anti-Semitic attack against a teacher” and promised “uncompromising action against those who target our unity in the republic.”

“We are living in a state of war,” said Bruno Benjamin, the previous president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire, the communal organ responsible for providing Jews with religious services. “Things can explode at any moment, from one second to the other. And we have learned to adapt to this new reality, which reached us later than it reached Paris, but reach us it did.”

The stabbing — the third such incident in Marseille since October — prompted Tzvi Amar, the current president of the Consistoire to call on local Jews to not wear kippahs in public. The statement was almost immediately rebuffed by leaders of French Jewry, including French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, who said: “We should not give an inch.”

Benjamin called Amar’s suggestion “unthinkable.

Teboul told JTA that taking off the kippah would be to “dial back hundreds of years during which Jews were able to practice their faiths and live freely as citizens of the French Republic.”

While she opposes “self-effacing measures that would serve to drive French Jewry underground,” Teboul nonetheless conceded that her city’s famed coexistence was either at a tipping point or had already been lost.

“A few years ago, our concerns were hate preaching by certain imams, by no means the majority,” Teboul said. “But the dissemination of hate online has changed all that, crossing a new threshold in the volume of minds it poisons, reaching new audiences and making me fear very seriously that the Marseille I knew and love has changed a lot, for the worse.”

Still, Marseille has faced fewer attacks than Paris, even taking its smaller Jewish population into account. In 2014, SPCJ, the French Jewish security service, recorded 186 attacks in the Paris region, where some 300,000 French Jews live — a rate of roughly one attack per 1,600 Jews. Only 36 such incidents occurred in Marseille, a roughly 30 percent lower rate.

Benjamin traces the problem to a self-reinforcing cycle of violence, in which one attack against Jews inspires others. After the slaying of three children and a rabbi in Toulouse in 2012, SPCJ recorded 90 attacks — 15 percent of the annual tally — in the 10 days that followed.

“If you want to know what happened to change Marseille over the past four years, the answer is Toulouse and Hyper Cacher,” Benjamin said, referring to the slaying of four people last January at a kosher shop in Paris.

Even so, interfaith work continues in Marseille. Marseille Esperance, or “Marseille Hope,” an interfaith platform set up by the municipality in 1991 is generally seen as having done much to improve relations through projects by youths from the Jewish and Muslim communities.

“Jews still wear their kippot on the streets of Marseille,” Benjamin said. “But gone are the days when we would not need guards. Now every aspect of communal life happens under protection by the military. They are in our schools, in our shuls, reminding us that we are no less threatened here than in Paris — or Israel.”

Italian soccer chief: ‘Nothing against’ Jews and gays, just keep them away from me


The president of the Italian Football Federation said he has “nothing against” Jews and gays, but that he prefers to keep such people at a distance.

The comments by Carlo Tavecchio were recorded for an interview with the online magazine Soccer Life and published on the website of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Tavecchio made the remarks while talking about a Jewish-Italian businessman Cesere Anticoli.

“It was bought by that Jew, Anticoli,” Tavecchio said in the recording. “I have nothing against the Jews, but better to keep them at bay.”

He used the Italian term “ebreaccio,” a pejorative for “ebreo,” or Jew.

He also said: “I don’t have anything against gays – but keep them away from me.”

Tavecchio said in response to the publication of the recording: “It’s blackmail; retaliation from someone to whom I denied funding, who recorded me without my knowledge, not as part of an interview. What’s more, the audio file could have been tampered with.

He added: “If you listen to the recording, my words are clear: I have had long personal and professional relationships with Jews. The charges of homophobia are also groundless.”

Tavecchio was elected president of the Italian Football Federation in August 2014. He has made racist comments in the past.

Matisyahu, the Iran deal and the college campus


Do we need to have a definition of anti-Semitism?  Most people think they already know what it means.

And sometimes the answer is obvious. Think, for example, about the vandals who recently scrawled the words “Yids out” on the fence of a girls’ primary day school in London.

Or consider Matisyahu. What else can you call it when Spain’s annual reggae music festival, Rototom Sunsplash, cancelled a scheduled appearance by this Jewish American singer.  Organizers argued that the rapper is a “Zionist” and supports the practice of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. in anti-Semitology to know what that was about.

Often, though, there is room for disagreement.  When Israel’s critics use double standards, are they just being advocates, or have they crossed a line? For that matter, when some who support President Obama’s proposed Iran deal speak of their opponents’ “money” and “lobbyists,” are they mobilizing anti-Jewish sentiment or just being “realistic”?
            
Consider how some of the Iran deal’s supporters lambaste Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the president’s top Senate allies, for opposing the deal. The Daily Kos ran a cartoon showing Schumer with an Israeli flag, calling him a “traitor.” MoveOn.org lumped Schumer together with another famous Jewish Democrat, saying, “our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate.” These organizations clearly crossed a line.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone who supports the Iran deal is an anti-Semite. Nor is it anti-Semitic merely to disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s view of the world.

Definitions are like fences. They wall some things in and others out. It is not just that we need to be clearer about what should be condemned as anti-Semitic.  We also need to be clearer about what is not anti-Semitic and should not be unjustly maligned.

Unfortunately, our best definitions are now under attack. Earlier this year, Jewish Voice for Peace assailed the U.S. State Department’s authoritative definition of anti-Semitism.  The State Department definition is important because it embodies Natan Sharansky’s “3-D Test.” Many criticisms of Israel are not anti-Semitic. But they may enter that territory when they Demonize the Jewish state, Delegitimize Israel, or apply Double standards.

Anti-Israel activists are incensed that the State Department’s definition includes “demonizing,” “delegitimizing,” and “applying a double-standard” to Israel. They want to redefine anti-Semitism so that extreme anti-Israel activism will no longer be considered anti-Semitic.

Fortunately, the State Department rebuffed their efforts. In an important August letter, Special Envoy Ira Forman, the Obama administration’s point man on global anti-Semitism, explained that his department’s definition is important to his work and has not led to any encroachments on free speech.

Although Israel’s critics targeted the State Department, the real battle is over higher education. In response to a rash of anti-Semitic incidents, several student governments and advocacy groups, including the Louis D. Brandeis Center, have urged broader use of State Department standards in higher education.

Several months ago, a report jointly issued by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College demonstrated that over 50% of Jewish college students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism during the 2013-2014 academic year. Earlier this summer, nearly three quarters of Jewish students responding to a Brandeis University study reported having been exposed to at least one of six anti-Semitic statements, such as claims that Jews have too much power and that Israelis behave “like Nazis.” Jewish students have reported being punched in the face, called derogatory epithets, and harassed in many ways.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not yet apply the State Department’s definition to American colleges.  If a French university were to tolerate a hostile environment for Jewish students, based on behavior that demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state, the State Department would understand when a line is crossed.  But if the same thing happens in California, New York, or Florida, the U.S. government would not be able to say whether the conduct was anti-Semitic, because domestic agencies are not coordinating with State.  Obviously this problem must be fixed.

At the same time, university leaders should educate their communities about the lines between legitimate political discourse and anti-Semitic intolerance.  This doesn’t mean censorship.  It does mean that universities should take their educative function seriously.  In September, the University of California Regents, the University’s governing board, is expected to discuss adopting a statement of principles on intolerance.  This would be an excellent opportunity for the Regents to assert leadership by taking a well-defined stand against prejudice.

Marcus is President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (www.brandeiscenter.com) and former Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Oxford University Press will publish his new book on The Definition of Anti-Semitism in September.

BDS is not pro-Palestinian, it’s anti-Semitic


You probably heard about the storm over reggae singer Matisyahu’s on, off, and then on again invitation to sing at the Rototom Sunsplash music festival in Spain last weekend. Matisyahu is a talented Jewish reggae singer from Los Angeles, whose 2006 song ‘Jerusalem’ and 2008 song ‘One Day’ captured the hearts of millions of teenagers across the globe. In those days Matisyahu was hasidic in lifestyle and appearance, although since then the beard and peyot have come off. The invitation for him to perform at this obscure Spanish reggae festival would hardly have been newsworthy had it not been for the interference of the BDS movement.

Just in case you are wondering if you misread that last sentence, let me confirm that, yes, the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, whose stated aim is ‘to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to [ensure] the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees’, applied pressure on a bunch of Spanish music lovers to either force an apolitical American Jewish singer to sign a declaration in favor of their non-music related political agenda, or face protest demonstrations and a coordinated boycott. Matisyahu understandably refused to sign any such declaration, so the festival organizers decided to disinvite him rather than deal with the bad publicity.

But rather than prevent bad publicity, the move backfired badly and attracted international condemnation. Following phenomenal pressure from multiple sources, including various governments, European Jewish leaders, and ELNET, which is a European version of AIPAC, the festival decided to re-invite him, and Matisyahu performed in front of an enthusiastic audience. Meanwhile the local BDS group that precipitated this outrage was unrepentant, claiming spuriously that the gentle singer was someone who was guilty of ‘incitement to racial hatred and connections to extremist and violent fundamentalist groups.’ More incredibly, the group accused the media of misrepresenting the incident ‘as part of the global BDS movement’, which compelled them to make clear that their efforts were ‘outside the remit of the cultural boycott of Israel.’

It is this last statement that I would like to focus on, because it exposes BDS activists for what they are – virulent anti-Semites who target Jews, even though that is not officially part of their agenda. And not just Israeli Jews, but all Jews. American Jews. British Jews. Spanish Jews. If you are a Jew, know that you are a BDS target. You are assumed to support every aspect of Israel’s policies and military strategy. Your only ‘get out of jail’ card is to publicly sign up to the repugnant BDS campaign, an agenda that hides under a musk of humanitarian concern for Palestinian Arab suffering, but which is in fact intent on destroying the State of Israel by creating one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and repatriating any Arab descended from Arabs who became refugees in 1948. In other words, BDS is not interested in a peaceful solution or prosperity for Palestinian Arabs, only in ensuring that Jewish statehood is no longer viable. Even if the Jewish State complied with every ridiculous UN resolution, they would still hate it – because it is Jewish, and it exists.

I am going to say something now that may shock you, but it is important to put it on the record. If you support Israel and are against BDS, please please stop defending Israel to BDS supporters. You are wasting your time. No one in the BDS camp is interested in complex defenses of Israel’s right to exist and right to defend itself. Because they are anti-Semites. I don’t care if they are Jews or non-Jews – they are anti-Semites. If Jews irrationally hate other Jews, they are anti-Semites, pure and simple. We must stop using the definition ‘self-hating Jew’. It is meaningless to the wider world. If a former Catholic criticizes the Pope, no one calls him a self-hating Catholic, they call him an anti-Catholic. If someone born a Jew hates other Jews for being proud of their heritage and their history, and demands that they reject that heritage and history in order to be accepted, they are not self-hating Jews, they are anti-Semites. It’s that simple.

Now that BDS has been exposed – correction: has exposed itself – as a group that targets all Jews, it is obviously pointless to discuss or debate with them on the issues. If they are blackmailing music festivals to boycott American Jewish singers with loose connections to Israel and no political history, then we need to start calling them what they are: anti-Semites and racists. BDS is no different than the Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s who created a myth that all Jews were guilty of insidious crimes against the international community, and were intent on world domination. When people spread malicious lies about you, don’t waste time refuting their lies – expose them for what they are: vicious liars motivated by hatred.

The Torah portion this week ends with the famous commandment to destroy Amalek, the nation that attempted to exterminate the nascent Jewish nation as it emerged from Egypt. The instruction from Moshe is unequivocal: תִמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַחַת הַשָמָיִם לֹא תִשְכָח – ‘never forget your duty to obliterate any memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.’ If it is a choice between them or us, make sure it is them, not us. My friends, our battle with BDS is a fight for the survival of the Jewish nation, not a gentlemanly discussion over coffee about the rights and wrongs of Israel’s actions and policies. BDS is a relentless and vicious campaign against Jews. That this makes you a target – in Los Angeles, or in New York, or in London – is not an accident. BDS must be uprooted and destroyed. Your life could depend on it.


Rabbi Pini Dunner is the Senior Rabbi at Beverly Hills Synagogue, a member of the Young Israel family of synagogues.

Samsung removes online cartoons mocking Jewish hedge fund founder


A Samsung subsidiary removed online cartoons that showed the Jewish founder of a hedge fund as a vulture with a large beak.

Samsung C&T removed the cartoons on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported, days after the company condemned anti-Semitism in the wake of anti-Semitic expressions in the South Korean media in reporting on the proposed merger between Samsung C&T, a construction company, and Cheil Industries.

The removal of the cartoons attacking Paul Singer, the Jewish founder of New York-based Elliott Associates, came a day before shareholders of Samsung C&T were to vote on the merger, which is opposed by Singer’s fund, the third-largest shareholder in Samsung C&T. Both companies are subsidiaries of the Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest family-controlled conglomerate. The merger is part of a consolidation effort.

Along with depicting Singer as a vulture, the cartoons show him hiding an axe behind his back while taking money from a man in ragged clothes.

The company reportedly asked AP not to publish a story before the shareholders meeting, according to the news service. The cartoons had been displayed on the company’s website for several weeks.

In reporting on the proposed merger, at least two South Korean media outlets blamed Jews for attempting to block the deal. One publication wrote that Jewish power on Wall Street “has long been known to be ruthless and merciless.” A columnist wrote that “Jews are known to wield enormous power on Wall Street and in global financial circles” and “It is a well-known fact that the U.S. government is swayed by Jewish capital.”

In a letter to the Anti-Defamation League earlier this week, both companies condemned anti-Semitism.

“We are a company that is committed to respect for individuals and enforces strict non-discrimination policies,” they wrote. “We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Watchdog: Anti-Semitic attacks in France climbed 84% after kosher shop killings


The number of anti-Semitic attacks recorded in France during the first quarter of 2015 increased by 84 percent over the corresponding period last year, a watchdog group said.

The SPCJ security service of France’s Jewish communities released the figures Monday in a quarterly report that counted 508 anti-Semitic acts recorded between January and May. In the first four months of 2014, SPCJ recorded 276 incidents between January and May out of a total of 851 that year, making 2014 second only to the 974 incidents recorded in 2004 by the service. In all of 2013, SPCJ documented 423 incidents.

The worst of the attacks this year occurred on Jan. 9, when an Islamist killed four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket.

Of the anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the first quarter this year, 121, or 23 percent, were classified by SPCJ as violent. The proportion of violent attacks was slightly higher in the first quarter of 2014, with 27 percent of the total, or 76 attacks.

Death threats accounted for 387 incidents out of the total in the first four months of 2015, slightly more than three-quarters of the incidents.

In 2012, the slaying of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse by a jihadist spurred a spike in anti-Semitic incidents throughout France, possibly by those inspired by the attack to target Jews, SPCJ reported at the time. SPCJ documented more than 90 anti-Semitic incidents in the 10 days that followed the shooting.

Alberto Nisman: The 86th victim of the Buenos Aires bombing


UPDATED: The murder this week of Alberto Nisman — and now even the Argentine president has acknowledged his death was no suicide — was every bit as shocking and anti-Semitic a crime as the attacks two weeks ago in Paris.

Nisman was the federal prosecutor appointed by former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner to investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more — one of the worst cases of terrorism against Jews since the Holocaust.

Nisman’s body was found in his apartment on Jan. 18, the day before he was to testify before Argentine lawmakers about his findings, which implicated current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, and other officials and activists in a secret deal with Iranians to cover up evidence of Iranian involvement in the mass murder and to cease prosecution of high-level Iranian officials believed to have been involved in organizing it.

In other words, Nisman is the 86th victim.

The tenacious 51-year-old was murdered because he was on the verge of providing more than 500 pages of evidence — including wiretaps of phone conversations — that point to high-level Argentine officials having cut deals with Iranians to help them avoid paying for the crime. Iran would deliver its oil in return for Argentine grain, and the case would go away.

Argentina, in the words of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “holds a debt with the democratic world” when it comes to terror. But let’s be honest, so do other so-called anti-terror countries. Russia fights against Islamic terror in Chechnya but justifies it in Iran and Syria when its economic interests are at stake. The United States has consistently treated Saudi Arabia with a policy that can only be described as grossly hypocritical. As long as the kingdom that spawns Wahabi terror and breeds oppression and intolerance keeps oil and investment flowing, our criticisms are muted and decorous. 

I would love to hear President Barack Obama say a word in defense of Raif Badawi, the blogger currently in a Saudi prison and being punished with 1,000 lashes for writings perceived as insulting Islam. I won’t hold my breath.

When it comes to the AMIA bombing, Argentina has mastered this cynical game.

It seems the only hope the victims and their families have of justice is for public outrage or private pressure to overcome self-interest and greed. That takes a lot of pressure and outrage.

“A part of me lost hope that something can happen and change in Argentina,” Rabbi Claudia Kreiman of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, Mass., told me by phone last week. “I’m usually not that kind of person, but it’s been impossible to believe justice will be done in Argentina.”

Rabbi Kreiman grew up in Argentina’s 200,000-strong Jewish community. Her mother, Susy Wolynski Kreiman, was working in the AMIA building when the van packed with explosives — which we now know was masterminded by a network of Iranian agents in Argentina — went off. It took seven days for workers to recover her mother’s body from beneath the rubble.

In the intervening 25 years, the investigations have been marked with false starts and accusations of cover-ups. 

“In the years after, it was a sense this was something that happened to Jews and not to Argentina,” Kreiman said. “But now this is about how the whole place is so corrupted. People were finally believing this guy was doing the right thing.”

Those even closer to the tragedy agree.

“We as Jews are suffering,” Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka told me, “but this is not a specific Jewish drama. …Nowadays the great majority of the Argentine population perceive it as not just a Jewish drama.”

Rabbi Skorka, the director of the Conservative rabbinical seminary in Buenos Aries—and a close friend of Pope Francis— visited the Jewish Journal’s offices this past Wednesday on a tour of the United States sponsored by the Masorati movement.

Nisman, he said, was a man of great conviction, energy and determination to see justice.

“The first steps that Nestor and Chistina Kirchner took were very important in order to decipher what happened,” the rabbi said. But all of Argentina knows there are “black holes” in the investigation, especially the identity of local agents who cooperated with the Iranian organizers of the attack.

It is “not a matter of faith or belief” whether the government will ever find these people and bring them to justice, it’s a matter of evidence.  (Our full interview with Rabbi Skorka will appear here soon.)

If there is any reason for hope and change in Buenos Aires now, Kreiman told me, it’s the fact that thousands of non-Jews joined together with Jews in a public rally in response to Nisman’s death.

That, it seems, is the lesson of France and Argentina. Terror, injustice, government cover-ups, collusion — slowly the world is learning that the things they think that just affect this minority ultimately affect whole countries. 

As historian Deborah Lipstadt told our reporter Danielle Berrin last week, “It starts with the Jews, it never ends with the Jews.”

In 2005, on the 11th anniversary of the bombing, an Argentine cardinal named Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition demanding justice — 85 signatures for 85 victims. 

Now that cardinal is Pope Francis, and he should once again raise his voice for justice in the name of Alberto Nisman. We can join him, by writing to the president, to the new ambassador to Argentina, Noah Mamet, and demand an independent investigation into Nisman’s death and into his new findings.

Miguel Steuermann, director general of Radio Jai, Argentina’s full-time Jewish radio station, says even then the struggle depends on Argentines themselves.

“As  with Islamic terrorism, it can be fought against only from the inside. People and media independently struggling to find light and truth in Argentina should be strongly supported,” Steuermann wrote me in an e-mail exchange.   “They have tried to silence us for over 22 years, and more than once they were about to achieve it. One is not very popular when you report the lie that tries to blame the Jews and/or Israel for all the evils in mankind.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told me visited with Nisman early in his investigation. “This was a courageous and focused person,” Rabbi Cooper said.  “He and his team worked behind sandbags. The independence given to him to get the truth about the AMIA bombing was the high point of Argentine democracy. The decision to deal with Iran was a low point — and now what?”


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Hollande calls kosher market hostage killing an ‘appalling anti-Semitic act’


French President Francois Hollande confirmed reports on Friday that four hostages were killed at a siege of a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris.

Hollande called for national unity and said the country should remain “implacable” in the face of racism and anti-Semitism.

“It is indeed an appalling anti-Semitic act that was committed,” he said of the hostage-taking by an Islamist gunman at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in the Vincennes district.

Some hostages were seen rushing from the market after heavily armed police broke the siege at the same time as they ended a separate stand-off in northern France involving the two Islamist suspects behind the killings at Charlie Hebdo magazine this week.

Jewish man beaten at Brooklyn train station in apparent anti-Semitic attack


Three assailants beat an identifiably Jewish man while shouting anti-Semitic epithets at a Brooklyn train station.

A bystander who intervened in the attack on Monday in the Williamsburg neighborhood also was attacked, the New York Daily News reported, citing the website JPUpdates.com. 

The Jewish man, who was identified as a tourist from Israel, was beaten with his own umbrella after he discovered them trying to take something out of his pocket. They called him a ‘dirty bloody Jew’ and a ‘f—ing Jew’ during the attack, according to the newspaper.

The attackers fled on a Manhattan-bound train.

The New York Police Department’s hate crimes unit is investigating the incident, The Associated Press reported.

French Jewish leader indicted for calling Dieudonne ‘professional anti-Semite’


Roger Cukierman, president of France’s largest Jewish group, was indicted for calling the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala a “professional anti-Semite.”

Cukierman, who heads the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities and organizations, announced the indictment on Monday in a video that appeared on the CRIF website.

“So I am being indicted for having stated on Europe 1 that Dieudonne is a professional anti-Semite. Isn’t that funny? For once, Dieudonne is actually comical,” Cukierman said.

Dieudonne has 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews, according to CRIF. He also invented the quenelle salute, which French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said was an inverted Nazi gesture of anti-Semitic hate, and the term “shoananas,” a mashup of the Hebrew word for the Holocaust and the French word for pineapple, which is used to suggest the genocide never happened without explicitly violating France’s laws against doing so.

Earlier this year, Valls, then interior minister, advised mayors to ban Dieudonne’s shows, leading to the show’s cancellation and replacement with another routine which featured less anti-Semitic material.

Indictments are “quasi-automatic” in France when police receive complaints of defamation, according to the  L’Express news website.

Responding to the indictment, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Vigilance, or BNVCA, extended its support for Cukierman.

“No one in France knows anti-Semitism better than Roger Cukierman, who survived the Holocaust at the age of nine because nuns hid him while his family was deported to Auschwitz and gassed there,” the Drancy-based watchdog wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Dieudonne and the far-right Holocaust denier Alain Soral recently decided to form a political party, the news site Mediapart.fe reported Tuesday.

Last week, Dieudonne was indicted for fraud, money laundering and abuse of public funds, Le Monde reported. Researchers believe Dieudonne, who declared he had no money to pay fines he received for his hate speech, transferred more than $500,000 to Cameroon while he declared himself to be insolvent.

 

Hundreds protest Met Opera’s ‘Klinghoffer’ opening in N.Y.


Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Metropolitan Opera House in New York to protest the opening performance of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

Protesters were joined on Monday by several high-profile figures including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York governors David Paterson and George Pataki.

The John Adams opera, which debuted in 1991, depicts the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old Jewish-American passenger in a wheelchair. Protesters have charged that the production is anti-Semitic, exploitative, hostile to Israel and sympathetic to terrorists.

In a symbolic gesture, protest organizers lined the street at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center with 100 wheelchairs.

Police had to block off several sections of the street and only allowed individuals with tickets to enter the opera house.

A similar protest, but without the wheelchairs, was held at the Met’s Opening Night Gala in September.

Whether you fire him or not, condemn Salaita’s words


For the past month or so, the academic world in this country has been abuzz with impassioned debate about Professor Steven Salaita, whose proposed appointment as a tenured professor in American Indian studies at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana was rejected by Chancellor Phyllis Wise on August 1.   The key issue in this case is Salaita’s anti-Israeli and, some say, anti-Semitic speech, which Chancellor Wise characterized as “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

Supporters of Professor Salaita have seen the decision to withdraw the offer made by the UI’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a gross violation of the principle of academic freedom that stands at the heart of the American university system.   The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the central policy-making body for American academics, has made clear in its 1940 Statement of Principles that freedom of expression in research and teaching is essential to the proper functioning and success of universities. http://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure.  Drawing on the AAUP principles, Cornell law professor Michael Dorf asserts, without endorsing Salaita’ words, that the case is an easy one: “Academic freedom and freedom of speech protect all viewpoints, even those that are hostile to academic freedom or freedom of speech.”

Meanwhile, those who endorse the University’s decision to retract its offer note that Salaita’s case is actually different from instances in which an institution attempts to fire a current faculty member for offensive speech.  Such a case would be an unmistakable deviation from the bedrock principle of free speech.  Rather, supporters of the retraction such as UI professor Cary Nelson, a former president of the AAUP, note that Salaita’s appointment was never given final approval by either the University of Illinois’ Chancellor of its Board of Trustees. 

This may seem confounding to the outsider.  Either Salaita was offered an appointment or he wasn’t.  In fact, academic institutions of the size of the University of Illinois are large and labyrinthine bureaucracies with many layers of scrutiny for academic appointments.  One may receive the endorsement of a home department, the dean, and the provost, but without the final authorization of the chancellor or president and board of trustees, the appointment is not final.  Salaita’s case is one of the rare instances in which a university CEO has overturned the affirmative decision of the lower reviewing bodies.  The more cautious among academic appointees would never resign their positions at previous institutions until they received final approval from the chancellor and board, as Steven Salaita did from Virginia Tech. 

The question of whether we can meaningfully distinguish between firing a professor already in the employ of a university and withdrawing an offer to one who is awaiting the last sign-off from the chancellor is a difficult one.  It is especially difficult because of the importance of creating a safe, inclusive, and welcoming campus climate for all.  Do we want to welcome as members of our campus community those who extend beyond acceptable bounds of civil speech and conduct?  It is a very tricky call.  I must confess that I am not certain where I stand in balancing the right to free speech vs. the right to exclude from one’s campus community those whose speech is disrespectful.  Indeed, I think a decent case could be made for either side.  As a result of my own uncertainty, I have sat on this piece for weeks.

But there is something that must be said without equivocation.  It is stunning to behold the near-total silence of Salaita’s supporters about the content of his speech.  Petitions that excoriate the University of Illinois for its decision have garnered thousands of signatures with passing reference only to the controversy around Salaita’s speech.  Letter writers extol Salaita without any mention of his offensive words. In the few cases where his harsh speech is discussed, his defenders dismiss those who take Salaita’s words at face value by insisting that the real issue is the behavior of Israel. 

Let me be clear.  What is objectionable here is not criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.  Many of us have joined in calling Israel to task for the trail of destruction it has inflicted, most recently in Gaza.  It is the sophomoric, intemperate and, dare I say, hateful quality of Salaita’s speech.  Even if one shares Salaita’s passionate commitment to the Palestinian cause and believes fervently in his right to free speech, it is imperative to call out his irresponsible words.

To what am I referring? It is a series of recent Twitter postings during the unfolding Gaza conflict that reveals an almost compulsive tendency to suggest that Zionism not only induces, but justifies anti-Semitism.  To wit, his most infamous tweet from July 19 declares that Zionism bears responsibility for “transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable.”  Supporters of Salaita have tried to parse this sentence to argue that by placing “antisemitism” in quotes, he was indicating his distance from the concept.   Really?  One can argue that Israeli behavior toward Palestinians has provoked antisemitic responses.  But what possibly could be “honorable” about such responses?  When is antisemitism ever honorable?

Would we accept any analogous assertions about other groups?  That the actions of Hamas justify Islamophobia?  I doubt it.  Salaita, with pyromaniacal persistence, seems incapable of avoiding the fire of antisemitism.  In another tweet from July 19, he offers this: “If it’s ‘antisemitic’ to deplore colonization, land theft, and child murder, then what choice does any person of conscience have?”  Here again, some will argue that the use of quotes insulates Salaita from the phenomenon itself–that he’s referring to the tendency of Israel’s supporters to tarnish any and all critics with the designation “antisemitic.” But if he’s not saying that “any person of conscience” must ultimately choose antisemitism, he certainly comes close.  At a minimum, he’s guilty of extraordinarily sloppy locution that can lead reasonable people to assume that he sees antisemitism as an unavoidable and justifiable outcome of Zionism—and therefore an acceptable and “honorable” consequence of the fight for justice for Palestinians.

One also wonders about his tweet from July 14: “Zionist uplift in America.  Every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime.”  Defenders will say that he simply seeks to point to the impact of Zionist ideology on the organized Jewish community in this country.  But the language he uses rests on the troubling elision between  Zionist and Jew—and the ascription of culpability for all of Israel’s and Zionism’s actions to Jews as a collective.  Whether or not Salaita’s intent here was antisemitic, I can’t say. What is clear is that the Zionist/Jewish elision is a common antisemitic move. 

Also unnerving is his claim that “the sequence of letters” in the word Israel—the word “Israel” itself–should read “child murder” or that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wears “a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children.”  This kind of language eerily echoes the medieval blood libel directed against Jews.  The blood libel assumed many forms, most of which focused on the claim that Jews killed Christian children in order to use their blood for ritual purposes (or to poison wells).  Perhaps the resonance is unwitting, but the effect to anyone who knows the history of antisemitism is chilling.   

I have no idea what is in Steven Salaita’s heart.  Maybe he is a well-intentioned critic of Israel and supporter of the right of the Palestinian people to justice and self-determination.  His choice of language suggests otherwise.  Indeed, his lack of modulation and sound judgment seems to fail the standard laid out by the AAUP in 1940 for university faculty members: “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” 

Salaita’s speech is far from respectful.  I honestly don’t know whether his disrespectful speech trumps the principle of free speech on which the great American university system rests.  But at a minimum, and it is indeed a minimal response, we must condemn Salaita’s offensive words.  The failure to do so is itself a failure of courage, discernment, and intellectual integrity.  

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA.

Chargers football commentator uses Jewish stereotype in on-air exchange


Hank Bauer, a longtime radio analyst for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, used a Jewish stereotype in an exchange with his on-air colleague.

In the waning moments of Sunday’s Chargers-49ers preseason football game, play-by-play man Josh Lewin said if he were paying to attend he would not have left early, as many fans did, because of the high price of the tickets.

Bauer responded, “You know how copper wire was invented? Somebody dropped a penny between Josh and his family member.”

Lewin, who is Jewish, then attempted to change the subject by announcing the amount of time left in the game.

Bauer replied, “I say that respectfully and endearingly, my partner.”

“Love you too, buddy,” Lewin responded.

The Deadspin website first reported the exchange.

Bauer has been the color commentator for the Chargers radio broadcasts on FM105.3 and AM1360 in San Diego since 1998. He played for the Chargers between 1977 and 1982.

Arabs menace Jewish group on Temple Mount


Hundreds of Arabs chanting anti-Jewish epithets surrounded a group of Jews who ascended the Temple Mount.

Many of the Arabs also held up three fingers, a triumphant sign of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, during Wednesday’s incident.

Muslim children at a summer camp accosted the group before they were then joined by adults in a confrontation that was recorded by onlookers.

The Jewish group’s visit had been authorized by security officials at the Temple Mount.

Police officers attempted to separate the groups, and then escorted the Jewish group from the site, according to Israel National News.

 

Argentine neo-Nazi group approved as political party


An ultranationalist organization led by Alejandro Biondini, an accused neo-Nazi, won legal approval as a registered political party.

Buenos Aires Judge Ariel Lijo granted the approval for Bandera Vecinal, or Local Flag, on Wednesday. The party, which is expected to participate in the 2015 presidential elections, had signed up the required 4,000 members.

The Jewish political umbrella DAIA said Biondini “has publicly and repeatedly supported the figure of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. DAIA reiterates its position to not legitimize as a political party those who justify hatred and encouraging violence against the Jewish community and others in our country.”

In 1988, Biondini led chants of “Death to traitors, cowards and Jews” at a gathering of extreme-right demonstrators in Buenos Aires. At the time, Biondini’s group was called the National Alert, reminiscent of the cry “Germany, awake!”

Three years later, a judge quashed his group’s request to register as the Workers’ Nationalist Socialist Party and use the swastika as its symbol.

In the 2011 elections, Biondini’s Social Alternative Party garnered just 0.19 percent of the vote. His previous party, New Triumph, was banned by Argentina’s Supreme Court in 2009.

 

European Jewry battered by soaring anti-Semitism


The arrest on May 30 by French Police of Mehdi Nemmouche in connection with the murder of three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels did not calm anyone’s fears. Far from it: Nemmouche is a French-born Islamist who fought with al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria before allegedly returning to Europe to murder Jews, and his apprehension is sending shockwaves across the continent. 

Intelligence and police officials from Ottawa to Berlin to Paris have been issuing warnings about native-born Muslims who, after going to Syria to try to bring down strongman Bashar Assad, are returning home as trained, motivated Islamist terrorists. Nemmouche has not yet been charged, and it is not clear whether the 29-year-old could have been carrying out orders from al-Qaeda, or if this is the action of a “lone wolf,” like Mohammad Merah, who killed seven people at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. 

Either way, the killings at the Brussels Jewish Museum represent another devastating blow to Europe’s already beleaguered Jewish communities. They are already reeling from a spike in hate crimes, estimates that 150 million of their neighbors harbor extreme anti-Israel and/or anti-Jewish views, and from European Parliament elections held in late May that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called a “political earthquake.” Last Monday, the prime minister and his colleagues awoke to a France that handed Marine Le Pen’s “fascism with a pretty face”— National Front — a stunning victory. Her party won 25 percent of the vote for members of the European Parliament in France — nearly double the number cast for the country’s ruling Socialist Party.

The results of the pan-European elections should not be dismissed as only a protest vote over high unemployment, high taxes and recessions. For many voters, the ballot box gave them a chance to join Eurosceptics in rejecting what they perceive as the co-opting of their national identities by faceless bureaucrats sitting in Brussels.

But it is whom they chose to sit in the next Parliament that is deeply worrisome. There is a likely bloc of 50 to 60 seats that could include France’s National Front, Greece’s extremist Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik and — for the first time — a parliamentarian representing the German NPD, neo-Nazi party. In other words, political parties — some of whose core constituency is attracted by xenophobia, nativist nationalism, anti-immigrant rhetoric (especially against Muslims) and anti-Semitism — are now positioned to help shape European social, economic and foreign policies. On top of those are extreme leftist parties in Greece, animal rights parties that denigrate core practices of Judaism and Islam including shechitah — Jewish ritual slaughter — and the Five Star Party, Italy’s second largest, which is led by anti-Semitic Beppe Grillo. Will these newly elected parliamentarians join those seeking to douse the flames of intolerance, or will they choose to leverage their newfound political clout to become more effective social arsonists?

Europe’s immigrants and minorities are deeply and understandably shocked by these developments, but none more so than the already embattled Jewish communities. 

Benjamin Albalas, head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, reacting to the election, told The Jerusalem Post that “a great number of European citizens seem to have forgotten what happened during the Holocaust and World War II. Racism and anti-Semitism are again hitting Europe,” he said. “It is time for immediate action.”

My colleague at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, warns that the elections could be “the beginning of a new and very dangerous era in which openly fascist and anti-Semitic parties might attain entree into government coalitions, which would significantly change the current constellation of political power in such a way that could seriously jeopardize the future of European Jewish communities.”

What is happening in Europe is not only a loss of hope, but a loss of memory: about World War II, about the Holocaust, and about the dangers of totalitarian movements of both the left and right that dragged Europe down into a long, 20th-century twilight of the soul. Many of the younger generation have never been taught, and many of the older generation — who should know better — have willfully chosen to forget.

And now, added to this already toxic mix, is the specter of European-born, battle-hardened Islamist extremists returning to the Continent to attack soft Jewish targets.

Europe was home to 10.5 million Jews in 1914; today, there are 1.5 million. A Europe incapable of or unwilling to defeat Islamist terrorism; to address head-on resurgent anti-Semitism; and a Continent bereft of a coherent, inclusive democratic culture will soon have no room for even these few Jews who remain. That’s why, from Scandinavia to Western Europe, from Hungary to Ukraine, dramas are unfolding in Jewish homes, as families contemplate voting with their feet, relocating to Israel, the United States or “anywhere but here.”


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

David Suissa: Why won’t liberals defend Israel?


As I was reading about “engagement” — the new buzzword regarding Israel that came out of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial this past weekend in San Diego — I wondered: Did anyone at the convention notice the other hot word circulating regarding the Jewish state?

This one would be the all-too familiar “B” word: Boycott.

While America’s largest Jewish denomination was discussing its engagement with Israel, the American Studies Association (ASA) became the country’s largest academic group to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. This comes on the heels of a similar boycott last April, by the Association for Asian American Studies.

These nasty assaults on Israel don’t just violate the spirit of academia; more importantly, they discriminate against the Jewish state. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the ASA president himself, Curtis Marez, who admitted to The New York Times that there are plenty of nations in the world with a worse human rights record than Israel’s.

So, he was asked, why pick on Israel?

In a statement that might well enter the anti-Semitic Hall of Fame, Marez replied, “One has to start somewhere.”

Forget about starting with nations where women are stoned to death, gays are lynched and children are murdered. 

No, Marez has to start somewhere — so why not start with the Jews?

Activist lawyer Alan Dershowitz issued a clever challenge to Marez’s group while they were considering the boycott: “I asked them to name a single country in the history of the world faced with threats comparable to those Israel faces that has had a better record of human rights, a higher degree of compliance with the rule of law, a more demanding judiciary, more concern for the lives of enemy civilians, or more freedom to criticize the government than the State of Israel.”

As Dershowitz writes in Haaretz, “Not a single member of the association came up with a name of a single country. That is because there are none. Israel is not perfect, but neither is any other country, and Israel is far better than most.”

Here’s the point: You can be the biggest peacenik in the world and criticize Israeli settlements all day long and still be completely justified in expressing revulsion at the blatant discrimination routinely inflicted on Israel.

Which brings me to the new buzzword on Israel for the URJ — engagement — which Allison Kaplan Sommer describes in Haaretz as “the trendy umbrella term that both acknowledges the existence of disagreement in the relationship, and endorses using any avenue of interest to get Reform Jews more involved with Israel.”

These disagreements, which include the need for greater respect within Israel for non-Orthodox streams, are genuine and should not be downplayed.

But here’s my question for URJ head Rabbi Rick Jacobs: You spoke eloquently at the biennial about your deep love for Israel and the need to engage Israel, but why did you not speak about the need to defend Israel against unfair and discriminatory attacks?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the global lies that have soiled the name of Israel?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the hypocrisy of the United Nations, where Israel gets condemned more than the top 16 violators of human rights combined?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the anti-Zionist BDS movement that aims only to delegitimize the Jewish state you so love? 

I get that the focus of your movement’s relationship with Israel is based around a healthy and honest engagement of issues, with some “tough love” thrown in, just as one would do with family.

But there’s something else one does with family: One defends it when it is unfairly attacked.

One thing I admire about Rabbi Jacobs is how he jumps over the walls that often divide the Jewish family, as when he recently attended the annual gathering of the Chabad movement. I’ve heard him talk of how we can all learn from one another.

So, next time the rabbi is in Tel Aviv, I have an idea for another wall he can jump: Visit the offices of Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center), and hear from legal expert Nitsana Darshan-Leitner how the ASA boycott violates international, federal and state law in the United States, and how her group plans to defend Israel against this illegal and unconscionable assault.

Also, hear about the group’s track record of bringing lawyers from across the world to prosecute institutions, governments and private companies that discriminate against Israel. If you like what you hear, find out how your movement can help.

Fighting discrimination — whether against Israel or any other country — should be a proud liberal cause. One can engage and even criticize Israel and also fight to defend it against unfair attacks. Liberal icon Dershowitz, who criticizes Israeli settlements, is a rare case of a liberal lover of Israel who’s not afraid to take the gloves off to defend the Jewish state.

He should be the keynote speaker at the next Reform convention.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Poll: 26% of Americans believe Jews killed Jesus


Twelve percent of Americans harbor deeply anti-Semitic attitudes, according to a new poll conducted by the Anti-Defamation League.

The figure marks a decline of 3 percentage points from the last time the ADL took such a poll, in 2011, but approximately the same number as in an ADL poll in 2009. The latest ADL national telephone survey, of 1,200 adults, was conducted this month and has a margin of error of about 3 percent. The results were released Thursday.

“It is heartening that attitudes toward Jews have improved over the last few years and, historically, have declined significantly in America,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

A 1964 ADL survey on the topic found 29 percent of American held anti-Semitic views.

In the latest survey, 14 percent of respondents agreed that Jews have too much power in the United States; 30 percent said American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States; and 19 percent said Jews have too much power in the business world – all figures virtually unchanged from the 2011 survey.

The percentage of respondents who believe that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus was 26 percent, down from 31 percent in 2011. Eighteen percent said Jews have too much influence over the news media and about one-quarter agreed that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

The survey was released on the first day of the ADL’s two-day centennial conference being held in New York.

LivingSocial apologizes for party decorations following anti-Semitism complaint


The LivingSocial website apologized for a Halloween party it sponsored in Washington following a complaint that some of the decorations were anti-Semitic.

LivingSocial, which offers discount deals at area businesses throughout the country, decorated its “greed” room with dreidels and gold coins at its “7 Deadly Sins Halloween Party” on Oct. 26.

“We have looked into it and determined that the inclusion of dreidels with the other games in the gaming room was not a smart choice, and we are very sorry to have upset anyone,” said Kevin Nolan of LivingSocial’s publicity department. “Certainly this behavior does not reflect who we are as a company.”

Nolan said the customer who complained was “offered a full refund and explained that any offense was unintended” and was given an apology.

That customer, who did not want her name used, said, “I was very offended. I just thought it was completely inappropriate.” She said she considered the room’s decorations “clearly anti-Semitic.”

For $59, guests were invited to “indulge in a silent disco, movie screening” and fun in seven different rooms. Each room’s theme revolved around the seven deadly sins: lust, pride, wrath, gluttony, envy, sloth and greed.

The greed room was described as “a shimmering room full of silver and gold” in which people “get greedy challenging friends to a plethora of games.”

N.Y. deliveryman awarded $900,000 in anti-Semitism suit


A New York restaurant deliveryman was awarded $900,000 for enduring 16 years of anti-Semitic harassment by three supervisors.

A U.S. District Court jury in Brooklyn found in favor of Adam Wiercinski on Oct. 24 in four hours, the New York Post reported Monday.

Citing the lawsuit, the newspaper reported that one manager at the Mangia 57 restaurant in Manhattan would pass gas in front of Wiercinski and then joke that it was Zyklon B, which was used in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust.

Much of Wiercinski’s father’s family died at the hands of the Nazis, he told the Post. He said he had to explain what Zyklon B was to the jury because they were “very young.”

“When I explain how it was used in the gas chambers, they were very serious. Everybody [in the courtroom] was silent,” he told the Post.

Supervisors also called him a “dirty Jew” and threw pennies at him while making anti-Semitic comments; they also docked his tips.

Wiercinski did not quit because he felt he was too old to get a new job, his attorney, Matthew Blit, told the newspaper.

Anti-Semitic, racist incidents at Oberlin College were a ‘joke,’ student told police


Two students committed a series of racial and anti-Semitic incidents at Oberlin College to provoke a reaction, according to police in the Ohio city.

According to a police report released late last week, one of the students said he meant the acts as a “joke,” as well as to show how students and college staff overreacted to earlier racist and anti-Semitic fliers found around the campus with which he denied involvement.

The later incidents spurred the college to cancel classes for a day.

The student was detained on Feb. 27 after being seen posting anti-Islam fliers in a school building. He said he posted the fliers to show how people had overreacted to similar fliers posted earlier in the year.

“I put out these fliers to get a similar overreaction to prove this point,” the student told campus security after being detained, according to a report by the Oberlin city police.

In early May, Oberlin canceled classes after someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan-like hood and robe was seen walking on campus. The cancellation also came after swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti were discovered on the campus.

Oberlin City Prosecutor Frank Carlson, in deciding not to charge the students, said they broke no laws, according to the local Chronicle-Telegram.

The students, who were not named in the police report because they were not charged, have been removed from campus and are being tried in the campus judicial system, according to the newspaper.

The Daily Caller newspaper identified the students as Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden, and said they have a background in working for liberal causes.

Making cookies … And a difference


Left destitute overnight when the Nazis confiscated his life savings in 1941, Ben Lesser’s father, Lazar, used a 100-pound bag of flour and some salt — a housewarming gift from a friend — to bake pretzels for the local bars in Niepolomice in southern Poland. 

While his family of seven subsided on wheat husks, normally fed to the pigs as waste, Ben Lesser’s father went on to became the town baker, and the family was able to support themselves in spite of the country’s harsh anti-Semitic laws.

Lesser’s parents and three of his four siblings did not survive the Holocaust, but the lessons he learned in his father’s kitchen did. The 85-year-old survivor of multiple concentration camps — who spoke about his experiences last month at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) — founded Papa Ben’s Kitchen, which makes five varieties of kosher mandelbread, in 2011. 

The company, whose products became available in stores last year, doesn’t just exist to satisfy the American sweet tooth; Lesser created it, in part, to support the Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 2009. It provides pins that read zachor in Hebrew (“remember”) to audiences at Holocaust education events. (More than 30,000 pins were distributed in just its first few months, according to its Web site.)

“We give pins with the message that now you are responsible for the story you have heard today,” said Lesser’s daughter, Gail Lesser-Gerber, president of Papa Ben’s Kitchen.

Lesser was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1928, to a middle-class family involved in the production of kosher wine, syrup and chocolate. The family left for Niepolomice in 1941, according to Lesser’s Web site, to avoid joining the Krakow ghetto, where most of his extended family would perish. 

Two years later, at age 14, Lesser escaped to Hungary — his parents were reported by a neighbor and shot before they could join him — only to endure the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the labor camp Durnhau, a night at Buchenwald, and then Dachau, as well as a death march that lasted at least two weeks in February 1945. Upon liberation, he fell into a starvation-induced coma that lasted about eight weeks. 

After the war, Lesser was reunited with Lola Lieber-Schwartz, his only surviving sibling, and settled in the United States. He eventually found his way to Los Angeles, where he met his wife and went on to become a real estate agent. Now a great-grandfather who has retired to Las Vegas and written a book about his life (“Living a Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream”), Lesser gives speeches about his Holocaust experiences at universities, libraries, prisons and government institutions across North America.

Despite having no formal training in cooking or baking — and no written recipes from his father — Lesser has baked from memory throughout his life, using the smell and texture of the dough as his guide. He brought the treats to card games with buddies, and passed them out as party favors at his 80th birthday party. Friends kept asking why the family wasn’t selling Lesser’s mandelbread, remembers Lesser-Gerber.

“Everyone loved my dad’s cookies,” she said. 

The family needed to cover the cost of Lesser’s unsubsidized speaking engagements and the Zachor foundation. They finally decided to take their friends’ question to heart.

The result is Papa Ben’s Kitchen, for which Lesser and his family developed multiple recipes. Available at Whole Foods and Gelson’s, the cookies come in various flavors: original family recipe, minty dark chocolate, chocolate espresso bean, lemon blueberry with poppy seeds, and spicy chipotle with ginger and dark chocolate.

A pastry chef prepares their products at a bakery in Costa Mesa, Calif., in Orange County. 

Lesser-Gerber remembers her father, with his old-fashioned mentality, proposing he knock on the door of Ralphs grocery stores with some of his mandelbread and ask if they wanted to buy some.

During his recent visit to speak at LAMOTH, Lesser read from his book while a diverse crowd listened with rapt attention to stories of beatings, intimidation and executions, but also of human dignity and courage.

Lesser recalled how he bribed the cook at Durnhau with diamonds he had smuggled in his shoes to get his uncle a kitchen job rather than the hard labor forced upon other prisoners — breaking apart boulders to make gravel. This experience, he said, taught him the importance of saving valuables for emergencies, and of making personal connections. Both of these were lessons he would find important later in life as a businessman in America.

Most of all, he learned from the concentration camps that to succeed, he had to understand what was expected of him, and simply get it done no matter the difficulties. He said he remembers thinking: “Ben, if you want to live, you have to do it exactly the way they want you to do it.”

And once in the United States, he knew that he had to work harder than others to be the best — his own education had been halted at age 11. So when he was working for UPS at one point, for example, he learned everything about the company so his employers knew they could count on him to do any job, at any time, including holidays. For a time, he worked two jobs and went to night school. 

“Figure out how to be the best at your profession,” he told the LAMOTH audience. “Don’t be a clock-watcher. Give yourself all the way.”

Despite his difficult life, Lesser-Gerber said her father always managed to keep a positive outlook on life.

 “[He] wanted to live his childhood through us,” she said. “He could not pass up a roller coaster without taking us.” 

Lesser never spoke about his experiences until asked by his grandson to appear at an elementary school event. 

“The kids are so grateful,” Lesser said. “They had no idea … most of them are not being taught about the Holocaust.” 

Lesser said that his talks emphasize the importance of mutual respect and living peacefully. He said listeners go home “new, different people” who do not take their families for granted.

At each of his presentations, Lesser passes out Zachor pins to the audience, paid for by the skill his father taught him over 50 years ago. As Lesser-Gerber said about her father’s company, “It’s about making cookies and making a difference.”

Marty Sklar: Disney legend, mensch


In 2001, Martin (Marty) Sklar, now 79, was officially recognized as a “Disney Legend” — The Walt Disney Co.’s version of the Hall of Fame. In 2009, another exclusive distinction was bestowed on the low-key leader who had for decades guided Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), the group that designs and constructs Disney’s theme parks and resorts worldwide: On his final day before retiring, Sklar was honored with a window dedicated to him on Disneyland’s Main Street. 

Sklar, who is Jewish and grew up in Southern California, recently chatted with the Journal about his years at Disney and about some personal memories of Walt himself — including the widely disseminated rumor that Disney was anti-Semitic.

The story began in the spring of 1955, toward the end of Sklar’s junior year at UCLA, when he applied for a program that sent about a dozen students to India every summer.

“The whole idea was to show America in a different light from the way it was shown in the media,” Sklar said. “So they picked students who were from a variety of religious backgrounds, and two of them were always Jewish. I was in the running, but in the end, I wasn’t chosen.”

Although Sklar was disappointed, he was buoyed when he was tapped to become — for his upcoming senior year — editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, then, as now, the campus newspaper. 

It was because he was in charge of the Bruin — and because he wasn’t in India — that Sklar got the opportunity that would change his life and set the trajectory of his career.

“It was June 1955,” Sklar said, “a month before Disneyland was set to open. I received a call to come in for an interview at Disney, with the head of marketing. It turns out that they wanted to put out a tabloid newspaper to be sold at Disneyland’s Main Street, so they hired me to do that. 

“Finishing every park — since then, I’ve been involved with all of them — is chaos, especially at the end. But Disneyland in Anaheim was the first one, so it was even crazier because it had never been done before. … Here we were, two weeks before Disneyland was scheduled to open, and it was total chaos. 

“It was at that time that I was called in to have a meeting with Walt, the Walt Disney, to present my concept for the tabloid. Remember: I was 21; I’d never worked professionally, still a student at UCLA. … I was plainly scared as hell. If it was no good, I was out the door; they’d find some professional to do it. 

“But Walt liked what I presented, and that was the start of my 54 years at Disney. … If you have a turning point in life, that was mine.

“I’ll tell you what I learned from that meeting,” Sklar continued. “First, I was shocked that Walt had time for this little thing: a 10-cent tabloid to be sold on Main Street. But, like with everything he did, there was always enormous attention to detail. 

“And second, for Walt, Main Street was a real town. And every town, at the early part of the 20th century, had its own newspaper. So Disneyland, at that time, without its own newspaper, was not a complete story. That was what I learned: It’s the details that make the Disney parks work, that attention to detail. And you have to make it a complete story, which means striving to be accurate about whatever story you’re telling, down to the smallest details.”

During his first few years at Disney, still in his 20s, Sklar wrote a film about Epcot, the international-themed park adjacent to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The film was titled “Experimental Prototype for a Community of Tomorrow.”

“That was probably the most interesting experience I had with Walt,” Sklar said, “because it required me to spend several meetings in his office, just the two of us, and I still have pages of notes from one of those meetings. When I look back on it, I can see that he wrote the script of that film. I put the words on paper, but it was really his thoughts.

“He was so clear — so absolutely crystal-clear — about what he intended. And the big thing, and I have it on about three different pages of my notes, he kept repeating: ‘I want to meet the needs of people. I want to meet the needs of people …’ It just permeates everything that Disney does.”

Putting Sklar’s Disney lessons, lore and anecdotes inside the covers of a book has been one of his projects since his retirement in 2009. And now, the Disney imprint has just released “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdom.” 

Sklar said one reason he wrote the book was to “debunk” many myths about Walt Disney, “including the one that he was supposed to have been anti-Semitic. … I never saw a shred of anti-Semitism in him,” Sklar said.

“I’ll tell you a story. During the High Holy Days, Walt tried to call me, and when I came back, I called his office and said to Tommie Wilck, his secretary, ‘What did Walt tell you when you told him I was celebrating Yom Kippur?’ She said that Walt told her, ‘Well, that’s where he should be, with his family.’

“So it’s a bunch of bull, but you know, I can see where it came from,” Sklar said. “Walt was from the Midwest, he wasn’t used to being around Jews. And then he came out here, [where] most of the people in the entertainment business were Jews, so he was the guy out in the cornfield; he was different, and I think that’s where it came from. It never came from anything he said. Not ever.”

The offices of the Imagineers are located on Disney’s Glendale campus, a nondescript industrial area with no animation-themed architecture or nostalgia-infused sculpture. You can drive through it without even realizing you’re on a Disney campus. In recent years, however, this area has been spiffed up somewhat, although it still consists largely of blocky, single-story warehouses.

The Glendale campus’ bland exterior, however, lies in contrast to the inventive work carried out inside, especially by WDI, which Sklar led for decades and continues to inspire. In a way, Sklar himself is similar to the Glendale campus: He cloaks his (literally) groundbreaking creativity within a self-effacing exterior. When Sklar became a Disney Legend, Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that Sklar “is not interested in getting credit for anything … [yet] he has influenced everything we’ve ever done.” 

In “Dream It! Do It!” Sklar writes about his final years at Disney, when he had the job of “ambassador,” teaching and preaching “Mickey’s Commandments,” which included Sklar’s rules for “leadership” and “followership.” Clearly, Sklar learned the first two commandments from Walt himself: “1. Know your audience,” and 2. “Wear your guests’ shoes.”

Occasionally, in these commandments — as if with a sly wink — Sklar’s Jewish roots emerge. For example: “Take time to teach — mentors are mensches.”

Indeed, during his years as Disney ambassador, Sklar expanded Mickey’s Commandments from 10, to 20, to 30, and eventually to 40. In his book — poking fun, perhaps, at his own low-key image — Sklar sends apologies “to God and Moses, who somehow managed to stop at 10.” 

When asked about that, Sklar laughed. “Compared to me, Moses was a piker,” he said.