Armed police officers patrolling the day after terror attacks on the London Bridge and at Borough Market, London, England, on June 4. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

Anti-Semitic crime rose 44 percent in Britain since 2014, audit finds


Anti-Semitic crime in the United Kingdom rose 44 percent in the past two years, according to a new audit released by the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

The 2016 National Antisemitic Crime Audit registered a total of 1,078 anti-Semitic crimes in 2016. It found that 105 of those crimes, or about 1 in 10, were violent, but that only one violent anti-Semitic crime was prosecuted. In total, only 15 cases were prosecuted, leading to the conviction of 17 criminals, according to the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

In 2015, 12 anti-Semitic crimes were prosecuted, of which 3 involved violence, leading to 17 convictions.

In 2016, 89 anti-Semitic crimes resulted in charges being brought, meaning that only 8.3 percent of hate crimes against Jews resulted in charges. Some 48.9 percent of the police forces that received reports of anti-Semitic crime did not charge a single one of them, according to the CAA.

In its recommendations, the CAA called for specific training and guidance on anti-Semitic hate crime for officers and prosecutors, instructing Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to review all police forces’ responses to anti-Semitic crime, appoint a senior officer in each force with responsibility for overseeing the response to anti-Semitic hate crime and require the Crown Prosecution Service to record and regularly publish details of cases involving anti-Semitism and their outcomes, as police forces are already required to do.

Anti-Semitic crime has already been a factor in the initial months of 2017, with incidents including the firebombing of kosher restaurants in Manchester, a man stopped by police after chasing Jews in London brandishing a meat cleaver and machete and police closing down London streets to make way for a major pro-Hezbollah march.

The group only began keeping statistics in 2014, though other outlets such as the Community Security Trust, have been releasing figures for much longer. In February, the CST reported a record 1,309 incidents in 2016, constituting a 36 percent increase over the 2015 tally.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said her office is working to stop anti-Semitic hate crime.

“Hate crime of any type is not acceptable. Everyone in this country has the right to be safe from violence and persecution. We are working together to tackle anti-Semitic hate crime in all its forms and using the full force of the law to protect every person in the UK. Our Hate Crime Action Plan has encouraged further action against hate crime across the police and criminal justice system. This includes encouraging more victims to report incidents to the police. We will consider the report’s recommendations carefully as we develop new ways to rid the country of this sickening crime,” she said in a statement.

Roh Kilnam, Glendale-based editor of a pro-North Korean website, during a visit to North Korea in 2014, receives the Kim Il Sung Prize. Photo from Facebook

Pro-North Korean website in Los Angeles promotes anti-Semitism


Though few in number, North Korean loyalists in Los Angeles are dedicated and prolific in their public adulation of the brutal dictatorship, now flexing its muscles as a nuclear power. Woven into their Korean-language propaganda is the idea that Jews manipulate the international order, turning it against their beloved tyrant, Kim Jong Un.

At least two L.A.-based contributors to a local, pro-North Korean website, Lee Insook and Yai Joung-woong, are using the platform to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Similar groups based on the East Coast and abroad also participate in spreading outlandish stereotypes of Jews, drawing on age-old tropes such as “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

“The black shadow government of the United States Jews is said to approve a civil war on the Korean peninsula,” Yai wrote in May on the Korean-language propaganda site Minjok Tongshin (minjok.com), which translates to “National Communication.”

With its ever-expanding nuclear program and missiles now judged powerful enough to reach the United States, North Korea has become a top policy concern for the Donald Trump administration as it searches for strategies to thwart its nuclear ambitions.
The country has grabbed recent headlines through high-profile missile tests and by repatriating a comatose Jewish American, Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned for more than a year. He died shortly after he was released to his family in Ohio.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s apologists in Los Angeles have been busy singing its praises.

Yai, a naturalized American citizen who pled guilty in 2003 to acting as an unregistered agent of the North Korean government and served two years in prison, currently resides in Los Angeles.

Speaking by phone through an interpreter, he said he has a “certain respect for Jewish people,” adding that “they are brilliant, they are easy to understand and they are very liberal.”

Rather than originating the conspiracy theories, he said he mostly reads them on blogs based in China and merely repeats them, saying that he has a “tendency to not believe, but to follow the stories.”

He said that while he doubts that Jews secretly manipulate world events, he nonetheless believes Jews wield a great deal of power in the United States and worries they could use that power to the detriment of North Korea, which he admits he holds in high regard.

Lee, a nurse, lives in Torrance.

Writing on Minjok Tongshin, she has asserted that Israeli Jews are responsible for the creation of the Islamic State and that Jews in general are a Satanic race.

“The God of the Jewish race created by Israel does not really exist, but is an abstraction and a devil which has made the world a living hell,” she wrote recently on Minjok Tongshin in an article titled “Demons hate the work of angels.”

Lee could not be reached for comment.

Roh Kilnam, who runs Minjok Tongshin out of his Glendale home, distanced himself from the two writers while defending their freedom of speech.

He said in a telephone interview they were “just freelancers,” but declined to say whether he had reviewed the anti-Semitic material before it was published.

Asked if he stood by the writers, he said, “We don’t support the content, but there’s freedom of press, you know. They have their own ideas and their own right to express.”

But Roh appears to enjoy a close relationship with both contributors.

After Yai was imprisoned, Roh visited him at the Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. Yai has since appeared as a keynote speaker at events organized by Minjok Tongshin.

Lee wrote more articles than any other contributor in 2014 and 2015, and Roh presented her with an award for her writing, the website reported.

Roh declined to answer additional questions and hung up after a three-minute conversation.

A Facebook page in his name posted a laudatory statement last week about North Korea’s July 4 test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which read in part, “The test launch did not have any negative effects on the world’s safety and the safety of the surrounding countries.”

Roh’s website speaks frequently in adoring tones about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un. The editor has claimed in media interviews to have visited the rogue state dozens of times. During a visit in 2014, he received the Kim Il-Sung Prize, named for the country’s founding leader.

Lawrence Peck, an L.A.-based expert on pro-North Korean activism in the United States, said Minjok Tongshin has “direct, strong, ongoing ties to the highest levels of the North Korean regime.”

He said the ties most likely run through North Korea’s United Nations mission. Requests for comment by the mission were not returned before deadline.

Roh Kilnam. Photo from Facebook

Peck, who is Jewish and earns his living trading stocks, has spent more than two decades monitoring groups and individuals who either openly or covertly work to advance North Korean interests in the United States. He called his watchdog activities “a 24-hour hobby” that often involve media interviews and speaking trips to South Korea.

He said anti-Semitism among overtly pro-North Korean elements such as Minjok Tongshin is widespread, though it goes mostly unnoticed by the Jewish community.

“Because it’s only in Korean, it flies under everyone’s radar,” he said in an interview at a Koreatown coffee shop.

Peck brought the issue to the attention of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a local human rights group.

In 2014, during a flare-up of anti-Semitism in pro-North Korean media tied to Israel’s incursion into Gaza, the Wiesenthal Center issued a statement condemning the rhetoric. It pointed to anonymous comments posted on Minjok Tongshin message boards, such as, “Is there any difference between Jews and Nazis? No. No. No.” and “It is beyond doubt that Jews control the U.S. media.”

In a recent interview with the Journal, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said that while North Korean anti-Semitism wasn’t an immediately pressing issue, “I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.”

“Korean Americans and Jewish Americans have a good relationship,” he said. “If you have a steady flow of invective that comes down, that spills over into part of the overall scenario here in California. It’s not something we would like to see happen, to say it mildly.”

The pro-North Korean community seems to account for a relatively small number of Korean Americans.

“There are over a half million Korean Americans in Southern California. Mostly they are pro-South Korea and pro-USA,” Korean-American journalist Tom Byun wrote in an email. “Among them, it is a small group that has pro-North opinions.” 

Byun, who spent four decades as the editor of America’s largest Korean daily newspaper, the L.A.-based Korea Times, added that most Korean Americans hold favorable views toward Jews, and relatively few frequent sites like Minjok Tongshin.

“Many Koreans in America do not know of the existence of the Minjok Tongshin site,” he wrote. “Ordinary people of LA Koreatown do not recognize the names of Roh Kilnam, Insook Lee and Yai Joung-woong.”

But Minjok Tongshin is not alone among U.S.-based, pro-North Korean groups that engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric. A group called the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC) wrote in a July 3 Korean-language statement that “American politics serves exclusively to benefit Jews and capitalists.”

One of the leaders of KANCC is Kil-sang Yoon, a Methodist minister in the Inland Empire’s Moreno Valley. Lee also contributes frequently to KANCC’s website, sometimes reposting the same articles on Minjok Tongshin.

The roots of Jew-hatred among pro-North Korean elements appear to be various.

One reason for the rhetoric, Cooper said, is North Korea’s alignment with anti-Israel elements such as the Iranian and Syrian regimes and the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Peck echoed Cooper’s reasoning, adding that pro-North Korean elements in the United States tend to ally themselves with far-left groups critical of Israel’s government.

Pro-North Korean anti-Semitism could also come from a general tendency to believe conspiracy theories, he said: Someone who mistakes a brutal dictatorship that starves and tortures its own people for a humanistic and benevolent government may be willing to adopt other peculiar ideas as well, such as Jews controlling the world order.

“Whenever you’re dealing with fringe elements, nuts, extremists, you always find that anti-Semitism is present,” Peck said.

Although careful not to overstate the impact of anti-Semitism from pro-North Korean websites on the Korean-American community at large, he said they can sometimes wield influence on the margins.

“There are people who are reading this garbage, and they are being influenced more so than if these sites didn’t exist and they didn’t see that rhetoric — because they wouldn’t necessarily go to the Stormfront neo-Nazi page,” he said, referencing the nation’s most popular white supremacist website. “But if it’s in Korean, they’re more likely to see it.”

Photo via Sarah Stierch/Wikimedia Commons

Time to call out activists’ anti-Semitic bigotry


A good litmus test for the strength of a society is how it perceives and treats its minorities. In the United States, there was no more effective a proponent of equal rights for all than the late Martin Luther King Jr.

King’s derived his moral power from a biblical vision of peace and justice, that in the American vernacular meant equal rights for Blacks and all minorities.

Today the struggle for that elusive level playing field in the Justice-For-All League extends to immigrant rights and especially the LGBTQ community.

In recent years, Gay Pride parades have become a fixture in major cities around the world. These events publicly promote and celebrate inclusion of all people whatever their sexual orientation and to push for maximum rights and inclusion.

In Istanbul, Turkey where 100,000 people marched in the 2014 Gay Pride parade, in 2017, police fired at the few dozen activists who tried to defy the ban imposed by President Erdogan as he continues his drive to Islamicize the once predominantly secular nation.

Tel Aviv, Israel hosted a huge parade a few weeks ago involving over 200,000 people. In the Jewish state, gays serve openly in the military and are a part of the mainstream of all aspects of society-from the arts to business, politics and diplomacy.

In Tehran, there aren’t be any Gay Pride parades. Gays who dare openly express their sexual identity in the tightly controlled society could find themselves thrown off of rooftops, hung or disappeared into prison.

And there are many other countries including Russia and Ukraine, where gays often fear for their lives.

So LGBTQ activists have their work cut out in pursuit of global rights, equality and acceptance.

But the LGBTQ movement has not been well-served by a recent ugly incident at the Chicago Dyke March. There, three Jewish women carrying the multicolored flag of the LGBTQ movement were told to leave the march because they had sewn in a Jewish Star of David. They were told that the presence of the core symbol of Jews and Judaism “made people unsafe” and that the march was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian”.

These progressive bigots insisted they were not anti-Semitic.

Yet who else but an anti-Semite would feel threatened by the Star of David, an age-old symbol of a faith and a people? Who else would support an ideology that denies the legitimacy of the presence of over six million Jews, living in a modern Jewish state that stands on their 3,000-year-old homeland? Who else but an anti-Semite would hold collectively accountable three women in Chicago for alleged misdeeds-real and imagined- of other Jews residing thousands of miles away?

Two days after the incident, organizers of the Chicago Dyke March not only refused to apologize, they doubled down on their bigotry.

They justified throwing out the three participants displaying the Jewish symbols by declaring that “Zionism is an inherently white-supremacist ideology.”

That would be news to Israelis whose families hail from Morocco, India, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. And it would be a real shocker to Yityish Aynaw, the first black Miss Israel and the over 100,000 other Ethiopian Jews who have returned to the Land of Israel.

As for the White Supremacist canard, it came about 75 years too late for 6 million European Jews. They were isolated, dehumanized and mass murdered by a Nazis’ White Aryan racist, genocidal regime, who apparently unaware of the “whiteness” of their Jewish victims.

Far from being an aberration, such a wholesale demonization of Israel, Zionists, and Zionism, follows on the heels of Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American political activist and national co-chair of the Women’s March, who in an interview in The Nationannounced that there is no room in the feminist movement for those who identify with Zionism.

And there is more from Sarsour, who just after the 4th of July, told a major Muslim conference to in effect, wage ‘jihad’ against the President of the United States…

Apparently the vision of a society based on “equality for all” isn’t enough for these self-appointed gatekeepers of America’s progressive social agenda.

The embrace of history’s oldest hate-anti-Semitism in the name of Social justice is an abomination. It helps explain the roaring silence when Gays are executed in Iran or persecuted in Arab lands. In the final analysis, such unbridled hypocrisy diminishes and degrades the cause that claims ‘equality for all’ as its ultimate goal.

What would Martin Luther King Jr, a great admirer of the Jewish state say?

I believe he would issue a warning to bigots hiding beyond their progressive slogans:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that…


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.

People take part in the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Israel is losing support among minorities and millennials, study finds


What do you think of when you think of Italy?

Maybe you picture beautiful works of art set against rolling Tuscan hills. Maybe a steaming plate of spaghetti topped with marinara sauce served with a deep red wine.

Now what do you think of when you think of Israel?

If you’re like most Americans, you picture walls of concrete enclosing an austere and strict country. The men wear black hats, the women long skirts. Everyone looks pretty serious.

That’s what Brand Israel Group, former advertising professionals who set out to sell Israel to Americans, found in a series of focus groups beginning in 2005. Brand Israel has since commissioned two surveys of the American public — in 2010 and 2016 — and hasn’t liked what it found.

According to the surveys, Israel has pretty broad backing among American citizens, but is losing support among a range of growing demographics. As pro-Israel advocates tout “shared values” between the United States and Israel, fewer and fewer Americans actually think they believe the same things as Israelis.

“Shared values are the bedrock of our relationship, and young Americans do not believe Israel shares our values,” said Fern Oppenheim, one of the group’s co-founders. “That’s a huge issue. We have to have a narrative about the heart and soul and humanity of the Israelis.”

The survey was conducted online last September and October by the polling firm Global Strategy Group, and sampled 2,600 Americans among a range of demographic groups. Here’s some of what it found:

Knowledge of Israel has gone up — but favorability is down.

More people say they know more about Israel now than they did in 2010. While only 23 percent of Americans said they knew at least a fair amount about Israel in 2010, the number rose to 37 percent in 2016. Knowledge of Israel grew among every demographic group except college students, where it fell precipitously — from 50 percent to just 34 percent, a number on par with the national average.

But it appears that the more Americans learn about Israel, the less they like it. In 2010, 76 percent of Americans viewed Israel favorably. In 2016, the number fell to 62 percent. Levels of support dropped as well. In 2010, the study found that 22 percent of Americans were “core” supporters of Israel, which dropped to 15 percent by 2016.

Israel is losing out among a range of growing demographics, from Latinos to millennials.

The groups with relatively high levels of favorability toward Israel, according to the study, included men, Republicans and older Americans. The groups that like Israel less are the mirror image: women, Democrats and millennials, along with African-Americans and Latinos. And those population groups are all growing.

A majority of all these groups still sees Israel favorably, but the numbers are falling. Favorability among Democrats dropped 13 points, from 73 percent to 60 percent. Among women, it dropped from 74 percent to 57 percent.

Among African-Americans and Latinos, favorability toward Israel fell 20 points each, from about three-quarters each to just over half. Fewer than half of African-Americans and Latinos believe “Israel shares my values.”

Most college students hardly hear about Israel at all.

Colleges are hotbeds of anti-Israel fervor, right? Not so much. The study found declining results for Israel among college students, but a majority still view Israel favorably. Moreover, most college students hardly encounter the Israel debate at all.

Favorability toward Israel fell 17 points among college students between 2010 and last year, but still stands at 54 percent. Nearly all Jewish college students used to view Israel favorably, but even after a 13-point drop, the favorability stat still stands at 82 percent.

Still, Oppenheim noted a shifting picture among Jewish college students. While 84 percent of Jewish college students leaned toward the Israeli side of the conflict in 2010, only 57 percent do now. Support for the Palestinian side, meanwhile, grew more than sixfold, from 2 percent to 13 percent.

Notably, nearly a third of Jewish college students said they experience anti-Semitism on campus. Of those, more than 40 percent said the anti-Semitism was not connected to Israel.

But what college students can agree on most regarding Israel is that they barely hear about it. More than three-quarters of college students said Israel rarely or never comes up. On college campuses with an organized pro-Palestinian presence, the number drops only slightly, to 70 percent.

Americans see Israel as ultra-religious and war-torn.

Israel has spent years and millions of dollars trying to portray itself as the place where Gal Gadot invented the cherry tomato on the beach using Waze. Or something.

Israel’s touting of its tech industry, warm climate and Mediterranean food may have worked a bit on Americans, who view Israel as innovative (78 percent) and cool (63 percent). But about three-quarters of Americans still see Israel as dominated by conflict. And although only 10 percent of Israeli Jews are Charedi Orthodox, 73 percent of Americans view Israel as ultra-religious.

So while American Jewish leaders have protested this week that a small Charedi minority dominates Israel, that minority, for many Americans, is the image of the Jewish state. 

The flag in question looked like this. Via WikiCommons

On anti-Semitism at Chicago Dyke March


I am a queer Israeli Jew of Arab and North African descent. I’m no stranger to oppression in many forms. My family escaped Iraq in the early 1950s as anti-Semitism in Iraq reached a peak. I grew up in an underprivileged neighborhood in Israel and struggled to make my way out of it. I served in the Israeli army as an openly queer commander for five years, and had to endure many battles on the path for acceptance. Yet I cannot wrap my head around the bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism coming from my LGBT community.

On June 24, the final red line was crossed at the Chicago Dyke March. What was supposed to be a march for equal rights for an oppressed minority turned into a hate-fest targeting Jewish people — yes anti-Semitism in the guise of LGBT rights. Three LGBT Jewish participants were forced out of the parade for holding a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it. For the organizers, it was unacceptable to have a Jewish symbol at the parade. While you might think that they would try to apologize after this shameful act, they didn’t. The organizers took to Twitter and argued: “Queer and Trans anti-Zionist Jewish folks are welcome here …” In other words, some Jews can join, but they will decide which ones.

It is not a political stand; we all know it is not. If this were political, why are they not targeting the countless countries that ban homosexuality and target LGBT people on a daily basis? Would they be removing Iranians from the parade for holding a flag with crescent on it? In Iran, they hang gays every day. Why not Gaza, where they throw gays off of rooftops? Or Chechnya? It is not political, it is ideological, an ideology called intersectionality. The problem with intersectionality is that it doesn’t even adhere to its original meaning: All struggles for rights are inherently connected. It has now become a tool to be used against not only Israel, but Jews in general, who are accused of “white privilege” even though we’re not white.

What does the support of Zionism (the movement to liberate the Jewish people in their ancient homeland) have to do with your LGBT identity? What does your religion have to do with it? Even if you are critical of Israel’s politics and policies, as I am and many Israelis are, why are the organizers supporting only “anti-Zionists”? The only meaning of anti-Zionism is the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish state. For the organizers of the parade to support anti-Zionism can mean only that they support the end of Israel, destroying the Jewish state. Iran’s leaders, ISIS, and many terrorist groups hold similar views to the organizers of the Dyke March. It can be defined only as anti-Semitic.

We are witnessing a trend among many in the progressive camp, a camp of which I am a part, that is losing its true identity and being used by campaigners and strategists manipulating them. Some queer groups and other minority groups are being used as tools to promote hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. They are being told to use their identity, be it their race, gender or religion, to fight Israel for a cause they have no connection to. These groups must ask themselves, before taking a stand about Israel, when was the last time they took a stand about another conflict around the world? When was the last time they’ve judged a participant in an event based on his ethnicity or religion? Why is it only with Israel and Jews that they feel that they have the liberty to boycott, to discriminate and to hate?

The signs are clear and this type of hateful incident is a red flag for the LGBT community. What is this community if not a community that is fighting for equality and justice, for our community and for all? Although it is not popular to stand up for the Jewish people and the Jewish state, we must remember the lessons of history. It might start with us but it never ends with us.

Also, everything can change very quickly. The just thing to do is to stand up to this type of hatred and call it what it is, nothing more or less than anti-Semitism.


Hen Mazzig is an Israeli writer, speaker and social activist from Tel Aviv. You can follow him @HenMazzig.

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., on May 3. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

ADL, religious leaders call on Rex Tillerson to appoint envoy to combat anti-Semitism


The Anti-Defamation League, with the support of religious leaders of various faiths, urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

The letter sent Wednesday asks Tillerson to refill the position, which has been empty since the end of Ira Forman’s term five months ago. Two dozen faith leaders, representing Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews, signed the letter.

It notes that the post was mandated by an act of Congress in 2004, and takes issue with Tillerson’s assertion earlier this month that in lieu of a dedicated envoy, “all diplomats would be educated enough to work against anti-Semitism.”

Countering the assertion, the ADL letter says that “concerns about anti-Semitism do not always make it onto the agenda of diplomatic meetings, especially when many other legitimate and pressing issues require attention. By contrast, when the Special Envoy meets with foreign officials, anti-Semitism is the agenda.”

The letter also refers to a letter from March in which 167 members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, emphasized the need for U.S. global leadership in fighting anti-Semitism.

The ADL also recently created an online petition demanding a special envoy be appointed.

The lone staffer in the office monitoring anti-Semitism is currently on a fellowship that was extended recently for 30 days by its sponsor. The fellowship is schedule to conclude at the end of July.

A view of the State Department building in Washington, D.C. Wikimedia Commons

Former anti-Semitism envoys call on Congress to fund the office


Two former officials who served as the State Department’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism called on President Donald Trump to fill the position and said they expected Congress to fund the envoy’s office in the coming budget.

The office of the envoy, whose job is to monitor and document anti-Semitism around the world, as well as work with foreign governments to fight it, has been vacant since Ira Forman left the job last year. Trump has not appointed a replacement, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the need for the post earlier this month.

On July 1, the envoy’s office will be left unstaffed, as its two remaining employees are set to be reassigned.

In a conference call Monday organized for the media by the Anti-Defamation League, the two envoys who served under President Barack Obama said the position is necessary in order to coordinate and advance the monitoring work done in U.S. missions worldwide. They added that the envoy’s working definition of anti-Semitism helped U.S. personnel in foreign countries determine what is and is not anti-Semitism.

“If people aren’t being rounded up and sent to their death, many people in the State Department and Congress and many places feel there isn’t anti-Semitism,” said Hannah Rosenthal, the envoy during Obama’s first term. “These are things that don’t happen unless someone is responsible in the State Department for making sure it happens. That’s something both President Trump and Secretary Tillerson do not seem to get.”

While neither Rosenthal nor Ira Forman, the envoy during Obama’s second term, have spoken with the Trump White House staff about the issue, both expect Congress to push Trump to appoint someone to the post. The envoy position was created in 2004 through a bipartisan congressional vote, so Trump cannot formally eliminate it, though he can decline to fill it.

Forman said the State Department staff also recognizes the importance of the envoy office.

“I’ve spoken to former colleagues throughout the department periodically, and they’re anxious to be able to tell the story to their superiors in the department,” he said. “I have little doubt that Congress will weigh in in an extremely bipartisan way to direct the secretary to man this office.”

Tillerson questioned the need for the post during testimony June 14 to the foreign operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.

“One of the questions I’ve asked is, if we’re really going to affect these areas, these special areas, don’t we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country?” he asked. “And by having a special envoy, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘oh, we’ve got somebody else that does,’ and then they stop doing it.”

Photo from Wikipedia

Ban on Jewish Pride flags at gay march called ‘unbridled hypocrisy’


Jewish groups denounced the banning of Jewish Pride flags at a lesbian march in Chicago and called for an apology.

Organizers of the 21st annual Chicago Dyke March told the three women asked to leave the march that the rainbow flags with a white Star of David in the center would be a “trigger,” or traumatic stimulus, for people who found them offensive.

A Dyke March collective member told the Windy City Times that the women were told to leave because the flags “made people feel unsafe,” and that Sunday’s march was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.”

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Monday that march organizers should apologize to the women for what it described as an “outrageous” action.

“The community of LGBTQ supporters is diverse and that is part of its tremendous strength,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO. “Both the act and the explanation were anti-Semitic, plain and simple. We stand with A Wider Bridge and others in demanding an apology. We appreciate the Human Rights Campaign’s support and we call on other leaders from LGBTQ and progressive communities to join us in condemning this exclusion.”

The Human Rights Campaign, which calls itself the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization with 1.5 million members, tweeted its support for the women.

“Marches should be safe spaces to celebrate our diversity and our pride. This is not right,” the group wrote.

The Chicago Dyke march in a statement issued late Sunday said that Palestinian and Jewish anti-Zionist marchers approached the women and expressed concern about the flags since they are “visually reminiscent of the Israeli flag” due to the placement of the Star of David in the middle, and because such flags are widely used in “pinkwashing” — what some activists say is Israel’s attempt to promote its progressive gay rights as a screen for mistreatment of Palestinians.

The women were asked to leave, according to the statement, after they began “defending the state of Israel and Zionism as a whole.”  The statement continued: “It became clear that the political position of the marchers was at odds with the anti-racist and anti-Zionist ethos of Dyke march Chicago.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights NGO, also denounced the banning of the Jewish Pride flags, saying it “brings disgrace to a movement that is dedicated to equal rights for all.”

“Equal rights that is except for Jews who dare to celebrate their ties to their people and the Jewish homeland,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, said in a statement.

He added: “The unbridled hypocrisy and anti-Semitism of these campaigners degrades the cause for equality for all in our society and for LGBTQ rights around the world.”

The Chicago Jewish Voice for Peace, which backs the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, offered its support to march organizers, retweeting their statement and declaring, “We stand 100% w @DykeMarchChi.…”

A view of the State Department building in Washington, D.C. Wikimedia Commons

State Dept.’s anti-Semitism monitoring office to be unstaffed as of July 1


The U.S. State Department’s office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism will be unstaffed as of July 1.

A source familiar with the office’s workings told JTA that its remaining two staffers, each working half-time or less, would be reassigned as of that date.

The Trump administration, which has yet to name an envoy to head the office, would not comment on the staffing change. At full staffing, the office employs a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three full-time staffers.

The State Department told JTA in a statement that it remained committed to combating anti-Semitism – and cited as evidence the tools, including the department’s annual reports on human rights and religious freedom, that existed before Congress mandated the creation of the envoy office in 2004.

“We want to ensure the Department is addressing anti-Semitism in the most effective and efficient method possible and will continue to endeavor to do so,” the statement said.

“The Department of State condemns attacks on Jewish communities and individuals. We consistently urge governments around the world to address and condemn anti-Semitism and work with vulnerable Jewish communities to assess and provide appropriate levels of security.

“The Department, our Embassies, and our Consulates support extensive bilateral, multilateral, and civil society outreach to Jewish communities,” the statement continued. “Additionally, the State Department continues to devote resources towards programs combating anti-Semitism online and off, as well as building NGO coalitions in Europe. We also closely monitor global anti-Semitism and report on it in our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Report, which document global anti-Semitism in 199 countries.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress in testimony earlier this month that he believed special envoys were counterproductive because they provided an excuse to the rest of the department to ignore the specific issue addressed by the envoy.

Congressional lawmakers from both parties have pressed the Trump administration, in letters and proposed bills, to name an envoy and to enhance the office’s status. They have noted that unlike other envoys, whose positions were created by Trump’s predecessors, the office of the envoy on anti-Semitism is a statute and requires filling.

“As the author of the amendment that created the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I remain hopeful that these critical positions will be filled,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who authorized the 2004 law, said in a statement to JTA.

Jewish groups have lobbied President Donald Trump to name an envoy, saying that despite Tillerson’s testimony, the position has been key to encouraging diplomats and officials throughout the department to focus on anti-Semitism. Hannah Rosenthal, a special envoy on anti-Semitism in the Obama administration, instituted department-wide training on identifying anti-Semitism.

“The idea of having a dedicated envoy who can travel around the world to raise awareness on this issue is critical,” the Anti-Defamation League CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, told JTA in an interview.

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t value for all ambassadors and every embassy in addressing issues of anti-Semitism and bigotry in countries they operate,” he said. “But if the administration is truly committed” to combating anti-Semitism, “maintaining the special envoy for anti-Semitism seems like a no-brainer.”

The ADL, coincidentally, launched an online petition Thursday to the White House to fill the position.

Officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has enjoyed a good relationship with the Trump administration, said that if the unstaffing was coming ahead of a reorganization of the office, that was understandable. But positions remain unfilled in all of the major federal departments and agencies since Trump took office.

“However, we are almost in July and there is still no one of proper rank at the State Department whom the Wiesenthal Center and others can work with to re-activate US leadership in the struggle against anti-Semitism at a time when global anti-Semitism is rising,” said an email from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the center, and Mark Weitzman, its director of government affairs.

Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government and international affairs, said the position was essential.

“It’s not as though the need for a special envoy has diminished,” he told JTA in an interview. “If anything it has increased.”

Ed Elhaderi (middle) with high school classmates in Libya in 1967. Photos courtesy of Ed Elhaderi

From a culture of anti-Semitism to becoming a Jew


A Libyan’s nomadic journey of self-discovery and understanding

That hot afternoon seems like yesterday, but it was 50 years ago this month. I was 15 and living in Sabha, a small city in the Sahara Desert of southern Libya. An older cousin told me about the reports on Cairo Radio about the dire situation facing the Egyptian army.

“We’ve got to do something,” he said.

I didn’t fully understand the politics of what would come to be known as the Six-Day War, but I knew that what was happening was bad for us as Arabs and Muslims. All around me were other teenagers absorbing the tense mood and looking to vent their rage at the Jews.

I followed the crowd to the only Western-style establishment nearby, a bar. It was early afternoon and the place hadn’t opened yet. A few older boys broke down the door, and a crowd stormed in, breaking bottles and dumping alcohol onto the street outside.

Standing in a crowd, I joined the chants: “Death to the Jews!” “Drive the Jews into the sea!”

The truth is that I had never actually met a Jew. I grew up in a small nomadic village of 20 families, a collection of mud huts with palm-frond roofs that wouldn’t have looked much different 2,000 years earlier. Health care was so primitive that by the time I was a young boy, my parents had lost three children to illness.

Sunni Islam was the only way of life I knew. My preschool was in a mosque, where an imam taught us to read and write by drilling us with verses from the Quran. After that, our education was more secular — I went to mosque, going through the motions, but I was hardly devout. I never was exposed to any alternatives or avenues to question the life we had.

Our textbooks didn’t mention Israel, and people used the word Yahudi, Jew, only as an insult. The Jews had rejected the Prophet Muhammad, so they were considered to be condemned. The only Jews I saw were in Egyptian movies, in which they were portrayed as menacing, monstrous characters — hunched over and speaking with high-pitched nasal accents.

I did know Palestinian Arabs. My elementary school had once hired a young Palestinian as a teacher. Because he was Palestinian, the community welcomed him warmly and supported him generously.

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Elhaderi receives the prestigious First Honor National Academic Award from Libyan Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud in 1974.

After high school, I went to the University of Tripoli, where I was neither politically active nor religiously observant. During my first year there, my father arrived to deliver tragic news: My mother had died. I channeled my grief into focusing on my studies, earning a place in the prestigious chemical engineering program.

Hoping for a career in the country’s burgeoning oil industry, I won a scholarship to study abroad in one of the top-ranked programs in my field, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Leaving behind my father and one younger brother, I set out for my first journey beyond Libya.

In Madison, I discovered a campus teeming with international students — Iranians, Nigerians, Europeans, Asians. Amid the activist ferment of the mid-1970s, each group freely and openly expressed its political and cultural identity.

I did that, too: When I moved into an office I shared with two other graduate students, I tacked up a large poster of Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, wearing his iconic kaffiyeh and brandishing a semiautomatic rifle.

It was 1974, just two years after the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympic Games and the same year as the terrorist massacre in the Israeli town of Ma’alot. Half of the department’s faculty and perhaps a quarter of its students were Jewish, yet it didn’t strike me that my choice of décor might offend anyone. Many colleagues undoubtedly reacted by steering clear of me.

And then, for the first time, I began getting to know Jewish people. The encounters happened organically, in classrooms and the student union. Two Jewish professors in my department were kind and understanding. Over one leisurely summer, I spent time with a Jewish philosophy professor who engaged a group of us over beers in leisurely discussions about politics and life. I was struck by how they were just people — wonderful, decent, normal people. They defied every stereotype I had been fed while growing up in Libya.

The contrast was so striking that not only did I begin to reconsider my assumptions about Jews, but I also came to re-examine every aspect of my life. Gradually, I came to see how the black-and-white worldview I had grown up with didn’t jibe with reality.

The more experiences I had with Jews, the more I felt drawn to them. I even began thinking that I wanted to marry a Jewish person (although I didn’t have a particular one in mind). Perhaps that would help me to cleanse myself of the hateful mindset of my upbringing.

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Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, after he received his doctorate in chemical engineering from USC in 1982.

After three years in Madison, I transferred to USC. A few months after arriving in Los Angeles, I was practicing tennis at the Ambassador Hotel when I struck up a conversation with an attractive young woman named Barbara and suggested we volley. When I told her my background, she said, unprompted, “I just want you to know, I’m Jewish.”

We exchanged phone numbers, and a week later, I called her. It took a couple of weeks before we connected again, meeting to play tennis and dine on Mexican food. We got along well. Not long after that, I went out of town to take a break from my studies and returned to find a note from Barbara telling me she missed me.

Before long, she invited me to meet her parents. Barbara’s father had lived in Israel, serving as an officer in its War of Independence. And one of her sisters’ boyfriends was an Israeli who had served in the Israel Defense Forces.

I’m sure that when they learned that she was dating a Libyan named Abdulhafied (the name I had grown up with and still used), they thought Barbara had lost her mind.

Still, we grew closer. After a couple of months, we moved together into an apartment her parents owned in Koreatown. At first, the arrangement was one of convenience, but soon our lives became intertwined. Barbara lovingly helped me through my doctoral thesis and cared for me in ways no one had since my childhood.

She also welcomed me into her family’s life, and, despite our contrasting backgrounds, her parents accepted me with love. Barbara’s family wasn’t particularly observant — they celebrated only Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover.

In 1980, we married at their Fairfax District home. At that point, I didn’t consider myself a Muslim, but rather a spiritual searcher. Together, Barbara and I had explored a nondenominational church called Science of Mind. Our wedding ceremony blended elements of Judaism with some of our own personal touches.

By then, my relationship with my aging father, still back in Libya, was distant. I spoke to him only occasionally, and his question was always: “When are you coming back?” I chose not to share the news of my marriage.

As we settled into our life together, Barbara and I had only limited Jewish observances: Rosh Hashanah dinners, Chanukah gift exchanges, seders hosted by her parents. Together, we continued our spiritual search, occasionally joining a colleague of Barbara’s at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

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Elhaderi’s father, Elsaidi, in front of his home in the Libyan village of Hatiet Bergen in 1979.

Eager to start a family, we struggled with infertility for many years. We were just days from adopting a baby when the birth mother had a last-minute change of heart. Then, just a week later, Barbara learned she was pregnant. Our daughter, Jessica, was born in 1991 and, two years later, we had a son, Jason.

Not long after that, my father died. We had spoken only occasionally since my last visit to Libya, in 1979. I had shared little about my new life with him, knowing it would have been nearly impossible for him to grasp the pluralism and openness I had come to cherish.

Surely he couldn’t have imagined the next step in my spiritual journey. When Jason turned 12, he announced that he wanted to have a bar mitzvah. We were living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and a neighbor, the Israeli-born wife of a rabbi, offered to teach him to read Hebrew and start some initial religious study.

He also began studying Judaism and his Torah portion with a Chabad rabbi at a shul not far from Barbara’s parents. I sat in on every class, slowly learning about Jewish prayer and customs, as Jason studied his haftarah and maftir. The more I absorbed, the more I felt drawn to Judaism.

On the day he became bar mitzvah, I stood on the bimah, filled with pride in my son and awe for the beauty of the service I could barely understand — and overflowing with emotions I could not fully explain.

The power of that day also made me start to ponder my own mortality. It pained me to realize that since I wasn’t Jewish, I could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery beside my beloved wife.

Not long after the bar mitzvah, I told Barbara that I wanted to convert to Judaism. A rabbi we knew directed us to American Jewish University’s Introduction to Judaism Program, and Barbara and I enrolled.

Our 18 months in the class felt like a second honeymoon: While I learned about Jewish history, Torah and Jewish rituals, I felt closer than ever to Barbara, and I fell in love with Judaism.

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Ed Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, celebrate his becoming a U.S. citizen in 1985.

When I met with my sponsoring rabbi, Perry Netter, then at Temple Beth Am, he asked only one question: “Why do you want to be Jewish?” Choked up with emotion, I couldn’t speak. I simply cried.

“OK,” he said, smiling. “You pass.”

Something else happened: The more I learned about Judaism, the more I saw parallels in my own upbringing in Libya. When I learned about the mezuzah, I remembered how in my childhood village, families posted palm fronds wrapped around verses from the Quran in their doorways. Words I learned from biblical Hebrew seemed to echo colloquial terms unique to the region of my youth.

Investigating, I learned that Jews had lived for thousands of years in Libya, including in my native region of Fezzan — although most left in 1948, and nearly all of those remaining fled just after the Six-Day War. My strong feeling was that I wasn’t so much discovering a new faith as uncovering a long-hidden part of myself, that perhaps some of my ancestors were Jews.

On the morning when I went before the beit din — the rabbinical court — to finalize my conversion, and plunged into the waters of the mikveh, I felt joy combined with a serenity that had eluded me for decades. I felt that I was returning to where I belonged.

Our family joined Temple Beth Am, where I felt increasingly at home, regularly attending on Shabbat and weekdays. At home, we shared weekly Shabbat dinners, at which I started offering each of my children a blessing.

I also engaged in regular Torah study and found particular resonance in Rabbi Akiva’s wisdom from Pirkei Avot: “Everything is foreseen, yet free choice is given.”

That essential tenet — that we can embrace God but decide our own fates — encapsulates much of what I hold dear about America and Judaism. I grew up like so many people in closed societies, knowing one way of life, having one set of beliefs, and taught to despise anything beyond that realm.

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Ed Elhaderi (far right) at his son’s bar mitzvah in 2006 with (from left) daughter Jessica, in-laws Ellen and Bob Levin, son Jason and wife Barbara.

The best guidance for overcoming that kind of internal and external strife is another piece of advice from Pirkei Avot: “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.”

My own learning came full circle in November 2012, when Barbara and I traveled to Israel. We landed in the late afternoon, and by the time we arrived at our Tel Aviv hotel, Barbara wanted to rest, but I felt energized, so I took a walk. Traversing the streets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa until midnight, I marveled at the variety of people I saw — young and old, from so many ethnic backgrounds. I was amazed by the sights and smells and how alive the city was.

Scanning the faces I passed on the street, I could not help but think back to my youth, to the hatred for Israel and Jews that had been fed to me.  As we traveled the country — Jerusalem, Safed, the Golan, Rehovot — Israel entered my bloodstream. I felt at home.

The trip deepened my connection to Israel and to being Jewish. In synagogue on Shabbat mornings, I began to take notice of a part of the service that I hadn’t thought much about: the prayer for the State of Israel.

Now I say it each week with full intention: “Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy.”

Occasionally, as I say those words, I think back to my 15-year-old self, on that hot June afternoon on the streets of Sabha. And I say an extra prayer of gratitude to God for carrying me on this remarkable journey to myself.


ED ELHADERI is a real estate investor and developer who lives in West Los Angeles with his wife, daughter and son. He is writing a memoir about his journey from his Libyan childhood to his life as an active and committed American Jew. Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles author and editor who helps people tell their life stories in writing.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks to the employees at the State Department in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Rex Tillerson retreats from commitment to fill anti-Semitism envoy position


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson retreated from his department’s commitment to fill the post of envoy to combat anti-Semitism, saying the effort may be more effective without one.

“One of the questions I’ve asked is, if we’re really going to affect these areas, these special areas, don’t we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country?” Tillerson said in testimony Wednesday to the foreign operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. “And by having a special envoy, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘oh, we’ve got somebody else that does,’ and then they stop doing it.”

Since Congress established the position with a 2004 law, the role of the envoy has been to train career State Department officers and diplomats in identifying and combating anti-Semitism and to encourage embassies and bureaus to more closely monitor anti-Semitism. The envoy has not functioned as a stand-alone entity but rather is part of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and supervises about five career State Department staffers.

European Jewish community officials have said that having an envoy has delivered a message to their governments that the United States is focused on anti-Semitism.

At the subcommittee hearing, Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., asked Tillerson for a timeline for the hire. Earlier this year there were reports that the Trump administration, eyeing massive budget cuts to the State Department, planned to eliminate the role. National Jewish groups and Congress members expressed outrage, and in April a State Department spokesman told JTA that the department did not in fact plan to eliminate the position and was reviewing candidates to fill it.

Lawmakers have noted that because the role was created by statute, the Trump administration cannot eliminate the post. Tillerson said he would seek to persuade Congress to cut the position if he deems it necessary.

“Those that are mandated by statute, we will be back to talk with you about those as to whether we think it’s good to have it structured that way or whether we really think we can be effective on those issues in a different way,” he said at the hearing.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee, was appalled by the possibility of the position being eliminated.

“It is outrageous and offensive that Secretary Tillerson would even suggest appointing a Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism is unnecessary, particularly given that his State Department committed to filling the post back in April,” she said in an email to JTA. “As reports of hate crimes against Jews continue to rise in the United States and around the world, it is essential that Secretary Tillerson fill the Special Envoy position immediately.”

Bipartisan legislation under consideration would enhance the position to ambassador level.

“It is essential that the administration fill the position now more than ever, and we appreciate Congress to make sure the administration hears this message loud and clear,” William Daroff, the Washington director of Jewish Federations of North America, told JTA in an interview.

Willow Geer (left) is Portia and Alan Blumenfeld is Shylock in in “The Merchant of Venice.” Photo by Ian FLanders

Our time is right for staging of ‘Merchant of Venice’


What is “The Merchant of Venice” selling? Is it anti-Semitism or a dramatic commentary on the anti-Semitism of William Shakespeare’s time? With a view favoring the latter, a new production of the controversial play, opening June 3 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon, is being staged as a commentary on the anti-Semitism of our own time.

The 16th-century play has a long history of prompting unease, ire, protest and censure from Jews for its portrayal of Shylock, a vengeful Jewish moneylender who demands a pound of flesh for repayment of a debt. In light of a recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and in countries around the world, the producers of this updated version believe it is time to look at the play with fresh and wary eyes again, after they produced it 15 years ago.

“There’s so much anti-Semitism in the world, and this play is perfect for now because it mirrors our own society a bit,” said Ellen Geer, artistic director of Theatricum Botanicum and the director of both productions of the play.

The play addresses a “lack of caring about humanity — it puts it right smack in front of your face,” said Geer, the daughter of the late Will Geer, an actor and social activist who was the theater’s founder. “It’s a beautiful piece of art about human beings when there is no love and caring about each other” — a condition she sees mirrored in the political reality and economic disparity of our times.

Alan Blumenfeld, the actor playing the leading role of Shylock, agrees about the timeliness of the production. “In a time when we have rising anti-Semitism and bigotry and hatred and violence in the world and in our country, there is no better time to do this play,” he said.

Blumenfeld, who played Shylock the last time Theatricum Botanicum staged “The Merchant of Venice,” hopes the audience will see in the play, which has characters spitting at Shylock, “an all-too-real reflection of what’s going on [today],” similar to people pulling headscarves off Muslims, turbans off Sikhs or yarmulkes off Jews.

After the July 15 performance, audience members will have an opportunity to air their thoughts on the play in a “prologue discussion.”

“We want now to have the audience deal with it and face it,” Blumenfeld said. “I welcome the conversation.”

The play and Shylock — who often is invoked as a Jewish stereotype of greed and callousness — have generated discussion among Jews for centuries. In the 1920s and ’30s, during a period of rising anti-Semitism throughout the world, the B’nai B’rith Messenger, Los Angeles’ Jewish newspaper of the time, published several articles on whether the play should be banned from public schools, along with a commentary that argued it should not be censored at all.

“Fifteen years ago, there was a real fear from the Jewish community about doing this play because in their mind it was something detrimental, and it’s not,” said Geer, who believes the community’s attitude has changed.

That discussion continues today, with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) offering a guide for high school teachers that explores “the problematic issue of anti-Semitism as a part of the broader discussion of the play.” Theatricum Botanicum also runs its own program called “School Days” to educate a younger audience from the Los Angeles Unified School District about its productions, including “The Merchant of Venice.”

The depiction of the play’s lead character has taken on its own cultural reality, with even Merriam-Webster defining a shylock as a “loan shark,” an image that Blumenfeld doesn’t think “will ever disappear from the cultural imagination.” Calling someone a “shylock” still is considered an anti-Semitic slur, as then-Vice President Joe Biden learned in 2014, when he was criticized by the ADL for using the word in referring to those who make bad loans to people in the military (a gaffe for which he apologized).

Still Blemenfield said, “I don’t think that the play is an anti-Semitic play.” said Blumenfeld. As if to give a preview of the prologue discussion to come, he pointed out that even though Shylock does ask Antonio, the merchant of the play’s title, for a pound of flesh in their contract, it is done, as the text says, in “merry sport. It’s a joke, an aftselakhis,” Blumenfeld said, using the Yiddish word that roughly means “to spite you.”

Blumenfeld, who has been a guest star on more than 300 television episodes and performed in more than 40 films, is perhaps best known to TV viewers as the telepathic father in the NBC series “Heroes.” He also has directed a series of plays that dealt with the secular history of the Jewish experience in the United States, written by his wife, Katherine James. As a Jewish actor in the role of Shylock, Blumenfeld, who was raised a Conservative Jew and is a member of the humanistic-oriented Sholem Community, said the challenge is “to find a complete human within what could be a stereotype.” He noted that, in the past, actors playing Shylock often would “put on a red wig and big, hooked nose, and you would play the evil Jew, even with the language that defies it.”

In pursuit of a more nuanced portrayal as well as an imprimatur, Blumenfeld said two rabbis were consulted before going into production — Rabbi Susan Goldberg of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Rabbi David Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center. Considering that the play is set in the 1500s — Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492 — “both rabbis agreed that Venetian Jews would be Sephardic,” he said. As a result, one scene is going to have a Sephardic lullaby added called “Durme Durme,” which Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, will sing to him — an addition the actor hopes will help his character seem more human.

“We need some insight into Shylock as a loving person,” Blumenfeld said.

He also expects that some of the recent acts of anti-Semitism that have gotten attention — such as the overturning of headstones in a St. Louis Jewish cemetery and the carving of swastikas into cars in Denver — will help a younger audience see Shylock from a more recognizable perspective. “Our parents saw Jews humiliated in public in Nazi Germany,” but a younger generation “has not seen that until now,” he said.

By the play’s end, Shylock suffers humiliation, is broken financially and is forced to convert to Christianity. Blumenfeld hopes the audience, due to their own recent rude awakening, will now have some rachmones, or compassion, for him. 


“The Merchant of Venice” opens June 3 and runs through Oct. 1 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. A prologue discussion will follow the July 15 performance. For tickets and information, call (310) 455-3723 or visit theatricum.com. 

A sign reading “Fascist Free Campus” on the University of California, Berkeley, campus in the aftermath of the cancellation of a speech there by conservative political commentator Ann Coulter on April 27. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Who’s an anti-Semite?


The Jewish left has been calling conservatives “anti-Semites” — not to mention “fascists” and “racists” — for as long as I have been alive.Yet, outside of the Muslim world, virtually all anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred comes from the left. Of course, to most left-wing (as opposed to liberal) Jews, Israel-hatred is not the same as anti-Semitism. One can even help those who wish to destroy Israel — through supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, for example — and still be honored by Jewish institutions. Two local examples: Ed Asner was just given a lifetime achievement award at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. and Cornel West was invited by the UCLA Department of Jewish Studies to give a keynote address.

But no matter how destructive the left is — not only to Jews and Israel, but to civilized society as demonstrated by the intolerance and violence at our left-wing universities — it’s the right that frightens most American Jews.

Which brings me to an advertisement in the May 12 edition of the Jewish Journal by a Jewish leftist attacking Ann Coulter as an anti-Semite and me for defending her against that charge.

I don’t know what prompted the ad, since none of the allegations against Coulter is recent. The issue is gone and largely forgotten. My best guess is that precisely because there is so much Israel- and Jew-hatred emanating from the left, the man who took out the ad felt it necessary to find a prominent right-wing example of anti-Semitism. And since it is so rare, he revived the Coulter issue.

The irony is that even if Ann Coulter were an anti-Semite, this lone voice would hardly come close to matching the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism coming from the left that permeate Western universities, intellectual life and the media.

But even that irony doesn’t apply, since Ann Coulter is strongly pro-Israel. But, again, neither matters to most Jews on the left, since, as far as these Jews are concerned, being pro-Israel doesn’t make you a friend of the Jews and being anti-Israel doesn’t make you an enemy of the Jews.

Now, to the charges.

During the course of the second Republican presidential debate, Ann Coulter, tweeted: “How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”

Her explanation was that she was frustrated with the candidates’ remarks that concentrated on things nearly all Republicans agree on — admiration of Ronald Reagan, opposition to abortion and support for Israel — while ignoring what she considers America’s biggest domestic problem: illegal immigration. She regarded the candidates’ remarks as “pandering” to various Republican constituencies and tweeted out a series of critical and angry comments, including the one about Jews.

If all non-Jews were as anti-Semitic as Ann Coulter, we Jews would be living in a Jewish utopia, a world without enemies.

She was condemned by Republicans — myself included — and Democrats for the tweet. It was wrong, and it damaged, at least temporarily, Republican and conservative supporters of Israel. But as I wrote at the time in a piece published by both The Jerusalem Post and the Forward, Ann Coulter is not an anti-Semite. She constantly has defended Jews and Israel. Every mention of Jews or Israel I’ve read in any of her books is a spirited defense of Jews and Israel, or an attack on those who attack Jews and Israel. I should add, for the record, that she has been to my home twice for Shabbat dinner.

If all non-Jews were as anti-Semitic as Ann Coulter, we Jews would be living in a Jewish utopia, a world without enemies.

Those Jews, like the ad writer, who label her an anti-Semite point to that 2015 tweet and to something she said in a 2007 interview with Jewish TV personality Donny Deutsch. She said that America (and presumably the world) would be better if everybody were a Christian.

Deutsch asked if that meant all Jews should become Christian. Coulter said yes, and Deutsch was offended. He was further offended when she labeled Christians and Jews who became Christians as “perfected Jews.”

But those are hardly anti-Semitic sentiments. Believing the world would be better if everyone were a Christian hardly renders one a bigot, let alone a Jew-hater. Don’t progressives believe the world would be better if everyone were a progressive?

And why is the belief that Jews who become Christian are “perfected Jews” anti-Semitic? Why is that different from a Jew believing that a Christian or anyone else who converts to Judaism becomes a member of the Chosen People? Or from Orthodox Jews who believe that Christianity is idol worship? I don’t agree with that view, but that hardly makes Orthodox Jews Christian-haters. I know a prominent Orthodox rabbi who thinks Christianity is idol worship and who works constantly with evangelical Christians whom he adores.

We need to be very careful before labeling people anti-Semites. This is especially so with regard to Christians who believe that the only way to salvation is through belief in Christ. The fact is that the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in America are largely those evangelical Christians who believe that only faith in Jesus saves.

In addition, epithets are not always a good indicator of who our enemies are. Harry S. Truman wrote home when he visited New York City that he was in “Kike-town” and wrote very disparaging things about the Jews in his diary. Yet, as president, he became the man who had America recognize the newly formed State of Israel within minutes of its declaration of independence — against the advice of his entire State Department.

When Hillary Clinton was accused of calling a campaign aide a “f—ing Jew bastard” — an account attested to by three witnesses — I wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal defending her against the charge of anti-Semitism. Unlike the ad writer who, like so many others on the left, smears ideological opponents, I defended Hillary Clinton, even though I have no respect for her. I defended Clinton because it was the right thing to do. And because if Jews cry wolf by calling virtually every opponent an anti-Semite, when the real anti-Semites come, no one will take us seriously.

And one more thought: With our universities more hostile to identifying Jews than at any time in American history, with many young Jews fearing to wear a Star of David or a yarmulke on more and more left-wing campuses, a Jew looks pretty foolish taking out an ad in a Jewish publication to attack Ann Coulter and Dennis Prager.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Marine Le Pen. Photo by Charles Platiau/Reuters

Fight against Le Pen must continue


As a young girl who fled Iran, I lived in France for several years during the mid-1980s before coming to the United States. I attended a French public middle school, one of only three Iranian students in the entire school. The tension between “Arab” and “French” people was palpable on a daily basis.

Despite the external challenges, I was enduring my own internal cultural conflicts, or, perhaps I should say, tectonic shifts. I had escaped the tumult of the Islamic Revolution and a country where I was forcibly covered from head to toe on a daily basis, only to find myself now exposed to a new environment where women comfortably walked the beach without even a bikini top! I remember the images of men and women casually socializing, holding hands, even kissing in public.

It was overwhelming , but I cherished the freedom France offered. I was a young girl, liberated from the hijab that covered not only my hair, but also my dignity and identity.

In those years, the National Front movement led by Jean-Marie Le Pen — whose daughter Marine Le Pen succeeded him as head of the party and just lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron — was just beginning to pick up steam. It was particularly gaining popularity among troubled students who I knew. These teens expressed their disenchantment by greeting one another with straight-arm salutes, shaving their heads, donning army attire and boots, and occasionally harassing and spitting at Arab students.
Before too long, they discovered I was an easy target as a young Middle Eastern Jewish girl, barely able to communicate in French and still adjusting to my new surroundings. So they teased and harassed me, yelling “Arab!” at me. I tried to reason with them, explaining that I’m not an Arab, I’m Iranian — Persian! I once said Iranians are of the Aryan race, hoping to score points, but they still saw me as I was — a dark-skinned Middle Eastern girl, a despicable foreigner, “the Other.” The fact that I was Jewish enabled me to seek refuge within Jewish community life, but it proved little more than a liability with the Le Front National.

As a vulnerable teenager, life was hard. Beyond the Jewish community, I never was included in any social activities with peers, never invited to parties, never received phone calls from friends after school. I do recall one time when the phone rang. It was a classmate asking for me. Flattered, I picked up the receiver to hear the voice of Florence, a girl from school. I always thought she was friendly, not too cool or snobby. But as soon as I said hello, Florence said, “Tu es une sal Juive Iranienne — You’re a dirty Iranian Jew — and hung up the phone.

This was a painful but clarifying moment. In an instant, I realized that, no matter how much I boasted about my Iranian (not Arab) culture or my Jewish roots, I still would always be “the Other,” the undesirable threat to their heritage.

It’s undeniable that terrorism and radical Islamists pose real challenges to French society. But white nationalism and neo-fascism are real problems, too. I have experienced this threat firsthand. I know the pain and it causes. I know the anger it breeds and the destructive cycle it sustains.

I’m grateful for my life in the West. I freely can practice my religion, express my opinions and, yes, freely expose my hair and dress however I wish. But I would never align myself with fascists with the false hope that I could preserve these freedoms. Empowering these authoritarians by ignoring and excusing their behavior is immoral, futile and self-defeating.

For those people seeking a quick fix to the decades-long problems of France and the radicalization of elements of its Muslim population, Marine Le Pen’s idea of banning religious attire and head-coverings might have some initial appeal. To Persian-Americans, it might seem reminiscent of Reza Shah’s revolutionary mandate to forcibly remove the hijab from women in an effort to catapult Iran toward rapid secularization. But we live in a vastly different world today.

Ask the majority of French Jews residing in Israel today who voted against Le Pen. They know that Jews — along with other religious minorities, including Muslims and Hindus — all would suffer serious consequences with a ban on the hijab. Despite what the neo-fascists might say, this would not be the end, but rather the beginning, of religious oppression for people of all faiths.

After her defeat, Le Pen apparently is seeking to “rebrand” the National Front party. Such marketing strategies may ameliorate Le Pen’s image, presenting a softer side and a more patriotic mission that may increase her appeal in some quarters. I can imagine that a new generation of voters may develop new impressions of this movement.

Some might be drawn to Le Pen because of a lack of better alternatives, others because their hatred for radical Islamists and foreigners is far stronger than their love for their democratic values and fellow French citizens. And yet, those of us who are familiar with Le Pen must raise our voices. We should not accept such distortions.

Some are saying that Le Pen has lost the battle but the war is yet to come. For this reason, we must be prepared to fight. With our votes and with our voices, we must speak out, because we cannot afford to yield an inch in the fight against fascism. This is a fight for ourselves. ”


MARJAN GREENBLATT is a human rights activist and founder of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities (ARAM), Iran.

A man with a meat cleaver and a large knife allegedly threatened Jewish girls and tried to enter kosher shops in London. (@Shomrim)

Man waving meat cleaver and threatening Jews arrested in London


An unidentified man waving a meat cleaver and a large knife who allegedly threatened Jews in a heavily Jewish neighborhood in North London was arrested.

The man reportedly tried to enter a kosher food shop during the incident on Tuesday but was prevented from doing so when staff locked the door, according to a statement issued by the London-based Campaign Against Antisemitism.

He then entered a second kosher store shouting “Where is the boss, I will kill him!” Told that the owner was not there, the man allegedly ran out of the shop toward two Jewish girls, aged 8 and 14, shouting “You Jews run away from here before I kill you.”

The incident took place in the Stamford Hill neighborhood of London, which includes many haredi Orthodox residents.

Shomrim, the volunteer Jewish neighborhood patrol, tracked the man as he entered an apartment block and sealed off the area, allowing London Metropolitan Police to arrest him, according to reports. Police said the man was white and in his 60s.

“This is an extremely frightening incident and it is very fortunate that there are no injuries reported,” Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said in a statement. “We commend Stamford Hill Shomrim and the Metropolitan Police Service for their bravery in rushing to the scene to protect the public. Violent anti-Semitic crime continues to rise at an alarming rate and will continue to do so until anti-Semitic incitement is taken seriously by the authorities before it translates into violence.”

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.

President Donald Trump speaking in the Capitol rotunda on April 25. Photo by Ron Kampeas/JTA

Trump vows to combat Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism


President Donald Trump pledged to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denialism, and to defend Israel in a speech marking the national days of Holocaust remembrance.

“Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil,” he said Tuesday at the annual ceremony organized by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the Capitol rotunda. “And we’ll never be silent — we just won’t. We will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again.”

Trump described anti-Semitism “on university campuses, in the public square and in threats against Jewish citizens. Even worse, it’s been on display in the most sinister manner when terrorists attack Jewish communities, or when aggressors threaten Israel with total and complete destruction.”

He pledged to “stamp out prejudice.”

“As president of the United States, I will always stand with the Jewish people — and I will always stand with our great friend and partner, the State of Israel,” he said.

The speech and a series of statements Trump has issued in recent days differ considerably from his first week in office, when a Jan. 27 statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day neglected to mention Jews. Trump’s spokesmen subsequently said they were aiming at an “inclusive” statement to cover Jews and non-Jews murdered in the Holocaust, although the term is applied by historians solely to the Jewish genocide.

Ronald S. Lauder

Daily Kickoff: The surprising Trump Whisperer for the Palestinians | Adelson ‘waiting patiently’ on Embassy | Snap buys patent from Israeli Mobli


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THE TRUMP WHISPERERS — NYTimes Names 20 Key Outside Advisors:“Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel” by Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush: “The media mogul Rupert Murdoch is on the phone every week, encouraging Mr. Trump when he’s low and arguing that he focus on the economy rather than detouring to other issues… Murdoch even called the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, to buck him up after Mr. Spicer was savaged for a remark about Adolf Hitler.”

“The Clubgoers: Ike Perlmutter, the chief executive of Marvel Comics, who is so reclusive that there are few public photographs of him, has been informally advising Mr. Trump on veterans issues. The two men are old friends, and Mr. Perlmutter has been a presence at Mar-a-Lago. Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots is a Democrat, but his loyalty to Mr. Trump, Mr. Kraft once said, dates partly to the president’s thoughtfulness when Mr. Kraft’s father died.”

“Childhood Friend: Richard LeFrak. Their fathers were developers together in New York, and the two men have been friends for decades. Mr. LeFrak is a Mar-a-Lago member, and he agreed to be part of an infrastructure effort that Mr. Trump hopes to put forward. Mr. Trump has turned to him to vent frustrations about the slow pace of bureaucracy.” [NYTimes]

–The NYTimes credits Trump’s thoughtfulness when Bob Kraft’s father died but it was really when Kraft’s wife passed away: “When [Kraft’s wife] Myra died [in 2011], Melania [Trump] and Donald came up to the funeral in our synagogue, then they came for memorial week to visit with me,” Kraft told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. “Then he called me once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life when I was down and out. He called me every week to see how I was doing, invited me to things, tried to lift my spirits. He was one of five or six people that were like that. I remember that.” [CBSSports]

LEFT OFF THE LIST — Ronald S. Lauder, the man who we’re told currently has Trump’s ear on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. According to multiple sources, Lauder is the one who has convinced Trump that ‘the ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians is achievable, a deal that has eluded each of Trump’s immediate predecessors. Lauder is said to have told the President that the Palestinians are ‘desperate’ for a deal and that ‘Israel is the problem.’ One prominent JI reader in the know even went so far as to characterize Lauder as “the Palestinian’s man in D.C.” According to the folks who think Lauder may be in over his head, there’s the belief that no matter what deal is presented to the Palestinians, it will be rejected. “They could put the ’08 Olmert deal before Abbas right now and he’d reject it,” another insider told us.

We reached out to Lauder’s representatives for comment and we’re still waiting for a response.  

Our guess: Look for some other Trump whisperers, including those on the Times list and officials in the administration, to share their skepticism over ‘the ultimate deal’ in the coming weeks with Trump himself.

FLASHBACK to ’99: “New York cosmetics tycoon Ronald Lauder played a dramatic backstage role trying to broker a peace pact between Israel and Syria, but failed to seal a deal over the Golan Heights. Israeli and Syrian officials said Lauder, a former diplomat and mayoral candidate, frequently shuttled between Damascus and Jerusalem in the past year taking sensitive messages between Syrian President Hafez Assad and then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” [NYPost]

BACKSTORY: Ron Lauder’s relationship with Trump goes back decades to when the young real estate developer from Queens crossed the East River seeking to gain acceptance into Manhattan society. While not everyone accepted the brash developer, Ron’s mother Estée Lauder did. In 2004, Trump even partnered with Estée Lauder, the company, to launch ‘Donald Trump, The Fragrance.’

When the Trump administration was widely condemned by Jewish groups, including the Republican Jewish Coalition and the ZOA, for omitting any mention of Jews from their official White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ron Lauder was the sole Jewish leader who defended Trump. “It does no honor to the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust to play politics with their memory,” Lauder wrote.

During the transition, Lauder met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach [Pic]

Last night, in a video message to the World Jewish Congress, Trump told delegates that “I want to thank Ronald Lauder, not only for his many years of friendship – and he truly has been my good friend, he even predicted early that I was going to win the presidency – but also for his leadership of this organization. He has done a fantastic job.”

Trump on Holocaust, anti-Semitism: “On Yom HaShoah, we look back at the darkest chapter of human history. We mourn, we remember, we pray, and we pledge: Never again. I say it, never again. The mind cannot fathom the pain, the horror, and the loss. Six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, murdered by the Nazi genocide… Today, only decades removed from the Holocaust, we see a great nation risen from the desert and we see a proud Star of David waving above the State of Israel. That star is a symbol of Jewish perseverance. It’s a monument to unyielding strength… We must stamp out prejudice and anti-Semitism everywhere it is found. We must defeat terrorism, and we must not ignore the threats of a regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction. We cannot let that ever even be thought of.” [WJC

HAPPENING TODAY — The World Jewish Congress will celebrate 80 years of activities at a gala on Ellis Island. Speakers include WJC’s Rabbi Joel Meyers and Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan, among others. Panels during the day at the Midtown Hilton include a discussion on what it means to be a Jewish legislator today by Reps. Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel and Lee Zeldin, and Israeli successes in Hollywood moderated by Israel’s Consul General in LA Sam Grundwerg with the participation of actress Moran Atias, film and TV producer Howard Rosenman, and Adam Berkowitz, Co-Head of the TV dept. at Creative Artists Agency.

March of the Living — Today on Yom Hashoah, the March of the Living is commencing in Poland with over 10,000 participants from 30 countries. Over 250,000 students, survivors, and educators have participated in March of the Living to Poland and Israel since its inception in 1988. This year’s international march from Auschwitz to Birkenau is being dedicated to the memory of Joseph Wilf who passed away this past summer. Joe was the founding North American President of the March and, we’re told, always had a great pride in being part of its creation and watching its tremendous growth over the years. [MOTL

POTUS SCHEDULE — President Trump will have a working lunch today with Ambassadors from countries that are on the U.N. Security Council, and at 2:30 pm, he will sign a proclamation on Holocaust Remembrance in the Oval Office. On Tuesday, the President will speak at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Day of Remembrance.

YESTERDAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE — Jason Greenblatt: “Torah study in the Indian Treaty room at the EEOB/White House. Thank you Benjamin B!” [Pic]  

Will Trump visit Israel this summer? — Report by Ariel Kahana: “The U.S Administration and the Israeli government have begun to coordinate a possible presidential visit to Israel. Senior administration officials told their Israeli counterparts that President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley intend to visit Israel in the coming months, as none of them have ever been to Israel. No date has been set yet and at the moment the trip is only at the initial planning stages.” [NRG] • Worth noting: NRG is an Adelson-owned publication

ADELSON ‘WAITING PATIENTLY’ — “Republicans sound alarm on Trump’s troubles ahead of 2018” by Alex Isenstadt: “Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul, has privately complained about Trump’s failure to fulfill his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, three people close to the billionaire said. Adelson is also rankled that some people he recommended for administration posts haven’t yet been tapped. More fundamentally, Adelson is dismayed by what he sees as a state of chaos in the new administration, these people said… An Adelson spokesman, Andy Abboud, said the billionaire is “overall not angry or unhappy” with the president and is pleased with his decisiveness on certain issues. Adelson, he said, is waiting patiently for action on the embassy.” [Politico]

IRAN DEAL: In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump said “it is possible” that the U.S. will pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal over Iran’s activity in the Middle East region — AP: [Do] you believe that they are complying with the agreement? Trump: “No, I don’t say that. I say that I believe they have broken the spirit of the agreement. There is a spirit to agreements, and they have broken it.” AP: In terms of what they are doing elsewhere in the Middle East? Trump: “In terms of what they are doing of all over.” AP: When you talk to European leaders… what do they say about the nuclear deal? Do they want you to stay in that deal? Trump: “I don’t talk to them about it… I mention it, but it’s very personal when I talk to them, you know, it’s confidential. No, they have their own opinions. I don’t say that they are different than my opinions, but I’d rather have you ask them that question.” AP: At this point, do you believe that you will stay in the nuclear deal? Trump: “It’s possible that we won’t.” [AP] • Resistance group alleges Iran grossly violating nuclear deal [FoxNews]

DEEP DIVE: “Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway” by Josh Meyer: “Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas… And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S.” [Politico]

“State Dept. official reassigned amid conservative media attacks”’ by Nahal Toosi: “Some State Department officials believe the individual, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, was shifted because of the media attacks… Nowrouzzadeh, a Civil Service officer who helped shape the controversial Iran nuclear deal, had been detailed since last July to the secretary of state’s policy planning team, where she handled ongoing issues related to Iran and Gulf Arab countries… The State Department said in a statement that Nowrouzzadeh has returned to the Office of Iranian Affairs… Nowrouzzadeh is “very smart, deeply knowledgeable about Iran,” said Philip Gordon, who served as a top Middle East adviser to Obama… “If Donald Trump hasn’t torn up the Iran nuclear deal, it may be because he realized that would be a bad idea. And it’s not because one of his policy planning staffers has a family of Iranian origin.”’ [Politico]

OVER THE WEEKEND — Bibi was interviewed by Sean Hannity: “Netanyahu theorized to Sean Hannity about what the outcome would be in a confrontation where an “Islamist terror state” has nuclear weapons. He warned of irreparable damage and said “we cannot allow that to happen.” … Netanyahu told Hannity that his problem with Iran is not merely that it will violate the deal. He said if Iran does not violate the deal, in 12 years, it will “walks into unimpeded enrichment of uranium.”” [FoxNews]

KAFE KNESSET — ‘The strong survive’ — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Israel came to a standstill at 10:00 this morning for the Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) siren, as it does every year. Last night, at the opening ceremony at Yad Vashem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the lesson he learned from the Holocaust, which he said he keeps in mind when he shapes strategy for Israel: “The simple truth is that in our world, the existence of the weak is in doubt. When facing murderous countries and organizations, their chances of survival are not great. The strong survive; the weak are erased… The lesson is that we must be able to defend ourselves, by ourselves, against all threats and all enemies. Those who plan to annihilate us are placing themselves in danger of annihilation.” Despite that message, Netanyahu managed to surprise observers by only mentioning Iran once, far less frequently than in previous years.

President Reuven Rivlin also gave a powerful speech, in which he denounced those who see the Holocaust as just another example of mass murder and racism. Rivlin also said that Israel does not just exist to prevent another Holocaust and argued against those who think Jewish identity is just about escaping attempted genocide. “The Jewish People were not born in Auschwitz,” Rivlin pointed out. Read today’s Kafe Knesset here[JewishInsider]

FRENCH ELECTION — “French Jews Fear What’s Next After Marine Le Pen Makes It To The Second Round” by Annabelle Azadé: “Although most pundits predict that Macron will defeat Le Pen, Rabbi Moché Lewi was less relaxed. “In the next two weeks, everything could change. Who knows who the Mélenchon and Fillon supporters are going to vote for … They could vote for Le Pen,” he said… Bernard Abouaf, co-organiser and Director of Radio Shalom, said that he had been discussing the French elections with a friend, who told him a Jew who voted for Le Pen on the eve of Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — “is a Jew that has lost his soul.”” [BuzzFeed French Jews Relieved by Macron’s Success, but Remain Conscious of Le Pen [Haaretz]

Putin’s Rabbi? “Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar warns French Jews: ‘If Marine Le Pen is elected President of France, you should leave the country'” [EJPress]

PROFILE: “How the Financial Collapse Steeled Gary Cohn for the White House” by William D. Cohan: “What Cohn has, that Trump wants, is a record of notching wins in adversarial circumstances, and that’s something that Bannon has not achieved in the early days of the administration. The dyslexic grandson of Jewish immigrants from a suburb of Cleveland, Cohn attended four different schools by the time he got to sixth grade. In high school, he worked part-time in the warehouse of the family’s electrical supply business. When he graduated from American University in 1982, during the peak of the Reagan Recession, he had no job or job prospects.” [Politico

–Connie Bruck’s latest: “How Hollywood Remembers Steve Bannon: He says that, before he became a senior adviser to the President, he was a successful player in the film industry. But what did he actually do?” [NewYorker]

“Former Trump aide: Trump fired me many times and sued me. I still think he was a great boss” by Allison Michaels: “One thing about Donald Trump, I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another boss like this,” Sam Nunberg told White House bureau chief Philip Rucker. “He’s able to make you excel and push yourself. Part of it is because you want to please him.” [WashPost]

“Ivanka Trump adds a chief of staff” by Annie Karni: “Julie Radford — who like her boss is a mother of three young children — was chosen to work for the first daughter after being recruited in February by [Dina] Powell.” [Politico]

2018 WATCH: “Menendez raises $20K from Kushner family” by Herb Jackson: “The $20,000 contributions — $5,000 each from Lee, Marc, Jonathan and Aryeh Kushner — all came from the same address in Livingston, and were made on the same day in January. Lee Kushner is the wife of Murray Kushner, who has a long-running and well-publicized feud with his brother, Charles, who is Jared’s father. Marc and Jonathan are the sons of Lee and Murray Kushner… Marc and Murray Kushner also gave $15,600 in 2013 to the campaign of Sen. Cory Booker.” [NorthJersey]  

** Good Monday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Sheryl Sandberg’s Accidental Revolution: How Sandberg’s grief became the catalyst for a new, emotionally honest management style at Facebook and beyond [Backchannel] • Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital is eyeing CIM’s James Hotel in Los Angeles for close to $975,000 a key, bringing the total prospective sale price to nearly $280 million [RealDeal] • Teddy Sagi Takes London’s Camden Market Owner Private [CND] • An Israeli startup armed with $45 million is taking on Google and Apple in the race to sell your personal data [BusinessInsider]

SPOTLIGHT: “Snap acquires the crucial geofilter patent from Mobli for a record $7.7M” by Mike Butcher: “According to sources, serial entrepreneur and investor Moshe Hogeg, who co-founded Mobli, sold Mobli’s Geofilters patent to Snap this month for $7.7 million. This is believed to be the highest amount paid for a patent from the Israeli tech industry. The news was confirmed in an email to Mobli’s 100 shareholders.” [TC]

“Video Shows Palantir CEO Ridiculing Trump And Slamming His Immigration Rhetoric” by William Alden: “In a Palantir staff meeting in August 2015, the video shows, [Alex] Karp derided Trump’s “fictitious wealth,” called him a bully, and condemned his campaign rhetoric on deporting immigrants. He also said he had given Trump a brush-off… “Like, you could almost make up someone that I find — it would be hard to make up someone I find less appealing,” Karp said of Trump.” [BuzzFeed]

Mike Bloomberg talks 2016 election on 60 Minutes — “If I thought we could win, or had a reasonable chance, I would have done it.” But, “It would be totally unlikely, very unlikely that an independent could win,” Bloomberg added… He told “60 Minutes” that he called to congratulate his fellow New Yorker after he won the election. “We joked about my speech in Philadelphia. And before he finished the conversation, he gave me his personal phone number, his cellphone. I haven’t called him, so I don’t know if — whether he’d answer it now. But … I hope he does a good job,” Bloomberg added.” [TheHill; CBSNews] • Bloomberg gave 60 Minutes a helicopter tour of New York City [CBSNews]

THE AXE FILES — David Axelrod interviewed former Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on his podcast: Highlights — When describing his time in Israel during the Yom Kippur war as a child, Shapiro recalled: “I remember going to the bomb shelters, blacking out the apartment, and the confusion that my parents were dealing with of just trying to understand what was going on. They immediately got pressure from their parents, bring the grandchildren home. What are you doing there? Get out of Israel. But, they decided to stay and help volunteer anywhere they could where people had gone to fight so my father was on a Moshav in a chicken coop. He was in a school teaching. That is what began the sense of identification. This was more than a semester abroad. It turned into something much more meaningful. I can remember playing tag in the bomb shelters with the other kids in the apartment building.”

Shapiro on his Jewish identity: “I grew up in a Reform Jewish household, nowadays I consider myself a Conservative Jew. All those years of religious studies, Jewish summer camps definitely imbued in me a feeling that I as a Jew had a special connection with this country far away. I felt a connection to that history and to the story of return to that story of people who had been exiled from their homeland and finally found their way back home. That spoke to me very personally.”

Regarding the controversial Obama administration decision to abstain from the December UN Security Council resolution 2334, Shaprio emphasized, “I can defend it. It was actually not my preference. Had we been able to shape a resolution to be more like a Quartet report that had been issued over the summer that applied the responsibilities to all the different parties a bit more evenly, that could have been more constructive product.”

While critiquing much of Trump’s foreign policy, the former US Ambassador praised the new administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian file.Shapiro explained that Jason Greenblatt “has made an impressive debut. He didn’t only meet with Netanyahu and Abbas. He met everybody: Israelis of all political stripes, Palestinians of many political stripes: refugees, students, settlers, businessmen.” Listen to the full episode here [CNN]

“Justice Dept. charges man in threat hoaxes to Jewish Community Centers” by Tom Winter and Phil Helsel: “Michael Ron David Kadar, 18, who was arrested by Israeli police in March, is charged in Florida and Georgia with making threatening interstate communications, making interstate threats related to explosives, conveying false information and perpetuating a hoax, and cyberstalking… “Today’s charges into these violent threats to Jewish Community Centers and others represent this Department’s commitment to fighting all forms of violent crime,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.” [NBCNews] • Israel refuses to extradite teen JCC bomb hoaxer to US [ToI]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Jerusalem hotels: Unlikely hotbeds of furtive, meticulous romance” by Tracy Frydberg: “It’s the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Central Jerusalem and these young men and women are engaged in “shidduch dating,” a system of matchmaking used by religious Jews, from the liberal Modern Orthodox to the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. Tourists sharing the lobby stare openly at the daters… Daters in Jerusalem typically start simple and build up their repertoire of hotels as the relationship progresses; the Prima Kings, Leonardo or King Solomon are considered respectable-yet-modest choices for a first date. If things go well, perhaps the Inbal will come next. When things get serious, the nascent couple will move on to the Waldorf or King David, where the patio is really nice during the summer.” [ToI]

DESSERT: “Can You Keep Kosher or Halal in Space?” by Sarah Lewin:“According to Vickie Kloeris, manager of NASA’s Space Food Systems Laboratory, purely kosher meals (food prepared according to Jewish law) or halal (food prepared according to Islamic law) aren’t currently possible for the space station fliers. “We have a single packaging room on the U.S. side. All of the food that’s part of our standard menu that we provide — from what I understand, in order for them to be kosher and halal, they have to be done in separate, unique facilities. Therefore, everything we package would not meet that requirement.” Kloeris noted that it’s possible to travel with a limited allotment of kosher or halal foods, in order to honor an astronaut’s heritage.” [Space.Com]

BIRTHDAYS: Film director, Richard Donner (born Richard Donald Schwartzberg) turns 87… Yeshiva of Brooklyn student who went on to become an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and Peabody Award winning singer and actress, Barbra Streisand turns 75… Board chairman of financial publisher TheStreet, also on the board of directors of Gannett and MDC Partners, previously president and publisher of USA Today, Larry Kramer turns 67… Israeli architect and artist, Ron Arad turns 66… President of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards of the NBA since 2003, himself an NBA player (1977-1986), Ernest “Ernie” Grunfeld turns 62… Award winning author and journalist and the former national editor for Politico, Michael Hirsh turns 60… President of Kirtzman Strategies in NYC, previously a journalist, political reporter and television news anchor (2002-2008), author of books about Bernie Madoff and Rudy Giuliani, Andrew Kirtzman turns 56… Television writer, producer and film screenwriter, known as the co-creator and showrunner of the television series “Lost” (2004-2010), Damon Lindelofturns 44… Director of public relations at the Jacksonville office of the Dalton Agency,Brandon Hersh turns 34… President of Cincinnati-based Standard Textile since 1986, VP of JINSA and the Israel Policy Forum, Gary Heiman… Delray Beach, FL resident, Phyllis Dupret… Jeffrey Wohlberg… Mark Waldman… Elaine Berke

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Anti-Semitic, racist fliers found on Princeton campus


Fliers with anti-Semitic, racist and anti-immigrant messages were posted on the campus of Princeton University.

The fliers were discovered in at least four areas of the campus on Thursday, the Daily Princetonian student newspaper reported, including on the door to the main entrance of the campus Center for Jewish Life.

The person posting the fliers was wearing dark clothing and a ski mask, the Daily Princetonian reported.

The fliers were from a white nationalist organization called Vanguard America, which bills itself as a group for “White Nationalist American youth working to secure the existence of their people.”

Among the charges made on the flier: “Jews are 10% of Princeton’s students, an overrepresentation of 500%,” and 80 percent of the first Soviet government was Jewish.”

The flier also was posted on the group’s Twitter feed on Thursday, the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

The fliers were removed after a complaint was called in to the university.

The campus Public Safety is investigating the fliers as a bias incident.

In an email to the campus community, Michele Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, said: “Princeton is committed to protecting and promoting free expression, but it regards actions that are threatening  or harassing based on identity as serious offenses. These flyers were contrary to the values of the university, which seeks to create and maintain an environment free from discrimination and harassment.”

These two notes were left on a house neighboring Chabad of Oak Park in February. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Yisroel Levine

ADL audit notes spike in anti-Semitism since 2016


Anti-Semitic acts have become significantly more widespread in America 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 United States 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 April 24. The audit shows a year-over-year comparison of harassment, vandalism and assault linked to Jew hatred.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

 

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.

Amanda 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 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 noted 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 note 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 quickly and strongly condemn acts of anti-Semitism.

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

A row of more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St Louis on Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/Reuters

Poll finds majority of Americans concerned about Anti-Semitism


More than half of Americans are concerned about anti-Semitism and more than three-quarters are concerned about violence against Muslims, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found in two new public opinion polls.

The results show that a majority of Americans, 52 percent, are concerned about violence in the U.S. directed at Jews, and 76 percent are concerned about violence directed at Muslims. The ADL based its findings on 1,500 interviews conducted last October and 3,600 in January and February.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL chief executive, said he was heartened by the survey results, showing that people are concerned about Jews and Muslims.

“We conducted two polls to ensure that we fully understood the mood of the country,” he said in a statement. “The good news in this research is that today a large majority of Americans do not subscribe to common anti-Semitic stereotypes. It’s also encouraging that a record number of Americans are concerned about violence against the Jewish and Muslim communities, and are troubled at how intolerance has infected our politics.”

The polls are part of ADL’s continuing research into anti-Jewish attitudes under the ADL Global 100, a project begun in 2014 to establish a worldwide index of anti-Semitic attitudes.

Released on April 6, the new surveys measured, among other things, perceptions of President Donald Trump and whether he holds prejudiced views. A third of respondents agreed with the statement “Donald Trump holds anti-Semitic views,” while half disagreed. The remaining 17 percent “don’t know,” said Todd Gutnick, vice president of communications at the ADL.

The surveys also found that 14 percent of the American population holds anti-Semitic beliefs.

Nearly half of Americans, 49 percent, said Trump could have done more to discourage anti-Semitism, the survey found, and more than 8 in 10 Americans, 84 percent, said they believe it is important for the government to play a role in combating anti-Semitism, up from 70 percent in 2014.

A majority of Americans, 52 percent, are concerned about violence in the U.S. directed at Jews, and 76 percent are concerned about violence directed at Muslims.

The polls also examined anti-Semitism in politics and whether “Americans believe there was more anti-Semitism in the 2016 election than previously.” Nearly half of those surveyed, 47 percent, said there was more and 39 percent said the level was no more than in previous campaigns.

Last October, the ADL released “Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists During the 2016 Presidential Campaign,” a study that concluded that although Trump may not be the cause of anti-Semitism, people who were responsible for spreading hate online often were supporters of Trump as a candidate.

Regarding Muslims, the survey found that 59 percent of respondents agree that “Donald Trump holds anti-Muslim views,” and 64 percent said they do not believe the government is doing enough to ensure their safety.

Perceptions of Trump bias against Muslims may be due, in part, to his efforts to use executive orders to bar individuals from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Federal judges have twice stuck down his orders.

“It’s discouraging to know that Muslims and other minorities feel unsafe. Clearly, there is still a lot of work to do,” Greenblatt said.

Overall, the survey found that 34 percent of American Muslims hold anti-Semitic views, compared with 55 percent of Muslims in Europe and 75 percent in Middle East/North Africa.

The poll’s release comes on the heels of several incidents of vandalism targeting Jewish cemeteries and waves of bomb threats that have targeted Jewish community centers, schools and other institutions, including ADL offices, across North America over the past several months.

Authorities arrested two people in connection with the bomb threats, all of which turned out to be hoaxes: Juan Thompson, a discredited journalist in St. Louis who was apparently seeking revenge against an ex-girlfriend; and Michael Kaydar, an Israeli-American teenager who his lawyer said may suffer from mental illness.

The ADL was one of several organizations that compiled data on the more than 150 bomb threats that targeted Jewish centers.

The ADL has been polling anti-Semitic attitudes in the U.S. since 1964. Later this month, the organization plans to release an audit of 2016 anti-Semitic incidents, drawing on data from ADL regional offices, including ADL Pacific Southwest, which serves Los Angeles.

The October survey, conducted by Marttila Strategies, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. The more recent poll, conducted by First International Resources, had a margin of error of 1.6 percent for the general population and 3 percent for American Muslims.

President Donald Trump in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., on March 15. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Jewish leaders owe an apology to Trump and America


Last month, I wrote a column under the headline, “There Is No Wave of Trump-Induced Anti-Semitism or Racism.” I was right. But my being right is not what matters. What matters is that the mainstream media and the Jewish left — which is now essentially almost all of Jewish life outside of Orthodoxy — were wrong. So wrong that it was morally inexcusable.

Some Jewish leaders need to either publicly apologize — to the Jewish community, to conservatives, to America and to President Donald Trump — or be fired from their positions. 

The entire claim that America was engulfed in a rising tide of anti-Semitism was a lie — “fake news.” And the claim that Trump’s election is what aroused all this anti-Semitism was not merely a lie, it was malicious libel.

No Jew has disseminated this libel as much as Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, part of a worldwide network. The man has engaged in chillul Anne Frank — a desecration of the name of Anne Frank.

Here are a few examples of Goldstein’s public comments:

“The cancer of Antisemitism has infected his [Trump’s] own Administration.”

“Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration.”

“The most vicious antisemites in America are looking at you [Trump] and your administration as a nationalistic movement granting them permission to attack Jews, Jewish institutions, and sacred Jewish sites.”

The entire claim that America was engulfed in a rising tide of anti-Semitism was a lie — “fake news.”

If the organization doesn’t fire this man, it is complicit in his radical politicization of an institution calling itself a center for “Mutual Respect,” and in the misuse of Anne Frank’s name to disseminate political hate.

More important than Goldstein and his so-called Center for Mutual Respect is Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of what is supposed to be the leading American-Jewish organization dedicated to exposing and combating anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League. He has played a leading role in disseminating the narrative that since the Trump election, America has been drenched in anti-Semitism — even comparing its levels to those of Nazi Germany.

As reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in December:

“ ‘Anti-Semitic rhetoric in the United States has reached levels unprecedented since 1930s Germany,’ Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt warned a gathering of Israeli lawmakers in Jerusalem on Monday.

“ ‘Anti-Semitism has wound its way into mainstream conversations in a manner that many Jews who lived through Nazi Germany find terrifying,’ he said at the Knesset meeting, which was convened to discuss the plight of American Jewry under the incoming Trump administration.”

Greenblatt’s allusion to Nazi Germany cheapened the evil of Nazism and of the Holocaust; I wrote about left-wing Jews doing this very thing in another column in mid-February.

And note Haaretz’s inflammatory description — “the plight of American Jewry under the incoming Trump administration” — made six weeks before there was a Trump administration!

In December, Greenblatt told NPR:

“We found it so deeply problematic when some of the images and some of the rhetoric [from Trump] seemed to evoke longstanding anti-Semitic conspiracies.”

Greenblatt repeated this charge in February in an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post:

“Last year, we watched as the Trump campaign repeatedly tweeted and shared anti-Semitic imagery and language, allowing this poison to move from the margins into the mainstream of the public conversation.”

That whole charge — made by the left within and outside of Jewish life — was false. But the left has always believed it is OK to falsely accuse conservatives of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, bigotry, xenophobia, hate, etc. It’s effective, after all.

Greenblatt also wrote in that Washington Post column:

“Trump could have said he condemns anti-Semitism and takes incidents, such as the dozens of threats made to Jewish Community Centers, seriously. But instead, he lashed out against those asking the question.”

It turns out that President Trump was right: There was no eruption of anti-Semitism in America, let alone in the White House. And “those asking the question” did indeed deserve the contempt the president showed them.

It turns out that some disturbed American-Jewish kid in Israel was the source of nearly all these threats against Jewish Community Centers (JCCs). And the handful of other threats to JCCs came from a Black radical.

So, it turns out, as I wrote here four weeks ago: “[T]here is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism in America. This is only one more example of left-wing hysteria. … ”

And, it turns out that the conclusion to my column was also valid:

“Jews who think there is such a wave do so because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it. In other words, a lot of Jews want to believe that Jews are hated in America more than ever. Yet another way in which leftism has poisoned Jewish life.”

That’s the “poison” that ought to concern Jonathan Greenblatt.

In the meantime, he owes the president of the United States and the American people an apology.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Federations exist to serve Jewish community, not play partisan politics


As the current chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and a past chair of that organization and current chair of The Jewish Federations of North America, we both have seen more than our fair share of communal outrage. During the presidential election, our inboxes filled with emails from people who expressed outrage against one or the other of the candidates. And since the election, they are again filled with emails from people expressing outrage about what they think Federation should or should not do or what we should or should not say.

This past presidential election has activated people in this country — the Jewish community included. Newspaper subscriptions, which were on the decline, are higher than they have been since the 1980s. An activated community is a healthy one. A highly divided partisan and outraged community is more challenging. These challenges at this particular time, a time like no other we have experienced, have consequences that we worry about every day. We take these challenges very seriously, for at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to our community to make sure that the most serious issues that affect our community are being addressed properly, that Jews in need are being taken care of, and that we are ensuring a Jewish future based on Jewish values for our children and grandchildren. It is important that our community understand that we are acting in the best way we know how to fulfill our responsibilities and our mission.

The mission statement of the Los Angeles Federation states “based on Jewish values, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles convenes and leads the community and leverages its resources to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad, and mobilize on issues of concern to the local community, all with our local, national and international partners.”

And that is what we do. We are focused on Jewish values, not a particular value that may or may not support a political or philosophical position. We are focused on the community as a whole and what is in the long-term best interest of the community as a whole. We realize there are issues that are complex and upon which reasonable, intelligent people can differ. Balancing the needs of an activated community, while ensuring the potency of our voice, is our collective challenge. And to do it well, we must work together and push ourselves to focus on the community as a whole.

At a time when outrage is everywhere, it is incumbent on us to be judicious and thoughtful about how we use our voice. The decision to safeguard our community and continue to service the most vulnerable and the next generation is exactly where our voice should be most prominent by the actions we take. Our Community Security Initiative is working with local Jewish institutions and law enforcement to make sure we are prepared and acting in a responsible manner during this time of increased threats. Our national organization, The Jewish Federations of North America, also is working closely with federal law enforcement with respect to recent incidents of anti-Semitism. The Federation system is active on Capitol Hill encouraging Congress and the Trump administration to take action on issues that are critically important to our community, including urging immediate action to bolster security at Jewish and other nonprofits, and opposing cuts to social service programs that affect our local agencies and our community. At the same time, we are working with our local agencies as they prepare for the possibility of such cuts.

We remain committed to the values of our tradition and to our community. We encourage our entire community to start engaging in internal civil discussions on the issues that concern so many. Our Federation, as convener, will work in the months ahead to bring people together as we confront the serious issues of our time. And we will continue to devote ourselves to our community and continue to respect those caring and thoughtful members of our community who may not always agree with us.


JULIE PLATT is chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. RICHARD SANDLER is a past chair of the organization and current chair of The Jewish Federations of North America.

Adolf Hitler and German President Paul von Hindenburg, Potsdam 1933

The ‘Why?’ exchange, part 2: ‘Antisemitism did not propel Hitler to power’


Peter Hayes is professor of history and German and Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation Professor of Holocaust Studies Emeritus at Northwestern University and chair of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Professor Hayes received his PhD from Yale University and taught at Northwestern for thirty-six years from 1980 to 2016. He is the author or editor of twelve books, including the prize-winning Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (1987, 2001) and Lessons and Legacies: The Meaning of the Holocaust in a Changing World (1991).  

This exchange focuses on Professor Hayes’ new book Why?: Explaining the Holocaust (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017). Part 1 can be found right here.

***

Dear Professor Hayes,

In a chapter of your book entitled “Why the Germans?” you write the following about the misunderstood role of anti-Semitism in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power:

Yet the centrality of the so-called Jewish problem was much more important and obvious to Hitler than to the average German voter. We have no reason to think that the antisemitic nucleus of his ideology propelled Hitler’s rise to power. It played an important role in attracting many of the core believers to the Nazi Party, but not the mass of the Nazi electorate. Hitler was a product of crisis and opportunity, and Germans seem to have been drawn to him out of desperation and a sense that only the Nazis were energetic and organized enough to deal with the nation’s woes.  

In your introduction you mention the idea of anti-Semitism bringing Hitler to power as one of the common myths that your book debunks. I would like to ask about the significance of rectifying this mistake: how can debunking this particular myth change our understanding of the lessons of the Holocaust?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

Getting this right redirects our attention from pre-existing beliefs as the cause of the Holocaust toward politically induced ones, from attitudes toward Jews in Germany prior to 1933 toward convictions about them shaped thereafter. And in doing so, the debunking invites readers to reflect on the conditions that amplify antisemitism and those that mute it, both in the past and in the present.

If a person believes that antisemitism propelled the rise of Nazism, s/he may conclude that preventing a repetition is a matter of stamping out Jew hatred. Good luck with that. The focus is too narrow and negative, and the desirable outcome impossible. But if a person understands that Hitler’s antisemitic beliefs made him nothing more than a political also-ran—the Nazis polled in the single digits in the parliamentary elections of 1924 and 1928—until the economic catastrophe of the Depression increased the appeal of those beliefs to some Germans and, more importantly, handed him the power to inculcate them in those beliefs, then the lesson to draw is different.

That lesson centers around two interrelated points that I make toward the end of the book. First, in the western world antisemitism has been and is a parasitical issue that needs “situational causes” to obtain power. Avoid these, and antisemitism generally remains the property of cranks on the fringes of a nation, just as the Nazis were in Germany in the 1920s. Don’t avoid these causes—sink into economic crisis and political turmoil, raise the level of anxiety in a society—and antisemitism may flourish. Second, the security of minorities anywhere, including Jews, depends on the strength of liberal values of tolerance, civility, and fairness there. The way to fight Jew hatred is to assert positive values in which all people (and peoples) should and usually do have a stake. Let these decay, and the haters will multiply. The Euro-American historical record of the last two centuries suggests that fighting antisemitism is necessary, but not sufficient to prevent the demonization and persecution of Jews. Why? Because antisemitism is too embedded and persistent in Euro-American culture to stamp out entirely, but strong enough to become a governing ideology only when events panic non-Jews into giving power to believers in this superstition. This line of thought is less reassuring than it sounds, since directly confronting antisemitism is actually theoretically easier than heading off or stemming the crises on which it feeds. Antisemitism is containable and largely has been contained in countries that make virtues of pluralism and individual

rights and that enjoy relative political and economic stability. But when these conditions erode, along with norms of decent speech and behavior, antisemitism rises, as if from the dead.

Hatred of Jews propelled Hitler toward the Holocaust, but antisemitism did not propel Hitler to power. In the first place, a majority of Germans had never voted for him and his racism before he became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. In the second place, those who had done so often cast their ballots for reasons unrelated to antisemitism, mostly their own desperation for deliverance from the Depression and political gridlock. And in the third place, Hitler owed his appointment to a group of aristocratic intriguers who persuaded President von Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor because they thought they could use him, not because they shared his racism (though some did).

Within six years of Hitler’s accession, however, most Germans affirmed Hitler’s antisemitism or acted as if they did, which amounted to the same thing. Their beliefs and behavior conformed to the prevailing ideology’s call for a kind of mass exorcism. Recognizing that virtually an entire nation quickly fell in behind this program is at least as worrisome as erroneously assuming that it provided the principal fuel for Hitler’s rise.

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on March 24. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Is Trump owed an apology after the JCC bomb threat arrest? Is anybody?


Literally within seconds of the news of the arrest in Israel of an Israeli-American teenager for the bulk of the JCC bomb threats, Twitter lit up with Jewish anxiety.

“[I] fear the inevitable backlash from haters who we whipped [into] a frenzy for our own nefarious political aims” is how someone responded to the JTA story about the arrest.

A colleague’s friend wrote, “And now people will have another excuse to not take anti-Semitism seriously.”

The shock and anxiety inspired by news of the arrest were understandable. After all, anti-Semitic organizations and websites keep tallies of “false flag” anti-Semitic attacks carried out by Jews in order to discredit the very idea that anti-Semitism exists. (Such incidents are few and far between, and pale next to the actual tally of attacks on people and property, but never mind.)

But the JCC bomb threat hoax wasn’t just an isolated swastika daubing — it was an ongoing story affecting Jewish institutions in nearly every American Jewish community. It shaped a communal narrative that something ugly and insidious was happening out there. And it fueled a political crisis among most American Jewish organizations and the White House, with the former accusing the latter of taking too long to denounce anti-Semitism and to comfort Jews traumatized by the bomb threats and at least two major cemetery desecrations.

Coming almost as quickly as the expressions of anxiety was the political exploitation of the arrest.

“The Ultimate Self-Hating Jew, a 19-yr old Israeli-American, was behind the JCC bomb threats,” tweeted Marc Zell, the co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel. “The US Jewish leadership owes @POTUS an apology.”

David Bernstein at the Washington Post’s conservative Volokh Conspiracy posted in a blog: “[T]he fight against actual anti-Semitism and other forms of racism will likely have been dealt a blow because self-serving groups like the ADL chose to hype and politicize the threats without any idea of their actual origin.”

Before we get too far into the rituals of finger-pointing, a few things are worth considering: First, JCCs and other Jewish institutions across the country, and the children and adults who use them, were traumatized by the string of some 150 bomb threats. It cost JCCs members and money, and diverted funds from programs to heighten security. That the main hoaxer allegedly was a Jewish guy living in Israel doesn’t erase three months of anguish.

Second, it is a huge relief to Jewish institutions — and the community that relies upon them — that someone has been caught. Perhaps they can return to business as usual. Let’s give them their moment of relief.

Third, Jews didn’t do this to “themselves.” This was a criminal act by an individual. Blaming all members of a community for the act of an individual is a page out of the anti-Semitism playbook.

Many Jewish groups did go too far, too fast in assuming the identity of the culprit (or culprits), pinning the threats on a political climate inspired by President Donald Trump.

“We’ve never seen, ever, the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen,” Oren Siegel, the director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said at a news conference following the arrest of the first suspect, Juan Thompson (a copycat motivated by some weird romantic grudge that appears to have had little to do with Jews). “White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

Bend the Arc, the liberal Jewish social justice group, was more explicit in blaming Trump.

“In recent days, we have seen manifestations of the hatred stirred up by President-elect Donald Trump throughout his campaign,” it wrote in a statement after the first wave of JCC bomb threats. “Trump helped to create the atmosphere of bigotry and violence that has resulted in these dangerous threats against Jewish institutions and individuals.”

At this moment, we don’t know the motive of the Israeli suspect. But assuming this kid was dealing with personal demons and the JCC bomb threats can’t be pinned on typical anti-Semitic ideology, does this mean that the spike in hate crimes tallied in New York and elsewhere didn’t happen? Were these Jewish groups wrong to assume that anti-Semites were responsible for anti-Semitism?

Groups who pinned the bomb threats on an atmosphere that Trump “helped to create” certainly went too far, but does their lack of caution mean that Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric should be forgiven? Should advocacy groups not have called out a campaign and an administration that has tolerated and encouraged the “alt-right” and habitually indulges in ethnically divisive rhetoric?

Ann Coulter — asking “Has ANY anti-Trump story been true?” — joined the chorus of those suggesting the arrest exonerated Trump, though exonerated of what is not clear. Jewish groups wanted a strong statement from the White House condemning the bomb threats and the cemetery vandalism not because he was the perpetrator or a Republican, but because he is the president of the United States. Issuing statements of condemnation and support is what presidents do, automatically and usually inconspicuously. Only Trump has seemed to take this task as an affront, somehow believing that to condemn hate crimes is to take responsibility for them.

Others are saying that the arrest of a Jew in the bomb threats vindicates Trump’s comments last month suggesting that the threats were a “false flag” attack. According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Trump told a meeting of states’ attorney generals that “Sometimes it’s the reverse,” and attacks are made “to make people – or to make others – look bad.”

Some took this to mean that Trump was suggesting a Jew was behind the attack, although more likely he was referring to a political enemy. Whatever he meant, he couldn’t have sounded more tone-deaf. Again, dozens of institutions and hundreds of families were reeling from a series of bomb threats. As in his famous blowup in response to a question from a Jewish reporter about rising anti-Semitism, Trump made the events about him rather than the victims.

The ADL and other Jewish groups have a tough PR challenge ahead of them: keeping the focus on acts of anti-Semitism by traditional enemies — white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the virulently anti-Israel far left — while acknowledging that one of the most extensive and public anti-Semitic acts of recent memory was carried out by a Jew. They’ll need to recast the narrative of resurgent anti-Semitism by omitting the wave of JCC bomb threats, but not at the expense of the victimized JCCs.

As the American Jewish Committee put it in a statement, “This is a lesson in not leaping to assumption[s] about complex links between polarizing politics and anti-Semitic acts. But it does not dispel [the] age-old reality of anti-Semitism.”

And they’ll have to find a way to stay vigilant in a polarized and poisonous political era without being seen as the boys who cried wolf.

Workers placing headstones back on their bases at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in the St. Louis area, on Feb. 21. Photo by James Griesedieck

It’s not the bomb threats, stupid!


Phone calls are an exceedingly cheap form of harassment, which makes them highly likely to be hoaxes. Because likelihood is not certainty, such calls are still taken seriously, and they still incite fear and disrupt lives. But the times I’ve written about the rise in anti-Semitism since the election, I didn’t even include the hoax bomb threats in a list of hate crimes. That’s because anyone can call in a bomb threat, from anywhere in the world.

That’s all the more clear now that we’ve learned that many calls came from one Jewish teen in Israel. But even if not one of the bomb threats came from a white supremacist, we are still in the floodplain of a rising wave of far-right hate.

An anonymous phone call to a JCC rarely represents an intent to cause actual physical harm. But there are acts really threaten endangerment, acts done in-person or to a person. Acts committed from a distance are only more serious if they target specific people: a family in Montana who is attacked by “troll storm”, journalists whose find their image superimposed onto a view of Auschwitz or an oven. In-person acts include swastikas spray-painted on synagogue doors, or much worse, a bullet in a classroom window. Someone can’t do them unless they are ready to show up on Jewish property and risk being identified or caught.

The ladder of escalation increases by orders of magnitude: actions that involve property destruction are another order of magnitude. Actions that destroy the property that stands for and houses the people being attacked rise to yet another order of magnitude: the arson of a mosque, cemetery gravestones broken and knocked over.

These targets, the mosque where people prayed, the grave where someone was laid to rest and where people come to remember them, stand in for real people. Their sacredness and significance comes from that role. Though no one is endangered by a fallen gravestone, a cemetery is called a “beit olam”, an eternal home, or a place that houses eternity. It’s all of our past and, since we all will end up there in some fashion, our future.

There is zero possibility that such acts are commited by a prankster, even an anti-Semitic one. There next step beyond this is violence against living human beings, and we have to assume that is what the perpetrators mean. As I wrote before Purim in the Jewish Journal, that’s “what kind of person you have to be to knock down Jewish tombstones”.

African Americans have faced such direct violence with little break for more than two hundred years in too many areas and circumstances throughout this country. One more innocent black man was slain in New York this week by a white supremacist. Muslims and people who look Muslim now face this level of violence here, though they face far worse violence on a mass scale in a number of Muslim nations. Jews have faced violence for two millenia, but we’ve had a respite, here in America. Though our respite has been disturbed by swastikas and vandalism, we are still one step away from that reality.

I can imagine rightists complaining that this argument ignores the fact that people are afraid of terrifying violence from Islamic extremists. But we are all targets of that violence – Jews, Muslims and Christians, gay or straight, all races, all religions. It doesn’t divide us but unites us. In contrast, one purpose of hate crimes that target a minority group is to divide that group from the rest of America.

The people who knocked down tombstones were not pranksters or cranks or armchair haters. I guarantee that they were not planting “false flags”. But back in February, Trump thought they might be and said so.

Soon after, a person was arrested for calling in some of the bomb threats. He turned out to be African American, probably anti-Semitic but certainly not alt-right, who was mostly focused on trying to harm his ex. Jews on the right felt reassured: false flag theory “confirmed”. Now that the next person to be apprehended, for a much large number of calls, has turned out to be Jewish and Israeli, they are feeling even more justified.

So far, these crimes, from phone calls to arson, have brought Jews, Muslims, and faithful Christians together. Paradoxically, however, they are dividing Jews from each other based on right and left politics.

The Trumpist right – and most alarmingly, the Jewish right – is predictably generalizing to say that the tide of anti-Semitic crime is a hoax without connection to Trump’s rhetoric or followers. But the perpetrators of anonymous bomb threats are an entirely different segment of humanity from the perpetrators of tombstone desecration. Unmasking or stopping the one in no way mitigates the meaning or threat of the other.

Nevertheless, Mort Klein would like the Jews who are worried about Trump-inspired anti-Semitism to deliver an apology to Trump (not for the first time – he’s called for AIPAC, the ADL, and The Forward to apologize to Trump and allies in the past year).

How is it that Mort Klein, Dennis Prager, and their ilk , don’t get the difference between a phone call and a direct act of violence? An insightful analysis of the Jewish left versus the Jewish right by Shmuel Rosner appeared on 3/21 in the Jewish Journal. Rosner, quoting Yehudah Mirsky, suggested that while the left is still trying to create a society of justice where Jews are protected because everyone is protected, the right has regressed to the age of the court Jew, the age when a high-placed Jewish leader would (try to) protect his or her people from the mob’s wrath by asking for intervention from the powers that be. In that model, backing the most powerful is how Jews can be assured of protection.

We have the best-placed court Jews we could imagine, I suppose. The son-in-law and daughter of the President. But that’s all they are. Even so, the right is ready to accept this regression of several centuries, as long as the state of Israel can do whatever and be safe. But that attitude will also lead to our enemies here doing whatever.

The Jewish right, by downplaying manifestly anti-Semitic violence and denouncing other Jews, will help the nativist right and alt-right spread the lie of a Jewish left conspiracy to malign Trump. It’s a claim that could come straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

We will not be safe if we are waiting for Donald Trump to show up for his job and do something. Nor can we count on Mort Klein, David Friedman, Ivanka or Jared – our court Jews – nor on Netanyahu – “melekh Yisrael”, the king of Israel, as he is sometimes praised, to step up to champion the Jewish people outside of Israel.

But we can, and together with our allies, we will.

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Twitter has most anti-Semitic content among social networks, survey finds


Twitter emerged as the social network with the most anti-Semitic content in a comprehensive analysis.

The study of the prevalence of hatred toward Jews on such platforms, commissioned by the World Jewish Congress and published this week, was conducted throughout 2016.

Nearly two-thirds of the 382,000 posts deemed anti-Semitic in the study appeared on Twitter, followed by 11 percent posted on Facebook, 6 percent on Instagram and 2 percent on YouTube. The posts were in various languages, according to the survey performed by the Israeli monitoring firm Vigo.

The study applied the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism in determining what content to include in the report, the World Jewish Congress wrote in a statement about the report.

“We knew that anti-Semitism online was on the rise, but the numbers revealed in this report give us concrete data as to how alarming the situation really is,” said the group’s CEO, Robert Singer. “We hope this serves as a wake-up call to all internet forums to maintain moral standards, rid themselves of offensive content, and make the digital world a safer place for all.”

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft in June signed a code of conduct with the European Commission that requires them to delete the majority of reported illegal hate speech within 24 hours.

The signing of the accord was hailed as major progress toward reconciling U.S.-based social networks’ adherence to American legislation despite demands by European governments and judiciaries that the firms limit themselves in Europe to the stricter laws on hate speech applied in much of the continent.

Monitor groups have reported failures to comply after the document’s signing. Twitter has been particularly reluctant to comply with European legislation.

In 2013 Twitter lost a protracted legal battle in France over its initial refusal to either disclose details of users who made anti-Semitic statements online or block them for continuing to do so.

The survey’s publication coincided with reports in Poland about the desecration of a cemetery of Soviet soldiers in Warsaw by vandals who spray-painted a Star of David emblazoned with a Nazi swastika inside the burial ground. Police are investigating the incident, the news site Ruptfly reported.

Evan Bernstein, left, and Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League at a news conference at ADL headquarters in New York City on the arrest of Juan Thompson, who allegedly made bomb threats against Jewish institutions, March 3. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Jewish bomb threat suspect undermines groups’ narrative on anti-Semitism


Many Jewish groups blamed white supremacists, emboldened by Donald Trump’s campaign, for the bomb threats that have plagued Jewish institutions since the beginning of this year.

It appears the groups were wrong.

The news that one Jewish teen — an Israeli, no less — was behind most of the approximately 150 bomb threats that have hit Jewish community centers since the start of 2017 is a shocking twist in light of months in which the Anti-Defamation League and other groups pointed their collective finger at the far right.

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, at a March 10 news conference on the bomb threats. “We’ve never seen, ever, the volume of bomb threats that we’ve seen. White supremacists in this country feel more emboldened than they ever have before because of the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

The ADL has repeatedly charged Trump with emboldening extremists, anti-Semites and far-right groups in the U.S. Other groups were even more explicit in linking rising anti-Semitic acts this year to the new president. On Jan. 10, following the first wave of JCC bomb threats, Bend The Arc, a liberal Jewish group, said that “Trump helped to create the atmosphere of bigotry and violence that has resulted in these dangerous threats against Jewish institutions and individuals.”

In February, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect said in a statement to Trump that “Rightly or wrongly, the most vicious anti-Semites in America are looking at you and your Administration as a nationalistic movement granting them permission to attack Jews.”

But the perpetrator of the anti-Semitic acts, while his political opinions are not known, does not fit the profile of a white supremacist. According to Israeli reports, he’s a mentally ill Israeli-American Jewish teenager.

He worked from home, using a computer lab with sophisticated equipment, encryption and transmission systems, and a powerful antenna, according to reports. And his father may have known what he was doing.

Israel’s anti-fraud squad arrested the 19-year-old suspect at his home in southern Israel and searched the premises on Thursday. He was brought to court and ordered held until March 30.

The other suspect in the bomb threats, arrested earlier in March, also does not appear connected to the far right. He’s a left-wing African-American former journalist who apparently made the calls in a convoluted vendetta against a former romantic partner.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told JTA Thursday that the organization stands by its prognosis of a surge in anti-Semitism and hatred in the U.S. since the campaign. Aside from the JCC bombings, Greenblatt pointed to a range of other hateful activities tied to white supremacists, from abuse of journalists on Twitter and harassment of Jews in Whitefish, Mont. to a South Carolina man who plotted a mass shooting at a synagogue.

“The impact is still the same: you’ve got children, families, the elderly, teens and others who have been terrorized by these attacks,” Greenblatt said. “We’ve seen rising levels of bigotry in ways that are brand new. The emergence of the alt-right and the rising levels of abuse they perpetrated during the campaign against Jews and other minorities is despicable.”

The Anne Frank Center, a small group whose profile has risen in part due to the attention around the JCC threats, said in a statement Thursday that “it doesn’t matter where any suspect is from or what his or her background is.” Bend The Arc CEO Stosh Cotler said in a statement: “Violence and threats of violence, whoever or wherever they come from, are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

The JCC Association of North America said it was “troubled” by the news that the suspect is Jewish, while the Jewish Federations of North America called the news “heartbreaking.”

Greenblatt and Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, which advises Jewish groups and institutions on security, both said the suspect’s age and location were less relevant than the fact that someone has been caught for making the threats.

“What is relevant is that an individual or individuals were placed into custody who were engaged in or involved in criminal behavior, who were looking to terrorize our community,” Goldenberg said. “I do understand why people may have believed that this was part of a larger effort.”

For longtime observers of anti-Semitism, the news showed the need to be cautious when analyzing hateful acts. Former ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, who has previously called for cooler heads in responding to recent hateful acts, said Thursday that the arrest shows the pitfalls of making assumptions.

“Always take these things seriously, but don’t jump to conclusions,” Foxman told JTA. “History has taught us the source of anti-Semitism does not come from one direction. It’s universal in its nature. … I think it is on the increase, but it’s not in epidemic proportions.”

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, noted that this isn’t the first time that Jews have committed anti-Semitic acts. In 1989, the former president of the Jewish Student Union at the State University of New York in Binghamton was charged with painting anti-Semitic slogans on campus.

“It is a reminder that we have to be very careful before we talk about a whole wave of anti-Semitism,” Sarna said. “Something like this will surely make everybody a little embarrassed as Jews, but also embarrassed in the sense that it’s not what people imagined it would turn out to be.”

Sarna added that this incident shows Jews may not be as hated in America as it may have seemed. He cited a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing Jews to be the most popular religious group in America.

“It’s good to take a middle ground,” he said. “Yes, there are people who hate Jews, but we’re not seeing storm troopers at the gate.”

Still, Sarna and Foxman noted the string of other anti-Semitic acts recently — the cemetery desecrations and swastika graffiti, as well as a deluge of anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter last year. Because anti-Semitic acts, beyond the JCC threats, remain frequent in the U.S., Foxman does not believe that Thursday’s arrest will lead to anyone downplaying future acts of anti-Semitism.

“It’s there,” Foxman said of anti-Semitism. “So there’s one guy who, whatever his problem was, that doesn’t change the fact that every day there are incidents of anti-Semitism in this country.”

Photo by Reuters

Jewish groups urge Congress to preserve anti-Semitism monitor


Jewish defense groups urged Congress to preserve the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor.

Representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Secure Community Network testified Wednesday before the human rights subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the subcommittee chairman, convened the hearing to examine connections between increases in anti-Semitism in Europe and in the United States.

The witnesses spoke to the topic, but also made the case for preserving the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. A report last month said that President Donald Trump’s administration was planning to scrap the position. No successor has been named for the the most recent anti-Semitism monitor, Ira Forman, who was on hand for the hearing.

The position is mandated by a 2004 law that Smith helped author, and the New Jersey lawmaker has joined Democrats in opposing any bid to scrap it. An array of Jewish groups and lawmakers have also urged the Trump administration to keep the post in place.

Naming a replacement for Forman “will ensure that the U.S. maintains a specialized focus on anti-Semitism,” said Stacy Burdett, the director of ADL’s Washington office.

Mark Weitzman, the director of government affairs for the Wiesenthal Center, said the position should be elevated to the ambassador level.

Speakers suggested — sometimes gently, sometimes less so — that Trump’s team needed to exhibit more sensitivity to the issue of anti-Semitism.

Weitzman cited the White House’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which omitted any mention of Jews. He noted that anti-Semites seized on the statement as a means of denying Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

“Even a mistake in the context of this background can be used by people with bad intentions,” he said.

Burdett said that “political leaders have the most immediate and significant opportunity to set the tone of a national response to an anti-Semitic incident, an anti-Semitic party or an anti-Semitic parliamentarian.”

Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jewish affairs for the AJC, focused on manifestations of anti-Semitism on the left and right in Europe.

Paul Goldenberg, the director of SCN, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that extremist groups in the United States and Europe are “increasingly the context for each other” by echoing one another in the themes they embrace.

A children’s playground in Brooklyn Heights, New York was vandalized with a swastika in November 2016. Screenshot from Twitter

Five Myths (((We))) Tell Ourselves About Anti-Semitism


My print column this week went to press just hours before news broke that the source of numerous bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers across the United States is a troubled Jewish teenager in Israel.

That crazy turn of events changes everything and nothing.

It doesn’t obviate the problem of anti-Semitism on the Left or Right. It doesn’t explain the increase in cases of anti-Semitic vandalism and online harassment.  It does fuel the partisan divide over anti-Semitism, with the right pointing to the evidence that American Jewish concerns, or “panic,” are veiled attacks on President Donald Trump, and the left countering that there’s more to the problem than one troubled Jew.

Last week, on this very issue,  I got into one of those online winner-take-nothing tugs of war with Washington Post columnist David Bernstein.

He wrote a column criticizing what he called “panic” within the Jewish community over anti-Semitism. Bernstein said it’s not clear that anti-Semitism from the right is on the rise, or that the many reported acts of bomb threats and vandalism are even coming from the right. He argued that the left may be using the reports as a way to delegitimize President Donald Trump (whom, he made clear, he did not support), and that, in any case, these critics willfully dismiss anti-Semitism when it comes from the left, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

I wrote a column in response, and in the course of our back-and-forth, it became evident to me, based on the hundreds of comments that followed, that anti-Semitism, like Israel before it, is turning into a political football game, and we Jews, for no good reason, are being forced onto opposing teams. 

That makes no sense.

If we can’t come together with a common understanding and response when we are all being attacked, we are in trouble. Circling half the wagons never did the cowboys any good.

So here’s my attempt to get us on the same page: five contentious points on which we can reach some consensus.

1. “Jews are panicked.” No, we aren’t. This was the original point of contention between Bernstein and me, and it’s important. “Panic” implies that vandalism and threats are creating terror in Jewish life, changing our patterns of behavior. There is no evidence of this. Local Jewish groups have wisely reviewed and strengthened their security measures. Life goes on. There is definitely concern, just as you’d expect. But more Jews are upset about Russian hacking and having to cook two Passover seders. Saying Jews are “panicked” gives a victory to the perpetrators that they don’t deserve.

2. “Anti-Semitism is getting worse.” Maybe, maybe not. The Los Angeles and New York police departments both report 100 percent increases in anti-Semitic incidents over the same period last year. But the FBI, which tracks statistics nationally, has yet to release the numbers for 2016. So the answer is: We don’t know. And even if the numbers come in high, we need to be wary of pointing fingers. According to the New York Hate Crime Task Force, from 2011 to 2012 hate crimes in New York City jumped 54.5 percent, from 242 to 375. That was long before Donald Trump.

3. “Jews don’t pay attention to anti-Semitism on the left.” Can this pernicious talking point go away? It simply isn’t true. The entire mainstream Jewish community, which includes all those Obama-loving liberals, has mobilized far more time and resources countering the BDS movement than it has this recent outbreak of anti-Semitism. New initiatives, conferences, policy studies — heck, entire organizations — have been launched and funded to counter BDS and the anti-Israel push on college campuses. Liberal Jewish groups like New Israel Fund and J Street have taken clear stands against BDS precisely because it is founded on the deeply anti-Semitic idea that of all the people on earth, Jews alone have no right to live securely in their own country. These left-leaning groups deserve as much support and praise as the conservative Jews who have stood up to forces from the Trump camp at the risk of losing support within their own constituency.

4. “It will pass.” No, it won’t. Whether you lean left or right, don’t think of anti-Semitism as a pimple to be popped, but more like a chronic disease to be treated.  It’s not going anywhere.  Witness the rise of hard-core fascist movements in Europe.

“Before, pro-fascist sentiments were kept hidden,” a Slovakian activist told The New York Times’ Rick Lyman. “Parents would tell their children, ‘You cannot say this at school.’ Now, you can say things in the public space that you couldn’t say before.”

This is true on the left and right fringes of American life as well — and nothing indicates it is ever going away for good.

5. “Israel will save us.” It may, or it may throw us under the bus. So far, the response from Israel and the Israeli press has been a combination of ignorance, obfuscation and wish fulfillment. In his first public meeting with Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, instead of speaking forcefully against anti-Semitism and Trump’s refusal to mention Jews in correlation with the Holocaust, stayed mum. The opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, went to the other extreme, asking for a plan to absorb American Jewry, who presumably would evacuate en masse at the first tipped-over tombstone. And the Israeli press is full of foreboding stories on the beginning of the end of American Jewry, though, of course, more of them end up moving here. As Shmuel Rosner has pointed out in these pages, how Israel reacts will always have more to do with Israel’s agenda. American Jews have to assume we’re on our own — which means we are better off united than apart. n