Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt

ADL Steps Up Reporting on Anti-Semitic Incidents


After recording a “massive surge of anti-Semitic incidents” in the last two months of 2016, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has taken the unprecedented step of releasing a midyear audit — and found a 67 percent increase in physical assaults, vandalism and other attacks on Jewish people and institutions compared with the same period last year, according to its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt.

Released Nov. 2 and covering the first three quarters of 2017, it was ADL’s first midyear report on anti-Semitic incidents since it began releasing a yearly audit in 1979. The previous report, in April, noted a 34 percent increase in incidents in the United States in 2016.

“I didn’t want to be in a situation where we were waiting 12 months to understand the state of play,” Greenblatt told the Journal. “In order to educate and engage policymakers and political figures and the general public, we needed to take a snapshot right now.”

The new survey — available online at adl.org — found 1,299 incidents recorded by ADL so far in 2017, already exceeding the total of 1,266 incidents in all of 2016.

The report presented a particularly sobering picture for Californians. In the first nine months of 2017, anti-Semitic incidents in the state increased by nearly half, to 197 from 135. In Southern California, that included Nazi graffiti at a Hollywood coffee shop and white supremacist symbols spray-painted on a garage at ADL’s Century City office.

Hours before releasing its survey, ADL’s local staff participated in a “State of Hate” forum in Los Angeles convened by California Assemblymember Richard Bloom, a Jewish Democrat whose 50th District stretches from West Hollywood to Malibu.

“California is at times ground zero for a lot of the hate ADL is tracking nationwide,” ADL senior investigative researcher Joanna Mendelson told the audience of law enforcement officers, community leaders and clergy at the Nov. 1 event. Mendelson said California leads the country in its racist skinhead population.

“While these groups are a small percentage of the overall population, they’re not insignificant and are becoming increasingly sophisticated and organized,” Bloom said. “This is cause for concern.”

Greenblatt echoed Bloom’s concern during a phone call the next day. The Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist rallies of Aug. 11-12 “veered into the national consciousness unlike any white supremacist gathering we have seen in recent memory,” he said.

The ADL audit noted an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents after the Charlottesville rally. Of the 306 incidents that occurred in the third quarter of 2017, 211 took place after Aug. 11, more than two-thirds.

Greenblatt said this increase could not definitely be linked to Charlottesville, but he said President Donald Trump’s failure to unambiguously condemn the rallies encouraged white supremacist elements.

“It’s undeniable that the president’s equivocation created an environment in which the extremists felt emboldened. How do I know this? I know this because they said so,” Greenblatt said, referring to ADL’s monitoring of extremist groups at gatherings and on the web.

The State of Hate forum, held in an auditorium at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, sought to give law enforcement and other community leaders knowledge and tactics to address this rise in hate. It took place the morning after a suspected terrorist mowed down pedestrians and bikers in a rented pickup truck in Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring 12.

“California is at times ground zero for a lot of the hate ADL is tracking nationwide.” – Joanna Mendelson

The attack made the forum “particularly relevant and timely,” said Dan Schnur, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles region, who moderated the event.

“Unfortunately, in 21st-century America, there’s never a bad time to have a discussion like this, and yesterday’s atrocities were just the latest reminders of the challenges we face,” he said.

Besides Mendelson, the other speakers were Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission; political science and Chicana/Chicano studies professor Fernando Guerra of Loyola Marymount University (LMU); and FBI Supervisory Special Agent Matthew Coit, who heads the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit in L.A.

Speaking last, Guerra gave Angelenos reason to be hopeful. Citing an LMU survey of 1,203 city residents in January, he said Angelenos tend to view race relations positively, with 77 percent saying that racial and ethnic groups in the city get along. Guerra said the nationwide number is 48 percent, drawing on a similar Pew Research Center poll.

A haunting image from the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, where they marched chanting slogans such as "Jews will not replace us", and "Blood and Soil" a Nazi refrain.

White supremacists march again in Charlottesville


(JTA) — White nationalist leader Richard Spencer led another far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Saturday’s march included several dozen torch-bearing white nationalists who marched through Emancipation Park to the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which the city is working to remove, along with the statues of other Confederate leaders. Spencer was the featured speaker at the rally.

Spencer tweeted a video clip of the march under the heading “Back in Charlottesville.” He later tweeted “Charlottesville 3.0 was a success.”

The protesters chanted “You will not replace us” and “We will be back.”

Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer, responded to the march in a tweet, saying “Another despicable visit by neo-Nazi cowards. You’re not welcome here! Go home! Meantime we’re looking at all our legal options. Stay tuned.”

“It was a planned flash mob,” Spencer told the Washington Post. “It was a great success. We’ve been planning this for a long time.

“We wanted to prove that we came in peace in May, we came in peace in August, and we come again in peace.”

The protesters have vowed to continue to return to Charlottesville, according to the Washington Post.

In August, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville led to skirmishes between some 500 white supremacists, neo-Nazis and  Ku Klux Klan members with counterprotesters. Many of the far-right protesters were armed, and some carried Nazi flags and shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. An alleged white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring at least 20.

President Donald Trump later equated the protesters with those who opposed them.

Rabbi Sharon Brous

Rabbi Sharon Brous’ Rosh Hashanah sermon: The bug in the software of the West


America is turning from a place with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state. What are we going to do about it?

The synagogue in Charlottesville, bracing itself for the Nazi rally planned in late August, requested a police presence to protect worshippers on Shabbat morning. You may have heard: the police failed to send even a single officer, so the synagogue hired a private armed security guard to stand in front of the building. As Nazis paraded by, waving swastika flags, they shouted, “There’s the synagogue!” and “Seig Heil.” Learning that Nazi websites had specifically posted a call to burn the place, congregants left out the back exit and removed the sifrei torah from the premises. It’s true that law enforcement was busy that weekend, but also confounding that they would fail to understand the particular threat neo-Nazis pose to Jews.

I’ve never given a High Holy Day sermon on antisemitism. It’s not that it wasn’t a problem before Charlottesville: it’s that there were always bigger, graver, more urgent problems. As Jews in an America facing moral crisis, plagued by racism and white supremacy, poverty, inequality and climate denial, I didn’t want us to focus primarily on our own victimization. Instead, I wanted to draw our attention to the ways in which Jews were called to engage as a fairly privileged segment of a broader culture. I still believe all of that, but this year I wanted to start with antisemitism both because it’s taking dangerous new shape in America, and because antisemitism is bound up in the broader challenges facing our country. Very simply: the way that the Jewish community addresses antisemitism today matters.

They say that antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred—and its most pernicious manifestations, in Europe, left that land drenched in our people’s blood. Massacres, expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms, libels and ultimately gas chambers stand in eternal testimony to the danger of hatred fueled by church and state alike. James Carroll recently described antisemitism as “the bug in the software of the West,” that insidious, ever-present illness that excludes Jews from moral concern and allows for heinous crimes like the Holocaust to happen.

Antisemitism caused holy hell in Europe. In America, it has been ever-present, but it has never brought the same kind of existential risk that we confronted elsewhere. Thank God. For Jewish immigrants from Europe and Arab lands, even the cold embrace of America was a welcome contrast to the storm of bloodthirsty hatred overseas. Yes, Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of New Amsterdam called Jews “deceitful… repugnant… enemies and blasphemers.” Yes, we suffered a century of discrimination in employment, housing and education. The lynching of Leo Frank, wrongly convicted in the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, is seared into the Jewish collective conscience, and yes, Henry Ford funded mass distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We must not downplay the sharp immigration quotas of eastern European nations with large Jewish populations and Jewish exclusion from American social, educational, political and economic life in the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was derisively referred to as the “Jew Deal,” and the SS St. Louis was mercilessly turned away and nearly 1000 Jews seeking asylum from Nazis were sent back, most to their deaths. We must remember to teach our children about the prohibitive housing covenants that restricted where Jews could live, and I will always remember the mix of confusion and shame I experienced as a child learning that two of the three country clubs in the New Jersey suburb I grew up in had strict “No Blacks, No Jews” policies.

Yes, we constantly joke about (and I hope also take seriously) the need to have our passports updated. And many of us still quietly note potential Nazi escape routes when deciding on a new home. But have we not come to feel pretty safe and comfortable here?

In America, Jews have achieved unprecedented prominence in nearly all sectors: political, social and financial. Here we have become Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Professors and Chief Oncologists. A few years ago, the mayors of the three largest U.S. cities were all Jews– one of them is a member of our own shul. Several years ago, when David and I walked into the Hanukkah party in the White House, I cried watching the West Point cadets, wearing kippot, sing “Ma’oz Tsur”—certain that my Grandma Harriet never could have dreamt of such a thing.

Yes, America has been good to us. So good that maybe we’ve forgotten a little bit who we are.

So good that many of our Jewish institutions failed to find the words to condemn the spike in anti- Semitic attacks that coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign. Failed to speak out against White Nationalist sympathizers– men who have trafficked in antisemitism and racism for years—becoming senior White House officials. Failed to protest when—again and again—our deepest Jewish commitments—care for the stranger, the poor and the vulnerable—have been thrashed about in a political tempest that demands outrage and resistance.

So good that somehow, Jewish senior cabinet members silently abided the President of the United States as he delivered one of the most damning equivocations in modern history, revealing a profound and disturbing inability to simply say: “There is no place for Nazism and white supremacy in this country. Take your hatred and get off our streets.”

What has happened to us?

I was recently asked in high-profile interview: “Why isn’t the Jewish community more involved in the struggle for the rights of targeted minorities in this country? Given your history, you’d think Jews would be on the front lines!”

My initial reaction: what are you talking about? We’re fighting with all we’ve got! Of course, I told her about all the Jews deeply involved in multi-faith and racial justice work today, about the electrifying presence of Jewish activists on the street, opposing efforts threatening the rights and dignities of Muslim and Mexican and LGBTQ allies and neighbors. Standing strong in solidarity and friendship. I spoke of how proud I was of our own community, with our inexhaustible Minyan Tzedek leadership inspiring folks to step up in strategic and meaningful ways. I talked about how Jews are on the front lines, fighting for democracy, equality and justice.

But even days later, I couldn’t get her question out of my head. What made her think the Jewish community wasn’t involved? And then I realized: who are the dominant voices in our community shaping the public perception?

There’s Israel’s Prime Minister, who frequently claims to speak for the Jews, who has repeatedly given cover to, indeed warmly embraced, this President, even after his most egregious missteps. There’s the Prime Minister’s son, who, in the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah, was the banner photo on the neo- Nazi Daily Stormer website after posting a classically antisemitic cartoon on his Facebook page. There are the President’s own family members, observant Jews, who have their rabbis contorting themselves to permit them to fly on AirForce One on Shabbat… I wonder: did they seek rabbinic dispensation for their silence in the face of the Muslim Ban, the rescinding of DACA, the ban on transgender people in the military? And of course, there are the unelected, self-appointed leaders of the American Jewish Establishment, funders and organizational heads who will, of course, decry Nazism, but fail to call out the clear and present role of the administration in normalizing white supremacy and antisemitism, for fear of falling out of favor.

Do you think I’m overstating the point?

I wonder how many here know the difference between white supremacy and White Nationalism? I didn’t, until I started reading and listening to Eric Ward, an African-American senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has been sounding the alarm on the difference between the two. White supremacy is an ideology of racial superiority and subjugation of people of color built into this country’s DNA. The much newer White Nationalism is a radical social movement committed to building a white-only nation. And antisemitism, Ward argues, is the beating heart, the fuel that moves the engine of White Nationalism.2 Thus, the conflation of Nazi and White Nationalist symbols and aspirations in Charlottesville: this is a movement modeled after Nazi Germany whose goal is to eradicate Jews and people of color from the country.

In his thirty years of studying and fighting White Nationalism, Ward says he has not seen the movement operating at such a level of sophistication as we’re now seeing. It has been simmering, he says, waiting for an opportunity. And now the perfect storm has occurred.

Derek Black, the now-estranged son of the Grand Wizard of the KKK explains: White Nationalists expect to be condemned by everyone. Every elected official knows it’s political suicide not to condemn Nazis and White Nationalists. Until one Tuesday in August when the President of the United States could bring himself only to say: “You had some very fine people on both sides.” According to Black, that was a huge victory for White Nationalists. “Tuesday was the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement.”

Make no mistake: not only was that Tuesday in August the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement, it was a critical moment, potentially a turning point moment, for Jews in America. Because suddenly, in one press conference, America turned from a place, like so many, with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state.

Yes, these people, with their menacing hatred born of fear and ignorance, with their contorted faces and their murderous chants, they who play softball with words and symbols that cut to the heart of our people’s trauma, they who worship the statues—literally idols to an American past that degraded and dehumanized millions of Black Americans—they are the ones with whom the administration found sympathy.

Charlottesville did not happen in a vacuum—it is the inevitable outcome of racism being met with anything short of forceful, explicit condemnation. There’s a reason white supremacists didn’t wear hoods to march in streets this summer. They didn’t feel they had anything to hide… because this time they marched with nods of approval from the highest offices in the land.

There have always been angry white men who have held some kind of erotic fascination with Hitlerian symbols, who get high off of and may even kill for their Jew-hatred. But we know from history that the real danger comes when antisemitism is supported by the state. That’s what makes this moment different.

That’s what’s at stake when well-intentioned leaders ignore the whitewashing of Jews from Holocaust remembrance and remain silent at the suggestion of moral equivalence between Nazis and those protesting Nazis.

Mind you, these are some of the same Jewish leaders who continue to sound the alarm daily on any hint of antisemitism in the racial justice movement, where it does rear its ugly head all too often. Our allies on the left need to know who they’re getting in bed with when they dabble in, enable and give license to antisemitic trope. But it is communal malpractice to focus our collective outrage and resources on the left while excusing, minimizing and even ignoring antisemitism from the one place it’s ever presented an existential threat to our people: the armed and state-supported far right. As if BDS, problematic as it is, poses a greater danger to the Jewish people than Nazis emboldened by the President of the United States.

Is it wealth and power that have caused this misalignment? Is it our dependence on a few mega-donors who essentially control the public agenda of the Jewish community? I wonder: is it our voice, or our will that we’ve lost?

Listen to the terrifyingly prescient words of Hannah Arendt, written in 1942: “…Our people—those who are not yet behind barbed wire– are so demoralized by having been ruled by philanthropists for 150 years that they find it very difficult to begin to relearn the language of freedom and justice.”

Is that how we, too, have forgotten to see the world through prophetic eyes? Forgotten that we’re called “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? Is that how, only 70 years after our greatest tragedy, with the words “Never Again!” still emblazoned on our hearts and the walls of our institutions, we somehow find ourselves downplaying the danger of a regime that rose to power stigmatizing vulnerable minority populations and daily manifests disturbingly fascistic tendencies? Is “Never Again” just an empty promise?

Or is it that we now can only see through one lens: “Is it good for Israel?” As if it is in any way conceivable that an America that is profoundly morally compromised is good for Israel. How could we, who measure time in millennia, be so utterly myopic?

For 70 years, our driving force as a community was vigilance to antisemitism. Forgive us, but witnessing the near extermination of your people tends to leave an impression. Yes, much of our communal obsession was rooted in trauma. Some of it also came from the realization that there was no greater adhesion than shared terror; if we kept front and center others’ eternal hatred of us, we’d stick together in a country that offered more open doors, more access and more ability for many Jews to pass than any we’d previously inhabited.

So from trauma and fear, we set off five star alarms every time a swastika appeared on a school desk. For 70 years, we led with the threat of existential crisis—precisely, ironically, as our community grew to be the strongest and most secure we’ve ever been, anywhere in the world.

But now, as the smoke of antisemitic hatred fills the classroom, we’re asking the students to please stay calm and remain seated, because we don’t want to cause a stir. No need to threaten political alliances. Let’s not misconstrue bombast as ideology! And, by the way, why should I be worried if the Prime Minister of Israel is entirely unconcerned?

It’s no wonder the growing alienation of young people from the institutions our grandparents built. We desperately need a new play book.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for soul examination. It’s also a time for us to examine at the soul of our community and our nation. We do this in the hopes that some clear-headed thinking might help us figure out where our bruises and blind spots are, and what we can do to move forward.

In his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin, Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story of Rip Van Winkle. What Dr. King was taken by was not the fact that Rip slept for 20 years, but instead “that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.”

“There are all too many people,” King said, “who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

In a few moments, we’ll hear the sound of the shofar, calling us to awaken from our slumber. This is the central moment of the Rosh Hashanah experience. Think of what it means that our tradition places an alarm clock right at the heart of the new year celebration. It’s as if the spiritual architects of our tradition understood one critical fact about human beings: we will sleep through the revolution. It’s human. But then Rosh Hashanah bursts into our September, shaking us awake, reminding us that sleeping while the world burns is simply not an option.

Last year, the shofar came as a jolt in the night, calling us to grapple with our nation’s moral crisis, to defiantly lift our gaze toward a politics of aspiration. The year before, the shofar was a call to action: to pair our broken hearts over three-year-old Aylan Kurdi in his tiny sneakers with some real effort on behalf of Syrian refugees.

Some years, the blasts of the shofar free us from the folly of presumed powerlessness. Some years, they come to awaken us from our privileged detachment. And some years, it’s about recalibration—a call back to our core values and true purpose.

Chants of “Jews will not replace us!” are our wakeup call this year. It’s our task to walk away from Charlottesville with a renewed sense that we were put here not to be comfortable, but to be prophetic.

Remember Joseph, thrown by his brothers into a viper pit and sold into slavery in Egypt? Abandoned by everyone who should have cared for him, Joseph is disoriented, dislocated, forced to rebuild his life in a land not his own.

But through some mix of grit, luck and divine intervention, this slave quickly rose in the ranks working וַיְ הי י ֵסף יְ ֵפה־ for the powerful Potiphar, giving him respect and authority. Until the Torah tells us that Joseph was well built and handsome (Gen 39:6). That’s a strange comment for the ת ר וי ֵ פה ַמ ְר אה׃ Torah, so sparse with words, to make. (This isn’t a Tinder profile, it’s the Book of Genesis. What’s going on here?) Rashi explains: As soon as Joseph began to gain power and influence in Potiphar’s home, he started to eat and drink and curl his hair. This infuriated the Holy One, who cried out: Your father mourns for you and you’re curling your hair? Has all this power and luxury made you forget who you are? You’re so enamored by Egypt that you’ve forgotten your people, their suffering, your destiny? Do you think this is what you are here for?

Nehama Leibowitz describes that Joseph then found himself on the brink of spiritual disaster. “The plight of the poor and downtrodden exiled from their land is difficult enough,” she writes, “but doubly dangerous is the plight of one who achieves favor in the eyes of his masters so that they advance him for their own needs to the highest of positions.”

And it was in that moment that God plotted Joseph’s fall from grace.

Privilege, comfort, abundance: these are all great blessings. If we’re paying attention, the shofar wakes us up before they become curses.

So what can we do? I’m going to suggest three things.

First, we—the Jewish community—have to be clear and honest about the dangers we’re facing today. We cannot sugarcoat this. Especially in a time of all-out assault on truth, we have to speak openly and clearly about the threat. We need to hold our leaders accountable: this is not a moment for normalizing, justifying or hedging. Timothy Snyder warns that “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.” Anticipatory obedience is when regular people voluntarily compromise on small values or principles, signaling to a regime how willing they are to conform to new standards. The problem is that eventually, it’s simply too late to stand up and resist. We cannot be party to this.

Second, we have to get creative and we have to be bold. On one hand, you heard about the 2014 counter-protest to the annual Nazi march in Bavaria, when residents sponsored the marchers in what they called Germany’s “most involuntary walkathon,” festooning the town in pink banners, throwing confetti at the Nazi marchers and encouraging them to keep walking because every meter brought in donations to an organization promoting defection from extremist groups. Inspired by this model, we did something similar last year when the antisemitic and homophobic Westboro Baptist Church protested outside this building, raising thousands of dollars for The Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

And at the same time, we have to be bold in our thinking and organizing, particularly around the advancement of racial healing in this country. We have to commit to helping America make teshuvah— reckon with and reconcile our nation’s past. I’ll be talking more about this tomorrow.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to take the vulnerability that we felt from Charlottesville, in Ruth Messinger’s words, the “body shock” of seeing Nazis on US soil, and renew our commitment to join forces with other marginalized and vulnerable people in the US. Many of these communities have far fewer resources and are more directly and dangerously targeted than the Jewish community. What I’m suggesting is that at precisely the moment that we Jews feel most vulnerable in America, we need to turn to our Muslim, Latino, Black, Sikh and immigrant neighbors and double down on support, solidarity and love.

It is precisely in our moments of greatest danger that we must affirm exactly who we are. Now we need to lead with the Jewish values that are the air we breathe, that give us both life and reason to live. Now we must remember that we were put in this world to bring a message of justice and love, that the memory of degradation, dehumanization, near extermination lives in our bones, calling us to work to transform the societies we live in. Our goal is not to eat, drink and curl our hair. Nor is it simply to survive. We are called to a higher purpose, to be bearers of light and love, sources of hope and strength. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “To be or not to be is not the question. How to be and how not to be is the question.”

We are here to cry out against injustice, to fight for human dignity. To give love and to receive it. To pry open hearts and minds, to lift the fallen and strengthen the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, to advance the causes of dignity and peace—for our people and for all people. We must not abandon our core commitments when things get tough; we must make justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream.

Mother Teresa once brought food to a family with eight children who had not eaten in days. She entered their home and looked into the faces of children “disfigured by… the deep pain of hunger.” She handed a plate of rice to the mother, who divided the rice in two and left the house. When she returned a few moments later, she served the remaining half plate to her children. “Where did you go?” Mother Teresa asked her. “To my neighbors; they are hungry also.” “I was not surprised that she gave,” Mother Teresa recalled, “—poor people are really very generous. I was surprised she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.”

Antisemitism is a real and present danger in the US today, inextricably woven into the fabric of the racialized hatred that is tearing our country apart. It’s now more than ever that we must stand together. Join us for interfaith actions with our LA Voice partners. Join and support the Poor People’s Campaign. Go to an Iftar at the Islamic Center. Affirm that the best antidote to White Nationalist hatred is multiracial and multifaith alliances.

Luxury and power were a toxic combination for Joseph. He lost himself beneath those fancy dinners and curled eyelashes. It took many years for him to find himself again. At some point, with his estranged brothers standing before him, וְ לא־יָ כל י ֵסף ְלה ְת ַא ֵפק– Joseph could no longer constrain himself. He wept so loudly that all of Egypt heard him as he said, ֲא ני י ֵסף — I am Joseph (Gen 45:1). I look like an Egyptian, I live in the palace, but know that I am yours. #JeSuisJuif. I am a Hebrew. My loyalty is to my people.

His brothers were dumbfounded, but Joseph had never been more clear about anything in his life.

We should not be ashamed of our success or achievements in this country; we should be grateful for the opportunities we’ve found in America. But we also must never forget who we are, and who we are called to be in the world.

Susan Bro, mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, murdered by a Nazi on American soil in 2017, spoke at her daughter’s funeral:

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her. I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

Yes, Susan: we will make it count. May your daughter’s memory be a blessing—for you and for us all. This moment is a clarion call; it is a wakeup call. Let us not sleep through the revolution.


Sharon Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR.

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS.

The binding of Charlottesville


As this Rosh Hashanah neared, I wondered if even a shofar blast could clear away the Charlottesville chant of “Jews won’t replace us” still echoing in my brain. A good, long tekiyah can clear the mind, but this year it seemed the shofar’s piercing sound would not be enough to shatter the growing concerns about anti-Semitism that were keeping me from a more hopeful New Year.

Not that living around people scornful of Jews was anything new. I grew up in the 1960s in Orange County, which had a rock-ribbed chapter of the far-right John Birch Society; The Orange County Register and its editorializing against public schools; and my neighbors and fellow students who told me of their disdain for Jews. What happened in Virginia felt like a return to a place I thought I had left behind.

Still thinking “shofar” as a remedy, I turned to the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading in which a ram’s horn figures prominently: the Akeida, The Binding of Isaac. I hoped that within this dramatic and central story of faith and sacrifice I could find a way not to sacrifice my sense of well-being to the recent emergence of American Sieg Heil-ers.

Reading the parshah did not ease my angst. As you may recall, God puts Abraham to a test by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham and Isaac travel to Mount Moriah, where Isaac is bound and laid on an altar. Abraham, raising a knife, is about to sacrifice his son when a messenger from God stops him. Abraham then sees a ram caught in a thicket by its horns and sacrifices it instead.

I usually have considered the Bible story to have little connection to my everyday life, but now I read it as a cautionary tale. After absorbing weeks of swastikas and arms raised in Nazi salutes, I realized that this year The Binding of Isaac was less about Abraham’s faith being tested and more about my own vulnerability: my being bound to the fear of “it can’t happen here” happening here.

Caught up in my Bible reading, there I was: on a mount, bound up by hate words tightly tying me to a stereotypical image of a Jew. In that scene, a knife of anti-Semitism was hanging over me. Who was wielding it? Not Abraham, more like a guy in khakis and a white polo shirt. Who was being tested? Our “both sides” president, and an array of people who think Jews are too pushy, powerful and in their way. Would an angel’s voice keep the blade from descending? With no unequivocal voice coming from Pennsylvania Avenue, that would depend on public opinion.

Though an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey released in April said “the vast majority” of Americans held respectful opinions of their Jewish neighbors, an October 2016 survey revealed the blade was inching downward — that 25 percent of the general population felt “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”; 30 percent agreed that “Jews were responsible for the death of Christ”; and 14 percent said that a list of “anti-Semitic propensities — including such statements as “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind” and “Jews have a lot of irritating faults” — was “probably true.”

Not at all reassured by these unnerving numbers, I wondered if Jews could reduce them. Though not to be confused with a voice from heaven, the ADL suggests that to free ourselves from hate we learn to recognize its symbols, report hate crimes and “engage in respectful dialogue to build understanding among people with different views.” The ADL also stresses, in the aftermath of acts of hate, how important it is to discuss them with young people.

In the weeks since the tiki torches of Charlottesville, friends and family, even tablemates at Shabbat lunch, have intensely discussed politics and anti-Semitism. Charlottesville has energized us. It’s as if what is called in Yiddish our pintele yid, the Jewish spark at the center of our identities, has been fanned to burn hotter.

Before, many of us didn’t even think or worry about those who might be marching up the mountain, or we didn’t realize that for some of our neighbors and, yes, leaders, Charlottesville was a test. But now in the light of that glow we see it.

In the Akeida, Isaac, not comprehending what is about to transpire, asks his father “where is the sheep for the burnt offering.” Many of us, in a new light of comprehension, now are breaking the bonds of silence, asking our own questions, talking to each other and our neighbors and leaders about anti-Semitism.

It is the sound of that conversation, as clear and sustained as any shofar blast, that we need to hear as we enter the New Year.

President Donald Trump on Sept. 14. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump again blames both sides for deadly Charlottesville violence


President Donald Trump once again said both sides — white supremacists and those who opposed them — were responsible for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, an equivalence that has outraged Jewish groups, Jews in his Cabinet and lawmakers from both parties.

Trump, speaking Thursday on Air Force One as he returned from Florida, where he was meeting with victims of Hurricane Irma, described his meeting a day earlier with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., an African American Republican who has been critical of Trump on race-related matters.

“I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also,” he said when asked what he told Scott regarding the deadly Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville. Antifa is a loose coalition of leftists ostensibly organized to protect protesters but which has lashed out violently at times at its perceived enemies.

“And essentially that’s what I said,” Trump said. “Now because of what’s happened since then, with Antifa, you look at, you know, really what’s happened since Charlottesville.” he said, apparently referring to clashes between Antifa and right-wing protesters in Berkeley, California on Aug. 27. “A lot of people are saying — in fact a lot of people have actually written, ‘gee Trump might have a point.’ I said, you got some very bad people on the other side also, which is true.”

Antifa represented a small minority of the mostly peaceful counterprotesters in Charlottesville. There were limited skirmishes between its members and white supremacists who were protesting the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Among the 500 or so white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan, many were armed and some sought out counterprotesters to attack. Some carried Nazi flags and shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. An alleged white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 20 people.

Trump at the time blamed “many sides” for the violence and said there were “very fine people” on both sides. That caused consternation among his Jewish advisers, including reportedly his daughter Ivanka Trump, his top economic adviser Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and David Shulkin, the secretary of veteran affairs. It also earned widespread condemnation from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and from Jewish groups.

Trump later seemed to withdraw from that posture and his spokeswoman said this week he looked forward to signing a congressional resolution squarely blaming the white supremacists for the Charlottesville violence.

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 7. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Trump ‘looks forward’ to signing resolution condemning white supremacists


President Donald Trump will “absolutely” sign a congressional resolution that “rejects white nationalism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism as hateful,” his spokeswoman said.

“He looks forward to doing so as soon as he receives it,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday during a briefing with reporters.

With bipartisan majorities, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed resolutions this week in the aftermath of the far-right rally in Charlottesville last month that reject “white nationalism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

The resolutions also urge the president and his administration “to speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy, and use all resources available to the president and the president’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

In an unusual move, the sponsors exercised a mechanism that requires the president’s signature on the resolution even though it is nonbinding and written to reflect the sense of Congress. The aim was to address concerns that Trump had equivocated following clashes last month between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that included a deadly attack on a counterprotester carried out by an alleged white supremacist. Sponsors wanted Trump’s commitment to the idea of condemning white supremacists.

The resolution assiduously avoids blaming any other parties for the violence. The victim, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, is named and honored in the resolution.

Protesters and counterprotesters clashing at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Charlottesville put focus on alt-right, but watch out for the anti-Semitic left


What can the hunt for Josef Mengele teach us about the challenges facing Jews today? With a debate stirring about whether left-wing or right-wing Jew-haters pose the greater threat, a new account of the decisions made by Israel’s leaders regarding the evil doctor of Auschwitz should give us some food for thought.

Author Ronen Bergman has written a new book about Israeli intelligence and contributed an op-ed in The New York Times concerning an enduring mystery of the Mossad: Why wasn’t Mengele brought to justice like Adolf Eichmann?

Israel made the capture of Eichmann — the man responsible for organizing the Nazi industrialization of murder — a priority mission for its intelligence operatives. After he was run to ground in Argentina and brought to Israel for trial and eventual execution, Mengele was the logical next target. Yet he evaded capture and died a free man in Sao Paulo in 1979.

Was he just too clever or lucky? No. As Bergman reports, Mengele was spotted in Sao Paulo in 1962 by a Mossad team. Had their commanders and their political masters ordered an operation to snatch him, he would have gotten the same just deserts Eichmann received. But they didn’t, and their reason provides an insight both into Israeli history and the choices that are often posed to the Jewish people.

As Bergman explains, the same day that the news about Mengele’s spotting arrived on Mossad chief Isser Harel’s desk, he learned Egypt was recruiting German scientists to build missiles. Harel oversaw the operation to get Eichmann but thought the threat from Egypt was more important than justice for Mengele. Had Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime — which was then using chemical weapons in its military adventure in Yemen — acquired missile technology, that would have raised the prospect of Jews being gassed the next time Egypt attacked Israel.

With limited personnel at his disposal, Harel ordered the Mossad to stand down in Brazil and to concentrate on a campaign of intimidation and murder of Germans helping Egypt. Harel’s successor, Meir Amit, went further. He ordered his agents, “Stop chasing after ghosts from the past and devote all our manpower and resources to threats against the security of the state.” In other words, forget about old Nazis and concentrate on those Arabs and their allies trying to murder Jews now. Every Israeli prime minister concurred with Amit until Menachem Begin was elected in 1977. But Mengele died long before the Mossad was able to track him down again.

Yet the question lingers as to whether the Mossad’s decision to de-prioritize the hunt for Nazis was correct. Perhaps it might have been possible to do both, but it is not unreasonable to argue that a choice had to be made. Getting Mengele would have been just and emotionally satisfying, yet assigning its scarce resources to the more potent threat was probably the rational option.

Today, Jews face another portentous choice.

Because of what happened in Charlottesville, Va., last month, neo-Nazis are much on our minds. The imagery of a torchlight march of American racists chanting anti-Semitic slogans evoked the tragic past in a way that few events have done. With a small but noisy alt-right movement spreading Jew-hatred on the internet and social media, it’s also no longer possible to claim the anti-Semitic right is dead, as many of us had thought.

Yet, while Charlottesville has refocused us on neo-Nazis, the growing forces of the anti-Semitic left may be a far more potent contemporary threat. President Donald Trump’s inconsistent statements about Charlottesville were outrageous and have encouraged hate groups, but although we are right to worry about the alt-right, the ability of left-wing Israel-haters and their Islamist allies to mobilize far larger numbers of supporters in Europe and on American college campuses is a more serious problem. They can also influence popular culture and mainstream politics via the anti-Trump “resistance.” That presents a clear and present danger to Jewish communities and students that the marginal figures who assembled in Virginia do not.

Jews are capable of opposing both threats. Yet if, due to the antipathy Trump generates among many Jews, we ignore the left-wing anti-Semites in order to concentrate on the less dangerous right-wing haters, that would be a mistake. The Jews have more than one enemy, but the one that is still actively plotting the destruction of the Jewish state and the murder of Jews should remain the default priority. The lesson of Jewish history is not just “never again.” Meir Amit’s warning about chasing ghosts should also not be forgotten.


JONATHAN S. TOBIN is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathans_tobin.

Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 7. NOAA photo

Holy hurricane


Denial just ain’t what it used to be.

Maybe it’s only me, but as recent news has delivered one gut punch after another, it’s been feeling like magical thinking has lost its mojo.

Case in point: Though I know Donald Trump is pathologically void of empathy, who can process a truth as dark as that? We’re not talking about a Batman villain here; this is the effing president of the United States. So as a coping mechanism, my psyche threw an invisibility cloak over his immorality. It didn’t always work, but it came to a dead stop when neo-Nazis – “some very fine people” – marched and murdered in Charlottesville. I plumb ran out of the strategic ignorance necessary to pretend he’s not complicit in evil.

Or take nukes. (Please.) By all rights, nuclear blackmail, nuclear terrorism and accidental nuclear war should have been giving me nightmares for years. But the human capacity for compartmentalization as a way to adapt to the unthinkable did a pretty good job of protecting me from that fear. I don’t know whether, on their own, Kim Jong-un’s accelerating bomb and missile tests would have blown through my soothing self-delusion, but Trump’s crazy rhetoric has undeniably exposed how short-fused those scary scenarios are.

Magical thinking has also Photoshopped my image of the internet. The web’s seductive marvels have had a way of distracting me from mounting evidence of the destruction it enables. But in light of what’s been happening, it’s high time for me to kiss the last vestiges of internet triumphalism goodbye.

Last week the consumer credit-reporting company Equifax revealed that 143 million Americans in their database – half the country – may have had our Social Security and drivers license numbers compromised, as well as the keys to our credit card and bank accounts. Face it: Cyber-security sucks today, and it will suck tomorrow. If you believe your personal data can be reliably protected from hackers, identity thieves, blackmailers, spies, governments, trolls, gamer guys, mean girls and Julian Assange, there’s a Nigerian prince who wants to wire $10 million to your bank account I’d like to introduce to you.

Also last week, the New York Times reported that a cyber-army of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts controlled by impostors linked to the Kremlin had been “engines of deception and propaganda” during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, spreading fake anti-Clinton news, pro-Trump memes and stolen Democratic email to targeted American voters. Facebook – having repeatedly denied it – also disclosed that Russian operatives had bought $100,000 in anti-Clinton ads that may have reached as many as 70 million Americans. Here’s a sobering fact: The digital tools already exist, and are getting better all the time, needed to create convincing counterfeit videos of anyone saying anything, and to confect bogus news stories and brand them as trustworthy journalism. Media literacy and critical thinking have never been more urgent, or up against worse odds.

It’d be comforting to think that companies like Equifax and Facebook have learned their lesson and from now on will deploy the technology needed to beat the devils. But believing what’s comforting in the face of ample prior behavior to the contrary is the definition of denial. Counting on Internet providers to voluntarily embrace an opt-in requirement that respects consumer privacy, like counting on a technical fix for security flaws and propaganda targeting, is the triumph of optimism over precedent.

I’ve clung to such optimism; even if I turn out to be wrong, isn’t that preferable to always fearing the worst? But these days the difficulty of turning a blind eye to reality is taxing my talent for self-deception.

Hurricanes have been dominating the news lately, and few events test the strength of denial as frontally as disasters. But while Harvey and Irma have held news networks hostage – with reason: danger is a magnet for attention – it’s the 8.1 earthquake off of Mexico last week that has me still shaking. I’ve lived in Southern California for a long time, and though earthquakes sometimes drop off my radar screen, I’m periodically conscious enough of their risks that I’ve taken disaster preparation to heart. The proximity of the Mexican quake refocused me on the seismic vulnerability of my everyday life: I checked my battery and water supply. But it also, unexpectedly, laid bare a deeper denial I usually bury fairly successfully, if unconsciously.

I carry around, but rarely examine, a point of view about the relationship between the horrors of natural disasters and my notion of God. I know no God sends these hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and floods. I’m secular, so I don’t require an intricate theodicy to acquit an omnipotent God of capricious cruelty or to sentence a sinful humanity to suffering. But I also don’t experience the universe as arbitrary and meaningless; I experience awe at the mystery of existence, and gratitude for its wonders.

How I reconcile the providence of those gifts with the pointlessness of random misery is too tentative, perhaps too childlike, to survive the scrutiny of abandoned denial. But this much I’m secure about: The power of the 8.2 earthquake that scientists predict for California is indistinguishable from the power that made the night sky’s starry sublime.


MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Screenshot from CBS

Stephen Colbert gives Trump Nazi salute


Stephen Colbert returned to The Late Show this week after a two-week vacation, and, given the constant chaos of the Trump administration, there was quite a bit he missed.

The comedian didn’t waste any time, ripping President Trump’s bizarre Hurricane Harvey response—wherein the commander in chief hawked a new line of USA hats, marveled at the size of the crowd he received, and failed to meet with a single victim of the devastating natural disaster during his first go-around—and the president’s creepy story about his 35-year-old daughter Ivanka, who he has a history of sexually objectifying, addressing him as “Daddy.”

Read more at thedailybeast.com.

Gary Cohn, President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, in Maryland on Aug. 30. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: With Cohn likely out, Kevin Warsh new favorite for Fed Chair | Amos Yadlin on last night’s strike in Syria | Tel Aviv’s graffiti tours


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TOP TALKER: “President Trump Unlikely to Nominate Gary Cohn to Become Fed Chairman” by Michael C. Bender, Harriet Torry and Nick Timiraos: “The shift in Mr. Cohn’s prospects for the top Fed job arises largely from his criticism of Mr. Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., the people familiar with the matter said… White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said Mr. Cohn is “focused on his responsibilities…” Mr. Cohn may have doomed his chances for the top Fed job with comments he made to the Financial Times last month, according to people close to the president… Mr. Trump wasn’t aware such a blunt critique was coming… One White House official said the president visibly bristles at the mention of his economic adviser… A White House official said that Mr. Cohn… may be able to repair his relationship with the president.” [WSJ

Jake Tapper: “GOP source close to the White House tells me: Cohn “more likely to get electric chair than Fed Chair.”” [Twitter]

Mike Allen: “White House insiders have been telling us the favorite for Fed chair is Kevin Warsh, an economic official in the George W. Bush White House, and member of the Fed board from 2006 until 2011.” [Axios]

–Worth noting: Warsh is the son-in-law of Trump whisperer Ronald Lauder.

HEARD THIS MORNING — Ousted White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon on Gary Cohn’s criticism of Trump in an interview with 60 Minutes: “My problem, and I told General Kelly this – when you side with a man, you side with him. I was proud to come out and try to defend President Trump in the media that day… You can tell him, ‘Hey, maybe you can do it a better way.’ But… If you’re going to break with him, resign. The stuff that was leaked out that week by certain members of the White House I thought was unacceptable… I’m talking – obviously, about Gary Cohn and some other people. That if you don’t like what he’s doing and you don’t agree with it, you have an obligation to resign.” [CBSNews]

PROFILE: “Donald Trump told Nikki Haley she could speak her mind. She’s doing just that” by Elise Labott: “One of her biggest goals when she arrived at the UN was to fight what she viewed as an anti-Israel bias. In March, at their annual conference, she told the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC “there is a new sheriff in town,” winning applause from the crowd. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, credits Haley with “ushering in a new era of support for Israel at the UN.” … “The public support has made a huge difference for us,” Danon told me. “I think that member states and the UN agencies now understand they should recalculate their approach.”

“Critics argue that Haley is simply pandering to pro-Israel groups that are important to GOP politics. More than one State Department official has rolled their eyes over what they call Haley’s unabashed support for Israel. Even a senator who supports Haley said her work on the issue “is a bit much” for a UN ambassador. But Haley told me she sees an expansive role for herself. “It is what you want it to be,” she said of the ambassadorship. “I’ve found this is a place where you can move foreign policy. I didn’t not think that before. But this is a place where you can negotiate and this is a place where you can move the ball. I don’t think that has been tapped as much as what I’m attempting to do.” [CNN]

ON THE HILL — Amendment cutting US aid to UNRWA & UNHRC advances — by Aaron Magid: An amendment from Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) that would sever U.S. aid to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has been advanced by the House Rules Committee. The amendment would also end funding to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The measure will now head to a floor wide vote. An informed Republican staffer told Jewish Insider that this will be the first time in many years that a floor wide vote — possibly as early as today — will proceed on defunding UNRWA.” [JewishInsider]

“U.S. Congressman Proposes $12 Million to Support Israel’s Ethiopian Community” by Amir Tibon: “The amendment was proposed on Tuesday by Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democratic lawmaker and a member of the House Rules Committee… According to Hastings, Israeli organizations that work with the Ethiopian sector “do not have sufficient resources to meet the needs of these communities,” even after the recent addition of Israeli government funding.” [Haaretz

THE DAILY KUSHNER: “Lacking a Point Person on China, U.S. Risks Aggravating Tensions” by Mark Landler: “Jared Kushner’s involvement in China has waned; he did not accept an invitation from the Chinese to go to Beijing this month for a visit that some expected would be in preparation for Mr. Trump’s state visit in November… White House officials said no visit was ever scheduled, and hence, none was canceled. Mr. Kushner’s initially prominent role on China policy, they said, ebbed naturally as other officials, including Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Mnuchin, settled into their jobs. Mr. Kushner, they said, remains involved in economic and trade issues regarding China. Some attribute Mr. Kushner’s lower visibility to his overflowing agenda — he is trying to broker a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, not to mention overhauling the federal bureaucracy.” [NYTimes

NEW DEETS: “Trump to speak with Israeli, Palestinian leaders at UN next week” by Margaret Brennan: “A White House official confirmed that two presidential advisers leading the peace initiative, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, would accompany the president to the annual [UNGA] gathering… “Everyone understands how complicated, difficult and challenging this task is, and that it will take time, but we are all feeling hopeful after all of our meetings last month,” a White House official said.” [CBSNews

“Abbas Scales Back Israeli-Palestinian Security Coordination as He Preps for Diplomatic Confrontation” by Amos Harel: “Abbas is thinking about renewing the Palestinian Authority’s applications for acceptance into a host of international organizations. He’ll also be taking a hard line in his address to the UN General Assembly… Security coordination between Israel and the PA hasn’t recovered since the last Israeli-Palestinian meltdown.”[Haaretz]

Netanyahu expresses concern over the PA’s collapse — by Aaron Magid: In a meeting with Members of Congress last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed “concern” for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) told Jewish Insider on Wednesday.

An Israeli official familiar with the meeting tells us: “It’s not our assessment that the PA is about to collapse. The focus of the meeting was on the importance of the PA recognizing  Israel as a Jewish state, ending their payments to terrorists and stopping the glorification of mass murderers.”

DRIVING THE CONVO: “In Deal With Democrats, Trump Makes a Sudden Turn” by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman: “Mr. Trump often invites his daughter Ivanka Trump into meetings to signal their conclusion — or to keep his interlocutors off balance. When she entered the Oval Office toward the end of the discussion on Wednesday, the Republicans in the room reacted with expressions that two people present described as astonishment. [Paul] Ryan… coolly told colleagues that he had come to expect such surprises… A chastened Mr. Mnuchin left the room, in what one witness described as a state of shell shock.” [NYTimes

“The ‘Ivanka drop-by’: Trump’s not-so-secret meeting trick” by Betsy Klein: “Ivanka Trump… “entered the Oval Office to ‘say hello’ and the meeting careened off-topic,” a congressional source briefed on the meeting told CNN’s Deirdre Walsh. Some Republican leaders were “visibly annoyed by Ivanka’s presence,” the source said.” [CNN

IN THE SPOTLIGHT… “Michael Cohen Would Take a Bullet for Donald Trump” by Emile Jane Fox: “The word “loyal” came up more than a dozen times in the course of our conversations. During a telephone discussion a few days earlier, Cohen joked that maybe if he saw the president in a white sheet at a Klan rally, then he would think twice about lending his support. (Afterward making the comment, Cohen, who is Jewish and the child of a Holocaust survivor, clarified that he was speaking in jest, and that neither he nor the president condone white supremacy.)… He is glad that Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are still there, though he said he warned them not to go down to Washington. “ “They’re under attack also… and I told them it would be ugly for them and I recommended that they not go in. I remember both of them telling me that ‘dad needs our help,’” he said. “Unfortunately, my prediction was correct… There’s things that came out about Jared and his real estate and the finances. This is a family that tries to stay under the radar in terms of their business and I’m sure Charlie [Kushner] is not happy right now at all.”” [VanityFair]

REPORT: “Syria Says Israel Bombed a Military Base” by Ben Hubbard: “Syria accused Israel on Thursday of conducting an overnight strike on a military base said by analysts to house chemical weapons and advanced missiles. The Syrian military reported the attack, saying it killed two people near the town of Masyaf in western Syria and caused unspecified material damage. Israeli officials did not comment on the strike, but a Syrian monitoring group and a former Israeli official said it had targeted a research site that produced chemical weapons.” [NYTimes]

KAFE KNESSET — Mum’s the word — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Israeli officials, as always, kept mum this morning as the country woke up to news of an air strike on a military factory in Syria. But former officials did weigh in – Amos Yadlin, former IDF intelligence chief, published a series of tweets these morning. “The strike reported last night is not routine,” Yadlin informed. “It targeted a Syrian military – scientific center for the development and manufacture of, among other things, precision missiles which will have a significant role in the next round of conflict. The factory that was targeted in Masyaf produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.”

“The strike reported last night is not routine,” Yadlin informed. “It targeted a Syrian military – scientific center for the development and manufacture of, among other things, precision missiles which will have a significant role in the next round of conflict. The factory that was targeted in Masyaf produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

“Iran keeping watchful eye on Iraqi Kurdistan, Israel” by Mahmut Bozarslan: “Israel is among the countries interested in Iraqi Kurdistan affairs. Iran openly opposes the [Kurdish independence] referendum, but Israel declares its support. Their differences have generated speculation that Iran’s military moves are actually against Israel. Political analyst Siddik Hasan Sukru of Erbil is among those who believe claims of Israeli involvement… Sukru insists… that Iran’s priority is to undermine the influence of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Kurdish region. “Iran’s concern is not about the independence of Kurdistan, but about Israel. Israel’s relations with the Kurdistan region are developing by the day… This is why Iran is on alert: The steps it is taking are against Israel,” Sukru said.” [Al-Monitor]

IRAN DEAL — “France’s foreign minister worried by Trump’s stance on Iran nuclear deal” by John Irish: “The agreement which was passed two years ago enables Iran to give up on a nuclear weapon and so avoid proliferation. We have to guarantee this stance,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said during a visit to Science-Po university in Paris. “I am worried at this moment in time by the position of President Trump, who could put into question this accord. And if this accord is put into question then voices in Iran will speak up to say: ‘Let’s also have a nuclear weapon.’” [Reuters]

NYTimes editorial… A Devious Threat to a Nuclear Deal: “Ms. Haley misleads further when she argues that it would not constitute an American withdrawal from the deal if Mr. Trump didn’t certify Iranian compliance. That kind of spin will convince no one, and it won’t protect Mr. Trump for being blamed for whatever follows, including outrage from France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, which are also parties to the agreement.” [NYTimes

“How Trump Can Reject the Iran Deal Without Actually Killing It” by Eli Lake: “If Iranian compliance is not certified, Trump may be able to have the best of both worlds. He could signal to his supporters that he is keeping his campaign promise by instructing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to rule against Iran. And yet he still would not have killed the nuclear deal; he would simply have punted to Congress.” [BloombergView

Today in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Iowa Governor Kimberly Kay Reynolds, who is leading a 10-day trip to Israel. The two discussed ways to advance cooperation between Israel and Iowa especially in water, technology and agriculture. The Iowa delegation will sign two inter-university agreements, with Tel Aviv University and the Volcani Center. [PicDesMoinesRegister

Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair to keynote memorial for Peres — by Raphael Ahren: “Prime Minister Netanyahu will miss a series of memorial events for former president Shimon Peres next week, as he is traveling to Latin America. Instead, President Reuven Rivlin, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and ex-UK prime minister Tony Blair are scheduled to deliver keynote speeches at events marking one year since the elder statesman’s passing… Kissinger… is scheduled to speak at an event at the Peres Center in Jaffa to be attended by “senior security officials, the Peres family and close friends, and honored guests from Israel and abroad,” according to the center.” [ToI

2018 WATCH: “Gov hopeful Biss dumps alderman as running mate over Israel remarks” by Tina Sfondeles: “Democratic gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss has dropped running mate Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa from his ticket amid backlash over comments the rookie alderman made about Israel… “Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and I have reached a difficult decision about our ticket. As of today, I’ll be moving forward with a new running mate,” Biss said in a statement. “Growing up with an Israeli mother, grandparents who survived the Holocaust, and great-grandparents who did not survive, issues related to the safety and security of the Jewish people are deeply personal to me.”” [CHSunTimes] • Read Ramirez-Rosa’s statement here [Facebook]

“In Illinois, a Democrat chooses a socialist running mate, then dumps him” by David Weigel: “In short order, endorsers began criticizing or dumping Biss, and volunteers in some parts of Illinois bolted his campaign. (“Worse than Palin IMO. At least McCain stuck with her,” said one Illinois Democratic source.) The Chicago branch of Our Revolution, Sanders’s political network, issued a statement of “disappointment and shock” with Biss’s move.” [WashPost]

HAPPENING TODAY: Former UN Ambassador John Bolton will headline a fundraiser in Chicago in support of Jeremy Wynes, who’s running for the House of Representatives in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District. Bolton announced his endorsement yesterday. Additionally, the John Bolton PAC will contribute $10,000 to the Wynes campaign.

2020 WATCH: “Pro-Israel group slams Booker in new ad” by Gabriel DeBenedetti“The conservative Committee for Israel nonprofit group is launching a television broadside against Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on Wednesday, assailing him for voting against a measure that would scale back funding to the Palestinian Authority. “Stabbings, shootings, suicide bombings. Israelis and Americans killed by Palestinian terrorists, and we’re paying for it… Finally, Democrats and Republicans are coming together to stop it,” says the narrator of the 30-second ad, produced by the organization previously known as the Emergency Committee for Israel… “But not Cory Booker. He ran here as a friend to Israel. Just four years later he’s eyeing a run for president and throwing Israel under the bus. Call Booker. Tell him we noticed.” [Politico

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Goldman’s Blankfein on Markets: ‘Things Have Been Going Up for Too Long’ [WSJ] • Xerion CEO Daniel Arbess on U.S. Economy, Corporate Profits [Bloomberg] • Soros kid’s divorce may cost him his art collection [NYPost] Sale of Brooklyn Housing Complex Would Benefit Trump [NYTimes] • Madoff Investors Recover 72% of Losses With New Trustee Deal [Bloomberg] • Why WeWork Thinks It’s Worth $20 Billion[Wired] • Emails show clash between Trump appointees and Facebook over Zuckerberg glacier visit [WashPost

“Silicon Valley’s Politics: Liberal, With One Big Exception” by Farhad Manjoo: “You would think that people with enough money to influence the political system would obviously use that influence to increase social and economic inequality in ways that benefit them,” said David Broockman, an assistant professor of political economy at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business… “What’s surprising to us,” he continued, “is that you could find this group that says, ‘Actually, our taxes should go up and more money should go to things like universal health care, or that we should do more to protect the environment’ — but at the same time believes that regulations and labor unions are a problem.” [NYTimes]

OPINION: “Cult of Bibi has damaged American Israel advocacy” by Ben Judah: “There is something of a Bibi cult of personality in the pro-Israel world that exists in Washington. Initiatives have confused being pro-Israel with being pro-Bibi… But above all, the Bibi cult has blinded pro-Israel advocacy towards Israel itself. Not only has this increasingly blinkered pro-Israel Washington from the Israeli strategic and diplomatic thinking beyond the Prime Minister’s office. The Bibi cult has blinded the pro-Israel community to the overwhelmingly liberal US Jewish community. It is not for nothing the next generation of Jewish billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg or Google’s Sergey Brin are not as close to Israel advocacy as their predecessors.” [TheJC]

Rebuttal from Lahav Harkov: “It’s simple: Netanyahu has been PM for 8 years. That’s why it looks like mainstream pro-Israel organizations are pro-Netanyahu.” [Twitter]

KAFE KNESSET continued — Channel 20, out? Bibi’s beloved Channel 20 may soon be shut down. The channel, to some extent, aspires to be Israel’s version of Fox News, with media personality and critic of the left-wing, Shimon Riklin, serving as the fawning Sean Hannity to Netanyahu’s Trump. The channel was never actually meant to be a news channel. It was granted a government issued broadcast license as a “Heritage” (read: Jewish) channel. Since it is in violation of its license, Cable and Satellite Authority chairwoman Yifat Ben Chai-Sagiv recommended to foreclose on the channel’s NIS 4 million deposit. According to the law, this step, which has never been taken by the regulator in the past, is the legal precursor to shuttering the channel.

This problem would have never come up if Netanyahu had followed through on his policy proposal from when he was still Communications Minister, to open up the Israeli media to the free market instead of the government regulating what channels can be opened… Likud Minister Gilad Erdan pointed out that Channels 2 and 10 violated their licenses many times and were not shut down. Communications Minister Ayoob Kara told Kafe Knesset: “Channel 20 will not be shut down. Everyone has freedom of expression – not just the Left. [The regulator] can’t just let the Left stay open and not the Right. There are problems with the conditions of the license, and they will be dealt with according to law.” [KafeKnesset]

TALK OF OUR NATION: “Study finds more than half of young Jews have ‘no religion’” by Shmuel Rosner: “The PRRI survey found that among the 2.3 percent of Americans who identify as Jews, about a third are “cultural Jews.” The study found that among those under age 30, fewer than half, 47 percent, identified as religiously Jewish while 53 percent are Jews of no religion… In sharp contrast, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of Jewish seniors (age 65 or older) are religiously Jewish, while 22 percent identify as culturally Jewish… Note how among young Jews the Orthodox group has already surpassed the Conservative group and is getting close to the Reform group. Also note that close to half of all younger Jews do not belong to any denomination.” [JewishJournal]

“Why Did Israel Let Mengele Go?” by Ronen Bergman: “Documents and interviews reveal that contrary to popular belief, for most of the time that [Josef] Mengele was in hiding, the Mossad wasn’t looking for him at all — or placed finding him far down its to-do list… The Mossad began pursuing Mengele in 1960 based on tips from Simon Wiesenthal, the celebrated Nazi hunter… On July 23, 1962, the Mossad operative Zvi Aharoni (who had identified Eichmann two years earlier) was on a dirt road by the farm where Mengele was believed to be hiding when he encountered a group of men — including one who looked exactly like the fugitive. The Mossad’s South American station chief cabled the headquarters in Israel… But the head of the Mossad at the time, Isser Harel, ordered the matter dropped.” [NYTimes

“The Best Way to See Tel Aviv — Through Graffiti” by Merav Savir“For [Elinoy] Kisslove, it’s important that people see art instead of vandalism. Her aim is to “open people’s eyes beyond the stigma and to introduce them to a world they didn’t know before.” She watches how tourgoers react to the graffiti and uses it as inspiration for her own — she refuses, though, to point out which pieces are hers. Some of Tel Aviv’s graffiti artists, who also prefer to remain anonymous, have provided Kisslove with information about their pieces. A few even stop to talk to the groups when they are caught in the act.” [Ozy

MEDIA WATCH: “TMZ Veteran Who Split With Site’s Founder Emerges as a Rival” by Brooks Barnes: “The Blast is financed by Banijay Group, which is based in France and has become one of the world’s largest independent television production and distribution companies…We weren’t sitting around plotting to launch the next entertainment news site,” said David Goldberg, the chief executive of Banijay Studios North America. “But when talent becomes available, you have to be prepared to jump.” … [Harvey] Levin, 67, essentially created [Mike] Walters… In 2005, when Mr. Levin and Telepictures, now a division of Warner Bros., teamed up to create TMZ.com, Mr. Walters was one of the site’s first employees.” [NYTimes

DESSERT: “Aaron Franklin Made Kosher Brisket, and More A.M. Intel” by Nadia Chaudhury: “Since Franklin Barbecue is temporarily closed because of that fire, pitmaster Aaron Franklin cooked up some kosher brisket for Izzy’s BBQ Addiction, kosher pitmaster Ari White of Wandering Que, and Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn. He used a new pit outside of Franklin Barbecue.” [AustinEater

BIRTHDAYS: Palm Beach, Florida resident, formerly of Pound Ridge, Purchase and Rye, New York, the school at the Westchester (NY) Jewish Center bears her name, Beverly Cannold turns 92… Member of the UK’s House of Lords, he was a managing director of Marks and Spencer and is now active in many Jewish and other charities, Baron Andrew Zelig Stone turns 75… Political columnist for Time Magazine and author of the novel “Primary Colors,” Joe Klein turns 71… Color commentator for New York Yankees radio broadcasts, Suzyn Waldman turns 71… Billionaire owner and CEO of Gristedes Foods, the largest grocery chain in Manhattan, John Catsimatidis turns 69… Pulitzer Prize winning former national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, now Director of Literary Journalism at UC-Irvine, Barry Siegel turns 68… Minneapolis area school counselor and language arts teacher, Sandra Sevig turns 68… Russian-born Chairman of the Mathematics Department at UCSD, formerly professor at both Yale and University of Chicago, Efim Zelmanov turns 62…

Global co-chair of the Israel practice in the Washington, D.C. office of Latham & Watkins where he is primarily a healthcare and life sciences partner, Stuart Kurlander turns 55… Bahraini Ambassador to the US (2008-2013) after four years in the Bahraini Parliament (2005-2008), both firsts for a Jewish woman, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo turns 53… Associate professor at George Washington University, author, lecturer, and community scholar of Manhattan’s Jewish Center, Dr. Erica Brown turns 51… Award winning writer at The Wall Street Journal and author of three best-selling books (book topics are John Paulson, fracking and, most recently, athletes overcoming challenges), Gregory Zuckerman turns 51… Screenwriter, producer and director of many succesful films and TV shows, Alex Kurtzman turns 44… Author of two New York Times best sellers and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon turns 44… Contributing Editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, previously National Political Editor at the Washington Post, Maralee Schwartz… Executive assistant at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Karen McCormick

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]

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS.

Why Jewish parents should talk about neo-Nazis with their children


Can neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va., be fodder for a meaningful conversation with a 10-year-old? Can an 8-year-old really think about anti-Semitism in contemporary America? The answer, quite simply, is yes.

With recent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Boston and Laguna Beach, the chances are pretty good that your children already know about troubling current events.

As director of the Children’s Learning About Israel Project, I’ve spent the past five years studying how elementary school children process the world around them. As we’ve followed a group of Los Angeles children from ages 5 to 10, we’ve learned quite a lot about how children make sense of current events that happen removed from their own homes yet still impact their communities.

Here are three important lessons we’ve learned from the children we’ve been following:

• Kids will learn about difficult current events whether you want them to or not.

Childhood can be a wondrous, magical time. In an effort to help protect the sanctity of childhood, adults often want to shield children from controversial or complex current events. But in this era of easily accessible information, even if adults want to shield children from the harsh realities of the world, it isn’t likely that they can.

The children we’ve been following didn’t need to sit in a classroom lesson or read a newspaper to learn about the most contentious or the most tragic moments happening in the world around them. They looked over a mother’s shoulder as she scrolled through Facebook, or they caught glimpses of a television newscast — sometimes in a public place, sometimes in their own homes — that replayed violent images. They overheard conversations between adults, or they searched for information online. The information often came in bits and pieces, and — like a giant puzzle — the children began to piece together stories whether or not they had all the pieces. For most children in our study, this puzzle-piecing started as early as second grade.

Given the pervasiveness of the 24-hour news cycle and the prevalence of screens big and small, even if your children do not yet know about the rise of white supremacy in 2017 America, it will be difficult to shield them from this news for much longer. This means you have two options: let them work on the puzzle alone, or help frame it for them.

Kids need adult guidance to help them understand the context and causes of current events.

Seeing images on a screen or overhearing conversations among adults is all it takes for kids to know what is going on. It isn’t enough, however, to help them understand why events happen or who participates in their occurrence. To understand this, kids need help from the trusted adults in their lives.

As we have watched the kids in our study watch the world around them, we’ve noticed that many children express a profound frustration that they are missing pieces of the puzzle because adults — who often have chosen to shield them from difficult or troubling news — have not sufficiently explained the context that would allow them to understand current events.

It is not enough for contemporary American-Jewish children to know that white supremacy and neo-Nazism are gaining traction in the United States, yet these are the very bits of information that kids are most likely to pick up on their own. Kids will need help to understand the context around this information: Who are white supremacists? How and why are racial minorities, Jews and others their targets? Most important, kids need to understand what is being done to counter hateful speech and actions, and who is and can be involved in this work, including the children themselves.

In spite of it all, kids are optimists.

In part because adults understand so much more historical context than children, adults tend to look at troubling current events with fear and trepidation. But children are able to view the same events as their parents and grandparents and maintain hope that, in the end, all will be well and good in the world. As Anne Frank famously wrote, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

From the children in our study, we have learned that what may look to adults like disaster is, for children, an opportunity to remake the world. Even in the worst of times — as we watched the children’s reactions to the 2014 war in Israel, as rockets were raining on Israel and the children were coping with the deaths of Jewish youth — they remained hopeful optimists. For them, war was a chance to re-envision and pursue peace. So, too, can the rise of hatred, racism and anti-Semitism be, for children, an opportunity to rearticulate and embody principles of equality, inclusion and pluralism.

When talking to children about current events, adults have two jobs: to help children fill in the missing puzzle pieces, and to help them maintain the beautiful images they would like to create of the world. Children should be given an opportunity to learn about the world as it exists, and to become partners in creating the world as it should be. n

Protesters gather to show support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in Los Angeles on Sept. 1. Photo by Kyle Grillot/Reuters

The lie at the heart of the DACA repeal


President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind DACA only makes sense if you remember Charlottesville.

You have to recall what the white supremacists who marched in that Virginia town chanted: “You will not replace us! You will not replace us!”

Sure, they lapsed into, “Jews will not replace us,” but DACA isn’t about being anti-Semitic, it’s about being anti-Them.

Trump’s order to phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in six months would affect some 800,000 young people who were brought to this country as children when their parents crossed the border illegally. They had no more complicity in that action than a toddler strapped inside a getaway car is guilty of bank robbery. They’ve known no other country but the United States, where they went to school, found jobs (some 91 percent are employed) and made lives.

By canceling DACA, Trump would be uprooting these people and sending them back to countries they do not know, whose languages some of them do not even speak. And for what?

Despite what Trump’s ever-dwindling number of defenders claim, repealing DACA has nothing to do with whether President Barack Obama’s executive order was constitutional.

As others have pointed out, a guy concerned with our nation’s highest laws doesn’t pardon a guy like Joe Arpaio, indicted for subverting it. And if he really wanted Congress to exercise its rightful power in passing a law for the Dreamers, why give them a six-month deadline before phasing out DACA? Why not a year? Kicking it to Congress demonstrates Trump’s essential cowardice.

No, what Trump wants to do is make good on an applause line from his campaign rallies, promising his die-hard supporters that he would put an end to DACA. They’re not interested in a go-slow approach that would put the measure on more solid constitutional footing. They’re not interested in a compromise that would maximize the potential good these hundreds of thousands of Dreamers can bestow on America. They’re not interested in fairness, because how is it fair to punish someone for something they didn’t do?

So, what are they interested in? One clue can be found in the Breitbart story announcing Trump’s decision. Its headline is, “Open Borders, Corporate Interests Brace for End of DACA.” In other words, the only people who these Trump supporters think care about making sure these Americans stay in America are the “globalists.”

The story’s writer, John Binder, claims that with the Dreamers out, some 30,000 jobs will open up each month.

“Ending DACA could be a major stimulus for the 4.4 percent of unemployed Americans who will see more than 700,000 new job openings across the United States,” Binder writes.

That’s ludicrous, of course. It assumes none of the Dreamers are self-employed, that their roles can easily be filled by the ranks of the remaining unemployed — many of whom are far less well-educated, less well-trained, less motivated, far older or not even living in areas where the Dreamers work. Some 250 work for Apple — in what fantasy world are those jobs just ripe for the picking? But Breitbart knows that.

Shafting the Dreamers is not about the promise that an eager army of neglected (white) Americans will magically slip into the work shoes of the 700,000 gainfully employed Dreamers. It’s about the fear that these Americans are no longer needed at all. “You will not replace us!” The Charlottesville chant echoes in Trump’s shortsighted and cruel new action. See, he is saying, I won’t let them — these brown, line-hopping hordes — replace you.

It doesn’t matter that setting these Dreamers loose on America boosts the economy and will improve the future for us all, as every highly motivated group of immigrants, from Irish to Italians to Jews to Latinos, has done throughout American history. It’s not about reality, it’s about revenge. If you think you’re going to replace us, take this.

There’s a tragic coda to Breitbart’s gloating story. On the very same website is a story about Alonso Guillen, 31, a disc jockey in Lufkin, Texas. Four days after Hurricane Harvey submerged Houston, Guillen volunteered to pilot a rescue boat. He and two friends were en route to the boat when their truck struck a bridge and overturned, throwing the men into the raging current of Cypress Creek. Guillen drowned. According to his family, Guillen was a recipient of the DACA program — his parents brought him from Piedras Negras, Mexico, when he was a child. His father became a legal permanent resident. His mother, Rita Ruiz de Guillen, was in Mexico awaiting approval of her immigration application when she heard of her son’s death. When she tried to enter the United States to attend the funeral, immigration officials turned her back.

“I’ve lost a great son, you have no idea,” his mother told reporters. “I’m asking God to give me strength.”

There’s a word for Americans like Alonso Guillen.

Irreplaceable.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Billy Joel wearing a yellow Star of David during the encore of a show at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Aug. 21. Photo by Myrna M. Suarez/Getty Images

Billy Joel wore a yellow Jewish star. Thanks, but the trend should stop there.


Few artifacts of the Holocaust move me like the yellow star. Homely and seemingly innocuous, they sit in museum cases either by themselves or still attached to a jacket or blouse, the stitching rough and the lettering surprisingly crude. They are almost comically, cartoonishly blunt, a child’s idea of how to single out and shame an enemy. And in their bluntness and homeliness they make vivid the obscenity that was Nazism, the way a single bloodstained feather on the sidewalk conjures a vision of the violence that produced it.

So it was more than a little shocking to see Billy Joel wear a yellow star on his jacket during a concert a week after the violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. After all, Joel is not the first artist who comes to mind when you think of bold or provocative political gestures. It’s been his luck and his curse to be wildly popular while rarely courting controversy or inspiring deep critical analysis or respect. The critic Chuck Klosterman wrote famously that Joel “has no extrinsic coolness. If cool were a color, it would be black — and Joel would be kind of a burnt orange.”

His wearing the star should have been the wrong thing to do in so many ways. Jewish groups are always worried about appropriations of the Holocaust and carefully designate the boundaries of acceptable Holocaust analogies (that is, none). The same week that Joel wore his yellow star during the encore at one of his regular Madison Square Garden gigs, the fashion house Miu Miu discontinued a clothing line that featured a yellow star that was only reminiscent of what the Jews were forced to wear (the World Jewish Congress had complained). Earlier this month, the Donald Trump mouthpiece Jeffrey Lord lost his commentary job on CNN essentially for calling one of Trump’s liberal critics a Nazi (and presumably casting Trump’s defenders in the role of the Nazis’ victims).

But if any Jewish group had a complaint about Joel’s gesture, I haven’t heard it. The singer’s gesture came across as sincere and pointed, not tasteless.

Although he didn’t say why he wore the star, his ex-wife, model Christie Brinkley, took to social media to write that the star symbolized the “painful, no excruciating, memories of loved ones who wore that star to their death.”

“Thank you, Billy for reminding people what was … so it may never ever be again,” she added.

Although Joel has never made much of his Jewish background, he has talked of his father, a German-born Jew who, according to Joel’s biographer, had vivid memories of the Hitler Youth and SS training near his childhood home in Bavaria, and who lost relatives in the Shoah.

Joel’s gesture was more interesting, and more meaningful, precisely because his Jewish involvement, as he once put it, peaked at his bris. The star seemed to be saying to the neo-Nazis who gathered in Charlottesville — and the political figures, ahem, who seemed unable to fully condemn them — that even he, a secular celebrity and multimillionaire, would still have been a victim of their perverse ideology. The Nazis made the Jews wear the yellow star so they couldn’t hide. The stars on Joel’s lapel and back seemed to say “I’m not hiding. I can’t hide. Come and get me.”

Nev Schulman

Nev Schulman wearing a yellow star at the MTV Video Music Awards, Aug. 27, 2017. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Contrast that with another celebrity’s decision to wear the star this week. When Nev Schulman, star of MTV’s sort-of reality show “Catfish,” wore a yellow Star of David at MTV’s video awards show on Sunday, the gesture, while well meaning, seemed forced. I don’t think anybody wants the yellow star to become this year’s AIDS ribbon or Livestrong bracelet. The wearing of the yellow star seems the kind of gesture that can be made once, or sparingly, lest you diminish its shock value or begin to insult the experiences and memory of the people you are purporting to identify with and honor.

But at least Schulman, like Joel, is Jewish. I can’t think of a non-Jewish celebrity who could get away with wearing the star. They’d be accused, rightly, of appropriation, the way the artist Dana Schutz was excoriated by black folk after her painting of the mutilated face of Emmett Till — a 14-year-old who was lynched by white men in Mississippi in 1955 — was shown at the Whitney Biennial in March. Critics of Schutz’s painting said the circumstances and symbolism of the black teenager’s death are still too raw to be translated by a white woman into art.

That’s not to say (or at least I wouldn’t say) that only members of a particular ethnic group or religion can depict their own suffering. (What is widely considered the most powerful anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit,” was written by a Jew, Abel Meeropol, although it was Billie Holiday who made it iconic.) But certain gestures of interethnic solidarity — “Anne Frank, c’est moi” — are landmines. Writers from William Styron to Yann Martel have been accused of cheapening the Holocaust through allegory or by universalizing the Jews’ suffering. Jewish artists like Art Spiegelman or Agnieszka Holland are given the latitude to depict the Holocaust in ways that might seem misguided or offensive if done similarly by a non-Jew. Authenticity can be earned, although it’s a lot easier to be born with it.

History’s most famous appropriation of the yellow star, meanwhile, turns out to be a myth. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum states flatly that “there is no truth” to the story that Denmark’s King Christian X wore a yellow star in solidarity with the Jews. Instead, the museum tells us, the king was heard to say to his finance minister, “Perhaps we should all wear it.”

If this were 1941, the answer would be yes — everyone should wear it. In 2017, everyone should at least imagine what it would be like to be persecuted because of their race, religion or nationality, and what it might feel like to be literally marked for death. I think that’s the kind of empathy Joel tried to inspire.

Very cool.

The image of the seven-branched menorah that appears on the Arch of Titus at the Imperial Forums in Rome is now the symbol of the State of Israel. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

From Rome to Charlottesville, a statue is never just a statue


French historian Pierre Nora spent his life describing and explaining “places of memory,” sites commemorating significant moments in the history of a community that continue to resonate and transform from generation to generation.

For the French Republic, the Arc de Triomphe is one such “place of memory.” Begun by Napoleon and completed in 1836, the Arc is a place of French pride and memory, where war dead from the Revolution to the present are recalled and military triumph exalted.

Part of the power of this central place of memory resides in the architecture itself. The Arc de Triomphe is a larger version of another triumphal arch, the Arch of Titus. This arch, located on the Sacred Way in the ancient center of Imperial Rome, commemorates the victory of the Roman general Titus in the Jewish War of 66-74 C.E.

Built circa 82 C.E., its deeply carved reliefs show the general, soon emperor, parading through Rome in a triumphal procession. The spoils of the Jerusalem Temple, including its menorah, are borne aloft by Roman soldiers. Napoleon and those who came after him borrowed the design of this Roman triumphal arch, transferring the glory of Rome to the French nation.

Subsequent events have complicated the meaning of the arch, which was intended to commemorate French military prowess. French victory in World War II, for example, was hardly unequivocal. Hitler did, after all, celebrate his own victory there, and France did not exactly emerge victorious by its own power. One of the more enduring photographs of the liberation shows American troops marching under the arch.

The Arch of Titus, too, is a complex monument whose meaning shifted over time. Titus had not defeated a foreign power but put down a pesky rebellion by a small province. For Christians, the Arch became a place to celebrate Christian triumph over Judaism and the imperial power of the Catholic Church. For Jews, the arch was a symbol for their own defeat and exile, even as some took solace by claiming that its magnificence was proof that Israel had once been a “powerful nation” and formidable foe.

In modern times, the Arch of Titus became a symbol both of newfound Jewish rootedness in Europe and a place of pilgrimage where Jews, religious and not, could proclaim, “Titus you are gone, but we’re still here. Am Yisrael Chai.” Or as Freud put it, “The Jew survives it!” Where once Mussolini had celebrated the Arch as part of the heritage of fascism, Jews after the war assembled there to demand a Jewish state. Others imagined exploding the Arch and thus taking final retribution against Titus for his destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, the State of Israel took the Arch back unto itself, basing the design for its state symbol on the menorah carved into its surface.

I tell these stories of Paris, Rome and Jerusalem as parallels to debate that has been intensified following the horrible events in Charlottesville. The sculptural tributes to the Civil War, North and South, are still living places of memory. Whether in the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Brooklyn, also modeled on the Arch of Titus, or in the thousands of statues across America, the Civil War is very much with us.

Each place and time since then has thought about and reimagined the war — “The War of the Rebellion,” to many Northerners, “The War of Northern Aggression” to some in the South —  in complex and differing ways. The meanings of these places of memory are not stable. They shift and transform as essential elements of our social fabric and civil religion from generation to generation. Conflicting visions often inhere in the same sculpture, much as Jews and Classicists often “see” very different messages in the Arch of Titus.

In a pre-civil rights era, a statue of a Confederate general was seen by many as a tribute to military bravery and regional loyalty. Today the tide has shifted, and a consensus regards them as reminders of a racist past and an ignoble cause.

Tearing down a place of memory is a serious matter. The act of iconoclasm, of tearing down or transforming a place of memory, is never neutral. The list of such events is long and includes the Maccabees’ destruction of idols in the second century BCE; the midrashic account of Abraham breaking the idols; late antique Christians and Muslims smashing Roman religious images (and burning synagogues); Orthodox Christian iconophobes destroying sacred icons during the eighth century; Protestants ravaging Church art during the Reformation; Nazis torching synagogues during Kristallnacht; the Taliban destroying giant sculptures of the Buddha; or Eastern Europeans tearing down sculptures of Lenin and Stalin after the fall of communism.

Such transformations of our visual cultures mark major transitions and often culture wars. They are attempts to change our memory by obliterating or shifting what we see and expect on our social landscapes, to change how we relate to our places of memory.

The ceremonial — the liminal — moment of removing a place of memory is always laden and significant. It is a shorthand,  a summary statement and dramatic enactment of the ways that those present understand the place and encode its memory.

The march of the neo-Nazis, the texts they recited, the torches and flags they carried, and the violence they instigated are essential to understanding who these people are and what values they see in the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.

Reading this event, one can tease out their entire worldview — and it is horrifying.

In the meantime, each community and locale will act and respond as we play out this distressing  drama and rehearse the repercussions of this tragedy in our lives.  Some Confederate statues will come down — as in Baltimore and at the University of Texas, Austin. Some will be contextualized or moved.  Others, alas, will be left undisturbed and continue looking down on us contemptuously. These once mostly forgotten monuments are again potent and complex places of memory.

Faced with similar provocations, Talmudic rabbis would avert their eyes from Roman imperial sculpture, placed in the cities of ancient Israel as tools of control. Some would spit in their imperial faces. When they could, others would tear down the statues of the hated emperors and their colonial regime. In modern times, Jews avoided walking beneath the Arch of the Evil Titus.

Charlottesville is now a place of bloodshed. Perhaps it will begin to heal once the statue of Lee comes down. Nevertheless, the statue will continue to cast a shadow for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

(Steven Fine is the Churgin professor of Jewish history and director of the Center for Israel Studies at Yeshiva University. He is director of the Arch of Titus Project.)

Locals react as President Donald Trump arrives at a rally in Huntington, West Va., on Aug. 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

This is your brain on Trump


Do you ever find yourself wondering what the story is with those thrilled faces behind Donald Trump at his rallies?

Unlike us, they’re not spies in a house of horrors.

That sea of Make America Great Again hats doesn’t give them the creeps. When Trump cues them, as he did in Phoenix on Aug. 22, to jeer John McCain, no ambivalence about belittling a war hero battling brain cancer tempers their contempt. When Trump whines and whinges about the coverage his Charlottesville rant got, they realize, and don’t care, that he’s rewriting what he said — they heard him confer moral equivalence on neo-Nazis and anti-Nazis. But his act entertains them, and their complicity in his edits adds a perverse pleasure to the press hatred he rouses in them.

Who are these people?

They can’t all be the 9% of Americans who believe that holding white supremacist or neo-Nazi views is acceptable.

But there’s a decent chance they’re among the 62 percent of Trump voters who think millions of illegal votes won Hillary Clinton the popular vote; the 54 percent of his voters who say the most oppressed religious group in America is Christian; the 52 percent who believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya; the 46 percent who believe Clinton ran a satanic child-sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor; the 45 percent who say the racial group facing the most discrimination in America is white people; and the 40 percent whose main source of news is Fox News.

I get that Trump’s base feels marginalized, left behind by a minimum-wage economy, powerless to control their futures, dissed by urban elites. I know why they’re fed up with partisan gridlock (I am, too); I see why they’d favor a business brand over a political name as president. They’re disgusted by the corruption in Washington (ditto); no wonder they’re drawn to a bull who’d break some china and a bully who’d break some heads.

But after seven months of lying, sleaziness, impulsiveness, laziness, vengeance, arrogance, ineptness, ignorance, nepotism, self-love and Putin love, how can 3 out of 4 Republican voters still be sticking with him? How come those faces I see on TV don’t see the nightmare I see? (I don’t mean that bizarre “Blacks for Trump” guy; I mean the rest of them.)

That’s what I’m wrestling with. Here’s what I got:

It’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they’re human. It’s not because they’re so different from me. It’s because they’re so much like me.

But here’s what makes that hard to swallow: I can’t muster the humility to believe we’re both wrong, and I can’t summon the relativism to believe we’re both right. But believing that I’m right and they’re wrong, as I do, gets me laughably crosswise with everything I know about human cognition.

Homo sapiens have refined a method of study and understanding — science — that’s reaped powerful knowledge about the world. But the more we’ve used science to study ourselves, to probe the neurobiology of how we think and what we feel, the more inescapable it’s become that “rational” is too flattering a term to describe what makes humans tick, even when we’re at our best.

It’s not pretty to admit, but no matter how practiced we are at critical thinking, how hip we are to the social construction of reality, how savvy we are about manipulation and framing, we still conflate what we want to be true with what actually is true. Our minds unconsciously invent retroactive rationales — we reverse-engineer justifications — for what our bodies already have made us think, say and do. What we call reason turns out to be a byproduct of our addiction to feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Human cognition is a captive of confirmation bias: We seek out and believe information that reinforces what people like us already believe. Confronted by evidence that contradicts what we think, we double down; confronted by chance, we confect necessity. Instead of changing our minds, we tell ourselves stories and cling fast to our tribal identities. A universe that’s run by luck is terrifying, but a good narrative imposes causality on randomness, finds patterns in chaos and purpose in lives. Our hunger for knowledge isn’t as strong as our yearning to belong, to defeat fear and loneliness with affiliation and family. We may call the baskets into which we sort facts “true” and “false,” but at bottom they’re euphemisms for “us” and “other.”

And yet my awareness of the limitations of logic, my appreciation for the ways human hardwiring privileges feelings over facts — they don’t inoculate me from maintaining that Trump is objectively unfit for office. I can’t let neuroscience discount my claim to truth-value: I don’t think calling Trump a liar illustrates confirmation bias at work. The reason the people I see at Trump rallies on my TV screen believe the psychopath at the podium is telling the truth may well be their membership in Tribe Trump. That explanation may nudge my empathy for them upward, but it doesn’t dampen my conviction that I’m right and they’re wrong, and it doesn’t make their belief in the falsehoods he spews any less scary.

Science may be humbling, but humility doesn’t make me feel like a dope when I call out dopiness when I see it.


MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks following a meeting on infrastructure at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017 in New York City. Standing alongside him from L to R, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney. He fielded questions from reporters about his comments on the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and white supremacists. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Trump adviser Gary Cohn reportedly considered quitting following Charlottesville


Gary Cohn, a prominent Jewish member of President Donald Trump’s administration, considered resigning over Trump’s response to a far-right rally in Charlottesville, The New York Times reported.

[Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin: You good with this?]

Cohn, the top economic adviser for Trump, drafted a letter of resignation, according to the report Friday, which cited two unnamed people familiar with the draft.

In an interview Thursday with the Financial Times, Cohn said the White House “can and must do better” in consistently condemning hate groups. His remarks came nearly two weeks after the Charlottesville rally, which turned deadly when an alleged white supremacist rammed a crowd of counterprotesters with a car, killing one and injuring at least 19.

It was his first public reference to the national dialogue about the violence. As a “patriotic American,” Cohn said he did not want to leave his job as director of the National Economic Council.

“But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks,” he said.

After the Charlottesville rally, Trump said that both far-right marchers who gathered in the southern Virginia city and counterprotesters shared the blame for the violence that ensued. Trump later condemned the Ku Klux Klan, racists and neo-Nazis amid criticism that he failed to single out the far-rightists immediately afterward, but a day later said there were “very fine people on both sides.” Cohn was standing with three other officials behind Trump in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15 when the president made his latter remarks to reporters.

“Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK,” Cohn said in the Financial Times interview. “I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups, and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.”

Cohn added: “As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job.”

He also told the Financial Times he spoke privately with Trump about these issues.

“I have not been bashful saying what I think,” Cohn said.

In the days after Charlottesville, Cohn’s family — including his wife — told him he needed to think seriously about departing, The New York Times reported, citing two people briefed on the discussions. Several of his friends in the business community also urged him to step away from the administration. Cohn is a former executive at Goldman Sachs.

Amid fears that Cohn would resign, the U.S. stock market dropped until the White House denied the rumor. Cohn, who had spent his entire career in the trading world before joining Trump late last year, was deeply troubled by the market reaction, people close to him told The New York Times.

Cohn’s critical statements of the president’s performance come as Trump prepares next week to start a major national effort to sell a tax-cut plan, which Cohn has been toiling for months behind the scenes to craft, The New York Times noted.

His remarks were in marked contrast to a statement by the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who also is Jewish and stood directly behind the president during the Aug. 15 news conference.

“I don’t believe the allegations against the president are accurate, and I believe that having highly talented men and women in the country surrounding the president in his administration should be reassuring to you and the American people,” he told former Yale classmates who had urged him to resign.

Letters to the Editor: Stephen Miller, Charlottesville and Hitler Youth


Two Views on Immigration

I am very grateful for Rob Eshman’s column on Stephen Miller (“Stephen Miller and Julia Hahn Have a Past,” Aug. 11). Shame on him.

When my grandfather came to this country as a 12-year-old boy, he did not speak one word of English, nor did his parents or siblings. They came here almost penniless to escape the pogroms in Russia. What his family did have were cousins who greeted them with open arms.

My grandfather grew up to become a successful lawyer in Chicago. His son, my uncle, became a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII and was one of Eisenhower’s key staff members. I often wonder how many young lives my uncle helped save.

To know Miller’s background and the opportunities that he has been given in this country because his forebears made many sacrifices to get here, and then to stand up at a press conference and publicly spew shameful alt-right buzzwords is a disgrace.

Marlene Grossman via email

Eshman’s column in support of continued high levels of legal immigration — due largely to so-called “family reunification” — misses many important reasons why U.S. immigration policies should be changed. Here are two such reasons.

Giving preferential admittance to extended family members of people already legally in the U.S. is discriminatory. Current immigration policy greatly favors people who have relatives who have recently immigrated to the U.S.; for many years now this would mean people coming from Latin America and various East-Asian countries. The policy strongly discriminates against people living in Africa, Europe, Pacifica and much of Asia. This is patently unfair. Even more important, in my opinion, is the sheer number of immigrants legally admitted. With business-as-usual population growth, by 2050 or so, California will be as densely populated as China. For many years, California’s rapid population growth essentially has been due entirely to immigration and the U.S.-born offspring of immigrants.

Ben Zuckerman, Los Angeles


What Charlottesville Says About Us

I get that Rob Eshman does not like President Trump and has been attacking him since Day One (“Donald Trump, Betrayer in Chief,” Aug. 18). But that should not negate his ability to maintain some semblance of balance and fairness. Eshman states that Trump “and his supporters” accused former President Barack Obama of refusing to say “radical Islamic terrorism,” offhandedly conceding that Obama’s failure opened himself up to “entirely valid criticism.”

It was far more than Trump supporters who were unhappy with Obama’s failure to ever name radical Islamic terrorism. Obama went out of his way to never call Islamic terrorism by its name; instead we heard things like “violent extremism,” “workplace violence” and “man-caused disaster.” Trump took 48 hours before identifying the evil perpetrators in Charlottesville, Va., as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Some of us waited eight years
for Obama to identify radical Islamic terrorism — only to remain disappointed the entire time.

Michael H. Pinchak, Tarzana

Charlottesville sent a message. President Trump may vocalize strong support for Israel, but his passive actions indicate he is willing to indirectly endorse hostility toward Jews if it will buy him accolades from his base of supporters. Those American Jews who continue to support the Trump presidency, including the most visible one, Sheldon Adelson, need to recognize the old axiom: Actions speak louder than words. It is time for them to reconsider their actions.

Michael Ernstoff via email

This story hit close to home. My father and his family were forced to leave Germany to escape anti-Semitism. I never thought in my life that this could ever happen in the U.S. I hope the Jewish community in Los Angeles gathers in a public space to show our solidarity against this hate. I will be there, and I know you will, too, Rob. Please keep writing.

Ralph Hattenbach via email

I don’t quarrel in general with what Eshman wrote, but there are also rhinoceri on the political left, in particular antifa, much of the media and some of the Black Lives Matter people. They use violence to prevent conservatives from speaking at colleges (UC Berkeley being the most egregious example), attack college faculty who dare to deviate from their orthodoxy (e.g. Yale), wail about “safe spaces” and “micro-aggressions,” and lie or distort facts about events (e.g. CNN). What ails this country will continue — and likely get worse — as long as the rhinoceri’s snorts drown out saner voices.

Stephen J. Meyers via email


Can Former Hitler Youth Be Remorseful?

I don’t understand how you can put a picture of a woman who belonged to the Hitler Youth and acted as a Nazi on your cover. You can never use “remorse” for what the Nazis did to so many millions of people (“A Soul-Crushing Debt,” Aug. 11) and expect to be redeemed and understood. I have remorse for not saving more money. I have remorse for not getting a higher education. How can Ursula Martens use the word remorse when she let a disabled child wander away and die? How can she use the word remorse when, during Kristallnacht, all she was upset about were the broken crystals and not the broken lives? When she saw the pictures in her father’s drawers of the horrors that he perpetrated, she kept quiet. Only when Germany was losing the war did she decide that Nazism was “perhaps” wrong. Then she tried to atone by having an affair with a married Jewish man. 

There are so many great people who risked their lives to save Jews and so many victims who went on to do good things for the Jewish community who you could put on your cover.

Miriam Fiber, Los Angeles


When to Pray, When to Remain Silent

I read Roger Price’s story (“A Solar Eclipse Deserves a Blessing,” Aug. 18), and although I appreciate his attempt to find an innovative way to introduce a new blessing to capture the moment, I believe there is a profound reason why no blessing was ever instituted for witnessing a solar eclipse.

There are times in life when the situation requires no blessing, no words … just simple silence.

Every so often we need to be humble and take in the majesty of God’s world.

Rabbi Binyomin Lisbon via email

Illustration by Steve Greenberg

Why some Jews still support Trump


Watching President Donald Trump equivocate during his criticism of the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., many liberal Jews saw a new low for an administration they felt never occupied high moral ground in the first place.

But many of Trump’s most ardent Jewish supporters had an entirely different reaction, responding to his freewheeling commentary with little more than a shrug, as if to say, “What’s the big deal?” To them, criticizing Trump for a lack of moral clarity because he failed to single out neo-Nazis for condemnation was just another example of the liberal media and the Democratic establishment blowing his comments out of proportion.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis,” said Warren Scheinin, a retired engineer in Redondo Beach. “He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

For right-leaning Jews in the Southland like Scheinin, who have stood by the president so far, the media rather than Trump or even neo-Nazis pose the greatest threat to American democracy. To many Trump supporters, if Charlottesville mattered at all, it mattered far less than his promises to reverse the course of the previous administration at home and abroad, especially on difficult issues involving Israel, North Korea and immigration.

While it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of Jews who still support the president, it’s likely small. More than two-thirds didn’t vote for him in the 2016 election.

Among all Americans who cast ballots for Trump, however, many apparently continue to stand by him. A CBS News poll found that 67 percent of Republicans approved of his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a separate poll this month by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., 41 percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the president. Of those, 61 percent said nothing he could do or fail to do would cause them to change their minds about him.

Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles who researches Jewish political sentiment, said it is difficult to measure how many Jews continue to enthusiastically support Trump rather than merely accept his leadership.

“For those who are in bed and comfortable with him, and even with his quirks and his inconsistencies, there’s little that will push them away from him,” Windmueller said. “But for those who are troubled by at least some of his statements and actions, I think they’re simply hoping for some way out of this nightmare.”

Windmueller pointed to a “credibility gap” between those who put their faith in Trump and those who trust mainstream media outlets.

“Whatever he said, the media would twist it,” said Alexandra Joans, 66, a property manager in Tarzana who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries but shifted her support to Trump once he became the nominee. “If he said today was Friday, they would say, ‘You’re a damned liar, you should be impeached.’ ”

President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

 

Benjamin Nissanoff, 45, the founder of a line of body-care products who lives in West Los Angeles, said the media are quick to label Trump a Jew hater, but they didn’t criticize President Barack Obama when, in an interview with Vox, he did not denounce a 2015 attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris as anti-Semitic. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Obama said: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community.” However, he did not refer to anti-Semitism in the Vox interview.) 

“The media not only didn’t challenge [Obama] on it, they defended him against it,” Nisanoff said. “To me, that is almost an equivalent, analogous situation. Where this president, in my opinion, made a gaffe and — instead of defending him like they did for Obama — they went on offense and they attacked him for a poorly worded and phrased condemnation.”

For some Jewish voices that have defended Trump in the past or stayed silent while others attacked, the president’s comments on Charlottesville seemed to cross a line. But that put them out of lockstep with his base among conservative Jews.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January, said he wished that Trump had been a more effective communicator at a time of crisis.

“If he was concerned there not be any violence at the demonstrations, he could have said, ‘I appeal to all Americans to obey the police and not violate any of the rules,’ ” Hier said. “But instead, he seemed to draw a moral equivalency between perpetrators and victims.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which praised the president when he appointed a diplomatic amateur, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel, and withheld criticism when he failed to mention Jews in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, spoke out against his Charlottesville comments.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis. He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

Responding to Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests, the group’s national chairman, Norm Coleman, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Matt Brooks, its executive director, contradicted him in an Aug. 16 statement, saying, “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the [Ku Klux] Klan.

“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” they wrote.

But other Jewish Republicans saw nothing objectionable in the president’s comments, only the backlash that ensued. After the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, a group of 16 lawmakers in Sacramento, rebuked Trump for his comments, the only Republican member, State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County, resigned from the caucus.

In an Aug. 17 statement, the caucus said Trump “gives voice to organizations steeped in an ideology of bigotry, hate and violence.” Stone fired back hours later with a statement of his own, saying the caucus “receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.”

Carol Greenwald of Maryland, co-founder of the grassroots group Jews Choose Trump, who supported him throughout the 2016 campaign, dismissed the criticism from organizations like the RJC.

“They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” she said. “They didn’t support Trump for a minute during the campaign.”

She sees the fallout from Trump’s Charlottesville remarks as part of a crusade by the media aimed at damaging the president.

“They ran out of the Russian collusion [story], that Trump is a traitor, because there’s obviously no evidence for it, and so they’re now trying to destroy his presidency by saying Trump’s a racist,” she said.

Scheinin also believes Democrats are running with the Charlottesville story to damage Trump.

“The only reason he’s being harassed about it is because the left loves to harass the president,” he said.

Counterdemonstrators attack a white supremacist during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 

The former Northrop Grumman engineer agreed with the president that both sides in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence.

“I don’t know why people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the media coverage. “If the counterprotesters hadn’t showed up, nobody would have been killed. It would have blown over.”

Like Joans, Greenwald and others interviewed for this story, Scheinin said he sees far-left groups such as antifa, known for its use of violence to intimidate conservative speakers and protesters, and Black Lives Matter, which has equated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with genocide, as more of a threat to democracy and Jewish life in America than the far right.

“The skinheads don’t really bother me,” Joans said. “They’re useless to me. I worry about the left more because they’re the true fascists.”

For Trump stalwarts, the perception that violence and hatred are rampant on the left makes it easier to sympathize with the president’s suggestion that both sides of the Charlottesville rallies should be targeted for condemnation.

Estella Sneider

Estella Sneider, a celebrity psychologist who campaigned for Trump and appeared frequently on television to support him, disputed allegations that Trump is a racist or a xenophobe, pointing to his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law, foreign-born wife and Blacks he appointed to positions in his administration, such as White House communications aide Omarosa Manigault. “Why are people not seeing this?” Sneider said.

Sneider’s family on her father’s side was almost entirely annihilated by the Holocaust. She said she was nauseated by the Nazi symbols and chants at the torchlight march in Charlottesville. After watching Trump’s remarks, however, she was satisfied that he had unequivocally condemned the white supremacists.

“It would be unfair to lump every single Trump supporter into being white supremacists and white nationalists and neo-Nazis, in the same way it would be unfair to lump all liberal Democrats into being antifa,” she said. “Trump was right in saying that not everybody there was a neo-Nazi.”

Nissanoff, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he was offended by comparisons between Charlottesville protestors who chanted “Jews will not replace us” and Nazis.

“The word ‘Nazi’ is such a powerful idea that to dilute it and start to equivocate with a bunch of losers who run around with tiki torches I think diminishes what a Nazi and Nazism really was,” he said.

In Los Angeles, members of the Israeli community continue to provide a source of Jewish support for Trump.

Ari Bussel, 51, who runs a liquor distributorship in Beverly Hills, was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Israel. He described himself as a proud Republican and said he felt Trump has not been given a chance to lead the country. He said Trump has been “vilified as the greatest Satan, the actual fulfillment of imaginary fears and baseless accusations.”

“As for the latest accusations,” Bussel added, “whatever the president would have said would not have satisfied some people and the American-Jewish leadership — exactly those who vocally and fiercely fought against his being elected.”

For Adi Levin, 47, a homemaker in Woodland Hills who emigrated from Israel in 2000, Trump’s support for Israel is more important than his record on race relations. She said the coverage of Charlottesville has been biased against the president.

“They like to criticize Trump and will continue doing so no matter what he’ll say or do,” she said. “I never heard them criticize Obama the same way, even though he never criticized or said anything about Muslim extremists.”

However, Levin said she wishes Trump would pick his words more carefully.

Cheston Mizel

“It’s obvious that the media doesn’t like him,” she said, “but I don’t think it will hurt to try and be more politically correct.”

The Orthodox community has been another source of pro-Trump sentiment in Los Angeles and beyond. For some of his observant supporters, Trump’s record on religious liberties and Israel far outweigh his handling of race relations.

Cheston Mizel, president of Mizel Financial Holdings and a congregant of Pico Shul, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, said the attention to Charlottesville and to other presidential controversies has distracted from Trump’s successes, including appointing the pro-Israel Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and nominating Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“While there are obviously things that are problematic about this presidency, Nikki Haley and Neil Gorsuch are two clear bright spots,” he said.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft, 58, owns the Mitzvah Store on Beverly Boulevard and goes to synagogue nearby at Congregation Kehilas Yaakov. He grew up in a liberal Democratic family in Kansas City, Mo., but in the 1980s, after meeting Ronald Reagan at a Kansas City Jewish country club where he was a lifeguard, he changed his party affiliation to Republican.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft

Although he originally supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries, once Trump made it to the general election, Kraft’s choice was clear, he said: He voted to make America great again.

Asked whether he feels Trump has adequately denounced white supremacists, Kraft pulled out his iPhone and played a YouTube video of clips edited together to show Trump repeatedly denouncing white supremacist David Duke in various interviews with reporters.

“It was sufficient,” Kraft said of Trump’s response to Charlottesville. “Those who hate Trump could not accept his condemnation of the violent left.”

Ayala Or-El contributed to this article.

White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Antifa, Nazism and the opportunistic politics that divide us


Americans are more united than ever on issues of race and free speech.

So why the hell are we so divided?

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist terror attack on anti-white supremacist protesters, the vast majority of Americans agreed on the following propositions: white supremacism is evil; neo-Nazism is evil; violence against peaceful protesters is evil, whether from left to right or vice versa.

Yet here we are, two weeks after the event, and the heat has not cooled.

That’s not thanks to serious disagreements among Americans. It’s thanks to political opportunism on all sides.

It’s easy to blame President Donald Trump for that reaction; his response to the Charlottesville attack was indeed deeply disturbing. It was disturbing for the president to initially blame “both sides” for the event, as though those counterprotesting white supremacism were moral equals of those protesting in its favor. It was more disturbing for the president to say there were “very fine people” at the neo-Nazi tiki torch march, and to add that he had no idea what the “alt-right” was.

Trump’s bizarre, horrifying response to the Charlottesville attacks would have justified criticism of him. I’ve been personally pointing out the president’s stubborn and unjustifiable unwillingness to condemn the alt-right for well over a year (I was the alt-right’s top journalistic target in 2016 on Twitter, according to the Anti-Defamation League). Such critiques would have been useful and welcome.

Instead, the mainstream left has politicized the situation through two particular strategies: first, labeling conservatives more broadly as neo-Nazi sympathizers; second, justifying violence from communist/anarchist antifa members.

The first strategy is old hat by now on the left. On college campuses, conservatives are regularly labeled beneficiaries of “white privilege” who merely seek to uphold their supremacy; anodyne political candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been hit with charges of racism from the left. Democrats routinely dog Republicans with the myth of the “Southern switch” — the notion that the Republicans and Democrats changed positions on civil rights after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to Republicans winning the South. (For the record, that theory is eminently untrue, and has been repeatedly debunked by election analysts ranging from Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics to Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin and Richard Johnston of theUniversity of Pennsylvania.)

But that false conflation found a new outlet for the left in support for antifa (anti-fascism). Antifa is a violent group that has attacked protesters in Sacramento, Berkeley, Dallas, Boston and Charlottesville; it’s dedicated to the proposition that those it labels fascists must be fought physically. It’s not anti-fascist so much as anti-right-wing — it shut down a parade in Portland last year because Republican Party members were scheduled to march in that parade. Antifa’s violence in Boston two weeks after Charlottesville wasn’t directed at Nazis or Nazi sympathizers, but at police officers and normal free-speech advocates.

Yet many on the left have justified their behavior as a necessary counter to the white supremacists and alt-righters. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) justified the violence by appealing to the evils of the neo-Nazis. Professor N.D.B. Connolly of Johns Hopkins University wrote in the pages of The Washington Post that the time for nonviolence had ended — that it was time to “throw rocks.” Dartmouth University historian Mark Bray defended antifa by stating that the group makes an “ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late.”

This is appalling stuff unless the Nazis are actually getting violent. Words aren’t violence. A free society relies on that distinction to function properly — as Max Weber stated, the purpose of civilization is to hand over the role of protection of rights to a state that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Breaking that pact destroys the social fabric.

Now, most liberals — as opposed to leftists — don’t support antifa. Even Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced antifa’s tactics in Berkeley, for example. But in response to some on the left’s defense of antifa and their attempt to broaden the Nazi label to include large swaths of conservatives, too many people on the right have fallen into the trap of defending bad behavior of its own. Instead of disassociating clearly and universally from President Trump’s comments, the right has glommed onto the grain of truth embedded in them —  that antifa is violent — in order to shrug at the whole.

The result of all of this: the unanimity that existed regarding racism and violence has been shattered. And all so that political figures can make hay by castigating large groups of people who hate Nazism and violence.

Let’s restore the unanimity. Nazism is bad and unjustifiable. Violence against those who are not acting violently is bad and unjustifiable. That’s not whataboutism. That’s truth.

If we can’t agree on those basic principles, we’re not going to be able to share a country.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Photo courtesy of HBO

The Torah of ‘Game of Thrones’


I used to think HBO’s “Game of Thrones” depicted fantasy.

Over seven seasons, the show has featured creatures and events that are not of this world, even as they are fun to imagine: an army of the dead; domesticated dragons; faithful dire wolves; human “wargs,” who can enter the minds of animals and control them; and the threat of an indefinite winter that will sow chaos and cold throughout the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.    

These are not things we mortals must contend with, so for those of us who enjoy “Game of Thrones,” we suspend our disbelief over dragons that win wars and obsess over cliffhangers without ever taking the show too seriously. We tell ourselves it’s a guilty pleasure, without feeling much guilt. It’s absorbing but not deep; brilliant but not profound.

And we couldn’t be more wrong.

In the wake of two terror attacks in Europe last week — in Spain and Finland — as well as the storm over the deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., I watched “Game of Thrones” on Aug. 20 with new eyes.

If there is a core truth that our world shares with the fictional civilization of Westeros, it is that we are both caught in an inexorable pull toward calamity.

Conflict is the ruling ethos of our day. Gone is the postwar era in which U.S. leadership, international agreements and economic collaboration sustained a world order. The stability that much of the world enjoyed for the latter part of the 20th century has been destabilized by the forces of populist nationalism, protectionism, nuclear threats, competition for global dominance, terrorism, civil war and climate change. “Game of Thrones” used to look like melodrama; now it looks like metaphor.

In the world of Westeros, as in ours, the precondition of existence is to combat an endless stream of existential threats. On the show, it’s a remote and resurgent army of the dead known as White Walkers, who want to annihilate the Seven Kingdoms and everyone in it; for us, it’s amorphous terrorist cells that plot to kill in the name of God and achieve world dominion through an Islamic caliphate.

On the show, the nefarious Cersei Lannister will plot, plunder and murder to preserve her power; in our world, Kim Jong Un and Bashar Assad have demonstrated that no human price is too high to pay to prolong their reigns. Nature brings catastrophe, too: Just as Westeros faces the danger of an endless winter, we face global warming.

Under conditions like these, where there is no rest or respite from the challenges to basic survival, “Game of Thrones” tells us there are no easy solutions for a world in flux. Human beings must expend their time and their resources, using all their economic, political and military capital to stave off chaos. And then it comes, anyway. Again and again and again. 

Forces for good exist, although not always in divine balance. There are heroes on the show, honorable men and women who serve as moral actors and fight for a better world no matter how dangerous the risks or impossible the odds. Many of them die. Evil forces tend to prevail more often because the cravers of power are willing to risk everything precious and the heroes are not. And as history has proven time and again, when evil eventually is defeated, it usually comes after horrendous destruction and loss. As in life, the show resists condemning bad characters to their fate until they’ve done bad deeds. But then it’s too late.

“When you play the game of thrones,” villain Cersei Lannister tells hero Ned Stark in Season One, “you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

What better explanation is there for the extreme political partisanship we see in many places in the world today? People wonder where the moderates have gone, but in a dog-eat-dog world, there’s no room for centrists. Neutrality is an abdication of responsibility when survival demands you take a side.

Although most every kingdom in Westeros functions more smoothly than our current administration, there are always plots to upend the status quo. The emancipation of women has unleashed strong but not always fair female leadership, altering the destiny of Westeros. The game of thrones is now a faceoff between two queens: a cunning despot and an emancipator of slaves.

But the outcome doesn’t really matter.

“I’m not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords,” one battle-worn character said to another in last week’s episode.

So for what, then?

“Life,” he said. 

“Death is the enemy. … [And though] the enemy always wins, we still need to fight him. You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here. But we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves.”

In a world on fire, the show tells us, protecting the vulnerable is the noblest aim. It’s a very Jewish idea — and it isn’t surprising to find it here; the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, are both Jewish.

So as it nears its final season, “Game of Thrones” has traded fantasy for realism, assuring us there is little reward for doing good but that life ticks on, enabling the game to continue.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

White supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Southern California alt-right group involved in Charlottesville rally


Among the alt-right groups participating in events that led to violence recently in Charlottesville, Va., was one based in Southern California, whose web presence celebrates white nationalism.

The Rise Above Movement, which organized this year, is based on a goal “to revive the spirit of the Western man through athletics, brotherhood, and identity,” according to a Tweet from the group.

RAM, as it is known, is a loose collective of neo-Nazis who “train to fight at political events,” according to an Aug. 13 report in The New York Times.

In an explanation of “Who we are,” included on its Twitter feed, it says, “In a time when you can be handed for your political beliefs or shamed for your heritage, we are here to defend our identity and shard goals.”

An effort to learn more about the group from any of its members was unsuccessful. Someone responding to a battery of questions sent to RAM through its Twitter account declined to answer.

Even so, the group is not unknown to organizations that track hate groups across the country.

Joanna Mendelson, investigative researcher and director of special projects for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said RAM is a reincarnation of a disbanded, alt-right-affiliated group called the DIY Division.

“Apparently, the organization aims to counter what they describe as ‘consumer propaganda and values’ favoring instead ‘a pioneering spirit, the spirit of a fighter, our warrior spirit’ ” she said. “However, RAM operates more like an alt-right fight club, championing the movement’s values of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and anti-antifa activity, while pursuing physical fitness goals to prepare them for altercations at protests.”

Antifa is a shortened name for groups that identify as anti-fascists.

Mendelson said the group is based primarily in Southern California but has traveled throughout the state and beyond.

A RAM promotional video online depicts thug-like behavior, including footage of members spraying graffiti with their group name and a tag line of “defend America,” as well as shots of members engaging in intense physical training.

The video also shows the group’s opposition to Muslims, with one person in the video holding a sign that says, “Defend America. Islamists Out.”

Much of their social media have been shut down in the past week for unknown reasons, Mendelson said. An effort to reach the group through Instagram leads to a page that says, “Sorry, this page isn’t available.”

RAM is part of the ever-growing number of hate groups around the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks such groups on the left and right, puts the current number at 917, with 79 of them in California, although RAM is not listed among them. In the SPLC’s accounting, every state has at least one group identified as a hate group.

In the 10 days after President Donald Trump’s victory last November, the SPLC recorded an average of 87 hate incidents a day, or some five times the daily average recorded by the FBI in 2015.

As mostly an online movement, the alt-right does not have an official membership or group count, making efforts to quantify its numbers almost impossible. But experts say the election of Trump and his various remarks have provided the faction legitimacy and political prominence it never had.

Large-scale media attention, such as the coverage generated by the violence in Charlottesville, have also elevated the faction’s presence.

The SPLC says the most active groups in the country are affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, which has an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 members. It also finds that neo-Nazi groups have chapters in more than 30 states.

The hate groups operating in California, according to the SPLC, stretch across the political spectrum, including the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, Nation of Islam, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 11. Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share

ADL reports 1000% surge in online donations after Charlottesville rally


The Anti-Defamation League received 10 times as much money as usual from online donations in response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The group, which combats anti-Semitism and bigotry, reported a 1000 percent increase in online donations during the week beginning Aug. 13, one day after the Charlottesville rally. The ADL said it received six times as many individual donations as during an average week this year, mostly from first-time donors, though it did not provide a total amount of money raised.

In the aftermath of the rally, the ADL has seen its profile skyrocket. It received $1 million donations from Apple and 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch, and announced a partnership with Bumble, a dating app, to block bigoted profiles. JP Morgan Chase also announced this week that it would donate $500,000 to the group. JP Morgan and Apple also pledged to match donations to the ADL and other nonprofits from employees.

On Friday, the ADL announced a partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to combat hate and bigotry.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan fielding a question from Rabbi Dena Feingold at a town hall in Racine, Wisc., on Aug. 21. Screenshot from CNN

Paul Ryan rejects constituent rabbi’s plea to censure Trump


Responding to a local rabbi at a town hall, Sen. Paul Ryan said Donald Trump “messed up” in his Charlottesville comments but dismissed a bid by Democrats to censure the president as a “partisan hack-fest.”

Ryan, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, fielded the question by Rabbi Dena Feingold at a town hall in Racine televised on CNN on Monday.

Feingold, of Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, began by noting that her family and Ryan’s had been friendly for decades. (Feingold’s brother Russ is a former Democratic senator from the state.)

“Given our shared upbringing, I’m sure that you are as shocked as I am at the brazen expressions, public expressions of white supremacy and anti-Semitism that our country has seen since the November election,” Feingold said.

“And our synagogue in Kenosha has had to have extra security hired and we’ve asked the Kenosha Police Department to help us out so that people can feel comfortable coming to our synagogue to gather,” she said. “And so following up on what’s been asked already, Speaker Ryan, as the leader of the congressional Republicans, I’d like to ask you what concrete steps that you will take to hold the president accountable when his words and executive actions either implicitly or explicitly condone, if not champion, racism and xenophobia. For example, will you support the resolution for censure?”

She was referring to a motion introduced last week by 75 House Democrats — led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who is Jewish — that censures Trump for his “inadequate” response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a far-right rally earlier this month. Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist protesters clashed there with counterprotesters, and a counterprotester was killed when an alleged white supremacist rammed a crowd with his car.

Trump said afterward that “many sides” were to blame for the violence, and that there were some “very fine people” on both sides.

Ryan said at the town hall that Trump had “messed up” in his responses, but the congressman also praised the president for a separate address delivered just before the town hall started in which he called for unity. His reply to Feingold was acerbic.

“I just disagree with you,” Ryan said. “I will not support that. I think that would be — that would be so counterproductive. If we descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, into some bickering against each other, and demean it down to some political food fight, what good does that do to unify this country?”

The moderator, Jake Tapper, pursued the issue, noting the fears in the district among Jews and among Sikhs, who were the targets of a lethal 2010 racist attack. The CNN newsman argued that the concerns about heightened racial tensions were not necessarily partisan.

“Forget his party for a second,” Tapper said. Trump is “giving aid and comfort to people who are fans of losing, discredited, hateful ideologies. ”

Ryan hesitated in his reply, but ultimately stood his ground.

“It is very, very important that we not make this a partisan food fight,” he said. “It is very important that we unify in condemning this kind of violence, in condemning this kind of hatred. And to make this us against them, Republicans against Democrats, pro-Trump, anti-Trump, that is a big mistake for our country, and that will demean the value of this important issue.”

Of Trump, Ryan said, “He needs to do better.”

The authors of the censure motion pushed back on Tuesday, saying in a statement that Ryan was shying away from moral accountability.

“In the wake of Charlottesville, Democrats and Republicans alike have been moved to reject the president’s ambivalent and wholly inadequate response to acts of domestic terrorism.” said a statement from Nadler’s office. “Many have gone so far as to condemn any attempt to project a moral equivalency between white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis, and those who gathered to protest against the ‘Unite the Right’ rally and the racist ideals it represents. Yet Speaker Ryan remains silent, and continues to omit calling out the President directly for his morally repugnant statements.”

President Donald Trump speaks about the violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Trump and Charlottesville – Why the meltdown?


In the aftermath of Trump’s Tuesday press conference at Trump Tower, there have been countless analyses of why he chose to undo his conciliatory condemnation of haters on Monday that sought to ameliorate his bungled statement of Saturday.

Did he calculate that his hard core base wanted him to come out swinging, to endorse Confederate monuments and thumb his nose at mainstream voters and the “mainstream media”? Was he just seeking to offer an unorthodox, revelatory and counter-intuitive take on events that was “ignored” by the media for their malevolent reasons? Or was he channeling the Fox News feed of that morning which had made virtually all of his talking points?

There was endless speculation as to what animated Trump to have a national, live TV meltdown.

The reality that he revealed in his off-script remarks is far more troubling than most of the conjecture—his Tuesday presser confirmed what should have been apparent from the outset of his candidacy—he is incapable of discerning what makes extremists and bigots different from mainstream politicians and most of civil society.

He won’t relegate extremists to the periphery of American politics—as all his predecessors of the past century have done—because he reasons and thinks as extremists do. Their tools are his tools, their warped reasoning is his warped reasoning, their obliviousness to facts, data and truth is mirrored in our commander-in-chief.

As one who has monitored, listened to, had surreptitious contacts with extremists for over four decades, it is clear that Trump’s thought processes are an awful lot like theirs. He may not be animated at base by hate and venom, but how he reasons is chillingly similar to the policy arguments of bigots.

They believe in conspiracies, they are convinced a hidden hand works against them, they ignore and have a contempt for data, truth and civil dialogue and they always blame someone or some group for what ails them or society.

For most of the last half century plus, American presidents, electeds at all levels, opinion molders, and good citizens have intuitively realized that political extremists were different than mainstream politicians on both the left and the right. Civil rights organizations and good people have endeavored to ostracize and relegate to the fringes of society extremists who violate a set of unwritten rules on public conduct and decency.

From the John Birchers and their flirting with anti-Semitism in the 60s to George Wallace in the 70s to Louis Farrakhan more recently (see my op/ed of  9/17/1985 in the Times) to David Duke and Louisiana politic—-policies or comments that flirted with bigotry and stereotypes, even if made in passing, were enough to derail careers, elicit presidential condemnations and generate near universal abhorrence. It was clear to most leaders that overt expressions of bigotry and stereotypes were not acceptable vocabulary of late 20th century America.

Political correctness, with all its frailties, prevailed and there was a perceptible decline in hate crimes, the diversification of corporate boards and of elected officials, the election of an African American by significant electoral majorities and the virtual elimination in public discourse of racial, religious and homophobic epithets and expressions.

This is not to suggest that dog whistle politics with covert appeals to bias and intolerance didn’t happen—indeed they did (e.g. Willie Horton ads); but they were different than vulgar, overt expressions of hostility.

They can be offensive, but they indirectly acknowledge what the ground rules of civility are—no blatant bigotry. There have been occasional accusations made against fervent advocates on the left and the right of being extremists where the label was sloppily and unfairly applied—passion is not same as unreason. Mercifully, those instances have been few and far between.

Into that environment, comes a candidate who has flaunted all the norms of political discourse and debate and who utilizes the very cognitive tools of extremists (Klansmen, neo-Nazis and far left extremists share the methodologies): he traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories, he blithely ignores data, he bullies, attacks and demeans, he threatens, he blatantly lies with demonstrably false assertions on numerous issues, he perpetually claims to be the victim with a designated culprit[s] (other than himself) who is/are always to blame.

Why would he find extremists deserving of condemnation or isolation? He managed to become president despite all those traits— it has all worked for him.

For traditional politicians, individuals or groups that exhibit these characteristics represent flashing red lights—“stay away, extremists, bigots, crazies at work.” For Trump, they are a mirror of his modus operandi—just bit more extreme in policy.

He simply doesn’t see them as qualitatively different than himself—if he’s mainstream then they likely are too. It is not a basic instinct of his to ostracize and reject them. In fact, if they like him (and David Duke and Robert Spencer do) he may just like them back, or at a minimum, he won’t call them out.

The decades-long work of civil rights advocates and good people in society to relegate bigots and extremists to the fringes of our political system is being undone before our eyes. Trump is normalizing and mainstreaming bigots as we have never seen before—he is, once again, unprecedented in his actions.

As Edmund Burke noted, “All that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good men to remain silent” – if we care at all, that’s simply not an option.

A solidarity vigil in Minneapolis, Minn., in response to the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s talk about sex: the aftermath of Charlottesville


The scene is Paris in the late 19th century. At a glittering ball, a handful of eligible gentilhommes eagerly circled the charming Comtesse de La Rochefoucauld—something of an Ivanka Trump in her day—in the hope of being granted a dance. But when the comtesse finally took to the dance floor, the man on her arm was Arthur Meyer, the scion of a rabbinical family who had risen from modest origins to become a newspaper magnate.

The spectacle of the comtesse dancing with Meyer the Jew was shocking to the anti-Semites in France—and, this being the time of the Dreyfus Trial, there were plenty of those around, as there are now. Their figurehead, the writer and propagandist Edouard Drumont, took pen to paper thusly: “This adorable young woman, this ravishing Aryan, with her proud, virginal figure, whom one would not even dare to look at too intensely for fear of harming the pure bloom on the maturing fruit”—honestly, I’m not making this up—“she gives herself to one of these frightful cosmopolitans, mangy, evil-smelling, a man who used to hawk oranges on the quays of Tunis or Alexandria, or who worked as a waiter in some Russian village inn.”

And then, as an ending, Drumont provided this flourish: “Everything falls to the Jew.”

Now fast forward to Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. Sitting down for an interview with a reporter from Vice, a neo-Nazi activist named Christopher Cantwell worked himself up into a Drumont-esque frenzy of sexual jealousy expressed in the language of anti-Semitism. The reason for his anger was Ivanka Trump’s ongoing marriage to Jared Kushner, and his disgust that Donald Trump—a president he likes, but wishes was “more racist”—had “given his daughter to a Jew.”

Flashing a defiantly adolescent grin at the Vice reporter, Cantwell warmed to this theme even more. “I don’t think you can feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl, okay?” he panted, shortly after informing viewers that he was increasing his “capability for violence” with a pistol in his pocket and regular visits to the gym.

You don’t need to be a Freud or a Jung or a Lacan to figure out what these two stories have in common. While Drumont is indubitably more flowery and eloquent than Cantwell—who became a Nazi after failing spectacularly in his previous careers as a drug dealer and congressional candidate—the underlying psychosis is exactly the same. Just as Drumont was driven into his rage by his unrequited fantasies of the fair comtesse, Cantwell apparently believes that all that stands between him and the fair Ivanka is a pesky Jew. Like Drumont, Cantwell is driven slowly mad by the realization that things just don’t add up: Jews like Kushner are weak, selfish, grasping and oily—all the things he is convinced, as a proud “Aryan,” that he isn’t—and yet it’s the same Kushner who is taking Ivanka to the prom.

For Nazis as for all totalitarian ideologies, the notion that life is sometimes unfair, that you don’t always land the girl of your dreams, that you might lose your job or your home because of bad debts, and all the other day-to-day miseries of modern existence, is too hard to bear. That is—as Edouard Drumont noted many times—the simple elegance of anti-Semitism: it gives you both an answer and a target as to why the world is such a dreadful place without demanding that you consider your own weaknesses, failings and idiocies first. From this psychic matter are such emasculated individuals as Cantwell created.

Many scholars of anti-Semitism—such as Stephen Wilson, whose excellent book “Ideology and Experience” includes the above quote from Drumont—have closely examined the threads that link anti-Semitism with unfulfilled sexual desire. The great paradox that the Jew represents—a racial and political polluter, and yet successful in winning the affections of “Aryan” women—is never resolved, but only exacerbated with words like “bestial” and “lustful” that are soaked in sexual envy. Indeed, this very theme was the driving force behind the lurid propaganda of the Nazi rag “Der Sturmer,” edited by Julius Streicher—a close friend of Hitler’s well before the Nazi leader became Fuhrer.

Today’s American racists are similarly obsessed, which is why they pepper their ravings with words like “cuck”—a reference to a man whose wife indulges in extra-marital sex, often with black men. That they can be so transparent and yet still win supporters tells us that there are plenty of other angry white men out there who share Cantwell’s neurosis. More than a century separates them from Edouard Drumont, and still we haven’t found a cure.


Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, August 13, 2017. REUTERS/Dan Balilty

Israel’s response to Charlottesville: On morality, leadership and unity


Charlottesville posed a dilemma for Israel. On the one hand, there were anti-Semitic demonstrations – and Israel does not condone anti-Semitism. On the other hand, a friendly American president was under attack because of his awkward response to these demonstrations – and Israel has no interest in getting under President Trump’s skin.

What should Israel do in such cases?

Here is what Israel – and, of course, “Israel” is a broad term, so I will focus on Israel’s politicians – did and did not do:

Politicians who have no responsibility for U.S.-Israel relations were more prone to condemn the demonstrators and the presidential response to them. Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid said: “There aren’t two sides. When Neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous.” That’s direct criticism of President Trump.

Politicians who have no responsibility for these relations but do have experience and understanding of their crucial importance were more cautious. For instance, the Zionist Camp’s Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu for his slow response, and not President Trump for his problematic response: “We must stand up against such phenomena immediately, and without hesitation.”

Politicians who wanted to pander to a specific group of voters made the usual foolish attempts to seem smart. Some showed disrespect to the way America works. “The neo-Nazis in the United States should be prosecuted. This was not what the American constitution was meant for,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, hardly an authority on U.S. constitutional law. Others on the right end of the spectrum decided that it’s their place to align themselves with Trump’s problematic stance. Oren Hazan, a Likud MK, wrote that “Trump is right. Violence and extremism from any side is prohibited and must be condemned!” Netanyahu’s son, Yair, was one of them: he paralleled neo-Nazi “scum” with the leftist “thugs” of Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

Then there were those with responsibility. And they were indeed cautious. President Reuven Rivlin sympathized with the Jews of the U.S., but did not direct any criticism at the U.S. or its political leadership: “The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag — perhaps the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism — paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally, is almost beyond belief.” Netanyahu waited for Trump before issuing a clear condemnation. Deputy Minister Michael Oren said Charlottesville is an internal affair.

It did not take very long for puzzled, and at times angry, reactions to this cautious approach to appear. These reactions referred to three aspects of Israel’s response:

1. Morality: Some claimed that the Prime Minister has lost “any semblance of a moral compass,” as MK Stav Shafir of Labor phrased it. This argument, simply put, says that when facing anti-Semitism, all other considerations should be cast aside. Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, was not far from Shafir in saying that Israel “must not stammer or hesitate in the face of anti-Semitism.”

2. Leadership: Some argued that Israel cannot claim to be the leader of the Jewish people and hesitate at such times. “I think it is a shame that the prime minister himself did not criticize Trump’s moral equivalence speech, because Israel claims to be the protector of Jewish communities everywhere,” said Prof. Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University.

3. Unity: some focused on how Israel, by not being forceful on Charlottesville (including Trump’s response to it), is splitting the Jewish people. Chemi Shalev of Haaretz made this argument: “It portrays Netanyahu as a leader willing to sacrifice American Jews in exchange for continued support for his policies and for the occupation.”

Talking unpassionately about these three criticisms of Israel – and especially of Netanyahu – is very difficult because of the clear political undertones that make this debate more about partisan maneuvering than about substance. In other words, for a great number of critics this is just another day at the Bibi-bashing office. Still, the issue is one of importance and merits consideration. Looking at these three criticisms of Israel’s response is a good way to start discussing it:

Morality: Israel is not a philosophical enterprise; it is a country, with interests and concerns. Being morally just is one of them, but so is surviving. Expecting Israel to be pure, to be morally perfect and to avoid any semblance of a detached, calculated approach to policy is expecting Israel to do something that no other country in the world does. This is, in fact, one of the most vivid symptoms of anti-Israel bias.

Morality is one consideration among many that guide the state and its leaders. It is a consideration that needs to be measured against other considerations. David Ben-Gurion cast morality aside when he decided to accept reparations from Germany after the Holocaust. Ben-Gurion, as prime minister, “saw the payments as a boost to the newly-established state’s economy.” His fierce opponent Menachem Begin “saw them as the beginning of a process of absolving the Germans.” Was Ben-Gurion being immoral? He believed that the moral cause of building Israel trumps the moral cause of denying Germany absolution.

The current Israeli dilemma is not nearly as complicated as the one of German reparations. But in some way it is similar: on the one hand, there is the always-present urgency in condemning anti-Semitism; on the other hand, there is the always-present urgency in currying favor with Israel’s allies. Did the prime minister properly balance these two conflicting interests? Maybe he did, maybe he did not. My point is not that Netanyahu struck the perfect balance; it is that this is a balancing act, rather than a case of “moral” vs. “evil” responses to world events.

Leadership: Israel often claims to be a leader of the Jewish people, but it often acts selfishly as if it isn’t. This is an unhappy reality, but it is a reality nonetheless. In ditching the Kotel compromise, Israel’s leaders proved that short-term political considerations are more important for them than being leaders of the Jewish people. Because the “leadership” claim – much like the moral claim – is one of nuance and degree, not one of absolute clarity.

Israel’s government is first and foremost responsible for Israel. It also claims to have responsibility of some kind over the well-being of the Jewish people. But note the following caveats:

A. Its responsibility for Israel is greater than its responsibility for non-Israeli Jews.

B. Its responsibility for Jews stems from its understanding of what’s best for the Jewish people.

C. Naturally, its understanding of what’s best for the Jewish people often begins with what is best for Israel.

Simply put, the government of Israel could make the calculation that if keeping Trump as an ally is good for Israel’s future, then it is also good for the Jewish people’s future. Thus, being cautious with Trump is a true act of Jewish leadership, and the complaints of Jewish Americans are merely the result of their misunderstanding of the true interests of the Jewish people (or of them putting the interests of Jewish Americans before the interests of the Jewish people).

Unity: The unity complaint is intellectually dishonest. It is based on the assumption that there is a Jewish American expectation of Israel. According to this view, Israel doesn’t always meet this expectation and thus it distances itself from the Jewish American community.

This complaint is dishonest because the premise is wrong. Israel is under no more obligation to meet Jewish American expectations than U.S. Jews are to meet Israeli expectations. And in the case of Charlottesville, Israel is not distancing itself from U.S. Jews by not condemning Trump more than U.S. Jews are distancing themselves from Israel by not accepting Israel’s sober judgment of its priorities.

So, one can argue that the current political situation – a situation in which Israel is forced to work with a president that most U.S. Jews disrespect – puts these two groups on a collision course. In fact, I made this argument half a year ago in the New York Times. Trump makes it difficult for U.S. Jews and Israeli Jews to see eye to eye on some issues, the same way Barack Obama and George W. Bush did.

Still, one must accept that the supposed collision, if there is such a collision, is not the result of Israel behaving badly by not doing what some U.S. Jews want it to do. As in every accident, there are two cars involved, and Israel isn’t necessarily the car driving on the wrong side of the road.

 

The Man and the Monster


Once there was a little boy who suspected that there was a monster in his closet.  Even after his parents assured him that there was not, he would hear strange sounds from behind his closet door.  His closet was dark and deep, and he could never see all the way to the farthest corner in the back.

One night, he awoke to the sounds and ran downstairs to grab a flashlight.  He reentered his room and slowly opened the door of his closet.  He pushed all of the clothes to the side and pointed the bright flashlight toward the deep darkness.  The strong beam of light revealed a scary monster huddled in the back corner.

“Why do you do this to me?”  The young boy asked.

Fangs clenched, the monster offered no comprehendible response.  The monster just loudly roared and tried to lash out.  Quickly, the boy slammed the door and rushed to wake up his parents.  Not believing his story at all, his parents placated him by pushing his dresser in front of the closet door.  The boy grew up without a closet, but never had to face the monster again.

Years later, the boy grew into a man and married and had children of his own.  He lived in his own big house.  Then, one night he woke up to familiar sounds coming from inside his closet.  He slowly approached the closet and carefully peeked inside.

There, crouched inside the darkness, sat the monster.  It was foaming from its clenched jaw.  The man hesitated to confront the monster as he had done as a boy.  He worried about the monster getting past him, and about the safety of his wife and children.  He had more reasons to be cautious than when he was a young boy.  He immediately slammed the door and insisted on moving.

He and his wife found a new home.  In the new house, he removed all of the closets from their master bedroom.

One night, his daughter came rushing into their room, complaining about scary sounds in her closet.  Immediately, he got out of bed, and he followed her into her room.  With his daughter trembling behind him, he opened the door and gazed into her closet at the familiar sight.  Sure enough, there sat the same monster, totally unchanged.  In that moment, he realized that the monster might never go away.

Now, it was his responsibility to confront the monster when needed and protect his family.  From that night on, he slept next to his daughter’s closet door, and his family slept peacefully knowing that he was always there to protect them.

 

President Donald Trump shown before making a statement on the violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 14. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

11 former White House Jewish liaisons: Trump doesn’t understand anti-Semitism


As Jewish liaisons to four different presidents, we had the responsibility inside the White House to give voice to the perspectives and priorities of the American Jewish community. While our community may not be unified in matters of policy and politics, our spiritual practice, cultural traditions and history have instilled in American Jews a shared commitment to protecting those targeted by bigots, racists and others spewing hate and division.

The presidents we served repeatedly used their bully pulpit to condemn hatred and bigotry when it appeared, whether in America or overseas. A video of President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1981 NAACP Convention following the lynching of an African-American man in Alabama has gone viral in recent days. President Bill Clinton led the nation’s mourning following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and we all vividly recall President George W. Bush’s eloquent remarks standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and President Barack Obama’s eulogy and rendition of “Amazing Grace” following the murder of nine African-American worshippers at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

President Donald Trump, in his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and to other examples of anti-Semitism, shows that he neither understands his responsibilities nor the nature of the ancient hatred of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. His equivocation and unwillingness to speak clearly, without restraint, against blatant examples of racism, anti-Semitism and related manifestations of hate, as well as his refusal to lay blame for violence, are anathema to the best traditions of his office and to the examples set by the presidents we served. And in his failure, he exposes not just Jews but all Americans to greater danger.

If we were working in the White House today, we hope we would have had the courage, honesty and integrity to call upon President Trump to demonstrate moral leadership – and to resign in response to a failure to do so.

If we had a successor in the current White House — there is no liaison to the Jewish community in the Trump White House — we hope he or she would have done so, too.

We need that leadership more than ever. The reason is not just because we have witnessed violence in our streets.

We need moral leadership to respond to the rise of hatred we are witnessing in the nation we love – hatred motivated by the things we cannot change such as the color of our skin, the faith we practice, the land of our birth, the language we spoke as toddlers.

We former Jewish liaisons know that the Jews in America feel hate and reject it, whether it’s directed at them or someone else. We are commanded by our faith to welcome the stranger, to comfort the oppressed, to reach out to the weak and dispossessed. We Jews have always been targeted and called out because of our differences from the majority. And even when we’re not called out and targeted, we know that those who use hate as a political tool will eventually turn their sights on us.

We hear today the chants against the Jews or the “Zios.” We hear in an American city the “alt-right” protesters chant “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi marching trope of “blood and soil.”

We see in some academic and media circles the casual lumping together of Jews as enemies of the state, incapable of loyalty to America.

We see the use of the language and the imagery of anti-Semitism – the hooked noses and the bloody hands — resurrected in modern digital media to deny to Jews our humanity, our individuality and our agency. We see the rough language of Brownshirts casually tweeted by young Americans – “toss them in the ovens,” “throw rocks at the yahood [Jews].” We see the resuscitation of the blood libel.

And we know, the experience of Jews in America may be different from our historical experience as a religious minority elsewhere in the world, but this anti-Semitism is not different. We’ve see this hatred before.

So we say to the president:

“Mr. President, this nation has a problem. People think they can say and do hateful things with impunity. You have a responsibility. Not to weigh hatred against hatred. Not to divide blame equally among ‘both sides.’ Not to excuse those among you who hate by pointing out others who hate worse.

“There are among your supporters and your appointees people who are anti-Semitic. Do not treat them as a cost of doing your political business. Cast them out – not only from your political tent, but from the conversation about America’s future. They don’t have a place in either.

“You must stand on this nation’s strongest moral foundations and principled aspirations and against the violence and hatred. And you must recognize that whenever the Jew is attacked, there is a deeper hatred at work. Anti-Semitism serves as a gateway to other forms of group-based bigotry and hatred.

“The language of anti-Semitism is the language of national suicide – it is, sadly, a mother tongue to discredited and extinct ideologies known throughout human history. If anti-Semitism takes root in America, it will be America’s ruin. Because whoever gives voice to the ancient and tired tropes of anti-Semitism, his mouth goes dry with ashes.

“Mr. President, you must call out and stand against any creeping normalization of anti-Semitism —without obfuscation, hesitation or equivocation – not only because anti-Semitism is odious, but also because it will invariably lead to other forms of hatred and bigotry that divide and destroy our nation.”

Matt Nosanchuk (Barack Obama)
Noam Neusner (George W. Bush)
Jarrod Bernstein (Barack Obama)
Adam Goldman (George W. Bush)
Jay S. Zeidman (George W. Bush)
Scott Arogeti (George W. Bush)
Deborah Mohile Goldberg (Bill Clinton)
Jay K. Footlik (Bill Clinton)
Jeanne Ellinport (Bill Clinton)
Amy Zisook (Bill Clinton)
Marshall J. Breger (Ronald Reagan)

(The authors each served in the White House as the president’s liaison to the American Jewish community in Democratic or Republican administrations.)

Police blocking off the street after a car rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Charlottesville says it provided protection to synagogue, refuting initial account


Local officials said police provided protection to a synagogue during a far-right rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia refuting a claim by a Jewish community leader that they had refused to do so.

On Friday, Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones said it “is simply not the case that Congregation Beth Israel was left unguarded” during Saturday’s event, when neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in the city. The synagogue’s senior rabbi also seemed to confirm the police statement.

“Police stationed an officer on the corner of the block where the synagogue is located, plus another 32 officers about one block away in the other direction,” Jones said in a statement to JTA. “In addition, we had snipers on a rooftop in close proximity whose primary responsibility was to monitor a two-block radius which included Beth Israel.

“We also had a group of Virginia State Police officers who were walking a four-block radius between two of our parks on a route that passed the synagogue on several occasions throughout the day’s events.”

The synagogue’s president, Alan Zimmerman, had written in a blog post earlier this week that “[t]he police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services.”

However, Congregation Beth Israel’s senior rabbi seemed to confirm the police account of the incident in a statement Thursday.

Rabbi Tom Gutherz said he and Zimmerman had met with the police on Wednesday and “officials reviewed with us the security provisions they made for the safety of our congregation during the protests. Based on our discussion, we are now confident that the steps they took were carefully considered to protect us and were effective. We note that we had also met with and spoken to the department prior to the rallies as part of our preparation.”

In his blog post, Zimmerman said the synagogue had hired security after police allegedly did not provide protection.

“On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped),” he wrote in the post on ReformJudaism.org, which was titled “In Charlottesville, the Local Jewish Community Presses On.”

The synagogue did hire security guards for the first time in its history ahead of the far-right event at Emancipation Park, a short block from the synagogue. Rally participants chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, and a counterprotester was killed when a car driven by a suspected white supremacist plowed into pedestrians.

Zimmerman, like other eyewitnesses, described intimidation by rally participants or supporters.

“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of Seig Heil and other anti-Semitic language,” he wrote. “Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.”

In a separate interview, Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin, an educator at the synagogue, noted that members of antifa, the anti-fascist street movement, also defended clergy and houses of worship during the rally.

“There was a group of antifa defending First United Methodist Church right outside in their parking lot, and at one point the white supremacists came by and antifa chased them off with sticks,” she told Slate.

Other members of the clergy gave similar accounts to Slate, praising left-wing counterprotesters for protecting them from the far-rightists.

“Based on what was happening all around, the looks on [the faces of the far-right marchers], the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps [of Emancipation Park] would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so,” Brandy Daniels, a postdoctoral fellow in religion and public policy at the University of Virginia, told Slate.

President Donald Trump blamed the violence at the rally on “many sides.”

Robert E Lee Statue Being Secured for Removal New Orleans 19 May 2017.

A Jewish Historian’s Perspective: Places of Memory, Good and Bad: Paris, Rome, Jerusalem and Charlottesville


French historian Pierre Nora spent his life describing and explaining “places of memory,” sites commemorating significant moments in the history of a community that continue to resonate and to transform from generation to generation.

For the French Republic, the Bastille is one such “place of memory,” as is the Arc de Triomphe. Begun by Napoleon and completed in 1836, the Arc is a place of French pride and memory, where war dead from the Revolution to the present are recalled and military triumph exalted.

Part of the power of this central “place of memory” resides in the architecture itself. The Arc de Triomphe is a larger version of another triumphal arch, the Arch of Titus. This arch, located on the Sacred Way in the ancient center of Imperial Rome, commemorates the victory of the Roman general Titus in the Jewish War of 66-74 CE.

Built circa 82 CE, its deep reliefs show the general, soon emperor, processing through Rome in a triumphal parade. The spoils of the Jerusalem Temple are borne aloft by Roman soldiers. Napoleon and those who came after him literally lifted this Roman triumphal arch from its foundations and placed it in central Paris, transferring the glory of Rome and the glory of Roman triumph to the French nation.

Commemorating French military prowess, the Arc de Triomphe is quite a complex monument. French victory in World War II, for example, was hardly unequivocal. Hitler did, after all, celebrate his own victory here, and France did not exactly emerge victorious by its own power.

The Arch of Titus, too, is quite a complex place. Titus had not defeated a foreign power but put down a pesky rebellion by a small province. For Christians, the Arch became a place to celebrate Christian triumph over Judaism and the imperial power of the Catholic Church. For Jews, this arch was a symbol for their own defeat, even as some took solace by claiming that its magnificence was proof that Israel had once been a “powerful nation” and formidable foe. In modern times, it became a symbol both of Jewish rootedness in Europe and a place of pilgrimage where Jews, religious and not, could proclaim, “Titus you are gone, but we’re still here, Am Yisrael Chai.” Or as Freud put it, “The Jew survives it!” Where once Mussolini had celebrated the Arch as part of the heritage of Fascism, Jews after the war assembled here to demand a Jewish State. Others imagined exploding the Arch and thus taking final retribution against Titus for his destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, the State of Israel took the Arch back unto itself, its menorah becoming the state symbol.

I tell these stories of Paris, Rome and Jerusalem as parallels to the horrible events in Charlottesville. The sculptural remains of the Civil War, North and South, are still very living “places of memory.” Whether in the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Brooklyn, also modeled on the Arch of Titus, or in the thousands of statues across America, the Civil War is very much with us. Each place and time since then has thought about and reimagined “The War of Southern Secession” in complex and differing ways. The meanings of these “places of memory” are not stable. They shift and transform as essential elements of our social fabric and civil religion from generation to generation. Conflicting visions often inhere in the same sculpture, much as Jews and Classicists often “see” very different messages in the Arch of Titus.

Tearing down a “place of memory” is a serious matter. The act of iconoclasm, of tearing down or transforming a “place of memory” is never neutral. The list of such events is long and includes the Maccabees’ destruction of idols in the second century BCE, the midrashic account of Abraham breaking the idols, late antique Christians and Muslims smashing Roman religion (and burning synagogues), Orthodox Christian iconophobes destroying sacred icons during the eighth century, Protestants ravaging Church art during the Reformation, Kristallnacht, the Taliban destroying giant sculptures of the Buddha, or Eastern Europeans tearing down sculptures of Lenin and Stalin after the fall of Communism. (The list goes on.)

Such transformations of our visual cultures mark major transitions and often culture wars. They are attempts to change our memory by obliterating or shifting what we see and expect on our social landscapes, to change how we relate to our places of memory.

The ceremonial—the liminal—moment of removing a “place of memory” is always laden and significant. It is a “shorthand,” a summary statement and dramatic enactment of the ways that those present understand the place and encode its memory.

The march of the neo-Nazis, the texts they recited, the torches and flags they carried, and the violence they instigated are essential to understanding who these people are and what values they see in the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.

Reading this event, one can tease out their entire worldview—and it is horrifying. Similar tools help us to understand the counter demonstrators, civic leaders and others involved, including President Trump. This “place of memory” is now a place of bloodshed. This transformation deepens the memory and transforms a site where the soon-to-be-removed statue of Lee will no longer be present, but its shadow will be felt for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

Steven Fine is Churgin Professor of Jewish History and director, Center for Israel Studies, at Yeshiva University.

 

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