Rabbi Diaries: Chocolate Drinking in Eighteenth Century


IMG_3712The diary of Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai (known as the HIDA who lived from 1724– 1806) may be the first document to identify the personal chocolate use of a rabbi. Azulai mentions chocolate at least ten times and reports widespread chocolate drinking among the Jews of Europe.

Selected to be a messenger from Israel to European Jewish communities due to his erudition, the HIDA, of Sephardi descent, was born and educated in Jerusalem . He published over 60 works of Jewish law and prayer, plus his travel diaries. Some consider him to be the greatest Sephardi scholar since Joseph Karo, author of the authoritative Jewish code known as the Shulchan Aruch. During his travels he drank chocolate, ate chocolate, and was gifted chocolate. On a very mountainous journey in a snow storm from Cuneo, Italy, to Nice, France, he confessed that he had become so ravenous that he “had some raw chocolate and I ate about a litre.” That was unusual then since chocolate was primarily a beverage and not produced as an edible. In Amsterdam the HIDA celebrated a bris with chocolate and sweets in 1777. After services in Montpellier, France, he drank chocolate with the synagogue’s main benefactor and other members. His hosts entertained him with chocolate in Italy, France and the Netherlands. Here are his chocolate diary entries:

5516/1755 25 Teveth from Nice to Cuneo.  Over snowy mountains, very hard trip…“ Mercifuly I had some raw chocolate and I ate but a litre…”

5534/1774, Iyar 20, just before Shavuot, Livorno, Italy. “And they brought me gifts: S. Leon, coffee and chocolate.”

5537/1776 Shevat 21, Trieste, Italy. Meeting with leaders of the council. “But the first and prime force in everything was S. Marco who sent me a large vessel full of coffee and chocolate … ”

5537/1776 Montpellier, France. Thursday. “I went to the synagogue established by the deceased Melinde and his widow supports the synagogue. They conduct themselves according to the rites of the Four Congregations [Carpentras, Avignon, Lisle and Cavaillon]. After prayers I drank chocolate with the said widow together with some of the Yehidim.”

5538/Heshvan 16 1778, France. “Later I went to drink chocolate with S. Samuel Astruc; then I went to dine at the home of … ”

5538/Kislev New Moon 1777, Sunday, Vayetse. “ … in the morning I drank chocolate at the home of S. Judah and Haim bar-Mordecai who are called by the name of Lange.” 

5538/Teveth 6 5538 1777, Monday. “I drank chocolate with Solomon Ravel.”

5538/1777-8 Teveth 27, Amsterdam. “The eve of Monday; we found in the village of Dragehave a Jewish householder living there with his family. On each holy Sabbath a minyan came there to pray and they had a Sefer Torah. We stayed there some three hours and they regaled us with chocolate and other delicacies.”

5538/1777-8 Amsterdam, Adar 27. “Thursday I went to visit some gentiles with S. ibn Dana: Britano, Pibelsman, Carlo Vernandi. They did me much honor, especially Pibelsman who gave me two pounds of home-made chocolate.”

5538/1777-8 Amsterdam Iyar 6. “Next morning, an hour before mid-day, I went to the circumcision [of the son of S. Moses ben Isaac Israel Soasso] where I found all the Parnessim, his friends. They made me stay for the meal which consisted of    and various sweetmeats. I did not wash hands for eating the bread but only ate some sweetmeats and chocolate.” 

The  European Jewish communities of the mid-eighteenth century enjoyed their chocolate, especially when entertaining a scholar and emissary from the Holy Land. Azulai was fortunate to have been sustained and warmed by that hospitable chocolate in his arduous travels and meetings. His hosts modeled a delicious welcome for rabbis.

Hida photo

Safety tips when celebrating Passover in Europe


This Passover, travelers to the Tuscany region of Italy can soak up the sun on the beach and eat special, kosher food certified by the Chief Rabbi of Brussels while staying at the Gallia Palace Hotel. 

Or they can celebrate with a whiff of the Adriatic Sea in Dubrovnik, Croatia, or by soaking up the glamour of the French Riviera, where they can stay at the four-star Novotel Cannes Montfleury.

But while Europe may be calling this Passover — resorts offer top amenities and beautiful accommodations — some travelers may be hesitant to celebrate the holiday there due to the recent violence in places such as Turkey, Germany and Belgium. 

There’s also the growing anti-Semitism throughout the continent that could give rise to safety concerns. According to a 2016 Jerusalem Post article, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said anti-Semitism in Europe has increased to an “unprecedented” level. He referred to a statistic that anti-Semitic occurrences in London increased 60 percent during 2015. In the first quarter of 2015, they rose 84 percent when compared with the first quarter of the previous year. 

Despite these concerns, travel agents specializing in Jewish and kosher travel said there is no reason to avoid Europe this Passover. 

“The people who go to Passover programs for a vacation … there is no need to have more security than usual,” said Sam Kroll of Melrose Travel in Los Angeles. 

This goes for both common destinations and remote ones. This year, Eddie’s Kosher Travel and Tourism is offering a remote Passover program in the Italian Alps. CEO David Walles, who is based in Israel, said there should be no worries about anti-Semitism because, “Nobody knows what a Jew is over there.”

When going in and out of the European airports, however, Walles said it may be safer to wear a baseball cap instead of a yarmulke, if the person is comfortable doing that. “You have to be sensible. There is no reason to stand out,” he said.

According to Kroll, Jews going to France, especially, are wearing hats or caps instead of yarmulkes in public. When Jews are in the country for Passover and staying with a host family, they should simply follow the precautions the family is taking. He said he heard feedback from travelers who went to England and said they detected an animosity toward Jews, but they didn’t have any safety concerns. 

Even though Bennett said anti-Semitism has risen, Kroll hasn’t experienced the same on his end. “I’m not aware of any [attacks on Jews in Europe] recently. I don’t see any changes.” 

Sophia Kulich, owner of Jewish Travel Agency, said that in places such as Eastern and Northern Europe, it is safe to wear religious items. “I see people in the airports there who wear yarmulkes,” she said.

Walles said that, in general, when traveling around the globe there are basic precautionary tips that everyone should follow. “You need to be vigilant and not hang around public areas unnecessarily. You have to be aware that we live in a very different world than it used to be.”  

And when traveling anywhere, Kulich said, it’s important to buy travel insurance for emergencies and register the trip through the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The trip is registered with the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to where the traveler is going so that they know about it. The website for STEP (step.state.gov/step) features travel alerts and warnings as well. For example, the latest travel advisory for Europe, released in late November, says to “exercise caution” at holiday festivals, events and outdoor markets, and to avoid large groups. 

Travelers should note, though, that when the government puts out travel advisories for certain places, sometimes they are generalizing, Kulich said. “There are many different countries in Europe. Iceland is the safest country in the world. I take groups to Poland, the Baltics and Armenia and it’s pretty much always safe.”

Kulich, who goes to Europe every two months, said that if travelers plan to go to Europe this Passover, they shouldn’t showcase that they are American, either. “It’s also better to avoid political conversations, especially now,” she said, referring to the recent presidential election results.

Europe is just like everywhere else, Kulich pointed out, and people could say that the United States is not safe to travel around because of the recent Florida shootings in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

“Europe is as safe as anywhere else in the world,” Kulich said. “Unfortunately, the violence that is taking place is the new normal that people are getting used to.”

Safety tips when celebrating Passover in Europe


This Passover, travelers to the Tuscany region of Italy can soak up the sun on the beach and eat special, kosher food certified by the Chief Rabbi of Brussels while staying at the Gallia Palace Hotel. 

Or they can celebrate with a whiff of the Adriatic Sea in Dubrovnik, Croatia, or by soaking up the glamour of the French Riviera, where they can stay at the four-star Novotel Cannes Montfleury.

But while Europe may be calling this Passover — resorts offer top amenities and beautiful accommodations — some travelers may be hesitant to celebrate the holiday there due to the recent violence in places such as Turkey, Germany and Belgium. 

There’s also the growing anti-Semitism throughout the continent that could give rise to safety concerns. According to a 2016 Jerusalem Post article, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said anti-Semitism in Europe has increased to an “unprecedented” level. He referred to a statistic that anti-Semitic occurrences in London increased 60 percent during 2015. In the first quarter of 2015, they rose 84 percent when compared with the first quarter of the previous year. 

Despite these concerns, travel agents specializing in Jewish and kosher travel said there is no reason to avoid Europe this Passover. 

“The people who go to Passover programs for a vacation … there is no need to have more security than usual,” said Sam Kroll of Melrose Travel in Los Angeles. 

This goes for both common destinations and remote ones. This year, Eddie’s Kosher Travel and Tourism is offering a remote Passover program in the Italian Alps. CEO David Walles, who is based in Israel, said there should be no worries about anti-Semitism because, “Nobody knows what a Jew is over there.”

When going in and out of the European airports, however, Walles said it may be safer to wear a baseball cap instead of a yarmulke, if the person is comfortable doing that. “You have to be sensible. There is no reason to stand out,” he said.

According to Kroll, Jews going to France, especially, are wearing hats or caps instead of yarmulkes in public. When Jews are in the country for Passover and staying with a host family, they should simply follow the precautions the family is taking. He said he heard feedback from travelers who went to England and said they detected an animosity toward Jews, but they didn’t have any safety concerns. 

Even though Bennett said anti-Semitism has risen, Kroll hasn’t experienced the same on his end. “I’m not aware of any [attacks on Jews in Europe] recently. I don’t see any changes.” 

Sophia Kulich, owner of Jewish Travel Agency, said that in places such as Eastern and Northern Europe, it is safe to wear religious items. “I see people in the airports there who wear yarmulkes,” she said.

Walles said that, in general, when traveling around the globe there are basic precautionary tips that everyone should follow. “You need to be vigilant and not hang around public areas unnecessarily. You have to be aware that we live in a very different world than it used to be.”  

And when traveling anywhere, Kulich said, it’s important to buy travel insurance for emergencies and register the trip through the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The trip is registered with the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to where the traveler is going so that they know about it. The website for STEP (step.state.gov/step) features travel alerts and warnings as well. For example, the latest travel advisory for Europe, released in late November, says to “exercise caution” at holiday festivals, events and outdoor markets, and to avoid large groups. 

Travelers should note, though, that when the government puts out travel advisories for certain places, sometimes they are generalizing, Kulich said. “There are many different countries in Europe. Iceland is the safest country in the world. I take groups to Poland, the Baltics and Armenia and it’s pretty much always safe.”

Kulich, who goes to Europe every two months, said that if travelers plan to go to Europe this Passover, they shouldn’t showcase that they are American, either. “It’s also better to avoid political conversations, especially now,” she said, referring to the recent presidential election results.

Europe is just like everywhere else, Kulich pointed out, and people could say that the United States is not safe to travel around because of the recent Florida shootings in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

“Europe is as safe as anywhere else in the world,” Kulich said. “Unfortunately, the violence that is taking place is the new normal that people are getting used to.”

Forgotten Christmas messages


Toward the end of each year, millions of people across Europe flock to traditional Christmas markets to enjoy hot mulled wine, listen to bands playing carols and enjoy the bright lights piercing the icy dark. Many also attend churches and concert halls for a traditional performance of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” After the joyous opening, the tenor sings,“Da machte sich auch auf Joseph … aus Galilaea … in das juedische Land zur Stadt David” (“Joseph went into the Land of the Jews … to the City of David ”), followed by the alto singing “Rise up Zion, and abandon your weeping …” 

Premiered in 1734, these words were sung more than 200 years before the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948 and even longer before Israel occupied that “Land of the Jews” (renamed the “West Bank” between 1949 and 1967) following the Six-Day War.

Today, UNESCO all but denies the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to Judea, including Jerusalem, with its magnificent Temple that the Jew Jesus visited. 

The European Union states, where hundreds of millions celebrate Christmas, just supported another United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Israel, using the Arab/Muslim term for the Har Habayit (aka the Temple Mount.) 

Some churches, as in New Zealand, have changed references to “Israel” and “Zion” from their prayer books.

What goes through their minds as they listen to those old Christian texts?

During the same festive season, many parents take their children to productions of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” written 57 years after the “Christmas Oratorio.” The story, incorporating Freemason themes, is based on the European Enlightenment’s age of reason, equality and liberty, which fired the imagination of both Mozart and Thomas Jefferson, his senior by 13 years. Both these men would become icons of Western civilization — the very issue being debated in a turbulent Europe today.

Has the enlightened world of Mozart and Jefferson been dumped for mindless populism and political correctness?

In contrast to Europeans today, the deeply religious Bach understood that the Jewish people were tied to the “Land of the Jews” for thousands of years, which is reflected in language, beliefs, rich archaeological finds, ancient references to the House of David, and the pilgrim festivals of Sukkot, Shavuot and Pesach that are celebrated to this very day.

In short, the Jews are the indigenous people of Israel and, despite exile, always maintained a significant presence in their lands. Indeed, the first census of Jerusalem, taken in 1840, attests to Jews being the largest group, which soon became an absolute majority.

Yet Jews are treated very differently from other indigenous people such as Native Americans, the Sami in Scandinavia or the Ainu in Japan. Why?

A major reason is that the early Christian theologian Augustine, arguably the founder of Western Christianity, asserted that Jews be regarded as “eternal witness,” as pariahs, which would render them homeless, unloved and impoverished. Their status would be seen as a triumph of Christianity and serve as a warning to Christians. 

This “eternal witness” epithet became a dominant force in the treatment of Jews. It was reflected in European culture with Wagner, Degas, Agatha Christie, T.S. Eliot and many others. Significantly, the anti-Jewish Hep-Hep riots in Germany, the Mortara Affair in Italy, the Dreyfus Affair in France and the Nazis of 1933 all occurred in post-Enlightenment Europe. 

The treatment of Jewish students on some American and European campuses today, eliciting at best tepid responses by authorities, is therefore of serious concern. A few weeks ago I wrote about the courageous aboriginal leader William Cooper, who demanded justice for both his own people and the Jewish people in Germany. 

Where are the William Coopers on campus?

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities against Israel occur in various forms. Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, for example, is permitted to use only the Red Crystal, instead of the Star of David outside its borders, including eastern Jerusalem and other areas of “the Land of the Jews.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu is a strong advocate of Israel’s total isolation and inverts the Holocaust yet receives Germany’s prestigious prizes. The Kairos Palestine Document, which advocates boycotts against Israel, has been signed by mainstream churches and endorsed by the World Council of Churches. Conductor Daniel Barenboim, Edward Said’s protégé, who vociferously supports boycotting Israel, received Germany’s Peace Prize. Palestinian resistance advocate Felicia Langer was given Germany’s highest award by former President Horst Kohler. She speaks at churches, comparing Israel to apartheid, referring to its leaders as war criminals. Demonizing Israel has become de rigueur on campus by those who disgrace scholarship.

Students often hide their Jewishness while other Jews, such as Nathan Braude, principal violist in the Brussels Philharmonic and a professor at the Royal Conservatory Ghent, are told to sign onto BDS before accepting their positions. In Germany, official Jewish community mail is now sent in plain envelopes, minus the Star of David logo, as recommended by the police. World and community leaders do not even react to these outrages.

Any wonder then that the German Ministry of Justice has stated that the documented levels of anti-Semitism in Germany for 2015 are three times that of 2014?

What happened to the Age of Reason? Has it been replaced by mindless populism and political correctness?

The pariah status of Jews and Israel is some 1,600 years old. It is not about Jews being “bad,” but rather about being Jews as Jews. After all, Hitler said that “conscience is a Jewish invention.” 

When millions of families, academics, church goers, secular traditionalists and BDS supporters across Europe and the United States gather at their beautiful trees on Christmas Eve, will they ponder the text, “Joseph went to the Land of the Jews?” Or, will they blindly follow a populist mantra that contradicts enlightened reason, let alone historicity?


Ron Jontof-Hutter is a writer based in Melbourne and Berlin where he is a Fellow at the Berlin Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the recently published satire on populist anti-Semitism, ”The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist.”

The lessons of Europe


To walk through the great cities of Europe is to consort with ghosts. Where once the great homes and businesses were in Jewish hands, where within blocks there was a constellation of Jewish genius, now one visits museums commemorating the loss. 

It is too much — too much beauty, too much betrayal. Too much music, too many death marches. Too much faith, too much waste. Too much art and literature and charm, too much cruelty and hatred and pain. Vienna, that glorious city, sparkling and self-assured, had some hundred synagogues before the second world war, and one survives. Fortuitously built beneath an archive, it could not be burned by the Nazis. For the others, you can visit a museum with an imaginative reconstruction of their location and design.

There is something heartening about the Jewish cemetery of Prague, the famous old burial ground where more than 100,000 Jews are interred, going back 600 years, sometimes as much as 12 layers deep. At least there, most of the deaths were “normal” deaths. Of course, there was persecution and hatred for a thousand years in the city, but at least in that sacred ground the dates of death differ. Unlike the burial ground outside the synagogue in Budapest, where one after another, no matter the birthdate, you can be sure the second date on the tombstone, after the year of birth, will be 1944 or 1945.  

I was in Vienna and Budapest with the Joint Distribution Committee, that marvelous organization that continues to look after poor and needy Jews throughout the world and helps foster Jewish life where seeds still sprout. 

First, we visited families in need, whether they lacked basic necessities or medicine or a guiding hand to enable them to live decently. In Budapest, we also visited a Moishe House. That is a sort of post-college dorm where Jewish young professionals live together in a subsidized place and periodically host Jewish events for the community. It was filled with the energy of rediscovery in the small community. In Hungary, it is not unusual for people to learn of their Judaism in their teens or 20s. Their parents, or even grandparents, having suffered so much, simply never told them. 

The charismatic director of the Jewish theater in Hungary, Andras Borgula, who later served four years in the Israel Defense Forces, discovered he was Jewish in his teens when a long-lost relative called from Israel. After repeatedly insisting the man had the wrong number, his grandmother asked who it was on the phone. When Andras told her the name, she turned white: “That’s your grandfather’s brother. We haven’t seen him since the war. By the way, you’re Jewish.” 

Hungary was exceptional because the Jews survived for most of World War II and it was only in the last year of the conflict that the Jews were rounded up and sent to camps. It also is exceptional, even in that brutal time, for the ferocity and glee with which, according to the Nazis’ own testimony, Hungarians cooperated with the German troops. Adolf Eichmann used to say he took Hungary with some 100 SS men. The result was that fewer than a third of Hungary’s Jews survived, mostly because the Nazis ran out of time. Budapest, once nearly 10 percent Jewish, is perhaps 0.5 percent Jewish today.  

For a Jew, nothing in Europe can evoke uncomplicated love. We took a night cruise on the Danube, that fabled waterway so integral to Western civilization. The lights of Budapest sparkled. The next day, we stood on the bank of that same river before the metal shoe memorial, bronzed shoes of children and adults scattered along the pavement rimming the river, recalling the day the Jews of Budapest were lined up along the Danube and shot en masse. 

Prague celebrates Franz Kafka on every corner. The city is immeasurably enriched by the fact that the Kafka family moved a great deal, so there are lots of opportunities for “Kafka slept here” tourist snares. But while promoting the surreal nightmares of his fiction, it is little noted how “fortunate” he was to die young. Kafka’s three sisters died in the camps, a fate he surely would have shared had he lived. 

There is a special poignancy to visiting the cultural capitals of Europe. These are not backwaters where prejudice reigned out of ignorance, or even Germany, where military defeat was turned into imperial fantasies and the Jews were spun into the simultaneously subhuman and superhuman monsters of history. This is where Beethoven composed and Schubert is revered and Mozart premiered his greatest works. This is the cafe, right on the corner in Vienna, where Freud and Mahler and Schoenberg sipped coffee. 

In other words, this is where it was proven, forever and beyond any doubt, that no level of cultural accomplishment inoculates you against the basest hatred and its vicious results. There are a thousand villages and small cities across Eastern and Western Europe that prove the durability and savagery of anti-Semitism. But here is the proof that sophistication is no shield, that intellect is no arbiter of decency. As critic George Steiner noted soon after the war, this is where the idea that art makes us better went to die.

It will not do to draw facile comparisons with the United States. There is anti-Semitism here for sure, and lately there have been disturbing eruptions. But part of the story of Europe is that the Jew was practically the only outsider — there were Hungarians and Jews, Czechs and Jews, Austrians and Jews. The U.S. is a quilt, and in the proliferation of many groups is part of the protection of each. But there is this lesson: Decency, goodness, is not commensurate with anything else. Professors are not more ethical than farmers, and artists are not necessarily any more kind than engineers. Goodness is goodness is goodness. Jews across Europe were saved by diplomats and by nuns, by schoolteachers and by soldiers. Only kindness and daring mattered. 

The small museum in Terezin in the Czech Republic holds the art, music and some of the literature that survived the war, although it is only a fraction of what was created in the camp. Those who survived went on to be leading artists and composers in their native lands, and in Israel and the U.S. A short walk from the museum is a small river where the ashes of 22,000 Jews murdered there were dumped during the war. And you wonder not only at the unfathomable pain and suffering, but the deep self-inflicted wound from which Europe has never recovered. 

Throughout Europe, where so many churches, once seats of prayer, have become concert halls, the lesson is reinforced: Neither piety nor artistry really matter when souls are tested. Then and now, character and courage are everything.


DAVID WOLPE is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple. His most recent book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).

Is Europe’s far right experiencing a ‘Trump effect’?


European far-right politicians were quick to hold up Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election as a harbinger of their own impending triumphs.

Marine Le Pen, head of France’s far-right party, said that what Europeans call “the Trump effect” — that is, right-wing nationalism fueled by anger toward political elites and mistrust of immigration — heralds the upset she is seeking in her own country’s presidential elections in May. She called Trump’s election “good news” for France.

Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician whose party is leading polls ahead of March’s general elections, called Trump’s victory a “revolution” that will come to the Netherlands.

And Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate many believe will win Austria’s Dec. 4 presidential election, cited Trump’s victory in predicting his own.

But nearly two weeks after Trump’s success, little evidence suggests that these statements are more than posturing by career politicians eager to rebrand themselves as change-makers despite the fact that they are viewed, even by many of their supporters, as obsolete or deeply compromised.

In Le Pen’s case, polls conducted before and after Trump’s victory project that she will receive about 25 percent of the vote. And while this would certainly be a new record for her National Front party, it is difficult to tie such a result to Trump’s victory.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that Le Pen’s solidarity with Trump is a double-edged sword. In an Odoxa poll conducted among 1,004 French adults a day after Trump was elected, 76 percent of respondents said they lamented his election. Even among National Front voters, the poll found only 54 percent supported him.

In the Netherlands and Austria, Trump’s election also revealed no discernible shift in polls. Wilders’ party, which is running neck and neck with the center-right ruling party, dropped by one point after Trump’s victory in one poll (I&O Research), remained unchanged in another (Politieke Barometer) and rose by one point in a third poll (Maurice de Hond.)

As for Hofer, Wilders’ counterpart in Austria, he rose by one point in polls since Trump’s election, remaining within the margin of error in a race pollsters have said is too close to call.

The polls further show no correlation between the popularity of far-right parties like National Front and the “Brexit” referendum of last June, when British voters supported leaving the European Union.

Undoubtedly, there are some similarities between the message of Europe’s rising far right and Trump’s campaign strategy. Both leverage financial insecurity while warning about Muslim immigration and jihadism in campaigns themed around nostalgia, xenophobia and popular resentment of the seemingly detached ruling elite.

But there are also considerable differences.

Both Wilders’ Party for Freedom and Le Pen’s National Front are seeking greater taxation on some earners (Le Pen wants to raise the income tax on high earners as much as 46 percent) than the policy favored by the countries’ ruling governments. In this regard, the European far right diverges significantly with Trump.

Additionally, Trump was an outsider to American politics; Le Pen, Wilders, Hofer and most of their counterparts elsewhere in Europe have been in politics for at least a decade. Even to potential supporters, they are associated with the very political structures they have for years been promising to tear down.

In France, Le Pen has been trying to mainstream her party and move it away from the more radical anti-establishment message of her father and party founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen. When she kicked him out of the party last year for saying the Holocaust was insignificant — a statement for which he was convicted of genocide denial – it cause a split within the party, costing her the votes of many supporters who now view her as a sellout. As for Wilders, he agreed in 2010 to briefly join a coalition led by Holland’s centrist ruling party — a compromise that disappointed many of his hard-core supporters.

Nevertheless, Trump’s victory is invigorating supporters of these far-right parties who are finding themselves in the spotlight of left-wing media that are now much more willing to “listen to angry white voters,” as the Dutch NRC Handelsblad put it last weekend.

“If the Americans did it, so can we!” one National Front voter and activist, a former train conductor in his fifties named Fredy Deguin-Dawson, told Le Monde. The article surveyed attitudes toward Trump’s victory in the Hauts-de-France region, which is France’s rust belt with 14 percent unemployment.

Even he, however, recoiled from some of Trump’s xenophobic remarks. “That Trump called Mexicans thieves and rapists … No. I find it unacceptable,” said Deguin-Dawson. His rejection of racism, typical of many Europeans with bitter memory and collective guilt over the Holocaust, is another social inhibitor for the far right.

Still, it is not difficult to see why Europe’s far right, which is eager to project an image of success, would like to portray itself as a continuation of the Trump effect. And the mainstream European media is hesitant to bet on the status quo after failing to foresee both Brexit and Trump’s victory.

Jewish community leaders, along with leaders of other minorities, are also wary about the meaning of Trump’s victory.

“We are not the only ones, we hear this all over Europe,” Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, told JTA last week. “There’s concern of the rise of the extreme right on the coattails of the Trump victory.”

While such alarm is understandable coming from vulnerable minorities, centrist and left-wing politicians have also warned about a “Trump effect.”

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls shocked many of his citizens when he said last week during a visit to Berlin that “Le Pen could become president in 2017.” He injected Trump into the equation by adding: “Of course, I’m not comparing: Trump headed the Republican Party, which already controlled Congress and numerous states, but of course his rhetoric and proposals are disturbing.”

Valls, a Socialist, may have political reasons to establish a connection between Le Pen and the “Trump effect.” After all, French centrists, worried about the National Front, have for decades rallied voters  to vote for other candidates just to keep that party out of power. It’s such a common strategy that it even has a name — the “Republican Front” — and it has allowed both the Socialists and their center-right rivals to increase voting participation and keep the National Front in opposition.

Olivier Faye, Le Monde’s expert on the far right, says he does not recognize any “Trump effect” in French politics at this time.

“It’s difficult to draw conclusions on any effect, negative or positive, of Trump’s victory on how Le Pen will perform in the French presidential elections,” he wrote last week. What is clear, he said, is that “she’ll happily use any populist victory abroad“ to her advantage.

Why Spain is standing up to BDS — for now


Only last year, Spain was still the undisputed bastion for the BDS movement in Europe.

Some 50 Spanish municipalities had passed resolutions in recent years endorsing BDS — an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — more than in any other European country.

Relying on backing from a strong far left, the branches of Spain’s BDS movement were able to exert considerable pressure.

Last August, BDS activists pressured the organizers of a reggae festival near Barcelona to demand that the American-Jewish singer Matisyahu sign a statement condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Matisyahu, who was the only artist asked to sign the document, was disinvited when he declined. He wasreinvited following an international outcry over what was perceived as an anti-Semitic measure.

It was not an unusual occurrence in a country that topped the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 anti-Semitism index in Western Europe, and where Jews are often conflated with Israel — including by a Catalan lawmaker who in May demanded the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community be removed from the local government’s parliament for being “a foreign agent.”

But the wind has shifted for BDS in Spain, where the movement recently was labeled discriminatory in a series of legal defeats and resentment growing against its activists because they oppose trade with Israel at a time of economic crisis.

Over the past year, pro-Israel activists have obtained 24 rulings, legal opinions and injunctions against BDS in Spain, according to ACOM, a nonprofit based in Madrid. Thanks to litigation by its volunteer team, including several lawyers, BDS motions have been repealed, defeated or suspended this year in a dozen Spanish municipalities.

“The BDS movement in Spain is established and works systematically,” said ACOM’s president, Angel Mas. “But for the first time, they are encountering a response that is as systematic.”

Last month in Campezo, a town 210 miles north of Madrid, an ACOM ultimatum forced the City Council to scrap a resolution passed in June in support of BDS. ACOM threatened to sue based on precedents set this year in Spanish tribunals ruling that BDS is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

In January, Spain’s Council of State, the country’s highest consulting body, made a similar ruling, forcing the government to compensate a West Bank Israeli university to the tune of $107,000 over its exclusion for political reasons from a state-sponsored scientific competition.

Such rulings are commonplace in neighboring France, where BDS is included among other forms of illegal discrimination against countries or their citizens under a 2003 law introduced by Pierre Lellouche, a Jewish lawmaker. Dozens of BDS activists have been convicted in France of inciting hate or discrimination based on the Lellouche law and other legislation. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party in February said it would pass similar laws.

But in Spain, where a judge in 2009 opened a war-crimes probe against the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such strong judiciary treatment of BDS is unexpected and revolutionary, according to Yigal Palmor, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman who had served in Spain during the 1990s as cultural attache.

Palmor said the BDS shift coincided with several developments in Spain that were welcomed by Israeli diplomats and Jewish community leaders. They include legislation to naturalize Sephardic Jews, support for Israel’s position on Palestinian statehood, a crackdown on anti-Semitic hate speech and a massive investment in the restoration of Jewish heritage sites.

Palmor attributes these changes to a mix of factors, including Spain’s gradual adoption of European standards on hate speech, improved rule of law and the election of a relatively stable centrist government.

And then there’s the effect of the financial crisis. Many Spaniards feel their country cannot afford to spurn any partners – especially not an affluent Western country like Israel. Last year, Spain had 21 percent unemployment and 45 percent among workers under 25.

The effects of the financial crisis on popular attitudes toward BDS were on full display last month in the northern city of Santiago de Compostella. After its City Council passed a nonbonding resolution supporting BDS, Israel’s national airline El Al reportedly ended talks on opening a direct connection to the city.

Local politicians for Spain’s centrist Popular Party accused the local government, led by a far-left party, of sabotaging the local tourism industry and precious jobs.

Israel, whose GDP per capita in 2015 was 36 percent higher than Spain’s $25,831, provides Spain with approximately 350,000 tourists annually.

Some observers also see a financial incentive in Spain’s historic legislation last year to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews with ties to Spain.

Spanish officials described the move as correcting the historical wrong done to Iberian Jews during the Spanish Inquisition – a state- and church-backed campaign of persecution that began in 1492 and was not abolished until 1834. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain and countless others became Christians under duress.

At least 4,500 of their descendants became Spanish citizens under the legislation in a process that generated millions of euros in revenue for Spanish notaries, government offices and language instructors. The legislation coincided with several Spanish initiatives to draw wealthy residents from abroad as well as tourists.

In 2004, Spain’s Congress passed a nonbinding motion conditioning support for Palestinian statehood on direct negotiations between both sides. The motion was considered a diplomatic victory for Israel and its supporters, especially after the parliaments of Britain, France and several other European countries pledged unconditional support for Palestine.

Until recently, Spain’s largely independent judiciary was subject to pressure from BDS supporters, noted Ramon Pérez-Maura, a journalist for Spain’s ABC network.

“The problem was pressure and intimidation of judges by lobby groups with anarchist traditions and violent tactics,” he told JTA. “There has been a crackdown on this sort of thuggery and this has empowered the judiciary, not only on Israel.”

Representatives of the BDS movement in Spain did not respond to JTA’s requests for an interview. But a campaign launched on their website in April showed they are feeling the heat.

In a petition titled “Stop criminalizing BDS,” they asserted that “activists of non-violent struggle [against Israel] are under threat.” They urged the European Commission to enforce in Spain “human rights guidelines guaranteeing freedom of speech and the right to boycott.”

Though Spain has modernized greatly since the fall in 1975 of the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, “it is still a decade or two arrears in many areas” compared to other Western European countries, Palmor said. Many Spaniards display strong anti-American – and by proxy, anti-Israeli — sentiment and “a worldview of Jews that’s at times based on medieval imagery,” he said.

With a Jewish population of only 6,000, there is “a lot of ignorance about Jews,” Palmor said. That manifests itself in phenomena that hardly occur elsewhere in Western Europe, including the airing of anti-Semitic screeds on public radio and cases like the Matisyahu affair.

Those tendencies suggest why Mas of the ACOM group is not celebrating his victories over BDS just yet. He calls it a fight against a rival much larger and stronger than his group of volunteers.

“The Spanish Jewish community is small and overstretched,” he said. “It’s not the kind of community that can easily confront over time a challenge presented by well-entrenched activists with foreign funding and a foothold in government.”

10 reasons Persian Jews support Trump


For many American Jews, #NeverTrump is the only slogan that matters. His shameful, unfiltered words have them running to Hillary Clinton.

For those of us with political honesty, the choice is the lesser of two evils. We are not choosing between Mother Teresa and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Our choice is between a liar who can be bought and a brash, uninformed egomaniac. The question becomes: Whose faults can we forgive?

[A response from Karmel Melamed]

[A response from Susan Esther Barnes]

Although I am not among them, my strong impression is that most Persian Jews in Los Angeles support Donald Trump. My impression is not based on any scientific poll. But while Clinton supporters allege that Trump supporters are all uneducated, I regularly meet doctors, attorneys, engineers, entrepreneurs and highly successful businesspeople whose reasons for supporting Trump I summarize below.  You may agree or disagree with their reasoning, but based on my interactions with Trump supporters, this is how they feel:

1. “The accusations against Trump are overblown by a biased and hostile media that easily forgive Clinton’s criminal investigation but exaggerate Trump’s speech.” In all of his years in business and during his television show, “The Apprentice,” not once was Trump accused of bigotry or misogyny. This political bullying was also used with past Republican candidates, most recently calling George W. Bush “dumb.”

2. “I prefer an ugly truth to a beautiful lie. As a lifetime politician, Clinton sugarcoats her lies, whereas Trump speaks with honesty.” Nixon’s Watergate pales in comparison to Clinton’s email leaks. Former CIA Director David Petraeus was prosecuted for sharing intelligence, while the media and President Barack Obama protect Clinton. Democrats dismiss her WikiLeaks lies because she is well composed when she lies, and they focus on Trump’s harsh and unedited speech because it’s raw.

3. “We ran away from radical Islam and don’t want it to follow us here.” Unlike Europe, Trump will deal with Jihadists head on. Islamist extremists respond only to strength. The left’s political correctness shows Islamists our weakness and helps them thrive. Clinton’s policies led to the rise of ISIS. She led the invasion of Libya. Trump wants to protect the United States and hates terrorists. America can’t become Europe. Look at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s troubles in Germany. Listen to the people of England. Brexit was a vote against radical Islamists entering as refugees from countries known to export terrorists. We need a better vetting process. We need more secure boarders.

4. “Clinton has been fully supported by Arabs.” Palestinian flags flew over the DNC convention and Israeli flags were burned outside by protesters. This was not the case with the GOP convention. It was no coincidence. Clinton owes Arab countries so much that she can’t be trusted. 

5. “All who compare Trump to Hitler are disingenuous and hurtful to the memory of survivors.” We witnessed Democrats give rise to President Jimmy Carter, who despite the dubious Nobel Prize, has blood on his hands. His policies prompted Persian Jews to flee Iran after 2,500 years, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranian Muslims in the Iran-Iraq war, the mass persecution and killing of minorities, Christians and Baha’is, and the public hanging of innocent members of the LGBT community. Carter directly caused Iran to become an extremist Islamic country that is now the biggest funder of terrorism around the world and routinely burns the American flag and threatens the destruction of Israel with nuclear weapons. The Democrats may be great speakers, but actions speak louder than words. Obama and Clinton handed monies to the Iranian government via the Iran deal and threw Israel under the bus.

6. “In Iran, people took to the streets to foster a revolution.” In the United States, it’s done through the election process. Obama was an American revolution against Bush. Trump is a revolution against the policies of Obama. The pendulum needs to swing back.

7. “Trump will rebuild our military and protect us against Russia, China, Iran and ISIS. America needs to become stronger again.” The weakness of America through the Obama-Clinton plans have led China, Iran and Saudi Arabia to start negotiations with Russia, turning their backs on the United States.

8. “Trump advocates cutting taxes to 15 percent from current 35 percent.” Clinton wants to raise them. Lower taxes mean more economic stimulus. Under Obama, the rich got richer and poor got poorer. We need smaller government. We entered this country empty-handed and worked hard. Private companies are more competitive and more efficient.

9. “Trump knows how to manage groups and will build teams of excellence.” Trump is independent and will not be bought by any special interest groups. Trump started with some $300 million and turned it into $4.5 billion. He understands capitalism and business.

10. “Trump will repeal Obamacare, which has been disastrous for many patients.” He will replace it with affordable, free-market systems whereby insurance companies can compete across state lines, bringing down premiums.

As I personally, remain torn on my choice of a candidate, I look forward to the debates to shed clarity on these contested issues. I am not with her. I am not with him. I am with America. And I stand with Israel.


Afshine Ash Emrani is assistant clinical professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. He blogs at jewishjournal.com. This op-ed was further edited for clarity after posting. 

Israel has had success against ‘lone wolf’ terrorists — here’s how


“Lone wolf” terrorism in Europe is making headlines around the world. But in Israel, the phenomenon of angry or troubled individuals taking up arms is old news.

Since October, Israelis have endured a wave of violence that has been carried out largely by individual Palestinians without backing from terrorist groups — so much so that some have called this the “lone wolf intifada.”

As of the end of June, 38 people had been killed and 298 injured by attackers, according to the Shin Bet security service.

Yet the violence appears to be winding down, at least for now. In October, when the wave of violence is said to have started, the number of attacks against Israelis spiked to 620. In June, there were 103 attacks, lower than in September, before the wave of violence began.

A large majority of the attacks — some 1,500 out of 2,000 — were in the West Bank, where the Israel Defense Forces is responsible for protecting Israelis. Here are five key methods the army used to turn the tide of violence.

Keep the terrorist groups out of it

The wave of violence may be considered a lone wolf intifada, but that’s because the army has put a lid on the terrorist groups, a senior IDF officer told reporters during a briefing this week. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his job.

Since the second intifada, the last major Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, the Israeli army has managed to largely dismantle the networks run by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the West Bank, according to Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general and an analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies think tank. 

“Basically the terror networks are dismantled, and basically the security forces are dealing with maintenance,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean terrorist groups have stopped trying to launch attacks against Israelis. In the past three months, the army has thwarted dozens of attempted attacks by Hamas alone in what the senior official called the “old war” against organized terror. 

“We’re still having day-to-day indications of them trying to find people in the West Bank, fund them, give them weapons, give them explosives and tell them to shoot Jews,” he said. “This hasn’t changed.”

Predict the unpredictable

A new war is being waged against the lone wolves. Their attacks started last fall in Jerusalem, sparked by Palestinian fears of Jewish encroachment on the Temple Mount. But the center of the lone wolf intifada quickly shifted to the West Bank city of Hebron, with attacks on soldiers and settlers in the area, as well as across Israel.

Around that time, at the end of last year, the army began building a system to deal with the new threat that was emerging, the senior officer said. The goal was to predict the unpredictable: when, for example, a particular Palestinian youth might grab a knife from his mom’s kitchen and take to the streets to spill Israeli blood. Motives can range from nationalism to family problems, he said.

“Unlike terrorists who belong to Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, if you get to their house the week before the attack, the kid doesn’t know that he’s a terrorist yet,” the senior officer said. “So that’s the main challenge.”

Based on what was known about previous attackers, the army created an alert system that is constantly being tweaked. These days, army analysts feed huge amounts of intelligence information into that system — a combination of “social media, human intelligence, signal intelligence,” according to the senior officer, who declined to provide further details about intelligence gathering. In return, he said, the system produces a small number of alerts about potential future attacks.

“One of the ways you produce an alert is, what are the last actions that a specific individual did,” the senior officer said. “For example, if he’s exposed to incitement and right afterwards he rents a car, maybe an unregistered car, this raises questions.”

In response to an alert, options include arresting a suspect, monitoring his or her actions, intervening through the family or deploying troops to a potential target area. When attackers are arrested or killed without managing to cause carnage, future attackers are thought to be deterred.

“The attacks are decreasing because of their ineffectiveness, because most of them fail,” said Brom, the Institute for National Security Studies analyst. “There is a limit to the number of even frustrated young people who are willing to give their life and to achieve nothing. So it makes sense that over time, the numbers of attacks are fewer and fewer.”

Go after the inciters

Incitement to violence can occur in person, through traditional media or over social media. Hamas is responsible for a large portion of the incitement of Palestinians against Israel, the senior officer said.

“They create some of the memes of the high-level incitement, or the incitement which is very powerful that you see on the web,” he said. “So when you handle most of the Hamas incitement, or when you stop some of the incitement from getting to social media, you also have less incitement by private people that are just sharing a specific post or adding incitement.”

Get guns off the streets 

Despite Israel’s control of the West Bank’s borders, weapons manufacturing in the territory has “increased drastically” in the past couple years, according to the senior officer. He estimated there are hundreds of production centers there.

In recent months, he said, the army has launched an organized crackdown, including closing some 20 locations producing homemade Carl Gustav submachine guns, or “Carlos,” like those used last month by two Hebron-area cousins in a deadly shooting at the upscale Sarona market in Tel Aviv.

“They paid for their suits more than they paid for the weapons,” the officer said of the Sarona shooters, who wore dress suits during the attack. “And our logic is very simple … If not everyone can get a weapon with 2,000 shekels [about $500], the price will go up and they’ll have to make all sorts of arrangements and meet more and more people in order to get the weapon they want, we will see fewer attacks with weapons because people will make more mistakes.”

Israeli soldiers guarding the home where Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, was stabbed and killed in a terror attack in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank on June 30, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Limit blowback

At the same time, the army tries to minimize its footprint on Palestinian society. That starts with trying to arrest rather than kill attackers and would-be attackers, the senior officer said.

According to Brom, the army also pushes to limit collective punishment, like the withholding of taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, or revoking permits to work in or visit Israel.

“The more you can separate between the public from the perpetrators, the better,” he said.

When the army does implement measures with punitive effects, like refusing to return the bodies of Palestinians killed during attacks or destroying attackers’ homes, it aims only to target the attackers’ supporters, according to Brom.

Col. Ido Mizrachi, the head of engineering in the Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank, acknowledged in another briefing with reporters that demolishing Palestinian homes causes resentment, but said he thinks the deterrent effect is stronger. To maintain that balance, he said, his engineers work quickly and use techniques to ensure that surrounding homes, or even adjoining apartments, are not damaged.

While the senior officer downplayed the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel, Brom said the partnership is one of the main factors that enables the army to limit wider tensions.

“If the Palestinian Authority stopped cooperating, the Israeli security services would be in a situation in which they would have to do themselves what the Palestinian Authority is doing,” he said. “The problem is, that would create much more friction with population at large. And more friction with population at large means more motivation for more youngsters to join terrorist groups.”

Overall, the army believes this combination of tactics has helped to change the mentality of Palestinians in the West Bank, reducing the number of people willing to risk their lives to attack Israelis.

“We saw more and more people not becoming pro-Israeli or pro-Zionist, but understanding that they don’t achieve anything from this escalation, that it hurts them economically, that it doesn’t help the life conditions, that it doesn’t achieve anything on the national level,” the senior officer said.

Can a hobbled EU live up to its promise to combat anti-Semitism and racism?


When the late Austro-Hungarian aristocrat Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi attended church on Good Friday, his father would famously cause a scene, storming out when the liturgy came to the anti-Semitic exhortation “Let us also pray for the faithless Jews.”

Such protest was unusual in 19th-century Austria-Hungary, where anti-Semitism and other forms of racism were de rigueur. But the old count — a personal friend of Zionist legend Theodor Herzl — abhorred such biases in part because his wife, Richard’s mother, was Japanese.

Brought up in a multiculturalist home, Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi made the fight against anti-Semitism a cornerstone of the Pan-Europa movement he founded in 1926. It was a major precursor of the European Union, which has evolved into a quasi-federal entity of 28 states with its own executive arm – the European Commission — parliament and judiciary.

Little wonder, then, that prominent Jews such as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud endorsed the nobleman’s pan-European vision from its inception. They saw it as an antidote to the nationalism and racist hate that culminated  in World War II and the Holocaust.

Determined to prevent the recurrence of such traumatic events, postwar European societies became open to adopting the revolutionary pan-European model of government.

Traditionally, Jews have been very supportive of the incarnation of von Coudenhove-Kalergi’s vision: the European Union, with its strong anti-racist rhetoric and agendas. But the growing influence of homegrown xenophobes, integration failures and Brussels’ perceived singling out of Israel for criticism have disillusioned many Jewish opinion shapers.

These conflicting Jewish attitudes were on display during the polarizing debate that took place in the United Kingdom over last month’s referendum on a British exit, or Brexit, from the European Union, according to Geoffrey Alderman, a historian and former member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

“There’s a belief that Jews are a very cosmopolitan, pan-European people whom one would’ve expected to show a large measure of support to the idea of the EU,” he said. But in Britain, “prominent Jews were in favor of exiting,” said Alderman, who himself was among the 52 percent of British voters in the June 23 referendum who supported leaving the bloc.

The British Jewish community’s institutions stayed neutral on the Brexit issue, whereas many Jewish intellectuals argued that the desire to leave was born of xenophobia and ignorance and risked unleashing a wave of nationalism and economic instability in the UK and beyond. The British-Jewish sociologist David Hirsh, in an op-ed for the Jewish News of London, highlighted the “freedom of movement, freedom to work where you choose and freedom of trade” afforded by the EU.

Strong statements about the need to fight anti-Semitism from some of the EU’s top officials have also shored up Jewish support.

“If there’s no future for Jews in Europe, there’s no future for Europe,” Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, said last year.

Robert-Jan Smits, a director within the European Commission, said in 2011 that “present-day Europe arose from the ash of Auschwitz crematoria.”

And European Parliament President Martin Schulz said this year: “Jewish friends, we stand with you against those who spread hatred. Europe is your home today, every day and forever.’’

But the European Union’s Jewish critics say it is unable to back up the rhetoric with action — one reason, according to Alderman, why many Jewish Brexiters were open to leaving.

In the first few traumatized decades after World War II, anti-Semitism was “present but not spoken of” in the EU’s founding states in the continent’s west, Alderman said. “But anti-Semitism is a light sleeper and the EU has failed to create the political-social conditions” to keep it dormant, he said.

The awakening unleashed a resurgence of anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence in Western Europe. It was spearheaded by Muslims, who were invited to immigrate there as cheap laborers on the promise that the countries would integrate and embrace them, and under the assumption that the immigrants would integrate and embrace postwar European values.

Millions of Muslims have done just that, but jihadists who grew within these communities have killed more than 300 people in terrorist attacks since 2012 alone — including 12 in three attacks on Jewish targets in France and Belgium.

Meanwhile, Eastern European EU member states such as Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary are celebrating the legacies of Nazi collaborators who participated in the Holocaust. Xenophobic parties from both east and west are riding a crest of popularity into the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the body set up to prevent such tendencies from reaching power.

Jewish Euroskeptics argue it would be easier to be deal with such challenges on a national level. EU supporters, including Hirsh, say these challenges require European societies to double down on federal ideals.

Far from ignoring the problem of anti-Semitism, say the EU’s defenders, EU senior officials have vowed to fight them head on.

“It is unacceptable that Jews are reluctant to wear their traditional clothes and display religious symbols in public because of fear,” Schulz said in January. “Jews are again killed because they are Jews. We will fight the demons of anti-Semitism, of ultranationalism, of intolerance.”

The European Union has taken some concrete steps to achieve this, including the unveiling in May of a code of conduct on online hate speech together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft.

But in 2013, the EU eroded its own credibility with many on this issue by abandoning the only definition it had for anti-Semitism after pro-Palestinian critics objected to the inclusion of a clause about the demonization of Israel. Currently, the EU agency for fighting racism is on record as saying it is unable to define anti-Semitism and that the concept is not in need of a definition.

Critics, including Alderman, disagree.

The decision to drop the working definition on anti-Semitism “damages the European Union’s credibility on its desire to fight anti-Semitic racism,” said Shimon Samuels, a British national based in Paris who heads the European office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Back in Britain, a staunch advocate of the European Union — Rabbi David Rose of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation — drew parallels between Europeans’ ambivalence toward the EU to the Hebrews’ reluctance to trust God after he led them out of Egypt and through the Sinai Desert.

Eventually, Rose said, God gave up on the people he rescued and decided to build his Chosen People from their children born during 40 years in the wilderness.

“Perhaps in this analogy we are in the wilderness and our job is to raise a generation worthy of the Promised Land,” he said.

Judaism as world wisdom


Sandra is in my office because her marriage is falling apart. She is not a member of any synagogue, and doesn’t consider herself religious. But she read some of my insights online and decided that a Jewish perspective might help her figure out her next move. 

Jason is 16 and wrestles with what his life is supposed to mean. He heard me speak, and could use help discovering a meaning for his existence. 

Yusuf writes on my public Facebook page that he’s a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t know any Jews, and I’m his rabbi. Kathy, a Catholic from Maine, writes that she feels the same.

We stand on the precipice of the third great transformation of Jewish life in modern times. It shouldn’t be news to any of us that Judaism has exhibited a dual tendency of retaining the value it inherited from the past and, at the same time, transforming that inheritance to advance the needs of each new age. That trend has accelerated. Judaism is emerging from tribal expression into a stream of world wisdom. 

The bulk of American Jews descend from the great immigration of 1880-1920, when Ashkenazi Jews left the Pale of Settlement for the East Coast of the United States. Most American Jews to this day are related to Ashkenazi Jews from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the shtetls of Eastern and Central Europe. They fled to the United States, it should be noted, to get away from two repressive dangers: The first (and the one we love to talk about) are the Cossacks and anti-Semitism. But the second oppressive reality they fled was Orthodox rabbinic Judaism. Make no mistake, the learned and the pious stayed in Europe, and they and their descendants were murdered. 

We are the children and grandchildren of the plucky ignoramuses who wouldn’t take no for an answer. They didn’t bother asking their rabbis’ permission to move to New York, they just packed and left. Onboard, they flung their tefillin and their wigs into the turgid Atlantic. They were not only leaving Russian oppression, they were also escaping rabbinic oppression. No surprise that when they came to North America, the prerequisite was to create a safe, comfortable haven where they could be comfortable as they were: fighting the anti-Semitism of the surrounding culture and creating spaces where they didn’t have to feel excessively Jewish. Ironically, the only way they could avoid a sense of being “too Jewish” was to retreat to places where there were only other Ashkenazi Jews. They created the legendary lodges in the Catskills, where you could talk with your hands, eat pickled herring or pickled salmon (which is something!). The food was kosher and mostly mediocre, but you could order as much of it as you wanted. These havens hired Jewish artists and comedians who shared the immigrants’ humor and sensibilities. 

Those new American Jews needed a haven because the larger culture slammed shut the doors of opportunity. Our immigrant forebears were restricted to certain neighborhoods and specific jobs. They were criticized for talking too loud, with their hands, in Yiddish. They felt like outsiders and so they created institutions in which they would not have to deal with being different. No surprise that they created synagogues where a congregant didn’t have to be too Jewish and wouldn’t get hassled for the patina of Jewish they maintained. These Americanized synagogues successfully met the needs of that first generation. What is extraordinary is that these Jews erected institutions throughout the country. They built synagogues, they established rabbinical schools, and created institutions of Jewish learning and culture that enabled them to successfully navigate the larger culture while feeling at home in this adopted country. 

Their institutions successfully met their needs, but those needs are no longer our own. 

The second great transformation of American-Jewish life took place around and after World War II when millions of our people were butchered back in the very countries we had fled a generation or two earlier. The pressing issue was no longer how do we conform to the ways of this country or even how to gain a foothold, but how to combat the virulent midcentury anti-Semitism? How to create a space for ourselves as Jews where we can be participants in the robust and raucous life of American democracy? To meet these new needs, the institutions that were created and modified in this generation were no longer places to retreat so we didn’t have to be consciously Jewish, this post-War generation created powerful anti-defamation leagues. They expanded congresses and committees. Now was a time to mediate Jewish power in democratic contexts: They scrambled to generate effective ways to support the Zionist effort creating a Jewish democracy in the Middle East, and they created agencies that would engage in the political system and the cultural life of America. This is the period in which the Jews took advantage of the openings in American life, attending their colleges and universities, composing the music sung in their musicals. We became their entertainers, their artists, their doctors and their experts. That age reaped unprecedented success for the postwar generation of Jews. 

Nobody today comments on the disproportionate number of Jews in the Supreme Court or in Congress. It is commonplace to hear Yiddish in the entertainment industry, the finance industry, business and academia. That presence is a tribute to the success of the second transformation of American-Jewish life, the time in which we intensified our Jewishness and insisted that we had the right to apply the lesson of the civil rights and women’s liberation movement: that we could be ourselves not only in private (which is what the first generation established), but also adamantly in public. In ways large and small, we put big Jewish institutions out there for the whole world to see. That was the second wave. 

Today’s challenge with the first and second wave is that they succeeded. They accomplished what they set out to do. American Jews by and large feel comfortable in private and safe in public. And we feel safe exerting pressure on the political system as a whole. This past summer witnessed the American-Jewish community engage in a brutal internal debate on the Iran nuclear deal, a contentious issue of international concern, with Jewish institutions publically exerting enormous political pressure on the United States Senate and with a popularly elected president (who most Jews support) willing to go head to head on an issue that many in the community felt was vital to its own well-being. Whether you agree with that move or not, what’s noteworthy is there were no earthshaking repercussions: Jews were still invited to two Chanukah parties in a kashered White House. Both Democrats and the Republicans still compete to represent Jewish voters and invite Jewish engagement in the upcoming elections. 

Jews are a public facet of American-Jewish life. 

The first two generations’ waves have succeeded, but we paid an unanticipated price for that success. That price is that we can no longer use fear to inspire Jewish living anymore. We can’t use guilt, ethnic solidarity or insecurity as a reason to be Jewish anymore. These claims are what motivated Jewish life in this country for a century: terror and anti-Semitism, the specter of being rejected, isolated and marginalized; these just don’t sell anymore. We Jews live in the same neighborhoods, graduate from the same schools, attend the same universities, enter the same professions, and offer our counsel at every level of business, in academia, in science and in government. 

So, what’s left? What are the needs of today? 

It turns out that Judaism is one of the great traditions of world wisdom. We have nurtured a way of life that has caressed and strengthened a resilient people throughout our wanderings. Whatever the political conditions in each age, Jews could retreat to Torah learning, to the practice of mitzvot (literally commandments, but much more: embodied practices of holiness and responsiveness), to warm and engaging community. In that embrace, they could emerge renewed. 

We have wandered through persecutions and exaltation, into places that were happy to host us and other places that could barely abide our presences. In and out of all of those locations, we carried Torah with us because it made our lives better. Torah – the living and the learning — molded us to be more resilient and stronger.

The time for fear has ended. No one will be scared into being Jewish anymore, and they shouldn’t. Yes, resurgent anti-Semitism afflicts Europe, roiling some of our college campuses, and criticism of Israel’s policies often masks a murderous hatred of Israelis and Jews. These phenomena are real and must be contained. But we are no longer trapped in passive terror. 

Much of the world is open to our insights. Because it turns out the Book of Deuteronomy is right. The Torah tells us, “this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who, when they shall hear all these statutes, shall say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6), that we are to live our lives in such a way that the nations of the world will look at our practice and say, “What a wise people! What a great God!” Rashi’s interpretation removes any possible misunderstanding: This verse speaks about wisdom. Rav Saadia observes that it is specifically about justice and truth. The standard for Jewish authenticity is wisdom, justice and truth, such that a well-meaning gentile will notice and be inspired.

What would it look like to elevate that criterion for this third tide of American-Jewish life? This hunger for wisdom is not limited to North America. Those same dynamics now affect Jewish life in Europe, Israel, Latin America, Canada, Australia and everywhere there are Jews. Indeed, we are blessed to live in an age in which millions of non-Jews are willing to glean Jewish wisdom if it will help them live better lives. An example: Hospitals now routinely consult with experts in Jewish bioethics (along with other spiritual/ethical counselors) to practice a humane form of medicine. Several years ago, Harvard convened a conference on the environmental challenge that included authorities in Jewish traditions of land and living with the earth. Sharing traditions like letting the land rest every seven years or the Sabbath as a day of harmony with creation offer assistance to a humanity lacking in tools for better living. We will win Jewish (and universal) allegiance if Judaism is robust, if Judaism augments human life, if people can thrive better because of the wisdom Judaism brings to our lives and our communities. Rabbi Harold Schulweis offered an early example of this approach when he established pro bono legal, psychological and para-rabbinic counseling at Valley Beth Shalom as a way of conveying Jewish wisdom and care for any who sought it. The offer of wisdom drew in people.

So that’s the task. That’s what’s going to bring in today’s people. This network of emergent communities, the more established Jewish institutions, the camps that we run, the youth groups that we offer, the adult education, the introduction programs — all of them are a constant effort to give back to the Jewish people and humanity what is already theirs: this ancient and time-tested path for being human. But that old/new goal changes our rhetoric. This passage in Deuteronomy invites us to admit that the standard by which we judge whether someone is a good Jew is no longer how punctilious they are in particular rituals or prohibitions. The question we must train ourselves to ask is: If someone who isn’t already engaged in Jewish practice were to look at your life or community, would they say, “Wow! I love how Judaism augments their values, the way they treat each other, the way they include the outcast, the way they pursue lives of justice and compassion. I want to be more like them, because the Judaism that keeps them strong and keeps them focused and keeps their eye on the goal makes them kinder and sweeter and wiser and more generous and more resilient. And I need some of that, too”?

What if we placed the criteria for a good Jew not in the hands of a small cabal of rabbis and agencies who assess Jewish status by how well one practices a particular ritual, how learned and literate they are in ancient texts, how pure their bloodlines, how vocal their nationalism? Those characteristics can indeed matter, but they are important for what they cultivate, not as an end in themselves. They ought to deliver a mensch (think, for example, of Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Service, Elie Wiesel, Betty Friedan, Jerry Seinfeld, Ruth Bader Ginsburg), which should be apparent even for someone who doesn’t read Hebrew or Aramaic or is able to supervise a kosher establishment. 

This kind of decency ought to be visible in the way we conduct our lives with ourselves, with our loved ones, with each other and how we engage the world. That’s what our Torah passage insists: that a gentile will look at our lives and recognize that whatever is inspiring us is wise and good and would benefit anyone. But let’s add another group into that mix. Maybe when we say “the nations” we ought to include that large sector of our own people who are themselves wrestling with Jewish illiteracy and ambivalence. How about all those Jews who don’t know how to practice mitzvot? When they look at our religiosity, are they inspired? Or do they recoil before what appears to them as lunacy and cruelty? 

If our passion for Judaism makes us appear insane, smug and judgmental, well, the Torah has already weighed in on whether that counts as good Judaism. Rashi is already agreed with Deuteronomy’s judgment whether it does or not. 

I want to be clear here: I am not arguing against rigorous learning or scrupulous practice. But if the practice does not lead to a broadness of heart, it is no service to God. If it doesn’t lead to a deeper capacity to feel the pain of your fellow human being, to take on their suffering as your own, if it doesn’t allow you to rejoice when something good happens to the one sitting next to you, then what is it for?

Our challenge as Jews hoping to mentor this next wave is to help midwife the transition from Judaism as an ethnic enclave into Judaism as a world tradition of wisdom. We have what to teach: that God sides with the outcast seeking liberation and that all must be included (Passover seder), that we are more than our résumés (Shabbat), that the land owns us rather than the other way round (ger toshav), and that all people deserve respect and dignity (tzelem Elohim). We have what to share with the world: our values, our stories, our traditions and guidelines, our love of a place, our ways of sanctifying time and family, our hunger for justice. 

Ours may be the greatest secret that humanity has yet to discover because it has been hiding in plain view. And it is our job to bring it out there into the world. There are bright lights already pushing back the shadows, groups like CLAL, the Hartman Institute, American Jewish University’s Whizin programs, Rabbi Benny Lau’s innovative 929.org, Ron Wolfson’s relational Judaism and countless others.

To do that, you have to know the sources. How else can we transmit the wisdom that people are starving for if we don’t ourselves become fluent in it? 

How can we become their teachers if we don’t teach them the language of our classics, if we do not teach them the rhythms of Hebrew and its multiple layers conveying meaning over meaning if we don’t ourselves become practitioners?  

How can we show people what a life of spiritual discipline can be if we don’t root ourselves in that Tree of Life, the Torah and its forest of sacred commentaries (midrash, Talmud, codes, philosophy, kabbalah, hasidut, etc), and grow in mitzvot as well? 

But if we do these things simply as a way to judge others more harshly, if we perform these mitzvot thinking they are the criteria for Jewish judgmentalism, then we betray our own heritage. We turn our back on God, and in this age, no one is putting up with it anymore because they can live a perfectly fine life without it.

So the only reason left for engaging in Torah, the only reason left for our pursuit of mitzvot, is because it brings joy, because it augments depth, and because it heightens wisdom, resilience and community in an age that is scared and desperately lonely and exhausted by the pain of making it through another day. We are, I believe, the heirs of one of humanity’s most beautiful creations, one of God’s greatest gifts. Our heritage is truly something shimmering and on a hill, but it is our job to take it off the hill. It is our job to become so welcoming with it and so good at providing access to it, that we can share it with those who have not yet accessed it. And by those I mean three categories of people: 

I mean Jews who have been swimming in the sea of Torah for a long time and have lost their way. Lost their way because they thought that being punctilious was the end in itself, the goal rather than a means to an end. We can help them through our living to see Torah as a path for a greater life. 

I mean a path for those Jews who have been so wounded by the way Judaism was presented to them, inflicted on them, that all they had when they turned to Torah was pain and rage. We can help to show them there’s another way, a truer way in which Torah becomes the balm of its own healing, and Torah becomes the solution to the problems that its defenders took upon themselves to inflict.

And I mean a new group in this day and age: those legions of human beings (and they number in the thousands if not millions), people who are open to wisdom wherever they find it, people who are willing in the same day to practice Hindu yoga, Zen meditation, listen to a talk of the Dalai Lama and read a tweet from Pope Francis. Yes, they are willing to look at the Facebook page of a rabbi or sage if it can offer something to help them live a better life (check out facebook.com/rabbiartson, facebook.com/rabbiwolpe or facebook.com/accidentaltalmudist for three great examples). 

In an age when people are finally willing to embrace the wisdom of Judaism, don’t we owe it to them to make it available, to be able to first of all wrap ourselves in it like a cloak, and then to be able to share the warmth with those who cross our paths? Don’t we owe it to them to seek them out and help them with Torah’s wisdom whether they are Jewish or not? This isn’t about changing the label; it is about giving access to a tradition that has inspired and transformed human life across the ages. The digital revolution opens access through blogs, online magazines and newspapers, podcasts and videos. Any teacher can enrich our lives anywhere.

What we are sitting on is too precious for us to try to own or monopolize. This is no time for business as usual, no time for simply doing Jewish without opening it to the world. The resilience of Judaism comes from having been repackaged from a time when we were assaulted, and at the same time, allowing us to renew ourselves for each new age. Now is the time for us to be renewed, to allow this time, this day, this age to forge new contact to the Torah of healing, the Torah of humanity, the Torah of wisdom and compassion, and to allow ourselves to be made over in its image so that we ourselves will be forces for healing in turn.


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (bradartson.com) holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Europe is not lost


I'm the Chairman and Co-founder of an organization called Friends of ELNET (European Leadership Network) whose European affiliates promote relations between Europe and Israel.  I travel often for site visits to Paris, Berlin, and other capitals in Europe to assess the situation firsthand.  Often, before I go, an American friend warns me, “Things are pretty bad there, the situation might be hopeless.”  Sometimes they just saw an article about an anti-Semitic incident in Marseilles, or a British labor union voting to boycott Israel.   There are a lot of news stories about things like that, more than any positive developments.

But what I actually witness on the ground in Europe is a very different story.  Yes, there are certainly some problems.  But overall, Europe's relations with Israel are flourishing, not dying.  Israel’s trade with the EU has increased from 20 to 30 billion euros per year over the last 10 years.    Europe's partnership with Israel is among the closest the EU has with any non-member state.  The EU stated officially that it is “against the so-called 'BDS' and we are against any attempts to isolate Israel.” 

British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, and the top European Council–all have expressed strong opposition to any boycott of Israel.  In fact, all have expressed support for expanding Israel's economic relations with the European Union, not curtailing them. 

Europe is not turning its back on Israel.  In the ten years since the BDS movement was launched in July 2005, declaring Europe to be its number one target, the EU has signed twelve additional commercial agreements significantly expanding relations with Israel. 

In October 2012, against fierce opposition from leaders of the BDS movement, the European Parliament ratified a critical framework agreement on Israeli industrial products, by a vote of 379-230.  In July 2012, the EU approved unprecedented steps to enhance Israel-EU relations in 60 trade and diplomatic policy areas, including increased access to the EU’s single market, closer cooperation on transport and energy, and enhanced ties with nine EU agencies.   

Jews hold high positions many European governments.  Many Jews in European countries continue to prosper and succeed.   Jewish populations are generally stable and in some places growing, not declining.  The problems are real, but the sky is not falling. 

Yes, Moslem immigrant populations are large and growing more rapidly, sometimes bringing with them virulent anti-Israel ideologies and not a little anti-Semitism.  But where these attitudes have emerged, they have provoked strong opposition and passionate rejection from the vast majority of Europeans.  They have also led to the rise of powerful opposition movements in many European countries.  In fact, the European political parties hostile to these foreign ideologies, are much larger than the radical elements coming in, so the balance is not necessarily against Israel.

The fact that there are more Moslems than Jews in Europe does not mean that the Jewish cause there is mathematically doomed.  In the world there are one and a half billion Moslems and close to four hundred million Arabs, but Israel has the strongest air force within a thousand mile radius.  In the United States, Jews comprise under 2% of the population, but we punch way above our weight in the political system and in economic and cultural affairs.  It is our destiny to be the few among the many, but this does not mean we are destined to perish.  Why should Europe be different?

The eruption of terrorism in Paris and Brussels has awakened Europeans to the reality of Middle Eastern extremism.  There is greater understanding that the animosity in the Middle East is not open to sweet reason, and that strong measures are sometimes required to deal with the threats.  There is more understanding why Israel finds it so difficult to come to a political accommodation with some of its neighbors.

Europe is far from lost for Israel.  The misperception that Europe is lost discourages friends of Israel in Europe and beyond from taking steps that can actually make the situation better.  It shrinks the international resources available to invest in pro-Israel activity in Europe, when potential American supporters think the money would be wasted.

Yes, there are dangers in Europe, but there are also opportunities.  Bringing modern methods of advocacy and political action to bear in key European capitals, make it possible to answer the threats and even go to new heights in many areas.   The future will not belong to those who pile up lists of problems that are supposedly insurmountable, but to those who see the potential and act to build a better future.

Larry J. Hochberg is the Chairman and Co-founder, Friends of ELNET (European Leadership Network)

In Europe, the far right doesn’t quite know what to make of Trump


Donald Trump’s xenophobic views are neither new nor particularly shocking in Europe, where fears of jihadism and the challenges of illegal immigration are blowing winds into the sails of a rising far right.

Although the Republican presidential hopeful’s statements on immigrants, Mexicans and Muslims are often quite moderate in comparison to the rhetoric of some popular European nationalists, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-establishment image have earned him a certain following in European far-right circles.

“I hope Donald Trump will be the next US President,” Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician whose party has for months been leading in the polls, wrote on Twitter in December. “Good for America, good for Europe. We need brave leaders.”

“I think Donald Trump is a very dangerous man,” Pieter Grun, a Wilders voter, said earlier this month at a rally here against Muslim immigration into the Netherlands.

Trump “gets it right on Islam but is so irrational that he could lead us into a nuclear war,” said Grun, who was holding up a sign reading “RapeFugees stay away, not welcome.” “I don’t want his little fingers on the trigger.”

Grun’s doubts about Trump are shared by some of the leaders of the European far right. Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson told Breitbart of Trump: “He’s great at making speeches, but as a politician and a world leader? No, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s UKIP far-right party, distanced himself from Trump following the candidate’s controversial call in December for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

“With this comment he’s gone too far,” Farage said, adding it would be “punishing a lot of very good people because of the actions of a few.”

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front party, had a similar message.

“Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?” she demanded when questioned about Trump’s statement on shutting out Muslims. “I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin or religion.”

Her niece, lawmaker Marion Maréchal-Le Pen – a vocal supporter of National Front’s bid to have France leave the European Union — said she found Trump’s preference for American isolationism “an interesting foreign policy.” But she called his proposed ban “stupid and completely unfeasible” during a radio interview last month.

In his stump speeches, Trump talks about building a border wall with Mexico, tells of American citizens murdered by undocumented immigrants and blames an “influx of foreign workers” for holding down the wages and contributing to high unemployment among “poor and working-class Americans.”

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric resonates with more radical far-right figures, including Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, founder of the National Front. Jean-Marie Le Pen said in February that if he were an American, he would vote for Trump.

Ilias Panagiotaros, a lawmaker for Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, was so charmed with Trump he uploaded to YouTube last month a video of himself discussing Trump’s virtues. He praised Trump’s response to critics after Trump retweeted a quote by Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler’s Italian ally.

When called out by reporters for passing along the quote — “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep” — Trump replied, “But what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote.”

Trump has another fan in Maurice Roos of The Hague, another participant in the anti-Islam rally organized earlier this month in the Dutch administrative capital by the local branch of PEGIDA — a protest movement that began in Germany in 2014 “against the Islamization of the West,” words that are part of its German-language acronym.

Trump’s inexperience in government, Roos said, “only works in his favor. Our educated, eloquent politicians have brought us to the point of bankruptcy and brought in more than a million Muslims into Europe at a time of rising Islamist terrorism. It’s time for a different school of thought.”

Tatjana Schimanski, a German senior member of PEGIDA, also spoke positively about Trump.

“He’s definitely not an intellectual on the caliber we’re used to expect from leaders in Europe,” she said, “but he’s a success story. He’s kind of a one-man PEGIDA.”

Schimanski said the politician she respects the most is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who was educated in Oxford and has written his master’s thesis on the Polish Solidarity movement. Orban earned headlines earlier this year for attempting to block a European Union plan to force member states to shelter refugees and, tellingly, erected a fence along Hungary‘s southern border to keep them out.

The duality on Trump in far-right circles stems from the “American way in which he delivers his messages rather than from any real shock with what he’s actually saying,” said Wim Kortenoeven, a former lawmaker for Wilders’ Party for Freedom and currently a political consultant specializing in defense issues and the Middle East.

Both Wilders – who suggested the Netherlands leave the United Nations — and Trump are “into making unfeasible and radical statements to pander to voters,” Kortenoeven said. Yet Wilders and other European rightist leaders are “more ideological than Trump, with his self-aggrandizing and flaunting of his wealth,” he said, adding: “This comes off as alien, a little gauche and blunt” on a continent where philosophers are mainstream cultural icons who are invited on prime-time television talk shows.

“Like many Europeans, I fear the spread of militant Islam more than anything,” Kortenoeven said. “But I don’t think shouting empty slogans that are as inapplicable as they are stupid will help us in any way, so I don’t support Trump.”

But Kortenoeven, who used to work for Holland’s main Jewish pro-Israel group, distrusts Trump also because of Israel, he said.

“As a real-estate man, Trump, who has zero understanding of the Middle East and foreign relations, sees Israel as a real-estate problem — to sell off the minute it suits him,” Kortenoeven said.

European travel: Should I stay or should I go?


Three days before I was to depart for Europe on a river cruise traversing the waterways of the Netherlands and Belgium, I woke up to the news that terrorists had detonated explosives at Brussels’ airport and one of the city’s metro stations, killing more than 30 victims and wounding more than 300 others. 

Ten minutes later, I received a call from my (predictably) worried mom in Chicago, telling me to check to see if anything was canceled. A representative from the cruise line, the Calabasas-based AmaWaterways, answered my email within minutes, informing me the trip was still on, though the itinerary was changed due to the March 22 attacks: Our time in Belgium would be confined to a day and a half and we would be having more stops in Dutch towns instead.

My travel companion was on the phone with me 20 minutes later, arguing that we should move ahead as planned with the cruise, even with less time in Belgium. Otherwise, he said, “The terrorists would win.”

We were not the only ones with these concerns. Jon and Robyn Cohen, a Reform couple from West Hollywood, ultimately decided to set sail, too, but not without careful consideration. We discussed the subject en route to a half-day excursion in Ghent in northern Belgium, where we experienced an unsettling moment crossing through an underpass defaced with neo-Nazi graffiti.

Jon, a comedy writer and ad operations manager at Midroll, a Hollywood podcast company, said the package he and his wife selected was based on what was and what wasn’t on the itinerary.

“I did not want to go to France, especially given the attacks in Paris and how Jews were affected by them,” he said. “[As I followed] the news, I found few anti-Semitic [events] happening in Belgium and Holland.” 

That didn’t stop his father from issuing the familiar warning, “Don’t tell anybody you are Jewish.” And Robyn, a travel agent with Pleasant Holidays, was cautioned by her mother against wearing religious jewelry.

Informed by a career in tourism that included time at the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, Robyn took a pragmatic view of the situation.

“[Terrorism] can happen anywhere, including L.A.,” she said. “I left the final decisions to AmaWaterways regarding whether or not the cruise would be canceled or how they would modify the schedule.

“One thing that puts this kind of situation into perspective is that I work with Pleasant’s Caribbean products, and we’ve been doing battle with the Zika virus and the perceptions generated in the news. While I can’t travel there, as I am pregnant, for everybody else traveling there, I advise taking common sense precautions.”

Although Jon insisted Robyn make calls to the cruise line to get updates, she assured him that Amsterdam — the start and end point for the cruise — was far enough away from Brussels, and security precautions had been taken. Our conversation shifted again to our one full-day Belgian adventure in Antwerp, which went without a hitch. 

“However, the concerns would be different in many places if I were Orthodox,” Jon said. 

The increased security presence around Antwerp combined with the business-as-usual spirit made us truly appreciate the frites, architecture and bike tour of the Jewish quarter all the more. Religiously observant men with beards and tallitot went about their day, breezing past us on their bikes as the guide explained that the city has one of the highest concentrations of Orthodox Jews in the world outside Israel and Brooklyn.

Several travel agents specializing in Jewish travel advised customers to proceed with their plans these days, as long as they keep both their minds and eyes open to stay safe. 

Florida-based Sophia Kulich, who operates Jewish Travel Agency and Sophia’s Travel, suggested that her clients take U.S. government travel advisories seriously and register with its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (

Young Arabs see Islamic State as biggest regional challenge


Young Arabs view Islamic State as the biggest challenge facing their region and some blame poor job opportunities for the rise of the militant group, according to a survey published on Tuesday.

Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” over swathes of Iraq and Syria it occupies, has established branches in conflict-ridden Libya and Yemen and has also carried out a series of deadly attacks in western Europe and Arab Gulf states.

The annual survey of people in the 18-24 age bracket across 16 Arab countries showed half of the respondents saw Islamic State as the biggest challenge for the region, up from 37 percent in the 2015 poll and well above other issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lack of democracy.

Asked if they could imagine supporting Islamic State – also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh – if it used less violence, 78 percent of respondents said they could not, while 13 percent said they could and nine percent said they did not know.

Almost a quarter of respondents blamed high unemployment among young Arabs for Islamic State's success. The Arab world has long been blighted by corruption, wars and political stagnation and has struggled to create jobs for its fast-growing younger population.

Hassan Hassan, an analyst cited in the survey, said the region's economic malaise had clearly helped Islamic State.

“Many people in the region may reject Daesh due to its extreme tactics, but the issue remains that the group exploits existing problems,” he said.

“It did not simply invent the problems the responders identified as factors. Daesh, put another way, is a symptom of a growing disease that needs to be tackled, and not just the disease itself.”

Respondents also cited as reasons for Islamic State's advances the group's belief that its interpretation of Islam is superior to others as well as the confrontation between the Sunni and Shi'ite traditions. Islamic State adheres to a hardline version of Sunni Islam and regards Shi'ites and other Muslims who reject its stance as apostates deserving death.

The survey was based on 3,500 face-to-face interviews carried out by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller in countries ranging from Morocco and Egypt to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Number of anti-Semitic incidents in Austria rises strongly


The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria increased more than 80 percent last year, with reported internet postings denouncing Jews more than doubling, an Austrian group said on Wednesday.

Jews across Europe have warned of a rising tide of anti-Semitism, fueled by anger at Israeli policy in the Middle East, while far-right movements have gained popularity because of tensions over immigration and concerns following militant Islamist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The Austrian Forum Against Anti-Semitism, which began monitoring anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, said 465 incidents were recorded during 2015, over 200 of them being internet postings hostile to Jews.

The total number of internet postings reported to Austria's constitutional protection authority as offensive remained stable in 2015, but the number of postings liable to be used in criminal proceedings doubled compared to 2014, according to an interior ministry spokesman.

“The whole picture is terrifying,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria (IKG), said.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) urged the European Union and its member states in January to increase efforts to combat widespread anti-Semitic cyber hate, arguing that anti-Semitism in the region did not show any sign of waning.

IKG's Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer said it was difficult to clearly tell who committed some anti-Semitic acts because offenders could not be identified and internet postings were usually anonymous.

But there was a clear trend of increasingly hostile behavior against the 15,000 Jews living in Austria from Muslims, the Jewish community representative said.

“There is an increasing concern in our community that – if the proportion of Muslims in Austria continues to rise due to immigration, due to the refugees – this could become problematic for us,” Fastenbauer said.

Austria has mainly served as a conduit into Germany for refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa but has absorbed a similar number of asylum seekers relative to its much smaller population of 8.7 million.

Iran missile tests were ‘in defiance of’ U.N. resolution


By launching nuclear-capable missiles Iran has defied a United Nations Security Council resolution that endorsed last year's historic nuclear deal, the United States and its European allies said in a joint letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

Iran's recent ballistic tests involved missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and were “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” council resolution 2231, adopted last July, said the joint U.S., British, French, German letter to Spain's U.N. Ambassador Roman Oyarzun Marchesi and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.

The letter said the missiles used in the recent launches were “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” It also asked that the Security Council discuss “appropriate responses” to Tehran's failure to comply with its obligations and urged Ban to report back on Iranian missile work inconsistent with 2231.

Spain has been assigned the task of coordinating council discussions on resolution 2231.

Council diplomats have said the case for new U.N. sanctions was weak, hinging on interpretation of ambiguous language in a resolution adopted as part of a July nuclear deal to drastically restrict Iran's nuclear work.

Western officials say that although the launches went against 2231, they were not a violation of the core nuclear agreement between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Russia, a permanent veto-wielding council member, has made clear it does not support new U.N. sanctions on Iran. Both Russia and China had lobbied against continuing restrictions on Iran's missile program during last year's negotiations on the nuclear deal.

The four powers' carefully worded letter stopped short of calling the Iranian launches a “violation” of the resolution, which “calls upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from activity, including launches, related to ballistic missiles designed with the capability of delivering nuclear weapons.

Diplomats say key powers agree that request is not legally binding and cannot be enforced under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with sanctions and authorization of military force. But Western nations, which view the language as a ban, say there is a political obligation on Iran to comply.

International sanctions on Tehran were lifted in January under the nuclear deal.

The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' missile battery said the missiles tested were designed to be able to hit U.S. ally Israel. The United States condemned the remarks and Russia said countries should not threaten each other.

The letter said the four Western powers “note with concern that Iranian military leaders have reportedly claimed these missiles are designed to be a direct threat to Israel.”

Several diplomats said the most Iran could expect would be a public rebuke by the Security Council. Under the nuclear deal, the reimposition of U.N. sanctions would only be triggered by violations of the agreed restrictions on Iran's atomic work.

But a council rebuke could provide a legal springboard for European countries to consider new sanctions against Iran, Western diplomats said.

Last week the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted two Iranian companies for supporting Iran's ballistic missile program, and also sanctioned two British businessmen it said were helping an airline used by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

France has also suggested there could be unilateral European Union sanctions against Iran over the launches.

Can Belgium protect its Jews? A community has its doubts


The hundreds of rifle-toting police and soldiers who patrol Isaac Michaeli’s neighborhood have done little to improve his sense of safety.

“When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, the soldiers might as well be cardboard cutouts,” he said.

A jeweler in his 40s, Michaeli lives with his family in Antwerp’s Jewish quarter, a small neighborhood of 12,000 that is one of the largest haredi communities in Europe.

The troops have been assigned to protect the neighborhood, with its 98 Jewish institutions, since May 2014, after four people were killed in a terrorist shooting at Brussels’ Jewish Museum of Belgium. Since then, their presence has been beefed up at periods of elevated risk — including after Tuesday’s string of terrorist attacks that left at least 31 dead and 300 wounded in Brussels.

Belgian Jewish leaders have praised the patrols and the government allocation of $4.5 million for the community’s protection. But amid reports of repeated failures in Belgian authorities’ counterterrorist efforts, Michaeli’s dismissive attitude is shared by other Belgian Jews. Many feel that their government is less competent in defending civilians, Jews and otherwise, than its neighbors, including France.

On Thursday, Menachem Hadad, a Brussels rabbi, told Israel’s Army Radio, “Belgian authorities have no understanding of security issues — zero.” He said soldiers posted outside a synagogue and the city’s Chabad House told him that for months, they used to guard the area with no bullets in their rifles. “It was just a show. It’s not normal,” he said.

Responding to Hadad’s claim, a Belgian Defense Ministry spokesperson wrote in an email to JTA that the soldiers posted in Brussels “are adequately armed and trained,” adding the ministry is nonetheless looking into the claims about the synagogue and Chabad House.

In Antwerp this week, hundreds of soldiers and police patrolled the Jewish quarter, where children wore costumes for Purim. One of a handful of European cities where the Jewish holiday is celebrated on the street, Antwerp’s Purim event this year paled in comparison to previous ones. Revelers were prohibited from playing music, wearing masks and using toy guns to avoid alarming soldiers and offending a grieving nation.

“We celebrate but we are broken,” said Mordechai Zev Schwamenfeld, 57, a member of Antwerp’s prominent Belz Hassidic community. Holding a basket of sweets he was delivering to friends – a Purim custom — he noted that two Belz yeshiva students were lightly wounded in the Brussels attacks. “It affects everyone, we’re not in a bubble,” he said.

Jewish children in Antwerp, Belgium, dressed as soldiers on Purim, March 24, 2016. Photo by Cnaan Liphshiz

Following the attacks, Belgium’s interior and justice ministers offered to resign over the alleged failure to track one of the attackers, an Islamic State militant, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, expelled by Turkey last year. He blew himself up at Brussels airport on Tuesday. An accomplice suicide bomber struck a subway station less than an hour later. Authorities are hunting for more accomplices, who they fear might strike again, possibly at Jewish targets.

Turkey said it warned Brussels specifically about El Bakraoui. According to Haaretz, Israel told Belgium just weeks ago that an attack was planned at the airport. European Union security agencies recommended airport security measures that were not implemented, according to reports.

The attackers also struck at obvious targets when officials should have been on high alert, said critics. Just four days before the attacks, authorities in Brussels arrested Salah Abdeslam, an Islamist alleged to have participated in a series of terrorist attacks in Paris in November.

The arrest, too, led to charges of incompetence. After four months on the run, Abdeslam was found on March 18, hiding a couple thousand feet from his parents’ home. He escaped police several times, including in November, thanks to regulations prohibiting home searches between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Having confirmed his whereabouts after midnight, police found an empty apartment in the morning.

Albert Guigui, the chief rabbi of Belgium, said that despite these apparent lapses, “Belgian authorities are now doing all they can following the trauma at the museum.” The attack on the unguarded building in 2014 prompted authorities to significantly beef up security “in an unprecedented way,” Guigui said. But asked whether Belgian authorities have the desire and the ability to stop attacks, he said: “I don’t know, I’m not a security expert. I’d like to believe so.”

Guigui’s hedged response differs markedly from that of French Jewish leaders. The heads of CRIF, France’s Jewish umbrella group, have often proclaimed their “utter confidence” in authorities’ ability to combat terrorism and protect the community against jihadism.

“I wouldn’t say I have full confidence,” said Joel Rubinfeld, founder of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism and a former president of the CCOJB umbrella of French-speaking Belgian Jewish communities. But after a long period of half-measures, he said, authorities took “robust steps to secure Jewish sites in 2014. It’s a positive step for which we are grateful.”

Amid increases in anti-Semitic incidents and a worsening sense of personal safety, immigration to Israel from Belgium has increased dramatically over the past five years.

People gather to show solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Nov. 14, 2015. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Last year, 287 Jews immigrated to Israel from Belgium, which has a Jewish population of about 40,000. It was the highest figure recorded in a decade. From 2010-2105, an average of 234 Belgian Jews made aliyah annually — a 56-percent increase over the annual average of 133 new arrivals from Belgium in 2005-2009, according to Israeli government data.

France too has a jihadist problem that is driving record numbers of Jewish immigrants to Israel, but “It is also a superpower with a strong army and a determined leadership, which Belgium seems not to have,” said Alexander Zanzer, an Antwerp Jew who runs Belgium’s Royal Society of Jewish Welfare. “I don’t have the same confidence that many French Jews have in their authorities following the attacks in their country.”

While in France, “there is leadership capable of making decisions, in Belgium the [bureaucracy] runs itself,” he said. And while this may be the sign of a functioning democracy in times of peace, he said, “in case of emergency, strong leadership is a necessity.”

Zanzer recalled how for 20 months in 2012-2013, a political standoff prevented the formation of a government in Belgium — a binational federal state of 11 million people divided between the richer Flemish, Dutch-speaking, population and the French-speaking south. Like Michaeli, Zanzer said that what most gives him a sense of security are Antwerp Jewry’s own volunteer neighborhood patrols — a service that is far more robust in Antwerp than in Brussels.

Michael Freilich, the editor in chief of the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel monthly, said the violence and the security presence in the Jewish quarter are taking a psychological toll, though he commended the work of special police patrols. After the Brussels attacks, one of Freilich’s three sons had a mild anxiety attack at his Jewish school, which is under constant military protection.

In their spacious home in the heart of the Jewish quarter, Freilich and his wife, Nechama Freilich, said they are unsure of what they should tell the 8-year-old.

“You want to reassure them that things will be alright and we tell them we’re safer here than in Brussels, but you can’t tell them it won’t happen here. It might,” Michael Freilich said.

Palestinian official on Brussels attacks: Europe ‘burning in their own fire’


A high-ranking Palestinian Authority official said on Facebook that the bombings in Belgium that left 32 dead and dozens injured, were a result of American and European policies and that Europe’s “airports and squares are burning in their own fire.”

According to the Times of Israel, Adnan Damiri, the spokesman of the PA security forces, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday: “Those who prepare the poison will taste it themselves, and now Europe is having a taste of what it prepared with its own hands.”

“While we condemn acts of terror acts everywhere in the world, we the Arabs are the ones who have been burned worst in the fire of terror that was made and exported by Europe and America,” he continued.

In his post, Damiri called for a global effort to fight terrorism, but “first and foremost in Palestine, since the [Israeli] occupation is the ugliest form of terror.”

Damiri’s statement contrasted with the official reaction to the Brussels attacks from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Tuesday, Abbas strongly condemned the Brussels bombing attacks, perpetrated by the Islamic State, and offered his sympathy to families of those killed and injured, the Wafa Palestinian news agency reported. Abbas also “affirmed that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people abhor terrorism and reject attacking civilians.”

How we must respond to Brussels


I was at European Union headquarters in Brussels last month, before moving on to Paris to discuss anti-Semitic hate crimes, terrorism and thwarting ISIS’ brilliant leveraging of social media.

At the end of our EU meetings, my Simon Wiesenthal Center colleague Dr. Shimon Samuels and I rushed to Brussels’ Central Train Station. “Better get there early,” Shimon advised, “after the Paris attacks and the Brussels connection to the terrorists, there are strict new security measures in place.” When we arrived I found no special security in place, just a few bored soldiers smoking cigarettes and one rail worker who asked for an ID to match up to my e-ticket.

The next day, a senior French Interior Ministry official responded with a diplomatic shrug when I asked “what good were the new strict security measures taken on all outbound rail traffic from Paris when there seemed to be nothing serious in place in Brussels, a mere hour away by train?”

Experts are investigating whether today’s highly sophisticated and coordinated attacks in Brussels are linked to the capture this week of Salah Abdeslam, sole survivor of the 10 men behind the French terror mass murders, or if they were set in motion long ago by another ISIS cell. There are now an estimated 5,000 European-born Islamist terrorists, trained in Syria or Iraq or Libya, who have melted back into cities across Europe.

The tactics displayed are deeply troubling to say the least. ISIS has apparently been able to use its control of the vast territories and vast sums of money it has amassed to upgrade the education of bombers and suicide vest makers and to deploy these weapons across Europe.

What must European leaders do?

First, get rid of the open-borders Shengen Agreement, which allows unencumbered travel between 26 European countries. It has been in place for 20 years, but it clearly allows terrorists to move around undetected. Second, all Western countries must vet all migrants from the Middle East. The decency of European countries has been abused by terrorists, some of whom have entered their nations comingled with legitimate refugees.

France, Germany, Belgium and other democracies also must take control of all urban neighborhoods. No-go zones in Arab and Muslim areas are incubators of Islamist extremism and, as in the case of Brussels, safe haven for terrorists.

Failure on the part of European democracies to fully implement these measures will not only ensure escalating terrorist outrages but will push even more European voters to join the ranks of xenophobic far-right parties.

It is clear that Europe is in for a long and, God forbid, bloody struggle.

The unending terrorist carnage should also force the hi-tech and social media giants, from Apple to Google and YouTube, to develop and deploy technological trip wires to thwart ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Al Shabab’s unfettered access to Internet technologies. If they don’t, many officials across Europe have told me they will use their legal and economic clout to force them to do so.

But even if Europeans undertake all of these steps, they cannot win the day without a global commitment to crush ISIS, kill their leaders, and take back all the territory they currently control.

That war can only be led by one country—the United States of America.

The easy thing to do is to focus our attention on the five remaining presidential candidates and to hear from them what steps they would take to eradicate the enemy, starting in January 2017.

But world events won’t wait for a new leader. Right now, the evildoers are winning.

Here is what President Barack Obama said today while in Havana:

“…and we stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people.

“This is yet another reminder that the world must unite,” Obama said. “We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”

Sorry President Obama, such words are meaningless unless we commit to stop “degrading” ISIS over time, and undertake to destroy them. There is a coalition of the willing waiting to be activated. It will mean putting American, European, Turkish and Arab boots on the ground. All that is needed is leadership from our president.

In sports, we are taught that the best defense is an offense. The same should apply to defeating terrorism.  So after watching the ballgame in Havana, I urge the president to travel to Brussels, lay a wreath in memory of the latest victims, then step up to the EU podium and declare war against ISIS incorporated.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

When Brussels meant freedom from fear for an Israeli


Growing up, trips to stay with my Jewish family in Brussels were a taste of freedom.

In my native Israel, waves of Palestinian terrorist attacks kept me under constant maternal surveillance. Fear of regular bus bombings limited my excursions to biking distance.

On the tranquil streets of the Belgian capital, by contrast, I could wander at will amid the mix of medieval architecture and glass-and-steel skyscrapers. Even riding the tram with my cousin Eli was exhilarating. The rails seemed to stretch out endlessly, and there was the added thrill of potentially getting caught without tickets, which we never bothered to buy.

On Tuesday, a series of explosions killed 34 people — 14 of them at Zaventem airport and another 20 at one of the metro stations that Eli and I used to exploit.

“The anxiety is terrible,” Eli’s father, my uncle, told me, quickly recalling doing a family headcount after learning of the attacks. “But equally horrible is that these attacks reduce you to feeling happy that strangers whom you’ve never met died in them, and not your own friends and family.”

On a visit to Brussels earlier this month, I had sensed a change. The city no longer felt so free.

At a book signing by a Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, I was shocked to see that he was accompanied by a bodyguard. Outside the building, a dozen police officers stood guard.

Wasn’t this an official overreaction to the May 2015 slaying of four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum? I asked Joel Rubinfeld, head of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.

 “We are all targets now — philosophers, anti-racism activists, journalists, police officers, the people in this restaurant,” Rubinfeld said.

In a southern district of Brussels the afternoon of the attacks, Rabbi Shalom Benizri was still waiting for word from his loved ones when I called his home. A communications overload had disabled cell service by several providers, leaving many thousands unable to make or receive those crucial calls.

Benizri, who used to head a large Sephardic community in downtown Brussels before its members moved because of the rampant criminality in the heavily Muslim area, recalled the museum shooting.

 “We were the targets then, but now everyone is a target,” Benizri said, echoing Rubinfeld.

During the attack, Benizri was at the airport about to board a flight to Israel, where several of his children live. As chaos broke out and hundreds fled the smoking building, he returned to his car and drove home.

In lockdown at home — a precaution that probably applies especially to Orthodox rabbis like himself — Benizri told me he is among the local Jews who see no future for their families in Belgium.

“There is enormous concern not only among people like me, but also non-observant Jews,” he said. “As for me, my suitcases are packed to go.”

Wishing him a happy Purim, I hung up with a sinking feeling about what was happening to the city I love — which is situated only 130 miles from Amsterdam, where I now live with my wife and 4-month-old son.

Trying to put my finger on when things got out of control in Belgium and Western Europe in general, I remembered a conversation that I had with Eli 20 years ago in a Brussels metro station.

Attuned to an inchoate rise in anti-Semitic violence to which I was oblivious as a foreigner, Eli had asked me to address him as “Ile,” an anagram of his name, when we were on the street. Maybe I should have known then.

Europe should hire Israel, not condemn it


Do you know what European honchos were doing in Geneva recently even as the Islamic State was planning another terror attack on their continent? They were preparing yet another condemnation of Israel, this time with an ironic twist.

They were targeting Israel for its actions in the Golan Heights, the same region where the Jewish state has set up field hospitals to care for Syrian rebels maimed by the venomous weapons of the Islamic State.

You read that right. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council circulated a draft resolution on Israel’s “systematic and continuous violation” of the rights of “Syrian citizens in the occupied Golan Heights,” in addition to four other draft resolutions censuring Israel.

Hypocrisy on steroids.

When we talk about the proper response to terror attacks like the one we just witnessed in Brussels, we have to start with eradicating the malignant European hypocrisy towards the Jewish state. 

How many thousands of hours have been squandered at the European Union in Brussels discussing the labelling of Israeli products made in Judea and Samaria instead of developing an anti-terror strategy?

How much time has been spent at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands discussing the prosecution of Israeli leaders while ignoring murderous dictators and genocidal war criminals?

How many visits to the Middle East have been initiated by European diplomats to pressure Israel to make peace with terrorists rather than confront a region in violent meltdown?

In other words, when will the powers that be in Europe realize that the Islamic terrorism threatening their continent has nothing to do with Israeli tomatoes being grown in Judea and Samaria or Jewish apartments being built in Jerusalem?

In the wake of the latest atrocity in Brussels that killed 34 people and wounded more than 200, it looks like the reality of evil may have interrupted, at least for now, Europe’s obsession with Israel.  

“We are at war,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. 

“These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence,” said European Union Council President Donald Tusk.

“We realize we face a tragic moment. We have to be calm and show solidarity,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. 

Cutting to the chase, HBO’s “Real Time” host Bill Maher wondered if “Europe will have a little more sympathy for what Israel goes through” instead of being “real a**holes” to them.

Well, that would be nice– I’m also hoping Europe will have more sympathy for Israel, a country that has endured the scourge of terrorism since its very inception.

But what I’m really hoping for is that Europe will come to its senses and realize that the Jewish state is its #1 ally against the Islamic State. I’m hoping Europe will not only stop condemning Israel but will actually hire Israel to help protect and defend the continent against Islamic terrorism.

It’s not just because of the obvious—that no country has more experience fighting this kind of war, and that Israel has developed the most advanced techniques to fight terror at all levels and prevent attacks. 

No, the real reason Europe should hire Israel is because Israel has been winning its long war against terror while maintaining a civil society that protects human rights and the pursuit of happiness.

Faced with a primitive and medieval violence that respects no boundaries, Israel has managed to fight back while maintaining boundaries of law and decency and nurturing a vibrant and creative culture that is the envy of the world. Most countries would have turned into an emergency police state as a mere matter of survival.

In fact, as Eli Lake reports on Bloomberg.com, this is already happening in France: “Since the attacks in Paris last November, the socialist government of President Francois Hollande has placed his country under a state of emergency. France's national guard has been deployed to protect sensitive religious sites and other ‘soft targets.’ The country of Voltaire, Diderot and Camus is in 2016 the police state that critics warn Cruz or Trump would bring about if given the chance.”

Of course, there’s one major caveat to Europe hiring Israel. The continent’s obsession with condemning Israel has resulted in a culture of hatred towards the Jewish state. This means that European leaders would have to be very discreet about any partnership with Israel.

We can only hope that, with time, Europeans everywhere will realize that a good relationship with Israel is in their best interest and they'll be open about an anti-terror alliance with the Jewish state.

After all, if there’s one thing we know civilized Europeans care about, it’s the pursuit of happiness.

In Europe, a summer camp creates the next generation of Jewish leaders — and babies


Escaping a sudden downpour in the summer of 2012, Andras Paszternak and Barbi Szendy ran to find cover inside an empty cabin at their Jewish summer camp, Szarvas, 100 miles east of Budapest.

The two senior counselors, then 31 and 36, respectively, chatted as rain drenched the sprawling compound, where they had passed every summer since their early teens.

“I suddenly noticed I was holding Barbi’s hand,” Paszternak, an ethnically Hungarian Jew from Slovakia, said in recalling the day when he began his romantic relationship with his Hungarian Jewish wife.

The couple married in 2013 at Szarvas — the oldest and largest institution of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe — as a tribute to the camp’s centrality to their lives.

Since its establishment in 1990 by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, dozens — if not hundreds — of Jewish couples have met at Szarvas, according to participants. In addition to its matchmaking capacity, the camp is also a major regional hatchery for Jewish leadership, awareness and global interaction for communities small and large.“We generally stay out of the boy-meets-girl part of things because our help is not required in this department,” said Sasha Friedman, the camp’s director. “It happens on its own, on the margins of our core activities — which is to offer Jewish culture to these children, often for the first time in their lives.”

JDC opened Szarvas in 1990 on a 17-acre plot in Bekes County, a rural area in southeastern Hungary known for its springs and sunflower fields. The camp began by serving groups of 200 children and has grown to its current capacity of 1,700 Jewish campers aged 8-18. Szarvas has over 20,000 alumni from more than 30 countries.

Some of the couples who met at Szarvas immigrated to Israel. They include Anna and Naftali (Grego) Deutsch from Hungary, who got together as counselors and are now raising seven children in the West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Yericho, where they moved in 2005. Others, like Gabor and Tunde Gordon, who met as campers and married in 1996, stayed in Hungary. Four of their five children are attending the camp.

Szarvas now has four annual sessions, each 12 days long. Every Szarvas summer has a different theme — last year’s was “relationships in Judaism,” this year’s is “the Jewish home” – with its own unique activities, including the production of plays and song contests. That’s in addition to the regular repertoire of sports, costume parties, Hebrew-language games and Bible-themed treasure hunts.

Spiritual life at the camp, which has a kosher kitchen and dozens of non-Jewish employees, revolves around Beit David — a synagogue that since its construction in 1998 is Hungary’s newest functioning shul. On Friday nights it is packed with children and teenagers, some visiting a synagogue for the first time. Many are amazed to see resident rabbi Szolt Balla — himself a Szarvas graduate — play guitar during singalongs, an uncommon sight in Europe, where Orthodox synagogues dominate religious life.

Most campers, who are usually at least one-quarter Jewish, pay $250 or less for their attendance at Szarvas — 25 percent of the true cost — with JDC subsidizing the rest.

But for Szarvas teenagers, the official program is only part of the allure.

Summer romance at Szarvas occurs in the camp’s orchards, where the silhouettes of young couples can be seen until late in the evening, or on the edges of the camp’s large swimming pool — a luxury built by an Israeli firm back when such amenities were rare in post-communist Hungary.

“Yeah, it’s part of life here,” Friedman said. While boys and girls sleep separately at Szarvas, counselors have a live-and-let-live policy when it comes to summer romance, he said.

“Counselors keep an eye out for potential complications, sometimes reminding couples to act responsibly and not spin out of control or anything, but that’s pretty much it,” the camp director added.

In addition to couples, Szarvas specializes in producing Jewish community leaders. Among its graduates are a former vice president of the Jewish Community of Sofia in Bulgaria, the director of Warsaw’s main Jewish community center and a founder of one of Romania’s few Jewish kindergartens.

“You take the knowledge, the contacts, the toolbox that you get at Szarvas and you apply them later inside the community,” said Szendy, who works at Budapest’s Balint Jewish Community Center.

Friedman, 33, is himself a Szarvas graduate who rose through the ranks to become director in 2007. He calls Szarvas a “greenhouse for Jewish leadership.” But before he has a chance to explain, he is interrupted by a gaggle of Hungarian 8-year-olds who surround him, chirping “Shushi” — their nickname for him – so they can tell him about their daily adventures.

Last year, JDC incorporated Szarvas into its array of solutions for handling the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands of people, including thousands of Jews, fled their homes because of fighting that erupted in 2014 between government troops and Eastern separatists backed by Russia.

Additionally, of the approximately 120 Ukrainian campers in attendance last summer, 26 were from internally displaced families living with relatives or in facilities provided by Jewish institutions.

“In these harsh times, we prioritized these children because they need a sense of belonging and warmth now more than ever,” said Michal Frank, JDC’s director for former Soviet countries.

At Szarvas, participants largely remain with members of their own country delegation, with whom they sleep, dine and undergo activities. But each nation group is paired with another group during daily “mifgashim” (Hebrew for “encounters”) sessions, when they get a taste of what Judaism means in the other country.

On a continent with many small, isolated Jewish communities with high intermarriage rates, the international dimension at Szarvas means that for some campers, Szarvas is their best bet for finding a Jewish partner, according to Paszternak, who grew up in a town with 30,000 residents and a Jewish community of just a few dozen people.

“No one enrolled me into Szarvas as a boy of 10 thinking I’d find a Jewish wife there,” he said. But, in retrospect, “for Jews from small communities especially, it’s often the only game in town where this sort of thing happens.”

The Middle East washes over Berlin


It is said that art reflects life.  If so, the Middle East seems to be taking over Europe.

The prestigious Berlinale, the annual Berlin International Film Festival that concluded its 11-superstar-packed days this weekend, made a sharp and strife-filled turn towards the Mediterranean.

The urgency of matters may also have been reflected in an historic move: for the first time, the festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear, was awarded to a documentary film.

“Fire at Sea,” a shattering documentary about the Syrian refugee crisis, took home the Golden Bear, granted by a seven-person jury headed this year by the American actress Meryl Streep.

Directed by the Italian Gianfranco Rosi, the film takes an unflinching look at the lives of refugees stranded on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, where tens of thousands of refugees have arrived in an attempt to reach the European Union over the last two decades. Thousands more have died trying.

From the podium, Rosi dedicated his prize to the people of Lampedusa “who open their hearts to other peoples.”

The Berlinale, an extravaganza that claims to be the world’s largest film festival (434 movies were screened this year), is a key event in the run-up to the Oscars.

Rosi was born in Asmara, Eritrea. In 1977, at the age of 13, he was swept away to safety in Italy on a military plane, leaving his parents behind.

“I hope to bring awareness,” he said as he accepted the golden trophy from Streep. “It is not acceptable that people die crossing the sea trying to escape from tragedies.”

A Tunisian movie and two Israeli films also were also recognized with major prizes.

The Tunisian actor Majd Mastoura won the Silver Bear for best actor for his role in “Inhebbek Hedi,” a love story directed by Mohamed Ben Attia about a young man torn between a traditional and a modern way of life in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

The movie, Ben Attia’s first feature film, also walked off with the prize for best debut feature. Variety calls it “an  adept and absorbing drama”in which a love trangle and-gasp!- some very tame sex scenes appear.

“I give this gift to the Tunisian people, all the martyrs of the revolution, all of those who contributed to the revolution,” he said, “I hope we will continue being free, being happy, producing good art.”

Nina Menkes, a prizewinning filmmaker whose own first feature documentary premiered at the 2005 Berlinale, winning the FIPRESCI Award (International Federation of Film Critics Award) was nonplussed by the Mideast takeover of Berlin’s film summit. “I think the crisis in the Middle East cannot really be exaggerated in terms of its impact on the global community,” she said, speaking with The Media Line.  “It’s like it was with the cold war— that old story! Russia and the West!—but now it’s really the whole Arab world quote-unquote versus the West— that’s the construction, that is not necessarily the reality, but that is the mainstream perception everybody has at the moment.”

She is joining the stream. Her next project, a feature film called Minotaur, “a radical new way to approach this whole issue,” is contemporary retelling of Greek myth within Old City of Jerusalem, in which Theseus is a Palestinian. “It’s a very topical subject,” she says. “The entire Western world feels deeply affected by events in the Middle East and the Arab world.”

The Panorama Audience award went to Israeli director Udi Aloni for his sixth movie, a feature film called “Junction 48” that tells the story of two Palestinian hip-hop rappers living in the dusty, decidedly unprosperous, mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, dually battling Israeli oppression and their own conservative society.

Samar Qupty, an actress in “Junction 48”, told Reuters she saw the hip-hop film as revolutionary.

“We are representing ourselves by the new generation without trying to prove anything to anyone, with our ‘goods’ and ‘bads’,” she said. “We are trying to present what the real new generation is trying to do without making the reality look any better or any worse.” 

Before knowing he’d won the coveted prize, Aloni was fleetingly caught on camera criticizing the current Israeli government, which he called “fascist.” He urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop supplying Israel with submarines. He later told Israeli Channel 10 television that his comments “were directed against the Israeli government and not against the country, which I love. In contrast to the prime minister who spreads hatred, my movie spreads love and co-existence.”

Aloni’s film, almost entirely in Arabic, benefited from the support of Israel’s Culture Ministry.

Culture Minister Miri Regev responded that Aloni’s statements constituted “clear proof that artists who subvert the state, defame it and hurt its legitimacy should not be funded by the tax payer. A sane country should not assist slanderers and denouncers who malign it, immediately after drinking from its coffers.”

Tomer and Barak Heymann, also Israelis, received the Panorama Documentary prize for their film “Who's Gonna Love Me Now?”

The Heymann brothers' documentary tells the tale of a gay, HIV-positive Israeli man living in London, who was kicked out of the kibbutz he grew up on and whose life feels pointless until he becomes a member of the London Gay Men's Chorus.

There are good reasons why Europe’s Jews are so worried


The Weimar Republic, Germany's flawed experiment in democracy in the 1920s, has become today's paradigm for the failure of state and society. By the end of Weimar, the government seemed to have lost control – vigilantes from the political extremes claimed they were keeping the streets safe while beating up vulnerable minorities, above all Jews. So it is shocking when citizens in Germany and France – and elsewhere in Europe – increasingly cite Weimar when discussing their society today.

The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar's combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the “system.” Though Germany's 1919 constitution, written in the city of Weimar, was widely viewed as a model document, throughout the 1920s the constitutional dream seemed ever more disconnected from public life.

The political leaders of France and Germany today deplore anti-Semitism and make striking gestures of solidarity with their country's Jewish population, but the gestures seem helpless. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by such bodies as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is on the rise. Many Jews in many European countries, but above all in France, are contemplating leaving because they believe their homelands have become so unsafe. The political establishment tries to reassure them with the argument that the parallels with 1933 are really too much of a stretch.

To a degree, the reassuring voices are correct. Many of the most prominent recent European incidents are not the outcome of an old-style anti-Semitism in France or Germany. Indeed, the right-wing French National Front under Marine Le Pen has distanced itself from its older positions – as articulated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial after calling the wartime Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman.” In fact, today's National Front sometimes refers to Israel as an ally against Islamism. In the new grass-roots anti-immigration movement in eastern Germany, PEGIDA, the explicit target is “Islamicization,” and Israeli as well as Russian flags were prominently displayed in some of its early rallies.

At the beginning, Weimar's political institutions were skillfully designed to be as representative as possible. Most Germans viewed their society as remarkably tolerant. German Jews in the 1920s often emphasized that they lived in a more inclusive society than France's, which was still riven by the legacy of the Dreyfus case, when the army and the church prosecuted an innocent Jewish officer for espionage, or than the United States', where prime real estate and universities were often not open to Jews.

This misconception about German stability lasted a long time, indeed extending for a time after Adolf Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Right up until April 1933, when the regime launched a “boycott” of Jews, many German Jews refused to accept that anti-Semitism could be politically serious.

Today, the most obviously violent threats clearly come from Islamic terrorism, from groups affiliated to or imitating Islamic State. That is the story of the attack on the Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four were killed last January, which came in the wake of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is also cited to explain the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or of some of the many synagogue attacks. The Agency for Fundamental Rights even tries to register incidents separately and attributes some of them to “foreign ideology,” meaning radical or jihadist Islamism.

Yet the jihadist incidents are – in numerical terms – a minority. There is, however, an intellectual contagion, in which native far-right radicals often use anti-Israel and anti-American slogans that proliferate in the Middle East as part of their anti-Semitic arsenal. In France and Britain the “quenelle,” a version of the Hitler salute, popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala has become popular with the racist right.

In addition, arguments about anti-Semitism have spilled over into the discussion of the refugee crisis confronting Europe. For some, the large-scale inflow of more than a million refugees in one year, from the Middle East and North Africa, is bound to lead to an inflow of actual terrorists, who can easily conceal themselves in the crowds of migrants. But it is also being blamed for a possible influx of terrorist ideas. Anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available in the countries from which migrants are moving; and anti-Semitism, usually linked to anti-Israelism, is a natural ingredient of the social and cultural milieu that is moving into Europe.

Critics of large-scale immigration use the supposed anti-Semitic culture of many migrants as an argument against migration. They then make a case about the superiority of their native or indigenous culture – which can also, paradoxically, include hostility to aliens. So Jews feel vulnerable on two fronts: vulnerable because of who is attacking them, and vulnerable because of who is defending them.

The classic liberal answer to the new threat is that the state has an absolute and unconditional duty to protect all its citizens. That is the position that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insistently, and rightly, defend.

But many people will also ask whether the state can really offer so much security. It is increasingly obvious that the police are overstretched. That was true even before the flood of refugees. A long trial currently under way in Munich, Germany, has highlighted the way in which the intelligence service that was dedicated to “protection of the constitution” Verfassungsschutz) against right-wing terrorists was for a long time blind to the threat. Instead, it had undermined its efforts by engaging members of far-right-wing groups as informers. Dealing with the new kinds of threat demands a far greater security presence, as well as new methods of surveillance.

As more and more incidents demonstrate police ineffectiveness, new groups will mobilize for self-protection. The incidents on New Year's Eve in Cologne and in other German cities, in which criminal groups, composed largely of migrants from North Africa, stole from and sexually harassed women, have led to the formation of citizens' patrols. In many cases, the personnel of these patrols come from the far right and its sympathizers.

That brings the story back to Weimar. In the last years of the republic, German streets were controlled not by the police but by paramilitary groups, of the left (the communist Red Front Fighters' League) as well as the right (the Nazi Stormtroopers). Then, even the parties of the center believed that they, too, needed their own defense organizations, and built up their own leagues. When the government tried to ban the Nazi Stormtroopers, the army objected on the grounds that it believed it could not effectively fight all the different leagues simultaneously.

One lesson of Weimar is that it is very dangerous for the state to give up its legal monopoly of violence. One key feature that makes modern life civilized is precisely that we don't take the law into our own hands. But the existence of threats, real or imagined, creates a great deal of pressure for “self-defense.”

There is a second, related lesson. Violent and ostensibly antagonistic ideologies may be quite capable of fusing. Sometimes in Weimar, the far right and far left just fought each other; on other occasions, they joined together in attacking the “system.” Today in Europe, there are the same curious blends, sometimes of jihadism with traditional anti-Semitism, or anti-jihadism and anti-immigrant populism with traditional anti-Semitism.

The fusing of dangerous ideologies makes members of small groups vulnerable. They are additionally vulnerable when the state promises protection that it cannot actually deliver. That is why Europe's Jews are so worried.


Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and professor of history and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “A German Identity,” “Making the European Monetary Union” and “The Deutsche Bank and the Nazi Economic War Against the Jews,” among other books. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Islamic State threatens attack on Washington, other countries


Islamic State warned in a new video on Monday that countries taking part in air strikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France, and threatened to attack in Washington.

The video, which appeared on a website used by Islamic State to post its messages, begins with news footage of the aftermath of Friday's Paris shootings in which at least 129 people were killed.

The message to countries involved in what it called the “crusader campaign” was delivered by a man dressed in fatigues and a turban, and identified in subtitles as Al Ghareeb the Algerian.

“We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day, God willing, like France's and by God, as we struck France in the center of its abode in Paris, then we swear that we will strike America at its center in Washington,” the man said.

It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the video, which purports to be the work of Islamic State fighters in the Iraqi province of Salahuddine, north of Baghdad. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not comment on the video but said it has not received information indicating a potential attack.

“While we take all threats seriously, we do not have specific credible information of an attack on the U.S. homeland,” a DHS official said on condition of anonymity. 

The French government has called the Paris attacks an act of war and said it would not end its air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. 

French fighter jets launched their biggest raids in Syria to date on Sunday, targeting the Islamic State's stronghold in the city of Raqqa, in coordination with U.S. forces.

Police raided homes of suspected Islamist militants across France overnight following the Paris attacks.

“Al Ghareeb the Algerian” also warned Europe in the video that more attacks were coming.

“I say to the European countries that we are coming, coming with booby traps and explosives, coming with explosive belts and (gun) silencers and you will be unable to stop us because today we are much stronger than before,” he said. 

Apparently referring to international talks to end the Syrian war, another man identified in the video as Al Karrar the Iraqi tells French President Francois Hollande “we have decided to negotiate with you in the trenches and not in the hotels.”

CIA chief warns Islamic State may have other attacks ready


CIA Director John Brennan warned on Monday that the attacks in Paris claimed by the extremist Islamic State movement were not a “one-off event” and that the militants may have similar operations ready to launch.

Foiling those plots, however, could prove difficult because Europe's intelligence and security resources are severely stretched trying to keep track of the hundreds of European extremists who have returned home from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

“A lot of our partners right now in Europe are facing a lot of challenges in terms of the numbers of individuals who have traveled to Syria and Iraq and back again, and so their ability to monitor and survey these individuals is under strain,” Brennan said.

Brennan’s comment at a Washington policy institute came as France, Belgium and other countries intensified a manhunt for suspects in Friday’s attacks on a concert hall, sports stadium, restaurants and bars in Paris that killed 129 people.

U.S. intelligence still hasn’t confirmed that the Islamic State was responsible, said Brennan. But, he added, the Paris attacks and the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt on Oct. 31 that killed all 224 passengers and crew aboard “bear the hallmarks” of the Islamist group.

The Islamic State, which threatened in a new video on Monday to attack in Washington, appears to have formed an external operations branch that may have readied follow-up strikes to the Paris attacks, he said. 

“I would anticipate that this is not the only operation that ISIL has in the pipeline,” Brennan said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “And security intelligence services right now in Europe and other places are working feverishly to see what else they can do in terms of uncovering it.”

Careful planning for the Paris strikes is believed to have taken place over several months “in terms of making sure they had the operatives, the weapons, the explosives, the suicide belts,” Brennan said. 

The attacks did not surprise the U.S. intelligence community, which had “strategic warning” that ISIL was planning to strike somewhere outside of the Middle East and was “looking at Europe in particular,” Brennan said.

“I certainly wouldn’t consider it (the Paris attacks) a one-off event,” he said.

One major problem is the huge burden that tracking extremists who’ve returned from Syria has imposed on resource-short European intelligence agencies, he said. 

European officials estimate that as many as 5,000 Europeans have gone to fight in Syria since 2011. That number includes an estimated 1,400 French nationals, of whom some 900 have returned to France. 

Moreover, between 10,000 and 20,000 individuals have been flagged by French authorities as potential security threats under a procedure known as an “S Notice,” said Roland Jacquard, a French counter-terrorism expert.

“We're in a situation where the services are overrun. They expect something to happen, but don't know where and you have to see how much stress they are under,” said Nathalie Goulet, the head of a French Senate investigation into jihadi networks.

Belgium, where investigators believe the Paris attacks were plotted, has been striving to keep track of more than 70 returnees from Syria. Officials estimate that 350 Belgium nationals have gone there to fight.

U.S. and European officials say that as many as two dozen to three dozen officers must work around the clock to keep a single suspect under full-time surveillance.

At least two men identified by French investigators as having carried out the Paris attacks were known to European and U.S. intelligence agencies before the carnage. 

A Belgian man suspected of masterminding the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was identified in the New York Times in January as a prime suspect in a foiled plot to strike targets in Brussels. He also was known to U.S. spy agencies, said a U.S. government source.

Another problem confronting intelligence services is that militant groups have intensified their security measures as a result of “unauthorized disclosures,” said Brennan. 

While he did not elaborate, Brennan may have been referring to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of the agency’s massive communications monitoring operations and leaks of classified documents by Wikileaks.

World shows solidarity, tightens security after Paris attacks


World leaders responded to deadly attacks in Paris with defiant pledges of solidarity and Europe tightened security after Islamic State said it was behind an assault by gunmen and bombers that left 127 dead in the French capital.

From Barack Obama to Vladimir Putin and across Europe and the Middle East, leaders expressed their condolences to French President Francois Hollande who said the attacks amounted to an act of war against France.

After the worst bloodshed in France since the end of World War Two, European neighbours including Britain, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Italy increased security. France temporarily imposed border controls.

British Prime Minister David Cameron used French to express his solidarity after calling Hollande. London monuments including the London Eye and Tower Bridge were lit up in the red, white and blue of the French tricolour.

“Shocked, but resolute. In sorrow, but unbowed. My message to the French people is simple: Nous sommes solidaires avec vous. Nous sommes tous ensemble. We stand with you. United,” Cameron said.

The deadliest attack on Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings laid bare Islamic State's capability to strike at the heart of Europe and the difficulty of monitoring the movements of militants intent on killing.

It also triggered a debate on Europe's refugee policies and the failures of Western policy in Syria. 

DEATH IN PARIS

“This is an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share,” Obama said.

New York, Boston and other cities in the United States bolstered security, but law enforcement officials said the beefed-up police presence was precautionary rather than a response to any specific threats. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed Obama, saying “our free life is stronger than terror.”

Western security sources said the attack on Paris was one of the “nightmare” scenarios for police forces: several well planned attacks with advanced weaponry on unarmed civilian revellers across a densely populated capital.

Islamic State militants said the attack was designed “to teach France, and all nations following its path, that they will remain at the top of Islamic State's list of targets”.

Hollande said the attack was planned outside France but carried out with internal help. 

Western security sources said the porous nature of Europe's internal borders – hailed as one of the major achievements of European integration – also allowed freer movement of advanced weaponry and potential attackers, including those who have travelled to Syria, across Europe.

EUROPE'S BORDERS

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands would tighten security at its borders and airports, and said the Dutch were “at war” with Islamic State.

Belgium imposed additional frontier controls on road, rail and air arrivals from France and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel asked Belgians on Saturday not to travel to Paris unless necessary. 

“Border control is absolutely critical,” said Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham.

“They can reinstate border controls so they know who is in their country, they know who leaves their country and they know where they've been if they leave their country.”

European Union leaders said that such attacks could not divide Europe.

But in a sign of potential divisions ahead, Poland's European affairs minister designate said after the attacks in Paris, Warsaw would not be able to accept migrants under European Union quotas.

In September, Poland backed a European Union plan to share out 120,000 refugees, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, across the 28-nation bloc. 

The attacks have also sparked a debate in Germany on Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy and how to get a better overview of the people entering the country.

Europe should label terrorists, not tomatoes


On Nov. 11, while Islamic terrorists were preparing for their Friday night massacre in Paris, which would leave 132 people dead and 352 injured, one of the big news items was the European initiative to put special labels on Israeli goods made in disputed territory.

As the European Commission explained, this was not new legislation, but a clarification of existing legislation dating back to 2012. In other words, the European obsession with singling out Israel for special punishment didn’t just start last week. It’s been an ongoing affair.

So, while Islamic terrorists have been scheming to terrorize the European continent, bigwigs in Europe have been laboring over how to “protect” European consumers from Israeli olive oil, vegetables, honey, eggs, wine and other goods produced in the West Bank.

Well, that ought to keep Europeans safe!

As much as I’m disgusted by the sight of religious fanatics rampaging through Paris murdering people who just want to enjoy life, these murderers are simply doing what they believe their prophet or God wants them to do. It may violate every standard of decency, but that’s what fanatics do.

Author and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls this group of Muslim fundamentalists “Medina Muslims,” in that they see the forcible imposition of sharia as their religious duty, following the example of the Prophet Mohammed when he was based in Medina. As she wrote recently in Foreign Policy, this group argues for “an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version and take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.”

Now, you can be repulsed by this religious ideology, but you can’t tell me it’s not a religious ideology. You can’t tell me that the fanatics of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups are fighting for jobs or better immigration laws.

The one European leader who seems to get this is British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said in an address last July: “What we are fighting, in Islamic extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine. And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm.”

While religious fanatics may have an ideological explanation for their barbaric acts, what’s the explanation for those self-righteous European bureaucrats who spend so much of their time singling out and maligning Israel?

Now that they’ve witnessed the barbarians crashing the gates of the City of Lights, will their priorities finally return to sanity? Or will they continue to obsess over Israel and treat the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the mother of all global conflicts — as if its resolution could somehow stop the rampant Islamic violence now threatening Europe and other parts of the world?

I wonder if those European honchos ever ask themselves what kind of message they’re sending to terrorists when they labor so publicly over the labeling of Israeli vegetables. That they mean business in their fight against terror?

Here’s my suggestion for all European leaders who really do mean business in this new war: Stop your obsession with Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And stop thinking that beating up Israel will somehow gain you sympathy with Islamic terrorists. It won’t.

Yes, Israel needs to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians – for its own sake. The majority of Israelis would love nothing better than to get a divorce from the Palestinians. They’ve seen how the word “occupation” has become a big, sharp blade that enemies conveniently use to bludgeon the Jewish state. At the same time, they worry that if Israel leaves the West Bank, that blade would only get bigger and sharper as groups like ISIS and Hamas take over. For now, Israel is stuck, and its enemies know it.

In any event, regardless of the stalemate with the Palestinians, Israel should be the least of Europe’s concerns. For one thing, you don’t hear reports of Israeli terrorists trying to enter Europe to wreak havoc on European cities. Israeli tourists flocking in? Definitely.

If anything, European leaders should be actively enlisting Israel’s help to fight this rising scourge of terror that now threatens their populations. God knows the Jewish state has enough expertise in this area.

But first, Europe will need a lesson in the priorities of labeling. Label the terrorists, yes. Label their ideology, yes. Label the allies who can help you fight them, yes.

Just stop labeling Israeli tomatoes.


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

Protesters in Sweden chant ‘slaughter the Jews’


Hundreds of protesters in the Swedish city of Malmo were filmed chanting in Arabic about slaughtering Jews and stabbing soldiers.

Pro-Palestinian groups organized a rally Monday in the city center against what they consider Israeli violence and to show solidarity with Palestinians amid deadly measures taken by Israeli authorities to stop the recent spate of attacks on Jews in Israel and the West Bank.

Isaac Bachman, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, posted on his Facebook account a video taken at the rally showing hundreds chanting “’slaughter the Jews, stab soldiers.” In other slogans, the chanters encouraged “heroes to carry out attack after attack” and to “start a third intifada.”

“These are extremely troubling instances of a grotesque but nevertheless very real – and murderous – incitement which must be dealt with by the full force of the law,” Bachman wrote.

His wife, Osnat, wrote about the video: “Swedish people: Is this what you believe in? Is this what you bargained for? Are these your morals? Since I know the answers I feel ashamed in your name.”

Separately, the Scandinavian airline SAS announced on Wednesday that it would stop flights from Copenhagen to Tel Aviv at the end of March, along with Ankara and Russia, citing profitability issues.

SAS spokeswoman Trine Kromann denied claims made in the Israeli media that the line was profitable — the Israel Hayom daily reported Tuesday that the line had seen a 41 percent increase in traffic in 2014 over 2013 — and denied that the decision to stop the flights to Israel was in fact politically motivated.

Kromann said SAS did not share or discuss traffic statistics, “which in any case are only a part of the commercial calculation for determining profitability.”She added: “We also look at, for example, the price we can get per ticket and operating costs.”

The line to Tel Aviv is a particularly costly one for SAS, Kromann also said.