London terror: No. 30,499 in a series


Commenting on the recent London attack that killed four and injured at least 50, the acting Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mark Rowley, told the BBC that it was “Islamist-related terrorism.”

A day earlier, on March 21, an Islamist suicide car bomber killed 10 people in Mogadishu, Somalia.

A day before that, two dozen people were blown up by an Islamist car bomber in a Baghdad neighborhood. 

Two days before that, a mother and her two children were among four people wiped out by three Islamist suicide bombers in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

A day before that, Islamist Shiite rebels fired two rockets into a Sunni mosque in Yemen, killing 34 people during Friday prayers.

On the same day in Paris, the throats of a father and son were slit by a family member yelling “Allah Akbar (God is great).”

A day earlier, a young child was blown to bits by an Islamist suicide bomber in Bangladesh.

On that same day, March 16, in South Ukkadam, India, an atheist was hacked to death by an angry Muslim over Facebook posts attacking his religion.

I know it’s painful to consider that 30,499 deadly attacks could be committed in the name of one religion.

That is just a little glimpse of weekly terror from the Third World and elsewhere. Worldwide, since 9/11, Islamist terrorists have carried out 30,499 deadly terror attacks, according to the independent watchdog site TheReligionOfPeace.com.

Most of these attacks never make it to CNN or The New York Times, because the victims don’t live in places like London, Brussels or San Bernardino. In the West, we see a fraction of the carnage done in the name of Islam. No matter how much media attention we give to the attacks on our soil, it doesn’t come close to capturing the scope of the global problem.

I know it’s painful to consider that 30,499 deadly attacks could be committed in the name of one religion. It challenges our narrative that all religions are pretty much the same, that there’s good and bad in all religions, and there’s no special reason to focus on one in particular. This is a comforting narrative that can lull us into complacency.

Still, there is an aspirational value to that narrative. It gives us something to look forward to. For humanity to succeed, we need it to become true. We need a reformation of Islam so that, one day, the number 30,499 will be reduced to a very low number and we can truly say that the religion is just like any other.

Because right now, it’s not. Too much killing, too much horror is done in its name.

It’s no longer enough to say, “This is not Islam.” For the killers doing the killing, it is Islam. It may be a radicalized, supremacist version of Islam, but there’s enough supporting text in the Quran to make the killers believe they’re doing God’s work.

Despite our efforts to counter this radical Islam, reform only gets more distant and the violence only gets worse. Defending the faith, accusing extremists of perverting it and engaging in interfaith projects is fine, but it’s not enough. True reform must come from the inside, not from interfaith but from innerfaith, from Muslims taking responsibility for the violence done in their name. 

It will come from Muslims who have the courage to acknowledge and confront the extremist parts of their texts and reinterpret them in a holy way that will honor their faith.

One such group is the little-known Muslim Reform Movement, a group of Muslim scholars and spiritual activists whose leaders call for “a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam” and reject interpretations that call for “any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam.”

For some reason, this movement has gained little traction among progressive circles, even though its founding declaration sounds like a love letter to progressive values. Going forward, we must ensure that such moderate groups are no longer marginalized by the mainstream, and are empowered to make progress in their supremely difficult mission.

We must pray that their nonviolent and tolerant interpretation of Islam will one day take hold throughout the jihadist world and win over the hearts of the killers, even if it takes a century. We must pray that the number 30,499 will eventually be reduced to zero.

Yes, that would be a miracle for humanity and for Islam, but God is great.


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

Family of slain Palestinian teen asks Israel’s Supreme Court to raze Jewish killers’ homes


The family of a Palestinian teen killed in a revenge attack by three Jewish extremists has asked Israel’s Supreme Court to order the demolition of the murderers’ homes.

“The state needs to operate in the same way against Jewish terrorists as it does against Palestinians,” the family of Muhammad Abu Khdeir said Wednesday in its request, according to The Times of Israel. “Just like the homes of Palestinian terrorists are sealed, the same should be done to Jews.”

The family turned to the Supreme Court after the Defense Ministry determined last month that there was no need to demolish the Jewish killers’ homes, since Jewish terrorism is not as widespread as Palestinian terror, according to The Times of Israel, which saw the official letter sent to the family.

Abu Khdeir, of eastern Jerusalem, was kidnapped and killed on July 1, hours after the bodies of three kidnapped Jewish teens were discovered near Hebron. Abu Khdeir’s charred body was discovered in the Jerusalem Forest, where he was burned alive by the killers.

In May, Yosef Ben-David, 31, of Jerusalem, was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.

The names of Ben-David’s accomplices, who were both 16 at the time of the killing, have not been released publicly. The accomplices were sentenced last April: one to life in prison, the other to 21 years.

Never Trump — not for any of us


In 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen— then the head of the extremist French Front National— shockingly made it to the runoff for the French Presidential election, French voters knew what to do: Repudiate him, and everything he stood for.

Le Pen is, not to mince words, a racist, a bigot, a bully, and a misogynist. In other words, he is a man exactly like Donald Trump. In fact, Le Pen endorsed Trump during this year’s Republican primaries— an endorsement that Trump never repudiated, not even in the half-hearted way he eventually did with that of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.

Prior to being trounced in the runoff, Le Pen, like Trump, was something of a “miraculous” candidate. Among 16 candidates (just one short of the 17-person Republican scrum from which Trump has emerged), Le Pen was able to secure 16.86% of votes in the first round of voting on April 21, 2002, placing him ahead of then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (16.18%), and second only to then-President Jacques Chirac (19.88%). The top two candidates went on to compete in a runoff election two weeks later. After major demonstrations against Le Pen, Chirac received 82% of the vote.

This November, Trump must not only lose. Like Le Pen, he must be shamed. American voters must send a message to him— and everyone who would be like him, here and around the world— that whatever shortcomings we may have as a country, Trump will not and cannot be our leader.

Elections, above all else, are moral choices. And we must be clear about what Trump represents: the abyss. As David Brooks described in his article “No, Not Trump, Not Ever”, men like Trump have cravenly sought power since time immemorial. In the words of Psalm 73: “pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence… They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance…”

To be clear, many of the problems that Trump’s rise has helped expose— rising inequality, stagnating wages, a widespread distrust in government— are very real indeed. But his purported “solutions”— as best they can be defined— would only make these problems worst. Whatever legitimate grievances his supporters may have, his campaign has amounted to little more than a narcissist spewing a kaleidoscope of hate– against Hispanics, Muslims, women, veterans, the disabled, and indeed the American ideal itself.

In this, it is true that Trump represents, in many senses, not a break from the worst aspects of Republican ideology and tactics— with its dog-whistle racism and authoritarianism— so much as its apogee. Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 general election campaign with a rally near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers were James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were martyred for their work to ensure that all Americans had the right to vote.

Yet Trump is something far scarier: a man of unbridled ambition and aggression sitting in the Oval Office. A man without any understanding of policy, without capacity for empathy or sense of restraint, without shame or morality– in control of the nuclear codes. He is exactly the type of man our Founders’ feared, and that our Constitution was created to prevent. And yet, we still have difficulty believing the true threat that Trump represents: He is a buffoon, we assure ourselves; He doesn’t mean what he says; He’s an entertainer; We laugh it off.

Dictators are always petty. They are always buffoons. The always deliver circuses with their promises of bread. That is their nature. Laughter does not deter them; real or imagined, it motivates them.

As Adolf Hitler said in his speech to the Reichstag on September 30 1942, “Once the Germans Jews laughed at my prophecy. I do not know whether they are still laughing, or whether they are laughing on the other side of their faces. I can simply repeat— they will stop laughing altogether, and I will fulfill my prophecy in this field too.”

No, Melania, Trump is not Hitler. He is more Mussolini circa 1921– or Putin or Erdoğan circa 2016. The resentment and pretension, the forked-tongued appeal to that which is most base and inhuman in our characters, the false prophecy of redemption to make us “great again”– they are all the same. He is our proof incarnate that “it can happen here”.  And if we don’t act, it will.

In years before the Second World War, there arose something called the Popular Front— an alliance of those on the left, the center, and the reasonable against the tide of fascism. It was initially defeated not only by the fascists but by its own internal divisions.

We now need a modern version of the Popular Front— and we need to be united: Bernie supporters, Hillary supporters, disaffected Republicans… everyone from the Black Lives Matters movement to the Neocons… everyone who recognizes what this man represents. We must keep our eyes on the prize: the defeat of a man who would destroy us all to soothe the demons in his soul. 

Previous generations of Americans– those who stormed the beaches at Normandy and stood their ground against Pickett’s Charge in Gettysburg– paid the ultimate price for freedom. Previous generations of Americans– those faced down the fire houses in Birmingham and the Billy Clubs of Selma, those who stood up so that their voice could be heard in Seneca Falls and Stonewall– endured oppression, and scorn, and hatred for their rights, and for ours.

Because of their sacrifices, this November we can express our choice through the ballot box.

Every vote cast must be a statement: Never Trump, not for any of us.

False equivalence in Israel


Americans are familiar with a particular form of mudslinging employed by the right. It starts when conservatives create a political spectacle with an attack campaign. Then, when progressives respond, the public looks at the standoff and says “a plague on both your houses.” The real instigators – be they extremists playing dirty tricks or politicians pushing gridlock – benefit because the result is false equivalence: the fallacy which describes a situation where there is an apparent equivalence, when, in fact, there is none.

We saw it happen time and again in Washington as the Tea Party squared off against the Obama Administration. The American public never cared which side shut down the government. They blamed everybody in Washington for the mess.

That’s what’s happening in Israel right now. For years there has been a well-organized, well-funded attack on progressive civil society, particularly the human rights organizations who reveal the abuses inherent in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. In three successive Knessets, right-wing politicians kept introducing legislation to defund or harass these groups. The most recent example, which singles out these organizations with special reporting requirements, will probably come up for a vote in the Knesset next week.

But the legislative front is only part of it. Beginning in 2010, when a group called Im Tirtzu launched a multi-million shekel attack on the New Israel Fund, the attacks on progressive civil society have grown uglier and uglier. That first campaign featured giant billboards of then-NIF president Naomi Chazan with a horn on her head and shocked all of Israel.

But this was only their first foray. They went on to demonize the political science department of Ben Gurion University for alleged anti-Israel bias, to depict President Obama’s envoy with anti-Semitic imagery, to campaign against what Palestinians call the Nakba, for them the tragedy of 1948, by saying it was “bullsh*t.” With this track record, none of us were surprised when a Jerusalem court ruled that the organization has “fascist attributes.”

Now we have more ugliness from Im Tirtzu. Their campaign last month coincided with the introduction of the current anti-NGO law and labeled four leading human rights activists as terrorist “moles.” This week Im Tirtzu went after Israel’s leading novelists, artists and performers, also calling them “moles” because of their embrace of Israel’s human rights community, and along the way their co-founder defended infamous Senator Joe McCarthy. It is no coincidence that the campaign was launched the day after Minister of Culture Miri Regev announced she would introduce a bill requiring “cultural loyalty” of any artistic institution receiving government funding.

Im Tirtzu’s tactics are so outrageous, their ideology so radical, and their campaigns are so hate-filled that conservative pundits, like Yona Schiffmiller of NGO Monitor, try to distance their own right-wing organizations from them. They tell us that Im Tirtzu doesn’t represent Israel’s mainstream right. They say that efforts by liberal Israelis to connect the dots between the radical right and the current government are somehow equally responsible for the divisions we see in Israeli society.

[READ: RESPONSE FROM YONA SCHIFFMILLER OF NGO MONITOR]

It’s a powerful talking point. But it’s not based on fact.

Even casual observers of Israeli politics quickly notice that the ugly and divisive rhetoric used by Im Tirtzu matches the rhetoric employed by Knesset Members and Cabinet officials now in power. They also spot the pattern whereby legislative initiatives to harass progressive Israelis are nearly always matched by divisive Im Tirtzu campaigns.

This is not a matter of coincidence; the ties between the current government and Israel’s most extreme ultranationalists run deep. One of Im Tirtzu’s cofounders was a senior official in the Likud’s campaign team during last election. Another recently ran for the Knesset on the settler Jewish Home party ticket. Im Tirtzu’s recent “mole” video was produced by Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s communications advisor. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even starred in a fundraising video for the organization in which he called for individuals to donate to the organization “wholeheartedly and generously.”

And that’s just Im Tirtzu. Im Tirtzu’s compatriots, settler groups like Regavim and Elad and Ad Kan, have lied, hid their funding sources, filed SLAPP suits, incited personal violence and infiltrated left-wing organizations with spies and private investigators. It only takes a bit of research to uncover the deep ties between those now in power and Israel’s most radical extremists.

Why would Schiffmiller sweep these facts under the rug? Why suggest that those of us working to unite Israelis around the values of equality and democracy are equally to blame?

This has a lot to do with NGO Monitor’s own agenda. Founded as a project of the neo-conservative Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, whose previous president is now high up in the Netanyahu government, NGO Monitor has spent more than a decade with one task: attacking pro-peace, pro-democracy, or human rights organizations that offer criticism of Israeli government policy.

Has this supposedly objective monitor of Israel’s NGOs ever published reports on any of Israel’s ultranationalist NGOs? Did they look into who funds Israeli groups implicated in vigilante violence? Of course not.

It was left to Haaretz’ investigative reporter, Uri Blau, and to Peace Now, to expose that the funding of these organizations is largely hidden. Of course, given the way Israel’s leaders are stacking the deck, the new NGO “transparency” law that is now before the Knesset is written in a manner that targets funding for Israeli human rights groups while giving a pass to the mostly foreign millionaires who fund Israel’s pro-settler and ultranationalist organizations. Perhaps NGO Monitor did not want to call attention to the fact that, according to Peace Now, its own funding is far from transparent.

What’s important for us, as American Jews, is to understand that the political show-down in Israel is, if not one-sided, utterly lopsided. And the ultranationalist forces in Israel want to keep it that way. If your goals are settlement expansion, permanent occupation, and the enlargement of Jewish rights at the expense of Arabs and other minorities, you have everything to gain by attacking the legitimacy of organizations defending democracy, equality, and minority rights.

There is no equivalence between Israel’s pro-democracy and nationalist camps. There is no equivalence in power, in funding, and in the ugly tactics employed. Extremists on one side decided to change the rules of the game, from the Knesset to the airwaves, in order to ensure that the average Israeli heard one ultranationalist narrative and would dismiss others as the tales of moles and traitors.

And we, as American Jews who love Israel, can no longer afford to blindly accept this narrative. If we fail to understand what’s really going on, we will soon discover that something has gone very, very wrong in our promised land.

Noam Shelef is the Director of Digital Strategy for the New Israel Fund.

Cartoon: The war on extremism is infinite


Is Islam to blame for the Paris attacks?


Right after the Paris attacks, still reeling from the cruelty of it all, I emailed a friend.

“Why Paris?” 

“The terrorists will always focus on liberal democracies where they can operate freely, exploiting the very freedom and liberty that they want to annihilate,” he wrote back. “Under the cover of political correctness which prohibits racial profiling, they can organize, arm themselves and prepare without fear of pre-emptive action, even though everyone knows where to look for them and where they come from.”

At first it made sense. But then I thought, the day before the Paris attacks, terrorists carried out a double suicide bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, killing more than 40 people, most of them Muslim, and injuring hundreds more. A few weeks before that, a Russian plane exploded over Egypt’s Sinai desert, widely believed to be the work of related terrorists who planted a bomb. 

So, with Paris, yes; liberal democracies and their innocent, secular civilians are in grave danger across Europe and the world. But so are countless moderate Muslims and others who refuse to adopt jihad. 

Why had the bombing in Beirut gone largely ignored not 24 hours earlier? What really happened to that Russian jet? And what about the endless terror that plagues Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria? And, finally, that very prickly question: Who is to blame?

Some are convinced it’s increased Muslim immigration to France.

Today it is estimated that 12 percent of France’s population is foreign-born. Because of its colonial history in Algeria and other parts of North Africa, roughly 5 million of these immigrants are Muslim. 

Although the right and the left tend to agree that immigration has played a role in increased radicalism, when it comes to the blame game, they each point the finger in different directions. The right tends to engage in other-blame — saying the terror emanates from the immigrants; they don’t belong. The left tends to engage in self-blame, over France’s failure to better integrate immigrants into broader French society.

The French-based Iranian sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar has developed an illuminating theory to explain how, out of 5 million Muslim immigrants, certain individuals become radicalized. Khosrokhavar spent three days a week for three years interviewing inmates in French prisons for his book “Radicalisation.” 

 “The typical trajectory of most French Islamist terrorists follows four steps,” Khosrokhavar wrote in The New York Times. “[A]lienation from the dominant culture, thanks partly to joblessness and discrimination in blighted neighborhoods; a turn to petty crime, which leads to prison, and then more crime and more prison; religious awakening and radicalisation; and an initiatory journey to a Muslim country like Syria, Afghanistan or Yemen to train for jihad.”

Although there are myriad reasons why an otherwise nonpracticing or moderate Muslim might become radicalized, it is almost always the case that those who do feel marginalized or alienated in some profound way — from Osama bin Laden, who was rich, to Amedy Coulibaly, the French-born Muslim of Malian parents who massacred Jews at Hyper Cacher, who was poor. “Muslims had described themselves as unloved children of the [French] republic,” The New Yorker’s George Packer wrote.

Boo-hoo, some are thinking. Yet, it matters if you want to rout out Islamic terrorism. Europe can become a police state or it can address systemic causes. Historically, police states have not had much success solving problems; they have merely constricted them. 

Radicalization is a phenomenon that indeed stems from Islam, but is it inevitable within it? After all, moderate Muslims, more than anyone else, have been the targets of Islamist terror. The Islamic State and its offshoots have massacred thousands of Muslims throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, beheading, executing and raping those who do not submit to their ways. And let’s not forget how many bombs have gone off in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria in the last decade.

To lay blame fairly, it should be an act as precise as a medical diagnosis so that what you cut out is the malignancy and not the healthy tissue. Not all Muslims are alike, and it’s not true that none condemn and fear terror themselves. In Los Angeles, Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, sent a powerful message to his community and colleagues immediately after last week’s attacks. 

“The attacks in Paris were horrific and despicable, and taking innocent life violates the principles of every faith. The orchestration of multiple locations and maximization of casualties shows a sinister disregard for life that is grossly at odds with any and all of us as human beings and as American citizens.

“Our country must be united in this time of crisis; unity will enhance our efforts to fend off any violent extremism and preserve the values of our society.”

Al-Marayati also added a practical measure: “To mitigate any attempt by ISIS in their recruiting efforts in the U.S., we are promoting programs to build resilience against its terrorist ideology.”

Even author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former Muslim who has declared that Islam needs to be “crushed,” has begun to change her tune. In her latest book, “Heretic,” she shows her belief in the potential for change, calling now for a Muslim reformation. 

“Must all who question Islam end up either leaving the faith, as I did, or embracing violent jihad?” she writes.

“I believe there is a third option. But it begins with the recognition that Islamic extremism is rooted in Islam itself. Understanding why that is so is the key to finding a third way: a way that allows for some other option between apostasy and atrocity.”

After an injustice occurs, it is natural — perhaps even necessary — to lay blame. After all, the administration of justice requires a victim and a perpetrator. But must we blame the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims for the horrific acts of a few? 

In the Torah, God promises Abraham he will spare the depraved cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if there are just 10 good people there. In a world of bad, the Torah demands we spare just 10 the cruelty of our suspicions. 

On Sunday afternoon, I took a break from the madness of it all and went to the Modern Orthodox shul B’nai David-Judea, where former Yesh Atid Knesset member Ruth Calderon, now a resident scholar with the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, was teaching Talmud. 

Calderon addressed the Paris attacks before she began her shiur with another powerful lesson. Over the summer, she said, she had been asked to teach a group of visiting Muslim leaders, intellectuals and clergy on the topic of particularlism and universalism. She ended up choosing what she believed to be a “radical, particular” text — about Rabbi Akiva’s final words before his execution. Moments before his skin was flayed, he famously recited the Shema, sounding out the word “echad” — God is one — in one long, melodic, drawn-out breath.

To Calderon’s surprise, one of the Muslim leaders recounted the story of Islam’s Bilal Ibn Rabah, a black slave, who was chosen by the prophet Muhammad to become the very first muezzin — prayer leader.  When a member of the royal class in Mecca challenged Bilal’s faith, he proclaimed “Ahadun Ahad” — the oneness of God. Like Rabbi Akiva, he, too, was dragged to his death proclaiming this belief. 

“The [Islamist radicals] do not own the sound of Allahu Akbar,” the Israeli Calderon said with defiance. She doesn’t believe the world should demand that Muslims abandon their religion, become secular and democratic “and then we’ll make peace …” 

 “I don’t believe we can stop this third world war by turning away from our heritage, but by turning back into it, both in Judaism and Islam.” 

From Ruth Calderon’s lips, to God’s ears. 

The virtues of isolation


By accepting a ceasefire with Hamas, Israel's leaders have revoked Israeli citizens' inalienable right to live free within secure borders. Choosing shame over victory, the government in Jerusalem has allowed the terrorist group ruling Gaza to dictate the timing and terms of the twelfth cease-fire agreement in less than two months. 

This sad state of affairs is the result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's acceptance of the inevitability of Hamas rule over Gaza. In response, the Israeli electorate is rapidly abandoning their elected leader: from a high of 82 percent, Netanyahu's approval rating has plummeted to 38 percent in less than a month.

What happened?

Israelis of every political persuasion, age, gender, religious stream and socio-economic strata have come to realize an essential truth: Israel can defeat Hamas and Islamic Jihad by temporarily occupying the Gaza Strip and demilitarizing these and other terrorist groups.

Similar to the US handling of a defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, quiet borders tomorrow are predicated on a focused, aggressive and comprehensive Israeli military campaign inside Gaza today. 

Much like other terrorist outfits, including Peru's 'Shining Path' and Sri Lanka's 'Tamille Tigers', the government in Jerusalem can end Hamas's genocidal reign within a relatively brief period.

First, Israel's leaders need to redefine the benchmark for victory.

The destruction of 31 terror tunnels is not a victory. Neither is the bombing of approximately 5,000 terrorist sites across the Gaza Strip. Killing a few Hamas head honchos has done little more than provide laudatory headlines for pro-government Israeli news outlets to print.

All these much-touted successes are little more than the means to what has not yet been defined as the end:

Safeguarding Israel's historic and human right to live as a sovereign country among the family of nations.

Israeli leadership has first procrastinated and then reluctantly approved measured, restrained operations against an enemy committed to a total war of extermination.

This latest ceasefire will do little more than preserve Hamas's self-proclaimed right to threaten every Israeli man, woman and child with rocket fire as it sees fit.

Interestingly, Israel's most eloquent defenders and harshest critics share one fundamental belief about the country: the Jewish nation is unlike any other.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is acting out of fear that if Hamas is eliminated, the world will turn against Israel, turning the Jewish State into an international pariah.

Yet Netanyahu and his supporters seem to have forgotten the most basic lesson of contemporary Jewish history: Israel's national aspiration has never been to be merely tolerated by the international community, but to plant the tree of liberty in the heart of the most despotic region on earth.

Let an impotent United States, certain European governments and of course the United Nations obsess over maintaining geopolitical stability.

Israel is the first and possibly last great hope for democracy in the Middle East. As such, the Jewish State must aspire to more than just exist. Israeli leaders are charged with a sacred duty: to provide for the well-being, individuality and happiness of every citizen. 

How does a ceasefire with 15,000 well-financed fanatics do that?
 

Don’t kill us


We are teenagers on summer vacation. Some of us are religious Jews and some of us are religious Muslims. We are in different places and we come from different places.

We are your future.  And four quite like us — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach, and Mohammed Abu Khdeir – were recently killed in a war they didn't choose or try to join.

These four teenagers were not militants any more than we are, and now their lives are over and their futures snuffed out. 

Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal were on their way home from school when they were abducted and murdered by extremists. When radicals burned him to death, Mohamed was on his way to a suhoor breakfast, the early morning pre-fast meal before the sun rises on Ramadan.

We too go to school, we eat, and we observe our cultural and religious holidays. We have friends and family living near where these teenagers lived. Some of us have even been there ourselves. 

We come from all sides of the religious and political spectrums and carry many perspectives, some of which seem unreconcilable. But across all those divergent perspectives, the deaths of these four boys have awakened the same intense emotions in each of us. Pain, frustration, anger, fear. 

Perhaps we are such attractive targets because we tend to be vulnerable. Perhaps our naivete makes us easy prey: we are often too idealistic to recognize those with malicious intent. Twisted people target us because we are an easy way to get at our families, our nations, our tribes, our humanity.

But while the extremists’ intent in killing teenagers is to perpetuate war and violence, their recent actions have only brought the two sides closer together. Rational people on both sides feel compelled to make these deaths worth something.

Though we may not agree on other things, we all agree that these senseless murders are not helping anyone. Now, we must strive to come out of this tragedy a little bit closer to a solution than when we started. 

Perhaps our youth and vulnerability create the possibility of finding justice and peace. In clubs and schools, college dorms and youth groups, some of us are getting to know one another.

Previous generations have not been able to secure the dreams of either side.  Don’t kill us before we even have the chance to try.


DANIEL STEINBERG, Los Angeles, CA .. age 16 … member of Bnai David-Judea Congregation, will be a senior at Shalhevet High School

MONA GHANNOUM, Pasadena, CA… Age 18 … member of Islamic Center of Southern California … just graduated from Arcadia High School 

MARGO FEUER, Beverly Hills, CA … age 16 … member of Bnai David-Judea Congregation, will be a senior at Shalhevet High School

MARWA ABDELGHARI,  La Crescenta, CA … age 19 … member of Islamic Center of Southern California ..sophomore at U of California Irvine 

Opinion: Islam navigates the shoals of extremism


Which is the more serious problem today: Islamic extremism or anti-Islamic bigotry?

The latest contribution to this debate comes from The Nation, the leading magazine of America’s left, in its current special edition on “Islamophobia: Anatomy of an American Panic.” Its articles address a real and serious issue — but they also illustrate the pitfalls of ignoring its other side.

There’s no doubt that virulent rhetoric depicting all Islam as inherently evil and violent, and virtually all Muslims as potential jihadists, has gained alarming currency on the right. Such Muslim-bashing is not simply demeaning but also can lead to violence, harassment and infringements on the fundamental liberties of American Muslims. The New York Police Department has been criticized for overly broad surveillance of ordinary Muslims. Recent years have seen a wave of attempts to block construction of mosques and Islamic centers across the country. Bills seeking to outlaw the use of Sharia law in American courts — already illegal if it infringes on citizens’ constitutional rights — could interfere with private contracts rooted in religious law.

Yet nowhere in The Nation will one find recognition that extremism in Islam is a particularly serious problem. One author dismisses the issue by stating that “every group has its loonies.” Another writes that while misogyny and religious repression in some Muslim countries should be denounced, it can be done without generalizing about Islam.

Of course all religions have fringe groups and ideas. But for complex historical and cultural reasons, radicalism in Islam is far closer to the mainstream than in other major religions right now. There is no country today where a Christian government executes people for blasphemy, apostasy or illicit sex; several Muslim states do, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Some supposedly moderate Muslim clerics, such as Qatar-born Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, defend executions of gays, sanction “light” wife beating and peddle hatred of Jews.

Most American Muslims do not share such repugnant views; the Muslim community here is far more integrated into the mainstream than it is in Europe. Yet the problem of radicalization is real. Freedom House, an esteemed human rights organization, reports that many U.S. mosques carry extremist literature. Supposedly moderate Muslim groups such as the Islamic Circle of North America have hosted speakers with extreme ideas. A 2007 Pew poll found that 27 percent of American Muslim men younger than 30 believe suicide terrorism in defense of Islam is at least sometimes justified.

Many American Muslims stress the importance of combating not only anti-Muslim bigotry but also extremism in Muslim ranks. The modernization of Islam is an essential priority for the world. Right-wing Islamophobes such as bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer are hostile to this effort, insisting that Islam is beyond reform and any talk of moderation is a deceptive smoke screen.

But where do left-wing defenders of Muslims’ civil rights stand? One of The Nation’s articles attacks philanthropist Nina Rosenwald for bankrolling supposedly Islamophobic causes. Some groups Rosenwald has funded deserve the criticism, but the article also singles out her support for the work of “dissident” Muslims such as Irshad Manji, an openly gay Canadian journalist who argues that Islam must overcome the still-powerful legacy of sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. When a progressive leftist magazine goes after a gay Muslim feminist because she is too outspoken against religious reactionaries, something’s wrong.

Concerns about bigotry are justified. But they should not deter legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam.


Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe. She is the author of “Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood.”

Extremist Opinions Must Not Go Unchecked


We in the progressive Jewish world are often asked: “What are you doing to combat anti-Semitism?” The simple and unequivocal answer is that we condemn it when we see or hear it.

The views expressed on the KPFK-FM radio show, “La Causa,” on Jan. 7, as reported in The Jewish Journal this month, crossed the line between legitimate political opinion and hate speech. Calling for the State of Israel to be annihilated or exterminated, as one caller did without dissent or interruption, is the kind of statement that must be unhesitatingly rejected. 

So, too, should the words of “La Causa” host Augustin Cebeda, who has mocked Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for “dancing around with a yarmulke on his head” and frequently conflates Jews and Israelis in coarse and unsettling terms.

Unfortunately, Cebeda’s words cast a shadow over Latino-Jewish relations in our city. Much of his wrath is poured out on Israel, an issue of central concern to many in the Jewish community.

Cebeda’s extremist language and conflation of issues are reminiscent of the slogans and chants that led many Jews to abandon demonstrations against the Iraq War, even though a strong majority of American Jews opposed the war.

By allowing extremist opinions to go unchecked, groups spearheading progressive issues weaken their ability to build a broad and powerful coalition to address core issues, such as poverty, health care and immigration. In a similar vein, Cebeda’s anti-Semitic and inflammatory remarks on KPFK are not just an offense to American Jewry but make it more difficult to build the kind of broad coalition needed to address the critical economic and civil rights issues facing the Latino community in Los Angeles.

It is necessary, therefore, to condemn his views without reservation. At the same time, it is essential to understand that the relations between Latinos and Jews do not and should not hinge on one person. Nor, for that matter, must Latino-Jewish relations necessarily hinge on support for issues of principally Jewish communal concern, specifically Israel.

Another KPFK host, Gustavo Arellano, reminded us in the same article in The Journal that “most Latinos care much more about politics in their home countries or in the United States than what happens in the Middle East.”

Some in our community actively court Latinos for instrumental reasons, to bolster support among them for Jewish-specific issues (including Israel). We at the Progressive Jewish Alliance believe that there are other, more local issues that should also stand at the center of our shared agenda.

We are not alone in this belief. The venerable American Jewish Committee (AJC), which was lauded in The Journal for its efforts to build dialogue with Latinos, took a bold stand on a controversial issue of deep concern to Latino Angelenos: immigration. AJC’s leadership in support of the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009 exemplifies the type of meaningful and authentic bridge-building that can effect real change in our city.

For our part, PJA has spent the last 10 years standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Los Angeles’ predominantly Latino low-wage workforce to gain fair wages and working conditions, so that they, too, can realize their share of the American dream. In fact, the role played by PJA in the 2005 hotel workers’ campaign prompted our partners in the Latino community to proclaim the dawn of a “new Jewish-Latino alliance.”

The point is not to indulge in self-congratulation. It is to affirm that while our mission is to engage in tikkun olam (repairing the world) in a global sense, it is no less to engage in tikkun ha-ir — that is repair of the city in which we dwell alongside our friends and neighbors.

Our work on behalf of tikkun ha-ir is not instrumental; it is animated by the talmudic principle (BT Shabbat 54b) that one who does not protest against injustice in his city — as against injustice in his family, nation or the world at large — is accountable for the wrong done.

It does not suffice to engage in symbolic acts alone. Table discussions and handshakes are important, but the key challenge is to confront the daily, real-life questions of our city, together.

We do not and will not hesitate to call out Cebeda and those who share his repugnant views. But neither will we hesitate to call out those in our city, including our fellow Jews, who exploit the less fortunate through inhumane labor practices and unlivable wages.

And so, PJA is currently involved in a campaign against exploitive car wash owners in the city, Jews among them, who subject their largely Latino workers to dehumanizing conditions.

It is our belief that work of this sort builds strong and reliable bridges to the Latino community. PJA acts in this way not in hopes of a quid pro quo with our Latino friends but rather on the belief that repair of the city is a quintessentially Jewish concern.

The anti-Semitism of a few, which we must combat without hesitation, will not deter us from seeking the well-being of the many.

Jaime Rapaport is the Southern California regional director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a California-based organization that serves as a vehicle connecting Jews to the critical social justice issues of the day and to the cities in which they live. Professor David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA and is a member of PJA’s state board.

 

Mideast


A Divided Land

By Eric Silver, Mideast Correspondent

Recent murders in Hebron indicate a new trend in extremism

What the Israeli right likes to call “the battle for the Land of Israel” is in danger of turning into a war of the ultras, Arab extremists vs. Jewish extremists.

The murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, the 63-year-old grandson of the legendary Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, on the night of Aug. 20 in the Hebron Jewish enclave of Tel Rumeida confirmed a new, provocative trend in the strategy of Palestinian terror.

Like the shooting two weeks earlier of Shlomo Liebman and Harel Bin Nun while guarding the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, it was a pinpoint operation, meticulously planned and executed.

Vulnerable, and Zealous Targets

The targets were vulnerable — two young men patrolling at night on the fringe of their isolated community, a veteran rabbi staying behind when most of his neighbors had gone to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Their anonymous assailants knew when and where to hit them, how to get away undetected.

Yitzhar in the north and Tel Rumeida in the south are separated by 50 miles of West Bank rocks and olive groves. What they have in common is that they are both inhabited by disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement was outlawed as racist. These are the zealots who erected a shrine to Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer of 29 Muslim worshippers, and who publicly rejoiced at the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

To the Palestinian Authority, they are fair game. Yasser Arafat rejected all Israeli demands to condemn the killings. His West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, told the settlers that if they didn’t want to be murdered, they’d better get out of Hebron. The Palestinian police are not exactly falling over themselves to catch the perpetrators.

Different Victims

Unlike Hamas bombers blowing themselves up in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, these new-style killers know their society will not suffer Israeli collective punishment. Hebron was sealed for a few days, but tens of thousands of Arab laborers from the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were free to work inside the old green-line border. Business flowed as usual.

The killings seem designed to goad the most fanatical foes of the five-year-old Oslo peace process into a terminal cycle of violence.

“The longer this pattern of attack goes on,” warned Zvi Singer, who covers the settlements for the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot, “the greater the prospect of retaliatory attacks… The security forces must prepare themselves for the worst possible scenario, in which a new Baruch Goldstein might execute his own private act of revenge.”

Harsh Words

Rabbi Ra’anan’s neighbors among the seven families living in mobile homes at Tel Rumeida don’t need much goading. Baruch Marzel, Kahane’s self-proclaimed heir, harangued the Likud Defense Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, as a “murderer” when he visited the site the day after the killing.

When another old warrior, President Ezer Weizman, came to comfort Rabbi Ra’anan’s widow, Marzel branded him an Arab agent. “You are a spy,” he yelled. “You are a danger to the public. You should be locked up in a prison or a hospital.”

This assault on the president was condemned across the political spectrum, from Yossi Sarid of Meretz on the left to the settler Rabbi Benny Elon of Moledet on the right. The Cabinet secretary, Danny Naveh, denounced it as “contemptible.”

Labour spokesmen were not alone in detecting echoes of the “Rabin is a traitor” incitement that ended with Yigal Amir pulling the trigger in a Tel-Aviv square on Nov. 4, 1995.

The Settlers’ Isolation

Marzel’s histrionics highlighted the increasing isolation of the settlers from the Israeli mainstream. Eitan Haber, a veteran military reporter who served as Rabin’s spokesman and adviser, sparked a national debate earlier this month with a Yediot column that began: “A terrible thing has happened to Israeli society in the past decade. The reaction to the death of Israeli citizens in terrorist attacks is a function of political leanings. There’s ‘our’ dead and ‘their’ dead.”

The funeral of the two Yitzhar settlers, he argued, was like a meeting of a secret cult. Even representatives of the right-wing parties stayed away. Half the nation, maybe more, shrugged their shoulders. Their eyes remained dry.

“The reason,” Haber suggested, “is the patronizing air that the settlers have been putting on for years, the arrogant look in their eyes even when they don’t say a word. The way the settlers have projected ‘I’m a better Zionist, a better Jew, than you are’ and “You don’t know anything’ has caused the settlers never to be accepted in people’s hearts… They bury their dead among family only.”

None the less, Binyamin Netanyahu’s government responded to the Ra’anan murder by allocating $10 million shekels ($2.7 million) to replace the Tel Rumeida mobile homes with permanent housing, though it will be many months, if ever, before they are built. The legal process is a minefield, and there is no spare land. Tel Rumeida is in the heart of an Arab suburb.

Yet the prime minister did not yield to settler demands and suspend negotiations with the Palestinians. If media leaks, from Jerusalem and Washington, are to be believed, agreement on the elusive next stage of West Bank withdrawal may even be imminent. The ultras have not won, yet.

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