A young Yazidi girl rests at the Iraq-Syrian border. Photo by Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

The forgotten genocide: While Yazidis struggle for existence, the world does little to help


It was well before dawn on Aug. 3, 2014, when fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) streamed out of the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tal Afar, heading east. By daybreak, the Kurdish forces protecting the region’s civilian population had melted away. They fled with few warnings to the villagers, most of them Yazidis, members of an ancient and oft-persecuted religious minority.

The hundreds of settlements dotting the region, known together as Sinjar, are the locus of the global Yazidi population, which counts about 1 million souls worldwide. Across the arid expanse, the ISIS fighters who overran it seemed to follow the same script: Men and women were separated. Prepubescent boys were kidnapped for indoctrination as ISIS fighters. Women and their young children were sequestered into sexual slavery. And the men — those older than  12 — were forced to convert or else murdered, either shot in the head, sprayed from behind with bullets or beheaded as their families watched.

The picture painted in United Nations reports is dim. Within days, 5,000 were dead and about half a million displaced from their homes. One report, in June 2016, called the genocide “on-going,” estimating that 3,200 Yazidi women are still held as sex slaves by ISIS — bought, sold and raped by some of the same men who murdered their husbands and fathers. The bulk of Yazidis in Iraq who remain free stay in squalid refugee camps where basic needs are met barely or not all, while an untold number have embarked on the journey west, over perilous seas to the uncertain promise of refuge in Europe or the United States.

What’s worse is that the genocide of this tiny religious group didn’t take its victims by surprise. “We had a sense that it’s going to happen,” one Yazidi activist in Houston, Haider Elias, told the Journal.

In fact, ISIS has been remarkably forward about its genocidal intentions. “Unlike the Jews and Christians, there was no room for jizyah [ransom] payment,” explained an article in Dabiq, a glossy ISIS propaganda magazine. “Their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates who the majority of the fuqaha [Islamic jurists] say cannot be enslaved.”

A group of Islamic law students reviewed the Yazidi question, Dabiq reported, and ruled that unlike Jews and Christians, who are monotheists, Yazidis are pagans to be exterminated in preparation for Judgment Day. (In fact, Yazidis are monotheists whose Mesopotamian creed predates Islam by thousands of years.)

The Obama administration helped break a siege that stranded thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar shortly after the Aug. 3 massacres, but it was a brief show of American airpower. The United States has done little else to ameliorate the situation; the West can claim neither ignorance nor impotence.

A handful of Jewish organizations have raised the alarm, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and at least one, IsraAID, has even offered on-the-ground assistance (see sidebar). But with the global population of forcibly displaced people topping 65 million, most of civil society is tuned to the larger picture. A network of Yazidis in the U.S. seeks its aid and protection for their coreligionists, but their numbers are few.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to ISIS in the town of Sinjar, walk toward the Syrian border on Aug. 11, 2014. Photo by Rodi Said/ Reuters

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to ISIS in the town of Sinjar, walk toward the Syrian border on Aug. 11, 2014. Photo by Rodi Said/ Reuters

 

Iraq is one of the seven countries whose citizens are banned from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days, according to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order.  The order makes an exemption for religious minorities, but at present, the procedures for exercising that exemption are unclear. At press time, the order had been blocked by the courts and was awaiting appeal, but the constitutionality of a religious exemption appeared murky in the first place. Meanwhile, the president has promised “safe zones” in Syria but the majority of Yazidis in the Middle East are in Iraq.

The persistence of genocide into the second decade of the 21st century makes a cruel joke of “never again,” just as Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia did in the second half of the 20th century. More than two years after the Yazidi genocide began, the question remains: Shouldn’t we do something about it?

‘Nobody helped’

Salem Daoud is Mir of the Yazidis in the United States, the community’s chief religious functionary, serving alongside a council of elders. He speaks a halting English that would be difficult to fully comprehend even if he weren’t describing some of the most trying days of his life. So his son, Seif, who goes by Sam in the U.S., and Rabbi Pamela Frydman, an activist in Los Angeles, joined him on a recent conference call from Glendale, Ariz., to make sure he was understood.

Salem Daoud at the Castle of Mir Ali in northern Iraq. Photo by John Murphy.

Salem Daoud at the Castle of Mir Ali in northern Iraq. Photo by John Murphy.

In such a tiny community, no family is unaffected by an event on the scale of the genocide. Salem’s sister and brother-in-law were kidnapped and then rescued six months later; they’ve never been quite the same since, Salem said. It’s hard to know what to ask a person who sat, more or less helplessly half a world away, while his relatives and countrymen were slaughtered and enslaved.

When Salem’s phone began to ring in early August 2014, there was little he could do to help the man on the other end, a local leader in Sinjar by the name of Ahmed Jaso.

“Till the last minute, till before they killed him, he was calling my dad, like, every, I would say, hour,” Sam said on the phone. “And he’s saying, ‘Do something for us, to save us from their hands.’ ”

Jaso was in a village called Kocho, where ISIS troops were lining up the villagers in groups of 60 or 100 and demanding payment to spare the locals’ lives. When the ransom was not forthcoming, they killed residents in a hail of gunfire, Jaso told Salem. Sam explained that his father has many contacts, people who might have been able to help, “whether here in the U.S., in Iraq, Russia, to people in Germany” — even people close to the White House. “Everybody put their hands on their eyes and their ears,” Sam said.

“[Jaso] would call, ‘[ISIS] said they just killed a hundred, so we need support to save the rest. … They killed another hundred, they need money.’ ” he said. “But nobody wanted to pay.”

“We give the information to a lot of people,” Salem added in his imperfect English. “Just nobody helped. No government, and nobody.”

The village of some 1,800 people was cleared out — the men slaughtered, the young boys kidnapped, the women enslaved.

“Very hard time, that was,” the Mir said. The last time he called Jaso back, the local leader was awaiting his turn at the death squad. “The last time, I hoped I’d be one of these people with them,” Salem said.

The activist

Frydman — known more commonly as Rabbi Pam — is a recent arrival to Los Angeles from Northern California, having moved here in May. There, she started the San Francisco congregation Or Shalom Jewish Community 25 years ago and spent a decade as a social justice activist and educator.

One January morning, Frydman sat down in front of her laptop at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Pico Boulevard. In front of her, a manila folder contained a manuscript of a book about the Holocaust she’s writing that she put on hold two years earlier, when she first learned about the genocide of Yazidis and Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. She finally was finding time to get back to work on the book. Asked to describe how she became active in the struggle for Yazidi survival, she scribbled an impromptu timeline on the back of the manila folder.

Rabbi Pam Frydman. Photo by Bret Putnam

Rabbi Pam Frydman. Photo by Bret Putnam

In November 2014, Frydman saw an email from the Board of Rabbis of Northern California about an event at a Jewish Community Center in the Bay Area. “It said, ‘Act before it’s too late,’ ” she recalled. At the gathering, she saw footage of Yazidis being marched up to the heights of Mount Sinjar, where they were trapped.

“We heard about children who were dehydrated because there just wasn’t enough water,” she said. She heard a story about a woman being driven up the mountain by ISIS forces and struggling to carry both of her children — one of many such stories to emerge from these forced marches. When this particular woman grew too exhausted to hold both children, she put one of them down.

“As soon as she put that child down, the child was slaughtered, was killed, and I said to myself, ‘This is a death march! This is what our people went through in the Holocaust!’ ” Frydman said, her voice wavering. “The fire was in my belly and my heart was shattered, and I felt that I had to do something. And I returned to my home and I started to contact Jewish and interfaith colleagues, and I said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ ”

Soon, she organized a program called Save Us From Genocide, a consciousness-raising campaign for the plight of the Yazidis and Assyrians, hosted by four Bay Area interreligious councils in concert with the United Religions Initiative, a global interfaith network. A project of Save Us From Genocide administered by the Northern California Board of Rabbis, called Beyond Genocide, hopes to gain attention and relief specifically for atrocities perpetrated against Yazidis.

In addition to helping finance university scholarships for Yazidis studying outside Iraq, Beyond Genocide assists in Yazidi migration and resettlement. On that last score, Frydman could describe her efforts only in vague details, out of abundant caution against putting Yazidis in danger.

Asked how much Beyond Genocide had raised for resettlement, she responded, “A very small amount. But with this very small amount, we have performed miracles.”

‘My brother’

Frydman’s resettlement and advocacy work runs primarily through tight-knit networks of American Yazidis such as the one operated by Saeed Hussein Bakr, whom she calls “my brother.” Bakr arrived in the U.S. about five years ago and found his way to Phoenix, where currently he works as a cook for a local Panda Express. As the disaster in Sinjar unfolded, groups quickly sprang up among American Yazidis to help those fleeing for their lives in the Middle East, managed by people like Bakr.

“Yazidis are not a big community,” he said. “So, almost, we all know each other.”

Saeed Hussein Bakr

Saeed Hussein Bakr

Headquartered in places such as Lincoln, Neb., the largest American Yazidi population center, these networks raise money when possible, though the community is in large part newly arrived and not a wealthy one. More often, they deploy contacts in the United States, Europe and the Middle East to help Yazidi migrants who find themselves in trouble.

Bakr’s group, Yazidi Rescue, will alert Coast Guard officials in Greece, for example, when a boatload of Yazidi refugees is abandoned or waterlogged in the Mediterranean or Aegean sea. In other cases, they’ll help Yazidi women escape from slavery or help refugees who are imprisoned abroad. There are no rules or standard operating procedures for this type of operation, only dire phone calls to anybody who might be able to do something, whether civilians or government officials.

“Some nights, I can say we help 1,000 people in one night,” Bakr said.

Bakr first became involved after one of his sons, Layth, on his way to the U.S., got on a boat headed to Greece from Turkey. His boat capsized, and some of the refugees on board with him drowned. “That’s why I work to help those people,” Bakr said.

Remarkably, though, his son’s near-death experience in the Aegean Sea was not the most harrowing episode for Bakr. That would be earlier, in August 2014, when Bakr’s son and other relatives were turned out of their homes and driven up Mount Sinjar.

“For seven days, they were in the mountains, no power, no communications. We don’t know at any time if ISIS, they captured them,” he said. “It was horrible days. Those seven days, they were the worst seven days in my life.”

An ancient people long oppressed

The Yazidis are an ancient people, born in the cradle of civilization. Consecrated to one God, they survived through the ages. In each generation, the yoke of oppression found them, and they cried out for deliverance — except sometimes their savior was a long time in coming.

Sound familiar?

“In each and every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us,” Jews recite each Passover. It would be equally true on the lips of a Yazidi.

The parallels between Jews and Yazidis become uncanny at a point. Both are ethnically distinct religions dating to the birth of monotheism. Both have been singled out by Muslim rulers for persecution based on their strange and foreign faith, slandered as perversions of Islam.

But somewhere along the ages, the historical arcs of the two people diverge. Whereas the history of Jewish genocide ends after the Holocaust, Yazidis have had no such luck.

Since the 15th century, Yazidis count 74 farmans against them — literally, decrees, calls by rulers for their destruction that inevitably result in mass slaughter. They’ve faced genocide at the hands of Kurds, Turks and Arabs, mostly Sunni Muslims backed by the Ottoman Empire. ISIS is only the most recent in a long line of persecutors.


More: A sex slave survivor fights back


Invariably, Yazidi customs and belief are offered as the reason for their oppression. The religion has no central texts that have survived the ages, but its folklore is vivid and distinct from any other faith. Adherents claim to descend not from Abraham but from Adam. Their legend has it that Adam and Eve, as a sort of competition, each placed their seed in a jar. When Eve’s jar was opened, it held an unpleasant stew of filth and insects. Adam’s contained a beautiful baby boy, ibn Jar, literally the son of Jar, who became the ancestor of the Yazidi people.

Ironically, it is their guardian angel that has earned them the fanatical ire of radical Islamists. Yazidis regard as sacred Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel, a fallen angel who refused to bow to Adam when God requested he do so, and who consequently gained dominion over the fates and follies of man. This origin story bears a similarity with that of the Islamic legend of Iblis, the archdevil in Muslim theology. The resemblance between the tales has historically motivated the slander of Yazidis as devil worshippers, a kind of Middle Eastern blood libel that continues to claim the lives of its subjects.

“They have made Iblis — who is the biggest taghut [idolator] — the symbolic head of enlightenment and piety!” the article in the ISIS magazine Dabiq exclaims. “What arrogant kufr [infidels] can be greater than this?”

One irony to emerge from this account is that peacocks don’t exist in the region where Yazidi civilization arose. If the community of nations is not watchful, it’s not inconceivable to imagine a Middle East with no more Yazidis, either.

‘Never again requires a lot of energy’

Google searches for “Yazidis” saw a massive spike in early August 2014 and then returned, but for a few small flutters, to a flatline. But things never went back to normal for Haider Elias, a Yazidi activist in Houston who is the president of Yazda, an advocacy, aid and relief organization.

That’s not the role he’d imagined for himself before ISIS began to wreak catastrophe. A former translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq who immigrated in 2010, Elias was raising three children and studying biology as an undergraduate in the hopes of attending medical school. When his brother was murdered in Iraq and the rest of his family displaced from their homes, he dropped his medical school dreams to dedicate himself to advocacy.

Haider Elias

Haider Elias

Elias and his peers at Yazda run a gamut of programs aimed at helping those displaced by the genocide. They’ve presented on the catastrophe in more than 10 states, including California, and in Europe. In Iraq, the group offers psychological and psychosocial therapy to help reintegrate women who have escaped or been rescued from ISIS. On top of all that, Yazda runs documentation projects to record video testimonies about the genocide and document mass graves.

Elias is still a full-time student at the University of Houston, though he’s switched majors to psychology at the recommendation of some American friends. A social science degree would better suit him for advocacy work, they told him. His days are long and busy, but he’s motivated by the knowledge that his people still face imminent danger.

“Many people want to come back [home] but they’re afraid that the security forces again are going to fail and run away, and this time it’s going to be more fatal, more catastrophic,” Elias said.

And so Yazda now is advocating for international protection for Yazidis, without which resettling Sinjar is unfeasible. “Without some form or guarantee of protection, this community is terrified,” he said.

Elias admits to still being angry. He’s angry with ISIS, naturally, and with the world for standing idly by; but more specifically, he’s angry with the Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga, for abandoning their posts before the Islamists’ murderous advance.

“It’s not a battle and they lost — they ran away,” he said. “They did not tell the population. When you lose many lives and you think you lost the battle, the first thing you do, you inform the population. The second thing, you run away.” To hear Elias and other Yazidis tell it, the Peshmerga didn’t quite bother with the first.

Though most Yazidis are behind Kurdish lines for the moment, their situation remains precarious and their advocates few. Elias made note of a chilling silence in Congress, broken only on occasion by legislators who represent Yazidi population centers, including two Republicans, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“We need a campaign in 2017 to help the Yazidis, whether to advocate for international protection or accepting Yazidi refugees in the U.S. or sending more humanitarian aid to the areas,” Elias said.

Responding to the genocide, Yazda took up “never again” as a rallying cry. But Elias is not naïve about the prospects of his people.

“Never again requires a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of work,” he said.

‘Save us!’

The Yazidi call for aid is neither subtle nor nuanced. Even before the genocide, theirs was a struggle for existence. There is no conversion into the community, and a child with even one non-Yazidi parent is considered to be outside the faith. The massacres and enslavement of Yazidis compound an already dire population problem.

“An entire religion is being exterminated from the face of the earth,” Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, told the legislature on Aug. 5, 2014, in a tearful plea that briefly went viral on the internet. “Brothers, I appeal to you in the name of humanity to save us!”

Before she could finish the next sentence, she collapsed, weeping.

The Yazidis interviewed for this story made clear they are open to any help they can get — military, political, financial and otherwise. Currently, Frydman and her colleagues are advocating for a real immigration pipeline to allow Yazidis to come to the U.S. notwithstanding the Trump administration’s refugee policy.

Three men prepare to leave Mount Sinjar. From left: Saeed Hussein Bakr’s sons, Layth Saeed Hussein and Hussein Saeed Hussein, and his nephew, Fuad Shaker Hassow.

Three men prepare to leave Mount Sinjar. Saeed Hussein Bakr’s sons, Layth Saeed Hussein (right) and Hussein Saeed Hussein (left), and his nephew, Fuad Shaker Hassow.

 

The Trump order, before a federal judge blocked the bulk of it on Feb. 3, in theory allowed Yazidi immigration to continue largely unimpeded. In practice, though, the International Organization for Migration, which coordinates refugee admission, has told Yazidi refugees their immigration has been canceled until further notice, Reuters reported. A faith-based exemption raises constitutional questions and its legality is a matter for the courts to decide.

But not all displaced Yazidis want to leave Iraq, anyway. Many simply want to resume their lives in the villages where they were born and escaped death, according to Salem Daoud, the Yazidi Mir. Much of that territory is still held by ISIS.

For now, the totality of a people’s homeland lives in limbo and its diaspora finds only limited means to help them. Often, prayer is the only recourse. Frydman recalled a joint prayer group near Phoenix with Yazidis, Jews and Universal Sufis. After the prayers were over, a Yazidi elder approached her and showed her a tiny book in a plastic pouch. Peering through her bifocals, she discovered it to be the Book of Psalms. A Jewish friend had given it to the elder, he told her, shortly before immigrating to Israel after the declaration of the Jewish state. “He said the prayers in this book will protect me,” the elder told Frydman.

The themes reflected in the Book of Psalms, as it happens, are more topical now for the Yazidi people than they ever have been in recent memory. As it says in Psalm 7:

O Lord, my God, in You I seek refuge; deliver me from all my pursuers and save me, lest, like a lion, they tear me apart, rending me in pieces, and no one to save me.

How to help

LEARN more about the plight of the Yazidis by reading reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International or other news articles.

CALL or write your elected representatives to request that they act on behalf of the Yazidis.

DONATE to organizations working to assist Yazidis through advocacy and direct aid, listed below:

Beyond Genocide
norcalrabbis.org/yezidi-fundraiser
(415) 369-2860

Yazda
yazda.org
(832) 298-9584

IsraAID
israaid.co.il
info@israaid.org

French far right party leader Marine Le Pen and candidate for the 2017 French Presidential elections presenting her New Year’s wishes to the press at her campaign headquarters in Paris, Jan. 4. Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images

Marine Le Pen: French Jews should sacrifice yarmulke in struggle against radical Islam


French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said French Jews should give up the wearing of yarmulkes as part of the country’s struggle to defeat radical Islam.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 that aired Friday, Le Pen expressed support for banning the wearing of yarmulkes as part of her broader effort to outlaw religious symbols in public, Britain’s Jewish Chronicle reported Sunday.

“Honestly, the dangerous situation in which Jews in France live is such that those who walk with a kippah are in any case a minority because they are afraid,” Le Pen said, using the Hebrew word for yarmulke. “But I mainly think the struggle against radical Islam should be a joint struggle and everyone should say, ‘There, we are sacrificing something.’”

Referring to French Jews, Le Pen added: “Maybe they will do with just wearing a hat, but it would be a step in the effort to stamp out radical Islam in France.”

Le Pen is a leading contender in the upcoming French presidential contest, with a recent poll showing her advancing to the second round of balloting in May but still losing handily to front-runner Emmanuel Marcon. Her political party, the National Front, was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who routinely minimized the Holocaust.

The younger Le Pen has sought to move the party past her father’s controversies, but French Jewish leaders still consider the National Front anti-Semitic.

A tempered Ayaan Hirsi Ali preaches Muslim integration in the Age of Trump


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Somali-born author and activist best known for her outspoken and sometimes-incendiary critique of Islam. 

Throughout four books, she has compared Islam with Nazism, described it as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death,” and suggested that well-meaning Muslims “pick another God.” 

Her overblown rhetoric has gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion — but that was before overblown rhetoric could pave a path to the White House. Based on her statements, Hirsi Ali could easily fit in with the next administration’s anti-Islamist foreign policy. But at age 47, she’s recently begun softening her critique, publicly distinguishing Islamic culture, with its 1,400 years of tradition, from political Islam, the fuel of extremists.

Given her intellectual evolution, I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d agree with Donald Trump’s rhetorical jihad on Muslims — including calls for a nationwide Muslim registry and a ban on Muslim immigration. So when she visited Los Angeles last week to speak at the women’s-only salon series Inher Circle, founded and curated by philanthropist Beth Friedman, I thought I’d ask her.

“If I look at just the Islamic statements [Trump] made during the campaign, he’s someone who knows that something is up,” Hirsi Ali said to the room of 100 women who paid $135 each to hear her speak at The Peninsula. But then she digressed into a prolix answer that belied her accord with the president-elect.  

“If he had said, ‘Let’s ban all Hindus until we figure out what is going on,’ I think everyone would have thought, ‘What’s up with the Hindus?’ 

“After 9/11, I think we should be very specific about making a distinction between Islam and Muslims. I take the position that not all Muslims are violent or misogynistic; I think in fact that the majority of Muslims are like all other people — many are peace-loving and many suffer because of Sharia law. And it’s crucial that we understand this diversity — those who are advancing an agenda that is hostile to our way of life, [those] who are on the fence, and [those] who are risking their lives to reform Islam from within,” she said. “If we fail to make that distinction, then we are lost. Then we get into a place where we start to make really bad policy mistakes.”

Behold, the woman who has called for Islam to reform its views has modeled moderation by reforming her own. This is to her credit; a capacity for critical thinking that enables even critical self-reflection is disabling to critics who accuse her of being radical herself. And it’s no secret Hirsi Ali was declared persona non grata by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which labeled her an “anti-Muslim extremist,” which caused considerable backlash of its own. Is a staunch critic of Islam necessarily anti-Muslim?  

“I grew up in a Muslim household, and I have the common sense to say I can distinguish between those who mean harm, those who don’t, and those who are in between,” she said. “President [Barack] Obama, and before him President [George W.] Bush, stood before us on world platforms and said, ‘Islam is a religion of peace.’ Excuse my language, but that’s bull—-. It is not bigoted to say that that is bull—-.”

So she hasn’t softened entirely. But one expects a devoted fearlessness from a woman whose biography tested her will at every turn. Having spent her childhood crisscrossing between Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, Hirsi Ali was thoroughly indoctrinated into the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Shortly after she was born, her political activist father was imprisoned for opposing the ruling government in Somalia. While he fulfilled his prison sentence, Hirsi Ali’s grandmother defied his wishes and arranged for 5-year-old Hirsi Ali to undergo female genital mutilation. 

By the time she was a teenager, Hirsi Ali had adopted a lifestyle in compliance with the strictest dictates of the Quran. But the final straw was when she was forced into marriage with a cousin in Canada. “If I went to Canada, I would then live as the wife of that man, I would have children with him and I would be forever miserable just like my mother was miserable, just like all the women around me were miserable.”

On her way there, she seized the opportunity to escape the Sharia shackles of her youth, skipped her connection in Germany and took a train to the Netherlands where she was granted political asylum. 

What if a Muslim ban had prevented her from the liberation she relishes now? 

“I have been in the place where I had to knock on the door of a free country and say, ‘Please let me in,’ ” she said, responding to a question from former CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin. “And as soon as I was let in, I started to adapt.” 

Hirsi Ali differentiated, however, between different kinds of immigrants — those who adapt, those who are ambivalent about integration and “fanatics” who want to impose their way of life on their host country. Not everyone uses their new freedom to fight for the rights of others as she has for oppressed women, “but the minimum is that you adjust.” 

“One has to remember that whatever [immigration] policy is applied, it’s applied to human beings. It changes lives — it’s men, it’s women, it’s children, it’s families.”

I asked her privately if, now that she has a free life in America, she fears what the next administration might bring. “Trump isn’t regime change,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You know what keeps me up at night? [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan.”


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

Letters to the Editor: Hillary, Islam, and reflections on Mom’s stuff


Going Through Mom’s Stuff

I am an 88-year-old mother of two, grandmother of five and great-grandmother, recently widowed. I strongly relate to the article regarding Teresa Strasser’s mother, since I have a lot of stuff, which I love and cherish (“Can You Rest in Peace While Your Stuff Rests in a Dumpster?” Sept. 2). It breaks my heart that the only place she could find for her mother’s stuff was a dumpster! 

Surely someone who has no mother or stuff to inherit would treasure something that was loved! I sincerely hope that my family will not only cherish what I loved, but in reverence donate this mother lode of belongings to a better place. I could never have done that with my mother-in-law’s “treasures,” nor my mother’s. 

Donna Rothman

Encino

 

How happy I was to see Teresa Strasser’s name on your cover. I, too, am an avid collector, a retired dealer, and although in my 80s, I am still out there looking for stuff.

However, when I read the article, I felt so sad. I almost cried when I read about the box of blue glass vases headed for a landfill. The “shady dude” who was going to cart it all away was, in reality, earning a living by sorting it all out and either selling it to other dealers or selling it himself at a flea market. And those customers who are lucky enough to see the possibilities in giving these tchotchkes a new life are reaffirming her mother’s passion for the charm or beauty of things created by others.

Recently, I moved from a house to an apartment. The kids took some stuff and the things I still wanted were moved to my new digs. The rest was sold by a hard-working crew of estate liquidators. And I was there, watching as prospective buyers fell in love, hondled and acquired my treasures. My children know that when I die, the same estate sale people will dispose of my collections to appreciative new owners.

Evelyn Bauer

Reseda

The Hard Truth

Reading David Suissa’s column, you might imagine that respect for the truth is primarily a Hillary Clinton problem and the fact that Clinton is only somewhat “better than [Donald] Trump” is what leads Suissa’s friends to overlook her lack of truthiness (“The Problem With Hillary,” Sept. 2). Wow! Suissa says nothing about Trump’s relationship with the truth, let alone that Politifact found 76 percent of Trump’s statements to be untruthful and that The Huffington Post found that Trump uttered one falsehood every 1.16 minutes during a town hall.  

Most of my friends who support Hillary are more concerned that Trump wants to take away medical insurance from millions of Americans, that he cannot imagine why we don’t consider using nuclear weapons in regional conflicts, that he would accept Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere, that he has encouraged a level of hate and racism that no other presidential candidate in recent memory has done, that he would threaten women’s reproductive rights, that Trump is a climate change denier of the first order, and that he promotes economic policies that would add $11.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Edward Friedman

Beverly Hills

 

The Republican outrage about the Clinton Foundation is itself outrageous. Republicans think giving money to politicians is free speech, not legalized bribery, and they think it’s good for America and good for democracy. Republicans brought the case of Citizens United before the Supreme Court, and they love the ruling and the results.  

When Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and other Republican billionaires give millions of dollars to gain access to politicians, Republicans have no problems with any of that. But if Hillary Clinton plays by the same rules as the Republicans, suddenly the Republicans are up in arms about money for access.

As a Democrat, I think the whole thing stinks. I hate it when Hillary takes money for access just as much as when any Republican politician takes money for access. It doesn’t really matter to me if there is no quid pro quo. And I don’t see any meaningful distinction between the money for access coming from domestic or foreign sources. Having said that, Republicans are being totally inconsistent and intellectually dishonest about Hillary. The hypocrisy of the Republicans is appalling. 

Michael Asher

Valley Village

 

Trump and the Jews

Upon reading Rob Eshman’s article “Donald Trump, the Jewish Savior” (Sept. 2), we feel it necessary to express our total disagreement with the so-called Jewish majority view. Although Mr. Trump had not been our favorite candidate in primaries, the way he is treated by the “almighty” media (including the Jewish one), which distorts every word he ever said and then uses their own interpretation of his suggestions and ideas to influence public opinion, makes us sick. 

It is sad that so many American Jews can’t see beyond the political correctness and are ready to vote for a completely corrupt, lying individual, whose so-called “achievements” are bringing harm to our country and to our staunch ally Israel. Having lived for over 40 years in the former Soviet Union (a champion of politically correct lies) before coming to the USA in 1979, we can see clearly which direction Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and the like are leading our country, and it scares us a lot.

Nina Ryskin, Geta Sukharev

via email

 

Soar Like an Eagle

I truly enjoyed the article about Yekutiel Greiff (“On the Wings of Eagles,” Sept. 2) and was privileged to attend a court of honor where he was awarded his Eagle rank with Troop 613 at Shaarey Zedek Congregation in North Hollywood. He is one of many young men who have earned the Eagle rank through local Boy Scout troops. Many local Jewish organizations have been the beneficiaries of their Eagle projects.

Now is a great time for parents and children to consider following in Yekutiel’s footsteps and learning more about Jewish values through Scouting. Those who are interested should contact scoutmaster@bhtroop360.org to learn more about local Jewish Boy Scout, Cub Scout and Girl Scout units.

Hal Schloss

Scoutmaster, Troop 360

 

A Differing View of Islam

I don’t know Jannah Jakvani, but her piece in the Sept. 2 issue displayed either astonishing ignorance of her own religion (Islam) or deliberate falsehood (“A Muslim Joins With Jews to Complete the Circle of Courage Against Hate”).

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, did not stand “for dignity of all people.” (If he had, there would have been no slaughters at his orders of the Jews of the Banu Qurayza or the Khaybar Oasis.) Nor does Islam literally mean peace, as Jakvani says — it means submission to the Islamic deity. The history of Islamic invasions, massacres, robbery, destruction, enslavement, contempt for unbelievers, and institutional degradation and unequal treatment of them in Islamic law is known to anyone who bothers to read up on the subject.

Perhaps the worst thing in this article is the writer’s attempt to equate anti-Semitism with so-called “Islamophobia,” a term invented to cover up the justified fear of jihadist attacks.

Chaim Sisman

Los Angeles

 

Jungreis Deserved Better

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, an icon of American Jewry, died on Aug. 23. I awaited your issue of Aug. 26 to see a cover story on this amazing woman who inspired both Jews and non-Jews worldwide. No mention of the highly esteemed Rebbetzin Jungreis.

Well, they’re planning something special for an upcoming issue, I thought hopefully. Something befitting the most mesmerizing speaker of my lifetime. What do I find? An impersonal obituary from the JTA on page 34 (“Esther Jungreis, Orthodox Jewish Outreach Pioneer, 80,” Sept. 2). 

The cover is devoted to Teresa Strasser’s disposing of her mother’s “stuff.” Duh? Tamara Strasser and her stuff obviously “merited”  numerous photos and nine times the space that Rebbetzin Jungreis received. I fear that something is seriously wrong with your values and priorities.

Frederica Barlaz

Los Angeles

 

Apostates, Then and Now

I wholeheartedly agree with Dennis Prager’s premises and argument presented in the article “The Left (Still) Is Not Our Friend” (Sept. 2). However, I beg to differ on the last sentence in the article, “The only difference is that there were no Jews then who supported those Christians.” As far as I know, the first claims of “Blood Libel” were made by Jewish apostates. I consider Jewish leftists and other “fellow travelers” as modern-day Jewish apostates, betrayers of their own people by spreading lies about Israel.  

Jerry Kraim

 Northridge

 

Mattering Less

Regarding your cover art on the August 19 issue, which says “Black Lives Matter: Where Do We Fit In?” The answer is we don’t. All you needed to do was see the emphasis on the coverage at the recent Olympic Games of Black gymnast Simone Biles versus the coverage received by Aly Raisman. We’re old hat.

Martin Goldstein

Woodland Hills

They’re all crazy!: The language we use when reporting terror attacks


But I don’t want to go among mad people, Alice remarked.
Oh, you can’t help that,”said the Cat: “we’re all mad here.”

Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland

It has become fashionable to invoke the M’Naghten rules as soon as there is a terror attack in Europe. Typically the perpetrator shouts “Allahu Akhbar” and murders innocent bystanders at some restaurant, bus stop, theatre, night club or what have you. Authorities quickly follow up by darkly muttering that the terrorist was actually a person with mental health issues. Their job is to convince the public how to engage in denial.

Whereas Freud explained a hundred years ago how defence mechanisms such as denial, projection and rationalization affected human behaviour, today we embrace these concepts as an integral and essential part of political correctness. For instance, politicians have suddenly become theologians and experts in comparative religion by stating that shouting Allahu Achbar has nothing to do with the real Islam. Security officials backed up by government ministers on the other hand, suddenly transform into psychologists and psychiatrists and become mental health experts. It’s a new form of multitasking.

The M’Naghten rules stem from 1843 after Daniel M’Naghten was acquitted on the charge of murdering Edward Drummond whom he had mistaken for British Prime Minister Robert Peel. He had  believed that Mr Peel was conspiring against him. The court found him not guilty by “reason of insanity” which resulted in a public outcry to the extent that Queen Victoria intervened and recommended stricter criteria for insanity.

Unlike today’s government spokespeople and security officials, courts grapple with complicated insanity issues in criminal matters despite the input of expert mental health witnesses.

Of course, labelling each Islamist attack as a mental health issue could be counterproductive.

Anyone walking along a major boulevard in Berlin or elsewhere, would notice a fair amount of homeless people begging or bedding down for the night. Many of them would have mental issues, yet people walk past them without the slightest concern, let alone fear. Heaven forbid however, if one of these beggars would shout “Allahu Achbar,”—just these two words would be the game changer! If the beggar actually attacked a passerby, he or she would be labelled a criminal. Likewise, to stab or to mug someone in a park or bus stop is pure crime. Shouting the magic words whilst stabbing someone however, turns you into a mental health case. These people, it is routinely said, “became” radicalised just as others contracted some disease. Hence diminished responsibility.

From the terrorist’s, or in PC language, the “patient’s” point of view, the danger is, that by being called mentally ill, society steals his thunder. After all, ascending to Paradise as a psychiatric patient rather than a martyr, would certainly spoil the party. Welcoming virgins would also feel cheated and worse still, could find themselves in an abusive relationship.

Despite knee jerk responses to terror attacks by quickly reassuring the public that the stabber/shooter had “mental health problems,” the German government has nevertheless recommended that the public stock up with ten days of emergency  food and water supplies. People with “mental health problems” have thus become a national security issue. Street beggars must be shaking their heads in dismay as they get overlooked. They might also fantasise where they should store their ten days of emergency supplies. Whatever, they have every reason to hold a grudge.

Since security measures and terrorists are involved in a cat and mouse game of one upmanship, authorities may be put on the defensive if terror groups started calling themselves the Al Neurosa Front, the Psychosis Caliphate or the Front for the Liberation of Acquired Organic Brain Disorder.

If that, heaven forbid, occurs, security officials will be outmanoeuvred and certainly out-diagnosed. The M’Naghten rules would no longer apply.  EU officials in Brussels would have to come up with a new creative solution. They have already tried to regulate washing up gloves for the kitchen, the permissible shape of bananas and cucumbers, prohibited drinking water being falsely advertised as stopping dehydration, and made it illegal for prunes to be promoted as a fruit assisting bowel function. Creative thinking is certainly one of their strong points.

There is however one country which has had its fair share of terror attacks, but oddly enough, the perpetrators do not get labelled as having mental health issues. When it comes to Israel, the theologians and mental health experts in Europe and increasingly in the US, are either silent or rely on-you guessed it-the occupation.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—nothing more nor less.”  Indeed.


Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the recent satire ”The trombone man: tales of a misogynist,” available through Amazon, Lulu.com and other outlets.

Steven Sotloff’s parents implore Obama to bring home a missing American journalist


The parents of Steven Sotloff, the Jewish freelance journalist beheaded by the Islamic State nearly two years ago, have joined the families of three other killed U.S. hostages in urging President Barack Obama to bring home a missing American hostage.

Shirley and Arthur Sotloff, in an essay published Wednesday in the McClatchy newspapers, called on Obama not to leave behind any Americans when he leaves office in January, referring to freelance journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared in Syria in August 2012. Tice is the only American reporter known to be held hostage anywhere in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The other authors of the essay are Diane and John Foley, the parents of journalist James Foley; Ed and Paula Kassig, the parents of humanitarian aid worker Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Carl, Marsha and Eric Mueller, the parents and brother of humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller.

 

The families pointed out that one year ago this week, Obama “made a commitment to improve our government’s dismal record on the return of American hostages.”

“We are four families bonded together by tragedy and terror,” they wrote. “We will never fully recover from the horrific outcome of our own hostage crises. But there is something that still can be done: Bring Austin Tice safely home.”

Each family also wrote a personal message.

The Sotloffs read: “We, the family of the late journalist Steven Sotloff, remind President Obama of the following: You told us in person that if it were your daughters, you would do anything in your power to bring them home. We implore you: Bring Austin Tice home.”

Tice, now 34, was working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and The Washington Post when he was taken captive. Besides a brief video clip posted about six weeks later showing him with unknown gunmen, there have been no other signs of life.

The hate narrative and Muslims in America


On the sixth night of Ramadan, June 11, I broke my fast at a synagogue during a Havdalah-Shavuot celebration. Around 10:30 p.m., at almost the same time that Omar Mateen opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., I called an Uber to get from the Westwood synagogue to my apartment in midtown Los Angeles. The driver took an unusual route. “I’m not going through West Hollywood,” he said. “I don’t want to see all that gay parade stuff.” He was a white, middle-aged, Christian man. A beaded cross dangled from his rearview mirror. He asked me where I was from. I said I was Pakistani. “You don’t look like them,” he laughed and added, “That’s a compliment.”

Let us be frank about what it is. The two most acceptable forms of discrimination in America today are discrimination against gays and Muslims. It is politically, socially, legally acceptable to be a bigot with regard to practicing Muslims and a person’s sexual orientation. In the past six months alone, countless politicians backed by the Christian right have pushed for hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills through state governments. These include bills like North Carolina’s sweeping HB2, which denies even basic legal protections to gay and transgender people. 

At the same time, Muslims in the United States have to tolerate the racist ravings of presidential candidates and television anchors. The word “terrorist” is now reserved exclusively for Muslims, a dubious indignity that the 1.6 billion Muslims of the world must accept as theirs alone. The political causations behind the rise of ISIS are no longer debated, but every time a madman pledges allegiance to it, the rest of the Muslim world is immediately answerable for his motivations. 

There are more than 3 million Muslims in America, and some of them, like some Orthodox Jews and orthodox Christians, do not support gay rights. The route to acceptance has been a morbidly slow evolution across all major world religions, made worse by the lack of political and legal institutions to contradict widely held religious beliefs. 

The four major schools of Islam are in utter disagreement on homosexuality and challenge one another on the legal premise of punishment, if any. Islamic literature has been rife with homoeroticism over the ages, and in modern narratives, progress is being made as global acceptance increases. It is also true that the state of gay rights is most abysmal in seven Muslim majority countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death. In yet others, including Indonesia, Turkey and Jordan, homosexuality is legal and LGBTQ rights are improving. 

But is homophobia in Islam relevant to the case of Omar Mateen, a non-devout, possibly gay Muslim man with unproven links to any fundamentalist organization?

Yes and no. It should not be completely ignored that Mateen’s violent motivations might have found their root in his parents’ religion, or that he declared allegiance to multiple (albeit contradictory) terrorist organizations in a last-minute 911 call. Having said this, that cannot be the primary or even secondary point of focus.

Religious leaders at the Islamic Center of Southern California speak about solidarity in the wake of the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Amal Khan

Once more, much of the conversation in America disowns what is inconvenient to include in its political and cultural narratives this election year. Mateen was a gay-hating, gun-touting Muslim terrorist with Afghan parents, according to the media narrative. But what Mateen was, was a mentally unstable American terrorist with legal access to assault rifles.  

The only thing that separates Omar Mateen from Adam Lanza, from Aaron Alexis, from James Holmes, Timothy McVeigh, Christopher Harper-Mercer or Dylann Roof is his name. That this point needs to be raised in 2016 America is a humiliating measure of the state of racism in this country. On Saturday night, it was Omar Mateen, born to Afghan parents, who killed 49 people. On the morning of June 12, James Howell, born to white parents and from Indiana, was arrested with a cache of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and ammunition in Santa Monica on his way to the West Hollywood gay pride parade.

The fact is that homophobia, like hate, is not a Muslim problem. It is a global problem. Legal and immediate access to automatic assault weapons, however, is solely an American problem.

So, no, America should not get to choose who it owns. America should not get to embrace the Muhammad Alis as its own, but reject the Omar Mateens as somebody else’s. It should not get to turn a debate about its own gun laws, its intelligence failures and its homegrown homophobia into a hate-filled, racist narrative about immigration and Islamic fundamentalism, which is exactly what political opportunists like Donald Trump are now doing.

On June 13, one day after the murders in Orlando, the Islamic Center of Southern California was a champion of common sense and solidarity. In the settling chill of dusk, an interfaith vigil welcomed speakers from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Sikh clergies, gay and straight, who denounced violence, oppression and the war of religions in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Arik Greenberg, founder of the Institute for Religious Tolerance, Peace and Justice, identified himself as a secular Jew. He expressed concern over a systematically instilled anti-Islamism, likening America today to the climate of hostility in Nazi Germany, when ordinary Germans were brainwashed into believing that there was not a single decent Jew who lived among them. “I see this tactic used by many American leaders, making people believe that if they scratch the surface of any Muslim, they’ll find a terrorist underneath,” he said. 

For over an hour, people in headscarves or kippahs, tattooed women and priests, police officers, gays, lesbians, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims and Christians spoke of a common human dignity. “To the wicked opportunists,” said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, “you are on the side of ISIS because you believe in a war of religions and getting cheap political votes through fear and violence.”

With an array of rainbow flags fluttering behind them, the gathering was solemn. Stephen Rohde, chair of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), ended the vigil by saying, “It is a matter of our survival as a nation, as a widely decent and good people to stand here together.” 

And stand they did, long after the day’s Ramadan fast broke, and the sun set. When people finally dispersed, it was in the silent spirit of hope, holding white candles and reflecting upon the true diversity of America’s greatness.

Why are we afraid to talk about Islam?


If a white, homophobic Christian fundamentalist had murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub, would we go out of our way not to mention his religion for fear of offending all Christians?

Mass murderer Omar Mateen, the man who went on a rampage in an Orlando nightclub, is not just a “hater” or a “homegrown extremist,” as President Barack Obama characterized him. He’s a Muslim terrorist who called 911 and pledged allegiance to an Islamic terror group while committing his slaughter.

As FBI Director James Comey told reporters on Monday, “There are strong indications of radicalization by this killer and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations.”

But if these “foreign terrorist organizations” are indeed Islamic, as we all know they are, why can’t Comey just come out and say it? What is he afraid of?

Since 9/11, according to the website Jihad Watch, 28,589 deadly terrorist acts have been committed around the world in the name of Islam. Why can’t we talk about that? How can we treat a disease if we don’t identify it?

Omar Mateen was radicalized by Islamists like Abu Taubah, a man whose teachings are described in the Daily Beast as “virulently homophobic.”

Of course, if Mateen needed any Islamic inspiration for his homophobic act, all he had to do was watch a video of gays being thrown off rooftops in Iraq by ISIS terrorists, or one of Shiek Farrokh Sekaleshfar, a Muslim preacher who has given sermons in the Orlando area and has called for gays to be executed.

“Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this,” the shiek says in one of the videos. “We have to have compassion for people. With homosexuals, it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them.”

It’s easy to dismiss all this hate speech as a “perversion” of Islam, as the president and many others have done. But the holy texts of Islam contain some genuine bile against homosexuals and even specify the punishment: “Execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.”

This may help explain why homosexuality is so reviled in Muslim-dominated countries. As a 2013 Pew study reported, over 90 percent of people surveyed in predominantly Muslim countries like Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia and Pakistan say homosexuality should be rejected.

When such religious-based homophobia leads to violence, our politically correct reflex is to separate the religion from the interpretation, and say, “This is not Islam, it’s only a twisted interpretation.” This helps us move on and talk about things more in our comfort zone, such as gun control.

But if the twisted interpretation leads to violence, why should we dismiss it? Why should an instrument (guns) be taken more seriously than a motivation (religious hate speech)? If we condemn a Christian or Jewish preacher for inciting violence, why not a Muslim preacher?

Judaism frowns on separating interpretation of text from religion.

“Interpretation is as fundamental to any text-based religion as is the act of revelation itself,” Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes in his book, “The Great Partnership.”

“No word, especially the word of God, is self-explanatory. Exegetes and commentators are to religion what judges are to law. They are essential to the system, and they can make all the difference between justice and injustice, right and wrong.”

Instead of dismissing the hateful interpretations of Islam, we must confront them directly and candidly and counter them with humane and scholarly interpretations that would distinguish right from wrong and bring honor to the faith.

Fortunately, such a movement exists — it's called the Muslim Reform Movement.

This is an initiative started in late 2015 by a dozen Muslim scholars and religious leaders in the United States to spawn a more liberal and tolerant Islam for the next century. The movement, which I wrote about last December after the terror attack in San Bernardino, has yet to gain traction with the mainstream media. I hope that changes.

The group’s manifesto reinterprets Islamic texts and calls for many things we take for granted, such as “secular governance, democracy and liberty.” It also asserts that “every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam.”

It rejects “bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.”

Most importantly, the authors call on the Muslim world and others to sign on and help the movement grow and flourish globally.

Everyone on the planet who believes in freedom and human rights should sign on. Every Muslim preacher and leader who believes Islam is a religion of peace should get behind the movement.

We need to create a world where all present and future Omar Mateens will enter their favorite mosque and hear about an Islam that doesn’t tolerate homophobia or bigotry or misoginy of any sort. An Islam that brings honor to Islam.  

That world would be good for the LGBTQ community, and for all of humanity.

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.

Obama, in mosque visit, says an attack on Islam is an attack on all faiths


President Barack Obama visited a U.S. mosque on Wednesday and declared that attacks on Islam were an attack on all faiths in a move to counter rhetoric from Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates that have alienated Muslims.

“We have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,” Obama said at a mosque outside Baltimore. “When any religious group is targeted we all have a responsibility to speak up.”

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States after a California couple who killed 14 people last December were described by authorities as radicalized Muslims inspired by Islamic State militants.

Republicans vying to be the party's candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election also have argued against Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees fleeing Syria's war, saying it raised national security risks.

Obama urged people watching who had never been to a mosque to think of it as similar to their own houses of worship.

“Think of your own church or synagogue or temple, and mosques like this will be very familiar. This is where families come to worship and express their love for God and for each other,” he said.

The president, who is a Christian, said it was important to have more Muslim characters portrayed on television who were not related to national security themes, and he said engagement with Muslim American communities must not be a cover for surveillance.

Turkey unsettled by ‘anti-Islamic’ messages in U.S. presidency race


Turkey is unsettled by “anti-Islamic” messages in the U.S. presidential campaign, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday, citing the 2016 race for the White House that has seen the Republican front-runner advocate a ban on Muslim immigration. 

Donald Trump, the businessman-turned-politician leading the polls ahead of the November 2016 election, last month said that all foreign Muslims should be temporarily prevented from entering the United States, a proposal he repeated in his first TV ad last week.

In November, Trump said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York's World Trade Center, an assertion fact-checkers have not supported.

“It's election year in the U.S., we're disturbed by anti-Islamic remarks by some of the candidates,” Cavusoglu told a conference of ambassadors in Ankara. 

Over the weekend, a Muslim advocacy group called on Trump to apologize after a Muslim woman who silently protested at one of his rallies was removed by security personnel.

Another Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, has said Muslims are unfit for the U.S. presidency, although he later said he would be open to a Muslim candidate if they renounced Sharia law.

Candidates have also raised questions about Syrian refugees, but few have directly challenged Trump's Muslim proposal.

Representatives of the Republican National Committee and Trump could not be immediately reached for comment.

NATO allies Turkey and the United States are part of a Washington-led coalition to fight Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. But differences of opinion over which opposition groups should be backed in Syria have recently caused tensions, with Ankara summoning the U.S. ambassador last October over support to Kurdish groups.

REGIONAL CHALLENGES

In a wide-ranging policy speech to the annual meeting of Turkish ambassadors, Cavusoglu defended Turkey's deployment of a force protection unit to Bashiqa in northern Iraq, a move which has caused a diplomatic row with Baghdad.

He repeated that Ankara respects Iraq's territorial integrity and said the deployment was made after security deteriorated at Bashiqa, where Turkish soldiers have been training an Iraqi militia to fight Islamic State.

Cavusoglu also said Turkey was ready to make “every effort” to help resolve tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have worsened since the execution of a high-profile Shi'ite cleric by Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

But he appeared to dash any hopes of an imminent normalization in ties with Israel, saying there was no agreement yet on Turkish demands for compensation for the deaths of 10 Turkish activists on an aid ship in 2010 or for an end to the Gaza blockade.

An Israeli official said last month Israel and Turkey had reached a preliminary agreement to normalize relations. 

Cavusoglu also said Ankara would fulfill its responsibilities to ensure the resolution this year of the dispute over Cyprus, split since a 1974 Turkish military intervention.

Why the Saudis are just like Trump


The online bickering between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his fellow billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal over Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration is seeped with irony: For decades, Saudi Arabia has had a near-total ban on granting visas to Jews. 

In a December 11 tweet, Alwaleed called on Trump to withdraw from the presidential race, prompting Trump to call him a “Dopey Prince.” Many Saudis have promised to stop doing business with Trump-affiliated enterprises. And one Saudi billionaire accused Trump of “creating war” and “hatred between Muslims and Christians.” 

But Saudi policies over the years have made it virtually impossible for Jews to visit the kingdom: 

• Israeli citizens are explicitly barred from receiving Saudi visas, as are all would-be visitors who even have an Israeli stamp in their passports. 

• In 1991, after the United States protected the Saudis by defeating Iraq in the Gulf War, 17 U.S. Senators applied for visas to visit the kingdom. Only one, the Jewish Sen. Frank Lautenberg, was refused entry and had to get a new passport because he had previously visited Israel.

• 2004 a Saudi government Web site promoting tourism stated an explicit “no Jews” policy. Though that statement was later taken down, Saudi Arabia did not deny the policy had every existed. In fact, in the 1970s would-be visitors had to swear they were not Jewish to be allowed in.

• Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal was once asked if Jews could enter, and he could think of only two who had: U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, then Americas top diplomat; and the fiercely anti-Israel Rabbi Elmer Berger. 

• Last year, the Saudis denied entry to only one journalist who planned to cover President Obama’s visit to the kingdom: Jerusalem Post reporter Michael Wilner, who is Jewish. However, Wilner is not an Israeli and has never lived in Israel. 

America’s protestations of this blatant bigotry have been largely muted, apparently in deference to the sensibilities our oil-rich ally. 

Clearly, the Saudis are not taking a principled stand against religion-based visa discrimination. They think discriminating against a religion is perfectly fine – as long as it’s not their religion. 

(To be clear, I abhor Trump’s proposed policy. That does not detract from the outrageous Saudi inconsistency on the matter.)

The Saudi approach is consistent with Muslim attitudes toward “blaspheming” their prophet. During the 2005 controversy over cartoons depicting Mohammad, Muslims around the world claimed it was wrong to criticize people’s religions – but they never objected to images and artwork criticizing Christianity and other non-Muslim religions. 

And that’s the point. Most Muslim countries and many of their citizens do not share Western-style values of tolerance and respect. They do not tolerate and respect other religions; they just want special treatment for Islam.

The Democrats and Republicans who have been rushing to attack Trump’s comments about Muslims who visit America would be wise to condemn religion-based discrimination in all parts of the world. And the Saudis could demonstrate that their protests are based on principle rather than self-interest by changing their visa policies and finally welcoming Israelis and other Jews who wish to visit.

I’m not holding my breath.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Jews against Trump


In ways direct and subtle, the Jews of America and the Jews of France, the Jews of the left and the Jews of the right, the Jews of the Reform movement and the Jews of the Orthodox movement, have sent Donald J. Trump a message: Feh.

“Feh” is a Yiddish expression of disgust.  And the fact that Trump could provoke such a uniform reaction from such a fractious people is a credit to the dumbness and darkness of his ideas.

His increasingly xenophobic and racist rhetoric reached a low point this week when he declared that under a Trump administration, America would close its borders to Muslims.   

“We need a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on,” Trump said to cheers of approval from his supporters.

If Trump thought Jews, so often the targets of Islamic terrorism, would join the cheers, he really doesn’t get Jews.   The reaction from Jewish organizations and leaders was immediate and uniformly negative. 

Trump’s plan was “unacceptable and antithetical to American values,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a written statement.

“The U.S. was founded as a place of refuge for those fleeing religious persecution, and religious pluralism is core to our national identity,” Greenblatt continued. “A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values.”

Greenblatt’s words echoed similar statements from across the Jewish political, religious and ideological spectrum.  Last month, even the Orthodox Union joined in opposing Trump’s call to keep Syrian refugees out of America.

Trump must be scratching his – insert your own hair joke here. Jews are a particular target of Islamic terror.  The coward who shot up the disabilities center in San Bernardino was “obsessed” with Israel, his father told reporters. 

According to the FBI’s most recent statistics, Jews still are the prime target for hate crimes in America—59 percent are directed at Jews.  Second place, but rising faster, are Muslims.

But Jews understand that the democratic safeguards built into America’s Constitution, including the separation of church and state, form our strongest safeguard against hate and discrimination.  When those crumble, we all fall down. 

Beyond the danger posed by the threat to civil liberties and religious freedom, there is the practical issue.  In Trump’s mind, the best way to stop Islamic terror is to target all Muslims.  But that just encourages Muslim radicalism, creates the “holy war” between Muslims  and non-Muslims that the extremists pray for, and pushes moderate believers to the extremes.   

Liberal claptrap?  Ask the French Jews and the Israelis. 

When Trump’s recent foulness exploded across the Web, I was having coffee with an Israeli official.  Israelis, he told me, are simply bemused by Trump’s antics.   If Muslims in and of themselves are the problem, how to account for the success of Israel, a democratic Jewish state with a 20-percent mostly Muslim Arab minority ?  

Israel faces threats from Islamic extremism that, to use a Trumpism, would make your head spin, but Israeli leaders from David Ben Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu have known that the best way to increase radicalization is to persecute the majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens, or to insult the Muslim religion itself.

French Jews have seen their own and their fellow countrymen slaughtered on the streets of Paris and Toulouse at the hands of Muslim terrorists – but they know the moral and practical dangers of a discriminatory France are a far greater threat.

This week, the Jews of France issued a stinging rebuke to their homegrown anti-democratic forces, and, by extension, to Trump.

On the eve of the upcoming regional elections in France, the Alsace chapter of CRIF, the umbrella Jewish organization, came out strongly against the Muslim-baiting National Front, led by Marine Le Pen.

“The Alsace chapter, strongly attached to the values of the Republic,” the statement read, “calls upon all voters to participate at the upcoming elections – since so much is at stake. We are calling to reject the extremist parties that advocate hatred and try to prosper at the expense of the divide within the society created by fear.”

CRIF president Roger Cukierman called on the Jewish community to vote “in order to block the National Front, a party of xenophobia and populism.”

It was heartening this week to see Republican presidential candidates and Party leaders all denounce Trump’s ideas.  And it was especially thrilling to hear the silence and jeers that met Trump at the recent meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

If Jews in America, France and Israel can all agree on the danger to their countries and their liberty in the kind of ideas Donald Trump espouses, then there’s not a lot more to be said about Trump or his candidacy.

Except, feh.


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

The longest war


No matter how many wars we fight and how many precautions we take, as long as enough people believe they are killing in the name of God, the war against Islamic terror will continue. The killers of San Bernardino were motivated not by grievance but by religious fervor. California’s tough gun laws, a sophisticated U.S. anti-terrorist program and even the American dream were no match for them.

President Barack Obama can promise to “destroy” terror groups such as ISIS, but let’s not fool ourselves. Terror is a symptom, a tactic, not a cause. The root cause of the violence is a medieval and literalist interpretation of Islam that fires up zealots toward jihad and the dream of martyrdom. No missile can destroy that fervor.

It’s a mistake to dismiss Islamic extremism as belonging to only a fringe minority. In too many countries, extreme beliefs have become all too common. According to the 2013 Pew Research Center report, for example, 88 percent of Muslims in Egypt and 62 percent of Muslims in Pakistan favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim faith. Significant majorities in many Muslim-dominated countries believe Sharia should be the law of the land. 

Unless a more moderate and progressive interpretation of Islam gains serious traction throughout the Muslim world, you can forget about winning any war on terror.

Until now, the general approach of progressive Muslims has been to condemn Islamic terror while dismissing it as “not Islam” and defending the real Islam as a religion of peace. 

After so much violence committed in the name of Islam, this defense has started to wear thin. The problematic texts in the Quran that are used to justify violence are real. What Islam needs today is not better PR but serious reformation. A good starting point would be for influential Muslims to endorse a formal declaration of principles that defines a liberal, modern vision of Islam for the next century. 

Luckily for us, that declaration has arrived. It’s called the Muslim Reform Movement. It was announced on Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C., by a dozen or so Muslim scholars and activists from around the world. Here is the preamble: 

“We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. We seek to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century. We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.

“We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, we have reflected on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance. We are announcing today the formation of an international initiative: the Muslim Reform Movement.

“We have courageous reformers from around the world who will outline our Declaration for Muslim Reform, a living document that we will continue to enhance as our journey continues. We invite our fellow Muslims and neighbors to join us.”

The declaration, which has been in the works for a year, outlines a series of principles based on a modern view of Islam that reinterprets outdated texts for the new century. Some sections read as if they were written by a die-hard liberal: “We reject bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.”

An essential principle is the separation of mosque and state: “We are against political movements in the name of religion.”

Above all, the declaration honors life and freedom: “We believe in life, joy, free speech and the beauty all around us. Every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam. Ideas do not have rights. Human beings have rights. We reject blasphemy laws. They are a cover for the restriction of freedom of speech and religion. We affirm every individual’s right to participate equally in ijtihad, or critical thinking, and we seek a revival of ijtihad.”

According to one of the authors, Raheel Raza, founder of Muslims Facing Tomorrow in Toronto, the goal is to take the declaration to mosques, Muslim institutions and Muslim leaders throughout the world and seek their formal endorsement.

Even if it takes 100 years, getting those endorsements is the real war we must win.

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

At two Inland Empire Mosques, Muslims shocked by attack, disgusted by ISIS


For the last two years, multiple times each week, Gasser Shehata prayed around lunchtime at the same San Bernardino mosque as Syed Rizwan Farook, the 28-year-old Muslim who, with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, recently carried out the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“He prayed with us shoulder to shoulder. That’s why we are in shock,” said Shehata, a 42-year-old San Bernardino resident, originally from Egypt, who was outside Dar-Al-Uloom Al-Islamiyah of America on Sunday afternoon with his friend, 18-year-old Rahemaan Ali.

Muslims from around the area expressed horror and shock that a man they thought to be peaceful and immersed in Islam committed such an atrocity — and emphatically distanced themselves and their religion from the Dec. 2 rampage inside the Inland Regional Center that left 14 dead and 21 wounded.

A memorial near the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino for the victims of the terror attack.

According to officials, the attack began at 11 a.m., when Farook — a public health worker for the county — and his wife stormed a holiday party at the center, armed with semiautomatic rifles and pistols. They opened fire on a room filled with many of Farook’s co-workers and led police on a chase around San Bernardino, which ended in their deaths during a shootout that also left one police officer wounded. Officials later collected thousands of rounds of ammunition from the couple’s SUV and the garage of their nearby Redlands apartment, where reportedly there were also 12 pipe bombs.

Malik reportedly pledged allegiance on Facebook to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of ISIS, the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State. Officials are also probing the couple’s online communication with known Islamic extremists.

And although the FBI is uncovering Farook’s path to Islamist radicalization, those who knew him at the two mosques he frequented in San Bernardino and Riverside said they are shocked by the attack, and angry that groups such as ISIS say they represent Islam and are attracting some young Muslims to its destructive cause.

“He never really talked about politics, never said he’s pro-ISIS or against ISIS,” Shehata said. “We are all anti-ISIS. We hate them. We wish the whole world could go beat them up. We’re actually surprised that America hasn’t beaten them. They beat Saddam in one week.”

Almost immediately after the attack, national and international media outlets swarmed Dar-Al-Uloom Al-Islamiyah and the Islamic Center of Riverside, where Farook also prayed, trying to piece together how and when he became radicalized.

“We understand every time there’s a terrorist attack, the rumor is that this person got radicalized at the mosque, so the media right away comes to see the mosque,” Shehata said. “If we hear a Muslim having extremist ideas, we will call the FBI.”

“Right away,” Ali added.

“I will call the FBI on Abdurraheman even though I love him,” Shehata said, using another name for Ali.

The problem, though, he said, is that it creates an atmosphere where ISIS supporters understand they must stay under the radar.

“Now nobody trusts anybody,” he said. “If I get crazy ideas I will not tell it to nobody because I know my Muslim brother will call the FBI on me.”

Oren Segal, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said in a telephone interview that Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS have adapted to and effectively used the rise and influence of social media “faster than the traditional domestic extremist groups” in the United States.

“I’m not sure if monitoring somebody’s search terms would be helpful, realizing that they ought not put all their thoughts and feelings online,” Segal said. “It’s going to get even more difficult to track these people.”

An ADL report released in April and updated in November identified 69 American residents known to be linked to Islamic extremist plots in 2015, more than double the number linked to such terrorism in 2014, and triple the year before.

“It adds to this sort of obvious trend that this threat is continuing to grow,” Segal said.

Still, he cautioned that any backlash against Muslims in the United States would be wrong — and used by ISIS as recruiting propaganda.

“Beyond the fact that you can’t blame the acts of terrorists on an entire religious community, what people don’t understand is when you engage in that kind of activity, all you’re doing is actually acting in the way that ISIS is claiming that Americans are,” he said.

At the Islamic Center of Riverside, Mustafa Kuko, the mosque’s imam, said he spoke many times with Farook, and offered him guidance regarding Muslim laws for finding a spouse. He said Farook never discussed politics with him or gave any hints of his radicalization.

“[He was] looking for someone who’s committed religiously — not about money or fame or beauty,” Kuko said of Farook’s search for a wife.

Shortly after Farook returned in July 2014 from Mecca, Saudi Arabia — where he married Malik after meeting her on an online Muslim dating site — Kuko was among those who joined them for a small wedding celebration at the Riverside mosque. Shehata and Ahmaan said they saw Farook’s wife at the wedding celebration, but never spoke with her and didn’t know what she looked like because she wore a full facial covering, called a niqab.

Kuko said Farook came to the mosque daily, including to the Fajr prayer, which is at dawn, and would sit in the corner of the room until prayer was called.

Amir Abdul-Jalil, a Muslim who was surrounded by media while giving an impromptu television interview in the mosque’s parking lot on Dec. 4, said he learned about the attack that day, and found it hard to believe that Farook did it.

“My first reaction, and my reaction to this point, is there’s no way this brother … he’s not that type of person,” Abdul-Jalil said. “I would describe him as one of the most sweet people I’ve met in my 50 years.”

Abdul-Jalil said Farook, who also repaired cars on the side, fixed his automobile and asked that he pay only for the parts. He added that Farook “knows Islam very well,” which is one reason he was so shocked to hear about the attack.

“Maybe someone else who doesn’t really know Islam could’ve done it — but not him,” Abdul-Jalil said.

Another member of the mosque, Salihin Kondoker, said his wife, Anies, was Farook’s co-worker and was shot three times in the attack, narrowly avoiding two other bullets that whizzed above her head as she walked out of the restroom when the attack began. Kondoker said the only time his wife, who is now out of the hospital and recovering at home, ever mentioned Farook was a few years ago when she spent a day training him, and mentioned a new Pakistani co-worker. (Farook is an American-born citizen, but his parents are from Pakistan.)

Kondoker said he views the attack as a crime that would not be condoned by any religion, and that ISIS (a name he rejects, opting to call them Daesh, an anti-ISIS Arabic acronym) has a political — not religious — agenda.

“That’s one reason we’re coming forward and talking. This absolutely has no connection with the faith,” Kondoker said. “Let’s say 2,000 people act this way. [That] does not really change [the] dynamics of 1.9 billion.”

He expressed his support for an American-led military campaign to destroy ISIS, and added that he believes “there’s more behind” ISIS than what is seen, without elaborating.

“I’m pretty sure there’s a power, something behind there, which we don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of stuff, conspiracy theory stuff out there on the Internet. We don’t know what to believe.”

Kuko said he’s sure that ISIS will eventually fall, just like other extremist entities.

“There are so many sects and groups that were deviant [in Islam’s history],” Kuko said. “They disappeared. I’m sure they’ll vanish. ISIS will vanish.”

At the Riverside mosque, a 34-year-old Muslim named Brent, who declined to provide his last name, said he and his fellow Muslims do not recognize ISIS as Islamic, and that Americans should understand that the San Bernardino attack “is not an Islamic attack.” He described ISIS as “a cancer in the body of Islam, but at the same time, we reject them as being Muslims and being a part of the body.”

“While the cameras are off, you have people that are fervently against ISIS and what they represent,” he said. “I cannot stop ISIS with my hands but I’m speaking against them, what they represent. And their actions in the world are not tolerated by the majority of the Islamic community.”

That ISIS is not Islamic was a common theme in interviews at the two Inland Empire mosques where Farook prayed.

“There’s nothing religious about ISIS,” Shehata said. “It’s about politics. It’s about power. It’s about conquering lands. And they’re using religion to their advantage.”

He said the key is for Muslims to study Islam, as ISIS tries to brainwash young, ignorant Muslims. “Muslims need to learn their religion, that is all,” Shehata said. “There’s nothing to modernize. The old message was loving.”

“Islam teaches us that if you kill one innocent soul, it’s as if you killed the entire humanity,” Ali said. “He [Farook] cannot bring any scholar, any verse in the Quran, any narration from the prophet, anything from a religious point that could support him to what he has done.”

In the meantime, people such as Shehata said he and other Muslims repulsed by ISIS should do what they can to speak out against and discredit the group.

“[W]hat’s incorrect — we say it’s incorrect. If we hear that there’s an imam somewhere saying crazy stuff, we’ll criticize him,” he said.

“That’s all we can do. We cannot travel to Pakistan and fight him.”

Thousands of Arab-Israelis protest ban on Islamic Movement


An estimated 15,000 Arab-Israelis protested Israel’s outlawing of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Several Arab-Israeli Knesset lawmakers and Arab leaders attended the protest Saturday in the northern Israeli town of Uhm al-Fahm.

“With our spirit and blood we shall redeem you, al-Aqsa,” the protesters chanted, according to Reuters, referring to the mosque located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. “We will not shut up. We’re all with the Islamic Movement. Outlaw the racists.”

Israel’s Security Cabinet outlawed the Islamic Movement, a group popular with Arab citizens of Israel, last month over accusations of incitement and links to terrorism. Under the decision, any person who belongs to the organization or acts on its behalf is subject to arrest and imprisonment. Property belonging to the organization can also be seized.

The northern branch of the Islamic Movement, headed by Sheik Raad Salah, has fomented the campaign that accuses Israel of intending to harm the Al-Aqsa mosque and violating the status quo on the Temple Mount, which bars Jews from praying there. It established the network of activists called the Mourabitoun and Mourabitat to initiate provocations on the Temple Mount.

In addition, the organization is a sister movement of Hamas, which Israel and the United States label as a terrorist group, and is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Letters to the editor: Islamic extremism, contamination at Brandeis-Bardin and more


Hydra vs. Islam

As a friend and fan of Rabbi Reuven Firestone, I was disappointed by “Heads of the Hydra” (Nov. 20). He writes: “Let’s be clear. This terrible violence is not about Islam. That accusation is a canard. It’s an excuse, a pitiful substitute for careful analysis and consideration.”

He downplays Islamic textual support for violence by citing equivalently violent verses from the Bible — as though they’re on the same footing. They’re not. Long ago, Jewish legal authorities confined application of those verses to biblical times. Muslim legal scholars have yet to do the same with their holy books. 

He also excuses Islam by blaming terrorism on pathologies afflicting Muslim youth, including victimhood, alienation, corruption and hopelessness. But countless children worldwide suffer similarly — without the same terrifying results. To cite one example: Palestinian-Christian teens don’t aspire to kill Jews. Why? It’s about religion.

A religion is the totality of the expressions of people who speak and act in its name. In the Greek Hydra myth, Hercules’ cousin helps him kill the monster. We Jews stand ready to help our Muslim religious cousins kill their Hydra. Our first act is to help them see their monster for what it is.

Jon Drucker, Los Angeles

Contamination of Information, Continued

In Rob Eshman’s Nov. 13 column, “Brandeis-Bardin Needs to Be Transparent About Contamination,” he references a link to the letter that American Jewish University (AJU) sent to Brandeis/Alonim families, in which AJU asserts that Brandeis-Bardin is safe. In that letter, AJU referred to people who raised questions as “disgruntled ex-employees.”   

I am one of the former employees that phrase seems to reference. Questioning my love for Alonim is hurtful, considering I was born there, my sandek for my bris was Shlomo Bardin, my bar mitzvah was there, my wedding was there. I spent nearly every summer and winter break of my life there. The friends I made there are my friends today.

In 1995, Brandeis filed a lawsuit against Rocketdyne (now Boeing) for the release of hazardous materials “disposed of and released into the soil, air, and groundwater.” In 1997, just before the trial, Brandeis settled confidentially. It never made sense to me how the institute could have it both ways — that Brandeis filed a contamination lawsuit, yet the public, as well as Brandeis employees, were told the land was safe.

KNBC did not invent the issue of contamination at the Santa Susana site. As late as June 13, 2014, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times headlined “Santa Susana Toxic Cleanup Effort Is a Mess.” That was the focus of the NBC report: Boeing — Rocketdyne — Nuclear Cleanup. 

This is not a “for or against” Brandeis/Alonim issue. AJU needs to be fully transparent and release any test results. That’s the only way we will know if, as AJU said in its letter, Brandeis is safe.

We all want to see Brandeis/Alonim continue and thrive. 

David Dassa, Los Angeles

Modern, Meaningful

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, in her powerful opinion piece “A View From the Women’s Section” (Nov. 13), not only describes the practices embraced by large segments of the Orthodox communities throughout the world, it also answers the question: Who is Modern Orthodox? 

She poignantly conveys that her actions, as practiced by many other families, ultimately define Modern Orthodoxy. Proclamations by the Rabbinical Council of America are not conclusive. Those of us who are committed to halachah know who we are and those who understand our commitment define us as Orthodox. There is an admonition in the Talmud that rabbinic rulings should not impose decrees on the public that they know the public will not be able to abide. Where the exclusion of women from spiritual leadership is not tolerable among multitudes of those who define themselves as Orthodox, it is wise not to render such decrees.  

Esther Macner, Beverly Hills

corrections

A story about gap years in Israel, “Filling the Gap: The Case for a Post-High School Year in Israel” (Nov. 13), misspelled the name of student Mati Hurwitz and misidentified the school he is attending, Yeshivat Har Etzion. Also, the story suggested Masa Israel Journey will provide funding for thousands of students attending such programs this year, instead of throughout several years.

The article “Aviva Plans for an Inclusive Future” (Nov. 13) mischaracterized the boy in the photo caption as having been adopted with Aviva’s help, when, in fact, the couple’s pending adoption of another child is through Aviva.

Ron Dermer to ZOA: We must defeat ‘militant Islam,’ but Islam is not the enemy


Taking center stage at what organizers dubbed an all-star night of Zionist heroes, Israeli envoy Ron Dermer called on the international community to wage war against “militant Islam” and simultaneously cautioned his audience against viewing Islam itself as the enemy.

Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, issued his declaration Sunday night during his keynote address at the annual Louis Brandeis Award Dinner of the Zionist Organization of America. He warned of a global network of diverse Muslim terrorist groups waging a relentless war to create a world where “women are chattel, gays are hanged and minorities are either eliminated or persecuted” — and one where Israel and the United States do not exist.

At the same time, Dermer rejected the idea that the “problem is Islam itself.”

“Faiths tend to be very malleable things,” Dermer said. “They get interpreted in different ways at different times. For most of the last 1,400 years, Islam was much more tolerant to minorities than Christianity was. Jews, of all people, should know this.”

But in the 21st century, Dermer said, “It is Muslims, not Christians, who are killing Jews in the name of religion.”

Dermer added that just as Nazism quickly came and went in Germany, the Islamic world could change again. “But for that to happen,” he said, “it is not only important to define the enemy, it is important to defeat the enemy.”

The Israeli ambassador then criticized those in the media and the international community who strongly condemn ISIS attacks in Paris but make excuses for Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Dermer did not directly criticize members of the Obama administration, but he did take aim at several of their frequent talking points — rejecting as “drivel” the idea that Palestinian terrorism is in any way fueled by Israeli policy and mocking those who respond to Palestinian attacks with calls for an end to the cycle of violence and restraint on both sides.

Dermer, who received the Dr. Bob Shillman Award for Outstanding Pro-Israel Diplomacy, stopped short of including the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, on his list of Islamic terrorist groups. But ZOA’s president, Morton Klein, did — using his speech to compare Abbas and the P.A. to ISIS.

Klein in his more than two decades at the helm of ZOA has turned the group into a relentless opponent of the Oslo process, Israeli territorial concessions and a Palestinian state. In addition to accusing Abbas of anti-Jewish incitement, Klein called for a new law requiring the deportation of parents and siblings of terrorists who failed to condemn their relative’s actions in Hebrew and Arabic. He also issued an impassioned call to block the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States, saying many of the refugees hate Jews and Israel.

Other high-profile speakers at the ZOA dinner included casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a mega-philanthropist and Republican donor; Michele Bachmann, a former congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate; actor Jon Voight; and Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

During his speech, Dermer also praised the ZOA — a frequent critic of the Obama administration — for its dogged defense of Israel, and he hailed Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, as the “greatest Jewish philanthropists of our time.” Event organizers offered their own tribute to Adelson, hanging a “Heroes of Zionism” banner under the dais with his image alongside seminal Zionist leaders who either laid the groundwork or were directly involved in the creation of the Jewish state — Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, Zeev Jabotinsky, Edmond De Rothschild, and two previous ZOA presidents, Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.

Voight, who received the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Award, drew large applause — and a standing ovation from Adelson — with his call for a Republican to be elected in 2016. The actor, an ardent defender of Israel, was introduced by Bachmann. The former Minnesota congressman is staunchly pro-Israel, but recently found herself in the middle of controversy after telling a Christian radio show that Christians needed to “share” Jesus with as many people as possible, including Jews, because “he’s coming soon.”

Despite the controversy, Klein introduced Bachmann as part-Margaret Thatcher, part-Esther for her defense of Israel and the Jewish people. Afterward, he told JTA that Bachmann had apologized, explaining that she did not intend for her comments to be widely publicized. Klein defended Bachmann and other evangelical Christians, saying that while they believe the key to salvation for all people, including Jews, is the acceptance of Jesus, they also defend Jews and Israel. Klein said it was no different than how he as a Jew rejects fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. Klein added that he would have a problem if he knew that [Bachmann] was actively trying to convert Jews.

The ZOA’s Louis Brandeis Award went to Jack Halpern, a businessman and philanthropist who has worked to promote Israel’s development of energy sources. His father won the award nearly four decades ago.

Susan Tuchman, the director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, warned of increased harassment of Jewish students on multiple college campuses, citing the organization Students for Justice for Palestine and the calls from some of its leaders for a third intifada. She called on university presidents to condemn SPJ and to hold the group’s members accountable under their schools’ anti-hate and -harassment rules.

The night also featured taped remarks from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alan Dershowitz, who received the Mort Zuckerman Award for Outstanding Journalism. And a late addition to the program was one of Jonathan Pollard’s attorneys, Eliot Lauer, who lamented what he described as onerous parole conditions facing his client after his release from a federal prison after serving 30 years for spying for Israel.

Heads of the Hydra


This time it’s Paris. It was already Paris earlier this year. It was also Madrid, London, New York and suburban Washington D.C., and it was the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999, and the infamous Moscow theater disaster in 2002. In each case, terrible violence was committed against masses of innocent people, not to mention the exponentially greater destruction that is ongoing in much of the Middle East and North Africa. What’s it really all about?

Let’s be clear about one thing: This terrible violence is not about Islam. That accusation is a canard. It’s an excuse, a pitiful substitute for careful analysis and consideration. Islam certainly contains within it textual and intellectual support for both the potential and the actual employment of violence. You’ve seen the violent Quran verses and the hateful statements from the Hadith, and you’ve seen Muslim calls for universal jihad against infidels. But if you have any Jewish education, you’ve also seen equivalently violent verses from the Torah and hateful verses from the Talmud. Christian religious literature likewise contains vitriol spewed against opponents of the early Jesus movement and the established Church. And we know of the grisly Crusader massacres, directed not only against Arabs in the Middle East, but also against northern Europeans in the Northern Crusade, and French Cathars and their Catholic supporters in the Albigensian Crusade, both of which resulted in mass murders of tens of thousands of innocents.

“But the Jews don’t do those things!” For the most part, this has been true.

But that’s because historically we haven’t had the power to do these things. First, we lost the war against the Romans (which we started). That decimated our population and shut down our political independence and ability to raise an army. Then we lost the culture war against our brothers and sisters who believed that Jesus fulfilled the Jewish messianic expectations at the time.

By losing the culture war, we lost the possibility of overcoming the Romans peaceably. The empire was teetering religiously as masses of Roman citizens had lost interest in their traditional pagan religion and were seeking a religious expression that would better fulfill their spiritual needs. Many became Judaic “God-fearers,” or went all the way and became Jews. But more went over to the Christians, whose large and growing numbers convinced Constantine to legalize and then privilege Christianity. Eventually, Christianity became the only legal religion.

I’ve often wondered what the world would be like if the Roman Empire had gone over to the Jewish option. Of course, there is no way of knowing, but having the great military legions of Rome at a religion’s disposal is a sure way to ensure a militarization of religion. As Shimon Peres once put it, if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

So let us Jews be a bit more humble and realistic as we look at the violence and horror that have become the No. 1 domestic product and export from the Middle East and North Africa. Islam is not the problem. Panic and scolding and blame will not solve our troubles.

Religion has proven itself time and again to be a very effective way to mobilize large numbers of people to engage in extraordinary behaviors. Sometimes it is to heal and restore. Sometimes it is to hurt and tear down. Good and bad people throughout the ages have managed to use religion for political purposes, sometimes to bring reconciliation between suffering people in conflict, other times to release violence against innocents in order to deflect criticism and vent frustration and rage.

Those who have a firm grasp on the core texts and interpretive traditions of the three scriptural monotheisms know that all our religions contain vectors of thought and action that tend toward violence against detractors and foes, and counter vectors that tend toward peaceful modes of conflict management or resolution. Different situations trigger one or another of these vectors, which then becomes dominant for a period of time. As situations evolve, so do religious responses to them.

Last month I attended a U.N.-sponsored conference at Rutgers University called “Youth and the Allure of Terrorism.” The organizers brought in people working on the ground in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Nigeria, Niger, the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey and Syria, as well as experts in law enforcement in the United States and Europe. One such expert, who served in the Los Angeles Police Department before joining the FBI, noted that the profile of a young person in North America who tries to join ISIS is quite similar to the profile of at-risk youth of any or no religion who join other terrorist groups, violent gangs or who engage in mass shootings. They tend to feel vulnerable and see themselves as victims. They lack opportunity. They exhibit low-level mental health problems. They feel like outsiders, ostracized, disconnected from community and family. They have anger issues and have no effective opportunities to manage their growing rage. They engage in a lot of media viewing, especially violent videos.

Why is the trend toward violence among our youth increasing? He tallied recent changes, all remarkably related to this list of motivators: a marked reduction in mental health support across the board, increased xenophobia and more social dislocation. People are moving into new places without viable social networks and community support. And without support, young people are relying more on the Internet and social media for personal sustenance.

Similar analyses came from those working with youth in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Youth there often feel alone and unprotected and alienated from their communities. Government corruption, bureaucratic oppression and lack of economic and social opportunity smite large numbers of at-risk youth like a plague. As they suffer, they observe seemingly happy people enjoying wealth — often exorbitant wealth — in movies, videos and other media, that they feel they have no chance of obtaining for themselves. These can be strong motivators for youth to lash out in various ways, which can include joining violent, extremist organizations.

It goes without saying that we can and must defend ourselves against all who murder innocents and work to destroy the societies in which we live. The U.S. took out Osama bin Laden in 2011. Last week, we learned that a U.S. Predator missile killed “Jihadi John” (Mohammad Emwazi). But without fixing what lies underneath the monster of this violence, we are cutting off only a few of the Hydra’s heads. More simply spring up and continue their venomous terror. We can militarily defeat ISIS, al-Qaida and their spawns. I am confident of that, certainly. But if we fail to address the social, economic and political issues that drive people to radicalism, the Hydra will continue to raise her head and we will all continue to feel the pain.


Rabbi Reuven Firestone is Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College and the author of “Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam.”

Jordanian sheik: It is forbidden to kill Jews except in war


A sheik in Jordan said it is forbidden to kill Jews except during times of war.

Ali Halabi said in a videotaped lecture distributed on social media that it is permitted to kill Jews during a declared war or clashes with Jewish soldiers, but that at other times it is a betrayal.

“Someone who protects you, gives you electricity and water, transfers you money and you work for him and take his money — would you betray him, even if he was a Jew?” the sheik responds to a question from a student. “If you trust him and he trusts you, then it is forbidden to betray him. And therefore you are forbidden to murder him.”

Halabi, the director of the Imam Albani Center for religious and methodological studies in Jordan, also said that he understood that Palestinians are not attacked by Israeli soldiers unless they are first attacked. He added that he was not trying to defend the “despised Jews,” but that practically, if they were killing the Palestinians indiscriminately, then “nobody would remain.”

Muslim activists have attacked the sheik for his statements, the Arabic-language Al Watan news website reported, including distributing videos of Israeli soldiers shooting at would-be Palestinian attackers.

German anti-Islam protest swells on fears about refugee influx


The German anti-Islam movement PEGIDA staged its biggest rally in months on Monday, sparked into fresh life on its first anniversary by anger at the government's decision to take in hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East.

PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, almost fizzled out earlier this year when its leader resigned after a photo was published of him posing as Hitler.

But it has swelled again as Germany implements Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to accept a tide of refugees that could exceed a million this year, as she argues that Germany can not only cope but, with its aging population, will benefit in the long term.

Police declined to estimate the number of protesters but media put it at 15-20,000, somewhat below a peak of around 25,000 in January. Around 14,000 counter-demonstrators urged people to welcome refugees rather than whip up opposition.

PEGIDA supporters waved the national flag and carried posters bearing slogans such as “Hell comes with fake refugees” and “Every people should have its country, not every people a piece of Germany”.

Gathering outside Dresden's historic opera house, the Semperoper, PEGIDA supporters chanted “Deport! Deport!” and “Merkel must go!”.

“We're just normal people who are scared of what's coming,” said 37-year-old Patrick, a car mechanic. “As a German citizen who pays taxes, you feel like you're being taken for a ride.”

Lutz Bachmann, the leader who resigned, told the rally: “Politicians attack and defame us and the lowest tricks are used to keep our mouths shut. We are threatened with death, there are attacks on our vehicles and houses and we are dragged through the mud, but we are still here … And we will triumph!”

COUNTER-DEMONSTRATION

The counter-demonstrators marched through the town chanting: “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”

As many German municipalities struggle to house and support the wave of migrants, criticism of Merkel's policy has grown, her ratings have slipped, and there have been arson attacks on refugee centers.

Simone Peter, leader of the Greens party and one of the counter-demonstrators, told Reuters: “We're for diversity and an open, colorful society, not hatred and violence … the people who incite with right-wing slogans add fuel to the fire of the arsonists.”

PEGIDA has more than 172,000 'Likes' on its Facebook page and wants Germany to stop taking asylum seekers immediately.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Sunday that PEGIDA's organizers were “hard right-wing extremists” and everyone who attended their demonstrations “should know that they are running after rat catchers”.

Thomas Jaeger, political scientist at Cologne University, said PEGIDA and the right-wing Alternative for Germany party were being allowed by the government to define how the refugee crisis was perceived by many people.

“What seems to be worrying a lot of people now is that people from different cultures are coming here, and they don't know how they will integrate, and that's quite a diffuse fear, and that's now being exploited by some political forces.”

Probe of Chattanooga shooting suspect focuses on Mideast travel


U.S. authorities believe the suspect in the fatal shootings of four Marines in Tennessee visited Jordan last year and possibly Yemen as well, two U.S. government sources said on Friday, as investigators looked for any connection to Islamist militants.

Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, who the FBI identified as the shooter, died on Thursday after he killed the Marines and wounded three other people in a rampage at two military facilities in Chattanooga.

Investigators believe Abdulazeez may have family in Jordan, making a visit to that country highly likely, one of the sources close to the probe said. He may have made several stops, and a visit to Yemen has not been ruled out.

A trip to Yemen, long viewed as a training ground for Islamic militants, would raise special concern. Two brothers of Algerian extraction who led an attack on the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January had visited Yemen in 2011.

U.S. investigators are probing the suspect's travel history as part of efforts to determine whether he had any contact with militants or militant groups, but they have no firm evidence so far that he did, one source close to the probe told Reuters.

Beyond direct contacts, law enforcement officials have said they are investigating whether Abdulazeez was inspired by Islamic State or similar militant groups. Islamic State had threatened to step up violence in the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ends on Friday evening.

Islamic State claimed responsibility after a gunman killed 37 tourists in Tunisia in June, the same day as an attack in France and a suicide bombing in Kuwait.

Abdulazeez, who grew up in a Chattanooga suburb and studied engineering at a local university, is believed to have traveled to the Middle East, where his family has roots, between April and November 2014, according to one of the sources, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The suspect, who was seen on Thursday driving an open-top Ford Mustang, sprayed gunfire at a joint military recruiting center in a strip mall, riddling the glass facade with bullet holes, then drove to a Naval Reserve Center about 6 miles (10 km) away, where he killed the Marines before he himself was killed.

Among the injured in the shooting, which comes at a time when U.S. military and law enforcement authorities are increasingly concerned about the threat 'lone wolves' pose to domestic targets, was a sailor who was critically wounded.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist groups, said Abdulazeez blogged on Monday “life is short and bitter” and that Muslims should not miss an opportunity to “submit to Allah.” Reuters could not independently verify the postings.

While there is no specific evidence about what might have prompted the suspect to carry out the shooting, they believe family or psychological issues may have contributed, according to the second source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

His father, Youssuf Abdulazeez, who attended Texas A&M University and comes from Nablus, on the West Bank, according to his Facebook page, appears to be a high achiever. He worked since at least 2005 as a soil engineering specialist for Chattanooga city's public work's department, according to public records. A 2005 city resolution authorized the father as an unarmed policeman as part of his work.

The suspect appears to have been following in his father's footsteps, at least in terms of his occupational pursuits. According to a resume believed to have been posted online by Abdulazeez, he attended high school in a Chattanooga suburb and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2012 with an engineering degree. His work experience includes an internship with the Tennessee Valley Authority, a regional power utility.

Years ago, the father came under investigation by a Joint Terrorism Task Force for possible connections to a militant group, the second source said, but he was cleared of any association with terrorism or wrongdoing. It is possible but not certain that the probe resulted in the father's name being placed on a terrorist watch list, according to that source.

Abdulazeez, who was raised as a Muslim, was scheduled to appear in court on a charge of driving under the influence in July, according to media reports.

He was arrested in April after his car was seen weaving between lanes. The arrest report said Abdulazeez smelled of alcohol and marijuana and was unsteady on his feet.

Four Marines who were killed were identified as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, 40, of Springfield, Massachusetts, who earned a Purple Heart; Skip Wells, 21, of Marietta, Georgia; David Wyatt, of Chattanooga, and Sgt. Carson Holmquist, 27, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, according to media reports. The U.S. Defense Department has not yet released any of the names.

The Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, where the New York Times said the suspect and his family worshipped, canceled all activities to celebrate Eid, marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, according to its website.

“We condemn this act in the strongest possible terms as one of cowardice and hate,” Bassam Issa, the society's president, said in a statement.

A community gathering will take place at 5:30 p.m. (2230 GMT) on Friday at Olivet Baptist Church in Chattanooga. The Islamic Society said on its website that it was “vital, crucial and essential” that all Muslims in the area attend the event.

Palestinian Perfidy at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee: A direct assault on the core of Judaism


The 39th UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) has just ended its ten day annual meeting, this year in Bonn, Germany. Once again,the Wiesenthal Centre was the only accredited Jewish NGO

Since the Palestinians's admittance to UNESCO in November 2011 they have wreaked havoc, best illustrated by their voracious appetite at UNESCO's WHC:

– 2012 in St. Petersburg, Russia, running roughshod over UNESCO's professional advisor, ICOMOS, they demanded and received Christianity's prime Holy Place, the Church of the Nativity and the Bethlehem Pilgrimage Route.

– At Paris board meetings, Rachel's Tomb and the Hebron Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma'arat HaMachpelah) were reclassified as mosques.

– 2013 in Cambodia, a wish-list appeared that included the Qumran Caves and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

– 2014 In Qatar, Battir –  the Galilee Betar redolent of Bar Kokhba's Jewish revolt against Roman occupation.

Today, the greatest provocation in its campaign of ID theft of the Jewish narrative has arrived as paragraphs 9 and 20 of the perennial Jerusalem resolution crafted by Palestinians and Jordanians. Four times this document re-names Judaism's greatest shrine, the “Kotel” or Western Wall esplanade, as “the Buraq Plaza”.

Buraq, according to Islam, is Muhammad’s winged steed, who flew the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem, for his night journey to heaven. He was tethered overnight to a wall until the Prophet returned to fly back to Mecca.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center discovered at the Frankfurt Book Fair and this year in the Doha, Riyadh and Muscat fairs,”The Buraq Wall”, a text exhibited by a Palestinian publisher- reportedly a Hamas front:

How a Jewish conspiracy stole the Wall to substantiate the lie of its Temple on the site of Al-Aqsa.  How that “Western Wall” must now be returned to the embrace of Islam.

Ironically, three days before the Palestinian ploy at Bonn, 17 of the 21 member-states of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) applauded the inscription of Israel's 9th Heritage site, the Beit Shearim Necropolis. This was the Tomb of Sanhedrin President, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and fellow authors of the Mishna.  The walls of the catacomb are replete with Jewish, Greek and Roman motifs revealing an intercultural dialogue. 

Finland's Delegate noted that “the site is cosmopolitan but also provides historical evidence of the Jewish presence”.

Sadly an unpalatable argument for the four Muslim members – Algeria, Lebanon, Malaysia, Qatar – which all abstained.

The German host registered a diplomatic coup in negotiating Korean objection to a Japanese site to be voted for inscription, that had once held Korean and other slave labourers.  There was no debate as Japan acknowledged “the foreign unwilling labourers working in harsh conditions” and agreed to place there a documentation centre memorial.

The site could then be approved by acclamation.

A second German diplomatic victory was not to be.

The Palestinians had seemed to accept a toned-down version of the Jerusalem resolution, in which Germany had insisted and obtained the Wiesenthal Centre's request to remove the “Buraq” references, in favour of the term  “Western Wall”.

The final day of the meeting, Algeria,Lebanon and Qatar – fronting for the Palestinians – introduced an outrageous version,linking the Kotel (Buraq) to Al-Aqsa via the Mughrabi Ascent, effectively Islamicizing the Wall and, by association, negating the veracity of the Temple.

This was not only an embarrassment to the German hosts, but a fabricated battle-cry to the Muslim world that Al -Aqsa is under Jewish attack.

Interestingly, the document also lambasts Israel for its excavations and its improvements in Jerusalem as “damage to cultural heritage.” Yet, two days before, when Yemen's Old City of Sanaa was inscribed, no one mentioned the recent damage to that site by  Saudi bombing.

The hard-line Jerusalem resolution was passed by secret ballot with 13 for, 2 against, 4 abstentions and one absent.

The Israeli Ambassador's hard-hitting response called “UNESCO manipulated…a court-martial  of lies…the adoption of this resolution in Germany a disgrace…a Jerusalem without Israel would be no different from the Middle East [pillaged by ISIS] ..”

Of course, the resolution is not binding and serves mainly for pyrotechnics. Nevertheless, such Palestinian perfidy pushes further the ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel. 

The 2016 UNESCO World Heritage Committee is to be held in Istanbul and Buraq, the winged steed, will surely be there.  Hopefully, he will stay grounded.

Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Crowds gather for anti-Islam demonstration outside Phoenix mosque


More than 200 protesters, some armed, berated Islam and its Prophet Mohammed outside an Arizona mosque on Friday in a provocative protest that was denounced by counter-protesters shouting “Go home, Nazis,” weeks after an anti-Muslim event in Texas came under attack by two gunmen.

The anti-Muslim event outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix was organized by an Iraq war veteran who posted photos of himself online wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Fuck Islam” on it and waving the U.S. flag.

As the event got under way on Friday, demonstrators on both sides screamed obscenities at each other as police in riot gear swiftly separated the two groups, each with about 250 people, using police tape and barricades.

“This is in response to the recent attack in Texas,” organizer Jon Ritzheimer wrote on his Facebook page announcing the event at a mosque targeted in part because the two Texas gunmen had worshipped there.

More than 900 people responded on the event's Facebook page that they would take part in the demonstration, and by 6 p.m. local time (0100 GMT on Saturday) police were expanding their presence in anticipation of growing crowds. Officers with riot helmets and gas masks formed a cordon for several blocks.

Among the anti-Islam protesters, some of whom called Islam a “religion of murderers,” more than a dozen men in military clothing carried semi-automatic weapons. Others waved copies of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad drawn at the Texas event.

Depictions of Mohammad, which many Muslims view as blasphemous, have been a flashpoint for violence in Europe and the United States in recent months where those displaying or creating such images have been targeted by militants.

Meanwhile, anti-Muslim groups have been active in the United States, buying ads and staging demonstrations characterizing Islam as violent, often citing the murderous brutality of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

ACT OF RETRIBUTION

The Phoenix mosque targeted on Friday has condemned such violence, and held a series of sermons at Friday prayers last year by an imam who criticized militant Islamist groups such as Islamic State, al Qaeda and Nigeria's Boko Haram.

The president of the center had urged worshippers not to engage with the demonstrators.

“We should remind ourselves that we do not match wrongness with wrongness, but with grace and mercy and goodness,” Usama Shami told worshippers during Friday prayers.

While some counter-protesters outside the mosque responded to the anti-Islam protest with obscenities, others followed his advice and chanted “Love your neighbor.”

In January, gunmen killed 12 people at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in anger at the magazine's cartoons featuring the Prophet, and a similar attack was foiled in Texas on May 3.

The pair of gunmen who opened fire near Dallas outside an exhibit of cartoons featuring Mohammad were shot dead by police without killing anyone. Leaders of the Phoenix Muslim community confirmed both gunmen had attended the Phoenix mosque targeted in Friday's demonstration.

Todd Green, a religion professor at Luther College in Iowa who studies Islamophobia, said that the brutal acts committed by Islamic State and other militant groups have colored many Americans' impressions of Muslims.

“Almost two-thirds of Americans don't know a Muslim,” Green said. “What they know is ISIS, al Qaeda, and Charlie Hebdo.”

U.S. officials are investigating claims that the Texas gunmen had ties to the Islamic State, but said they had not established a firm connection.

'EPIDEMIC OF ANTI-ISLAMIC SENTIMENT'

The Department of Homeland Security has been in touch with state and local law enforcement authorities, and was monitoring the situation in Phoenix, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“Even expressions that are offensive, that are distasteful, and intended to sow divisions in an otherwise tight-knit, diverse community like Phoenix, cannot be used as a justification to carry out an act of violence,” he told reporters.

Ritzheimer, the main organizer of the demonstration, said the point of the demonstration was “to expose the true colors of Islam.”

“True Islam is terrorism. Yes, the ones that are out committing these atrocities and stuff, they are following the book as it's written,” Ritzheimer told CNN.

Ritzheimer was a staff sergeant in the Marine Reserve and was deployed to Iraq twice, in 2005 and 2008, the Marine Corps said.

Anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller, who organized the Texas event, said she was not involved in the demonstration in Phoenix.

The mosque is a former church near the city's international airport that can hold some 600 worshippers. The Phoenix area is home to tens of thousands of Muslims.

The event is part of “an epidemic of anti-Islamic sentiment” that goes beyond protesting against extremism, said Imraan Siddiqi of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Don't mistake that, they're not saying they want to rid America of radical Islam, they are saying they want to rid America of Islam,” Siddiqi said.

Shaming the murderers


A religious Muslim who murders an innocent person in the name of the Quran desecrates his own religion. I wish that idea had been the theme of last week’s White House Conference on Violent Extremism. 

Instead, President Barack Obama went out of his way to take religion out of religious violence. Referring to the growing threat of Islamic violence, the president suggested that this is not the real Islam.

“We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he said. 

Well, the fanatics of ISIS might disagree. “The Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” Graeme Wood writes in a widely read essay in The Atlantic. “Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers … but the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

This interpretation harks back to the earliest days of Islam and includes a radical interpretation of takfir, the practice of excommunication. As Wood writes: “Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people.”

Taking violent religious texts literally may be a horrible idea, but it’s not a misinterpretation or perversion of Islam, even though the great majority of modern Muslims would never practice it. And it’s not just our current president who glosses over this uncomfortable reality. President George W. Bush made a similar wishful assertion in 2001, a few days after the 9/11 terror attacks, when he said, “These acts of violence violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

It’s not about giving religious fanatics the legitimacy they seek, it’s about giving them the public shaming they deserve.

Our wishful thinking comes from a good place — we’re conditioned in America to respect religion. So we want to believe that when a religious person kills in the name of religion, it must be a perversion. We look for another agenda. 

“Obama’s position seems to be that the leaders of these [jihadist] groups aren’t sincere in their beliefs,” Reihan Salam wrote in Slate. “He suggests that what ISIS is really after is power, as if its obsessive focus on acting in accordance with practices that were widespread in the days of Muhammad is merely window-dressing for thuggery and theft.”

One of Obama’s arguments for downplaying religion is that he doesn’t want to give fanatics the “religious legitimacy they seek.” But we’re in a war. It’s not about giving religious fanatics the legitimacy they seek, it’s about giving them the public shaming they deserve. Separating their acts from their religion and calling them “violent extremists” doesn’t offend or hurt them — it just lets them off the hook.

A more effective approach would be to put them on the defensive by accusing them of desecrating their own religion. The fact is, all the murders that religious fanatics are committing in the name of Allah dishonors Allah and the very religion they cherish so deeply.

We must stick to what we know. Most of us, including the president, are not theological experts on Islam. Who are we to decide what is and what isn’t Islam? There have been countless interpretations and reinterpretations across the centuries, some more peaceful than others. There is one thing, however, that is quite clear to all of us– what looks good and what looks bad. Chopping off a reporter’s head in the name of religion makes that religion look bad. Period. Case closed. So does lynching gays or stoning a woman to death.

Promoting peaceful coexistence in the name of religion looks good; promoting murder in the name of religion looks bad. This is true for all religions and for all societies and for all time.

Yes, the majority of Muslims are against jihadist violence, but they must take responsibility for the fact that most religious violence today emanates from their religion. As J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward, “There are many sources of violent extremism in the world, but there’s basically just one that’s terrorizing vast sections of humanity right now, and that’s the one that identifies itself with purist Islam and jihad.”

The best way for supporters of Islam to defend Islam is to target and publicly shame those who are poisoning the image of Islam. Instead of attempting to separate these religious thugs from their religion, we must go in the opposite direction and tell them: “You’re not just violent extremists. You’re religious sinners and desecrators. By murdering in the name of Islam, you are destroying the image of your own faith.”

Obama alluded to this at his conference when he said: “Violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.” That should become his main line of attack in the war against religious fanatics.

It’s time to raise the stakes. Instead of trying to convince people that Islam is a “religion of peace,” let’s go after those who are making Islam look like a religion of war. It’s no longer enough to say, “We are not at war against Islam.” We must now say, “You who murder in the name of Islam are the ones who are really at war against Islam.”

In the long struggle against religious fanatics, let’s remember who the bad guys are and let's never forget the lethal weapon of public shame.


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

Thomas L. Friedman on what’s wrong with Islam


The following is excerpted from remarks New York Times columnist Tom Friedman gave Feb. 8 at Stanford University at the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture. We’re reprinting here because it is one of the most succinct and cogent approaches to the heated debate over whether Islam is inherently violent. A student journalist asked Friedman to address the Muslim nature of the Muslim extremist problem. This was Friedman’s response. Below is video of the full presentation:


I do not believe we should be in the business of telling Muslims what their religion is or isn’t. So I kind of recoil from anyone who says it’s all this, or anyone who says it’s not any of that.

I think we should be in the business of asking them, “Why is this happening?” We don’t know. We have an overwhelming number of Muslims who are American citizens living in this country and who are wonderful citizens. So we don’t have this problem. So maybe you could explain it to me, but I sort of recoil at anyone sitting back who’s not a Muslim, saying, “That is not Islam.” What the hell do you know what Islam is? “Oh, I read the Quran in college” … you don’t know anything, OK? And that’s not our job, it seems to me.

So, the way I’ve written about it is that obviously this is emerging from their faith community. First of all, it’s not emerging from across their faith community. It’s not a problem in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim country. It’s not a problem in India, the world’s second-biggest Muslim country. We’re talking about a problem that has clearly been emerging from the Arab world and Pakistan, primarily. Now what is that about?

I think it’s a really complicated mix of a product of years of authoritarian government, mixing with the export of Wahhabi puritanical Islam from Saudi Arabia, all over that world, that has really leached out the more open, joyous, synchronistic Islam that you had in Egypt. You look at pictures of graduates from Cairo University in 1950, you’ll see none of the women were wearing veils. Today you look at the picture and probably most of the women will be wearing veils. Thank you, Saudi Arabia. That is the product of the export of a particular brand of Islam from Saudi Arabia with the wealth of that country. And that’s mixed in also with the youth bulge and unemployment.

And so where Islam starts in that story and where authoritarian begins, how much people hate their own government, bleeding into Wahhabism, bleeding into massive amounts of young men who have never held power because they’re not allowed to in their country, never held a job, never held a girl’s hand. And when you have lots of young males who have never held power, a job, or a girl’s hand, that is real dynamite.

And so I like to talk about it in its full complexity. But I also don’t want to excuse it. We need to have a serious conversation. But we should be in the business of asking them, not excusing them, not accusing everyone. 

We need to understand there is a pattern here. You can talk about the Crusades in the 13th century — we’re not living in the 13th century anymore, OK? It’s very hard, I think, for us to get into someone else’s narrative. Only they can get into that narrative. And we need to leave it to them. But I think it is important to ask, to probe, and to challenge in a serious way and stop telling them who they are. 

 

As L.A.’s Muslims condemn French attacks, a gap on what’s to blame


Following the recent terror attacks in Paris by Islamic extremists that left 17 dead and 22 wounded at a satirical magazine and kosher market, the debate within the local Muslim community over what to blame and even how to label the ideology behind the attacks has only intensified.

Are the attacks in France, along with the surge of violence and persecution in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, expressions of something called Islamism or Islamic extremism? Or are groups like Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), Al Qaeda and Boko Haram political extremist movements that are exploiting Islam to advance their un-Islamic goals?

Much as they are being discussed in Christian, Jewish and secular worlds, these questions are subjects of debate within the Los Angeles Muslim community, where progressive Muslims and more traditional Muslims coexist, even as they differ when it comes to pinpointing the root problem of terrorism done in the name of Islam.

For Ani Zonneveld, the founder and president of

As a Jew, would you stay in France?


In the wake of the horrific terrorist killings in France, my heart took many turns. First there was shock, soon replaced by grief, then anger, followed by resolve. Now it may be time for reflection.

The response from the French and then the Israelis to the two attacks raised some important issues for Jews living in the Diaspora and also in Israel.

I have been struck by the irony of Israel’s offer of the Jewish state as a safe haven for Jews. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, the heroic chairman of the Jewish Agency whose task is to bring Jews to Israel, have reiterated the familiar and all-important offer: Jews are welcome in Israel. We want you here. This is your home. It is here that you are safe.

Such words stir the heart of every Jew who remembers the desperation of Jews fleeing Germany and later German-occupied Europe — Jews who were unwanted everywhere else.

But does this promise still hold true? We shall return to that question.

What has changed in the aftermath of the recent events in France — the murderous attack at Charlie Hebdo, the killings of innocent shoppers at the Jewish supermarket, the worldwide march of solidarity, the declarations by the French leadership that France is at war “against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam” and the statement that France without its Jews is not France? What is new in the remorse expressed by the French prime minister that his country has not done enough to combat anti-Semitism?

Nothing! 

Or perhaps everything.

Permit me to explain.

This is, of course, not the first time that free speech has been attacked by radical militant Islam. Previously, in fatwas, in killings and in violent rioting, the extremist Islamists have tried to silence those they deem to have insulted Islam. From the death sentence declared against Salman Rushdie to the threats on the life of a Danish cartoonist, from massive street demonstrations in Egypt following the release of a minor video by a marginal, unimportant American Protestant to the killings at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the Islamists’ politics of rage have defined radical Islam. And rage leads directly to violence. 

Simply put, outrage is being used to legitimize and justify murder, and in the eyes of many Muslims, murder has become a reasonable response to what they see as the desecration of their religion and the Prophet Muhammad. Nothing new here.

Let’s look specifically at the most recent violent outbreak. 

For a dozen years, I have been writing about anti-Semitism in France, suggesting that we should distinguish between anti-Semitism in France and anti-Semitism of France. Those who are of France have accepted the values of the French Revolution — liberty, equality and fraternity — and they have few problems seeing Jews as part of France. These French citizens interact daily with Jews and Muslims, Christians and secularists and think nothing of it. They may be outspoken in their opposition to the policies of Israel, but they do not see that as license to attack their Jewish neighbors.

On the other hand, there is also a sizable population of Muslim immigrants and their descendants who live in France but feel themselves untouched, and even alienated from, or appalled by, the values of France. These people have no stake in the values of French society. Despite having by now dwelled in France for some two generations, they nevertheless do not feel part of France, but consider themselves in exile from their true home in the Middle East. Their alienation from the society in which they dwell is fueling their attraction to the values that are wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East, where the politics of rage dominate. Poverty and lack of opportunity created their alienation, but religion fuels their rage; religion justifies their anger and sanctions their violence. 

But even as we look the politics of outrage in the eye, let us be clear that our battle is against militant radical Islam and not against all Muslims. We were touched and heartened by the report that Jewish lives were saved in the Hyper Cacher attack by a Muslim employee. Expressions of solidarity on both sides are important. Nevertheless, it is not sufficient for politically correct people, including our president, Barack Obama, and even his predecessor, George W. Bush, to proclaim that the politics of rage does not define the views of a vast sector of Islam today, and moderate Muslims must be the first and loudest to reclaim the voice of their faith. Without a powerful, even outraged objection from moderate Muslims to the violence, we are engaged in a one-sided discussion among Western Christians (and sometimes Jews) who assure one another that true Islam is actually moderate. And when the people making the case for Islam do not even understand the religious differences between Sunni and Shia, the discussion is not only not credible but also hardly relevant.

Before the killings in recent weeks, when militant Islamists attacked Jews, much of France seemed to turn a blind eye to the violence: A swastika on a synagogue was petty graffiti; mugging a rabbi or a pious Jew en route to synagogue was a minor crime; the murder of yeshiva students was a one- or two-day news story; and the idea that anger at Israel was behind an explosion of anti-Jewish violence — that what happened in Israel, in Gaza and in Lebanon was sufficient reason to attack the Jews in one’s neighborhood — these actions by radical Islamists were allowed for too long by the French as understandable, largely because Israel’s actions infuriated many Europeans as well, and the French in particular. 

Only when this same violence turned against a French non-Jew on the streets of Lyon or Marseilles was attention paid. 

Bridging the divide between the Muslims in France from everyone else who identifies with France will require a fundamental rethinking of French policy. It will require an admission of a fundamental problem in France’s attitude toward its immigrant workers, most especially its lower-class immigrants, who are essential to the nation’s workforce but were never integrated into French society or French culture.

The problem, a longstanding one, cannot be solved in the short term, and it will not go away without a dramatic change of attitude.

But what has changed, perhaps?

It appears that the French finally have come to the realization — or, perhaps more cynically, at least vocalized it — that the very nature of France, its self-image, its self-perception and its core values are at stake if Jews cannot feel secure living as Jews in France. Because the French people today want to believe that they are not the same as they were during World War II. In the aftermath of that war, the French populace was horrified by its own collaborators, those who helped the Nazis, including the French police who participated in the roundup and deportation of Jews, and Vichy France. The French today see themselves as a liberal, inclusive, democratic society. It therefore follows that if the Jews of France are truly once again vulnerable to outbreaks of anti-Semitism and violence without the protections of a civilized society, France today is not, in its very essence, true to its core values — values that had to be painstakingly rebuilt after the Shoah. 

If this realization has finally come, then I say, better late than never. But let us hold them to it.

The concept of a war against radical Islam articulated so passionately in recent days by French President Francois Hollande may — and I stress the word may — spell the end of France’s appeasement to the politics of rage. Let us hold them to that as well.

Still, their immediate reaction was weak. The Grand Synagogue in Paris never should never have closed, even for a day, as many synagogues in Paris closed down and did not hold Shabbat services immediately after the attacks. The French government should have provided its Jewish institutions with adequate security immediately, and the president himself should have appeared in the pews that very first Shabbat on the evening of and the day following the attacks. 

In Los Angeles, I went to services at Temple Beth Am on Friday evening and Shabbat morning, Jan. 9 and 10, and the Los Angeles Police Department was present outside the shul, simply as a demonstration of vigilance.

 

I doubt that France’s newfound avowal of commitment to its Jews will ally France with Israel. The government of France and significant segments of French society tend to see Israel in colonialist terms, as a country occupying another people’s land and as a problem that can be solved only by withdrawal and the establishment of two states. By contrast, Netanyahu sees Israel as battling the same forces of radical Islam as the French government and the people of France. Both may be right, but neither side accepts the other’s interpretation as correct.

So the Israelis have invited French Jews to make aliyah, promising safety and security in the Jewish state. This invitation comes despite the fact that, over the past decades, even with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, both per capita and in absolute numbers, many more Jews have been killed in Israel because there were more Jews there than anywhere else in the world. 

As I write these words, I shed tears because it wasn’t supposed to be so. We Zionists believed that the creation of an independent Jewish state with an army of its own would end Jewish vulnerability. But Jewish history is filled with irony. In reality, Israeli independence came just as the world became increasingly interdependent, and the State of Israel has not ended Jewish vulnerability, it has simply given us — Israelis and all Jews — new tools to combat that vulnerability.

More worrisome today, if Netanyahu is to be believed, Israel currently faces an existential threat of vulnerability, due to the development by Iran of nuclear weaponry that can be used against Israel, either by Iran or by other nonstate actors armed by the Iranian state. 

If safety is what French Jews are seeking, will their lives really be any safer in Tel Aviv than in Paris?

The fact is, even as Jews consider leaving France, other Jews are leaving Israel. We don’t know why some Jews today are leaving Israel, getting European passports and moving to Europe, but the prospect of endless war in Israel is surely one contributing factor. Israeli Jews weary of war and perceiving a bleak future of unending battles are moving to Germany and other European countries — including France. This is true even as French Jews, feeling like targets of attack, are coming to Israel to take their place.

I was not as moved as many were by the fact that the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack — Yohan Cohen, Francois-Michel Saada, Phillipe Barham and Yoav Hattab — were buried in Israel rather than on French soil. They were not killed because they were Israelis; they were killed because they were Jews. 

If safety is what French Jews are seeking, will their lives really be any
safer in Tel Aviv
than in Paris?

Their burial in Israel, therefore, may have reinforced the idea that Jews do not belong to France, but rather to Israel, and that their murders were a Jewish problem and not a French problem.  

This cannot be the message that we offer up to the world. We must insist that France claim French Jews as their own, as citizens of France, not only publicly and loudly, but also sincerely, just as we must mourn them as Jews.

Comparisons to the 1930s are being offered now by those who understand neither the 1930s nor today. It is essential to remember that, in the 1930s, the attack against the Jews was government sponsored, by the most powerful people as well as by important interest groups native to their country. Today’s attacks are by disempowered people who impose their views through criminal acts of violence and intimidation. Meanwhile, the world powers, the leaders of Europe — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain, Hollande and Pope Francis among them — are condemning anti-Semitism loudly and clearly. One cannot compare the power of contemporary Jews and the reality of Israel with the abject powerlessness and statelessness of Jews in the 1930s. The refusal to equate today’s events with the Holocaust should not be license to minimize their importance, but rather to insist that we affirm how far we have come since then.

Walking home from synagogue in Los Angeles, I saw that my French neighbor displayed a sign, Je Suis Charlie, on his lawn, and I asked for a similar sign to place on mine. I would have felt better, much better, if my neighbor and his fellow countrymen all had exhibited two signs side by side: Je Suis Charlie, Je Suis Juif.

Only when both signs stand side by side — when the rights of French citizens are valued just as highly as the essential democratic right to free speech — only then will the situation of Jews in France truly change.


Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Click here to read his A Jew blog.

Would I leave France?


When we discussed the cover headline for the Journal’s story this week on the troubled Jews of France, we debated two options: “Should Jews leave?” or “Would you leave?” The first option was about “them,” while the second was more about us.

In the end, we went for clarity and chose the first one because our main stories are really about the Jews of France. But the second, more personal, headline speaks to something equally important and perhaps even more intriguing: How would we, as Americans, react if we were in the same shoes as our French brothers and sisters?

It’s a complicated question, because, generally speaking, American Jews are not used to being afraid of showing their Jewishness.

I can’t imagine, for instance, being afraid to walk to Young Israel of Century City while wearing my yarmulke, as I did last Shabbat on the yarzeit of my father. Ironically, it was my father who decided, 50 years ago, that we should not move to France when we left Morocco. Why? As my mother recalled, when my father returned from a visit to Paris in 1963, he spoke about an incident where a friend asked him to take off his yarmulke when he came out of a synagogue on Shabbat, just to be safe.

That may well have been the tiebreaker that made my father choose Canada over France — he wanted his children to grow up with no fear of showing they were Jewish.

The four Jews murdered at the kosher market in Paris certainly didn’t hide their Jewishness. What’s more Jewish than rushing on a Friday afternoon to get your last-minute Shabbat supplies? Coming after a decade of anti-Semitic attacks, the trauma of that tragedy has left the Jews of France feeling apprehensive as never before.

“It’s not a life,” Laetitia Enriquez, national correspondent for Actualité Juive, a prominent French Jewish weekly, told me on the phone from Marseille, where she lives with her husband and young children. “Almost every Jew I know talks about leaving, and that’s even before the latest attacks.”

While Enriquez and other French Jews are grateful for the outpouring of support from the French government, with extra security and armed guards now stationed at Jewish schools, synagogues and other Jewish establishments, there’s still a bitter aftertaste.

“Who wants to live like that?” she asked. “Who wants to live surrounded by guards, when you’re always afraid for your children? What’s really scary is that the government is on our side and we’re still afraid.”

Beyond the obvious cost of living with fear, Enriquez brought up another burden on the French-Jewish community that I hadn’t heard before.

“Because everyone talks about leaving, the community is paralyzed. We’re not talking about building things, about new projects. We’re like an apple that is drying up.”

This state of limbo is one more price French Jews are paying for their anguish: They’re neither here nor there, always talking about moving to Israel or elsewhere, but mostly staying in France and living in continuous anxiety.

Maybe my father intuitively understood 50 years ago that the fear of showing your Jewishness could paralyze not just a community, but one’s own life.

Of course, he probably also understood that there’s no such thing as a life without fear. We may talk a good game, but let’s face it, we all have basic fears that lie deep in our souls — the fear of failing, of becoming ill, of being alone, of rejection, of loss of close ones — even, as a rabbi friend once remarked, of living a life without meaning.

That is, perhaps, the hidden curse of anti-Semitism — it sucks up our energy from dealing with the everyday dramas of life.

Maybe, in the end, that’s what kept my father from taking us to France — he knew that even without chronic anti-Semitism, life is difficult enough, so we might as well live in a place where we’ll have one less hurdle to overcome. 

I’m guessing the fear of anti-Semitism is not the only one paralyzing French Jews as they agonize over whether to stay or leave. There’s surely also the fear of the unknown, of missing the French culture they so love, of failing in their new lives. These are human fears, not uniquely Jewish fears.

That is, perhaps, the hidden curse of anti-Semitism — it sucks up our energy from dealing with the everyday dramas of life.

What would I do if I were in the shoes of my French brethren? I’m not sure, but I’d probably be doing the same thing they’re doing — agonizing, kvetching, worrying and talking incessantly about leaving. And at times when I’d be afraid to wear my yarmulke as I walked to shul on Shabbat, I’d probably be swearing to myself that, right after sundown, I’m calling El Al.


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

From orphans to terrorists: The childhood that became a breeding ground for vengeance


Before he killed two New York City police officers, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley was on a desperate search to find himself.

He “tried on identities as if they were new clothes,” The New York Times reported. He was mostly a street hustler who dabbled in petty crime and spent seven months in jail once for shooting a friend’s car. He tried to straighten out with a legitimate T-shirt-making business, but it quickly failed. His saving grace was an active fantasy life, which he openly expressed on social media, alternately portraying himself as an unrealized filmmaker, screenwriter or rap producer. 

After he committed double homicide and then killed himself, too, some seemed puzzled as to why Brinsley did it: There was no evidence to suggest he had a history of devout anti-police sentiment; or that he belonged to any hate-stoking activist group. He was Muslim, but hardly radical. In fact, until his final day, the most significant thing he ever took up arms against was the aforementioned car.

The Times concluded that Brinsley was no dedicated criminal; rather, he “seemed to be a grandstander at the end of his tether, homeless, jobless and hopeless.”

Homeless, jobless, hopeless. That’s a heady brew. Poisonous, even. And in the end, those three ingredients may have been what led Brinsley from a troubled life to an irredeemable one. But the question remains: Even in the worst circumstances, what accounts for the difference between those who emerge well adjusted and those who are incurably alienated?

Reach deep into Brinsley’s childhood, and clues converge to suggest why he became a difficult and dangerous adult. His parents split when he was 9; “his mother couldn’t handle him”; “[h]e learned that if he did poorly in school or acted out, his father came around,” so, “[h]e acted out often.” He “learned to live on a couch”; and he was “so estranged” from his mother, she couldn’t be counted upon to identify where her son went to high school.

Throughout his childhood, Brinsley lacked security, stability and love. Is it any surprise that a child who was never cared for never acquired the tools to care for himself? Anger was his only recourse, and it fueled a final rage that cost two more families their stability.

Consider the offspring of another shattered family: Cherif and Said Kouachi, who murdered 12 people at Charlie Hebdo last week, after spending years searching for an anchor of their own. Both orphans and immigrants, they turned to radical Islam for purpose and meaning — the ideology promised the answer to all that they lacked. But what did they lack?

Cherif and Said's Algerian-immigrant father died when they were young boys, leaving the family with limited resources. They were 10 and 12-years-old when they discovered their mother's body after an apparent suicide. After that, Cherif and Said were tossed to the French foster-care system that raised them. They did not grow up religious. They were not encouraged to do something great with their lives. So when they finally came of age, all that was available to them were menial jobs like fitness instructor, fishmonger or pizza delivery man. It was a hard life, not a cherished one. One, you might even imagine, they would happily give up for redemption in the world to come. But before their clarion calls of Allahu Akbar, the floundering brothers “initially drifted into petty delinquencies, not religious fanaticism.”

What changed them from lost children to found jihadists? In a 2005 documentary that aired on one of France’s state-owned television channels, Cherif was portrayed as an ordinary kid who liked rap music and late-night clubbing before stumbling into a dark underworld of hate and fanaticism. It was reportedly a 26-year-old janitor-turned-preacher who drew him to radical Islam by romanticizing jihad in passionate sermons. 

When he was brought to trial in 2008 for helping recruit young French Muslims to fight in Iraq, his lawyer presented him as a lost, confused soul who was hardly the devout Islamist he was believed to be. Cherif, his lawyer noted, “smoked marijuana … and described himself as an ‘occasional Muslim.’” (If there had been any hope for rehabilitation, it was conclusively dissolved once he was incarcerated and found a like-minded inmate who had plotted an attack on the American Embassy in Paris.) 

Once you start tumbling down a mountain, it’s hard to recover your balance.

The fact that the brothers had long been on the radar of French authorities, and had been detained and then released, indicates how futile it is to fight radical Islam in the streets. Drones can only do one thing. Should democracies arrest or kill every person who has ever walked into an Islamist mosque?

Beating back radical Islam will require addressing root causes of radical loneliness. The more young immigrants grow up in homes with education and real economic prospects, the less likely it is that they’ll become bait for ideological tyranny. There’s a reason the first book of Torah focuses on families — they are the bedrock from which everything else flows, for better or worse. Freud told us this; Stephen Sondheim repeated it when he cautioned: “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see.”

We can only hope more children witnessed the example of Lassana Bathily, the French-Muslim young man who ushered 15 kosher supermarket shoppers to safety, before escaping himself and helping French police assess the situation inside. Bathily proved it isn’t Islam itself that is so radical — or any other religion, for that matter. It is the choice a religious person makes to either lash out or love.