President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump answered a question about anti-Semitism by boasting about his election victory


During President Donald Trump’s joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump was asked a direct question from an Israeli reporter about “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States” — on the same day that the Southern Poverty law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the United States, most subscribing to anti-Semitic views, rose in 2016. It also came after a six-week period in which Jewish community centers around the country were forced to evacuate in three separate incidents due to coordinated bomb threats.

Below is the question and answer from the news conference at the White House, with my annotations.

REPORTER: Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic — anti- Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder, what do you say to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?

And Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the president just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank? And if we could follow up on my friend’s question — simple question: Do you back off from your vision to the (inaudible) conflict of two-state solution as you lay out in (inaudible) speech? Or you still support it?

DONALD TRUMP : Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. [Turns to Netanyahu] You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

Trump, we know, often boasts about his Electoral College victory. But what connection is he drawing between charges of bigotry and the strength of his win in the election? Is it possible that he tuned out after the first part of the question — in which the reporter mention “your election campaign and even after your victory”? Is he stalling before answering the anti-Semitism question? Or, and this seems likely, is he suggesting that whatever criticisms people have about his unusual and taboo-breaking campaign, he was vindicated by the electorate?  He has used this tactic before: On Nov. 14, right after the election, Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” asked if was going to going to release his tax returns. Trump replied, “Obviously, the public didn’t care because I won the election very easily.”

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.

It’s notable, given the question and the fact that he is standing next to the prime minister of the Jewish state and in front of the Israeli flag, that Trump makes no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism at this point. Specific attacks on Jews (and some of his supporters during the campaign launched some doozies, especially at journalists like Julia Ioffe and Jonathan Weisman) are subsumed under “every other thing that is going on.” Jewish antennas are on high alert on this point, especially after the White House released an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that did not mention the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided.

Did Trump just acknowledge he won the election only because we have a “very divided nation”? If so, that would contradict his early boast about the size of his victory, as well as his repeated unsubstantiated claims that his loss of the popular vote was only the result of massive voter fraud.

And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

Trump has been significantly less inclined than most recent presidents to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him, although he did say in his inaugural address, “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.

When Trump finally gets around to mentioning Jews, he has five in mind: son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, Kushner’s wife Ivanka and their three children. For some in the Jewish community, his Jewish relatives are all the evidence they need that Trump will not tolerate anti-Semitism. Defending Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, against allegations of anti-Semitism, the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein wrote in November, “Would Trump’s Orthodox Jewish daughter Ivanka, whose children go to an Orthodox day school, ever allow an anti-Semite to work with her father?”

But other Jewish groups felt Trump did not do enough during the campaign or since to send a strong message to bigots and white supremacists that they weren’t welcome in his coalition. The Anti-Defamation League wasn’t satisfied with Trump’s response today, tweeting, “Troubling that @POTUS failed to condemn real issue of anti-Semitism in US today.”

I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.

And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.

OK? Thank you.

On the campaign trail, Trump often invoked “love” as a solution to America’s racial and religious divides, as he did after winning Indiana in the Republican primaries: America, he said, which “is very, very divided in so many different ways, is going to become one beautiful loving country, and we’re going to love each other, we’re going to cherish each other and take care of each other.”

Minority groups might prefer a little less love and little more focus on the issues that concern them most, like, in the case of the Jews, a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism and a pledge to carefully monitor hate crimes and threats.

In the Trump era, imams and rabbis struggle with a strategy to counter anti-Muslim hostily


A year ago, when several dozen Washington-area Jewish and Muslim religious and lay leaders jostled for spots in a group picture, the mood was convivial.

The most novel item on the agenda for that November 2015 confab was bringing in non-Middle Eastern Muslims into the Jewish-Muslim dialogue. The meeting and the venue — an Indonesian-American Muslim center in Silver Spring, Maryland — helped “dispel the myth that Muslims are inherently of Middle Eastern descent,” a release said.

On Sunday, the meeting of the third Summit of Greater Washington Imams and Rabbis was better attended – a hundred or so leaders were on hand at Tifereth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in the District of Columbia, about 30 more than last year – and the group picture was just as friendly. But in that anxious “we’re in this together” way.

Following an afternoon packed with tales of Muslims enduring taunts, vandalism and bullying in schools, the host rabbi, Ethan Seidel, sang a Hasidic melody to calm the rabbis, imams and lay leaders as they scrambled into place (“short folks in front!”).

What changed? The name some said they could hardly mention: Donald Trump, the president-elect.

“Think of the rhetoric of a person I won’t name,” said Ambereen Shaffie, a co-founder of the D.C. chapter of the interfaith Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, addressing the group after the photo shoot.

Shaffie described Thanksgiving break at her parents’ Kansas City home, when all 40 people in her extended family said they encountered hostility in recent months, from bullying in schools, where younger relatives were called “terrorists,” to a fire set on her parents’ porch, to a bullet through the window of a male relative’s home.

She blamed Trump’s campaign, and his broadsides against Muslims, which included what an aide described as launching a database of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, a ban on all Muslims from entering the United States, a pointed religious-based attack on the family of a Muslim-American Army captain killed in Iraq and Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering as the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11.

Similar tales of harassment and threats against Muslims abounded at the summit, an initiative of several local dialogue groups and the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

Imams, rabbis, and Jewish and Muslim lay leaders posing for a group photo at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Washington, D.C., om Dec. 11.

And throughout the event, the Trump impact was often implied, if not explicitly cited.

The first session broke the gathering into lunch groups, and participants found printouts on their tables asking them to discuss how Jews and Muslims should “respond to the present social and political climate.”

“Basically, they want us to react to the results of the last election,” said Dr. Ira Weiss, a physician who is involved in the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Greater Washington, tossing the printout back onto the table. “Some of what Trump said during the campaign was not only intolerant but dangerous.”

The coming-together, where rabbis and lay leaders represented the spectrum of Jewish religious streams, was “especially significant at a moment of increased bigotry, when both communities are feeling vulnerable,” Seidel said in the release announcing the summit.

Police in Maryland’s Washington suburbs have reported a spike in vandalism, particularly in schools, that invokes Nazi imagery. Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have reported an increase in incidents since the election targeting blacks, Muslims, immigrants, the LGBT community and women. The latest FBI hate crimes report showed a 67 percent rise in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the past year.

In the roundtable discussions and in plenary sessions, participants struggled to pin down what they could do to ameliorate the current climate.

Participants described initiatives, like mosque and synagogue twinnings, that began after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when there was more of a national consensus that Muslims in America deserved protection from counterattacks. But these initiatives had been in place for years and had not prevented the acceleration of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

What went wrong? Participants seemed at a loss to understand.

Rabbi David Shneyer said his progressive congregation, Kehila Chadasha, had a post-election meeting with a strong turnout – 50 members from a 100-family community – and that one of its conclusions was to “hold media more accountable.”

“What does it mean, holding media more accountable?” Seidel asked.

“I can’t explain at this point,” Shneyer said.

Some participants said the rabbis, imams and lay leaders needed to break out of their bubbles of mutual affection and travel to the America that had elected Trump.

“We need to reach out to communities where the likelihood of a difference of opinion exists at a higher rate,” said Abdul Rashid Abdullah, representing the National American Muslim Association on Scouting and sporting a scoutmaster’s shirt.

Abdullah said he had been raised a Roman Catholic and converted to Islam when he was 18.

“I came from a household that’s probably supporting Trump,” he said. “By God’s will, I’m not on that route – but I could have been.”

Rabbi Sid Schwarz, a senior fellow at Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, outlined to the larger group what his lunch table came up with, including volunteering to register as Muslims should Trump make good on his campaign proposal to set up a national Muslim registry. (The ADL’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, proposed the same idea last month at his organization’s plenary in New York.)

But Schwarz also voiced a sense of helplessness that permeated the discussion.

“There’s got to be a more proactive agenda to counter the way Trump has characterized Islam as radical,” he said.

“How do you get out of the vacuum?” a participant asked.

“Reverse freedom rides,” someone else said. “We take our bubble into the hinterlands.”

Some practical ideas emerged, including synagogue members appearing outside mosques during Friday prayers bearing signs expressing support, and setting up volunteer systems that would accompany children to school who had been subjected to harassment there.

Rabbi Jason Kimmelman-Block, the director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, spurred participants to sign his group’s petition urging President Barack Obama, before he leaves office, to dismantle the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System, an existing structure that Trump could use to facilitate a Muslim registry.

Walter Ruby, the Muslim-Jewish relations director for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, said a 10-person steering committee would be chosen from those attending the meeting. Rabbi Gerald Serotta, the executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, circulated an outline of a rapid response system should hate crimes occur.

Ambereen Shaffie of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom addressing a Muslim-Jewish gathering at Congregation Tifereth Israel on Dec. 11.

Shaffie said Muslims and Jews should set an example by broadening the current paradigm of “utilitarian” collaborations — joining in legal challenges, for instance — to establish deeper friendships. She described how the women in her group, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, visit each other’s homes “when babies are born, when someone passes.”

“Loving someone else for the sake of God,” she said, is a means of “standing together as protectors, not defined by common victimhood, but a common heritage of dignity and love.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Left-wing Israeli says he helps kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews


A prominent Israeli campaigner for Palestinian rights was recorded saying that he helps Palestinian authorities find and kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews.

The recording was aired Thursday by the television program Uvda of Israel’s Channel 2. In it, Ezra Nawi, a Jewish far-left activist from the Ta’ayush group, is heard speaking about four Palestinian real-estate sellers, whom Nawi said mistook him for a Jew interested in buying their property.

“Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi is heard saying in reference to the Palestinian Authority’s counterintelligence arm. “The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them. But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”

In the Palestinian Authority, the penal code reserves capital punishment for anyone convicted of selling land to Jews. This law, which Palestinian officials defended as designed to prevent takeovers by settlers, has not been implemented in Palestinian courts, where sellers of land to Jews are usually sentenced to several years in prison. However, in recent years several Palestinian have been murdered for selling land. Their murders have remained unsolved.

Nawi was also documented obtaining information from a Palestinian who believed Nawi was a Jew interested in purchasing land. Nawi is seen saying he intends to give that information to Palestinian security officials as well. According to Uvda, an activist with the human rights group B’Tselem helped Nawi set up the would-be seller in a sting operation in which the seller would be arrested.

The recordings and footage were collected by right-wing activists who secretly recorded Nawi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Facebook Friday that the report “unmasked radicals among us, whose hatred for settlements has pushed them over the edge to the point of delivering innocents for torture and execution. Those who encourage murder cannot continue to hide behind the hypocritical pretense of caring for human rights.”

Islamic State says Cairo attack was response to leader’s call to target Jews


Islamic State said on Friday its members had carried out an attack on Israeli tourists in Cairo in response to a call by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to target Jews “everywhere.”

The group said in a statement released on the Internet that light arms were used in the attack, which took place on Thursday outside a Cairo hotel.

Egypt's Interior Ministry has said the attack was directed at security forces and was carried out by a member of a group of people who had gathered near the hotel and fired bird shot.

Security sources said the tourists were Israeli Arabs.

Islamic State's Egypt affiliate is waging an insurgency based in the Sinai which has mostly targeted soldiers and policemen.

The tourism industry – a vital source of hard currency in Egypt – is highly sensitive to attacks by militants which have slowed a recovery from years of political turmoil.

Militant violence has been rising since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. 

Hundreds of members of the security forces have been attacked in suicide bombings and shootings, which persist despite the toughest crackdown on militants in Egypt's history.

Islamic State leader threatens Israel, Jews


The leader of the Islamic State threatened Israel and Jews in a taped message that is said to be from him.

“The Jews thought we forgot Palestine and that they had distracted us from it. Not at all, Jews. We did not forget Palestine for a moment. With the help of Allah, we will not forget it,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said in the message released Saturday. “The pioneers of the jihadist fighters will surround you on a day that you think is distant and we know is close. We are getting closer every day.

“You will never find comfort in Palestine, Jews. Palestine will not be your land or your home, but it will be a graveyard for you. Allah has gathered you in Palestine so that the Muslims may kill you.”

The message was posted on Twitter accounts that have published Islamic State statements in the past. It has not been verified as actually originating from Baghdadi.

In a video released last month by the Islamic State, the group threatened to wage war against the Jewish people.

No, there are still two pro-Israel parties


Last week, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) head Matthew Brooks told The Hill, “We as a Jewish community have to take a long, hard step back and acknowledge the reality … that today there is one pro-Israel party and that is the Republican Party.”

What a boneheaded thing to say – both because it isn’t true, and because it’s a sure-fire way to hurt Israel. 

(Full disclosure: I’m a proud RJC member.)

Let’s look at some of the ways we know the Democrats continue to support Israel:

• In a survey last December (https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/15/widening-democratic-party-divisions-on-the-israeli-palestinian-issue/), nearly three times as many Democrats said they want US policy to lean toward Israel than those who want the country to support the Palestinians.

• CNN found that Democrats were more likely to feel that Israel’s actions in Gaza last summer were justified than unjustified.

• In fact, 40 out of 55 Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted for a resolution offering strong support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas. None of the rest voted against. 

• There are many powerful voices within the Democratic Party taking Israel’s side even on hot-button and mostly partisan issues, such as the four Senators who voted against the Iran nuclear deal. One of them is widely expected to lead the entire Democratic caucus after next year’s election – Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

• All of the Democratic presidential candidates are on the record supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and defend itself against attack. Each has visited Israel at least three times.

Granted, a lot of those numbers are better, even much better, when the statistics regarding Republican Party are examined. But the question is not which party is best for Israel. Brooks says the GOP is the only pro-Israel party, and his claim is plainly not true.

In fact, at least some of the Democratic drift from Israel can be fairly laid at our own party’s feet. Every time we have treated support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative policies as a litmus test for supporting Israel as a whole, it was entirely predictable that support for Israel among liberals would diminish. In the last few years, our party (mostly with an eye on pro-Israel Evangelicals) has sought to make Israel a partisan issue, such as when it invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in a manner disrespectful to Democrats.

I would of course love all my fellow Jews to vote Republican (you should hear my conversations at various Shabbat tables and family events). But within today’s Jewish community, proclaiming the GOP the only pro-Israel Party is more likely to hurt Israel than to hurt the Democrats. The “social justice” mantra and irrational phobia about conservative Christians entrenched among American Jews means that given the choice, liberal Jewish Democrats will turn against a Likud-led Israel much more quickly than against a Clinton- and Obama-led Democratic Party.

Worse than being unwise, though, the triumphalist language is completely unnecessary. 

Let’s say Israel, God forbid, once again had to enter Gaza to stop rocket attacks, and prominent Democrats began to press Israel to withdraw. The RJC should put aside partisanship and say something like this:

“The Republican Jewish Coalition wishes to express its concern about the voices in the Democratic Party urging Israel to put the lives of its citizens in danger. We are glad to be allied with the seven Democratic Senators and 38 Democratic Congressmen who are on record against this move, and we encourage other Democrats to return to their party’s historic roots in supporting the only democracy in the Middle East, which is one of America’s greatest friends anywhere.”

Even if someday Democratic support for Israel really does dry up, Republicans still mustn’t trumpet that change, because Israel needs support from both parties. The fact is, sometimes the Democrats do control one or more branches of government, and when that happens, Israel supporters need to find an open door and a willingness to listen.

Certainly, if Matthew Brooks and the rest of the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition are more interested in GOP electoral success than the safety of Israel, they can continue declaring themselves the only pro-Israel party. But doing so shows American Jewry that they put political self-interest over defending Israel – which couldn’t be more off-message.

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.

Most religious Zionists want Arabs out of Israel, study finds


During the previous wave of terror in Israel, 11 months ago, Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett said in a speech, “99.9 percent of Arab-Israelis are loyal to the State of Israel, and there’s a very small minority that acts against it.”

Apparently, his religious Zionist constituency disagrees.

A new poll by the Miskar agency, which surveys Israel’s religious Zionist population, found high levels of antagonism and mistrust toward Arab-Israelis. Contrary to polls of Arab-Israelis themselves, most religious Zionists believe that Arab-Israelis are hostile to Israel. A large majority see Arab-Israelis as a threat and would like to see the government push them to leave the country.

“The religious Zionist sector takes very extreme and unequivocal positions in terms of Israeli Arabs’ loyalty to the state, their posing an immediate and long-term security danger, and the need, therefore, for declarations of loyalty and a prepared plan for [population] transfer,” the poll’s analysis section read.

The pollsters surveyed 480 religious Zionists — defined by Jewish observance level and self-identification. The margin of error was 4.5 percent. Here’s a closer look at some of the major findings.

Religious Zionists view Arab-Israelis as an existential threat to the country. Four-fifths of religious Zionists believe Muslim Arab-Israelis are hostile to Israel and its Jewish citizens. Nearly 70 percent believe they pose a short-term existential threat to Israel, and 84 percent believe they pose a long-term existential threat. Less than one-fifth believe Arab-Israelis oppose violence and want to integrate into Israeli society.

These findings contradict the stated feelings of Arab-Israelis. According to a 2014 Israel Democracy Institutepoll, nearly 60 percent of Arab-Israelis “feel part of the State of Israel and its problems.” Nearly two-thirds feel proud to be an Israeli. Forty percent say integrating Jews and Arabs should be Israel’s top priority.

Most religious Zionists want Arab-Israelis to leave. A majority of religious Zionists support reopening a public discussion about the forced transfer of Arab-Israelis from the state. Three-quarters want the government to prepare a practical plan to encourage Muslim Arab-Israelis to emigrate. And should Arab Muslims stay in Israel, two-thirds of religious Zionists believe they should have to swear a loyalty oath to the state.

Most religious Zionists boycott Arab businesses. Seventy percent of religious Zionists support a boycott of Arab businesses. Less than 38 percent believe economic cooperation between Arab and Jewish Israelis is important.

Religious Zionists don’t believe Israel is racist toward Arabs. Only one-third of religious Zionists believe Arab-Israelis face significant racism. Only 17 percent believe Arab Muslims have difficulty integrating because of discrimination. And only 30 percent believe Arab-Israeli communities suffer from a lack of government investment, despite research showing that Israeli Jews receive greater government investment per capita than Arabs.

According to theIsrael Democracy Institute poll, a majority of Arabs-Israelis do feel discriminated against.

Did Jewish visitors to Temple Mount spark current tensions?


A leading Sephardic rabbi who advises the haredi Orthodox Shas party criticized Jews who have been visiting the Temple Mount, saying they “sparked all the current tumult.”

Rabbi Shimon Baadani, a member of Shas’ Council of Torah Sages, said Thursday on a Shas radio program,according to Haaretz: “Do not provoke the nations, even if we are in control here, there is a halakha. I don’t know on whose authority they permit themselves to provoke and cause an armed struggle like is happening now … they are forbidden.”

Israel’s chief rabbis first ruled in 1967, after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, that halakha, or Jewish law, forbids Jews from visiting the Temple Mount to prevent them from inadvertently stepping over the “Holy of Holies,” where the Ark of the Covenant was said to be stored in the First Temple.

The rabbis reaffirmed the prohibition in 2013. In addition, Israeli law bars Jews from praying at the site, which is administered by the Muslim Waqf.

However, a number of Orthodox Jews, among them Rabbi Yehuda Glick, have questioned the ruling and advocated for Jews to have the right to pray on the mount. Such activists have visited the Temple Mount, the site of frequent tensions between Jews and Palestinians, more frequently in recent years.

In his remarks Thursday, Ba’adani said that saving life trumps any mitzvah, and thus asked, “Why enter the Temple Mount?”

On Thursday, in an effort to calm tensions there, Netanyahu ordered members of his cabinet and members of the Knesset, including Arabs, not to enter the Temple Mount.

Iran deal may transform American Jewry


One of the significant elements to this story involves American Jews opposing the president of the United States that they had helped to elect. One can define this moment as transformational, as it may lead to the redefining of how Jews understand and employ their political power. This contest has in many ways demonstrated the maturation of the Jewish political mindset and the changing social environment, namely that Jewish voters are making choices independent of their historic political and party loyalties.

With each political/military crisis facing the State of Israel, the political divisions among American Jewry seem more pronounced. The Iranian nuclear question has demonstrated the depth and intensity of the Jewish political controversy. Two American-Jewish identities are in conflict with one another over this question. For many, this conversation is defined in terms of seeing themselves as “American Jews,” where their liberal political values and Jewish prophetic ideals inform their civic engagement. They enter this particular debate holding a number of competing concerns but are prepared in the end to place their trust in the president. For others, whom we might identify as “Jewish Americans,” their political framework and identity are constructed around their Zionist passions. For these individuals, Israel and its security concerns inform their perspective on this agreement and shape their general political antennae around the centrality of the Jewish story as it intersects with their American citizenship.

What is profoundly evident is that no Jew is expected to remain “neutral” as the political battlegrounds have been drawn. National organizations, community institutions and rabbinical leaders are all being called upon to declare themselves in this test of Jewish political activism. It is estimated that this mobilization may be one of the most expansive and expensive political organizing initiatives in modern Jewish history. This issue has triggered new avenues of political expression, including the formation of Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran and other forms of political activism involving high-level meetings, public debates, ads and petitions reflecting both perspectives within this debate.

This is a contest that has implications for the entire Middle East and, more directly, the place of Iran in the nuclear club. For Israel and the Jewish people, the political outcome in this matter may well reshape the nature of the Israel-United States relationship and the future role of the U.S. in this region.

Israel’s leadership has directly entered the American domestic arena as political actors, seeking to mobilize the Congress, the general populace and, more directly, American Jewry to act on a matter that has a specific impact on the future of the Jewish political enterprise. What are the longer-term implications of such intervention into the internal affairs of one nation by another?

In their efforts to identify with this cause, politicians and journalists have adopted various historical comparisons. One such scenario aligns this moment with Munich in 1938 and the act of appeasement, but is this a brilliant diplomatic maneuver designed to ultimately move Iran away from its current policies and lead to the unseating of its radical political base? Yet in the 1930s, Jewish organizations and their national leaders were at loggerheads over the best strategy to combat the rise of Hitler and to manage the case to defend and protect European Jewry. A divided community in that setting would fail to make its case with the Roosevelt administration. What are the contemporary as well as historical implications surrounding this policy debate?

In studying the tenor of this debate, we are likely to experience various forms of anti-Semitic/anti-Israel fallout, as well as an internal Jewish backlash, as the rhetoric accelerates and intensifies in connection with the forthcoming congressional vote. In the aftermath of this vote, will Jews be identified as “undermining” the administration’s foreign policy objectives? Will there likely be internal Jewish recrimination that follows this intense political contest?

What will be the impact of this issue on the 2016 elections and beyond, and what might be the spillover effect? Who will be seen as the political “winners” and “losers” in the aftermath of this battle?


Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. This article is reprinted from 

Arab-Israeli lawmaker: Jews have no religious ties to Temple Mount


An Arab Knesset member claimed that Jews have no religious ties to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

On Monday, Masud Ganaim of the Joint Arab List told Israel Radio that “historically, religiously, it is a Muslim site, period,” the Religion News Service reported.

The remarks came a day after Tisha b’Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the first and second Temples on the Temple Mount, the scene of Palestinians rioting on Sunday. Four Israeli police officers were lightly injured and three Palestinians were arrested in the clashes. A similar riot occurred there last year on Tisha b’Av.

The Temple Mount, located adjacent to the Western Wall, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, making it one of the most contested religious sites in the world. Israeli law bars non-Muslims from praying on the site, which is managed by Muslims and is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Many rabbis, including Israel’s two chief rabbis, have ruled that visiting the Temple Mount is a violation of halachah, or Jewish law, although in recent years, several modern Orthodox rabbis have argued that Jews should be allowed to visit the site and pray there.

In his comments to Israel Radio, Ganaim said, “The State of Israel knows that Jews and Israel have no legitimacy to the site, except for their legitimacy as an occupier — a legitimacy [won] by force.”

Formerly a member of the Islamic Movement party, Ganaim, 50, has been in the Knesset since 2009 and joined the Joint Arab List in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, when the new party formed as an alliance of four Arab parties.

Monday’s comment about the Temple Mount was not Ganaim’s first inflammatory remark. In May 2010 he said the State of Israel should be replaced with an Islamic caliphate.

Ramadan tours promote coexistence between Israeli Arabs and Jews


The group of Jewish-Israelis sat in a semicircle on the thick, red carpet of the mosque. The women wore headscarves; everyone’s feet were bare.

They had come to this Arab town in central Israel to experience a slice of Ramadan, the monthlong daytime fast observed by Muslims that ends this week. But before they left the mosque to visit Kfar Qasim’s Ramadan market — a nightly, open-air food bazaar — tour guide Shawkat Amer sounded a note of reassurance.

Amer told the crowd that just before the fast ended that evening, loudspeakers would sound calls of “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” across the city. Although it’s a phrase some Jewish-Israelis may associate with the final cry of terrorists before an attack, Amer urged his guests to remain calm. The call, he said, is in fact a message of goodwill.

“Don’t worry, it’s not a threat,” he said. “If I say it, you should feel pleasure.”

The nearly 50 men, women and children who joined the group on Sunday night were among some 1,500 Jews who have toured Arab-Israeli cities in the past month for a small taste of iftar, the nightly meal that breaks the Ramadan fast. In spite of tensions between the groups, it’s common for Jewish-Israelis to visit Arab towns for discount shopping or Middle Eastern food. But these tours aimed to take that experience deeper by teaching about Arab-Israeli culture and religion.

“If the only narrative is a Jewish narrative and the only history is Jewish, and you just buy hummus from Arabs, that’s not good,” said Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy, the Jewish-Arab coexistence nonprofit that organized the tours in Arab cities across central and northern Israel. “I don’t object to people buying hummus in Kfar Qasim, but for relations between Jews and Arabs, you need more than that.”

A city of 21,000 residents adjacent to the West Bank border and the middle-class Jewish city of Rosh Haayin, Kfar Qasim is one of Israel’s poorer towns. The Hebrew signs on the shops lining its streets are meant to entice Jewish customers.

As Koranic verses signaling the break-fast echoed across the city, the tour group flooded into an open-air food market set up for Ramadan. Merchants sold the tourists delicacies such as sticky pastries, fruit, pickled vegetables and falafel, fried on the spot in a giant pan. Part of the idea behind the tours, Gerlitz said, is to boost the Arab-Israeli economy, which has less exposure to tourism dollars than Jewish cities.

“Tourism is a meaningful tool for economic development, and tourism right now is mostly in Jewish towns,” he said. “Government investment is mostly in Jewish towns. That means there aren’t investments in Arab towns.”

But the tours also aim to confront historical wounds. Near the center of town, an austere black-and-white monument that looks like an upside-down obelisk with the year 1956 emblazoned on top commemorates the Kfar Qasim massacre, when Israeli border guards killed 48 fieldworkers returning home at curfew. In 2007, then-President Shimon Peres formally apologized for the incident, but residents say they are still pained by its memory. Some said they value dialogue with Jews as a way to move past historical trauma.

The tour group “doesn’t make a difference for me — but for my kids it does, so they won’t say Jews are animals,” said Amer Amer, a vendor of pickled vegetables whose father died in the massacre. “I want Jews to feel trusted here, at home here. I don’t want them to just say, ‘Those are Arabs.’”

The tour provided few opportunities for informal conversation with residents, focusing more on basic information about Islam and Arab-Israeli culture. But Adi, a Hebrew tutor who declined to give her last name, said the group’s exposure to Arab culture and Islam was still more than Jewish-Israelis normally receive.

“I think it was at a more informative level, but as an Israeli I got more of a taste [of Arab-Israeli life] than I get day to day,” she said. “It gave more familiarity than what I’m used to.”

At the mosque visit ahead of their trip to the market, the Jewish group heard Eyad Amer, a local imam, alternate between outlining the basics of Ramadan and answering the group’s questions about Islamic worship. Was there space for women in the mosque? (Yes, in another room.) Does Islam have egalitarian movements, like Judaism? (No.) How many of the city’s 25,000 residents observe the fast? (80 percent, based on mosque attendance.)

“They just hear about extremist Islam,” the imam told JTA after the tour. “They don’t know what moderate Islam is. If we don’t talk about Islam, they’ll just have a negative outlook toward us because they’re just exposed to the dark side, not the enlightened side of Islam.”

Speaking to the group, both the imam and the tour guide complained of discrimination against Arabs in Israel. (In fact, in an interview, Imam Amer said he lived under Israeli occupation, despite being a citizen).

Still, there are hopes for improvement. A two-hour tour wouldn’t fix the longstanding challenges Arabs face in Israel, tour guide Shawkat Amer said — but he hoped that greater Jewish familiarity with Arab-Israelis could help chip away at tensions between the communities.

“I can’t fix the whole world, but even if I do 1 percent of good, it will get better and better,” he said. “The more Jewish people I bring to Arab towns, the happier I’ll be.”

Your Jerusalem, my Jerusalem


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Jerusalem is a dream and a vision, and at the same time a city where garbage needs to be collected, children go to school, and roads need to be fixed. For some of the 800,000 people living inside the city’s municipal boundary, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, reunited in 1967 after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. For others the city, or at least those parts of it on the eastern side of the Green Line, is occupied territory, land which should one day become the future capital of a Palestinian state. People’s understanding of events in the city’s history are always viewed through the prism of their beliefs and nuanced by what they think is best for the future of the holy city.

This is as true for the plethora of vying non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that live and work in Jerusalem as it is for the city’s residents, visitors and observers. Numerous groups with political agendas conduct tours within the environs of Jerusalem each one highlighting the evidence they believe proves the veracity of their cause. As often as not conflicting NGOs will look at the same piece of evidence and interpret it in two radically different directions.

Keep Jerusalem is an organization founded by Chaim Silberstein in order to advocate for the continued unification of the city. “If you mention the words “east Jerusalem” most people think it is an Arab area, overwhelmingly populated by Arabs, and therefore it’s not a problem to give it away,” Silberstein told The Media Line. “However when you inform people that in fact east Jerusalem is compromised half of Jews and half of Arabs and the neighborhoods are intertwined then people’s attitudes and opinions change drastically,” Silberstein explained in a slight South African accent.

Silberstein, who lives within a Jewish community located in the West Bank, fears that two possible futures lie ahead for Jerusalem: either Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city will become part of  the West Bank and will eventually become home to violent organizations in a similar manner to Hamas’ take over of the Gaza Strip; or Jerusalem will remain united but the Jewish population will find itself eventually outnumbered and outvoted due to higher birth rates among the city’s Arab population – the so called demographic problem.

A third and preferable option, as far as Keep Jerusalem is concerned, is the boosting of the numbers of Jews living in east Jerusalem through government housing and special subsidies.

Taking a different view of the city is Ir Amim, a dovish organization that campaigns to make Jerusalem a “more equitable” place to live for all of its residents.

“Ir Amim works very hard to promote the understanding that the division of the city is an imperative part of a two state solution – meaning that the city must be the capital of two sovereign nations,” Betty Herschman, Director of International Relations at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. Herschman, who emigrated to Israel from the United States, explained that the organization did not see the division of the city as a worthy objective in itself, but as a necessity for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

As can be imagined Keep Jerusalem and Ir Amim do not tend to agree with one another. Although the two groups are not directly in conflict they are representative of the numerous NGOs who disagree ideologically. These groups put much of their efforts into spinning their narrative and conducting tours for those willing to give up their time to come listen.

Although it is likely that there is a certain amount of “preaching to the choir” taking place during these tours they represent a key battleground when it comes to bringing policy makers and opinion leaders into line with an organization’s point of view.

Part of this clash of conflicting narratives is the interpretation of evidence on the ground. In a report earlier in the year the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that 75% of Arabs living in east Jerusalem are below the poverty line. When asked to comment on levels of poverty among Arabs in east Jerusalem both Ir Amim and Keep Jerusalem’s answers were indicative of the manner in which they could view the same piece of evidence with radically different outcomes.

Herschman argued that the continuation of income inequality between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods was “dramatic enough to constitute a (deliberate) lever of displacement,” pointing out that Palestinians make up 40% of the city’s population but only benefit from 10% of the municipal budget. In Ir Amim’s view the municipality of Jerusalem is slowly encouraging Arabs to leave the city by keeping them poor.

Silberstein, on the other hand, rejected any notion that intentional discrimination was taking place and suggested that the figure of a 75% poverty rate was “vastly inflated.” Any lack of funding towards Arab neighborhoods, he said, was simply because Palestinians, most of whom are residents of Jerusalem but not Israeli citizens, continuously refused to vote in municipal elections and therefore lost out when decisions about funding were being made.

Disagreements over the facts and the use of statistics to blur lines, should not come as a surprise, Professor Eran Feitelson, of Hebrew University’s Geography department, told The Media Line. “In Jerusalem everyone has a different narrative – there are always multiple narratives,” Feitelson said.

An exact definition of east Jerusalem is difficult to define, Feitelson explained, as people mean different things when they use the term – “it depends what you count in and what you count out.” When Israelis say east Jerusalem they are generally referring to the Arab communities, irrespective of geography or political considerations, Feitelson observed.

But the most important thing to remember when listening to an individual or an organization’s narrative – and this, the geography professor said, is something he drills into his students – is always be skeptical of numbers.

As the old adage goes, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Israeli president calls on P.A. to act against terrorism surge


Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at a Ramadan break-fast meal with Arab leaders called on the Palestinian Authority to act against a recent surge in terrorism.

Addressing the uptick in attacks by Palestinians against Jewish targets since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, Rivlin said at his Jerusalem residence on Sunday night, “We are working extensively to ensure a festive atmosphere in the Palestinian areas, but the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to act decisively against terrorists seeking to sabotage our daily lives here.”

Rivlin emphasized building trust between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel.

“The citizenship of the Arab residents of the State of Israel is not a goodwill gesture,” he told the Arabic media before the Iftar meal. “It is the citizenship of individuals and of a society which is part and parcel of this land; this land is their homeland, the State of Israel is their home. I am happy that Arab community leaders and citizens see this house as an address to raise their concerns, and I hope that this cooperation will go from strength to strength.”

Sunday night also marked the end of a Jewish fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, marking the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 69 C.E. following a long siege.

“Today it so happened that we all fasted together, Jews and Arabs,” Rivlin said. “For all of us, the purpose of this fast is not to discipline the body, but to cultivate in our minds and spirits compassion and kindness, and opening our hearts to the one another.”

Rivlin decried recent animosity between the Jewish and Arab communities and called for the leadership on both sides to build trust and cooperation.

“These have not been easy weeks for anyone who loves this country; for those who believe we have the ability and the duty — as Arabs and Jews — to live together. At this time, in the face of those on both sides who seek to fan the flames, we cannot and must not remain silent,” he said.

Placing a 9-11 call to G-D


If you watch or listen to the news it’s pretty depressing. Especially when it comes to what’s happening to the Jewish people. We have terrorist attacks in Paris and verbal attacks in the U.N. We have boycotting of Israeli goods and anti-Israel propaganda on college campuses. We have a President who swears he is the “first Jewish president” and then tries to tie Israel’s hands behind her back while playing footsie with Iran. The same Iran who wants to wipe Israel off the map. Anti-Semitism is back like a pox. A pox like the Middle Ages disease. A pox without any vaccinations. And it’s growing.

This has been coming on for years. And there are groups out there who have and are still trying their hardest to stop it. Groups like: World Jewish Congress, The American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, StandWithUs, The Israel Project. Very good groups. And yet the pox still grows.

Do any of you reading this remember how it was right before the Six-Day War? We knew that Nasser (the head of Egypt) wanted to “drive the Jews into the sea.” It was only 22 years after the Holocaust and we knew he wasn’t kidding. All Jews whether Reform, Conservative or Orthodox all over the world ran into their respective shuls and synagogues and prayed. They begged the Almighty to have mercy on Israel. They called out to G-d to help us. And you know what? You remember. He did!

When we were slaves in Egypt we cried out to G-d and he freed us. He saved us. And so it went all through history. When we were in trouble we cried out to him and he delivered us. When Haman showed up in Persia to destroy us, we fasted and wept and prayed. And again deliverance!

Well it seems that it is now time for us to make that call. I don’t care whether you are Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or that you think eating lox and bagels at Nate’n Al’s deli is very Jewish. If you are proud to be a Jew and you care about the welfare of Israel and Jews everywhere, you have power with the words that emanate from your mouth. Words you can say to the Ruler of the World.

At the end of this article I am going to give you some Tehillim you can say. But the truth is you can talk to Hashem in your own words. Every day, or at night before you go to bed. Ask him to help us. And really mean it. Like a 911 call you would make to save your child or friend. “Please G-d we do forget you and take advantage of the fact that you keep us safe and fed and sheltered. We rarely say thank you. But now please, please help us. Please protect us. Help us to remember that you are the only one who can save us. Please protect all Jews everywhere and defeat our enemies.”

Go ahead make the call. He’s waiting.

Tehillim #83: Oh G-d, do not hold yourself silent; be not deaf and be not still, O G-d. For behold, your foes are in uproar and those who hate you have raised their head. Against Your nation they plot deviously, they take counsel against those sheltered by you. They said, “Come, let us cut them off from nationhood, so Israel’s name will not be remembered any more! For they take counsel together unanimously, they strike a covenant against You – the tents of Edom and Ishmalites, of Moab & Hagrites, Geval and Ammon, and Amalek, Philistia and the inhabitants of Tyre. Even Assyria joined with them, they became the strong arm of Lot’s sons, Selah. Do to them as to Midian, as to Sisera, and as to Yavin at Nachal Kishon, who were destroyed at Eindor; they became dung for the earth. Make their nobles like Orev and Ze’ev; and all their princes like Zevach and Tzalmuna. Who said “We will conquer for ourselves the pleasant habitations of G-d.”…..So pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm…then they will know that You, Whose Name is Hashem, are alone, Most High over all the earth.

Tehillim #124: Had not Hashem been with us –let Israel declare it now! Had not Hashem been with us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their anger was kindled against us. Then the waters would have inundated us; the current would have surged across our soul. Then they would have surged across our soul – the treacherous waters. Blessed is Hashem, Who did not present us as prey for their teeth. Our soul escaped like a bird from the hunters’ snare; the snare broke and we escaped. Our help is through the Name of Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth.

Suzanne Davidson is a pro-Israel activist and founder of The LA Pro Israel Rally Committee. Her articles have appeared in The Jewish Journal and Aish.com.

Obama: Defending Jews means criticizing Israel


Defending Jews from anti-Semitism is necessarily entwined with criticizing some of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, President Barack Obama told a Jewish audience.

“The rights I insist upon and fight for for all people in the United States compels me to look out for the rights of the Jewish people, and the rights of the Jewish people lead me to think about the child in Ramallah who feels trapped,” Obama said Friday, addressing the Adas Israel congregation in Washington D.C. “That’s what Jewish values teach me.”

Obama and his officials are making clear they will not back down from making public criticism of Israel when they feel it is warranted. He made a similar pledge this week to The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is an Adas congregant.

Tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified in March, when Netanyahu spoke to Congress and slammed Obama’s Iran policies in a speech that was organized with the congressional Republican leadership and without consultation with the White House.

Netanyahu’s comments ahead of Israeli elections the same month, urging followers to vote because “hordes of Arab voters” were being bused to polls, and appearing to back away from a two-state solution made matters worse, although Netanyahu after his reelection walked back both statements.

The White House invited Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador who helped organize the speech to Congress, to attend, but Dermer declined, saying he was out of town at a scheduled event.

Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel and said he was committed to combating what he called the “scourge” of anti-Semitism and its resurgence in Europe. “When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed.”

His speech, marking Jewish American Heritage Month, drew a mixed response, with some in the packed sanctuary applauding loudly when he reserved the right to criticize Israel when necessary and others staying silent.

“When I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support for Israel I must object,” was a line that drew extended applause and loud cheers – but not from all members of the audience.

Will Vatican’s Palestine reference impact Jewish-Catholic ties?


When considering the Vatican’s creep toward recognition of Palestinian statehood, think “Israel-Vatican” and not “Jewish-Catholic,” say Jewish officials involved in dialogue with the church.

A May 13 announcement on an agreement regarding the functioning of the church in areas under Palestinian control raised eyebrows in its reference to the “State of Palestine.”

The upset was compounded by confusion over whether Pope Francis, in a meeting over the weekend with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, praised him as an “angel of peace” or urged him to attain that vaunted status. On Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman said it was “very clear” that the pope was “encouraging a commitment to peace.”

But the Vatican’s shift from terming its Palestinian partner as the Palestine Liberation Organization — the designation Israel accepts — to calling it Palestine comports with a shift in Europe toward accommodating Palestinian statehood aspirations, the Jewish officials said.

Referring to a State of Palestine was “disturbing, but not critical,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said in an interview with JTA.

Catholic-Jewish relations and diplomacy between Israel and the Vatican are “on different tracks,” Foxman said.

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously, said they were “disappointed” in the use of State of Palestine.

“Such a development does not further the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct bilateral negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next step,” an official told the French news agency AFP.

A number of congressional Republicans also expressed “disappointment” in the pope, Politico reported.

Marshall Breger, a professor at the Catholic University of America’s School of Law who has led a number of Jewish dialogues with other faiths, said the use of the term Palestine was the product of an evolution in how the international community is treating the Palestinian question.

“De facto, the Vatican has accepted Palestine as a state,” he said. “It just adds one more country to the over 130 that have recognized Palestine.”

The issue is a matter of diplomacy and does not breach the sensitive issues under discussion between Jews and Catholics as they mark the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration that absolved Jews of responsibility for Jesus’ death, Breger said.

“It’s a minor event,” he said. “It should not interfere with Jewish-Catholic relations.”

Using Nostra Aetate as a basis, Jewish and Catholic officials over the years have addressed problematic references to Jews in the Catholic liturgy and the role of the Vatican during the Nazi period.

Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, told The Washington Post that the “Palestine” reference amounted to “appeasement of radical Muslims” and signaled “the historical Catholic enmity towards Jews.”

For the most part, however, Jewish organizations dealing with the Vatican were concerned about the statement, but only insofar as it represented another success in efforts by the Palestinians to secure statehood recognition outside the context of negotiations with Israel.

“We are fully cognizant of the Pope’s good will and desire to be a voice for peaceful coexistence, which is best served, we believe, by encouraging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, rather than unilateral gestures outside the framework of the negotiating table,” David Harris, the American Jewish Committee director, said in a statement.

Weighing in with similar statements were the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Union for Reform Judaism.

When the Vatican launched talks with the Palestinians in 2000, it referred to the other side as the PLO, but over time shifted to Palestine. Pope Francis in his 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank spoke of “my presence today in Palestine” during a Bethlehem stop and referred to “the good relations existing between the Holy See and the State of Palestine.”

Daniel Mariaschin, the director of B’nai B’rith International, said the recognition of Palestine raised concerns, but they must be seen in the context of an increased willingness in Europe to recognize Palestinian statehood and not of Jewish-Catholic relations.

He likened it to the French and British parliaments recent nonbinding recognitions of Palestine and Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood.

“It’s important, I won’t dismiss it, but it shouldn’t be seen outside that broader context,” Mariaschin said. “It raises the expectations of Palestinians to unmeetable levels and frustrates the Israelis who say we can’t get a fair deal in the international community.”

Obama administration officials continue to maintain that recognizing Palestine outside the context of peace talks is counterproductive. However, prompted in part by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s seeming election eve retreat from supporting a two-state solution, they now will not count out withholding the U.S. veto should the U.N. Security Council consider a Palestinian statehood resolution.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who also has been involved in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, said the Palestine recognition should serve as a “wake-up call” for Israel.

“It doesn’t affect [Vatican] relations with Israel at all,” Reich said.

Instead, he argued, Vatican recognition of Palestine is another manifestation of European disaffection with Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish policies and the expansion of settlements.

“It just puts more pressure on the Israeli government,” Reich said.

Muslims and Jews gather to combat anti-Semitism


This story originally appeared on The Media Line.

When Abderrahim Chaibi was seven years old, his teacher in a Muslim school in Morocco told him that Jews were bad people who murdered the Prophet Mohammed. Now decades later, Chaibi is in Jerusalem for the fifth Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism, sponsored by the Israeli government.

“Our fathers and our teachers told us that Israel is a monster that murders Palestinians,” Chaibi, a professor of educational psychology told The Media Line. “But now I see that there is true multi-culturalism here, and that people from different religions and different cultures can co-exist. This is something we need to learn in Morocco.”

Morocco, he said, protected its Jews during World War II, and before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, there were more than 260,000 Jews in the country. Today there are about 2500, he said, and many of the young people have immigrated to Israel.

“My mission is the change this image of Jews,” he said. “We don’t know anything about Jews or their heritage. That is the first step towards changing people’s attitudes.”

His compatriot, Mounir Kejji, a Berber activist, said there have long been ties between the Berbers, a minority group in Morocco and the Jews.

“Anti-semitism in Morocco is sponsored politically by some religious political parties and some organizations that believe in pan-Arabism,” he said. “At the same time, Morocco is the only Muslim country where you can find a Jewish museum.”

Several imams, or Muslim prayer leaders, also spoke at the conference. Imam Yahya Pallavicini is the preacher of the Al-Wahid mosque in Milan, and an advisor to the Minister of Education in Italy. He said anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe.

“We had hoped as European citizens and as Muslim leaders that diseases such as anti-Semitism would decrease,” he told The Media Line. “But unfortunately the misleading interpretations and mentality and narrative of the anti-Semitic approach is increasing and influencing the young generation in Europe.”

He said that many Muslim leaders are concerned about the growing appeal of Islamic State, especially among young, poor Muslims.

“They are trying to influence and recruit the youth with an idea of an adventure, saying it’s like playing war games in the Middle East,” he said. “We have to make them understand that there is adventure in murder or in violence.”

In France, conference organizers say, more than 1000 youth have returned from fighting with Islamic State in Syria. Many of them are armed, and could carry out attacks against Jews or other targets. The Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, followed by the attack at the Jewish supermarket in Paris, left 17 people dead.

European delegates said they saw an increase in anti-Semitism after last summer’s fighting between the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza and Israeli soldiers that left more than 2200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis dead. Many Europeans have more sympathy for the Palestinians, who they see as the underdog, and some cross the line from political support for Palestinians to anti-Semitism.

It is important for Jews worldwide to enlist allies in the fight against anti-Semitism, delegates here say, and for Jews to help in the fight against bigotry and racism.

 

“We’re not going to defeat anti-Semitism alone—we’re the victim but we need allies to help,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told The Media Line. “What’s happening to the Yazidis (in Iraq), to the Christians in the Middle East, to endangered Muslims, has to be part of our collective consciousness. This is a whole new war of which anti-Semitism is just a piece.”

U.S. citizens in Israel warned ahead of Nakba Day


The United States’ diplomatic missions in Israel have called on U.S. citizens to exercise caution due to demonstrations and violence associated with Nakba Day.

Nakba Day is observed on May 15, the Gregorian anniversary of Israel’s Independence Day in 1948. The Palestinians, and Arabs throughout the Middle East, observe the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” with marches and protests.

The warnings issued on Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem call on U.S. citizens to be cautious on May 15, and the days preceding that date, It also warns of traffic congestion and road closures in Jerusalem for the Muslim holiday of the Isra and Miraj on May 16 and for Jerusalem Day on May 17.

According to the warning, on Nakba Day there “may be a significantly higher level of Israeli National Police patrolling around Jerusalem, especially following afternoon prayers. In the past, demonstrations or clashes have occurred in multiple areas such as the Qalandiya Checkpoint, Damascus Gate, Bethlehem, and Ramallah City Center, as well as other checkpoints and refugee camps.”

The warning reminds U.S. citizens in Israel to “be aware of your surroundings at all times, monitor the media, and avoid demonstrations and other crowds as events can turn violent without warning. We further advise you to follow police instructions and avoid areas of heavy police presence.”

Arabs and Jews quarrel over Acre’s Old City


This story orginally appeared on The Media Line.

Minarets, green domes and an Ottoman-era clock tower look out over the brightly painted fishing boats that line the quayside. Tourists stroll beside gaggles of children on outings from nearby Muslim schools. The old city of Acre is made uniquely beautiful by the sparkle of blue water from the Mediterranean Sea surrounding the ancient port town on three sides. For its examples of Ottoman architecture – a citadel, mosques, khans and a Turkish bathhouse – and for the Crusader ruins buried below, the city was awarded UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage status in 2001.

Acre features heavily in the long history of the region, with the remains of both the largest Crusader town left in the world and evidence of permanent habitation dating back five millennia. The modern day city’s 46,000 residents are mixed demographically with around two thirds being Jewish, and one third Arab.

The winding alleys and timeworn buildings are what gives the old city its atmosphere, valued by both tourists and UNESCO alike. But many of these ancient buildings are in need of repair. The beauty of such structures goes hand-in-hand with the difficulty present in maintaining them – any repairs must be done using materials which preserve the ancient look of the old city. This makes repairs unaffordable to many of the residents of the old city, an area which suffers from high levels of poverty. In an effort to counteract this, investment has been brought into the old city seeking to harness the potential income from the numerous tourists who visit the town each year. There are new bed and breakfasts and restaurants catering to tourists.

The Jewish-led municipality of Acre is using this investment as a means of permanently changing the character of the city, accuse Basel Ghattas and Aida Touma-Suleiman, both members of the mostly Arab Joint List party. Arabs make up around 28% of the city’s population but almost all of the residents in the old city. This, charges Ghattas, is something the Israeli government wants to change.

The poor state of housing in the old city, Ghattas told a small group of journalists on a recent tour, is perpetuated by the mayor in order to drive out Arab residents. Most of the people living in Acre’s old city do not own their properties, but rent them from the municipality. These buildings are in dire need of repairs, said Ghattas, but the authorities refuse to let tenants alter the buildings, in the hopes that this will eventually cause them to leave.

“They’re homes are in a very bad situation because they prevent them from maintaining the buildings. As a result, they think, the people will leave. The hidden agenda is to evacuate Acre of its Arab citizens… to throw them out of their homes,” Ghattas told The Media Line.

The aesthetics of the buildings, due to the city’s UNESCO heritage status, is being used as an excuse to refuse permission to residents to conduct repairs, argues parliamentarian Aida Touma-Suleiman. At the same time the historical buildings of the old city have been earmarked for redevelopment. Several of the khans – historical courtyards that make up several of Acre’s most iconic sites – will be converted into expensive hotels for tourists, she said, and a number of Arab families have been informed they will be evicted, Touma-Suleiman told The Media Line.

“For many years the aim was to evacuate most of the old city of its own inhabitants and to turn it into a touristic city that is mostly inhabited by artists and investors, hotels, small boutique hotels – businesses that are mainly for tourism,” Touma-Suleiman said, adding that a combination of racism against Arabs and naked capitalist interest were behind the drive to force out Arab families.

The mayor’s office sharply rejected claims that they are trying to force Arab residents out of the old city.

“This is of course not true,” Daniel Arama, Head of Tourism in Economic Companies and a representative of the municipality of Acre told The Media Line. He insisted that the municipality had in fact sought to invest in residents of the old city through projects aimed at helping locals to set up sustainable businesses – guest houses, small restaurants and crafts centers.

He dismissed claims that investment in the old city would impact on the character of the heritage site and said the city often gave permission to residents who wished to conduct repairs on their homes.

The Arab parliamentarians have written a letter to Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, asking that the organization send an investigative team to Acre to decide if the terms of the city’s heritage nomination have been breached.

Ghattas believes that status has been compromised in two ways: firstly that certain renovations, namely large hotel constructions, will impinge on the visual atmosphere of the city; and secondly that the cultural heritage of the city is being deliberately diminished by the municipality. The MKs pointed out that improvements in the economic and social condition of local residents was identified as an important part in maintaining the city’s cultural identity and a prerequisite to Acre being recognized by UNESCO.

Ghattas and Touma-Suleiman believe that the threat of Acre losing its UNESCO heritage status will be useful political pressure to apply against the municipality – especially in the context of an Israeli government which is increasingly finding itself criticized by the international community. Acre is one of eight UNESCO heritage sites in Israel.

UNESCO is unlikely to revoke the city’s heritage status, said Arama, of the mayor’s office, adding that risking Acre’s standing was “a stupid thing to do.” He added that Acre doesn’t directly gain money from UNESCO but that the acknowledgment of the city’s unique value was important.

A level of suspicion among Arab residents towards the municipality is sometimes understandable, Professor Itzchak Weismann, of the Department of Middle Eastern History at Haifa University, told The Media Line. He pointed to Acre as the best example of a mixed city in Israel, where relations between Jews and Arabs were historically “much better” than other integrated cities in the country. But he admitted that there were incidents in the past that still lingered in Arab residents’ memories and prevented them from trusting the authorities.

In Jaffa, also a mixed city next to Tel Aviv, gentrification made rents skyrocket and many Arabs were forced to leave. Their homes were replaced with upscale restaurants and art galleries. People are afraid that will happen in Acre too, Weismann said.

“There are reasons (for Arab resident) to be worried – the state could do more,” Weismann told The Media Line, but he pointed to Shimon Lankri, the mayor of Acre, as an example of progress. Weismann suggested that Lankri was doing more for Arabs and Jews in the city and this could be seen in the last election result – “He has some support from Arabs, not 100% but maybe around half.”

“The city is very dear to my heart,” said Weismann, “there is still much to do but the city is (going) in the right direction.”

The five stones of truth


“Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.”   1 Samuel 17:40.

Two armies faced each other more than two millennium ago. The Israelites were retreating from the advancing Philistines. The two armies took their last stand on opposing hilltops in readiness for the final decisive battle. The odds favored the Philistines. Dividing them was the Valley of Elah in Judea. Today, some call it part of the West Bank. This is important because, in this tale, you will hear the echoes of history resound in today’s world.

Conditions favored the Philistines. The Israelites were led by a weak king. Strategically, the tailwind seemed to be with the Philistines who taunted the retreating Jewish people who were fearful and unwilling to head into another losing battle that they knew was facing them. Their land, their kingdom, was in jeopardy of being lost forever.

Each day the Philistines sent their most potent weapon down into the valley to insult and challenge the legitimacy of the Israelites. A giant named Goliath was their representative, their perceived strength. Nobody on the Israelite side was prepared to face the challenge until a boy stepped forward. David, a young shepherd boy from Bethlehem, had walked the fifteen miles to join the Jewish army facing the advancing Philistine enemy. He saw that nobody was willing to take up the challenge of defying them, so he walked down into the valley armed with nothing more than a slingshot.

The enemy burst out laughing when they saw this single figure of a lad step forward to take on their impressive figurehead. The boy waded into a nearby stream and took out five smooth stones. He armed his slingshot, whirled it round his head, and hurled the first stone at the enemy’s hero. It struck the middle of the giant’s forehead. Goliath fell to the ground, dead.

The Philistines were stunned into silence and shock. The Jewish army, amazed at the simple act of initiative from this young courageous boy, advanced confidently on the enemy and routed them from the battlefield. They saw that the perceived invincibility of the Philistines was built on nothing more than a clumsy giant without substance.

The story has great relevance today. The powerful narrative of today’s Philistines, the Palestinians, is built without substance. It can be brought down with a handful of smooth stones – the stones of truth, legitimacy, courage, heritage, and values. All it takes is one person with conviction and the knowledge to courageously go out armed with the weapons of the five stones and face the fraudulent giant, knowing that he represents nothing but lies and deception.

Learn the factual legitimacy of Israel. Research the events of San Remo and the League of Nations Resolution of 1922. Read what actually happened to the United Nations Resolution 181 that failed to make it into the statute books, to realize that the Palestinian narrative has no basis in fact or law. Discover that the five stones are held firmly with the hands of Israel, as firmly as they were held in the hand of David so many years ago.

With these simple weapons, the five stones of rights, justice, truth, facts and history, it is possible for Israel to gain the high moral ground and leave the enemy in disarray. 

Barry Shaw is the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’ www.israelnarrative.com

His new book ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism’ has just been released. https://www.createspace.com/5333306

The Jew, the Copt and the Yazidi


I’ll get to those three in a minute but first, let me tell you what a Muslim friend said to me a couple of months ago. He’s an Iranian-born reporter who lives and works in the United Kingdom — one of the many used-to-be-Muslims who gave up religion once the mullahs took over in Iran. In the past few years he’s spent a lot of time in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. 

We were having dinner at his cousin’s house in Topanga. This was shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacres in Paris. We talked about how strange and unreal it seemed to have Jews killed in Europe just because. 

“I think I finally have an idea what it’s like to be a Jew in most parts of the world,” my friend said. 

“When I’m in Iraq, I feel relatively safe with other Shias. But I can walk a hundred feet and find myself among a bunch of Sunnis, and I honestly don’t know if I’m going to get out alive.” 

It doesn’t matter that he identifies neither as a Shia or a Sunni. 

“They find out I was born in Iran, and they assume I’m Shia, and that’s all they need to decide I deserve to die.”

And he certainly can’t let on that he’s renounced religion altogether: For a Muslim, that’s apostasy, punishable by death. 

“So I’ve been trying to explain this to people when they talk about Jews and Israel: This is why Israel must exist.” 

I don’t know if it’s because it came from a “former” Muslim, or because he had arrived at it by finding himself an endangered minority in what we know as “the Muslim world,” but his assertion struck me as especially poignant. I thought about all the times I’ve heard young Jews in this country proclaim that they are American, not Israeli; that they don’t care about Israel and have no connection to it; that Israel doesn’t have to be a Jewish state; and that one’s not Jewish unless one identifies as a Jew. 

It doesn’t matter what you identify as, I want to tell these dreamers. 

On Feb. 26, at Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Natalie Farahan of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) had put together a program titled “The Fate of Religious Minorities in Today’s Middle East.”

JIMENA states its mission as “the preservation of Mizrahi and Sephardi culture and history, and recognition for the nearly 1 million Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa who were displaced from their country of origin in the 20th century.” On this occasion, however, the religious minorities in question were not only Jewish, but also Coptic Christian and Yazidi. 

Copts, who number somewhere between 5 percent and 23 percent of the Egypt’s 83 million population, are the native Christians of Egypt. Until Islam conquered the country, they — the Copts — were the majority. After that, especially under Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Pan-Arab ambitions, they became second-class citizens. Much like Jews in hostile territories, they were used as scapegoats by leaders and groups vying for control of the region, hated by local populations and viewed as “not really belonging” after centuries of being there. Most recently, the rise of militant Islam has augured for them what many call a “silent genocide.” Think staged beheadings, complete with cinematic scores, of men in orange suits. 

Yazidis, too, predate Islam by centuries. Smaller pockets exist today in Syria, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and Germany, but the largest population, approximately half a million, live in the area north of Mosul in Iraq. Whether by Ottoman Muslims or secular Baathists, they have been massacred, persecuted, forced to convert and ordered to emigrate en masse since the 1500s. Last year, ISIS forced 50,000 of them to flee into the mountains around Sinjar, where they faced starvation or death from exposure. Those who didn’t escape were slaughtered or forced to convert. Their women were treated as sex slaves and sold at the local market; their girls were forced to convert to Islam and sold as brides, or raped and killed. Children born to mothers in captivity were taken away. 

As for the Jews — represented, that night, by Iranian-American reporter and blogger for the Journal, Karmel Melamed of Los Angeles — the largest remaining Jewish community in the Middle East is in Iran. Their numbers have sunk from 100,000 in 1977 to somewhere around 5,000 today (official reports by the government of Iran place them at around 10,000, which is almost certainly a gross exaggeration). For the most part, these remaining Jews feel safe enough to have chosen to stay. 

“What do you think the region will look like for you in 10 years?” someone in the audience asked the three panelists at Kol Ami. 

The Jews of Iran believe they can outlast the current regime by keeping a low profile and making clear that they condemn Israel at every turn, lest they be identified by the regime as Zionists. The Copts and Yazidis, on the other hand, are engaged in an existential battle with no end in sight. Even if they manage to escape the areas in which ISIS and other Muslim extremist groups have trapped them, there’s little help or even understanding waiting for them anywhere in the world. Their only options seem to be to stay and die, or leave and fall into the hands of hostile forces, or perish on the journey. 

It doesn’t matter that Yazidis are monotheists, their religion derived from Zoroastrianism and other Mesopotamian religions; Muslim extremists view them as devil worshipers and therefore deserving of death. It doesn’t matter that the Copts view themselves as Egyptian; the extremists care only that they — the Copts — are Christian. 

Elias Kasem, a Yazidi activist who’s traveling the world in a desperate attempt to summon help for his people, put it this way: “To survive, we would need the protection of outside governments, and they’re not interested.” 

Where have we heard this line before? 

Kasem was born in Sinjar, Iraq and fled the 1991 Gulf war with his family to a refugee camp inside Syria. He traveled at night, and on the way lost his 8-year-old sister. A 2007 bombing of two Yazidi villages in which 800 were killed prompted him to seek international support for his people. Since then, he’s been “everywhere,” including to Washington, D.C. 

“The only real help we’ve received [from a foreign government] has been from Israel.” 

He sat there on the stage, dressed all in black and looking anxious and exhausted. He had flown into Los Angeles that afternoon to take part in the panel and was flying out again the next morning, to Portland and Arizona and wherever else he may find a willing audience. With him was another Yazidi man whose family was last seen stranded in the mountains. He had no idea what’s become of them. 

“The world is not interested in what happens to us,” Kasem said, “because we have nothing of value to offer.” 

Nothing of value, that is, but an ancient culture, a thousand years of history, tens of thousands of human lives — which isn’t much in the world of realpolitik compared to oil, industry or the promise not to use one’s nukes. 

It doesn’t matter what you identify as, I want to tell the young Jews who are so cavalier about their origins; that the Holocaust was 70 years ago; that Jews were driven out of Arab countries on a fortnight’s notice. It doesn’t matter what you think of the politics or policies of one Israeli government versus another, how you feel about the Palestinian issue, or about Judaism, or other Jews. Every day in some part of the world, for some minorities, extinction is a concrete, imminent reality. For them, help will not come soon enough or at all. 

This is why, as my friend the reporter said that night in Topanga, Israel must exist.  

Gina Nahai’s new novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Analysis: Why the Temple Mount is at the heart of Jerusalem strife


The murders of four rabbis on Nov. 18 during morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue — a police officer also died of his injuries — could throw a wrench into the results of the Nov.13 summit in Amman that brought together Secretary of State John Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss arrangements for visitors and worshipers on the Temple Mount. The summit, as least in the immediate, resulted in an easing of Israeli restrictions on Muslim access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, permitting thousands of younger Palestinians to participate in Friday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic, for the first time in months.

There is a long history of Jordanian oversight of the Temple Mount, and by allowing Muslim men under 50 to attend prayers at Al-Aqsa, Israel had hoped to reassure King Abdullah that there was no change in the status quo affirmed by the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and its eastern neighbor that Jordan, and not the Palestinians, is the legally binding administrative authority over the Temple Mount.

“I think that when King Abdullah of Jordan says he was happy with what he heard from Netanyahu, that is not only passed down as general news to the public but also gets conveyed as an instruction to the waqf [the Muslim religious endowment],” a Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem told the Jewish Journal.

“To some extent, the waqf officials can turn on and off the clashes which have occurred there.”

However, soon after the news of the Jerusalem attack on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement linking the latest incidents to the Temple Mount strife: 

“Palestinian incitement is continuing despite the Nov. 13 talks in Jordan with Kerry, King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. The parties were supposed to act to calm the situation in Jerusalem. Israel did; Abbas most certainly did not. While Israel acted to restore calm and reaffirmed its commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount, the Palestinians incited to terrorism and carried out murders. Israel ended the temporary security restriction on younger Muslims praying on the Temple Mount on Nov. 14. The PA’s official media called for a ‘Day of Rage’ on Friday. Instead of calming the situation, Abbas exploited Sunday’s suicide to inflame it.”

Public tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted since October, when Jordanian officials went public with their finding that Israel was restricting Haram Al-Sharif access for Muslims, even as religious Jews were increasing politically motivated visits to the Temple Mount. In a speech to his parliament, Abdullah equated “extremist Zionism “ to the Islamic State movement and called on “stakeholders to acknowledge there is extremism in all camps.”

Tensions between Jordan and Israel reached a crisis point on Oct. 30  after Israeli police ordered a complete closure of the Temple Mount, following the assassination attempt in Jerusalem of right-wing activist Yehuda Glick. 

Glick was shot minutes after concluding a seminar, “Return to the Temple Mount,” at the capital’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center.  Several members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition were in attendance. 

“I am always leaving my phone on, so that if they inform me that we have permission to build on the Temple Mount, I will leave immediately, so I really apologize in advance,” Glick told the seminar, as recorded in a video. In the shooting, Glick sustained multiple gunshot wounds and is recovering at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; the pro-settler Arutz Sheva website reported Nov. 17 that he has been removed from the intensive care unit. The alleged shooter, 32-year-old Islamic Jihad member Moataz Hejazi, was killed after exchanging gunfire with Israeli police outside his home in the religiously mixed Abu Tor neighborhood in South Jerusalem. 

After the assassination attempt, Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin went to the Temple Mount, ignoring Netanyahu’s call for restraint and vowing to “change the reality” of a ban on Jewish prayer at the site. Feiglin’s previous attempts to enter the Dome of the Rock had resulted in a warning from the Jerusalem Police that the MKs actions could provoke Muslim rioting at the Haram Al-Sharif.

Feiglin, the leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Leadership caucus inside the Likud Party, has repeatedly slammed Netanyahu for “transferring the sovereignty on the Temple Mount to Jordan in practice” after the government failed to replace the Mughrabi Bridge used by non-Muslims to enter the Al-Aqsa compound from the Western Wall plaza. 

Jordanian concerns

Jordan’s royal family, the Hashemites, first became guardians of Al-Aqsa, the Dome of the Rock and other Jerusalem Islamic institutions in 1919, after the retreat of the Ottoman Turks. As a result, Wasfi Kailani, director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, said in an interview prior to last week’s summit, “Jordan is more provoked than any other party in the Muslim world because of his majesty’s custodianship of the mosque. 

“If something bad happens to the mosque, his majesty will be held responsible. Jordan is responsible for the site even more than the Palestinian Authority or any other Muslim nation,” said Kailani, who studied contemporary Jewish temple movements while attaining his doctorate in sociology and anthropology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   

Kailani believes Israel and Jordan have different understandings of what defines the religious status quo at the site. “For Jordan, status quo is the pre-occupation, pre-1967 status quo at Al-Aqsa. For Israel, status quo is something ongoing, something dynamic, and this is unacceptable to Jordan and the Muslims.”

Proposals to allocate Jewish ritual space and devotional time periods, similar to arrangements at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, pose ongoing concern to officials of the Jerusalem waqf, which reports directly to the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Jordan’s capital of Amman. 

“It’s clear that Israeli society has changed because of the extremist influence; they dominate the cabinet, and I think it is the most powerful group now in Israeli politics,” said Kailani, who worries that Temple Mount activists will escalate their demands from intermittent “prayer access” to an ongoing presence at the Haram Al-Sharif.

“[The temple movements] were encouraged to frankly speak of crazy ideas, such as altering the shape of the mosque, and there were many calls by ministers, by Knesset members, to change the status quo, to make a space and temporal division to this structure of the mosque, and these plans are now articulated in the media and are no longer in the closed circles of the Jewish denominations,” Kailani said.

“For Israel, I think it should be easy, more than for any time, to understand that it is better not to go too far in ideological goals of speeding up the messiah and God’s will on Earth because this is not different actually from the thinking of Da’ash [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State movement],” Kailani added. 

ISIS and challenges to Muslim religious triumphalism

Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University sees the rise of ISIS, not the temple movements, as the formative factor in Jordan’s urgent rhetoric about the status quo at the Haram Al-Sharif.

“The Hashemites today are under immense pressure because of [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, which threatens the entire kingdom,” Kedar said.

“They are afraid that some Islamists in Jordan will use the issue of Jerusalem in order to incite against the Jordanian Hashemite kingdom, and they charge that the king does not do anything in order to save Jerusalem from the Zionists.”

Kedar notes that pro-ISIS demonstrators recently staged a protest in the town of Maa’n —  just 30 miles southeast of Petra — Jordan’s most significant tourist attraction. 

“People are demonstrating there without any cover on their faces, which means they are not afraid of the Mukhabarat” — the secret state intelligence service — said Kedar, who dismisses the significance of the Temple Mount movements. 

“I know Yehuda Glick — he’s one of a handful of lunatics who represent nobody but themselves,” Kedar said.

By contrast, Kedar claims PA President Mahmoud Abbas has engineered the unrest in Jerusalem, citing a condolence letter the Palestinian president sent to the would-be  Glilck assassin’s family.

A PA spokesman last week confirmed the text of the note, which reads in part, “[Your] son Mu’taz Ibrahim Khalil Hijazi will go to heaven as a martyr defending the rights of our people and its holy places.”

 “The Temple Mount activists are not violent,” Kedar said. “They are not going to kill anybody … unlike those thugs. They just work on the Jewish right to pray at the Temple Mount. Did Yehuda Glick attack somebody?”

Kedar said Muslims see Israel as a religious challenge to Islam, whose doctrine teaches it came into the world to replace both Judaism and Christianity. 

“This is why Jerusalem, as the pinnacle of Jewish revivalism, is something that hurts [Muslims] religiously, before anything connected to national, political, legal or territorial issues,” Kedar said.

Empowered messianic religious Zionism 

Mordechai Inbari, an Israeli expert on Jewish fundamentalism, sees attempts to assert worship rights on the Temple Mount as a risky trend powered by fear among settlers and their supporters that the Jewish state has embarked on a journey of territorial compromise that endangers their messianic vision. 

“Temple Mount activists are saying that since the State of Israel is leading the Jewish redemption astray by returning territory, signing peace accords, [being] willing to compromise, this would mean that their dreams would never be able to be fulfilled,” said Inbari, an assistant professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. 

“Therefore, action is required by the people who believe in this scenario, and they need to go straight to the Temple Mount and push to put the messianic project back on track. “

The Machon HaMikdash, or Temple Institute, focused on establishing the Third Temple, has completed reconstruction of all 93 sacred vessels required for halachically kosher resumption of the sacrificial rites in Jerusalem with a golden menorah displayed alongside one of the most the highly trafficked lanes in the Jewish Quarter. 

Inbari holds that the campaign led by Glick and others at organizations such as the Temple Institute have made inroads in the larger populace in Israel by shifting from messianic arguments to making a case for religious equality at the Temple Mount.

According to the Jerusalem pluralism group Ir Amim, Temple Mount movements have benefited from direct funding by the state, receiving support from the education and culture ministries, an average equivalent of $108,000 per year. 

Inbari believes Netanyahu is attempting to balance the value of a solid security and diplomatic relationship with Jordan against substantial pressures from the messianic Zionists and the religious West Bank settler communities. 

“When you consider that all the commentators believe that Israel is going to elections soon, Netanyahu needs to strengthen his base from the right,” Inbari said.

 “Maybe he allows things to happen that were not part of the plan, but now he needs Feiglin supporters in his own political party — so they are allowing things to take place.”

Inbari noted that advocates of a Third Temple recently posted a video on Facebook and YouTube that uses computer-generated graphics to illustrate a reconstructed shrine on the Temple Mount. 

The video then links to an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign that has generated more than $100,000 toward the construction of the temple, without directly saying that it is the messianic people who are running the campaign, Inbari said.

 “Since the activists for the Third Temple were able to convince more and more religious leaders of the legitimacy of their demand to go on the Temple Mount, to pray there, the next step will be to build a synagogue. That is the second stage of their plan.  And the third stage will be to build a temple,” Inbari said.

“You don’t see any mosques on the Mount” in the video — perhaps the most ominous aspect — he added. 

“The clip suggests that the temple replaces the mosques on the Mount. This can explain why Muslims are nervous.”

Genocide, the Jews and why they call Israelis Nazis


We’ve long witnessed Mahmoud Abbas – “the moderate” – naming public squares after Palestinian terrorists whose hands are dripping with Jewish blood. He posthumously bestowed the “Star of Honor” on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the 1978 Coastal Road attack where 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed, calling him “the model of a true fighter and devoted leader.” He named a public square about Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who led the attack, in 2011. Last August, Abbas gave a hero's welcome to Palestinian murderers who were stupidly released by Israel as a goodwill gesture.

We’ve also watched as Abbas has slowly become yet another Arab dictator who, once he is elected, ceases all elections. We’ve watched as Abbas has turned the Palestinian Authority into a kleptocracy enriching his two sons Tarik and Yasser as they’ve illegally taken control of the cigarette, construction, and other trades. 

Now comes the news that Abbas’ response to last weeks’ shooting by a Palestinian terrorist of an Israeli-American activist in Jerusalem was to write the murderer’s father praising him as a Palestinian hero.

All this from the Abbas who wants peace. The man Israel is supposed to be doing business with. The man who is not Hamas. The man who would lead a peaceful Palestinian state.

Last September, three days before he went before the UN and accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians, Abbas spoke at Cooper Union’s Great Hall to a crowd comprised mostly of NYU students. Many gave him a standing ovation as he repeated his blood libel about the Jewish state. And this in a University with more than 8000 Jewish students. 

Only one protest was staged outside the building on the night. It was organized by my son Mendy, an NYU undergraduate, who wisely focused on the positive message of the American values of democracy, racial harmony, and freedom of expression and how Abbas contravenes all three. Abbas is in the 10th year of his 4-year term as President and has no plans to go to elections. In July 2103 he promised that no Jews would be allowed to remain in a Palestinian state. It would be judenrein. And his Palestinian Authority continues the practice of Yasser Arafat before him of punishing independent news editors who may be critical of his leadership.

I was very proud of my son and his siblings and friends who joined him in the protest. The American campus is now a battleground for Israel and how can a battle be fought without fighters? 

On 17 November we will go beyond that protest and organize a proper response in an evening panel featuring the greatest living Jewish personality and one of the three most respected people alive, Elie Wiesel, the living face of the holocaust and the world’s most respected voice on genocide. Who better to respond to Abbas’ lie of an Israeli genocide against the Palestinians. Prof. Wiesel has been my friend and I have been his disciple for 25 years. This past summer he and I published a full-page ad in the world’s leading newspapers that assailed Hamas for engaging in human sacrifice by intentionally firing rockets from schools and homes and encouraging Arab children to devote “their shoulders and bodies” to the Palestinian cause. 

The world needs Prof. Wiesel’s voice right now as so much slaughter and human rights abuses take place around the globe. We also need to him to safeguard the word genocide – the most powerful in the English language – so that it is not abused by those with a political agenda, be they Jew-haters who wish to trivialize the holocaust and compare Jews to Nazis, or tyrants like Recep Tayyip Erdogan who scapegoat Israel so as to conceal their destruction of Turkish democracy.

Holocaust denial started as an attempt to undermine the suffering of the Jewish people and delegitimize Israel. For if  the Jews of Europe were not exterminated, what were they doing coming from Germany and Poland to take away Arab land?   Abbas himself wrote his shameful Ph. D. thesis on holocaust denial. 

There was one problem, however. No matter how much anti-Semitic historians like David Irving and murderous tyrants like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran tried to deny the holocaust, there were just too many Jews who died with too much evidence to suppress it.

So another idea arose. OK, millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis. But rather than the Jews becoming more humane and sensitive as a result, they have internalized the hatred of their tormentors. They have become Nazis themselves. They are engaged in the extermination and genocide of the Palestinians people.

Thus, ignoramuses like Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz along with self-hating Jews like Naomi Wolf and terrorist-lovers like Mahmoud Abbas have been parading the ultimate blood libel, that Jews are engaged in genocide. What better way to destroy the State of Israel than to make it impossible to defend itself.  

On 17 November I have also asked my close friend Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, whose Rabbi I was during his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford, to join our panel to help legally define the term genocide and give it moral and political context so as to impede its abuse. Noah is one of the foremost public intellectuals and legal scholars in the world and played a central role in the formation of the Iraqi constitution. Noah and I do not agree on all things political. But few people are more respected as experts in the fields of human rights. 

And we’re especially honored to have my friend Samantha Power, America’s Ambassador to the United Nations, giving the introduction and special tribute to Elie Wiesel. Samantha’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning work A Problem from Hell is the foremost book on genocide ever published and influenced my life deeply. Since becoming Ambassador Samantha has traveled to areas around the world where true genocides are taking place, like the Central African Republic and South Sudan, not to mention having just visited, at great personal risk, West Africa to help lead the world’s efforts to fight the Ebola Virus. As our Ambassador and voice the UN she is a great American light unto the nations. 

When genocide is trivialized it is not just the six million of the holocaust who suffer. It is the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks. It is the 2.5 million Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge. It is the 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered by the Hutu. And it is all the innocent victims in Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo. 

It’s time for people who truly care about human rights to start responding to those who use the murder of the others as a smokescreen to camouflage their despicable treatment of their fellow man.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books including “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Lived Life.” He has just published “Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer”. Tickets for “Genocide and the Jews: A Never-Ending Problem” on 17 November are available at “>www.thisworld.us. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

What a dying business in Sderot looks like, even during cease-fire


In a narrow alleyway just next to Begin Square in the center of this Israeli city, shops, cafes and bakeries are so tightly packed together that with every few steps brings a new business.

These merchants have, for years, been accustomed to the inhospitable reality of life in Sderot. By virtue of its proximity to Gaza (Begin Square is two miles from the border), normal daily activities are routinely interrupted by a screeching siren that gives residents a 10 to 15 second warning to shelter themselves from a rocket that was fired seconds earlier from within the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Those interruptions, which have made life here grim, have made doing business here nearly impossible for many shopkeepers. On Thursday, even as the city was enjoying its fourth day of calm—with a new cease fire possibly ensuring an additional five—the sight of gray metal shutters in front of nearly every shop in this alleyway was a stark reminder that this city’s store owners know better than to think that temporary quiet will soon bring customers back.

“I can’t continue like this. It’s hard,” said Moshe Yifrach, 21, who helps manage his family’s image and photography store, “Agfa Image Center.” He was one of the few shopkeepers who decided to remain open into the mid-afternoon and was the only person in the store. But, with little or no business up to that point on Thursday, his decision to keep the lights on may not have particularly mattered.

The Yifrachs produce photographs, create albums and assist with images for passports, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Behind the counter on shelves sat rows of albums and frames in varying colors

Moshe Yifrach helps his father run the family's Sderot store. He said sales have dropped 70 percent this summer.

When life in Sderot is relatively normal, Yifrach said that his family serves between 50 to 70 customers and earns about 3,000 to 4,000 thousand Shekels per day. This summer, though, during Israel’s most recent battle with Hamas, in which nearly 3,000 rockets have fallen in and around Israeli cities, he said sales have dropped by about 70 percent and customers have come in at a trickling pace.

Some residents here left amidst the chaos for some respite in towns further north and many simply no longer feel confident in venturing into the city. Tourism, meanwhile, has plummeted, with most visitors coming from abroad on solidarity missions, not nearly enough to compensate for the many Israelis who no longer travel south for a few pleasurable days in the country’s southern desert region.

The family has two other stores, in Jerusalem and Kiryat Gat, so Yifrach said he, his parents and 11 siblings could get by without their Sderot store.

“We have other places, so we have it easier than others,” Yifrach said. “But the ones that have only here and nowhere else, it’s very hard.”

Even during the height of the war in July and early August, Yifrach’s father kept the store open. When a red alert siren blared, whoever was in the shop would shelter in the doorway or underneath the awning that encloses the alley outside—the nearest shelter is more than 15 seconds from the store, not enough time for him or any customers to safely reach before the Qassam makes impact.

While a cease-fire that produces calm for an extended period would likely improve business for the Yifrachs if residents and tourists begin to return, he sees no long-term relief for his family’s business.

Agfa Image Center

Yifrach, like so many Israelis, particularly in the south, wants the government to order the military to destroy Hamas and end the rocket attacks. That step appears increasingly unlikely, though, following the complete removal of ground troops on Aug. 5 and the moderate progress of truce negotiations in Cairo.

“There’s no solution,” Yifrach said. “If you want to have a cease fire, so for a year it will be fine and everything will be good. [But] slowly, slowly [Hamas] will advance.” He predicts that the terrorist group will use the calm to improve its rocket arsenal to create Sderot-like situations as far north as Tel Aviv and Haifa.

That, Yifrach said, is one reason he sees no point in moving further north. “I don’t think that in the north it’s much better because there too you have Hezbollah,” he said. The quasi-governmental Lebanese terrorist organization has tens of thousands of missiles and rockets and has the capability to reach Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. In Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, approximately 15 Haifa residents were killed in missile and rocket attacks.

“I will stay in the south. This is my house and here I’m going to stay,” Yifrach said briskly.

Asked, though, how much longer his family’s store can survive in Sderot under current conditions, he responded, “Half a year, no more.”

On packed flight to Israel, hundreds of American Jews, emboldened by Gaza crisis, start lives anew


Daniel Knafo was wide awake aboard the Boeing 747 as sunlight began peaking over the northern horizon of the Mediterranean Sea early on the morning of Aug. 12.

Less than 10 hours earlier, he was at the departure terminal of John F. Kennedy International Airport with more than 300 American Jews, all of them embarking on a journey to start new lives in Israel.

And shortly before that, the teenager was at Los Angeles International Airport, bidding farewell to the city he called home for the first 17 years of his life.

At about 5 a.m., Knafo was standing in the aisle of El Al chartered flight 3004, which was cruising above the Mediterranean and less than two hours west of Ben Gurion International Airport, where the Woodland Hills native  would step on to the tarmac with the other 338 other Jews onboard—young, old, married and single.

Guy Zohar and Daniel Knafo, both from the San Fernando Valley, at Ben Gurion Airport.

Of those, Knafo was also one of 108 young Jews planning to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces within the first few months of making Israel home. This flight was chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that promotes aliyah to Israel from North America and the United Kingdom. The group assists families and individuals in making the move, with financial support, assistance with the job hunt and other myriad obstacles that immigrants have to navigate.

It was the organization’s 52nd chartered aliyah flight since its founding in 2002, during which time, according to its website, Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped more than 30,000 diaspora Jews move to Israel.

The timing of this particular flight full of immigrants, or olim, may strike some as particularly poignant, given the on-and-off war that has enveloped Israel for the past several weeks—Hamas has fired 3,500 rockets into Israel since July 8, according to the IDF. And in response to the rockets and the discovery of more than 30 underground cross-border attack tunnels, Israel’s military launched a ground and air assault on Hamas’s strongholds in Gaza, most of which are densely populated within civilian neighborhoods. The war has left a reported 64 Israeli soldiers, three Israeli civilians, and 1,881 Palestinians dead.

But for Knafo and numerous other American olim interviewed by the Journal at JFK airport and aboard the flight, the Gaza war is not a deterrent to making aliyah—it is, at least in part, a catalyst to move to the Jewish state.

“I want to be there more than ever,” Knafo said, as dozens of fellow soon-to-be soldiers socialized around him. “Nothing will stop me from joining.”

Knafo, who attended El Camino Real High School and graduated from New Community Jewish High School, hopes to serve either in the IDF’s paratrooper unit (Tzanchanim) or in the elite Golani Brigade. He is honest with himself about the risks he will face. “If they tell you they are not scared, they’re lying,” he said of all the  young immigrants preparing for military service.

Not long before leaving, on July 20, Knafo attended an evening candlelight vigil in Los Angeles for Max Steinberg, another former student at El Camino Real High School who left Los Angeles to volunteer in the IDF. Steinberg and six other soldiers were killed in Gaza when their Golani unit’s vehicle was struck by Hamas anti-tank missiles in the first days of the IDF’s ground incursion.

Knafo said that he felt guilty leading a normal life while Israel was embroiled in war.
“It kills me that while they are fighting I’m in L.A. living the life, driving my car, going to the beach,” he said. “I don’t think its right. That’s why I want to be there more than ever.”

Knafo is one of 49 Jews from California who landed at Ben Gurion Airport early on the morning of Aug. 12 on the chartered flight—25 of whom will be joining the IDF. And while a large swath of the plane’s other passengers were also from New York and New Jersey (117 and 45, respectively), the group of olim hailed from places as far north as Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia, and as far south as Georgia and Florida.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, also from Los Angeles, decided that this would be their last chance to make the move with their three children. Their oldest, Yishai, 8, was approaching the age when, Matt said, he and Ariella wouldn’t feel as comfortable starting a new life for the entire family.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, moving to Israel from Los Angeles, with their three children at JFK after a ceremony led by Nefesh B'Nefesh

The Rosenblatts plan to stay with relatives this week until they receive the key to their apartment in Efrat; Matt, who had a job as an actuary in Los Angeles, will follow up on some work leads in Israel. Shortly before a joyful and celebratory departure ceremony at JFK—where the olim were greeted by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor and American-born Knesset member Dov Lipman — Matt said he and Ariella discussed the distinctive timing of their move, but decided against delaying or cancelling .

“Had we been there already two months and then this started up while we were already there, we wouldn’t have come back, so, really, what’s the difference?” Matt said.

The Rosenblatts a few moments after landing in Israel. They will soon move into an apartment in Efrat.

Onboard, as the flight neared Israel, Ariella was keeping an eye on 1-year-old Yair, her youngest, and recalling the couples’ conversations about the fact that their children would eventually have to serve in the Israeli military.

“We’ve talked about it. We were like, ‘Wow, that’s two sons in the army,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Feeling “excited” and “a little nervous,” Ariella added, seeing your children serve in the military is a price of living in Israel, and that, “We need to be home when our country is in this situation.”

Throughout the group, not one person interviewed expressed regret or fear, either at the decision to start anew in Israel, or at the choice to go now and not wait until the advent of cease-fires that would endure in longer than 72-hour intervals.

In fact, the spirited mood on board the airplane echoed, on the one hand, the feel of a Jewish summer camp field trip (with teenagers and young adults mingling, sitting on laps and barely sleeping), and on another hand, the patriotic Zionist mission that it was. Many passengers wore shirts that read, “Aliyah is my protective edge,” a reference to Operation Protective Edge, the IDF’s official moniker for its Gaza campaign.

Whenever a Nefesh B’Nefesh staff member referenced over loudspeaker those on the flight who would be enlisting with the IDF, much of the plane erupted in applause.

And, upon arrival at Ben Gurion, the new arrivals were greeted by Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s recently appointed president, and Natan Sharansky, the renowned Soviet refusenik and chairman of the Jewish Agency—as well as hundreds of cheering Israelis and dozens of reporters and cameramen covering the arrival of the newcomers from North America.President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky greet the olim as they descend to the tarmac.

Lena Elkins, who flew Friday from her hometown of San Francisco to New York, was one of a small number of young olim aboard the flight who will jump straight into her professional life without first joining the military. A recent graduate of the University of Oregon, Elkins’ younger sister moved to Israel last year and is in the IDF.

Living in Israel, Elkins said a few hours into the flight, has been on her mind since a visit six years ago with the Jewish Federation’s Diller Teen Fellows Program. And while she wishes she had served in the military, she said finding work is her priority now. Doing so in Israel, she said, particularly now, is also a major part of the Zionist project.

“I think it [Gaza] honestly has strengthened it [aliyah],” Elkins said. “It’s what Israel needs right now. This is what Zionism is. It’s people being there for Israel.”

Shortly after stepping foot on the tarmac and getting a feel for the love Israelis heap on diaspora Jews who move here, Channah Barkhordarie, a recent doctoral graduate of UCLA, said aliyah entered her mind last September, when her PhD advisor moved to Israel.

Barkhordarie, like Elkins, has no plans to enlist in the military and views her decision to live here as a way to “support this state.”

“Coming here and studying here and living my life here—that’s my show of support,” she said.

Everyone, it seemed, had made their aliyah decision long before this summer’s turmoil but that decision was only rendered more meaningful by the recent war, as well as the deaths of three Israeli teens by terrorists that provoked the fighting.

Toby and Chaby Karan, from Riverdale, at JFK airport.

“We just couldn’t cope with just being here,” Toby Karan, who moved from Riverdale, N.Y. with his wife, Chava, and four children, said at JFK airport before departure. “There were days through the past two months, the hardest days, that we said we’d never more wanted to live in Israel.”

On the flight, Liat Aharon, 18, sat calmly in her seat as many of her friends around her bounced around the cabin. “It seems like a dream,” said the Encino native of the approach to Israel, but she added, “It keeps getting scarier and scarier; I can’t believe it’s already happening.”

When asked, though, whether she felt as if she was leaving home or going home, she responded immediately:

“I’m going home.”

Glasgow city council flies Palestinian flag


The city council of Glasgow, Scotland, displayed a Palestinian flag on its building in solidarity with casualties in Gaza.

The council raised the flag over the City Chambers Friday, the Jewish Chronicle of London reported, in support of “innocent people who are being hurt in Gaza,” the council said.

In a letter to the mayor of Bethlehem, Glasgow’s lord provost, or mayor, Sadie Docherty, said the move was a gesture of “solidarity with Bethlehem and Palestine.” Glasgow is twinned with Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank.

Jews in Glasgow have expressed anger at the move. In a statement, Paul Morron, president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, said the decision had angered and hurt the city’s Jews.

“Flying the flag is the worst kind of gesture politics,” he said. “It does nothing to alleviate the suffering on either side of the conflict, nor does it bring peace closer by one single minute.”

The council said it had offered to meet Jewish representatives to discuss the issue.

The Ebola-like plague of anti-Semitism sweeping the West


My parents, who have lived in Jerusalem for 22 years, recently met their new neighbors.  They are French Jews from Paris who describe themselves as refugees. ” We came to the conclusion that there was simply no future for us in France.  Jews are targets there and the government cannot and does not want to protect them. France is lost.” 

Their message resonated with me as I returned to Israel from a  speaking tour of Southern Africa.  In South Africa I watched as President Jacob Zuma and many of his secondary ministers, fulminated about the international crimes of the Israeli government in Gaza.  In Namibia, a country with only a handful of Jews and with no previous strong record of antisemitic animus, television news programs consistently portrayed a one dimensional view of the conflict, failing entirely to present the context of Operation Protective Edge and castigating the worldwide Jewish support for Israel as the primary culprit.

In Ethiopia, where I stayed for two days, almost everyone I met seemed to think that Israeli war crimes deserved international sanction and that Jews should be made to pay reparations for the destruction of Gaza hospitals and educational facilities.

In Australia, a country with a very strong record of governmental support for Israel, a cartoon in one of the country's leading dailies depicted a hook-nosed Jew reclining in a chair marked with a Star of David casually using a remote to destroy Gazan property.

And In Germany, demonstrators in Berlin – and not just Muslims – could be heard yelling “Death to Israel”, and “Zionists are fascists, killing children and civilians!” and a Berlin imam was recorded using his sermons to ask Allah to kill the Jews “to the very last one,”.

In response, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumnn said; “We are currently experiencing in this country an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews. We would never in our lives have thought it possible any more that anti-Semitic views of the nastiest and most primitive kind can be chanted on German streets. Jews are once again openly threatened in Germany and sometimes attacked.”

Throughout the world, Jews have felt the tremors of an upheaval that should be deeply unsettling if not shocking. For it is not simply Israeli policies which have been criticized.  Colleagues in Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, England, Italy and as far away as Iceland have reported unparalelled outbursts of anti-semitic activity and sentiment in their countries.

The steep rise in antisemitism which has emerged in the streets of  the world's capitals is a salutary reminder to us all of one of the abiding features of Western history: Antisemitism, despite the denials of governments and citizens – and our own self delusions, is a permanent feature of life in dozens of countries outside Israel that will not die. We fool ourselves into believing that it manifests only as a territorial claim or is some kind of residual spasm of a long cured illness.

For it surely is not. The disease is congenital and much like the Ebola Virus now sweeping  Western Africa  –  deadly and incurable. Despite the horrifying lessons of the Holocaust, the supposed safeguards of a powerful international human rights movement and the sanctimonious pronouncements of world leaders, the contagion of antisemitism has not been eradicated but persists in the minds of millions of people who remain convinced of a malevolent Jewish stereotype which threatens the peace of the world. 

If this is so, then where is it safe for Jews to live?

That is exactly the question that an Austrian-Jewish journalist reporting in 1895 on the polarizing anti-semitic trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, came to ponder: “if France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant 'Kill the Jews!' Where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country?

Theodor Herzl's words ring in my ears as I sit in Jerusalem and write these words.  Despite whatever you read in the world's newspapers or hear from sage voices in the commentariat, the Jews of Israel feel safe – a fact which has little to do with the use of advanced technology or the deployment of one of the world's most sophisticated armies.  United as at no time since perhaps the Six Day War, the Israelis as individuals and as a country seem to have finally grasped the fact that no territorial surrender, no peace agreements and no humanitarian gestures will appease their enemies.  That is because they accept, better than we in the Diaspora ever could, that the war against them extends beyond their borders and beyond the Middle East.  It is an age old  war of extinction, driven by the the most pernicious form of anti-Semitism and if they have to make a stand against it then they will do it in their own land, with their own resources and on their own schedule .  The determination to defeat the enemy and to make the State of Israel a true place of refuge for the Jewish people has contributed to a remarkable resilience and an unshakeable faith in the future which has allowed life in most of the country to continue, to the greatest extent possible, as normal.

I had to wonder about this as I perused my emails mid-flight on my way back from Ethiopia. 

Familiar with my somewhat frenetic travel schedule, an Australian friend asked:  “Are you home yet – wherever that might be?”

As I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport , saw the Israeli flag fluttering  in the moonlight, watched the cars pass by with blue and white ribbons attached to their antenna and witnessed the bumper stickers and posters declaring an unwavering commitment to victory, without  hesitation I wrote back: 

” Yes, I am home – and I am safe.” 


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and owns a home in the Old City of Tzfat in  Israel.

Israel and Islamism are both occupying Palestine


While Gazans, their Hamas leadership and pro-Palestinian supporters around the world condemn Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, now turning into a ground invasion, it’s time Muslims examined the Other Occupation: the inexorable advance of political Islamism over Islam.

Increasingly, Islam has been usurped by political Islamism, manifest in the current Israel-Palestine conflict as a war between Hamas and Israel. Elsewhere, Islamism drives conflicts between ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and Iraqi government forces, the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistan army, the Afghani Taliban and would-be Afghani democratic leaders, Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists and the Nigerian government, the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syrian regime, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Lebanon’s secular democrats, and until recently, the democratically elected but explicitly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s secular politicians.

As political Islamism advances, Muslims everywhere, including Palestinian Muslims in Gaza, have been increasingly marginalized and oppressed by extreme Islamists. These Islamists subscribe not to Islam but to a totalitarian ideology disguised as religion. While Islamists may fervently believe they are Muslim subscribers to Islam, what they adopt is a totalitarian politicization of Islam.

Operation Protective Edge merely underlines this Other Occupation.

Heavy criticism has been leveled at Israel’s emphatic assault on Gazans and the Gaza Strip because of the escalating casualties. Less acknowledged is that Israel is combating not just an organization devoted to securing its territory in a conflict over land, but a totalitarian ideology that definitively leaves no room for Israel, Israelis or moderate Muslims to exist.

We learn more when we allow Hamas to do the talking. Its leaders leave us no doubt as to its central philosophy, core to which remains martyrdom and unremitting anti-Semitism. The Hamas charter opens with: “We cannot recognize Israel. The land of Palestine is ours and not for the Jews.”

Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, founder of Hamas, was unequivocal in the role of martyrdom in the Hamas mission:

“Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. The only aim is to win Allah’s satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah. And it is Allah that selects the martyrs.”

Both anti-Semitism and martyrdom are central to political Islamism. In contrast, neither has any role in pluralistic, mainstream Islam. Israel is not at war with Muslim Palestinians in Gaza but with their nihilistic Islamist leadership.

In the Muslim world we are familiar with the battle between Islam and Islamism, and we make no bones about the need for open combat against political Islamists. Muslim militaries are not held to global condemnation in the way the Israel Defense Forces must face — despite their targeted attacks, pre-strike warnings and efforts to contain civilian deaths.

The Pakistan military’s current offensive in the North West Frontier against the Pakistani Taliban is the most recent example.

To empower the military, the Pakistani government has authorized shoot-to-kill on suspicion of Taliban operatives, invited U.S. drones to conduct strikes on militant Taliban leaders on Pakistani territory, displaced many Pakistanis in the last month from their homes in the North West Frontier and commenced a massive aerial bombardment campaign.

But global condemnation doesn’t befall the Pakistani military or the Pakistani government. Global media reports barely cover the story. Israelis faced with the same problem are the only ones for whom such wholesale condemnation is reserved.

Public sentiment in favor of beleaguered Palestinians, however well intentioned, is rapidly translated into support for Hamas. Western sympathies, especially European sentiment, embolden Hamas (and similar radical Islamist groups) toward an incipient crime against humanity that truly threatens not only every Israeli and every Jew with extinction, but also moderate Muslims everywhere, particularly those within Hamas’ current purview — cue the decapitations and crucifixions now a daily occurrence in ISIS-controlled Iraq, and the escalating persecution of minorities, especially Christians in Iraq and the wider Islamist Middle East.

Because of the lack of nuance and context in the era of sound-bite “journalism” and the distracting images of Israeli military might, the reluctance to see the bigger picture remains entrenched.

Were reality to hit home, adult solutions for regional — and Israeli-Palestinian peace, in particular — would be seen as truly bleak. Israel is fighting an impossible battle, on one front with nihilist political Islamists who willingly lead their populations to slaughter in the interests of religionized war for fictionalized spiritual gain rather than true political solutions, and on another front with an international media reflecting an increasingly ignorant and biased public opinion. The sooner media commentary can be broadened to explain political Islamism, diplomatic and political powers globally can begin to plan the true long-term freedom of the Palestinians — freedom from the Other Occupation and a lasting liberation from the stranglehold of Hamas’ political Islamism.

 

Qanta Ahmed, author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom,” is a 2014 Ford Foundation public voices fellow with the OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @MissDiagnosis. This essay originally appeared in USA Today, reprinted with permission.

How the Syrian-Muslim and American-Jew became best friends


I’m sitting at a pub my first night in Cyprus with a group of strangers. Peering around at potential friends I begin to talk to this hilarious guy. Syria, he tells me, that’s where I am from. He giggles as he sees the shock in my eyes. “I am not going to bomb you, I promise.” He then stuck out his hand for me to shake and smiled. We shook hands and jokingly made a “world peace” promise to each other. The rest was history. The Syrian-Muslim and the American-Jew were best friends.

This was my first encounter with anyone from anywhere I was taught to hate.

The rest of my trip to Cyprus was impacted most by these situations. Coming home I found myself so torn between my pre trip and post trip views on the conflict in the Middle East. Growing up as a Jew in America I was taught that Israel was my homeland, that all the Palestinians were wrong and that the Middle East was a scary and dangerous place that hated Americans and wanted all Jews dead. It has been a month since I have been home now and my views have become so different.

I am not writing this because I think it will change the world.  I don’t have statistics to share or a photo of a bomb going off in a helpless city. I am writing this because I do not feel as though I can sit back and do nothing as my best friend fears rockets while taking the bus in Beersheba and my Palestinian friends are threatened in the west bank daily. I am writing this because after being to Israel three times I believe I have the right to state my own unbiased opinions.

I am writing this because with my arrival date in Tel Aviv less than two months away; I am afraid.

Facebook is the worst. I sign on and scroll down my feed looking for a distraction. Suddenly I could use a distraction.  My news feed feels like a battlefield. People throwing out opinions, facts, and pictures of burnt children. Middle aged adults yelling back and forth through comments in a computer screen. Warped videos, misleading news articles and subjective opinions plague the once peaceful feed. But something is different. The colors of the flags in the articles are different; they are the “enemies”. For the first time since I installed my Facebook I have Muslim and Palestinian friends. There becomes no escape from the war. I am not just talking about the actual war. I am talking about the verbal war against brothers.

One of my most memorable moments during my semester abroad was a project I did for my Middle Eastern politics class. I was told to research the Sharia law and report back to the class with what I learned.  I neglected to find the answers on Wikipedia and instead decided to discover the answers from first hand sources. I gathered a group of Muslim students together and went around interviewing them on their views of the law and on being Muslim in general. We sat for a good half hour talking deeply about their interpretations and how it affected their personal lives. Before I knew it more Muslim students were gathering around.  In a matter of moments we were no longer strangers from conflicting countries; now we were friends laughing together and educating each other. Getting of topic, we instead discussed our similarities; the similarities between our two seemingly opposite religions.

Really made me wonder how two groups of people who don’t eat pork can’t seem to get along…

We had just spent an afternoon hiking in the rain through uncharted territory. Exhausted, we spend most the car ride home silent. He then broke the quietness with a question I was not expecting. “What religion are you?” He asked sweetly. This Muslim, body builder and I had been creating a solid friendship for the last few weeks after meeting at a soccer game. I had always assumed he knew I was Jewish so I was a little put off when he asked. Hesitantly, I responded. He then looked me in the eye, smiled, and told me, “We are cousins”.

These three short words had me reevaluating all my past beliefs. The people in these supposedly Jew hating countries didn’t hate me at all, in fact; they wanted to be friends.

It is my second week and I am Couch surfing in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. My pay-as- you go phone does not work on this side of the tiny island and I have never Couch surfed before, so you can believe my anxiety when two girlfriends and I planned a trip to stay at a Palestinians house for a couple days in the middle of nowhere.

Flash forward a few hours and, relaxed, my host and I walk around an ancient castle ahead of the rest of the group. Before I know it the conversation takes a turn and we begin talking about the conflict in Israel. He had left his Palestinian home months ago because he could not stand being in a country with so much hate. He told me that he did miss his family but did not know if he would go back because there was so much pain there. Sadly, he began to tell me that one of the main reasons he left was because his fiancé was killed by an Israeli soldier during a rally. He kisses me and thanks me for listening.

This conversation began to put things in perspective.

Before I knew it all my Palestinian friends were telling me horror stories from their own personal experiences in the country. Suddenly the country I was taught to love my whole life didn’t seem so innocent. And yet I couldn’t help but still feel the need to defend it.

 

We are not perfect people. There are evil people out there. There are people out there whose sole mission in life is to kill my people. But that does not make it my mission to do the same to them. Vengeance is not the answer. Nor is the answer to stand by and let innocent people die. There is no answer.

I am writing this because soon I will be living on a religious kibbutz in Israel. I am writing this because all my Palestinian friends want me to visit them while I am there and now I don’t know if I will be able to. I am writing this because having such dear friends on both sides makes me feel like I need to stand up for everyone. However, I am primarily writing this because I am sick of seeing so much hate comes out of the people I love.

There will never be peace without acceptance.

We can post our predisposed opinions all over the internet. We can shoot our guns and kidnap our children. We can shield our eyes to the harm. We can turn our heads and flip our T.V channels. We can hate each other and scream it. But what will it all do? There is no one completely in the right. And there will never be peace until we can speak to one another respectfully. There is terrorism on both sides. But there is also so much more. There is also love.

We can turn against our fellow man as long as we live. But then where will we be if not extinct? There are no easy answers, no automatic solutions. There are no mediated agreements or fair resolutions. We might not be able to fix the problems, stop the rockets or bring back the murdered but we can put down our weapons and instead discuss our similarities. There are so many to be learned.

All it takes is that first handshake.