Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, March 11, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Sunday Reads: What America stood for, A last chance for Turkish democracy, The current state of Russia’s Jews


Tom Malinowski laments how, to the rest of the world, America no longer stands for the values it used stand for:

The global club of autocrats has been crowing about Trump. Sudan’s dictator Omar al Bashir praised him for focusing “on the interests of the American citizen, as opposed to those who talk about democracy, human rights, and transparency.” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei thanked him for showing “America’s true face” by trying to ban Muslim immigration. The Cambodian government justified attacks on journalists by saying Trump, too, recognizes that “news published by [international] media institutions does not reflect the real situation.”

Lee Smith tries to figure how America can beat ISIS:

Secretary Tillerson is right that defeating ISIS should be an American priority and would signal the return of American leadership. However, the battle against the Islamic State is part of a larger regional picture. As Israel’s airstrikes showed, our key Middle East ally is defending against the same forces that the Trump administration may be tempted to think are useful partners in the anti-ISIS campaign… The anti-ISIS campaign cannot succeed without vigilance against Iran and its allies. The Obama administration’s realignment with Iran was wrong and dangerous and also deliberate. With equal deliberation, the Trump White House needs to set a new course.


Major-General (res.) Amos Yadlin believes Israel should start reconsidering its Syria policy:

the trends taking shape in Syria right now require an update of the Israeli policy. The most significant variable is the Russian military presence and dominance in Syria, alongside Iran’s support, which helped the Syrian regime recover and rebuild its self-confidence. In this context, Israel should clarify its strategic targets again and continuously and thoroughly review the benefit of its moves versus the risk of unwanted escalation. The basic component is establishing and reinforcing the deterrence, and Israel must also make it clear both to Lebanon and to Syria that putting their territory and infrastructure at the disposal of Iran and Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure means serious future damage to the army, regime and national infrastructure of these countries.

Israeli diplomat Ron Prossor praises Britain’s decision to take action against Israel-bashing at the UN:

The UK did vote for two of the five resolutions against Israel and abstained on two more, which is not ideal. But whether prompted by the FCO or by Downing Street, it decided there must be limits to the Council’s hypocrisy, duplicity and dishonesty.

Britain broke ranks with the other European members and voted against a resolution regarding Israel and the Golan Heights. “We cannot accept the perverse message sent out by a Syria Golan resolution that singles out Israel, as Assad continues to slaughter the Syrian people,” said Braithwaite.

Middle East

Dexter Filkins writes about the last chance for Turkish democracy:

What the referendum amounts to, essentially, is an attempt to overturn Turkish democracy, and to rubber-stamp the authoritarian powers that Erdoğan has been pursuing for the past decade. (You won’t hear any criticism of Erdoğan from Europe, by the way. Erdoğan, having agreed last year to hold back the tide of refugees from the Middle East, has the continent’s political leaders over a barrel.)

Bruce Riedel discusses the Saudis’ enthusiasm for Trump:

The US-Saudi partnership dates to 1943 when King Ibn Saud sent his son Prince Faisal to Washington to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Oval Office, and two years later the king and FDR met face to face in Egypt. The entente has always enjoyed bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans have been backers of strong ties to the kingdom. Riyadh would be wise to steer clear of becoming identified with either party in the United States as it navigates the most polarized politics in modern US history.

Jewish World

Mosaic’s monthly essay and the responses to it offers a curious discussion of the current state of the Jews of Russia (the last instalment is by Dovid Margolin):

Almost folklore: in Russia today, there’s an official story, which is heartening and positive, adhered to by the regime and by many Jewish community leaders and activists. And then there’s what might be thought of as a coded story, whispered by some, or perhaps many, of the Jews still remaining in the community’s diminishing population base, and whispered back into their ears by history and by memory.

David Schraub argues that the Israeli kid who placed the bomb threats was an anti-Semite:

If he did this “for the lulz,” he is an anti-Semite.

If he did this because he thought American Jews were soft, liberal, beholden to leftist ideology and insufficiently “pro-Israel,” he is an anti-Semite.

If he did this because he wanted to discredit Donald Trump and the American political right, he is an anti-Semite who also did a grave injustice to President Trump and his supporters.

President Donald Trump. Photo by Gage Skidmore (via WikiCommons).

Trump the change agent looks positively traditional on Middle East peace

Trump administration rhetoric about Israeli-Palestinian peace is typical of a president who would make everything great: President Donald Trump is going to bring about a “historic” deal, the White House has said, one that would “reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

What isn’t typical, at least for a president who has shattered conventions in so many other sectors, is how typically Trump is going about reviving talks.

Jason Greenblatt, a real estate lawyer and trusted longtime adviser to Trump, is in the region drumming up interest in new talks, and he’s partying like it’s 1989.

Press Israel to limit settlement building? Check.

Emphasize economic capacity-building for the Palestinians? Check.

Talk about a grand deal involving the surrounding Arab-Sunni states? Check.

Except for the hyperbole, the statements emerging from Greenblatt’s “listening” tour of the region this week could have been lifted from boilerplate dating back to the administration of George H.W. Bush, the first president to get Israelis and Palestinians into the same room, and through his successors, including Bill Clinton, Bush’s son and Barack Obama.

“I have a lot of differences with this administration on a lot of issues, but on the issue of Israel and Palestinians, they have been probably more cautious and more responsible than on almost any other issue,” Daniel Shapiro, who was the Obama administration envoy to the region from 2011 until January, said in an interview.

“It’s striking to hear quite similar language in describing their approach, their goals, their understanding of the relationship between the issue of settlements and prospects for success in negotiations,” said Shapiro, who is now a senior visiting fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Trump’s pro-Israel supporters hailed his election as an opportunity to reset the relationship between the two countries. Israel’s right crowed after his victory, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett saying it was a chance for Israel to “retract the notion of a Palestinian state.”

Settlements were a key bone of contention between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, culminating in December when the U.S. allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass an anti-settlements resolution.

Nothing quite so contentious has emerged yet in the Trump-Netanyahu relationship, but it hasn’t disappeared, either. Trump straight out asked Netanyahu to hold off on settlement building for a while when they met at a White House summit last month, and Greenblatt raised the issue in his five-hour meeting on March 13 with Netanyahu.

“With respect to settlements, we see them as a challenge that needs to be addressed at some point,” Marc Toner, the State Department spokesman, said this week.

Other differences in tone and emphasis are emerging between the Trump and Netanyahu governments.

After Greenblatt met March 14 with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a U.S. readout of the meeting said they “reaffirmed the commitment of both the Palestinian Authority and the United States to advance a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Notably, Netanyahu — who has made no secret of his preference for Trump over Obama — has spent the three years since the collapse of the last round of talks saying Abbas appears anything but committed to advancing peace.

Jewish officials who favor the new administration’s Israel posture say they see a difference in how Trump and his team emphasize the need for Abbas to tamp down Palestinian incitement, particularly the payments handed out by the Palestinian Authority to families of imprisoned or killed terrorists.

“President Abbas committed to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and incitement,” the meeting readout said.

But the notion that Obama downplayed incitement was always something of a myth. Obama and his top officials repeatedly decried incitement, as recently as his farewell speech to the United Nations in September. Those calls, however, tended to receive less media coverage than his tensions with Netanyahu.

There are some differences in tone — most dramatically in how Trump has retreated from explicitly endorsing the two-state solution.

Danielle Pletka, the vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, said that should be seen less as a rejection of the two-state outcome than a means of returning the ball to the court of the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“All that Donald Trump said” to Netanyahu “was, ‘If you’re comfortable with it, I’m comfortable with it,’ ” Pletka said. “And Netanyahu is comfortable with it. What he didn’t say was, ‘Here’s a two-state solution; it will look like this.’ ”

The Obama administration grated on Israel by prescribing the outlines of the two states — although even that pressure had diminished after the last round of talks collapsed in 2014.

Pletka said one reason for the lack of surprises from Trump on the Middle East is his focus on other areas of security and foreign policy, where he is trying to bring about real and dramatic change, including limiting the intake of immigrants and refugees, pulling out of multilateral trade deals, recalibrating ties with China and raising the stakes in the fight with the Islamic State (ISIS).

“Those are issues he deeply cares about,” she said. Another factor was the administration’s slowness in filling second- and third-tier jobs in national security and foreign policy; the delay would inhibit the advancement of dramatic policy changes.

Shapiro said Trump and his team were learning that ideological postures taken during a campaign bang up against reality after the election.

Combating incitement, limiting settlement expansion, seeking a broader buy-in to peace by Israel’s Sunni-Arab neighbors and advancing two states “are structural U.S. interests; they are not ideological fixations of one administration or another, one that any administration interested in U.S. interests in the region will coalesce around,” Shapiro said.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, who directs the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said Trump — who is meeting with an array of Arab leaders in coming weeks — is seeking Arab investment in his bid to crush ISIS.

“Every administration comes into office, they confront the array of American interests and partners in the Middle East, and it makes it hard for them to do what they want to do if Arab-Israeli conflict is at risk of becoming an Arab-Israeli conflagration,” said Wittes, who was a senior Middle East policy official in Obama’s first term.

“One of the things Arabs always ask a new administration is, ‘Please avoid doing things on the Arab-Israeli issue — and tell the Israelis not to do things that would create a crisis,’ ” she said. “That, which would be a normal thing for Arab governments to do, is magnified by the anti-ISIS imperative,” she said.

Jeff Ballabon, a Republican with deep ties in the Orthodox Jewish community who advocated for Trump, said the narrative of same-old, same-old was deceptive.

“I have tremendous faith in the president as a negotiating prodigy,” he said, referring to Trump’s decades as a real estate dealmaker. “They clearly have America’s and Israel’s best interests at heart. We finally have a team that’s realistic and isn’t beholden to any failed past policies.” 

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks on issues related to visas and travel after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban order in Washington, U.S. on March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Sunday Reads: Tillerson’s slow start, Sisi’s ‘Egypt First’ foreign policy, Did American racism inspire the Nazis?


David Ignatius takes a look at Rex Tillerson’s slow start at the State Department:

The dilemma for Tillerson, the methodical engineer, is how to connect with the mercurial tweeter in chief. A fascinating example was Tillerson’s conversation with the president just before Trump placed a telephone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Tillerson tried to explain the tricky Kurdish problem in detail, but that wasn’t what engaged Trump, according to one well-informed source.

The president interjected with an explanation of why Erdogan had survived an attempted military coup last summer: “You know what saved him? Facebook and social media.” It was a revealing, and probably accurate, presidential insight.

David Graham writes about the unbelievable appointment of a foreign agent as National Security Adviser:

In fact, it would be laughable if Trump officials had not known, since a simple Google search could have tipped them off. On Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill floridly praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a crucial ally against ISIS and calling for the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader and former Erdogan ally who lives in the U.S., and whom Erdogan blamed for instigating a failed 2016 coup. Flynn complained that Barack Obama had kept Erdogan at arm’s length.


Avi Issacharoff writes about Trump’s surprising interest in Israel-Palestine peace making attempts:

All of this adds up to more than the faint indication that the Trump administration may be about to plunge into the quicksand of attempted Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. On the campaign trail, Trump acknowledged that this would be hardest of all deals, and maybe its purported impossibility is what he relishes.

The bar right now is so low that even bringing Abbas and Netanyahu together for a photo opportunity on the White House lawn would constitute quite an achievement. Both men would pay a price back home for such an appearance, but if Donald Trump were to invite them, it might be an offer they could not refuse.

Aviad Kleinberg discusses the Haredi backlash against a court decision that forbids racial discrimination against schoolchildren:

First of all, we must admit that the Haredi argument is essentially justified. Indeed, traditional Judaism does not believe in equality—not between Jews and non-Jews, men and women or scholars and the uneducated. The former in each of these three pairs deserve favored treatment. An Arab, even a good Arab, is not a real human being; a woman, even a good woman, is not really a man; and a secular person, even a good secular person, will never be equal to a religious scholar (who is better than the greatest secular scholar, even if he is a complete fool)… The discrimination against Sephardim may not be according to the law of the Bible, but it is definitely prescribed by the rabbis (the greatest sages of Israel, may they live long and happily). And in the new Israel, the secular court’s rulings are always conditional, until we find out what the Torah sages have to say.

Middle East

Eric Trager writes about General Sisi’s “Egypt First” foreign policy:

Sisi, in other words, will follow an “Egypt first” playbook, and Cairo expects everyone else to do the same. Still, if oil-rich Gulf states believe that they can’t face the region’s challenges alone, then it’s unclear why a resource-poor country with severe structural and security challenges believes that it can.

Busra Erkara describes President Erdogan’s massive propaganda machine in Istanbul:

President Erdogan had turned Istanbul into a giant site for propaganda calling upon the citizens to support his plans to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential system that would give him sweeping powers. The plan has already been approved by the Parliament, where the A.K.P. holds the majority of the seats, and its fate will be decided by a referendum on April 16.

Jewish World

Michael Eisenberg believes that American Orthodoxy’s leaders are moving to Israel:

If the leading minds of American Orthodoxy are moving to Israel and if the leading Torah and Jewish institutions are in Israel, and the innovation-centric wealth will grow in Tel Aviv and San Francisco, what will be left of the intellectual vision for American Jewry, particularly Orthodox Jewry whose epicenter is New York and the East Coast. Who, in the academic, rabbinic, and lay leadership will articulate a vision beyond Torah U’Madda at Yeshiva University and the broader community? If the future leadership continues to make Aliyah, who will paint a path forward for a communal and community ethos? Who will confront growing assimilation? Birthright long ago outsourced its Jewish identity needs to Israel by sending kids there for 10 days. A one-year gap program in Israel is now de rigeur for most Orthodox Jewish kids and many Jewish youth of other denominations wishing to grow in Torah studies and Jewish identity. To this day, the U.S. Jewish community has been unable to provide this deep identity need. That search and crystallization of identity for most Jewish kids has moved to Israel.

Joshua Muravchik reviews a book that raises the curious claim that American Racism inspired the Nazis:

Yet just as Whitman has told us nothing about the “genesis of Nazism,” so he tells us nothing about the “world history of racism.” The discrimination and persecution visited on American blacks was terrible and shameful, but how do we measure it against the European subjugation of much of Africa and Asia, against the mass murder of Armenians by the Turks, against Japan’s rape of Nanjing and murder of millions of Chinese, against fascist Italy’s treatment of the Abyssinians, against the Soviet regime’s ruthless subjugation of small ethnic groups and later its deportation of entire nationalities, against bloody conflicts among tribes, ethnicities, religions in various remote corners of the globe? Much of the abuse of one group by another around the world was and is often carried out without recourse to law; insofar as Nazi lawyers looked to American law, wasn’t it simply because they were, after all, lawyers looking for laws?

President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Trump, Netanyahu discuss ‘dangers’ of Iran deal in phone call

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the Iran nuclear deal in a phone call.

Trump called Netanyahu on Monday and the two leaders discussed “the dangers posed by the nuclear deal with Iran,” according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

“The two leaders spoke at length about the dangers posed by the nuclear deal with Iran and by Iran’s malevolent behavior in the region and about the need to work together to counter those dangers,” read the statement.

Netanyahu and Trump have both denounced the deal, which exchanges sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. But the U.S. president and other top officials have wavered in their commitment to undoing the agreement.

During the phone call, Netanyahu also thanked Trump for the “warm hospitality” during his visit to Washington last month and for condemning anti-Semitism during a joint address to Congress, according to the statement.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment by JTA.

Last Tuesday, Trump noted recent bomb threats on Jewish institutions and vandalism of cemeteries in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.

Nearly 100 Jewish institutions have been targeted with bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The Kansas shooting occurred when a patron who was ejected from a bar after hurling racial epithets at two workers from India allegedly returned with a gun, killing one of the men and wounding the other.

Trump has come under fire for his delayed responses to the threats against Jewish institutions, deflecting questions about it before finally issuing a denunciation. The White House did not address the Kansas shooting until Tuesday, six days after the attack.

An armed French police officer patrols at the Boulevard de Barbes in the north of Paris on Jan. 7, 2016. Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Report: Attackers saw off Jewish man’s finger, beat his brother near Paris

Two Jewish brothers said they were abducted briefly and beaten by several men in suburban Paris in an incident that ended with one brother having his finger sawed off by an assailant.

The brothers were hospitalized in what was described as a state of shock following the incident Tuesday night in Bondy. A case report published Thursday by the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, based on a police complaint by the alleged victims did not specify their medical condition.

cThe kippah-wearing brothers, whose father is a Jewish leader in Bondy, were forced off the main road by another vehicle on to a side street, according to the BNVCA report. While the vehicle was in motion, the driver and a passenger shouted anti-Semitic slogans at the brothers that included “Dirty Jews, You’re going to die!” the father told BNVCA based on the complaint filed by his sons.

The vehicle forced the brothers to stop their car, and they were surrounded by several men whom they described as having a Middle Eastern appearance. The men came out of a hookah café on to the side street, according to the case report published by the news website JSSNews.

The alleged attackers surrounded the brothers, then kicked and punched them repeatedly while threatening that they would be murdered if they moved. One of the alleged attackers then sawed off the finger of one of the brothers.

People take part in an "I am Muslim Too" rally in Times Square on Feb. 19. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

What America needs: Thousands of Jew-haters

One would think that before admitting tens, let alone hundreds, of thousands of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Americans might look at what bringing in millions of Muslims has done for Europe. One would also assume that American Jews would want to know how this surge in MENA Muslims has affected Jews in European countries.

But one would be wrong.

Such an approach would be rational. But for most people, the rational has no chance against the emotional.

A thousand rabbis signed a petition to bring large numbers of MENA Muslims into the United States; and virtually all Jewish organizations outside of the Zionist Organization of America (and some within Orthodoxy) have condemned the Donald Trump administration for enacting a temporary halt in accepting travelers and refugees from seven (of the world’s more than 50) Muslim-majority countries that currently have hostile, dysfunctional or nonexistent governments, for the purpose of creating a more thorough screening process.

Do these rabbis and lay leaders know what is happening in Europe?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know what it feels like to be a Jew in formerly tolerant Sweden?

Last year, the Jerusalem Post published an article about a Jewish couple who had lived in Sweden since the middle of World War II. They were Danish Jews who, as children, were smuggled into Sweden. Their gratitude to Sweden (and, of course, Denmark) has been immense.

But they have now left the homeland that saved them to live in Spain. The city in which they lived, Malmo, has become so saturated with Jew-hatred that they can no longer live there. It was caused by, in the words of the husband, Dan, “the adverse effects of accepting half-a-million immigrants from the Middle East, who plainly weren’t interested in adopting Sweden’s values and Swedish culture.”

He added that “the politicians, the media, the intellectuals … they all played their parts in pandering to this dangerous ideology and, sadly, it’s changing the fabric of Swedish society irreversibly.”

The Jerusalem Post continued: “Karla [the wife], who’d sat passively, occasionally nodding in agreement at Dan’s analysis, then interrupted, saying, ‘If you disagree with the establishment, you’re immediately called a racist or fascist.’ ” (Sound familiar?)

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the anti-Semitism in Malmo is so dangerous that the Danish-Jewish star of a very popular Scandinavian TV show left the show.

“Anti-semitism,” the Telegraph reports, “has become so bad in Malmo, the Swedish city where the hit television drama ‘The Bridge’ is set, that it contributed to actor Kim Bodnia’s decision to quit the show.

“Jewish people in Malmo,” the Telegraph report continued, “have long complained of growing harassment in the city, where 43 percent of the population have a non-Swedish background, with Iraqis, Lebanese and stateless Palestinians some of the largest groups. The Jewish community centre in the city is heavily fortified, with security doors and bollards on the outside pavement to prevent car bombs.”

Do American-Jewish leaders know that, for the first time since the end of World War II, the Jews of France fear to walk in public wearing a kippah or a Star of David necklace? If the rabbis and Jewish lay leaders know this, what do they assume — that Catholic or secular French anti-Semitism has dramatically spiked? Or would they acknowledge that this is a result of Muslim anti-Semitism in France?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know how much the presence of large numbers of Muslims in Europe has contributed to Israel-hatred in many European countries — especially on campuses? If they don’t, all they need to do is examine the situation on American campuses, where many Jewish students feel more uncomfortable than at any time in American history — all because of the left and Muslim student activists.

An article on the Huffington Post, presumably another racist and xenophobic website, reports:

“Migrants streaming into Europe from the Middle East are bringing with them virulent anti-Semitism which is erupting from Scandinavia to France to Germany. …

“While all of the incoming refugees and migrants, fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim lands, may not hold anti-Jewish views, an extremely large number do — simply as a result of being raised in places where anti-Jewish vitriol is poured out in TV, newspapers, schools and mosques. …

“ ‘There is no future for Jews in Europe,’ said the chief Rabbi of Brussels. … ”

So how is one to explain the widespread American-Jewish support for bringing in a massive number of people, many of whom will bring in anti-Jew, anti-Israel and anti-West values?

First, they are staggeringly naïve, believing, for example, that marching with signs at airports that read, “We love Muslims” will change those Muslims who hate Jews into Muslims who love Jews.

Second, never underestimate the power of feeling good about yourself for the left; that is, after all, where the self-esteem movement originated. And it feels very good for these Jews to be able to say, “Look, world — you abandoned us in the 1930s, but we’re better than you.”

And third, when American Jews abandoned liberalism for leftism, they became less Jewish, less Zionist, and more foolish.

Just ask the Jews of Sweden and France.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Amal Clooney (left) and Nadia Murad Basee at the ceremony where Murad was named a U.N. goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking. Clooney is Murad’s lawyer. Photo by Janet Mayer / Splash News

A sex slave survivor fights back

Nadia Murad Basee, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman, is sitting in an elegant living room high up on the Wilshire corridor, staring out the window. Her ebony hair hangs to one side of her face, falling over her shoulder like a blanket. As she turns her head, about to speak, her eyes appear glassy, as if on the verge of tears. But her expression is vacant.

More than two years ago, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters invaded Murad’s village of Kocho in northern Iraq and began a siege that devastated her life and decimated the Yazidi population. Murad was barely 20 when she was separated from her family — a mother, eight brothers and three sisters (her father died when she was 10) — and then abducted and sold into sexual slavery.

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

She remembers the sound of the firing squad that murdered six of her brothers and her mother, and the nightmarish months that followed when she was bought and sold like chattel, beaten and sexually assaulted daily.

“The total number of men that raped me was 12, and I will never forget their faces,” she said during a visit to Los Angeles last November.

And yet, Murad considers herself one of the lucky ones. Thousands of Yazidis were massacred on the spot, and an estimated 3,200 Yazidi women still languish in sexual slavery. Since regaining her freedom, Murad has launched a global campaign to raise awareness of the Yazidi genocide and draw attention to the plight of those still in captivity. Over the past year, she has testified before the United Nations alongside her lawyer, Amal Clooney, and was named a U.N. goodwill ambassador for human trafficking. Last October, she received the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, and, for a time, was considered a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Time magazine named her one of the world’s most influential people.

But none of those honors has brought her joy; her focus is on rescuing her people and bringing ISIS to justice for its crimes. As she recounts the details of her story through a translator, her trauma is evident.

At times, she stares ahead blankly, avoiding eye contact. And during parts when she is overcome, tears streaming down her face, she barely seems to notice. She is so far away — her heart, her imagination, everything she loved still in Sinjar, the center of the Yazidi population in Iraq.

“My life before Aug. 3 [2014] was only life inside the small village,” she said of Kocho, with a population estimated at 2,000. “I didn’t even know other parts of Iraq.”

Murad grew up in a family of farmers that eked out a modest living tending sheep. They were so poor, her parents couldn’t afford to send her siblings to school, so her brothers wound up serving in the Iraqi and Kurdish militaries. By the time Murad came of age, though, their economic situation had improved and she was able to enroll in classes. She recently had completed her 11th year of schooling when ISIS stormed into town.

After Kurdish Peshmerga forces who were protecting the area retreated, Sinjar was left defenseless. According to a report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, most villages in the Sinjar region were completely emptied within 72 hours of the siege, with the exception of Kocho. For nearly two weeks, villagers like Murad and her family huddled together in their homes awaiting rescue, even as they heard rumors of mass executions.

Before ISIS cut off the local cellphone tower, Murad’s family reached out to everyone they knew, begging for help. They could smell the stench of rotting corpses wafting from the countryside. “We told [everyone we could] that they will kill the men and take the women and the children,” Murad recalled. But help never came.

The family considered escaping, but with three pregnant women in the house, it would have been too arduous a journey. The night before the family was captured, they considered taking their own lives. “My brother said, ‘I know they will kill us and they will take the women and children. Perhaps I should kill you and then kill myself because I do not want to see you taken,’ ” Murad said.

The next day, the family was rounded up and sent to the local school, where male and females were separated promptly. Men and boys ages 12 and older were given the choice to convert to Islam or die. Hundreds of Kocho men were subsequently beheaded or shot. Girls ages 9 and older were transferred to holding sites in larger cities, where they were sold as sex slaves. Depending on their youth, virginity and beauty, girls could fetch prices from $200 to $1,500, and were often sold back and forth among ISIS fighter-owners.

When Murad arrived at a holding site in Mosul, the women and girls were instructed to wash. After being abused during transport, many knew there was more to come. “The first place they took us was the shower, the bathroom, and there was blood on the walls,” Murad said. “Women tried to commit suicide.”

Murad testified at the U.N. that the first fighter who tried to buy her was a “huge man, like a monster.” She pleaded with him to let her go. “I cried out — I said, ‘I’m too young, you’re huge!’ But he hit me, kicked me, beat me.”

A smaller man, the first of a dozen captors, bought her, forced her to dress up, wear makeup and then raped her at will. When she tried to escape, he locked her in a room with a number other fighters, who gang raped Murad until she was unconscious.

None of this violence is arbitrary. It is a deliberate, organized system designed to annihilate dignity, hope and prevent future population growth.

“When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will Be happy then.” — Nadia Murad Basee

In describing the way rape is used as a mechanism of genocide, the U.N. report emphasizes the assault on human dignity. “The sexual violence being committed by ISIS against Yazidi women and girls, and the serious physical and mental harm it engenders, is a clear step in the process of destruction of the … group — destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

The Islamic State’s use of sexual slavery is uniquely insidious because it ensures women are doubly victimized — by their gender and their religion. In the case of the Yazidis, the organized sexual violence occurred on such a massive scale, women and girls as young as 9 years old were subjected to “multiple — sometimes hundreds — of rapes by their various fighter-owners.” The combination of physical and sexual violence with psychological trauma “rises to the level of torture” — a war crime —  according to the U.N. report, and is ultimately designed to prevent future birth of the Yazidi population. When sexual desire is vanquished, so is a group’s future.

The challenge of proving and prosecuting the Yazidi genocide will fall to Clooney, who faces the daunting task of creating precedent for it within the international justice system. At present, the International Criminal Court is the only tribunal that could hold ISIS accountable, but neither Syria nor Iraq are party to the league of nations invested in it. When an attempt to issue a special referral was made by the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China vetoed it.

“This is a clear case of genocide, and genocide that’s gone completely unaddressed and ignored,” Clooney told NBC last fall. “I can’t imagine anything worse being done by one human to another.”

During her visit to Los Angeles, Murad met with members of the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID, which currently is providing disaster relief and psychosocial support to Yazidi survivors in Greece, Iraq and Germany, where Murad is based, along with other refugees of the Syrian war.

“The typical response we get from Syrian refugees is that they’re shocked to see Israelis and Jews working with them, and it takes a while to build trust,” Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of IsraAID said. “But with the Yazidis, it was the opposite. They came to us and said, ‘We want to work with the Jews.’ ”

According to Polizer, the Yazidi advocacy organization Yazda reached out to the Israelis because they wanted to learn how to document their genocide as efficiently as Jews documented the Holocaust. “They came to us and said, ‘We need mentorship. We want to learn from the Jewish experience how you were able to rebuild your communities after the Holocaust, rebuild your peoplehood, and build strong advocacy around the world.’ ”

Over the past year, IsraAID has worked with Yazda to help train Yazidis to collect survivor testimonies. “We’re helping them build their own Yad Vashem,” Polizer said.

While much of the world remains indifferent to Yazidi suffering, Polizer said the Jews have a responsibility to help. “There’s a very special connection between Yazidis and Jews,” he said. “We’re both religious minorities in the Middle East; we’ve both suffered from a lot of atrocities throughout history, and according to the Yazidis, [when there were still] Jews in Iraq, they had a strong connection to the Jewish community there. They are big fans of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith, which is kind of unique in that neighborhood. There’s a feeling of shared destiny.”

And yet, Polizer lamented, “I don’t feel like we’re doing enough. With all that’s happening in the Middle East, the Syrian crisis, and with everything going on in the U.S., the Yazidis have been suffering from the worst persecution you can imagine and they’ve been sort of left behind.”

Murad was fortunate enough to escape her captors, but her people remain trapped by an intractable conflict. To counteract the international community’s silence, Murad is determined to broadcast her story in forums around the globe. The more she speaks out, the more ISIS threatens her life. The stakes are impossibly high. “I don’t know if Yazidis will continue to exist as a people or not,” she said.

Worn down by so much sorrow and loss, Murad is a young woman who seems old already. Her skin is marked by the acceleration of time that comes with too much tragedy too soon.

“When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will be happy then,” she said defiantly.

But the terrible truth of the matter is that for now, “the path to accountability remains blocked,” according to the U.N. report. “The genocide of the Yazidis is on-going.”

How to help

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

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

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

Beyond Genocide
(415) 369-2860

(832) 298-9584


Keeping the peace in troubled times

Angry disagreement now dominates our national discourse, with emphasis on the “angry.”

We feel, with William Butler Yeats, that “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

I believe that however we define America, whatever principles we think it stands for, it’s worth preserving. So are our families and friendships.

Whether you think that America “was never great” or you yearn for a lost era of innocence and patriotism, no one can deny America’s achievements. No one can deny the ideals that our country has imperfectly tried to follow. People vote with their feet. Middle Eastern migrants don’t want to go to Saudi Arabia, which is much closer but won’t take them, anyway. They want to come here.

The good we have achieved, and the good we can still achieve, are things that we don’t want to throw away. America can survive a controversial president. It can’t survive being torn apart.

This is a difficult time for all of us. But we can get through it if we keep our heads and follow some common-sense rules – both personally, and as a country.

Keeping Our Personal Sanity

The personal rules are easier to follow.

First, don’t sever relationships that matter. Our relationships with family and close friends should transcend most disagreements. That also applies to other people we respect, who might have some ideas we find repugnant. If we know they’re good people whom we admire for other reasons, then we shouldn’t close the door on them permanently.

Online or in real life, I never “unfriend” family, close friends, or people I respect. Every family has its Uncle Frank who’s a staunch right-winger and Aunt Sally who’s a staunch left-winger. When they walk through the front door, we should greet them warmly, embrace them, and avoid conversation about their hot-button subjects. We can talk about the kids or the weather. Online, we can mute their posts so we remain friends but don’t have to see their political rants.

Second, forgive hurtful things that people said in heated arguments. If you’re ever in doubt, forgive them anyway. Forgiveness should be our default response. The only people exempt from this rule are those who have never said anything stupid or hurtful. Which means: nobody.

Third, remember that we all sometimes have crazy ideas. Remember that people, including us, tend to base their political beliefs more on emotion than on facts or reasoning. As a result, good people, smart people can believe things that we think are absurd. Don’t abandon them because of it.

Fourth, remember that we all sometimes change our minds. People who bitterly disagree with you today might decide tomorrow that you’re right. Or you might decide that they’re right. The fact that we feel absolutely sure of our own rightness doesn’t guarantee that we’re right, only that we’re sure.

Keeping Our Political Sanity

It might surprise you to learn that we’re not the first generation to have this kind of disagreement. In the late 1700s, the United States – referred to in the plural until the mid-20th century – were sharply divided on issues such as religion, local autonomy, and of course – to our shame – slavery.

Does this situation sound familiar?

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power … have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

That’s from Federalist Paper #10 by James Madison, published in 1788. The bitter national dissension we see today is an old problem that was solved (as well as it can be) a long time ago. We just forgot the solution.

The American Founders needed to unite the colonies into a single nation in spite of their disagreements. They did it with the last article in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (10th Amendment)

In Federalist Paper #45, Madison explained the meaning:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce …The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

We’ve heard a lot about the disagreements between California and other parts of the country, most notably with the Trump White House. It’s what’s got some people promoting “Calexit.”

But what if the federal government had no power to tell the State of California how to run its internal affairs, except for basic human rights and issues affecting the entire country? Then it wouldn’t matter what the president wanted to do. He or she wouldn’t be able to do it. Calexit would be superfluous.

Going back to the Constitution isn’t without cost. Apart from the legal hurdles, it requires a willingness to “live and let live.” Arbitrary power seems like a great idea when you’re the one who’s got it. But when it’s in the hands of people with whom you disagree, it’s suddenly a lot less appealing. If we don’t want people in Kentucky dictating how people live in California, then we must give up the idea that people in California may dictate to people in Kentucky how they are required to live.

The U.S. Constitution can solve our political problems, if we’ll let it.

Photo from PEXELS

On the wrong side of history

Boycotting Historians Denounce Blacklists Just as They Call for Blacklisting Israeli Academics

Of the many examples of the shameful degradation of values in academia, few are more intellectually grotesque than academic boycotts, which, in their present form, are almost exclusively targeted at Israeli scholars and institutions. In the latest example, at their January annual meeting the American Historical Association (AHA) debated among their members two petitions: the first, which was ultimately rejected by the AHA’s Council, urged the AHA to review investigate “credible charges of violations of academic freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” whether by “constituting a fact-finding committee, authorizing a delegation or issuing an investigative report.”

The second petition recommended that the AHA issue a statement, which it did, affirming “the rights of students, faculty and other historians to speak freely and to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse perspectives on historical or contemporary issues.” Putting aside the absurdly paranoid notion that any anti-Israel activism is suppressed or otherwise limited on campuses anywhere, what actually terrified these intellectual hypocrites, it seemed, was the possibility that, once they had publicly announced their enmity for Israel, Zionism, and Jewish affirmation, they would be held accountable for their toxic views, that they would be named for what they are: anti-Israel activists whose rabid ideology can, and should, be made transparent, exposed, and understood.

The AHA statement made this hypocrisy clear when it meretriciously stated that, “We condemn all efforts to intimidate those expressing their views. Specifically, we condemn in the strongest terms the creation, maintenance and dissemination of blacklists and watch lists —through media (social and otherwise)—which identify specific individuals in ways that could lead to harassment and intimidation.”

The so-called “blacklists” and “watch lists” referenced in the statement are such databases as Canary Mission (mentioned specifically), Discover the Networks, Campus Watch, the AMCHA Initiative, and other similar organizations, all of which have as their intention to provide students, faculty, and others with information on the ideology, scholarship, speeches, and writing of radical professors and students. These are individuals (and groups) who have very public records of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activism and whose words and behavior have been catalogued so that the politicization of scholarship can be exposed and students can avoid courses taught by professors with a predetermined and evident bias against Israel.

The craven AHA members are not the first representatives of the professoriate to recoil in terror at the thought of being included in one of these databases, even though they are perfectly willing, if not eager, to signal their virtue in the first place by publicly expressing their obsessive disdain for the Jewish state. In 2014, for instance, 40 professors of Jewish studies published a denunciation of a study that named professors who had been identified as expressing “anti-Israel bias, or possibly even antisemitic [sic] rhetoric.”

While the 40 academic “heavyweights” claimed they, of course, rejected anti-Semitism totally as part of teaching, they were equally repelled by the tactics and possible negative effects of the report, produced by the AMCHA Initiative, a comprehensive review of the attitudes about Israel of some 200 professors who signed an online petition during the last Gaza incursion that called for an academic boycott against Israeli scholars—academics the petitioners claimed were complicit in the “latest humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israel’s . . . military assault on the Gaza Strip,” just as the AHA members alleged that because Palestinians were being denied access to education as a result of Israeli policy, Israeli academics deserved to be collectively shunned.

Calling “the actions of AMCHA deplorable,” the indignant professors were insulted by the organization’s “technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences,” something which, they believed, “strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built.” That was a rather breathtaking assertion by academics, just as it was when the AHA members repeated the same idea; namely, that it is contrary to the core mission of higher education that ideas publicly expressed by professors should be examined and judged, and that by even applying some standards of objectivity on a body of teaching by a particular professor “AMCHA’s approach closes off all but the most narrow intellectual directions.”

Specifically, reports like the AMCHA product clearly indicate which professors have demonstrated that they bring to their teaching a clear bias against the Jewish state; in fact, they have gone even further with that enmity by mobilizing as part of the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement to turn Israeli academics in intellectual pariahs by excluding them from the intellectual marketplace of ideas.

Can anyone believe that had the AMCHA Initiative or other organizations issued a report that revealed the existence of endemic racism, or homophobia, or sexism, or Islamophobia in university coursework, and had warned students who might be negatively impacted to steer clear of courses taught by those offending professors, that these same 40 feckless professors or the AHA’s historians would have denounced such reports being “McCarthyesque” or somehow undermining the civility of higher education by actually holding academics responsible for some of the intellectually deficient or corrupt ideologies to which they adhere and which they are more than happy to foist on others—including, of course, their students.

Why should a professor’s political attitudes not be known to students, especially, as in these cases, when those anti-Israel attitudes are extremely germane to their area of teaching, namely Middle East studies and history? None of the mentioned organizations furtively investigated the private lives of the 200 professors, or historians, or campus radicals, nor did they hack into emails accounts, or take testimony from anonymous sources, or delve through association memberships, reading habits, or private writings without the individuals’ knowledge or consent. They were not spied upon nor their courses videotaped furtively by students.

The findings were based on the public utterances, published works, and social media posts of professors and students, behavior and speech they apparently had no problem with making public and for which they were not hesitant, at least initially, to take responsibility. In fact, as often happens when anti-Israel academics are called upon to defend their libels and intellectual assaults against the Jewish state, they wish to freely pontificate on the many perceived defects of Israel but do not like to be inconvenienced by being challenged on those often biased, and intellectually dishonest, views by others with opposing viewpoints.

More hypocritically, these morally self-righteous historians denounced their placement on so-called blacklists but wished to do the very same thing to Israeli scholars by proposing to essentially blacklist an entire nation’s professoriate for the actions of that country’s government—over which, of course, academics, even if they actually agree with those policies, have little or no influence. And the extent of their blacklist is more onerous and less intellectually honest, since they are blacklisting an entire group of academics, irrespective of ideology, without any distinction between those who might share their views and those who hold views that are ideologically opposed to theirs. In its indiscriminate nature, an academic boycott is morally perverse, since, unlike the efforts of Campus Watch, the AMCHA Initiative, Discover the Networks, or Canary Mission (which deal with specific individuals and their publicly professed and articulated beliefs), an academic boycott against a whole nation of scholars is so random and untargeted that it has to be more about anti-Jewish bigotry than a sincere effort to effect productive change and move the Israelis and Palestinians towards peace.

There is no surprise that an academic association like the AHA would call for a boycott against only one country—Israel—precisely because a large number of its ranks are evidently steeped in a world view defined by post-colonial, anti-American, anti-Israel thinking, and dedicated to the elevation of identity politics and a cult of victimhood. That they profess to hold high-minded, well-intentioned motives, and speak with such rectitude, does not excuse the fact that their efforts are in the end a betrayal of what the study of history and the university have, and should, stand for—the free exchange of ideas, even ones bad, without political or ideological litmus tests.

“People we used to think of as harmless drudges pursuing mouldy futilities,” observed the wry Edward Alexander, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, in speaking about a professoriate that has lost its intellectual compass, “are now revealing to us the explosive power of boredom, a power that may well frighten us.”

Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.

The many faces of the Jewish refugee

Since the global refugee crisis took over front pages and cable networks, a popular statistic in the Jewish world has been the number 36. It’s mentioned frequently by politically attuned and progressive-leaning clergy as the number of times, at minimum, Jews are commanded in the Torah to care for the stranger in their midst, for they were strangers in the land of Egypt.

But there’s no need to look as far back as the Exodus to remember a time when Jews were strangers in a strange land. The face of the modern refugee is kaleidoscopic: Syrian, Afghan, Rohingya, Yazidi, Sudanese, Congolese. This effect is found in miniature within the many colors of the Jewish refugee over the last century: Persians, Russians, Iraqis, Poles, Germans, Algerians, and others who have sought respite in America.

In the few days since President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions, the anti-Nazi theologian Marvin Niemoller has enjoyed a new vogue for his verse: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. … Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” Today’s body politic has reimagined these lines as, “First they come for the Muslims, and then we said, ‘Not this time!’ ”

By compelling them to reach outward, to march for and alongside Muslims, the recent protests have caused American Jews to look inward and to draw on their own past. A look inside the very long — and yet very recent — history of Jewish refugees reveals a diversity that reflects today’s global refugee crisis, as well as its pervading narrative of persecution and hardship.

Collected below, edited for clarity and length, are six of these Jewish refugee stories, in their words.


From left: Simon Ebrahimi, his daughter Maryam and wife, Nahid, in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, shortly after arriving from Iran. Below: the portrait for his 2012 novel.

cov-ebrahimi-useAfter a few months, we arrive at the New York airport. I’m with two little children and my wife. And my wife, who knows my temperament, she said, “You just don’t argue with anybody. Let’s go through this.” I said, “Fine.” So the guy calls me and says, “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” I said, “Excuse me?” “You Iranians,” he says. “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” … The third time, which is, you know, typical, he came and he said, “You still didn’t respond to me.” I said, “You know what, why don’t you and I go to Iran together and release the hostages? It’s a simple solution!” 

— Simon Ebrahimi, 79, Woodland Hills



Milana Vayntrub as a toddler, newly arrived from Soviet Uzbekistan. As an adult, she has earned national fame in a series of AT&T commercials.

cov-milana-vayntrubThis is little me on the front steps of our apartment building in West Hollywood, in my coolest athletic gear. Most people living in that community were immigrants and it brought us so much closer together knowing we had this generous network of friends and babysitters we could rely on. A few years after arriving to America, my grandparents immigrated and moved in next door. My grandmother used to make Russian dumplings by hand and sell them to delis. She used her earnings to pay her way through school, where she studied English and accounting. Last year, she was able to comfortably retire. She’s a huge inspiration.

— Milana Vayntrub, 29, Hollywood



Igor Mikhaylov (center) in 1983 with his family in Kiev. Below: Mikhaylov with his wife and sons in 2013.

cov-igor-mikhaylov-yom-kippur-2013-75-of-1My family and I left the Soviet Union in 1989 when I was 10. We were escaping anti-Semitism, which was rampant. Jewish refugees could not go directly to the U.S., and places like Austria, where we were initially settled, were overrun with refugees. The situation could get very heated, with Austrian protestors holding picket signs that said, “Shoot the Jews!“ and yelling “Sterben!” — “Die!” Later, we settled in a beautiful Italian coastal town, Santa Marinella. It had magnificent views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, palms, beach and a medieval castle, but none of it was really enjoyable since we were living in limbo. People had heart attacks, aneurisms, nervous breakdowns. Then came the vetting process and questions such as, “Were you ever members of the Communist party?” The only correct answer was “No!”  Who would check? How can you prove it?

— Igor Mikhaylov, 38, Granada Hills



Penina Meghnagi Solomon (above, second from right) with her family in a refugee camp in Italy in 1967, after fleeing Libya. Below: in 2013.

cov-penina-nowI can remember the black sky from the burning. And we were in terror because they were looking for the Jews. … We lost everything. We had property, we had money in the banks. … I remember coming in [to the refugee camp in Italy] and not knowing where we’re going to sleep, what we’re going to eat, whatever. I was 17. And my mom was a widow at that time. … But maybe because my personality is I’m always looking to the positive on anything, I was happy to leave [Libya]. I was happy to leave to a place where I was subjugated to always worry, always with the head half turned back, you never know when you’re going to be pinched or someone’s going to try to kill you. So for me, we were on our way to freedom and it was a good feeling.

— Penina Meghnagi Solomon, 67, Valley Village



Bob Geminder (right) with his brother George and cousin Muriel shortly after he arrived with his family in the U.S. after the Holocaust. Below: Geminder in Los Angeles in 2016.

cov-geminder-nowI was 12 years old. Knew no English pretty much, just some really bad words that the soldiers taught me at the German [displaced persons] camp. … This [photo above] was in East Orange, N.J. — that was kind of our first stop in America. … We were at that DP camp in Germany in Regensburg for about a year and a half, and that was kind of my first schooling. That’s where I learned the alphabet, I learned what two plus two is — you know, some math.. … The big joke in the Regensburg camp was, “Don’t worry about it — you’re going to find money on trees in America.” Me, being a foolish 12-year-old, I started looking at the trees.

— Bob Geminder, 81, Rancho Palos Verdes



Tabby Refael (left) with her mother in the 1980s, shortly before emigrating from Iran. Below: Refael with her son in 2017.

cov-tabby-nowThe black-and-white photo features my mother and me in Iran in the mid-1980s. Iran printed the word “Jew” next to our names on our passports. Months later, on the same document, the Americans printed the three greatest words that have ever been written about us, stamped in a miraculous, indisputable promise: “Protected Refugee Status.” That alone should tell us something about the differences between repressive theocracies and redemptive democracies. I am eternally grateful to Congress and to HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) for the gift of a renewed life, as this photo of my son and me in America in 2017 conveys. It also captures my inner joy at not having had to wear a mandatory Muslim head covering in more than 28 years.

— Tabby Refael, 34, Pico-Robertson

President Donald Trump signs an executive order in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Why I’m for vetting, but against Trump’s ban

I wanted to take the time to lay out clearly why I dislike Trump’s executive order on immigration. I think there’s been too much of people (including me) getting angry about it without explaining why. You can’t have a debate that revolves around anger, it has to be about ideas and facts.

I want to start by saying that I support vetting people coming to the US. I particularly support vetting people who want to become permanent residents here. That’s both logical, and moral. I have no argument against that.

The reason Trump’s order troubles me is two-fold. The first part that troubles me is that it’s focused on the wrong places. Trump chose to ban entry from seven countries that certainly have major terrorist activity, however they’re not the countries that have posed the most threat to America. Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria certainly have their problems, but the sad truth is that American allies like Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia have produced far more terrorists over the years. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in American history, was a mostly Saudi Arabian affair.

Lets look at the attacks since 2010 and see the origin or familial background of the attackers:

2010 Times Square Bombing
– Faisal Shahzad (Pakistan)

2010 Arlington Bomb Plot
– Farooque Ahmed (Pakistan)

2010 Virginia Military Shootings
– Yonathan Melaku (Ethiopia)

2010 Portland Car Bomb Plot
– Mohamed Mohamud (Somalia)

2013 Boston Bombings
– Tzarnaev Brothers (Chechnya)

2014 Seattle/NJ Shootings
– Ali Muhammad Brown (African-American Convert to Islam)

2014 Vaughn Foods Beaheading Incident
– Alton Nolen (American Convert to Islam)

2014 NYPD Killings
– Ismaaiyl Brinsley (African American Muslim)

2015 Islamic Art Contest Shooting in Texas
– Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi (American Convert & Pakistani Descent)

2015 Chattanooga Shootings
– Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez (Kuwait)

2015 UC Merced Stabbings
– Faisal Mohammad (Pakistani Descent)

2015 San Bernardino Shooting
– Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik (Pakistan)

2016 Columbus Melee
– Mohamed Barry (Somalia)

2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting
– Omar Mateen (Afghan Descent)

2016 Roanoke Stabbings
– Wasil Farooqi (American-born Muslim of unknown origin)

2016 Minnesota Mall Stabbings
– Dahir A. Adan (Somalia)

2016 NY/NJ Bombings
– Ahmad Khan Rahami (Afghan)

2016 Ohio State Attack
– Abdul Razak Ali Artan (Somalia)

Looking at that list, it would seem like Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan would be the three countries of origin of most concern, however only Somalia is on Trump’s list.

In fact, Somalia is the only country on Trump’s list that had US terrorists that hailed from it in this decade. The other countries had ZERO. Countries like Kuwait, Chechnya, and Ethiopia have produced terrorists that attacked the US, but they’re also not on the list.

This is the first reason I dislike Trump’s ban. It’s poorly targeted. It’s not even hitting the places that have hit us the hardest. That’s either foolish, or willfully stupid.

I’ve heard some people comment that the seven countries were chosen because their governments are either in shambles, or state sponsors of terror. That doesn’t explain why Afghanistan isn’t on the list — its government is no more well-organized than Iraq’s. It also doesn’t explain the absence of Pakistan, whose government has repeatedly been shown to have been infiltrated by extremist elements, even in their security service, the ISI. It also doesn’t explain why Palestinians using PA-issued passports, or temporary Jordanian passports aren’t banned. Any Israeli would tell you that a ban that doesn’t target those passports is not a good one.

The second reason I dislike Trump’s executive order is because it’s incredibly heavy-handed. In an attempt to not actually make it a “Muslim ban” in word, he made it a clumsy Muslim ban in practice. By banning all visa holders from those seven countries from entering the US, Trump managed to hurt Persian Jews, Yazidi Christians, Kurds, and Sudanese Christians, none of whom are, or have ever been a threat to the US. Rather than exempting them from the ban, Trump made it a blanket ban to avoid a court ruling the ban was illegal because it specifically targeted Muslims. We needed a surgeon, we got a butcher.

When you combine those fundamental weaknesses of the executive order with the fact that it was poorly rolled-out, rushed, and that the details of it were vague and not double-checked with the agencies who were supposed to enforce it, it’s an abject failure.

The central premise of the ban is also questionable. Will it make America safer? That’s not terribly clear. It most certainly will make Americans traveling abroad less safe. They’ll be even bigger targets now. ISIS is already using it as a recruitment tool. But will it even make us safer at home? Most of our Muslim terrorists in the past decade have been American citizens, who wouldn’t have been affected by the ban. The ban also likely increases the chances that one of the 3.3 million Muslims already in America will become radicalized, or that a non-Muslim who converts will become radicalized. Does that make us safer?

Vetting is important. Security is important. No one disagrees with that, but it needs to be done well. It needs to be done intelligently. This ban is neither intelligent, nor well implemented, and in that respect, it’s a clear failure.

Even if you support a blanket ban, you should be asking Trump to add Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Chechnya and Turkey to the list. If he doesn’t, you know he actually doesn’t care.

Jonathan Maseng’s work has appeared in LA Weekly, The Press Enterprise, The Jewish Journal, and the Jerusalem Post Magazine. He also writes regularly about the New York Mets for SB Nation’s Amazin’ Avenue.

Jewish presence felt at LAX protest on Trump refugee order

Shortly before Shabbat fell on Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively slammed the door on refugees seeking entry to the United States – at least for now.

Shock and anger had been building in the Jewish community since a draft order was released days beforehand. On Saturday, those sentiments exploded onto Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s cellphone in concerned messages from her congregants at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“When Shabbat ended last night, my phone was blowing up – emails, photos,” she said Jan. 29 as a crowd milled past her at the arrivals gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). “For Jews, there’s a clear line that’s been crossed. People felt kind of not okay. But now, it’s different.”

Thousands gathered at LAX, where a number of travellers had been detained because of the order. Police cut off traffic through much of the airport and largely gave protesters the run of Tom Bradley International Terminal.Many protesters were Jews from congregations across the city, and even on signs held aloft by non-Jews, a certain Jewish influence could be detected in references to 1930’s Germany and proclamations of “Never again.”

“There are a lot of Jews here – a lot,” Goldberg said, her husband translating from sign language, since she’d lost her voice. Her three children joined the pair at the Jan. 29 protest.

As weary travellers emerged to boisterously chanting crowds, Adam and Noah Reich held a sign reading, “Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers.” While they spoke with a reporter, a short woman with olive skin, a total stranger, walked up and hugged both of them. That type of thing had been going on all afternoon.“Maybe like, a dozen so far,” Noah said. “We’ve been here for a couple hours and people just come up to us.”

“The collective power of everyone here is saying, ‘You’re not alone, we’re all here for you,’” Adam said. “And I think that’s a powerful thing.”

Emerging from the crowd, Jesse Gabriel, an attorney and executive board member at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, put his hand on Noah’s shoulder.

twit3“Kol ha’kavod,” he told the pair, using a Hebrew expression for “Well done!”

Gabriel was one of dozens of attorneys swarming the terminal, many with signs reading “lawyer” and announcing their foreign language proficiencies, hoping to be of help to stranded travellers or those recently released by immigration and customs officers.“When you have individuals whose rights need to be protected, that’s when lawyers need to step in,” Gabriel said. In fact, there was little work for the attorneys at the terminal, since those detained were stranded elsewhere, in the bowels of LAX, incommunicado. The crowds were chanting, “Let them in!” but lawyers were struggling even to make contact with those stranded.

“Our understanding is that there are a number of people with legal travel documents who are being detained in customs and borders patrol, in custody,” said immigration attorney Michael Hagerty. Hagerty was serving as ad hoc media liaison to a group of attorneys at the airport (as announced by a cardboard sign reading “media liaison”). Among his charges were representatives from legal aid clinic Public Counsel and the local American Civil Liberties Union. But information about those trapped – even a basic head count – proved difficult to come by.

twit4“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know exactly what their legal status is on an individual basis, but in all likelihood they are legal permanent residents, they are refugees with legal refugee travel documents, people with student visas,” Hagerty said.As he spoke, wayfarers cut through surging crowds, pushing carts and lugging suitcases. For those just arriving, it must have presented an overwhelming scene: shouts of “USA!” from flamboyantly dressed protesters, their signs decorated with everything from the Statue of Liberty to Trump with a Hitler mustache, and outside, drums banging out an incessant beat.Marchers mobbed the sidewalk on both the upper and lower levels, along with the international terminal itself. The crowd lined the curb, waving signs at passing cars, and some took to the upper levels of facing parking garages to look down over the scene.

Yet some travellers decided to join the protest, including Zoe Lister Jones, a filmmaker who had just stepped off the plane from screening her new comedy “Band Aid” at the Sundance Film Festival.

“I’ve been witnessing the injustices occurring from Park City and I came straight from the arrivals terminal to protest,” she said. “As a Jew, I think it’s part of our bloodline to stand up to injustice and resist fascism.”

Many Jewish protesters made their religious identity abundantly clear for passersby.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom, stood alone on the sidewalk outside the terminal, having been unable to locate his congregants in the chaos, wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl.

“I wanted people to know that the Jewish people feel a chill up our spine because this is happening,” he said.

Senior writer Danielle Berrin contributed to this report.

Several Jewish families affected by Trump’s refugee ban, says HIAS

The U.S. ban on refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries has affected several Jewish families, according to the refugee support and advocacy group HIAS.

The ban, which came Friday in an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, has plunged into further uncertainty the lives of a Jewish Iranian man in his late 20s and his middle-aged mother, who for the past year have been waiting in an unnamed country for a reply on their application for asylum in the United States, HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield, told JTA Sunday.

Citing privacy concerns and a desire not to further complicate the application process, Hetfield declined to name the applicants or reveal their whereabouts. The man and his mother, he said, are trying to reunite with two of the mother’s daughters who are already in the United States.

Last year, HIAS handled 159 applications by Jews for asylum in the United States, among them 89 Iranians and several Jews from Yemen.

Founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, HIAS was recognized in 1976 by the Justice Department as an agency authorized to assist immigration. It now has hundreds of staff and is active in over 30 countries, processing more than 4,000 refugee asylum applications annually – most of them for non-Jews.

HIAS applicants from the Middle East — who are vetted and screened in a process which can take as long as two years – often travel to the United States through Ukraine or Austria if they have a visa.

HIAS is among several American Jewish groups that have protested Trump’s executive order.

“The ban affects hundreds of our clients, for whom it may be the difference between life and death,” Hetfield said.

The executive order prohibits refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, with an indefinite ban on those fleeing war-torn Syria. Citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are barred from entry for 90 days.
Hetfield also noted a case involving a non-Jewish family of asylum seekers from Syria, which despite having obtained on Jan. 20 visas to enter the United States as refugees following a Homeland Security Department vetting, were turned back in Ukraine to their camp in Jordan on Jan. 27. Airline officials cited Trump’s executive order in nixing the family’s flight to the United States.

The mother and her daughters, ages 5 and 8, seek to reunite with the father of the family, who is already in the United States. They were allowed back into Jordan, “but in such cases, there is a risk that people who leave to become refugees in the United States will not be let back in, or worse,” Hetfield said.

Twitter account tells tragic tales of Jewish refugees killed after US turned them away

In May 1939, as the Holocaust was beginning, the United States turned away the M.S. St. Louis, a ship carrying 937 mostly Jewish refugees from Europe. Returning to Europe, 288 were taken in by Great Britain; of those trapped in Western Europe when Germany conquered the continent, 254 died.

Now a Twitter feed is recalling their names and their deaths, one by one.

@Stl Manifest, launched Friday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, goes line by line through the ship’s manifest, or list of passengers, then tells how each passenger was killed. Some of the posts include photos.

The St. Louis set sail from Hamburg carrying 937 Jewish refugees on May 23, 1939. Twenty-nine were able to disembark in Havana, though the Cuban government wouldn’t allow the rest to enter. Subsequent appeals to the United States to let the refugees enter through Miami were rejected. A 1924 law severely restricted immigration from Germany, and anti-immigrant sentiment was prevalent in the United States at the time.

The feed, a project of Russel Neiss, a Jewish educator, comes as the question of whether to admit refugees is again roiling the country. A draft order expected to be signed soon by President Donald Trump would temporarily bar all refugees from being admitted to the United States, and also would ban nationals of several Muslim-majority countries from entering.

Several Jewish groups have opposed the ban, citing the Jewish experience as refugees. In the description of @Stl_Manifest, Neiss wrote #RefugeesWelcome.

A paper evolves and innovates

In 1986, Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Soviet regime released refusenik Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky from prison, the New York Mets won the World Series, and “The Cosby Show” ranked No. 1 on television.

In the same historic year, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles published its inaugural issue on Feb. 28.

On the 40-page newspaper’s first cover, above the headline “Bobbi and the New Jewish Right,” was a photo of Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler, who had sparked the movement against the busing of school children to further the integration of public schools.

In many ways, that first issue, with its mix of politics, personal voices, solid reporting and spirited editorial independence,  has endured as a model for an organization that has grown and changed greatly in the decades since.

In the early 1980s, involved Los Angeles Jews had a choice of two privately owned weeklies, the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger and the free-swinging Heritage, plus The Federation’s Jewish Community Bulletin.

jj_cover_040904The Federation’s lay and professional leadership felt that none of the three publications adequately served the community, and in 1983, a six-person committee set to work to explore the creation of a newspaper.

Attorney Richard Volpert served as committee chair, and, after a year of deliberations, he handed in a report recommending the establishment of a new weekly, financially supported by the Federation, but with complete editorial independence.

At the time, that last suggestion constituted a fairly radical step. Almost all other Jewish weeklies in the country were owned and run by local federations, which rarely, if ever, brooked criticism of Jewish institutions or Israeli policy.

The new editorial concept wasn’t an easy sell to many of Los Angeles’ Federation board members. Quite a few thought, “If we pay for the paper, then we run it,” Volpert recalled, “but I felt that without independence, the paper would have no credibility.”

Eventually, Federation started the paper, investing $660,000 and subsidizing subscriptions for its donors.

One of the strongest advocates for independence was Jonathan Kirsch, the youngest committee member, whose combined background as magazine writer, book critic and attorney specializing in publishing and libel law proved invaluable.

Kirsch has served as pro bono legal counsel for The Journal since its inception.

The next step was to select an editor. Gene Lichtenstein, who had edited a Jewish weekly in the Boston area, written for major national magazines and taught journalism courses at East and West Coast universities, was the pick.

His first two hires were his competitors for the editor’s slot, local writer Marlene Adler Marks and journalist Yehuda Lev, while Volpert became the first board chairman — in effect, publisher — of the fledgling weekly.

jj_cover_051305As editor, Lichtenstein made it his priority to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists, and insisted, at all times, on good writing.

“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said more recently. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”

In the beginning …

“There were no computers,” recalled Toni Van Ness, now an advertising senior account executive at the Journal. “All invoices were typed on an IBM Selectric. There was no email. Ad proofs were copied and then sent by messenger or delivered by sales reps for approval. There were about 20 full-time people on the staff.”

Van Ness shared a small office with Janet Polyak, and the two personified the diversity of the personnel.

“I was a girl from South Central [Los Angeles] who spoke Ebonics, and Janet had a thick Russian accent,” Van Ness recounted. “In the beginning, there was a lot of, ‘What did you say? I didn’t understand you. Can you repeat that?’ ”

Naomi Pfefferman joined the Journal as a reporter in the fall of 1986.

She wrote her first cover story about the rising tensions between Jewish and African-American students on the UCLA campus. Pfefferman soon focused increasingly on movie and art stories, and now is the Journal’s longtime arts and entertainment editor.

jj_cover_062102“It became easier to line up Hollywood celebrities as the paper kept gaining exposure and credibility,” she said.

In its first few months, the Journal received kudos for lively writing, outraged comments from some Jewish organizations and a weak response from advertisers.

Almost from the beginning, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded more control over the paper.

Lichtenstein was meeting monthly at Nibblers restaurant with a four-member Federation subcommittee to chart progress and iron out problems.

Three months after the paper launched, a very influential member of the committee demanded that, from then on, all the paper’s articles be vetted by the committee’s members.

Lichtenstein says he told the committee that “this was a really bad idea.” The proposal was put to a vote and defeated, 3-1.

Nevertheless, dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of the Journal continued, and the Journal came close to being sold to an East Coast Jewish newspaper publisher.

At this critical point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osias Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, personally underwriting a loan from City National Bank to provide working capital for the paper to be an independent entity and continue publication. The group founded Los Angeles Jewish Publications as an independent nonprofit to serve the Jewish community, and the Journal lived to fight another day.

jj_cover_092900Brennglass soon became publisher, and, over the decade of his tenure, he stabilized the paper, which slowly established a solid reputation and started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death in 1997, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, took over as publisher.

However, by 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor led to a parting. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman, who had first joined the staff as a reporter in the mid-’90s.

Changing of the guard

The transition from Lichtenstein to Eshman represented a generational shift in the leadership of the Journal. In addition, Eshman was a local, from a family deeply rooted in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Eshman, a fluent and prolific writer whose interests and expertise range from politics to food, also had lived in Israel and spoke Hebrew.

At the turn of the century, Hirsh’s health deteriorated, Irwin Field took over as acting publisher, and, upon Hirsh’s death in 2003, Field became publisher.

Following on the heels of managing editors Amy Klein and Howard Blume, Susan Freudenheim, previously a longtime arts editor at the Los Angeles Times, joined the Journal as managing editor in 2005, eventually becoming executive editor before departing in 2016 to run Jewish World Watch.

Always forward-thinking, Eshman recognized early on that the future of journalism was rapidly evolving beyond the printed page. His vision was to use digital technology to turn a small, local paper into a media enterprise that reaches deeply into the community, as well as around the world.

“Jews see the world through a particular set of values, and those values shape our journalism,” Eshman said. “The digital revolution has suddenly made it possible to share that point of view with everyone, instantly, Jews and non-Jews.”

The Journal had already launched its first webpage in 1996, but that early effort served primarily as an electronic reprint of the articles and columns running in the weekly print edition.

But gradually, especially with the appointment of Jay Firestone as web and multimedia editor in 2009, jewishjournal.com has evolved into a 24/7, constantly updated news machine with original writing, foreign reporting, videos and dozens of blogs.

After Firestone went on to a post at Facebook, his successor, Jeff Hensiek, oversaw a complete renovation of the site — which goes live this week.

“As the Jewish Journal moves into the next 30 years, we are staying ahead of the curve by drastically expanding our multimedia efforts,” Hensiek said. “We are introducing a new digital media team, partnering with content producers and even entering the world of virtual reality.”

The next chapter

With millions of page views from around the world each month, jewishjournal.com is among the most-viewed Jewish news websites and by far the largest Jewish website in Los Angeles, according to Google Analytics.

In the midst of the 2009 financial crisis, local philanthropists Peter Lowy and Art Bilger, along with Irwin Field and an anonymous donor, stepped in to make major contributions to shore up the paper’s recession-battered finances and to help position it for more aggressive growth.

Lowy and Bilger said they were inspired by the growth of the Journal beyond its original scope and audience, and by its record of community service.
“The future for print media isn’t the rosiest, but this is a way we can add philanthropy to a business enterprise,” Lowy told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “This is an experiment in what I would call a community media group. The Journal is very important to the Jewish community. But we think this might work for any communal group.”

With the addition to the board of Lowy, Leon Janks, an additional member and Bilger (who has since stepped down), the Journal  undertook a major reorganization and diversification of its corporate structure, forming TRIBE Media Corp. to reflect its broader vision and ambitions.

Part of the changes included hiring columnist David Suissa as president of TRIBE Media Corp. when Eshman was made publisher/editor-in-chief.

Suissa, with 30 years of experience in advertising as founder of Suissa/Miller, and deep roots in Jewish life, increased the paper’s advertising and fundraising efforts.

jj_cover_110708“[N]o other Jewish institution can offer this breadth of Jewish experience in such a convenient and mobile package,” Suissa wrote of the Journal. “This makes Jewish journalism — whether offered digitally or on paper — the ultimate modern-day vehicle to ignite Jewish sparks and keep us continually connected to our community, our tradition and one another.”

Suissa and Eshman’s often contrasting points of view have made news themselves. During the Iran nuclear deal debate, JTA reported on how the Jewish Journal stood out among Jewish news outlets for offering sharply divergent opinions in its pages.

Who we are now

Led by Eshman and Suissa, TRIBE Media Corp. consists of four divisions. They are the weekly Jewish Journal; jewishjournal.com; the production of live events and videos; and JewishInsider.com.

TRIBE acquired Washington, D.C.-based Jewish Insider in 2015. Founded and edited by Max Neuberger, Jewish Insider (JI) provides breaking news, curated sources and politcal analysis. Its Daily Kickoff newsletter has become a must-read for diplomats, journalists, activists and philanthropists around the world. This year, JI expanded to include full-time New York and Capitol Hill correspondents.

In 2016, Julia Moss joined TRIBE as director of community engagement as the company seeks to bring its content to the community through events and video.  TRIBE’s many online videos and live feeds have attracted millions of viewers, including its annual live cast of Nashuva congregation’s Kol Nidre services, which last year attracted 90,000 views. A 2016 Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund grant will enable TRIBE to develop a dedicated video production team.

Moss also has increased the Journal’s fundraising efforts among foundations and individuals.

None of this has weakened the Journal’s devotion to its founding principles of independent, high-quality journalism.

Over the years, it has been the big story — often an unpredictable disaster — that pushes Journal reporters and editors to battle deadlines and transmit the first drafts of history to their readers. To mention only a couple of examples, in the 1990s there were the Northridge earthquake and the shooting spree by a white supremacist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center.

In the first decade of this century, the Journal broke news on the killing of Daniel Pearl by terrorists and murder at the Los Angeles International Airport’s El Al ticket counter.

In its coverage, the printed and electronic Journal count on a large roster of experienced and diverse correspondents in the field, be it an Egyptian reporter filing from Cairo or Israeli journalists tracking the crises and achievements of Israeli politicians, entrepreneurs and average citizens.

jj_cover_120304In another category are the long-range investigative and analytical stories, such as the lengthy survival battles of the Los Angeles-area Jewish community centers or the successes and weaknesses of institutions such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, American Jewish University and Federation.

During the Iran nuclear debate, the Journal conducted a national scientific poll that made international news, showing that a plurality of American Jews supported the deal. Its coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France earned the Journal a special commendation from the Los Angeles Press Club (LAPC).  And senior writer Danielle Berrin’s 2016 cover story on sexual harassment made international news.

As a model, the new corporation “is redefining community journalism for the digital age,” Eshman said, and outside observers seem to agree.
The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s English-language daily, noted that “The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles … is truly cutting edge in pursuing a 21st century platform mix.”

Former Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey wrote in a column in 2010, headlined “New Life for Jewish Journal,” that the paper is successfully meeting the tough challenges posed by the economy and the general media market.

“If [the Journal’s] experience holds lessons for other ethnic and religious-oriented publishers, it’s that you can do good by being good,” Rainey concluded.

The quality that marked the original Journal’s writers and columnists continues to this day.

Media expert Marty Kaplan’s biweekly political analysis has earned two Columnist of the Year Awards from the LAPC. Former reporter Jared Sichel received an LAPC Journalist of the Year Award in 2014. Dennis Prager, Gina Nahai, Raphael Sonenshein, Bill Boyarsky, Judea Pearl, Danielle Berrin and Jonathan Kirsch — yes, that one — all contribute regular columns from across the political and cultural spectrum.

In addition, a rowdy Letters to the Editor section, a weekly Torah Portion and a contributor-driven Opinion section ensure that the Journal remains the most lively and diverse gathering space for the Jews of Los Angeles and beyond.

Following Trump’s inauguration: What’s next?

As President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration approached, Jewish Insider — a division of TRIBE Media, which produces the Journal — asked a diverse group of experts and activists from across the Jewish community about their expectations for the upcoming administration in its first 100 days, its relationship with Israel and more.

Analysts in Israel, for example, are hoping the new commander in chief adopts a more assertive approach in the Middle East. “I hope President Trump will restore America’s deterrent power, making its enemies think twice before they drag the U.S. or its allies into another war,” Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Questions remain as to whether Trump’s presidency might push Israel away from the bipartisan support it traditionally has received. As former White House Communications Director Ann Lewis explained, “Unfortunately, it seems the Trump administration strategy is to make Israel a partisan issue, one that divides the Jewish community and our allies. That’s bad math and bad politics.” 

And there is still the eternally thorny issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it might be impacted by the change in American leadership. Millennial activist Erin Schrode, a former congressional candidate in Marin County, said she remains hopeful: “The United States leadership cannot — and hopefully will not — allow Israel as a whole or specific Jewish communities to be singled out and blamed as the impediment to regional peace in any forum or global context.”

What follows are not definitive answers to what we’re all wondering as the Trump era in America begins, but a sampling of perspectives from politicos, domestic and abroad, liberal and conservative. 

Jewish Insider: What are your expectations of a President Trump?

Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S.: President-elect Trump should abide by his word and move the American embassy to Jerusalem. He should strengthen the natural alliance between Israel and the U.S. through strengthening Israel’s deterrence capability. He should help us to fight BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), especially by blocking biased U.N. resolutions.

New York City Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn): I expect President Trump will be more pragmatic than candidate Trump.

Noam Neusner, White House Jewish liaison for George W. Bush: Washington has never seen anything like a Donald Trump administration. It’s impossible to predict what he will do, but one thing is for sure — 100 days won’t limit him in any way.

Andrew Weinstein, a prominent Democratic donor: My expectations of Donald Trump are extraordinarily low. I believe he and his team are historically unprepared to assume the awesome responsibilities of the presidency. As someone who loves his country, I am rooting for Trump to succeed, but given his post-election conduct and comments, I don’t think it’s likely. 

Tevi Troy, former deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Jewish liaison for President George W. Bush: President-elect Trump has defied expectations so often that I am loath to make predictions. I have been generally pleased with his cabinet and staff picks, who have been both qualified and conservative. Based on what I’ve seen in the transition, I expect to see an activist first 200 — not 100 — days, with lots of both regulatory and legislative activity. 

Hank Sheinkopf, Democratic political consultant: President Trump will do exactly what President-elect Trump said he would do.

Erin Schrode, activist: I’m an eternal optimist, yet in this case, I fear the worst — especially for the most vulnerable among us. In 100 short days, the U.S. government could, or lay the groundwork to, reverse decades of veritable real-world progress. I see Trump already beginning to dismantle the very infrastructure that allows us — the activists, the citizens, the stakeholders — to push for and bring about change. I see Congress repealing without replacement, following that similar and perilous trend.


JI: What will the relationship between the Trump administration and the Jewish community look like?

Greenfield: The relationship between President Trump and most Jewish groups will likely be contentious with the exception of Orthodox Jewish groups that traditionally skew Republican.

Neusner: Cautious and wary, on both sides. But both sides of that relationship have a lot to gain by regular dialogue, and they’d both be smart to focus on where they can work together.

Weinstein: Trump’s relationship with Jewish organizations will be similar to his relationship with other entities and individuals. Those that praise him will have a seat at the table, and those that don’t will be left out in the cold. That’s unfortunate because listening to all of the voices would give him a better understanding of our diverse community.

Troy: There is a healthy number in the cabinet and the White House staff, with more likely to come. And Trump seems certain to have much friendlier relations with Israel than the outgoing Obama administration. I fear that will not improve relations with the Democratic-leaning American-Jewish community writ large, but it should lead to strong relations with the increasingly Republican Orthodox Jewish world. 

Alan Dershowitz, attorney and author: I have an open mind. I’m concerned about the growing instability around the world and worry that his unpredictability may contribute to that instability. But I want to give him a chance to do the right things. 

Sheinkopf: Liberal Jewish organizations will continue to lose influence. Israel advocates will be quiet initially. 

Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, scholar and author: I would urge them to play a moderating role and advocate for more inclusive, less-polarized behaviors — as they did during the election campaign. Whether President Trump will listen to them is as yet uncertain. If the present behavior pattern continues and policies unfold as they have started in the past month, then the liberal Jewish organizations will be at constant loggerheads with the administration. The right-wing organizations (such as ZOA [Zionist Organization of America] and pro-settler groups) will be supportive and laudatory. 


JI: Will Israel become more of a partisan issue?

Ayalon: I hope not. U.S. national security interests and morals should not be partisan. Hence, support for Israel should remain bipartisan, as it has always been. Unfortunately, lately we have seen some far-left elements of the Democratic Party that are trying to change this, such as Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison. 

Greenfield: There is enough political support in both parties for Israel to remain bipartisan. A good example of that is the significant number of senior Democratic members of Congress who slammed President Obama for the U.N. resolution [critical of Israeli settlements]. That’s good. Because it’s not in Israel’s interest for Israel to be a partisan issue.

Neusner: It already is — the party’s leadership and major supporters are still meaningfully and overwhelmingly pro-Israel, but a party’s base determines the party’s future — and the Democratic base has turned against Israel. The pro-Israel Democratic activists have their work cut out for them.

Weinstein: The United States and Israel share an unbreakable bond that should never be subjected to partisan politics. Our common values and interests demand nothing less. Sadly, some Republicans try to equate blind devotion to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu with support for Israel. That’s just wrong. The reality is many of the most pro-Israel members of congress are Democrats and that’s not going to change. 

Dershowitz: If Keith Ellison becomes chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that would endanger the bipartisan nature of support for Israel. No one who voted against funding the Iron Dome can be deemed pro-Israel, especially in light of his past associations with [Louis] Farrakhan. 

Sheinkopf: Israel will continue to be defined as a partisan issue. The more conservative, more religious, the more support. Jewish activists, however, will have to increase their activities and not take younger evangelicals for granted. 

Ann Lewis, White House communications director in the Clinton administration: I think this new administration poses a serious challenge for the Jewish community. For decades, we have built bipartisan support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, based on shared values and shared strategic interests. Unfortunately, it seems the Trump administration strategy is to make Israel a partisan issue. … It would reduce our ability to be effective on everything we care about: U.S.-Israel and domestic issues alike. With so much at stake, I think the American Jewish community will be smart enough to overcome attempts to divide us — but we will have work to do. 


JI: What about the state of the Iran deal going forward?

Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry: The agreement with Iran is dangerous for Israel and the West as a whole. It expires after little more than a decade, allowing Iran to resume unlimited uranium enrichment with fast centrifuges. The agreement puts no limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program, which will give it the ability to strike America, just as its enrichment program is restarted. The West needs an entirely new approach.

Ayalon: Israel and the U.S. must tighten their coordination and make sure that the Iranians abide by the current agreement to every letter. Any breach, however slight, must bear severe consequences. The other members of the P5+1 should follow suit, with renewed American leadership.

Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp.: It’s extremely difficult to predict what the new president’s policies will be on a range of foreign policy issues, including the Iran deal. Of course, he has made no secret of his dislike of the agreement, but key Cabinet nominees like [Secretary of Defense designate] Gen. James Mattis have indicated they would support working with allies to enforce it. And at the end of the day, it is an international agreement that, by and large, is working to keep the lid on Iran’s nuclear program. The wisest course of action would be to strictly enforce the deal as it exists. But I would expect increased pressure on Iran in an array of other areas with the full support of the new Congress. We may be back to a period of escalation with Iran, which could be dangerous, particularly if the communication channels Secretary of State John Kerry set up with his Iranian counterpart do not continue.

Dershowitz: I hope Trump insists on enforcing the prologue to the agreement, which reaffirms that Iran will never seek to develop or obtain nuclear weapons. 

To sign up for Jewish Insider’s morning briefing providing a succinct overview of the news, buzz and stories of the day, go to jewishinsider.com.

Thank you, Obama

Thank you, President Barack Obama, for serving the country for the past eight years.

Thank you, Obama, for not moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. You were wise enough to follow the lead of your Democratic and Republican predecessors and realize the chaos such a move could cause would not be worth the cost. There is no doubt the embassy should be in Jerusalem. There is no question that Jerusalem is the eternal and contemporary capital of Israel. But thank you for knowing that not every right must be claimed at any cost.

Thank you for protecting Israel when and where it mattered most: with off-budget millions for Iron Dome, for standing up for Israel’s right to defend itself in the Gaza war, for a record-setting $38 billion in aid. 

Thank you for declaring as eloquently as any president ever has, and in as many international forums as possible, the value and justice of a Jewish state. Thank you for trying to protect that state from pursuing policies that will endanger its own existence.

Thank you for the Iran deal. Before the deal, Iran was weeks from attaining nuclear bomb capability. Now the world has a decade before the mullahs have the capability of developing a bomb. You tackled a problem that only had gotten worse under previous American and Israeli leaders. Despite fierce opposition, you found a solution that even those Israelis who hated it have grown to see as beneficial. 

Thank you for killing Osama bin Laden. And for taking out al-Qaida’s senior leadership. And for stopping and reversing gains by ISIS. You know who’s really happy to see you go? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

Thank you for standing up to Vladimir Putin. You saw the expansionist, anti-democratic nature of Putin’s actions in Ukraine and quickly confronted him. Perhaps that opposition slowed what may have been an inevitable march through the Baltics. There is nothing wrong with having positive relations with Russia, but “positive” cannot mean giving the Putin regime a pass. 

Thank you for recognizing our Cuba embargo was a failed policy and that the time for change had come. 

Thank you for steering the country through the recession. Thank you for cutting unemployment in half. And for doing so in the face of Republican obstructionism on the kind of infrastructure bill that your successor now likely will get through. 

Thank you for doubling clean energy production. For recognizing that our dependence on fossil fuels can’t help but degrade our environment and hold us back from being competitive in the green energy future, and embolden corrupt and backward regimes from Venezuela to the Middle East to Russia. 

Thank you for saving the American auto industry. You revived General Motors with $50 billion in loans, saving 1.2 million jobs and creating $35 billion in tax revenue so far. Have you checked out GM’s Chevy Bolt? All electric, 240 miles per charge, drives like a rocket and made in Detroit. They should call it the “Obamacar.”

Thank you for the Paris Agreement to address climate change. Thank you for throwing America’s lot in with the rest of the planet.

Thank you for the Affordable Care Act. It has brought the security of health care to millions. It has saved lives. It has kept the rate of cost increases in premiums lower in the past eight years than they were in the previous eight years. It needs to be fixed — what doesn’t? — but only with better ideas, not worse ones.

Thank you for Merrick Garland. It was a great idea while it lasted.

Thank you for trying to get immigration reform through Congress, and for pursuing the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which let 5 million people already living and working here come out of the shadows. 

Thanks for Michelle. Not just her brains and biceps, but her choice of causes. Your wife saw all the good the food movement had accomplished from the grass roots up and planted it squarely in the front yard of the White House, where it would grow even more from the top down.

Thank you for trying. You grappled with one great chaos after another, and sometimes you fell short. In Syria, you needed a smarter course of action. In Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, you underestimated the need, early on, to deal with Israeli fears and Palestinian obstructionism. As for ending the Sudan embargo, the jury is out. Stateside, your administration should have put some of the bad guys of the recession behind bars and found fixes that better addressed the wealth gap. 

Time will reveal more blemishes — and heal some of the scars. But in the meantime:

Thank you. Thank you for not embarrassing us, your family or yourself. Though your opponents and their friends at “Fox and Friends” tried to pin scandals to you, none could stick. In my lifetime, there has never been an administration so free from personal and professional moral stain. 

Thank you for the seriousness, dignity, grace, humor and cool you brought to the Oval Office. Thank you for being my president.

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

Trump: Jared Kushner a ‘natural’ to solve Mideast conflict

President-elect Donald Trump reiterated that his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner could head efforts to broker a Middle East peace deal.

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild and The Times of London published Monday, Trump was asked what role Kushner, husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, would play in his role as an unpaid adviser to his administration

“Oh, really . . . Ya know what, Jared is such a good kid and he’ll make a deal with Israel that no one else can — ya know he’s a natural, he’s a great deal, he’s a natural — ya know what I was talking about, natural — he’s a natural deal-maker — everyone likes him,” replied Trump, according to a transcript of the interview in The Times of London.

Neither interviewer, British Conservative Party parliamentarian Michael Gove nor Kai Diekmann, former chief editor of Bild, pressed Trump on Kushner’s qualifications for the Mideast negotiator’s role, but instead asked what role if any Ivanka would play in his administration.

“Well, not now, she’s going to Washington,” Trump replied, “and they’re buying a house or something, but ya know she’s got the children, so Jared will be involved as we announced — no salary, no nothing. If he made peace — who’d be better at that then Jared, right — there’s something about him . . .”

Kushner, 36, an Orthodox Jew who is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, has headed his family’s real estate business and is the publisher of The Observer, a New York newspaper covering real estate and finance. Although Kushner has no experience in government or diplomacy, Trump has said that Kushner “knows the region, knows the people, knows the players.”

Kushner’s views on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have not been made public, although he was said to have contributed to a speech Trump gave to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March 2016. In that speech, Trump vowed to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, “the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” and said the Palestinians must accept as a given the closeness of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been moribund and figures on both sides have been pessimistic about their revival. Trump has offered no details on how he would approach Israeli-Palestinian peace, although he said he would like a crack at negotiating a deal. With his campaign’s approval, the Republican Party over the summer adopted a platform that for the first time since 2004 does not mention a two-state solution, deferring to Israel on what the parameters of peace negotiations should be.

The enduring spirit of the Sotloffs

The first time Shirley and Art Sotloff played for me the recording in which their son,

Trump’s Middle East policy is unpredictable

When political outsider Donald Trump claimed victory in the United States presidential election, most of the world was shocked, as no one had any idea what his foreign policy agenda was — or if he even had one. 

“I don’t believe that we have ever faced an international political reality that is as unpredictable as the one we are seeing develop in Washington today,” Gershon Baskin, co-chair of the Israel-Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI), said. 

This unpredictability is especially evident in the Middle East, where analysts are concerned with three main issues: the civil war in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump has expressed contradictory views on regional issues. Some argue that he simply will align himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin, rip up the Iran nuclear deal and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

One thing analysts do not question, however, is Trump’s ability to shake up things. 

“Anything is possible, but not everything is probable,” Dan Rothem, a senior policy consultant at Washington’s S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, said. 

It seems, though, this unpredictability might be just what the Middle East needs. 

“As a Palestinian, I am more optimistic,” Suheir Jamil, a former researcher for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said. “I have a belief that things, if they don’t get radical, then they won’t be solved.” 

“Donald Trump is unpredictable, yes, but for the benefit of all,” Jamil added. 

President Barack Obama’s administration has often chosen non-intervention in the conflict-ridden region. “The Middle East lost a lot of its importance in the past five years even though it has become more and more problematic,” Mofid Deak, a former U.S. diplomat of Palestinian descent, said. “I am not too sure that a U.S. president wants to invest a lot of his time in resolving the issues of the Middle East.”

Some blame the Obama administration for the escalation of the conflict in Syria, for not doing enough to forge a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and for brokering a nuclear deal with a hostile enemy, Iran.

Trump campaigned on a pro-Israel, pro-Russia, anti-Iran platform, and this is reflected in his choice of members of his cabinet and administration.

As an ardent supporter of Israel, Trump announced his support for the contentious plan to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move that could incite violence from the Palestinians. Moving the embassy would recognize Israel’s determination to have a united Jerusalem as its capital and solidify Israel’s control over East Jerusalem. Palestinians say that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Moving the embassy could polarize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“For Israel, a Trump presidency means a complete reorganizing both of priorities in terms of policy and personnel,” Yisrael Medad, a volunteer spokesperson for the council that oversees Jewish communities in the West Bank, said. 

This also could be a way of provoking the Muslim world, and many hardliners in the United States and Israel would probably support this decision. 

“The most important thing is that the new presidency will understand that the Islamic radicals want to change the world order and eventually make Islam great again,” Yossi Kuperwasser, director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said. “Whereas Trump says he wants America to be great again.” 

Many believe that moving the embassy could trigger violence because it would be a clear symbol of support for the State of Israel and would halt any possible peace negotiations. 

“The peace process is like a bicycle,” Deak said. “You have to keep cycling, otherwise the bicycle will fall.”

However, according to Rebecca Bronstein, a researcher at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, “The two-state solution is not even on Trump’s agenda.” 

The Iran deal, on the other hand, is. 

Trump’s supporters in Israel want him to scrap the deal because they see Iran, which funds the militant Shia group Hezbollah, as a threat, especially with nuclear weapons. The deal’s supporters say that it was the best option for the Obama administration and that it has, in fact, decreased the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. 

Foreign issues were not at the top of Trump’s campaign agenda. Some analysts believe he will focus most of his energy, at least at the beginning of his term, on domestic issues. However, Kuperwasser sees a lot of changes in store for the region. 

“The entire attitude toward the U.S. is going to change because, until now, radicals believed that they could benefit from the weakness of the West as manifested by the policies of President Obama,” he asserted.  

Others, like Rothem, are unsure. 

“The very foundation of the world order as we have come to know is put into question,” Rothem said. “Some issues are going to look very different in four years than today. It is very hard to guess which ones.”

Israel again faces world’s rejection of settlements

Ahead of the unknowns a Donald Trump administration will bring to American Middle East policy, President Barack Obama’s administration allowed a bracing reminder on Dec. 23 that the international community does not recognize the validity of Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The U.S. abstention on the U.N. Security Council vote was hardly unprecedented, but neither was it entirely consistent with recent U.S. policy. The Obama administration did not quite endorse Resolution 2334, but its abstention ensured the resolution, reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in lands captured by Israel in 1967, would be adopted. As one of the five permanent members of the 15-member council, the U.S. could have exercised its veto power. Instead, the resolution passed, 14-0.

For 24 years, the United States under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama insulated Israel from an international community that, since 1967, has sought to exact consequences for its continued presence in disputed lands. After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, those three administrations considered the isolation of the Jewish state at the United Nations to be counterproductive to encouraging Israel to take bold steps for peace.

By 2004, George W. Bush had effectively recognized the large settlement blocs bordering 1967 Israel as “realities on the ground” and suggested that the Palestinians would be compensated for the territory with land swaps. Obama’s apparent message to the world is that incentives did not work in slowing settlement expansion. The carrot having wilted, the president reintroduced the stick.

Obama administration officials have said plainly that the expansion of settlements absent a peace process led to the decision to abstain. Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in her explanation of the abstention, listed the considerations that made the administration hesitate to allow the resolution — chief among them the historic anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and Palestinian intransigence. But she also noted that since the Oslo Accords, the settler population has increased by 355,000.

As much as the language in the resolution has stirred cries of “unprecedented” in Israel and in some pro-Israel precincts in the United States, it is broadly consistent with resolutions that the United States allowed from 1967 at least through the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency in January 1981.

The recent U.N. resolution reaffirmed “that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity,” and constituted a “flagrant violation” of international law. Resolution 465, passed in March 1980 under Carter with a U.S. vote in favor, determined that “all measures” that would change the physical or demographic character of the occupied lands, including Jerusalem, “have no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It further called on countries to “distinguish” between Israel and the West Bank.

Under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the council did not explicitly reject settlements as illegal, but referred to earlier resolutions that did so while continuing to assail the occupation as untenable. 

The practical consequences of the resolution passed Dec. 23 seem limited. If there was an unprecedented element to the affair, it was in the response by Israel’s leadership and some in the American pro-Israel community. 

“The Obama administration carried out a disgraceful and anti-Israel trap at the United Nations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the lighting of the first Chanukah candle.

Statements by mainstream pro-Israel groups were relatively temperate — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee called the abstention “particularly regrettable.” On the right, the responses were more unleashed.

“Obama’s an anti-Semitic Israel-hater sympathizing with radical Islamic terrorists,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, in his first-ever tweet.

Netanyahu and his ambassador to Washington, D.C., Ron Dermer, said they were counting on the Trump administration to reverse course. Dermer said in multiple interviews he had evidence that the Obama administration did not simply abstain but colluded in framing the resolution, an accusation strongly denied by administration officials.

Israel is now looking ahead to a new American order. At the Chanukah ceremony, Netanyahu spoke of “our friends in the incoming administration” — David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador designate, is an active supporter of the settlement movement.

Will Trump usher in that era? His pronouncements after the resolution were relentlessly critical, promising in one tweet that “things will be different” at the U.N. after he assumes the presidency, and lamenting in another that the council’s action “will make it much harder to negotiate peace.” 

In total, the statements appeared to regret the passage of the resolution — but stopped well short of pledging to reverse its effects.

Obama: Pan-Islamic wolf in progressive clothing

The December 23, 2016 UN vote proves that President Barack Obama only paid lip service to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict during his eight years in office. Turns out that this proud progressive's real goal all along was to bring the last colonial outpost in the world to heel. 

Since it's not politically correct for a US President to call for the demise of the Jewish state, a death by a thousand UN resolutions will have to suffice.

Next stop: international sanctions against Israel.

The Obama administration's decision to abstain on UN Resolution 2334 has even outraged leading Congressional Democrats, who maintain that a two-state solution must be negotiated directly between the Israelis and Palestinians. 

However, even good liberals like Jerrold Nadler, Richard Blumenthal, Hakeem Jeffries, Adam Schiff, Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden are missing the point. The abstention wasn't merely a drastic change in tactics, meant to force Israel to accept the inevitability of a Palestinian state without direct negotiations. Rather, the UN vote was a vote for Arab rejectionism, a codification of a perpetual state of conflict between the oppressor Jews and the oppressed Muslims.

Single handedly, President Obama has sought to reverse the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that facilitated one of the great land grabs in history. As a result of this deal, Britain and France divvied up much of the post-World War I Middle East.

In the next significant example of colonial meddling in the Middle East, a Hashemite from Arabia, Prince Abdullah I, was convinced by Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill to not aid brother Faisal’s war against the new French Mandate in Syria.

In return, Abdullah I was rewarded with 75% of the new British Mandate of Palestine.

Long before the two-state solution was embraced by effete diplomats and tenured college professors, there was the 1936 British Peel Commission that would have divided the remaining 25% of Mandatory Palestine into two nations: one Arab, one Jewish.

Setting the stage for the next 80 years of Jewish compromises being met with Arab rejectionism, the expansionist minded Abdullah I spurned the deal, despite early Zionists leaders' reluctant acceptance of the Peel Commission.

United by a desire to rid the region of European Jewish interlopers, Arab leaders overcame their rivalries and joined forces to violently protest the British administration of the Palestine Mandate.

Another swipe against colonial intervention was the UN partition plan of 1947, which Zionist leaders approved and the Arab world reacted to by launching another war to make the region Judenrein.

However, desperate for international legitimacy, Israel continued to play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules of statecraft, instead of annexing Judea in Samaria in 1956, 1967, or 1973.

Yet basing international relations on a playbook written at 10 Downing Street inadvertently provided fodder for Barack Obama, Security of State John Kerry and other self-described progressives, who see the world through an anti-colonialist lens. Israel's desire to simply exist among the family of nations is perceived as a continuation of arbitrarily drawn imperial borders that are to blame for all that's wrong with the Middle East today.

Based on his outsourcing of US Middle East policy to Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey, along with his lackluster support for the Kurds, Christians and Jews in the Middle East, one can posit that Barack Obama is at peace with the idea of pan-Arabism. 

Guided by an anti-colonialist belief that rich European countries got rich by looting the indigenous populations of poor Middle Eastern countries, Obama took a small step to right this historic injustice at the United Nations, when he launched a direct assault on Israel's right to exist.

Hamas, not settlements, is root of problem

The latest diplomatic ambush of Israel was made possible only by the United States’ historic reversal of its decades-long Mideast policy of vetoing one-sided anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations Security Council.

President Barack Obama’s abstention was actually an endorsement of an onerous one-sided resolution that among other items, defines Judaism’s holiest site as “occupied Palestinian territory” and encourages nations to undertake the boycott of goods made by Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Make no mistake, this new resolution — developed with the Obama administration’s knowledge and some say with its collusion — is much worse and more dangerous than the U.N.’s notorious 1975 Zionism equals Racism resolution. It radically undermines — if not destroys — Israel’s relationship with the U.N. It makes any role for the U.N. in future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations impossible. It has effectively removed any incentive for the Palestinian Authority to have face-to-face negotiations with the Jewish state. Indeed, there are stories suggesting that Secretary of State John Kerry will present a detailed map that would dictate a two-state solution. Not a word from Obama and his secretary of state, not a peep from the hypocrites seated around the Security Council table about the real obstacle to a two-state solution: the continued control of Hamas in Gaza.

In their own countries, the French, British, German, Italian and Ukrainian security forces spend days and nights searching every street corner for suspected terrorists threatening their citizenry. Yet, the mantra of what is blocking the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, remains one word: not terrorism, but settlements. While these civilian communities are overwhelmingly populated by peaceful citizens, every carefully crafted diplomatic initiative judiciously omits any mention of one other word — Hamas — whose raison d’être is the complete destruction of the State Israel.

You want to guarantee a peaceful two-state solution? Convene a Security Council meeting on how to dislodge Hamas from Gaza, and you’ll have one.

Before buying Obama and Kerry’s roadmap, we would suggest checking with the millions of Syrians, gassed, shot and dislocated, all while Kerry presented one useless piece of paper after another, in search of a “peaceful solution” for the people of Aleppo.

That these bare-knuckle, anti-Israel maneuvers are launched against America’s only reliable Middle East ally by its longtime ally, is despicable enough, but that it has been launched at 11:59 p.m. of the Obama administration is almost beyond belief.

Israel, her friends and allies across the United States are grateful that President-elect Donald Trump has said that “things will be different” after Jan. 20. We look forward to his dispatching our new ambassador to Israel to start working in Jerusalem as the new U.S. embassy is finally built in the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

In the meantime, the American people have a right to know where our senators and congress members, Democratic and Republican, stand on the Obama U.N. gambit. Is his vision shared by any of our elected officials? We all have a right to know whether other decision makers consider the Western Wall — our Kotel — to be located on stolen property. And with 200 disputed territories around the globe, is it moral or anti-Semitic to focus exclusively on only this one?

During 2017, the U.N. and UNESCO will have new leaders taking the helm. They might want to consider the price of continuing the one-sided bullying of Israel by the United Nations. They should reflect on the fact that the U.S. has refused to pay $400 million in dues to UNESCO because its acceptance of “Palestine” as a member state violated a U.S. statute signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton. If the U.N., under new leadership, continues its nonstop demonizing of the Jewish state, we hope that the new Trump administration will seriously consider endorsing Sen. Lindsey Graham’s threatened bill to downsize the United States’ oversized, annual financial contribution.

As for President Obama and Secretary Kerry, their last-minute U.N. gambit seeks to add a fourth “achievement” to their Middle East legacy. Here are the other three:

1. Failure to destroy ISIS, early and outright.

2. The Iran nuclear deal that has succeeded only in further empowering the Mullahocracy.

3. Syrian ‘Red Line’ debacle.

The Jewish people are a people of memory. We approach our collective future with eyes wide open. No matter what the pressure, no Israeli government, left, right or center will ever accept that our people’s sacred sites are built on stolen land; nor will it ever validate the lies denying the Jewish people’s 3,500-year link to the Holy Land — those very lies that now pass for historic fact at the United Nations.

And rest assured that Israel will never walk the gangplank for the convenience of a hypocritical world.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Dean and Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean.

The biggest sin on the planet: Jews building houses

Listen to John Kerry’s speech on the comatose Middle East “peace process,” or follow the serial condemnations against Israel at the United Nations, including the latest Security Council resolution 2334, and you’d think that the biggest sin in the world is that Jews build too much. They build too many houses, too many schools, too many synagogues, too many hospitals, too many roads.

Think about that. The biggest problem with the Jews is not that they go on terror rampages that murder thousands of innocents, or that they jail poets, hang gays or stone women. No, it’s that they build too much.

The reason this Jewish construction is considered such a sin, of course, is that it’s happening inside disputed areas which Israel captured in a defensive war in 1967, when its Arab neighbors did everything they could to throw the Jews into the sea.

One of those disputed areas is East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and the holiest active site in Judaism, the Western Wall. From the time Israel was created in 1948 until 1967, East Jerusalem was administered by Jordan and became a decrepit and closed place where holy sites were routinely destroyed.

After its liberation by the Jews in 1967, Jerusalem flourished, becoming an open, international city where all religions were honored.

But there was a problem. The United Nations, that same anti-Israel haven that once declared that “Zionism is racism,” decided that these liberated areas were “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and that any Jewish construction in these areas, including at the Western Wall, was a “flagrant violation of international law.”

Never mind that from 1948 to 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, not one soul ever called it “occupied territory.” Hardly anyone, in fact, ever talked about a Palestinian national cause. That cause only came to life, and that land only became “occupied,” after the Jews took it over in 1967.

You’d never know any of this from hearing Kerry tell the world that these Jewish settlements are such a pernicious “threat” to peace because they’re taking up space for a Palestinian state. What he failed to mention, as most people do, is that there already is a Palestinian state—it’s called Gaza, and it’s run by religious anti-Semitic madmen sworn to destroy the Zionist state.

If you go by Kerry’s speech, this desire to destroy the Jewish state, not to mention the chronic Palestinian refusal to negotiate directly with Israel, are smaller obstacles to peace than having too many Jews building too many homes in too many wrong places.

Kerry also failed to mention that Palestinian Arabs rejected opportunities for statehood in 1937, 1939, 1947, 1979, 1993, 2000 and 2008, and, as historian Mitchell Bard writes, “settlement construction would have come to a halt if the Palestinians had taken advantage of any of these opportunities.” That was, perhaps, as inconvenient a truth as the fact that when Israel did evacuate all of its settlements from Gaza, it was rewarded not with peace but with 20,000 terror rockets.

In his zeal to blame Jewish settlers for making a two-state solution “impossible,” Kerry also glibly dismissed the possibility of Jews living in a Palestinian state. After all, if there are 1.8 million Palestinian Arabs living in a Jewish state, why can’t there be any Jews living in a Palestinian state?

In the event that Jewish settlers and the Israeli army were ever to abandon the West Bank, Kerry seems to have overlooked a complication, such as: Hamas and ISIS swooping in and turning the West Bank into a mini-Syria and chopping off Palestinian heads left and right. I would call that a serious threat to peace.

In any case, you would think from listening to Kerry that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been on a wild settlement building spree. In fact, as Evelyn Gordon has documented in detail in Commentary, data from from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows that there has been “less settlement construction under Netanyahu than any other of his predecessors.” Moreover, she adds, “fully three quarters of the growth in the settlements’ population under Netanyahu has been in the major blocs, which every serious international peace proposal for decades has concluded will remain Israeli under any Israeli-Palestinian deal.”

And where did 90 percent of this growth in population come from? Not from Jews moving to the settlements but from natural growth– from women having babies. That’s not according to right-wing sources but from a study by Shaul Arieli, a “veteran peace activist who is also a virulent opponent of Netanyahu and the settlements.”

The bottom line is this: You can push for a two-state solution without buying into the anti-Israel narrative that demonizes Jewish settlers and turns them into the greatest impediment to Mideast peace. By being complicit in the criminalization of Jewish settlers, while downplaying Palestinian rejectionism, President Barack Obama has empowered Israel’s enemies and followed the pathetic path of the United Nations, that hypocritical body where hostility to the Jewish state is a way of life.

In so criminalizing Jewish settlements, Obama also did something else—he virtually killed the peace process, because, let’s face it, why would Palestinians negotiate with alleged land thieves?

In this upside down world, where thousands of buildings and innocent lives were just extinguished in Aleppo, wise men like Barack Obama and John Kerry would rather tell the world about the criminal ways of Jews who build too many homes.

If that’s the worst sin of the Jews, I’ll take it.

Kerry questions how much longer U.S. can support Israel under status quo

This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.


fter years of built-up personal frustration, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a lengthy critique of Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a speech at the State Department on Dec. 28, a mere 23 days before leaving office. 

Assailing the current status quo, America’s top diplomat emphasized, “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it will not ever live in peace.” 

In the speech, Kerry criticized Palestinian actions as well. “The murderers of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites, including showing attackers next to Palestinian leaders following attacks,” Kerry noted.

Kerry has invested hundreds of hours mediating between the parties and responded somewhat defensively to criticism from Israeli leaders and members of Congress in recent days during the 70-minute address. 

“They fail to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, that has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values — or even the stated democratic values of Israel — and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a response carried live by CNN, blasted Kerry’s speech as a “big disappointment” while calling the focus on settlements as “obsessive.” “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by world leaders,” Netanyahu declared. 

Netanyahu accused the outgoing secretary of state of paying “lip service to the unremitting campaign of terrorism that has been waged by the Palestinians against the Jewish state for nearly a century.”

From Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated past comments that he would be ready to begin negotiations if Israel were to freeze settlement construction and referenced United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted Dec. 23, condemning Israeli settlements.

“The speech was replete with paternalistic, arrogant lecturing,” Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told Jewish Insider. “The threats to peace and the implementation of a two-state solution are not Israeli settlements, but the non-recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian incitement and violence.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also criticized Kerry for focusing on the settlements while ignoring the fact that Hamas continued launching rockets into Israel after Israel forced settlers to withdraw from all settlements in the Gaza Strip. 

Others recommended Israelis take a hard look at the substance of the secretary of state’s remarks.

“It’s an important speech for those who support the two-state solution and do not want to see Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature being undermined,” Dan Arbell, former deputy chief of Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., told Jewish Insider. 

Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington, said, “I think it’s probably the most sympathetic (speech) to the Palestinian cause given by a major American official.” However, Ibish found the timing of the speech problematic. The address “could have been really meaningful if it had been given two or three years ago and backed up with actual policies with real consequences. But at this point, with a couple of weeks left, it’s almost pointless.”

President-elect Donald Trump indicated last week that he will indeed look to make up for the damage done by the outgoing administration over the weekend. “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore,” Trump tweeted hours before Kerry’s speech. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

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.”

Indian-American student becomes pro-Israel symbol for trying to stay neutral

When Milan Chatterjee arrived at UCLA’s law school in 2014, Middle East politics wasn’t one of his core interests. He describes himself as an Indian American interested in corporate law who has strong connections to his South Asian and Hindu heritage. He has played the Indian tabla drums on multiple recordings with prominent Indian musicians.

But now Chatterjee, who was the Graduate Student Association president at UCLA, has chosen to leave the school before completing his degree in the wake of a nearly yearlong battle with activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

After stipulating that a diversity event would receive no funding if its organizers had any connection to the BDS movement, Chatterjee claims that he was harassed by the activists and that UCLA administrators mishandled an investigation into his alleged policy infractions.

“The administration is working in collusion with BDS activists,” Chatterjee told JTA. “I really feel bad for the Jewish student body. These are some of the nicest, most cultured, most hardworking people I’ve ever met. They come to school to enhance themselves academically and enhance the diversity of the campus. But they’re regularly targeted and bullied by the BDS movement.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of the Hillel at UCLA, said the BDS controversy has not affected the average Jewish Bruin.

“There are far too many incidents, but BDS does not affect the daily lives of our Jewish students,” Lerner said, referring to other recent public altercations at UCLA, such as the one involving Rachel Beyda, who was asked about her Jewish heritage at a student government meeting in 2015. “Students are motivated to get involved, both to fight BDS and even more so to take back their student governments.”

Nevertheless, Chatterjee's public critique of the school has made him a symbol of anti-BDS resistance to pro-Israel alumni and activists. In the past week, over 500 alumni have signed a Change.org petition calling for UCLA to issue a public apology to Chatterjee and rescind its Discrimination Prevention Office report, which concluded that Chatterjee violated the school’s viewpoint neutrality policies.

Some donors have even threatened to stop giving to the school. David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial adviser, has considered taking back an art collection he donated to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Helen Jacobs-Lepor, a vice president of a large biomedical device company, wrote in a letter published on a Facebook page called UCLA Bruins Supporting Milan Chatterjee that she has taken UCLA out of her will.

“I am appalled as to how you treated Milan Chatterjee and your failure to protect him from the vicious actions of the BDS movement,” Jacobs-Lepor wrote.

And in June, the American Jewish Committee gave Chatterjee its inaugural Campus Courage Award for demonstrating “unusual courage and moral clarity in standing up to anti-Semitism and the BDS movement.” Peter Weil, a prominent real estate lawyer and former president of the AJC’s Los Angeles chapter, has given him pro bono legal help.

The issue even made its way onto the desk of U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a staunchly pro-Israel House member who represents the San Fernando Valley district in Los Angeles County. He has corresponded with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, but Sherman is still researching the situation and is not ready to issue a full statement. (Both Sherman and Block are Jewish.)

Sherman told JTA that he is concerned about Chatterjee's claims of harassment and the way the university's report was leaked online.

“I don’t think [UCLA] is a hostile environment for Jews. The question is, is it a hostile environment for Zionist students?” Sherman asked. “To think that you go from being elected graduate student body president to fleeing the university, that is an enormous change in one’s feelings. I would hope that we would make sure that other students don’t feel that.”

It has all been a wild, unexpected ride for Chatterjee, a 27-year-old Las Vegas resident who said he was merely trying to stay completely neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

“For two years … I never had any problems, we worked peacefully with student groups,” he said. “[BDS activists] made a Mount Everest out of a mole hill.”

The ordeal began last October when a campus group called the Diversity Caucus reached out to the graduate student government to ask Chatterjee for funding for a panel event. Chatterjee initially agreed to hold a GSA vote on whether to provide $2,000 for the event, but sent a subsequent email to the Diversity Caucus stipulating that the group could not receive the funding if it engaged with any groups that supported divestment from Israel. He argued that funding Students for Justice in Palestine, a national anti-Zionist group with chapters on many college campuses, would imply taking a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He also said it would have made some members of the student government uncomfortable.

Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA was allowed to have a table outside the event, but the panel discussion itself avoided talk of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pro-Palestinian group complained to the campus administration, which launched an investigation that concluded that Chatterjee broke the school's viewpoint neutrality rules, regardless of his intentions.

In a statement to JTA, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA called Chatterjee’s actions “a direct effort to bar the ability of an organization to associate with or engage in speech about a particular viewpoint.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal sent a letter to the UCLA administration following the original incident, saying that requiring that GSA-funded programs have “zero connection” to BDS supporters violates students' First Amendment rights.

Chatterjee, who is finishing his last year of law school at New York University, alleges that UCLA’s viewpoint neutrality rules were never explained to students — a fact the UCLA report acknowledges — and the school evaluated his actions under a University of California policy titled PACAOS 86.30 that UCLA never formally adopted. He wants UCLA to rescind the report and clear his record.

“This isn’t about free speech or free expression,” Weil said. “He’s not saying that people shouldn’t be entitled to criticize Israel or to defend Israel. His objection is how the university scapegoated him. When he applies to a bar exam, the bar is going to say ‘have you ever been investigated,’ and he’s going to have to explain it.”

Furthermore, Chatterjee claims that UCLA allowed BDS activists to leak the confidential report online. Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang, who headed the report, also wrote about the report on his blog and linked to it.

Chatterjee says pro-BDS students also launched a “smear campaign” that attempted to have him removed as graduate student president three separate times. He blames BDS activists for what he calls “defamatory” articles about him in the student paper and on anti-Zionist websites such as Mondoweiss and The Electronic Intifada. Toward the end of his term, several months after the diversity event, the student government voted to censure him. At one government meeting, Chatterjee says a student declared a “holy war” on him.

In response to an inquiry about the report’s confidentiality, Ricardo Vasquez, UCLA’s associate director of media relations, said the school was legally obligated to provide it to the Los Angeles Times in response to a public records request.

Both Block and Kang declined to respond to JTA’s inquiries. However, Block issued a statement to UCLA stakeholders and other members of the public last week saying that UCLA “does not support divestment from Israel.”

“I personally am extremely proud of our numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions. We have a thriving and vibrant Jewish community at UCLA, and I know from engaging with many of its members that they truly believe that UCLA is a welcoming and nurturing community for their beliefs. That it remains so is non-negotiable,” he wrote. “We will not tolerate anti-Semitism or discrimination against any member of our community. We will not allow groups or individuals to harass others, whether based on beliefs, opinions or speech.”

Weil said that Chatterjee's case should make college administrations formalize the way they handle complaints from the BDS movement.

“The fact is that none of these administrators are trained in how to deal with this stuff. This is new stuff,” Weil said. “BDS is a very sophisticated group … but now you have to figure out how to deal with it.”

Poll: Israeli Jews favor Hillary, but say Trump is better for Israel ‘policy’

Most Israeli Jews would prefer Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump as the next president of the United States — even though more of them think Trump would be better for the “Israeli government’s policy.”

According to a poll released Wednesday, 43 percent of Israeli Jews prefer Clinton as president, compared to 34 percent who want Trump, when asked to choose between the two candidates. But 38 percent say Trump would be better for Israel, compared to 33 percent who say Clinton would be.

On both questions, a large number of people don’t pick a candidate.

The Israel Democracy Institute think tank and Tel Aviv University released its latest Peace Index monthly survey after polling 600 Israelis at the end of August. The margin of error is 4.1 percent.

Some respondents support Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state, even though they don’t think the Democratic candidate “will be better from the standpoint of the Israeli government’s policy,” as the survey puts it. Thirteen percent of the Jews who say Trump, the Republican nominee, would be better for Israel want Clinton to be president. Only 2 percent of Jews who said Clinton would be better for Israel want Trump to be president.

“There seem to be people who support Clinton even though they think she will put more pressure on Israel or be less easy for Israel to deal with in terms of all the support we need from the United States,” Chanan Cohen, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute who helped lead the survey, told JTA.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein were not included in the survey .

In April, Jewish opinion on the subject was nearly reversed. The Peace Index that month found 40 percent thought Clinton would be better for Israel’s interest and 31 percent thought Trump would be.

Since the primary season, when Trump pledged to be a “neutral” broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace, he and the Republican Party have tried to boost their pro-Israel bona fides. On Monday, Republican Trump supporters opened their fifth campaign office in Israel, the first in the West Bank. They predict 85 percent of Americans living in Israel, who they say number 300,000, will vote for the developer and reality TV star.

Still, Trump does not have a plurality of Israeli Jewish support. Even on the political right, only 49 percent support him, with 23 percent preferring Clinton, according to the survey. The left (86 percent) and center (57 percent) have an “overwhelming preference” for Clinton, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

“I expected the right-wing voters to support Trump in bigger numbers, but we can see less than half did,” said Cohen. “I know that in the United States, the right has concerns about Trump’s personality, and we can see this also on the Israel right.”

Among Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population, 58 percent prefer the Democratic nominee and 11 percent the Republican.

Donald Trump speaking at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The poll also probed other issues. Asked about Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who is standing trial in a military court for shooting dead a downed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, most Jewish Israelis “justify” what he did (42 percent strongly and 23 percent moderately). Just a quarter of Israelis “do not justify” the shooting (14 percent strongly and 11 percent moderately).

Jewish Israelis are almost evenly divided on executing captured Palestinian terrorists. Forty-seven percent lean toward killing such a terrorist on the spot, “even if he has been captured and clearly does not pose a threat.” Forty-five percent say he should be handed over to legal authorities.

Support for killing terrorists is highest among right-wingers (62 percent), young people (69 percent ages 18-24) and observant Jews (63 percent of haredi Orthodox and 72 percent of religious or traditional Jews). In April, the Peace Index found that 67 percent of Israelis agreed with the Sephardi chief rabbi’s assertion weeks earlier, which he later took back, that it is a religious imperative to kill Palestinian terrorists.

“We phrased the question differently this time, so you can’t say support has gone down,” Cohen said. “It’s more or less the same I think. It is a really high amount actually to be supporting an illegal action that every soldier is taught is against the army’s rules.”

Though many Israelis disagree with the army’s prosecution of Azaria, the Israel Defense Forces remains by far the most trusted official body in the country. Eighty-seven percent of Israeli Jews put “a lot” or “quite a lot” of trust in the army. Forty-seven percent of Israeli Arabs feel the same way. But Arabs put the most trust in the Supreme Court (64 percent “a lot” or “quite a lot”) — even more than Jews (54 percent).

Amid the controversy over dozens of French towns banning Muslim women from wearing the burkini, a full-body swimsuit, 62 percent of Israelis are against regulating what people wear in public, “including in the case of traditional and conservative clothing,” the survey found. Just 26 percent support the French bans.

Support for freedom of attire is consistent across the Jewish political spectrum — left (73 percent), right (59 percent) and center (61 percent) — and among Arabs (71 percent).

In honor of the start of the school year on Sept. 1, the survey asked Israelis to grade the education system, and both Jews and Arabs gave it a failing grade. Jews gave the system a 5.5 and Arabs a 5.9 out of 10.

In another poll released Wednesday, a CNN/ORC survey of likely American voters showed Trump with a 45-43 percent advantage over Clinton.

Kaine: Trump has no idea how to handle Iran

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine on Tuesday asserted that Donald Trump has no idea how to deal with Iran’s threat to international peace and stability in the Middle East.

“We have no idea how Donald Trump would handle Iran – and frankly, neither does he,” Kaine said in a speech, billed as a “major national security speech,” in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The Virginia Senator mocked Trump for “>blasted the deal, claiming it has put Iran on a path towards nuclear weapons. The Republican presidential candidate further suggested that Clinton now owns President Obama’s Iran policy. “By helping put together a deal that ultimately sent $400 million to Iran that was likely used to fund terrorism, Clinton has proven herself unfit to be president of the United States,” he said at a “>Trump said. “I have all my life — I love to buy bad contracts where … and I make those contracts good. This is a perfect example of taking over a bad contract. I will find something in that contract that will be very, very well-scrutinized by us, and I think they will not be able to do it, whatever it may be.”

Israel approves hundreds of new West Bank housing units

An Israeli planning committee approved the construction of hundreds of housing units in four West Bank settlements.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee on Wednesday approved construction of 234 living units in Elkana in the northern West Bank, designated to be a nursing home; 30 homes in Beit Arye in the northern West Bank and 20 homes in the Jerusalem ring neighborhood of Givat Zeev.

The committee also retroactively legalized 179 housing units built in the 1980s in Ofarim, part of the Beit Arye municipality.

Plans for housing units in Efrat, Nofim and Har Gilo has been on the agenda but were not discussed at the meeting.

The approval comes less than a week after Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, criticized Israel for continuing to build in West Bank settlements and neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, going against the recommendations of the Mideast Quartet.