Rep. Keith Ellison speaking at a news conference in front of the Capitol, Feb. 1, 2017. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Keith Ellison, in run-up to DNC chair election, calls for party to fight anti-Semitism


Rep. Keith Ellison called for Democrats to speak out against anti-Semitism and reject hatred of refugees during a debate for candidates to head the Democratic Party.

The Minnesota Democrat also made clear during the CNN debate Wednesday evening that he supports Israel and has strong backing from the Jewish community. He is vying with seven others to chair the Democratic National Committee; Ellison is considered among the front-runners with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Ellison noted his “long, strong history of interfaith dialogue, interfaith communication.” He called suggestions that he is anti-Semitic – based on his involvement with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam while he was in college – “smears.”

“I just want to say, it is critical that we speak up against this anti-Semitism because right now, you have Jewish cemeteries being defaced and desecrated,” he said. “Right now, you have Jewish institutions getting bomb threats. We have to stand with the Jewish community right here, right now, four square, and that’s what the Democratic Party is all about.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, added that he spoke at a HIAS event last week to support the right of refugees to enter the United States.

“They’re saying, we were once refugees, and they stood out in New York and demanded that we have respect for refugees now,” he said of the Jewish organization that assists refugees.

Ellison was asked about aid to Israel, noting that at a private 2010 fundraiser, he said that American foreign policy is seen through the eyes of the 7 million citizens of Israel. He responded that he believes the U.S.-Israel relationship is “special and important,” and noted that he has “voted for $27 billion in bilateral aid to Israel over the course of about six or seven votes. I have been to the region many times and sat down with members of the Knesset and worked with them.”

Some 447 electors made up mostly of  state party officials and officials in state government, among others, will vote for DNC chair on Saturday in Atlanta.

Israel and the Middle East likely will not figure highly in their considerations. The electors are concerned much more with rebuilding a party devastated by its across-the-board losses in November’s elections, including for president.

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).

A protest against President Donald Trump's immigration policy in New York City on Feb. 12. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Federation stays neutral on Trump refugee order, despite pressure


In the days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions to the United States, a long list of Jewish organizations authored fiery statements condemning the new measures. Notably missing from their ranks was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from taking a clear position on the executive order raised questions about whether it should make any political statements at all, hearkening to a similarly bitter debate about the Iran nuclear agreement. And while disagreements on that point simmered behind closed doors, the Federation has signaled that it would continue to abstain from taking sides on the day’s issues.

In a Feb. 2 email titled “Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson addressed the executive order without criticizing it: “I want you to know that we have heard your concerns and feel the anxiety of our community,” he wrote.

For some, Sanderson’s email fell short, failing to express solidarity with impacted communities and carrying a fundraising pitch some saw as tone deaf. Within the organization’s circle of stakeholders, volunteers and employees, many raised concerns privately over whether Federation should take a stronger stand on the issue.

In a private letter obtained by the Journal, 36 alumni of Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Project strongly criticized Sanderson’s email for being too passive it its approach.

“We must express our profound disappointment — for some of us, even anger and shame — at ‘Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,’ ” they wrote, adding their voice to a chorus of donors and community members airing their grievances internally.

Addressing themselves Feb. 6 to Sanderson and Julie Platt, chair of Federation’s board of directors, the young leaders asked Sanderson to reconsider his statement. His email, they wrote, “neither specifies the policies against which so many Jewish leaders are battling, nor identifies by name the Muslim and immigrant communities with which we are standing together. In standing silently by, the communication betrays our values as Jews, as Americans, as Angelenos, and as civic ambassadors for the Jewish Federation.”

The authors noted that their “continued voluntary and philanthropic involvement” in Federation programs would be impacted by the response they received.

The letter prompted a Feb. 13 meeting between more than a dozen young leaders and top Federation officials, including Sanderson, Platt and Richard Sandler, chair of the board of trustees for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and former L.A. Federation board chairman.

Jay Sanderson

Jay Sanderson

The following day, the letter’s signatories and Federation leadership issued a joint statement to the Journal.

“While we don’t agree on everything, we all believe that we must continue to engage with each other honestly and openly and to find more ways to help those in need,” they said in the statement. “Working together in ways that reflect our shared Jewish values, we will find new and meaningful opportunities to stand with our community and with all Angelenos.”

According to those present, the meeting was a productive and cordial one.

“We had a group of very committed passionate leaders come, and we listened, and we talked about how we can be proactive,” Sanderson told the Journal on Feb. 14. Unlike other Jewish organizations, he said, “we’re not in the statement business.”

He stood by his Feb. 2 email, saying, “We’re a mission-driven organization that lets our work make the statement.” He made this point in the original note to the community: “Our Federation’s statement on immigration was made 104 years ago when we made the rescue and resettlement of immigrants — like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — a top priority,” he wrote.

He said that of the people who have responded to the email, the vast majority were positive responses.

“Oftentimes people in the community get fixated on statements,” he said, “and what I’ve learned in my career is the most successful advocacy oftentimes happens quietly, oftentimes happens behind closed doors.”

Sandler told the Journal he supported the L.A. Federation’s decision to refrain from issuing a statement on the executive order.

“Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do,” he said, adding that political statements inevitably upset some Federation donors.

Some Jewish Federations decided to weigh in anyway, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which submitted an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking it to uphold a lower court’s ruling that blocked Trump’s executive order. But JFNA, the umbrella organization for all North American Federations, remained silent on the issue.

Sandler praised Sanderson’s Feb. 2 email as “very measured” adding that “it talks about what Federations do: that we don’t ignore these issues but we’re not going to get involved in the debate.”

The conversation around Sanderson’s letter mirrored an earlier one, from July 2015, when a Federation statement opposing the Iran nuclear agreement met with backlash from community members who supported it. The Iran deal statement raised similar questions over when, if at all, it is appropriate for a body catering to the entire L.A. Jewish community to make political pronouncements.

“That statement was a learning process for us.… It made us look at who we are and what our role in the community is, and our role in the community is to be out front and doing the work,” Sanderson told the Journal.

Protocols in place now require a statement to be reviewed by the L.A. Federation’s board prior to being released. Since Sanderson’s email was not a statement, but rather a regular bi-weekly update to community members, those protocols did not apply, he said.

But one notable difference has been the full-throated opposition with which the organized Jewish community met the refugee order, while opinions on the Iran deal straddled both sides. The letter from young Federation leaders noted “the broad consensus we have already seen from Reform and Orthodox Jews” on the refugee order and which, in theory, would have given Sanderson political cover to come out in opposition.

“This was a case where I thought you’d have fairly strong unanimity of thinking here,” said Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an expert on Jewish political life.

Sanderson said the L.A. Federation will continue to abstain from political debates.

“We’ve been asked to make public policy statements in the last month five times, including positions from the right and positions from the left,” he said. “We would be a whirling dervish if we reacted to all those things.”

Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers


I stood beside my partner Dave outside my family’s house and rang the doorbell to the tune of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.” It was the first night of Hanukkah but unlike previous family celebrations, the current political climate had indisputably altered our family dynamic. My mother is a holocaust survivor; my dad fought in the Israeli Army. This past June my brother and his now fiance, Kristine, survived a terrorist attack at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Our Jewish identities have been challenged, threatened, and compromised time and time again. As we lit the Menorah, we stood in silence unable to even make eye contact. The flicker of the candles illuminated my family in a way that made them look like strangers. This Hanukkah, it felt like we had enough oil to keep the flames of fear burning for years to come.

During World War II, my grandparents were captured and taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. While there, my grandmother gave birth and shortly thereafter, a camp guard ripped the child out of her arms and threw it into a fire. That act snatched away the small embers of hope that still remained in my grandparents.

After years of struggling against Nazis, starvation, and typhus epidemics, my grandmother became pregnant once again. She bore the pregnancy while bearing witness to the deaths of tens of thousands around her. For the child, they remained in the camp even after it’s liberation. In September of 1945, my grandmother finally gave birth on soil drenched with death: that brave baby girl would become my mother. When my mother’s parents emigrated to the United States in the late 40s, they did so in search of a better life. They arrived as refugees to the warm embrace of Lady Liberty who helped breathe new life into a future they didn’t feel worthy of.

My father was born in communist-ruled Romania but emigrated to Israel with his family soon after. As a child, he worked on a kibbutz before enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces at the age of 18. While in the army, he was taught of the evil and terror that awaited him in neighboring countries. He fought in the Six-Day War, a battle that pitted Israel against all of its neighbors and saw things that, even now, has only hinted at. He saved every penny that he ever made and as soon as he finished his service, he traveled to all the lands that he had only read about in books. After growing up in two different countries that had built fences around the possibilities of his future, he broke out and became a citizen of the world. He slept in airports, on park benches, and in bus stations, navigating through each country by talking to locals and following their lead. He’d fly multiple trips on the Concord, go to multiple Olympic ceremonies, and he even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Any country my dad was taught to hate, he would visit. He visited the pyramids in Egypt, played chess in Aleppo, and taught English to school kids in Indonesia. Over his lifetime, he’d go on to fill up more than a dozen passports. In January, my dad boarded a plane and made his way to another historic event: the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.

I have spent the majority of my life marinating in the fear of terrorism. My nightmares began at the age of 10 after Columbine and continued with 9/11, until any place I had ever held sacred was eventually connected to an attack, from movie theatres to concert venues. On a Tuesday morning in September, I watched a cloud of smoke trail over New York City: the North Tower was burning. At 12, I didn’t process what I was watching. It wasn’t until I sat in a stunned world history classroom, watching the towers fall, that I understood. The innocence of our childhood crumbled along with the towers that day. I sat in half empty classes because parents were afraid to send their kids to school. I walked home that day with my best friend since the 5th grade, Nadia. She is Muslim. As a kid, I would tell her about this dreaded day called Yom Kippur in which I had to fast for the entire day. She would immediately counter with this dreaded month called Ramadan in which she had to fast for an entire month. We talked to each other about everything, but that afternoon we walked home in silence. It was hard for me to understand how and when things would get better.

Later that year, we walked to meet her mom at the Starbucks in our neighborhood. Her mom was always at that Starbucks. Before we left, Nadia’s mom gave each of the baristas a Christmas gift with an accompanying card; she left another stack of gifts for the employees that weren’t working that shift. There was Santa Claus, Hanukkah Harry, and then there was Nadia’s mom. For her gift giving wasn’t part of an act or a tradition, it was love in it’s purest form. I saw firsthand what it meant to invest in your community. Nadia and her mom didn’t teach me what it meant to be Muslim: they taught me what it meant to be human, to care, to grieve, to love and to hope.

On June 28th, 2016, my brother Adam and his girlfriend Kristine were at the Atatürk Airport in Turkey when terrorists launched an attack that would go on to kill 45 people and injure hundreds more. My personal world and the world at large felt like they were crumbling, and I began to retreat within myself, terrified of the unknown. I obsessively sifted through Reddit threads that showed security cam footage of the gunmen storming the terminal and loops of the bombs going off. Initially, I was consumed by my fear of the men that had executed the attack, but then slowly my focus drifted to the quiet moments before the chaos. The man leisurely pulling his bag behind him, the girl pushing her friend through the terminal on a luggage cart, the family embracing their son as he turns to catch his flight. Each moment was interrupted by the sound of gunfire and the wave of fire that swept through the terminal. What were the last words that they said to one another? Did they know that they were loved? What dreams were they robbed of? I wrote a piece entitled “Three Little Dots” about the storm of dread and anxiety that had infiltrated my body as my brother texted me during the attack.

Then I got the letters. Their origins were diverse: Germany, Pakistan, Egypt, and even Turkey. But their message was the same: hope. For the first time in my life, it felt like I was seeing the world through my father’s eyes. I finally had a face and a story to put to the countries I had only read about on breaking news chyrons. As the messages continued to come, Adam called to inform us that he and Kristine would be continuing their trip through Europe. I sent my brother screencaps of the messages that I’d receive and hoped he had a chance to breathe it all in. “The world is with you!” I said.

Our families begged them to cut their trip short, but my dad was the lone voice that implored them to continue on. I asked him why. “If they come home now, they may never leave again,” he said. He was right. In the heat of our panic, we had succumbed to our own fears and instincts to retreat from danger.

Our family felt the ripples of the terrorist attack long after Adam and Kristine arrived home. Each of us used the proximity of the event to reaffirm our own skewed perspectives of the world. Many family members now had a direct confirmation of their worst fears–that the headlines would feature names they’d recognize and love. That fear had seeped into the foundation of our family. For the world, and for my family, the question now is, “Where do we go from here?”

When my dad returned home from the inauguration, we greeted each other in silence. That void peaked on the evening of Shabbat when the news broke of the executive order that banned refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This executive order hit close to home as both my mother and father immigrated to America fleeing the hardships and tragedy and now immigrants were being denied that same opportunity. As my dad and I sat in silence, he spoke then I spoke. Not in extremities but of vulnerabilities, we spoke of our fears and for the first time in more than a year we spoke to each other, not over each other.

The following Sunday morning in January, my brother and I drove with my dad on the 405 and we talked politics. My dad has made this journey many times before so we followed behind him as he led the way to the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX. When we arrived, there were already thousands of protesters outside of the baggage claim area. Seven months after the terrorist attack at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport terminal, I found myself standing beside my brother hours after an executive order was issued by the president of the United States targeting refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations. We saw families consoling each other waiting to hear from loved ones that had been detained. Our family’s story was born out of persecution, loss, and heartache so the pain on display at the airport was familiar. As my dad looked on, my brother and I stood holding a sign together. “Two Jewish Brothers Standing with Our Muslim Brothers.” We stood in that terminal bearing witness to the pain that our country could inflict at the stroke of a pen. As we stood there, a Palestinian couple in their early 30s came up to my brother and I. They had tears in their eyes and without saying a word, opened their arms wide to give us a hug. We held onto one another in silence, and I could hear their faint whimpers. The mom gestured down to her daughter who couldn’t have been older than 4. “Look at their sign.” The little girl looked up at the sign and sounded out the words. “They’re here with you!” Her dad said. The girl smiled at me. I saw my mom’s reflection in her eyes.


Noah Reich is a freelance writer by day, a reader by night and a humanitarian at heart.
Rabbi Naomi Levy

Jews against the Muslim Ban


Last Friday night, my rabbi got all political on me.

It came as something of a shock. I know Rabbi Naomi Levy really well — we’ve been married 25 years. During that time, I’ve heard Naomi give at least 1,000 sermons. Not one took an overt stand on a hot political issue or candidate. She would call for understanding between Israel and her neighbors, for instance, but the words “two-state solution” never escaped her lips.

It’s not that she hasn’t always had passionate and astute political opinions. I know. We talk.

But inside the sanctuary, her focus always has been on helping people grow spiritually, to find their life path through faith, tradition, learning and community. When she calls for social action, it is of the nonpartisan sort: feed the homeless, plant trees, engage with other faith communities. Her sermons move people to tears, laughter and introspection, not to petitions.

“That’s what people come to shul for,” she always told me. “That’s who I am.”

She also understood that politics could easily divide a congregation, or alienate some members. Both when she was the senior rabbi at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, and after she founded Nashuva, an outreach congregation based in Brentwood, she wanted everyone to feel welcome and accepted. If people wanted a pundit, they could watch cable.

So imagine my surprise this past Friday night:  The usual standing-room-only crowd, some 400 people, packed inside Brentwood Presbyterian Church, where Nashuva holds its services. Naomi began her sermon as she often does, with something true, funny and personal.

“I’m a neurotic Jew from Brooklyn,” she said. “I’m scared of so many things. I’m scared of heights. I’m scared of snakes. After my bout with skin cancer, I’m scared of the sun.” Then she asked, “But you know what I’m not scared of?”

Voices from the congregation responded, “No, what?”

Muslims,” she said. “I’m not scared of Muslims.”

There was a momentary pause.  We didn’t see it coming.  It took a split second to clock the punch. The rabbi was speaking out, loud and proud.

And all at once, applause. A loud, long spontaneous ovation.


Listen to Rabbi Naomi Levy’s sermon:


Naomi went on to hammer away at President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, and all refugees from Syria. She spoke of her own mother, Ruth, who arrived from Poland at age 6. The rest of Ruth’s large extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins — all were murdered in the Holocaust.

Naomi urged her congregation to fight the ban and to oppose the administration’s efforts to demonize Muslims. When she finished, the applause went on for a while. One couple did get up and walk out — maybe they had to use the restroom?

Why now? I asked Naomi. Why is this issue the first one you chose for making a strong political stance?

“I had no choice,” she said. “Welcoming the stranger is at the core of what it is to be Jewish.”

Of course, I agree. As an American, I know our country’s success is tied directly to immigration. As a Jew, I know how our country’s open doors literally saved our lives. And I know how many more Jews would be alive today — helping make America even greater — if the voices of fear and hate hadn’t all but closed the door to Jewish immigration after 1924. Those same forces tried to shut out Iranian Jews in 1979, and Soviet Jews in 1989, but thankfully they failed.

There is something in this immigration ban that is particularly noxious and motivating. It’s why Jewish organizations ranging from Yeshiva University to the Reform movement have taken stands. Why leaders who don’t ordinarily bring politics to the pulpit, like Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein and Stephen Wise Temple’s Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, have spoken out.  Why many disparate parts of a very diverse, fractured community are fighting it together.

That unity makes the silence of some leaders and institutions even more apparent.

Without naming names, it’s all too clear that many rabbis and leaders who deeply oppose the cruel, hateful and self-defeating order cannot publicly say so, for fear of alienating some supporters. Some worry it will tear congregations or boards apart along partisan lines. Or, they worry about upsetting large donors.

I don’t envy any rabbi or community leader this choice. There are costs to speaking out, and those of us who don’t have to pay shouldn’t be so quick to expect others to foot the bill. Their silence in any case should not be an excuse for our inaction.

At the same time, there is a cost to not taking a public stand. How dare we do any less than we would want others to do for us? History will record who stood by and let the doors slam shut, and who, even if they failed, tried to jam them back open.

I’m proud of my rabbi, my wife. I hope to be proud of us all.


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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

‘Nobody helped’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The activist

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

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

Rabbi Pam Frydman. Photo by Bret Putnam

Rabbi Pam Frydman. Photo by Bret Putnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘My brother’

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

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

Saeed Hussein Bakr

Saeed Hussein Bakr

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ancient people long oppressed

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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


More: A sex slave survivor fights back


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

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

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

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

‘Never again requires a lot of energy’

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

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

Haider Elias

Haider Elias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Save us!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

How to help

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

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

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

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

Yazda
yazda.org
(832) 298-9584

IsraAID
israaid.co.il
info@israaid.org

Thousands gathered to protest at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 29. Photo by Eitan Arom

When an executive order prompts civil disorder


Shortly before Shabbat fell on Jan. 27, 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 dismay had been building in the Jewish community since a draft of the order was leaked days beforehand, and on Jan. 28, those sentiments exploded onto Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s cellphone in the form of 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.”

The airport protest came as a grass-roots reflection of simmering anger in the organized Jewish community. The days before the executive order saw statements from Jewish organizations ranging from the Orthodox Union to the Anti-Defamation League expressing their ire, and in some cases promising to fight the administration.

At LAX, where a number of travelers had been detained because of the order, thousands poured through terminals and onto the curbs the afternoon of Jan. 29. 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 1930s Germany and proclamations of “Never again.”

“Our country once made the mistake of shutting its doors to nearly 1,000 refugees on the S.S. St. Louis — people died as a result,” said Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue, reached by phone shortly after the order was signed. “We don’t want to see that happen again.”

To be sure, there are plenty of Jews who support the ban or parts of it and others who dispute analogies to the Holocaust. “Analogy to 1930s Jews is recklessly false,” a statement from Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), declared the day before the order was signed.

But some community members who voiced their support for Trump’s order did so at their own peril, including Simon Etehad, a personal injury lawyer in Beverly Hills, who was born in Iran and fled the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

img_4102“You have no idea how many friends I lost on Facebook because of my opinion … but I believe that he’s doing a wonderful job,” he said.

“Even if I would have been personally affected by this ban, I would still support it,” he wrote in a follow-up email. “Because I am not willing to endanger the life of a single U.S. citizen so that my family members might have an easier travel experience in the next 90 days!”

The people who showed up Jan. 29 at LAX didn’t quite see it that way.

“There are a lot of Jews here — a lot,” Goldberg said from the airport, joined by her three children and her husband, who translated as she spoke in sign language, since she’d lost her voice.

‘Let them in!’

As weary travelers 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.

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 travelers 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 border 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 in limbo -— even a basic head count — proved difficult to come by.

“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 images ranging 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 parking garages across the street to look down over the scene.

Some travelers decided to join the protest, including Zoe Lister-Jones, a filmmaker who had just stepped off the plane after screening her new comedy, “Band Aid,” at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

“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.”

Mollie Goldberg from Los Angeles

Across Airport Way from the mass of protesters stood Michael Chusid, a kind of greeter. The tall, bearded, middle-aged Encino man held a sign that read “Welcome” in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

“My grandparents came from Lithuania and Ukraine,” Chusid said. “My grandfather was the only one to survive from his whole family. The only thing that is left in Lithuania is tombstones.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said as he teared up.

Clergy respond

News of the order quickly raised a chorus of rabbis in opposition.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, for instance, a consortium of Reform clergy, has been abuzz with outrage at the new policy, Feinstein said.

“We know full well when people come after minorities, they don’t stop with one,” he told the Journal. “History shows this to be the canary in the mine.”

At the airport, the crowd included enough rabbis to start a seminary.

“This country is an expression of the best of what the world has to offer,” Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen Wise Temple said at LAX. “And to be that, it has to be open to immigrants. It has to reflect the values that we hold dear as Jews.”

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

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

Leading up to the refugee order, HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, recruited more than 1,700 rabbis across the denominational spectrum to sign a statement welcoming refugees to the United States. They included Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am, Stan Levy of B’nai Horin, and Yoshi Zweiback of Stephen Wise Temple, as well as Feinstein and Stern.

Reached by phone Jan. 27, shortly after Trump signed the order, Kligfeld noted that the Exodus story obliges Jews “to advocate for our country to continue to have its arms and heart open to the bedraggled and impoverished and persecuted.” But he sounded a note of sympathy with community members who want to protect the nation’s ports of entry.

“I find myself in a centrist place on this issue,” he continued. “I’m proud of our country’s history regarding Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. I think we also live in a scary world.”

Representing the nation’s Orthodox rabbinate, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America reaffirmed a joint statement issued in December 2015 blasting the idea of a Muslim ban. Taken together with reproving statements from the Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative movements, the Orthodox groups’ opposition brings every major strain of American Judaism into alignment against the immigration measures.

Struggling over security, Holocaust memory

The Orthodox rabbi’s statement fell far short of other proclamations by large Jewish organizations, some of which promised an outright battle with the administration.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonpartisan group that was critical of candidate Trump, found fighting words: “ADL relentlessly will fight this policy in the weeks and months to come,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, responding ahead of time to a leaked draft. “Our history and heritage compel us to take a stand.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris also reached for Jewish heritage to motivate his opposition.

“We are all related to those fortunate enough to have been admitted to this country — in my case, my mother, father, wife, and daughters-in-law,” he said in a statement. “And we believe that other deserving individuals merit the same opportunities to be considered for permanent entry.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center protested the idea of a nationality-based ban in a statement the day of the order while steering clear of Holocaust imagery. But the same day, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it criticized Trump for not mentioning Jews in a statement about the Holocaust — a week after the Wiesenthal Center’s founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, offered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration.

Among the leaders of large Jewish institutions, ZOA’s Klein offered a rare note of support for Trump’s measures, saying in the statement his group “is appalled that left-wing Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Reform Movement are ‘strongly condemning’ this draft Executive Order.”

He took umbrage with comparisons to Jewish refugees.

“No Jewish immigrants flew airplanes into buildings, or massacred scores of innocent people at a holiday party or nightclub or marathon or drive trucks into innocent citizens,” Klein said in the statement.

Though unusual within the Jewish establishment, Klein’s thesis found support in some pockets of the community, including some who are recent immigrants themselves.

“It is simply disgraceful to compare Trump to Hitler or his actions to those of the Nazi era,” Etehad wrote in the email.

Eugene Levin, president of Panorama Media Group, which operates a radio
station and two Russian-language  weekly newspapers in Los Angeles, said he supports Trump’s ban on immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries because there is no way of doing a thorough background check and knowing if someone is not a disguised terrorist.

“Many individuals with questionable backgrounds from the Soviet Union moved here as refugees. Think about [the] Tsarnaev brothers, who were able to immigrate here as refugees,” he said, referring to the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“I believe what Trump did was a necessary step,” he added.

Muslims “are against the Jewish people,” said Roman Finarovsky, who grew up in Ukraine at a time when going to a synagogue could result in losing one’s job if caught by the KGB.

img_4085But some saw in the struggle of Soviet Jews cause to oppose the ban. Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was an activist in the free Soviet Jewry movement as a student at UCLA. While several members of the Russian Jewish community expressed support for the ban, Yaroslavsky strongly denounced it.

“I find it to be abhorrent and contrary to every fiber of my being as a human rights activist, as an activist for Soviet Jewry in earlier years, as a civil libertarian, which I am,” Yaroslavsky said of the executive order in a phone interview. “This is un-American, literally un-American.”

Galvanizing young Jews

Shay Roman, 27, stood with two friends at LAX, all three wearing T-shirts from the group IfNotNow, a network of Millennial Jews that protests the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza.

“I’m here especially as a Jew,” Roman said. “I feel it’s so important to show support for other communities, especially the refugee community.”

“Our generation is absolutely not apathetic,” one of his companions, Jonah Breslau, 25, added. “We’re a group of young Jews and our core values are about freedom and dignity for all people — Israeli and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims.”

Danit Osborn, 22, cited her background as both Jewish and Cambodian as part of her reason for being there. She said she wasn’t sure the protest would accomplish any specific policy reform.

“I’m not sure we’re gonna change Donald Trump,” she said. “But I have to be here for my mother and I have to be here for my father.”

Olga Grigoryants, Ryan Torok, Danielle Berrin and Rob Eshman contributed to this report.

Photo by Rob Eshman

Trump’s anti-American immigration ban


The most astonishing moment for me at last Sunday’s protest against President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees came when I was standing by the arrivals area at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.

Suddenly a cheer cut through the din of chants.  A mob of photographers pushed past me to take pictures of someone walking up the exit ramp. This being LA, I was sure George Clooney had just arrived.

I elbowed my way through the crowd, and saw the source of all the excitement.  It was a stout old Muslim woman. Her head and much of her face was wrapped in a thick black hijab.  She was schlepping up the ramp, alone.

A swarm of cameras flashed in her eyes.  The crowd chanted, “Salaam aleikum!  Saleaam aleikum!”   There was applause and whistling and clapping.

The excitement bewildered her.  The photos I snapped show something close to panic in her eyes. A middle-aged Jewish woman I recognized burst through the mob and practically jumped on the older lady, stroked at her arms and said, “Salaam Aleikum ShukranSalaam Aleikum Shukran!

I couldn’t imagine what she made of the mob, the noise, the strange woman who blurted “Hello thank you! Hello thank you!”

Her family rushed to greet her. The old woman gave a get me the hell out of here look, and they spirited her away.

That’s Donald Trump for you, I thought.   The Executive Order Trump signed was so ill-conceived, slapdash, illegal, pandering, and un-American, only he could turn an innocent Muslim bubbie into an unwitting Rosa Parks.

There is something funny about the unsuspecting grandmother turned hero, or it would be funny if the actual consequences of the Muslim ban weren’t so devastating to people, to our democracy and to the actual fight against Islamic extremism that it was purportedly designed to help.

By now we have all read the stories of citizens and green card holders deprived of their rights, of chaos and confusion, of ISIS’s using the ban for recruitment, of cooperative Muslim countries being insulted, of the hypocrisy of leaving out countries that breed actual radical Muslim terrorists, like, say, America, and of the fact that countries  in which Trump does business are excluded from the ban.

In this week’s Jewish Journal, you can read even more stories of Jewish refugees whose American success stories grew from their ability to enter the United States when their lives depended on it.  They fled Nazi Germany (like the grandparents of Jared Kushner). Or they fled  Eastern Europe (like the ancestors of young Stephen Miller, who helped write the ban), or they escaped Iran.  Because politicians and people spoke up loudly to shout down the voices of xenophobia and ignorance, America opened her doors to them.

But this time, the xenophobes are in charge.

Their apologists point out that the executive orders call for only a  temporary ban at best, though a full ban on people fleeing Syria.  The masses that gathered at LA and airports around the country know better.  They get that the Syrian refugees are the German Jews of 1930, or the Persian Jews of 1979, or the Eastern European Jews fleeing the Czar or the USSR.  The hijab is the streimmel. The beard is the payes. What was foreign and threatening to Americans then is just as scary to them now.

That’s why, in frightening times, our safest bet is to rely on our deepest values.  The crowd at LAX understood that, even if their president does not.

That’s why the most common message people held up on their protest protest posters were the words written in 1883 by a 34 year-old Jewish woman in New York, Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Those posters were heartwarming, but they were my second- favorite posters I saw at the rally.

My favorite?   It was held up by a quiet young woman inside the terminal.  It read: “INVEST IN SHARPIE STOCK BECAUSE WE’RE NOT STOPPING.”

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Activists gather at Portland International Airport on Jan. 29. Photo by Steve Dipaola/Reuters

Invite a Muslim for Shabbat


It will be a very long time before I forget the news I heard this week of a 5-year-old Muslim child handcuffed at Dulles Airport on Saturday because he was deemed a security threat. News outlets later reported that this boy is a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland.

While that news continues to disturb me, I can only imagine what it does to Muslim children living in our country.

This past Monday night my wife came home and told me that a Muslim acquaintance of hers who she knows through work told her that his child is very scared and is crying non-stop since Saturday.

We started talking about what we could do to help this child.

Every Friday night we host lively Shabbat dinners in which we usually entertain members of our congregation.  But after hearing that story, my wife and I decided that we should invite this Muslim family for Shabbat dinner.

A Shabbat dinner is a powerful opportunity to connect while breaking bread together.

Recently the Washington Post wrote a story about a former white supremacist who changed his racist views and entire world view after celebrating Shabbat dinners with his classmates.

In our case we would have a different goal. Our goal in inviting Muslims would not be to convert each other or to engage in interfaith dialogue or to give each other political litmus tests. Indeed, the best Shabbat meals we have are the ones that accept an informal policy of not talking politics.

Rather, we must simply demonstrate that we are embracing and giving respect to our Muslim neighbors.  In this specific case, our goal would be to tell this Muslim child that there are people in this country who are not Muslims but who care very deeply about him and his well-being. Not only do we not want him to leave our country, we want him to grow up and be one of our future leaders. Nothing says I care about you and I believe in you like freshly baked challah bread and homemade bread.

From the perspective of Jewish law the Talmud specifically authorizes inviting a non-Jew to a Shabbat meal (Beitzah, 21b).

Indeed the Midrash (Bereishit 11:4) tells of the time that the Roman ruler, Antoninus went to visit the great sage of the Mishnah, Rebbe for a Shabbat meal. He was so impressed with the lukewarm Shabbat food that was served that he returned during the week for another meal. But this time the food was served piping hot and it wasn’t good. He asked Rebbe what was missing. Rebbe said, “We are missing one spice. The spice of Shabbat!”

We should all follow Rebbe’s lead and share the spice of Shabbat.

Now that I think about it I am embarrassed to admit that through no specific intent or plan it so happens that we have never had a Muslim join us for Shabbat dinner. We just don’t run in the same circles.

It feels like now is the time to change that. Now is the time for people of all faiths to reach out and give some extra love to our Muslim neighbors.

The President campaigned on the promise of putting a ban on Muslims coming into this country. This past week through his Executive Order many law abiding Muslim citizens including green card holders, students, and people who have served the US Army, were handcuffed at airports and detained like criminals. Even though many were released, I don’t remember hearing an apology.

In light of what happened this week, Muslims in this country have every right to feel scared and marginalized.

It is our job as citizens, whether we are Republicans or Democrats, to reach out and embrace our Muslim neighbors. We must tell them that having a 5-year-old boy in handcuffs is not what we want our country to be. We must say to our Muslim neighbors  that we want you in this county.

For this reason, I am asking my fellow Jews this week to reach out and invite a Muslim family to their own Shabbat meal this week.

Now is the time to show our love to those who are scared and marginalized.


Shmuel Herzfeld is the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C.

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.

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

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.

Trump bans refugees, singles out Muslims


On Friday, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camps, President Donald J. Trump signed executive orders closing the country’s borders to refugees and blocking men, women and children escaping the carnage in Syria from finding safety in the United States.

His order also temporarily suspended immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries.

Many Jewish organizations reacted swiftly to condemn the orders, which echoed 20th century laws that barred Jews seeking refuge from aazi Germany.  Many of those turned away were murdered in the concentration camps.

In a press release, the non-partisan American Jewish  said it views with, “profound concern the Trump Administration’s plans to pose unjustified new obstacles in the path of refugees and asylum seekers.”

Trump called his actions part of the “extreme vetting” of potential Islamic terrorists that he promised on the campaign.

At the same time, Trump ordered that Christians and other non-Muslims from these same countries be granted priority over Muslims.

“We don’t want them here,” Mr. Trump said of Islamist terrorists during a signing ceremony at the Pentagon. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country, and love deeply our people.”

The executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days and directs officials to determine additional screening ”to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”

The order also stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and bars entry into the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries linked to concerns about terrorism. Those countries are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

Numerous critics of the move took to Twitter to point out that the majority of perpetrators of the most serious terrorist attack on American soil, on 9/11, came from Saudi Arabia, which is not one of the countries listed.

In its rare, strongly worded response to Trump’s ban, the AJC pointed out that, “refugees from Syria, Iraq and other states in violent upheaval are already laboriously and intrusively vetted by U.S. immigration authorities, assisted by U.S. intelligence agencies, in cooperation with other nations’ intelligence services. For those approved, it generally takes 18 to 24 months to gain U.S. admission.”

“The terrorist threat attributed to refugees is a cruel and distracting fiction,” the AJC said,  “especially when viewed against the actual incidence of mass violence committed with chilling frequency – in schools, churches, shopping malls and other venues – against Americans by Americans. In the 14 years ending in October 2015, a period in which 784,000 refugees were resettled in the United States, there were exactly three arrests for planning terrorist activities (none of which occurred).”

Netanyahu to visit Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit two Muslim countries, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, in a bid “to strengthen diplomatic, security and economic relations.”

Netanyahu left Tuesday morning for the trip to what he called “two large and significant countries in the Islamic world.” It will be the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Kazakhstan, he said, and the second to Azerbaijan. Netanyahu was the first to visit Azerbaijan nearly two decades ago, during his first term as prime minister, when he met with the father of the current leader.

[ROB ESHMAN: The mysteries of Azerbaijan]

“In complete contrast to what is heard from time to time, not only is Israel not suffering from diplomatic isolation, Israel is a country that is coming back,” the prime minister said as he boarded the plane. “These countries want very much to strengthen ties with Israel and, following the strengthening of our relations with the major powers of Asia, with countries in Africa and with countries in Latin America, now come ties with important countries in the Islamic world.”

Netanyahu added: “This is part of a clear policy of going out to the world. Israel’s relations are flourishing in an unprecedented manner.”

Azerbaijan, a secular state with 98 percent of its population Muslim, has a long border with Iran. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with members of the Jewish community there. The Jewish population of Azerbaijan is about 20,000.

Netanyahu also will meet with representatives of the Jewish community in Kazakhstan, his second stop on the trip. Estimates of the number of Jews in the country range as high as 30,000.

Reince Priebus nixes, Jewish groups slam Muslim registry proposal


The American Jewish Committee slammed the idea of creating a database of Muslims in the United States one day after President-elect Donald Trump’s recently named chief-of-staff said there were no plans to create a religion-based registry.

“Look, I’m not going to rule out anything,” Trump’s appointed chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told NBC on Sunday, when asked if would “unequivocally” rule out the idea. “We’re not going to have a registry based on a religion. But what I think what we’re trying to do is say that there are some people, certainly not all people … there are some people that are radicalized. And there are some people that have to be prevented from coming into this country.”

Trump said last year that he “would certainly implement” a database system that tracks Muslims, and there have been recent reports that Trump’s transition team is considering the idea. The president-elect has also called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S.

The American Jewish Committee on Monday denounced the proposal.

“Singling out any ethnic or faith group to register with the government is both morally repugnant and unconstitutional,” the group’s CEO, David Harris, said in a statement.

Harris added: “Targeting all Muslims is a horror movie that we Jews are all too familiar with. It can easily lead to heightened discrimination, persecution, and scapegoating. In the United States, there is no place – no place, whatsoever – for this kind of divisive, hateful rhetoric.”

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO and national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said he would sign up as a Muslim if a registry was created.

“As Jews, we know what it means to be registered, or targeted, held out as different from our fellow citizens,” Greenblatt said. “We as Jews know the right and just response. I pledge to you right here and now, because I’m committed to the fight against anti-Semitism, if one day American Muslims will be forced to register their identity, that is the day this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tales of transformation emerge at Muslim-Jewish storytelling slam


The lights dimmed at the Pico Union Project, an interfaith space just across the 110 Freeway from downtown, and Aziza Hasan climbed onstage. The pews in the historic former church and onetime home of Sinai Temple were packed with nearly 300 people. It was standing room only.

The organization that Hasan leads, NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, is built around members of both religions sharing their experiences to foster mutual understanding. So the evening’s event cut to the heart of her mission.

One by one, Muslim and Jewish storytellers climbed onto the empty stage, lit by a multicolored spotlight, to speak from the heart about transformative experiences in their lives.

“If you really want to soften people’s hearts, you can’t call them bullies, you can’t call them names,” Hasan said. “You actually have to listen.”

“Awww,” came a sarcastic cry of protest from the crowd, as in, “Awww, do we have to?” A wave of chuckles rose from the audience. Hasan smiled and pressed on.

But listen they did, to stories of mental illness, family strife and inner turmoil. The program was planned long before this month’s presidential election, but in the wake of Donald Trump’s upset victory — alluded to frequently but never mentioned directly — the evening’s message seemed to strike close to home.

 “We have to do the really hard work of figuring out how we’re going to make it through this moment together,” Hasan said. “And so tonight I hope that every single one of us can rise to the occasion.”

The evening’s theme was “Transformations,” and the audience was treated to a range of transformative experiences: external, internal, personal, communal and otherwise. Below are three of those stories. 

Umar A. Hakim: ‘My Appointment’

In his nine years working as a cable technician in Los Angeles, Umar A. Hakim normally got New Year’s Eve off. But on Dec. 31, 1997, his supervisors (or, depending on how you look at it, fate) intervened. So he headed out early for his first appointment, to the home of woman named Rebecca Smith.

 “To my surprise, Rebecca Smith answered the door in a full hijab, covered,” he said.

He quickly fixed the problem (“put the TV on [channel] 3”) and was preparing to leave when, by chance, he caught sight of it: a framed picture of the so-called “prophetic family,” the holy men recognized by Islam as God’s messengers, from Adam to Moses to Muhammad.

 “I asked the sister to explain the picture to me. She said, ‘We are all family under one God,’ ” he recalled.

Hakim had been raised in the Episcopal Church as an acolyte and altar boy, but his curiosity was piqued. The woman handed him a copy of the Quran. It would be the first book he had read since sixth grade.

After that, Hakim visited “Sister Rebecca” frequently to ask her about the precepts of Islam and to discuss his beliefs. Soon, she asked him if he was ready to take the shahada.

 “I was like, ‘sha-who?” he said to laughs from the audience.

She explained it was the declaration of faith that constitutes conversion of Islam. He said he was ready — but first, he had to get something out of his system.

 “I gathered my then-family, which was my oldest son and my mom, and I told them, ‘I’m going to embrace Islam,’ ” he said. “But the thing I had to get out of my system was the pepperoni and sausage pizza we had for dinner. There’s been no pork since then.”

Eliana Kaya: ‘That of Which We Do Not Speak’

“Most people don’t even know I have a father,” Eliana Kaya began. “They don’t ask, we don’t tell. Ever since I was small, the way he raged, the way he lay in bed for hours, for days, thinking.”

In both the Israeli and observant Jewish communities, mental illness was not a topic that was easily broached.

“Still, he suffers,” she said. “Still, he struggles. And we don’t talk about it.”

During one visit to her father’s apartment, he told her he’d been reprimanded by his rabbi for doing the one thing that brought him peace: praying loudly during dawn prayers, with great joy and enthusiasm. 

Enraged and needing somebody to talk with, Kaya’s instinct was to call two Muslim friends. An interfaith organizer, she was used to talking about difficult subjects with them.

 “I didn’t have words,” Kaya said. “I could barely breathe. I was trembling with rage. My friends listened. They wept with me.”

Since then, she’s become more open about her father’s illness. Of late, she’s taken to spending more time with him.

One day, after seeing him a number of times in a couple of weeks, she asked him, “Aren’t you sick of me yet?”

He looked up from the shakshuka they were preparing together and answered, “I haven’t even begun to enjoy you.”

Henry Wudl: ‘My Rules’

Henry Wudl’s decision to begin keeping kosher put him in an awkward position. He had always liked participating when his mother cooked, but since his decision, that dynamic had changed.

 “You see, I’m Jewish and my mother is not,” he said. “That means I can’t eat her food. Those are the rules. Food a non-Jew cooks is not kosher, unless a Jew supervises.”

So, at 17, he was no longer participating — he was supervising. He knew this was uncomfortable for his mother, but those rules were important.

 “Without those rules, my stories don’t matter,” he said. “Without those rules, I’m not a real Jew. Without those rules, I’m just an average American teenager. Blah!”

The situation soon became untenable. One day, he came home to Los Angeles on vacation from college to find his mom had been using his kosher pots and pans to cook non-kosher food. A confrontation ensued. His parents issued an ultimatum: This has to stop, or you can no longer stay with us.

Back at college, he immersed himself in studying religious philosophy as he pondered his dilemma. He came across a line from Maimonides that struck him: “We don’t pay attention to the damage done to a person on account of the Torah’s decrees.”

 “Damage. He says following the Torah can do damage,” Wudl said. “I won’t be welcome in my parents’ home because of following the Torah — my parents who I love and who love me. This is not for my own good.”

The day came when Wudl was to return home from college for good. He slipped into his home a day early, hoping to surprise his parents. His found his mother in the kitchen with a freshly broiled chicken — an non-kosher chicken. He took a strip from the chicken’s thigh and ate it.

 “It was good,” he said. “It was really good.

FBI: Criminal hate crimes against Jews rose by 9 percent in 2015


A rise in hate crimes against Muslims and Jews contributed to a 6.8 percent overall increase in 2015 incidents from the previous year, according to the FBI.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes reported to police rose by some 67 percent, to 215 incidents, from the 154 in 2014, the official FBI data released Monday showed. It marks the second highest number of crimes against Muslims since the national statistics began being reported in 1992. The highest number occurred in 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks, with 481 incidents.

The number of religiously motivated hate crimes was 1,244, some 21.3 percent of the total. Some 53.3 percent of the religiously motivated hate crimes, or 664 incidents, were directed at Jews, who make up less than 2 percent of the population. Crimes against Jews increased by about 9 percent from 2014.

Over half of all hate crime, 3,310 incidents, or 56.6 percent, was committed on the basis of race, with 52.7 percent being anti-black.

The FBI tracks over 30 different types of bias motivations within the categories of race and ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.

Also Monday, the Anti-Defamation League expressed “deep concern” over “ongoing reports” of anti-Semitic and other hate incidents in the wake of the 2016 election results last week.

Its Center on Extremism has been monitoring the proliferation of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism across the country, including the use of swastikas and other Nazi imagery including the name of President-elect Donald Trump, as well as reports of assaults and harassment, the ADL said in a statement.

The ADL also established a mechanism in which the public can report anti-Semitic, racist or bigoted incidents, and encouraged social media users to promote the hashtag #ExposeHate.

“Sadly, the contentious tone from the 2016 election has translated into a moment of ripeness for the haters to deface properties across the country with some of the most unsettling anti-Semitic and racist imagery,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO. “We must not let this troubling trend of hate define our society, which means that the onus is on our community leaders, religious clergy, elected officials and others to remain vigilant, report incidents when they surface and make clear that this level of vitriol will not be tolerated.”

Jews and Muslims: Lessons from Moroccan history


It is hard for anyone paying attention to relationships between Jews and Muslims to be optimistic these days. Hope for a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to recede further and further, and mutual suspicion and prejudice among Israeli Jews and Palestinians has risen accordingly. Many Jews in France feel uncomfortable being identified as Jewish in their homeland, citing rising anti-Semitism among Muslims in particular. Since the attacks on a kosher supermarket in January 2015, record numbers of French Jews have made aliyah. And in the United States, the rise of pro- and anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements has often pitted Jews against Arabs and by extension Muslims, perhaps especially on college campuses.

There are many things we must do to combat rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But as a Jew, I believe that this work must start at home, in our own communities. We cannot convincingly educate others about the dangers of anti-Semitism — which have been on upsetting display this election season here in the United States — without seriously addressing prejudice in our community. To be blunt: Jews must do everything we can to educate ourselves about Islam, and about Jews’ historic relationship with Muslims.

Fortunately, there is a long history of Jews and Muslims living together that can help change the way many in the U.S. — including many Jews — think about Muslims and the Islamic world. Unfortunately, this history is too little known. The vast majority of students who learn Jewish history are still taught an Ashkenazi-centric narrative, from Hebrew schools to day schools to universities. Even a cursory lesson in the way Jews and Muslims lived together in the Middle East before the creation of the State of Israel can challenge many of the negative stereotypes about the history of Jewish-Muslim relations.

My research focuses on Jews and Muslims in modern Morocco. Morocco’s Jewish community was and remains the largest in the Arab world: In 1950, about 250,000 Jews lived in Morocco (today, there are only about 3,000 Jews left). Before their gradual exodus, Jews lived in every single major Moroccan city, as well as in many remote towns and villages. Jews were a small but highly visible minority; even in rural areas where few Jews lived, Muslims expected visits from Jews who worked as traveling salesmen.

Jews and Muslims in pre-colonial Morocco lived largely separate lives; they rarely intermarried, they lived in segregated quarters, they celebrated different holidays and lived according to distinct sacred calendars. And the distinctions between Jews and Muslims were not those between equals: Muslims occupied a higher rung on the social and legal hierarchy, and various aspects of Jews’ daily lives reminded them of their inferior status.

Nonetheless, if one were transported back in time to Fez in, say, 1900, it probably would be difficult to tell Muslims and Jews apart. They spoke very similar dialects of Arabic; they dressed in the same style; they ate the same kinds of food; and they hired the same musical ensembles for their celebrations. But Jews and Muslims were by no means indistinguishable to one another, even if they participated in a culture that was largely shared.

Despite their differences, Jews’ and Muslims’ lives intersected frequently — often in ways we might find surprising. One of the places that brought Jews and Muslims together on a regular basis was nothing other than the Shariah courthouse. Given the demonization of “Shariah law” by so many in the United States, this might seem shocking to some. Yet in Morocco, Jews made frequent use of Shariah courts as part of their business dealings, both with Muslims and with other Jews. Indeed, in some instances Jews sought out the jurisdiction of a Shariah court, believing that they would get a more just decision from a Muslim judge than from a Jewish one.

The Assarrafs, a wealthy Jewish family from Fez, offer an excellent case study of how Moroccan Jews used Shariah courts. The Assarraf family patriarch, Shalom (1830-1910), was extremely familiar with Islamic legal institutions; at the height of his career, he visited them on average once a week. And his regular appearances in court made him an expert in Islamic law. In fact, Shalom was so knowledgeable that some Muslims appointed him as their lawyer in a Shariah court.

The past is not meant to provide a template for concrete policy proposals. But the past is instructive in its ability to change the way we think about the present, and therefore imagine different possibilities for the future. If we believe that Jews and Muslims have always been enemies and have lived in strife since the dawn of Islam, then there is little hope for improving the dynamics among Jews and Muslims today. But if we as Jews fight ignorance about the ways in which Jews lived with Muslims for hundreds of years, we can stop projecting the current dire state of Jewish-Muslim relations onto the past and the future. 

We as Jews have a responsibility to educate ourselves and others about the nuanced, complex history of Jews living among Muslims. Jews and Muslims — indeed all Americans — should know that families like the Assarrafs existed; that Jews were regular customers in Shariah courts; that Muslims hired Jewish lawyers to navigate Islamic law. With narratives like these, we have a shot at changing the conversation about Jewish-Muslim relations — past, present, and future.


Jessica Marglin is an assistant professor of religion at USC and author of “Across Legal Lines: Jews and Muslims in Modern Morocco” (Yale University Press, 2016).

Five heroes of 2016


In some respects, Election 2016 has not been American Jewry’s finest hour. 

Many of the major Jewish organizations that purport to represent the larger community  have not said a word in opposition to Donald Trump’s statements barring Muslims from entering the United States, or demeaning Mexicans, or groping women as a matter of entitlement.

These groups claim that they don’t want to be perceived as getting involved in politics — even though these same organizations and their leaders had no problem taking sides in the Iran nuclear debate.  This is shameful, but it also is myopic.  If a Trumpian candidate were to come along and say nasty things aimed at Jews, these same groups would clamor for the support of organized minority groups — who may then rightly point to the “official” Jewish silence over Trump.  So while these groups do a lot to help the needy and strengthen the Jewish community, what good is a Jewish community if it doesn’t stand up to defend fundamental Jewish values?

But there are bright spots.  One is that in less than three weeks, American Jews will vote overwhelmingly against the forces of prejudice and hate. And  from the start of this campaign, there have been individual and organizational heroes.

By heroes I mean quite simply the people and institutions who stood up against demagoguery and misogyny — and did so at some risk to their livelihoods.

I’m talking about people whose base is Republican, who themselves tend to only vote Republican and who had to take a stand against their own crowd, their own economic interest, their own past. It takes courage to do that, and before this election is over, they deserve credit.   

1. Michael Medved

Syndicated conservative radio host Michael Medved has been merciless in his opposition to Trump, and Medved’s biggest fans have in turn attacked him with the kind of vitriol only those who feel betrayed can muster.  

They call him, “idiotic,” “traitor,” “little weasel” and “little worm.” They vow to lead a boycott of his show. But Medved’s conservative critique of Trump has been unswerving from the start: Trump is no conservative. 

“Worst of all,” Medved wrote, “Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have tried for decades to attach to their opponents on the right.”

2. The Columnists  

I’ve singled out these people before, but since they haven’t let up, they’ve earned more kudos.  Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist, has been relentless in attacking Trump’s foreign policy credentials.

Just this week he wrote, “it’s utterly unwise for politically conservative Jews to make common cause with Mr. Trump, on the theory that he’d be a tougher customer in the Middle East than Mrs. Clinton. Leave aside the fact that Mrs. Clinton called privately for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities in one of her leaked Goldman Sachs speeches, while Mr. Trump has found public occasion to praise both Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad.”

Early on, Jennifer Rubin, who writes for The Washington Post, threw down against Trump as well. The vitriol she receives as a staunch conservative and as a woman makes you understand just how deep the misogyny in the Trump forces runs.

Stephens and Rubin are the head of the spear. But a phalanx of reliably conservative pundits has opposed Trump, including John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, David Frum, Ben Shapiro, Max Boot and David Brooks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more pro-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Obama group — and yet, for them, Trump is beyond the pale.

3. The Jewish Week

The Jewish Week has been the paper of record for New York’s Jewish community since the 1970s. In all that time, it has never endorsed a presidential candidate. Unlike the Jewish Journal, which as a nonprofit cannot endorse political candidates, The Jewish Week is a for-profit paper and had the ability to take sides; its owners just didn’t see an upside in dividing the community.   

Then, last week, The Jewish Week endorsed Hillary Clinton. 

The move was risky — many of the paper’s readers are traditionally minded and Republican. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, is himself Orthodox. But in an unsigned editorial, The Jewish Week explained its position this way: “In his long career, Trump has embodied only the first half of our sage Hillel’s famous adage: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?’ ”

The endorsement continued:  “Most seasoned political and strategic experts in Israel are more comfortable with Clinton, who showed strong support for the Jewish state as a U.S. senator, has in-depth knowledge of the region – its leaders and its problems — and is more openly compassionate toward Jerusalem than either Obama or Trump. Experts have always insisted that a strong U.S. means a strong Israel, and they worry that Trump would be a loose cannon whose recklessness could incite even more instability and anti-U.S. attitudes, and violence around the world.”

“Hillary Clinton is no amateur when it comes to public service. Well before her experience as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, she was known for her deep knowledge of issues and empathy for the underdogs of society. She has faced Trump’s torrents of invective, like calling her “the devil” to her face, with self-restraint, dignity and tenacity. She, too, is a flawed politician. But her faults pale in comparison to the consistent boorish behavior and mean-spirited ramblings of Trump, who has proven to be an embarrassment even to Republican leaders.”

“This newspaper has not endorsed political candidates in the past. But this election is an exception. It’s not just about politics. It’s about character, competence and compassion. It’s about values that are American, and rooted in the Bible: Seeing all men and women as created in the image of God, having empathy for “the other” among us, recognizing the power of community, building bridges rather than walls.”

According to Rosenblatt, the endorsement generated some cancelled subscriptions and angry letters, but also “hundreds of letters” in support.

4. Howard Stern

If it weren’t for the brilliant interviewing skills of Sirius XM radio host Howard Stern, we wouldn’t have Trump on tape, on the record, being Trump:  demeaning women (including his own daughter) and supporting the Iraq War. 

Stern alone asked the kind of questions that exposed the real Trump.  He knew exactly who he was speaking to, and he opened him up with the kind of questions that revealed Trump at his truest.  And that truth — that Trump is a man who reduces women to numbers, who has zero problem sleeping with married women, that he enjoyed walking in on teenage beauty contestants while they were changing, and that no matter how much he denies it, that he supported the Iraq War.  If not for Howard, we wouldn't have a public audio record of all this.   In other words, Howard did the job that mainstream journalists failed at — exposing the man behind the Cheeto-colored mask.

As Howard explained on his show last week, he didn't do this as a Trump enemy– they are friends, though Howard has made clear since 2008 he is a Hillary supporter. There simply is no smarter interviewer in broadcast media than Howard Stern, and he knew whom he was dealing with — and he is fearless.  

5. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) 

Under its new leader, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL has publicly denounced Trump’s tirades against Muslims and Mexicans as well as his campaign’s anti-Semitic tropes and wink-winks to the alt-right. Alone among big-tent Jewish organizations, it has held Trump accountable for the claptrap that comes out of his mouth.

“In a place where there are no men,” the rabbis teach us in “Ethics of the Fathers,” “strive to be a man.” When the stench of this election has cleared, these people and groups will be able to say they didn’t let down their party, their country or their community.


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.

10 US Muslim leaders urge Hamas to release remains of Israeli soldiers


Ten U.S. Muslim leaders, including both Muslims in Congress, urged Hamas to return to Israel the remains of two soldiers.

“In the name of Almighty God the most merciful and compassionate, we appeal to you on the basis of humanity and charity to release the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two Israeli soldiers killed in action, to their families,” said the letter sent Sept. 21 to Khaled Meshal, a leader of Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Signatories include Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., the two Muslim congressmen; M. Ali Chaudry, the former mayor of Basking Ridge, New Jersey.; Sayyid Syeed, the director of interfaith alliances at the Islamic Society of North America; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who directed an unsuccessful and controversial effort to build an Islamic community center near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York.

“Both Israelis and Palestinians have felt the pain of war, of losing loved ones and children far too soon,” the letter said. “The Holy Qur’an reminds us that ‘Whoever pardons and makes reconciliation will receive his reward from Allah.’ We ask you to act upon these words and allow the Goldin and Shaul families to bury their loved ones.”

Shaul and Goldin were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, initiated the letter. He made it public on Sunday at the annual Washington conference of the Israeli-American Council, where Goldin’s parents were in attendance.

“Here, in the presence of the Goldin family, I am proud to share that many of the most prominent leaders of America’s Muslim community have joined their humanitarian campaign,” Schneier said. “We are hopeful that these voices can make an impact in bringing Hadar and Oron home.”

The Israeli-American Council’s CEO, Shaul Nicolet, praised the foundation “for taking a leadership role in this campaign to bring Israel’s boys home.”

Goldin’s parents last week opened an exhibition of their son’s artwork at United Nations headquarters in New York in a bid to raise awareness about their quest to return their son’s remains.

Shaul’s father, Herzl, died Sept. 2, from intestinal cancer. His family released a letter he had written to his son.

Gallup: Jews favor Clinton over Trump, 52-23 percent


Jewish voters favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 52 to 23 percent, according to poll tracking by Gallup.

The only religious group showing stronger favorability ratings for the Democratic nominee in data collected from July 1-Aug. 28 is Muslims, who favor Clinton over Trump 64 to 9 percent, according to the analysis posted Tuesday by Gallup.

Jews tend to favor the Democratic nominee by 10-15 points more than the general population, and this polling is no different; Gallup’s latest general population favorability ratings, for the week Aug. 24-30, show Clinton at 39 percent and Trump, the Republican nominee, at 33.

Clinton also fares better than Trump among Catholics, 45-33, other non-Christian religions, 48-18 and atheist/agnostic, 44-19.

Trump fares better than Clinton among only two religious groups listed by Gallup, Protestants and other Christians, 40 to 35, and Mormons, 33-16.

Trump has come under fire for his broadsides against Muslims and other minorities. His expressions of antipathy toward Mexicans likely also hurt him among Catholics; Trump earns 44 percent approval to Clinton’s 34 percent among non-Hispanic Catholics, but scores 12 percent to Clinton’s 67 percent among Hispanic Catholics.

Gallup in an email to JTA said the margin of error for the Jewish sample was 5 percentage points and for the Muslim sample, 7.5 percentage points. There were 689 Jewish respondents and 168 Muslim respondents.

A recent poll of Florida Jews carried out by a polling firm close to J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, found that 66 percent of Jews said they would vote for Clinton over 23 percent for Trump. Only Orthodox Jews as a group favored Trump over Clinton, by a margin of 3-1.

The Florida question, however, was phrased differently, asking respondents whom they would vote for, and not whom they favored, as in the Gallup survey.

When in France…


The little storm in a teacup last week in France — burqini or no burqini? — is emblematic of a much larger, existential question: Should a person be free to choose oppression? 

For the uninitiated, the burqini is similar to a wetsuit but made of lighter material; it covers the whole body, including the head, leaving out only the feet, hands and face. If you’ve ever been to a coed beach in summertime in a Muslim country, you’ve seen the floating tents that bob up and down along the shoreline — women trying to swim or cool off with their clothes and their chador wrapped around them. It’s not very practical, and it may even be unsafe: one’s limbs may get caught in all that fabric, but what’s an observant woman to do? How else is she going to satisfy both her religious duty and her desire to swim?  One alternative is to divide the beach, the way the Islamic government did in Iran — just curtain off sections of the sea and let women bathe in whatever costume they want. The other, it seems, is the burqini. 

The manufacturer says it has sold more than 700,000 of them since 2008. That
must have been one too many for the mayors of some French towns because, earlier this month, more than 20 of them imposed a “temporary” ban on wearing it at a public beach or pool. France’s beaches, they said, are a national treasure, a reflection of a certain way of life — sexy and secular and unabashedly amoral; “the beaches of Bardot and Vadim,” one mayor said. They would not be altered or adulterated by symbols of Islamic encroachment into the French way of life. 

Basically, when in France … 

I should clarify at the outset that France’s highest court swiftly overturned the ban, on grounds that it’s every person’s right to choose what she wears and why. I think most of us would agree that the court took a wise and logical stance, given what a slippery slope it can be to selectively apply the law or protect individual rights. But while my head applauds the decision, I have to admit that my heart is — well, with the mayors. 

I realize it’s none of my business and that I’m being intolerant and judgmental and very un-American in my reaction, but the sight of women covered up in public has always rattled me. I do believe that most ideas fall into the gray zone between right and wrong, but keeping women covered up so men don’t feel tempted isn’t one of them. So my first reaction to news of the burqini ban was, “Good! It’s about time.” 

In 1936, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the father of the fallen Shah, imposed a ban on women wearing any kind of hijab, from the chador to a headscarf or veil. Much has been said over the years about the wisdom of alienating such a large majority of Iranians by taking from them their beloved hijab. Reza Shah should have respected people’s rights to practice their religion any way they want, pundits still say, instituted change slowly and from within, through education and dialogue, given women a choice, appeased the mullahs.  

On that last one — appeasement — I’ll quote Churchill’s “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” On the rest of it, I’ll say only, thank God Reza Shah violated observant Muslims’ rights and saved all of us — men and women, Muslim and not — from the tyranny of the hijab. Because no amount of patience or education would have resulted in the mullahs voluntarily loosening their grip on their powerbase. Just as, I fear, no amount of appeasement in France will result in its
radical Muslim leaders willingly giving up their sovereignty by allowing their followers to assimilate into mainstream French culture.

Lest I sound like one of those radical right-wing we’re-going-to-build-a-wall-and-make-Mexico-pay-for-it lunatics, let me say that I recognize a good degree of hypocrisy in my own approach to the subject: Had the mayors of Nice and Cannes announced that Orthodox Jewish women, not Muslims ones, have to give up their standards of modesty in order to enjoy the beach, my response to the news would have been vastly different: alarm, outrage, anger, “it’s happening again” — yes. “There go the anti-Semitic French” — yes. “They’re doing this because they want to appease their Muslim extremist citizens — yes.” “It’s about time” — absolutely not. 

Granted, Orthodox Jewish women don’t wear a chador and/or neghab; most of them are not subject to all the other restrictions that cage observant Muslim women; their numbers are not as great and their values not as hostile to Western ones. Most importantly, their histories could not be more different. For Jews, small censures have usually been precursors to catastrophic assaults.

Still, the rationale behind the covering up is the same. For the Jews, I tell myself, “it’s a personal choice.” For the Muslims, I’m convinced, it’s an assault on civilization. How can I defend this way of thinking? 

I can’t. And I don’t want to. All I can say is, thank God we — and the French — have laws that protect everyone’s rights equally, and that there are courts that uphold those laws and a system that enforces them.

And thank God, too, for the occasional tyrant who, every once in a while, deprives people of their right to choose. 

 

GINA NAHAI’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

French court overturns burkini ban


A little over one week after at least 30 French municipalities imposed regulations that banned wearing full-body swimsuits favored by Muslim women, the country’s highest administrative court overturned the bans, calling them unconstitutional.

The French Council of State passed its ruling Friday, following a polarizing debate about the burkini swimsuit in a divided France, which is struggling to balance freedom of worship with its attachment to other liberal values — including the fight against radical Islam and the oppression of women.

Defended by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as a countermeasure against “a political project … to perpetuate female servitude,” the burkini ban and its enforcement have angered millions of Frenchmen who regard it as a gross infringement into the private realm and unwarranted discrimination toward Muslims.

The ruling by the court was specific to the Riviera town of Villeneuve-Loubet, but the decision is expected to set a legal precedent for the 30 or so resort towns that have issued similar decrees. 
Lawyers for two human rights groups challenged the legality of the ban, saying it infringed basic freedoms and that the towns’ mayors have far overstepped their powers by dictating what women can and can’t wear on beaches.

[RELATED: Ban the burkini?]

The mainstream representative organs of French Jewry have remained uncharacteristically silent on the burkini issue even as the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained Wednesday about reports of “police harassment” of Muslim swimmers in Nice. It was an unusual move for the board, which rarely comments on foreign issues without consulting the relevant Jewish communities.

A senior rabbi, Moshe Sebbag of the Grand Synagogue of Paris, acknowledged in an interview with JTA on Tuesday the reluctance of other French Jewish leaders to speak out on the issue.

“It’s a complicated subject and both sides have compelling arguments,” Sebbag said, adding that the French state is a “secular country with freedom of religion.”

But Sebbag ultimately defended the bans, whose supporters, he said, “understand today there’s a religious war, a takeover of the secular establishment of the French republic, and this is what they find unacceptable.”

Asked if he agrees with the burkini bans, he said: “Yes, because you see that going with it [a burkini] is not innocent, it’s sending a message.”

In crime-ridden Israeli Arab city, police seek new approach


On the rundown streets of Umm al-Fahm, an Israeli-Arab city of 50,000, locals in smoky cafes are reluctant to speak. Violent crime at the hands of drug gangs is rife here. Reprisals are common. Israeli Jews rarely set foot in the city.

“The gangs are in control,” said a man who refused to give his name, standing beneath two security cameras that he said were pointless since the police rarely came.

Cities like Umm al-Fahm illustrate a stark division within Israeli society: the growing lawlessness in parts of the Arab community, which makes up 20 percent of Israel's population and frequently complains of discrimination.

With murder rates and other criminal activity far higher among Arabs – 59 percent of all murders are committed by Arabs, police records show – the government is hoping a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar plan to bolster policing will tackle the problem and put Arab municipalities on a better footing.

As well as extra policing — at a cost of $500 million — there is a proposal for a general boost in spending in Arab areas, where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line, double the national rate.

In a signal of its commitment, the national police in April promoted an Arab Muslim officer to its second highest post, for the first time in its history, and has announced plans to build more police stations and recruit more Arab officers.

But the residents of Umm al-Fahm say they have seen no change so far, and there is little optimism. Weeks after Deputy Commissioner Jamal Hakrush's promotion, two Umm al-Fahm men were murdered hours apart. Much of the crime is Arab-on-Arab.

Still, new recruits to the police service say they are keen to get to grips with the problem.

“One of the reasons that made me join the Israeli police is the increasing amount of violence in Arab society,” said Kamal al-Asadi, a trainee at the police academy.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?

Ahmad Jamal, 51, sells sporting goods near the scene of one of the murders in Umm al-Fahm. A neighboring street vendor was shot in the legs last month over a parking dispute.

“Police can't solve this problem. It comes from us and only we can solve it,” he said. “There isn't any dialogue between neighbors any more.”

Jamal has coached a local boys soccer league for decades and seen an increasing number of former players fall into a pattern of crime as they enter adulthood. He partly blames a breakdown of traditional Arab society, and some experts agree.

In Umm al-Fahm there's little confidence in the police as mediators. Patrols within the city are rare. It's one of Israel’s largest Arab cities but there are no hotels — no one wants to stay. Locals fear nighttime, describing armed men stalking the streets, drug dealers gathering in souped-up cars and bursts of gunfire in the early hours.

Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu of the Abraham Fund Initiative, an Israeli NGO that promotes equitable policing, said crime among Israeli Arabs has been rising “gradually, but significantly”.

Human rights organizations say “over-and-under” policing, in which police are less responsive when it comes to Arab-on-Arab crime yet employ tough measures in response to threats against Jews, are partly to blame.

The Israeli police hope recruiting more Arabs will help. There is an effort to sign up more Bedouin, Druze and Israeli-Arab officers. But a study by the RAND corporation commissioned by the Israeli government warned diversifying the force wouldn’t be sufficient. The think-tank pointed to U.S. cities with majority black police forces that saw little improvement.

So far, Arab recruitment drives have been mostly limited to increased advertising, but a police spokesman said departments would eventually meet with communities to build support.

“This isn't a month-by-month effort,” he said. “This will take years.”

Burkini ban is great for business, says Israeli-French maker of modest swimsuits


According to the latest tally, at least 30 French municipalities have banned the product that the Paris-born businesswoman Yardena G. sells for a living.

Yardena, a haredi Orthodox mother of nine from Jerusalem, owns the Sea Secret fashion label of modest swimwear for devoutly religious women. And she regards the bans on full-body bathing suits for Muslim women, or burkinis, as “the best commercial ever for modest swimwear.”

In fact, Yardena said in an interview Thursday with JTA, she predicts the controversial bans will “end up boosting sales in a big way.” (Citing privacy issues, she asked that her last name not be mentioned in the article.)

Yardena, who immigrated to Israel 14 years ago, sells various models of “full-body” swimsuits that leave little more than the hands and feet exposed.

The bans on the distinctive Muslim swimwear have ignited a polarizing debate in a divided France, which is struggling to balance freedom of worship with its attachment to other liberal values — including the fight against radical Islam and the oppression of women.

Defended by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as a countermeasure against “a political project … to perpetuate female servitude,” the burkini ban and its enforcement have angered millions of Frenchmen who regard it as a gross infringement into the private realm and unwarranted discrimination toward Muslims.

It also dismayed Yardena, 45, who started her line of modest swimwear with a female business partner “to empower women” who adhere to religious laws, common to Muslims and Jews, that demand women cover up to various degrees.

“It’s like someone turned the world on its head in France,” she said. “Instead of promoting modesty and good measures like leaders and figures of authority ought to, they’re telling women to take it off.

“I don’t understand what’s happened, but I do know that as a person who keeps modest clothing, such measures will do nothing to discourage other women like me.”

Sea Secret’s dozen or so sales agents in France have reported to Yardena that French Jewish women, who constitute the lion’s share of the firm’s clientele, are worried they may be affected by the ban.

“It’s creating a problem for Jewish women because it’s poisoning the atmosphere for everyone – Muslims, Christians and anyone who doesn’t want a police officer making wardrobe decisions for them,” Yardena said.

Some suits in the  Sea Secret line could be classified as a burkini, she said. Yardena noted one model featuring an elastic shawl that can be used both as a hijab and a traditional head cover of the sort favored by haredi and modern Orthodox women.

One of several Jewish-owned businesses offering modest swimwear for women, Sea Secret does have some Muslim clients. But many Muslim women refrain from buying its products because it is known to be Jewish-owned and Israel based.

“They perceive it as political,” Yardena said.

Christian women, however, account for a third of sales.

“I believe women who observe modesty observe the sanctity of God no matter what their own faith happens to be,” Yardena said. “I think our brand is truly a light onto the nations.”

The mainstream representative organs of French Jewry, which are normally quick to offer their take on current affairs — especially on religious issues — have remained conspicuously silent on this issue even as the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained Wednesday about reports of “police harassment” of Muslim swimmers in Nice. It was an unusual move for the board, which rarely comments on foreign issues without consulting the relevant Jewish communities.

A senior rabbi, Moshe Sebbag of the Grand Synagogue of Paris, acknowledged in an interview with JTA on Tuesday the reluctance of other French Jewish leaders to speak out on the issue.

“It’s a complicated subject and both sides have compelling arguments,” Sebbag said, adding that the French state is a “secular country with freedom of religion.”

But Sebbag ultimately defended the bans, whose supporters, he said, “understand today there’s a religious war, a takeover of the secular establishment of the French republic, and this is what they find unacceptable.” Asked if he agrees with the burkini bans, he said: “Yes, because you see that going with it [a burkini] is not innocent, it’s sending a message.”

The burkini ban is turning France away from its own core values, according to David Isaac Haziza, a French-Jewish columnist for La Regle du Jeu, the commentary and news site edited by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

Haziza is critical of those who wear the burkini, which he described as a sign of radicalization at the expense of integration. Nonetheless, Haziza argued against fighting it through legislation and regulations. The fight, he said, should be “on a moral level.”

Ban the burqini?


A few months ago, I posted a picture on Instagram that I particularly cherish. I was crossing the street toward the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills when I noticed a woman in a white niqab walking toward me. Every part of her head but her two quite pretty eyes was covered. Just before the woman passed me, I looked down and noticed what she was carrying — a copy of that week’s Jewish Journal.

Of course I whipped out my iPhone and took the shot. Women in niqabs, which cover everything but the eyes; hijabs, which cover just the head; and even burqas, which cover everything including the eyes, have become more and more common in Beverly Hills, at the Grove and even in Venice Beach these days. But wearing one of them and carrying the Jewish Journal — not so much.

The moral of that story is you never know what’s under the burqa. A terrorist bent on blowing you up? Or a curious, open-minded soul eager to find out what the Jews are thinking? Or — cue the “Homeland” theme music — both?

Many in the West want to settle the question by banning the burqa and its beach-ready spinoff, the burqini. In 2010, the French Senate banned the burqa, and Belgium and the Netherlands have followed suit. Now municipalities in southern France want to ban the burqini, as well. In an age of suicide terrorists — especially the female suicide terrorist —their fear is understandable. Last week, we saw again the devastation that this new form of terror can wreak when a bomber blew himself up at a wedding in Turkey. Of the 54 people killed, nearly half were children. 

But before we are tempted to go down the road of banning one form of religious garb or the other — a road that would inevitably detour to observant Jews, and nuns, and, of course, the Pope  — we ought to make a stop in Israel.

If you’ve ever been to the beach there, you’ve swum among the burqinis, or, as I call them, SPF 1000. No one freaks out. Though Israel suffers from terrorism far more than most developed nations, there’s never been a serious call to outlaw  Moslem garb in Israel. All of which has to make you wonder: When it comes to banning burqas, what does Israel know that Europe doesn’t? 

“It’s so stupid,” Dr. Anat Berko told me earlier this week, flatly, definitively.

Berko is a member of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. While in Los Angeles for a conference on terrorism, she stopped by the Jewish Journal offices, and, naturally, with the burqini debate raging, the conversation veered toward suicide bombers and how to stop them. 

And when one of the world’s experts on suicide terrorism dismisses banning the burkini as stupid, maybe it’s time to listen.

Berko, who is 56, spent 25 years in the Israel Defense Forces, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. She earned her doctorate in criminology and in 2014 wrote “The Smarter Bomb: Women and Children as Suicide Bombers.” Next month, Rowman & Littlefield will release the book in paperback.

Twenty years ago, when suicide bombers first let loose in Israel, Berko predicted Muslim terrorists would start using the technique against other Muslims, and that women and children would become suicide bombers themselves.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Because,” she said, “nothing stops with the Jews.”

Berko spent years interviewing suicide bombers who survived or were apprehended in the course of their missions, and the people who dispatched them, including, famously, Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin. What she learned informs what she believes is the right strategy for dealing with this kind of terror.

It’s not despair, she said, that motivates the perpetrators. 

“The reward of an afterlife is the most important thing,” she said. “They hate the West, but they want to live in the West once they die — with the women and the alcohol.”

Berko tells the story of a young would-be suicide bomber who survived his blast and woke up instead in an Israeli hospital.  When he opened his eyes, he saw the beautiful Israeli nurses dressed in white. 

“Am I in heaven?” he asked.

“No,” a doctor said.  “Hadassah.”

The ideology is blinding. So a woman suicide bomber will wear a sexy, skimpy dress just to pass undetected — another reason the obsession with burqas makes no sense.   

“Who cares about the burqini?” Berko said. “We are focusing on the real things. They are focusing on peanuts. Israel has what to teach Europe, but Europe isn’t listening.”

Berko reeled off three approaches to countering suicide bombers that have nothing to do with bathing suits. 

First, she said, define the enemy.  Leaders must understand the issue is extremist Islamic ideology.

“You need to say the word ‘Islamic,’ ” she said.

Second, distinguish between terrorists and ordinary people.  Making the lives of non-terrorists harder, punishing populations rather than terrorists, only increases the chances of the next attack.  

Finally, target incitement, whether in the mosques or on the internet.   

There are a of good arguments against a burqini ban, but for people truly concerned about terror, what about this: the people who know best say it doesn't work.


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.

How Paris public schools became no-go zones for Jews


Twenty-five years after he graduated from a public high school in the French capital, Stephane Tayar recalls favorably his time in one of the world’s most thorough education systems.

As for many other French Jews his age, the state-subsidized upbringing has worked out well for Tayar, a 43-year-old communications and computers specialist. Eloquent but down to earth, he seems as comfortable discussing the complexities of French society as he is adept at fighting — curses, threats and all — for his motorcycle’s place in the brutal traffic here.

“You learn to get along with all kinds of people – Muslims, Christians, poor, rich,” Tayar said in recalling his school years. “You debate, you study, you get into fistfights. It’s a pretty round education.”

But when the time came for Tayar and his wife to enroll their own boy and girl, the couple opted for Jewish institutions — part of a network of dozens of private establishments with state recognition, hefty tuition and student bodies that are made up almost exclusively of Jews.

“Enrolling a Jewish kid into a public school was normal when I was growing up,” Tayar said in a recent interview as he waited with two helmets in hand to pick up his youngest from her Jewish elementary school in eastern Paris. “Nowadays forget it; no longer realistically possible. Anti-Semitic bullying means it would be too damaging for any Jewish kid you put there.”

This common impression and growing religiosity among Jews in France are responsible for the departure from public schools of tens of thousands of young French and Belgian Jews, who at a time of unprecedented sectarian tensions in their countries are being brought up in a far more insular fashion than previous generations.

Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third of them do so. The remaining two-thirds are divided equally between Jewish schools and private schools that are not Jewish, including Catholic and Protestant institutions, according to Francis Kalifat, the newly elected president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

The change has been especially dramatic in the Paris area, which is home to some 350,000 Jews, or an estimated 65 percent of French Jewry.

“In the Paris region, there are virtually no more Jewish pupils attending public schools,” said Kalifat, attributing their absence to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults” against Jews because of their ethnicity, and to the simultaneous growth of the Jewish education system.

Whereas most anti-Semitic incidents feature taunts and insults that often are not even reported to authorities, some cases involve death threats and armed assaults. In one incident from 2013, several students reportedly cornered a Jewish classmate as he was leaving their public school in western Paris. One allegedly called him a “dirty Jew” and threatened to stab the boy with a knife. A passer-by intervened and rescued the Jewish child.

The increase in schoolyard anti-Semitism in France, first noted in an internal Education Ministry report in 2004, coincided with an increase in anti-Semitic incidents overall. Prior to 2000, only a few dozen incidents were recorded annually in France. Since then, however, hundreds have been reported annually. Many attacks — and a majority of violent ones — are committed by people with a Muslim background, who target Jews as such or as payback for Israel’s actions in what is known as the “new anti-Semitism.”

In 2012, payback for Israel’s actions in Gaza was the stated motivation of a jihadist who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Since then, Jewish institutions across Europe and French Jewish schools especially have been protected by armed guards – most often soldiers toting automatic rifles.

In neighboring Belgium, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism has documented multiple incidents that it said were rapidly making Belgian public schools “Jew-free.” Some blamed Belgian schools for being more reluctant than their French counterparts to punish pupils for anti-Semitic behavior.

The latest incident there involved a 12-year-old boy at a public school outside Brussels. Classmates allegedly sprayed him with deodorant cans in the shower to simulate a gas chamber. The boy’s mother said it was an elaborate prank that also caused him burns from the deodorant nozzles.

In April, another Jewish mother said a public school in the affluent Brussels district of Uccle was deliberately ignoring systematic anti-Semitic abuse of her son, Samuel, in order to hide it. She enrolled him specifically at a non-Jewish school because she did not want him to be raised parochially, the mother said, but she had to transfer him to a Jewish school due to the abuse.

In addition to charting anti-Semitism among students, watchdogs in France and Belgium are seeing for the first time in decades a growing number of incidents involving teachers – as victims and perpetrators.

Last month, the Education Ministry in France began probing a high school teacher who shared with her students anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook — including ones about the clout of the Jewish lobby in the United States and another about French President Francois Hollande’s Jewish roots (he has none).

In 2012, a teacher from a suburb of Lyon said she was forced to resign after her bosses learned that she had suffered anti-Semitic abuse by students. Days later, two teenagers were arrested near Marseilles on suspicion of setting off an explosion near a teacher who had reported receiving anti-Semitic threats at school.

The atmosphere is pushing many French Jewish parents to leave for Israel, which is seeing record levels of immigration from France. Since 2012, 20,000 Jews have made the move. Their absence is already being felt in Jewish schools and beyond, said Kalifat, because “the people who are leaving are exactly the people who are involved in the Jewish community.”

Some of those who left were responsible for developing France’s Jewish education system long before anti-Semitism became a daily reality for French Jews, said Kalifat. More than 30 years ago he enrolled his own two children in a Jewish school “not because of anti-Semitism, which was not a problem back then, but simply to give them a more Jewish education,” he said.

Jewish immigrants from North Africa to France had a major role in the growth of Jewish schools from a handful in the 1950s and ’60s to the formation of Jewish education networks with dozens of institutions, said Kalifat — himself an Algeria-born Jew and the first North African Sephardi to be elected CRIF president.

Arriving in a country where a quarter of the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Jewish newcomers from former colonies of France were more traditional and religious than many French-born Jews.

“They developed all sectors of Jewish life, but Jewish schools more than anything,” Kalifat said.

The effort has paid off in several ways. Last year, Jewish schools topped two French media rankings of the country’s approximately 4,300 high schools. One was a Chabad institution; the other was part of the more liberal Alliance network.

Some French Jews, including Yeshaya Dalsace, a Conservative rabbi from Paris, say the rise of Orthodox religious schools and other institutions is part of a trend toward insularity that comes at the expense of openness at a time when Jews should be more engaged in French society than ever.

But to Tayar, the growth of Jewish schools amid anti-Semitism is a much-needed silver lining.

“That parents like me effectively can’t send their children to public schools is tragic,” he said. “The only positive aspect I can see here is that anti-Semitic hatred drives us to make the financial sacrifice that will raise a generation that has much more Jewish culture and knowledge than our own.”

London’s Muslim mayor hit with anti-Semitic messages for not backing Corbyn to lead Labour


London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a European capital city, has been bombarded with anti-Semitic messages since he said he would not support Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election.

Several of the messages suggested that he had been influenced by Jews, the London-based news website Jewishnews.uk reported.

The mayor “spends his time writing articles to help his masters in Tel Aviv,” read one tweet.

“Who owns you @sadiqkhan?” read another, which included a photo of Khan wearing a kippah while eating matzah at a Jewish community event.

Last week, Khan threw his support behind Owen Smith, who has been a Parliament member since 2010 and is Corbyn’s only challenger for the party leadership. Smith previously worked as a radio and television producer for the BBC.

Khan, a Labour member, wrote an op-ed published Saturday in The Guardian newspaper in support of Smith. He said in the London-based daily that if Corbyn remained party leader, Labour would be unlikely to win the next general election. Khan also said Corbyn “has already proved that he is unable to organize an effective team, and has failed to win the trust and respect of the British people.”

In a June op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, Kahn pledged to root out anti-Semitism in London and in the Labour Party.

Some 500,000 ballots for the leadership race were sent out to party members on Monday; the results will be announced next month.

Palestinian terrorism and Muslim hypocrisy: An open letter from a Muslim woman


While millions of children got out of bed on the morning of June 30 excited to be on summer vacation, one child did not. A young Israeli girl, 13-year-old Hallel Yaffe Ariel, was brutally murdered in her own bed by a 17-year-old Palestinian terrorist. He broke into her house and stabbed her to death.

Another life lost to senseless violence. Another poor soul taken too early from this world. But few Muslims in this world will be mourning her death because Hallel was an Israeli Jew.

Read more at Times of Israel.


Nadiya Al-Noor is a Muslim interfaith activist with a focus on Jewish and Muslim communities, and she actively supports peace between Israel and the Palestinians. She is a graduate student at Binghamton University in upstate New York, studying public administration. This essay originally appeared in TimesofIsrael.com. Reprinted with permission.

Iran’s Rouhani accuses West of exploiting Sunni-Shi’ite rift, raps Israel


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Western powers of trying to exploit differences between the world's Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims to divert attention from the Israel-Palestinian conflict, state television reported on Friday.

Rouhani's comments came as tens of thousands of Iranians joined anti-Israel rallies across the country to mark the annual al-Quds Day, established by the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The protesters condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”

“The global arrogance (the United States and its allies) wants to create discord among Muslims … Unity is the only way to restore stability in the region,” Rouhani said.

“We stand with the dispossessed Palestinian nation.”

Opposition to Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognise, has been a cornerstone of Iranian policy since its 1979 Islamic revolution. Shi'ite Muslim Iran backs Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups who oppose peace with Israel.

“The Zionist regime (Israel) is a regional base for America and the global arrogance … Disunity and discord among Muslim and terrorist groups in the region … have diverted us from the important issue of Palestine,” Rouhani said.

Shi'ite-led Iran has repeatedly called on its Sunni Muslim rival Saudi Arabia to help improve their strained bilateral relations and work for stability in the Middle East.

Arch-rivals for regional hegemony, the two oil producers are on opposite sides in proxy battles in the region, where they back competing factions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain.

Ties have worsened since Riyadh's execution in January of prominent Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr prompted attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia subsequently cut all ties with Iran.

Riyadh is worried that a landmark nuclear deal reached between Iran, the United States and five other major powers in 2015 will help Tehran gain the upper hand in their regional standoff.