Sen. Cruz Urges Illinois to Vote Against Nazi Running for Congress


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

An unabashed Nazi is running for Congress in Illinois as the Republican candidate – and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is urging Republicans in the district to vote against the Nazi candidate.

Arthur Jones, according to The New York Times, believes that the Holocaust was “a greatly overblown nonevent” and that it’s an “international extortion event.” He has told Politico that he’s hoping to defeat the “two-party, Jew-party, queer-party system.” He used to be a member of the American Nazi Party.

Despite all that, he won the Republican primary because the state party couldn’t find another candidate to run against him. The state party also couldn’t find a third-party candidate to run against Jones, prompting him to gloat to Politico, “I snookered them [the state GOP]!”

Now Cruz is calling on his fellow Republicans to take a stand against Jones.

“This is horrific. An avowed Nazi running for Congress,” Cruz tweeted. “To the good people of Illinois, you have two reasonable choices: write in another candidate, or vote for the Democrat. This bigoted fool should receive ZERO votes.”

The Illinois GOP has roundly condemned Jones’ views.

“Arthur Jones is not a real Republican — he is a Nazi whose disgusting, bigoted views have no place in our nation’s discourse,” Illinois Republican Party chairman Tim Schneider said in a March statement.

Illinois Republican Party spokesman Aaron DeGroot told Politico that the party will find a write-in candidate as an alternative to Jones.

Despite the state GOP’s repeated disavowal of Jones, Politico has detailed how some in the party are concerned that Jones will be an albatross weighing down state GOP candidates across the board in November.

The state party has had trouble finding someone to run against Jones because the district is expected to be a shoe-in for the Democrats. A third-party candidate would have required 14,600 signatures just to be on the ballot in November.

The Politico report also notes that Schneider has been criticized for not claiming that Jones’ signature petitions were invalid, which both parties in Illinois have done in the past to stamp out reprehensible candidates. The state GOP has claimed that they “couldn’t find a legal reason to challenge” Jones’ petition signatures.

Jones himself has refused to file documents with the Federal Elections Commission, telling Politico, “I’m not going to give the Jews an opportunity to harass my supporters until after the election.”

Jones is not the only candidate with Nazi views to receive national attention. Patrick Little ran for Senate in California on the platform to “free [America] from Jews.” Little lost, as the general election is between incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and California State Sen. Kevin de León (D).

The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler


Vladimir Jabotinsky (front right) in Warsaw in 1939, with 23-year-old Menachem Begin (front left). Photos courtesy of National Photo Collection of Israel

In the opening months of World War II, more than a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the United States into the war, the three most prominent Zionist figures in the world — David Ben-Gurion, Vladimir Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizmann; leaders of the left, right and center of Zionism, respectively — undertook missions to America to energize the American Jewish community in support of raising a Jewish army to fight Hitler. Each of the leaders crossed an Atlantic patrolled by German submarines.

What follows is a little-known story about the Jewish people, as they began to face their darkest hour at the beginning of the most horrific decade in modern Jewish history.

* * *

The Germans did not embark on their “Final Solution” until late 1941 or early 1942, and reliable word about it did not reach America until 1943. But in 1940, readers of The New York Times — the most important source of information in the age before television — knew the existential crisis the Jews faced not only in Germany but also throughout Eastern Europe.

On Feb. 7, 1937 — 2 1/2 years before World War II began — one of the Times’ most experienced correspondents, Otto D. Tolischus, described the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Eastern Europe in an article covering five columns in the first section of the Sunday edition. Tolischus’ article began with a prescient sentence:

“Anti-Semitism, raised by Adolf Hitler in Germany to the status of a political religion, is rapidly spreading throughout Eastern Europe and is thereby turning the recurrent Jewish tragedy in that biggest Jewish center in the world into a final disaster of truly historic magnitude.”

Tolischus reported that the “disaster is now taking place in Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Rumania and is approaching a high-water mark in Poland, the country with the largest Jewish population outside the United States.” Tolischus wrote that “5,000,000 souls” were “facing the prospect of either repeating the Exodus on a bigger scale than that chronicled in the bible … or spending the rest of their lives in an atmosphere of creeping hostility and dying a slow death from economic strangulation.”

After the Nazis and Soviets invaded Poland in September 1939, the two totalitarian powers held 3 million more Jews captive, with plans to destroy them or their religion, or both. The October 1939 issue of the Brooklyn Jewish Center Review, published by one of the leading American Conservative synagogues, featured an article by Rabbi Elias N. Rabinowitz, titled “How Will the Conquest of Poland Affect Its Jews?” Rabinowitz wrote that “the tragedy of Poland has, probably, never been equaled in the recorded annals of history”:

“The plight of the Polish Jew beggars description. He has been uprooted, he has been destroyed. … The Polish Republic contained the second-largest Jewish community in the present Diaspora, approximately 4,000,000 souls. … As reports reach us from various sources, starvation is rampant. The number of suicides is reported to be overwhelming.”

The crisis was thus well known in America, but the three Zionist leaders found an American Jewish community that faced a complicated situation. Virtually the entire country was against any involvement in the new European war, and there was significant anti-Semitism openly espoused by such public figures as Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin and syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler, among others. American Jews worried that Zionism might bring accusations of dual loyalty, and that arguing for supporting Britain might bring charges of “warmongering.”

But thousands of people came out to hear Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky and Weizmann in their appearances in America during 1940, and the effort to build a Jewish army that year came closer to reality than most people now realize.

* * *

The three leaders knew that the Jews could form a fighting force, because all three leaders had been involved in the Jewish Legion in World War I — the 15,000 soldiers who fought alongside the British to defeat the Ottoman Empire in Palestine. Jabotinsky had been the guiding force behind the Jewish Legion and became one of its officers; Weizmann had given it critical support with his contacts in the British government; and Ben-Gurion had served in it as a private. In World War II, with the Jews themselves the expressed target of Nazi Germany, the three leaders thought they could mobilize a far larger Jewish force to meet the existential threat.

At the time of World War I, the proposal for a Jewish military force was a radical idea for a people with no modern military experience and an ingrained moral resistance to “militarism.” For nearly 2,000 years, there had never been a Jewish army. But the formation of the Jewish Legion was a landmark in Jewish history, and Jabotinsky would later describe the 1st Battalion, consisting of Jews previously denigrated as mere “tailors,” marching through the streets of London before deployment to Palestine, as tens of thousands of Jewish onlookers stood in the streets or watched from the roofs:

“Blue-white flags were over every shop door; women crying with joy, old Jews with fluttering beards murmuring, ‘shehecheyanu’ … and the boys, those ‘tailors,’ shoulder to shoulder, their bayonets dead level, each step like a single clap of thunder, clean, proud … with the sense of a holy mission, unexampled since the day of Bar-Kochba ….”

Two decades later, as World War II began, the idea of forming a Jewish military force was no longer a theoretical or fanciful one. It had been done before. Two days after the Nazi invasion of Poland, Jabotinsky called Lt. Col. John Patterson, the British officer who commanded the Jewish Legion in 1917, to request a meeting as soon as possible. They met that afternoon and agreed to work together to form not a Jewish Legion but a Jewish army.

Within days of the beginning of World War II, Weizmann and Jabotinsky each wrote directly to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, offering to provide a Jewish military force and other wartime assistance. In his letter to Chamberlain, Weizmann wrote: “In this hour of supreme crisis, the consciousness that the Jews have a contribution to make to the defense of sacred values impels me to write this letter.” He told Chamberlain that the Jewish Agency was “ready to enter into immediate arrangements for utilizing Jewish manpower, technical ability, resources, etc.” Jabotinsky, in his own letter to Chamberlain, recounted how the Jewish Legion had done it before.

Chamberlain declined both offers.

Chaim Weizmann (left) and David Ben-Gurion meeting during World War II.

In 1940, Jabotinsky wrote to Rabbi Louis I. Newman, a prominent Reform rabbi in the United States, that the “mission now is to stir American Jews into some such effort of an unprecedented magnitude and daring.” Weizmann wrote to an American friend that “3,000 miles of water will not save American Jewry, or America itself, if they refuse to take the right decisions now.” Ben-Gurion wrote to the Zionist Organization of America that there was “no time to lose.”

That same year, Weizmann traveled to America in January and stayed until March, Jabotinsky was in America from March until August, and Ben-Gurion left London for America in September and remained until January 1941. All three leaders gave remarkable speeches in America, held meetings with key groups, and prepared practical plans for building a Jewish military force to join the war. The most extraordinary of the public addresses, however, was the one Jabotinsky gave on June 19, 1940, before an overflow crowd of 5,000 people at the Manhattan Center.

The day before, new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had addressed the House of Commons, urging members to forego recriminations about the humiliating Dunkirk evacuation, urging them to “so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ” On the same day, Charles de Gaulle spoke from a BBC radio studio as the French government prepared to surrender to Hitler. De Gaulle argued for fighting on: “Must we abandon all hope? Is our defeat final and irremediable? To those questions I answer: No!”

The next morning’s Times reported on the “complete military and political collapse” of France. The war communiqué of the German High Command, published in the Times, stated that “Yesterday alone far more than 100,000 prisoners were taken,” with “booty” comprising “the complete equipment of numerous French divisions.” The Times article was accompanied by a photograph of Hitler and Mussolini standing before a cheering crowd in Germany, with the Times headline reading: “Munich is Gay as Dictators Meet.” The Times reported that “all Munich [is] riding on the crest of an exhilarating wave,” bathed in the “bright sunlight of the thought that this war may now be almost ended.”

That evening, Jabotinsky addressed the Manhattan Center on “The Second World War and a Jewish Army.” He told reporters before the speech that, just as he had felt in 1916 that Jews must participate in World War I, he felt even more strongly that they must join the new war, since they were the explicit targets of the Nazi barbarism. And he thought that Jewish participation in the war would have an important moral and psychological effect:

“The example of Jews, long known as a most peaceful of peoples, volunteering in large numbers to fight for truth and sacrifice their lives, will inspire humanity to ever greater sacrifices at the present critical hour. … In the first World War, where the very idea of Jewish military units was unfamiliar and strange … 15,000 fighting Jews were easily got together from Palestine, England, the United States, Canada and Argentine. This time, where the stakes are greater and the responsibility heavier, I am hopeful that progress will be both speedier and greater.”

In his speech, Jabotinsky reiterated that what was required was not a Jewish Legion but a Jewish army, with a status like the Polish army-in-exile, to “signify that the Jewish people choose a cloudy day to renew its demand for recognition as a belligerent on the side of a good cause.” He wanted not only to see the “giant rattlesnake destroyed,” but destroyed “with our help.” He told the audience “there is stuff for well over 100,000 Jewish soldiers even without counting American Jews,” given the number of stateless Jews in the world and prospective volunteers from neutral countries:

“[H]ad our request for a Jewish Army been granted early in the war when we first submitted it to the Allies, that source alone would have yielded three to four divisions. Even now it can yield two at least.”

The following morning, the Times quoted from Jabotinsky’s Manhattan Center speech:

“This is the time for blunt speaking. I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake … as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.”

In the end, for various reasons, the Jewish army was not formed in 1940 — but not because of the absence of a huge and heroic effort by the three Zionist leaders, and not because of a lack of a significant response within the American Jewish community. The story is important to remember not only to honor those who crossed an ocean and those who responded to them, but to correct the misimpression that Jews stood by passively as their existential crisis unfolded.

The effort to form a Jewish army in 1940 is an inspiring story, as well as a cautionary tale about divisions within the Jewish community at a time of existential threat. The story also bears on the world situation today: as Russia and Iran seek to re-establish their previous empires, American isolationism is not something to be repeated, and American Jews should never take Israel’s existence for granted.


Rick Richman is the author of the recently published “Racing Against History: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler,” from which this article has been adapted.

Rainer Weiss, scientist who fled Nazis, among Nobel Prize in Physics winners


Physicist Rainer Weiss at his home in Newton, Mass., on May 13, 2016. Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Three American scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, including one who fled the Nazis with his parents and another whose grandparents were Polish immigrants.

Rainer Weiss, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, both of the California Institute of Technology, were awarded the prize on Tuesday for the discovery gravitational waves, which were predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space and time that help scientists explore objects in space.

Weiss won half of the $1.1 million prize, with Barish and Thorne sharing the other half.

The Nobel winners and the late Ron Dreyer, also of Caltech, founded the international collaboration of physicists and astronomers known as LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. In February 2016, they announced that they had recorded gravitational waves emanating from the collision of a pair of black holes a billion light years away.

Drever died this year; the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

Weiss, 85, was born in Berlin to a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father. The family fled Berlin for Prague when Weiss was a baby because his father was Jewish and a member of the Communist Party. After the Munich agreement in 1938, the family left Prague for the United States. Weiss earned his doctorate from MIT and in 1964 joined its faculty.

Barish, 81, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up in Los Angeles, the son of Lee and Harold Barish, the children of Polish immigrants to the United States. He earned his doctorate in 1962 from the University of California, Berkeley, and joined Caltech in 1963.

Thorne, 77, received his doctorate from Princeton University in 1965 and joined Caltech in 1967.

Bernie Sanders chokes up when he learns about relative who died defying the Nazis


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

In the upcoming season premiere of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots,” Bernie Sanders does more than look at a printout of his family tree: He gets emotional when he discovers a relative died while standing up to the Nazis during World War II.

In a clip released to JTA, the Jewish lawmaker is visibly moved as the show’s host, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., asks him how he feels after learning about the relative.

“I’m proud of his courage, and willingly going to his own death in order to protect innocent people,” Sanders says. “So I’m very, very proud that I have a family member who showed that type of courage and decency.”

“It’s one of the bravest acts I’ve heard of,” responds Gates, a historian who has hosted the show since it first aired in 2012.

Sanders’ father Eli grew up in Slopnice, Poland, before immigrating to the United States in 1921 at age 17. Many of Eli Sanders’ relatives perished in the Holocaust. The longtime Vermont senator’s mother Dorothy (née Glassberg) was born in New York City.

A Brooklyn native, Sanders, 76, grew up in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush. While campaigning to be the Democratic nominee for president, and becoming the first Jewish candidate to win a primary, he rarely discussed his Jewish identity.

 

In the clip, Sanders goes on to say that he got involved in politics in part to “prevent the descent of humanity” into Nazi behavior.

“It just makes us realize how hard we have got to work to not descend into this type of barbarity and to create a world where people can love each other,” he says. “That’s what this reinforces in me.”

Tuesday’s episode kicks off the fourth season of the show, which delves into the family history of celebrities. Among the other Jews who will appear in the fourth season are Scarlett Johansson, Amy Schumer and Paul Rudd. In a previous season, Dustin Hoffman broke down in tears after learning of his family’s tragic Jewish history.

The episode also features comedian Larry David, who famously impersonated Sanders on “Saturday Night Live” throughout last year’s presidential campaign. It received some advance buzz in July when David revealed he’s a distant cousin of the senator, something he learned while filming “Finding Your Roots.”

“I was very happy about that,” David said at the time.

Rare Holocaust photos resurface in North Hollywood home


Survivors of Mauthausen beg for food through a barbed wire fence. Photos by U.S. Army photographer Ken Parker

The 13 black-and-white pictures sat in a cardboard box in a North Hollywood residence, half a world and seven decades removed from the horrors they captured.

In August, Robert Aguilar, 78, a retired truck driver, found the photos at the back of a cupboard as he and his wife, Paula Parker, 69, prepared to sell their townhouse and move to Nevada to live out their retirement. The pictures are presumed to have been taken by Parker’s father, Ken Parker, a U.S. Army photographer in World War II.

Found jumbled together with an Army uniform and a confiscated German pistol, the pictures appear to show the liberation of Mauthausen, one of the Nazis’ cruelest concentration camps. In graphic detail, they offer proof of the emaciated conditions of survivors, with their apathetic expressions and jutting ribcages, along with piles of corpses discovered by the Allies.

“I can’t believe human beings would treat others like that,” Aguilar said, his voice catching in his throat as he spoke on the phone. “Prisoners — they’re not supposed to be tortured to death.”

Aguilar, a Vietnam veteran, said the images reminded him of the American prisoners who were mistreated during the war in which he served. He called the Journal and offered to provide the photographs for safekeeping in the hope that they could be of some use.

“I didn’t want to throw them in the trash,” he said. “They’re history — World War II history, you know. I wanted somebody that could use them.”

Ken Parker was better known for the “girly pictures” of scantily clad models he took in the 1950s and ’60s — some of which still can be found on the internet — than for his war photography. But the photo prints found at the back of his daughter’s cupboard indicate that, for at least a few days in the waning moments of World War II, he became a witness to history, helping record the aftermath of some of the worst Holocaust atrocities.

Mauthausen — the hub of a network of smaller death camps outside of Linz, Austria — was notorious for its cruelty. It had all the horrors of Nazi sadism seen at many other concentration camps: a functioning gas chamber, torture instruments and evidence of grotesque medical experimentation. Other horrors were unique to Mauthausen: Prisoners were forced to carry 50- to 60-pound rocks up 186 steep, uneven steps from a quarry. Sometimes an officer would shoot a prisoner, toppling the rest like dominoes.

U.S. Army photographer Ken Parker in Nice, France, in 1945. Photos courtesy of Paula Parker

 

As the eventual outcome of the war became apparent, the camp’s leadership considered moving the remaining 18,000 prisoners into a tunnel system and sealing the exits. Instead, the SS simply abandoned the camp. The Third United States Army arrived on May 5, 1945, to find prisoners milling about in various states of starvation.

“Mauthausen, for a person going in, was absolutely bedlam,” Richard Seibel, the U.S. Army colonel who took charge of the camp after liberation, said in an interview recorded by the Dayton Holocaust Research Center in Dayton, Ohio, in 1989. “We had no water — everything had been disrupted before we got there — no water, no sewage, no food, no power, nothing. And here are 18,000 people being corralled, if you will, by combat troops who had no experience in handling a situation of this kind.”

“I’ve always heard stories about the Germans always trying to deny that they treated the people like that. Well, there’s proof in those pictures.”

Into this chaos walked Parker, who joined the war effort at 34, having already started a successful photography business in the Midwest. He easily endeared himself to colleagues, picking up nicknames like “Little Iron Man” for his compact size and tenacity, and “Tony” for his tan skin and slicked-back hair.

Before his deployment to Europe, Parker earned a reputation as a ladies’ man. He would sneak away from his Army base in Missouri and use a car he had hidden to hit the town and pick up women, according to his daughter.

As a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, a technology and communications division, Parker was assigned to document the U.S. combat mission, tailing Gen. George S. Patton and his troops through the Battle of the Bulge before arriving at Mauthausen.

With his camera — he favored a 35mm Nikon — Parker became involved in the documentation effort undertaken by the Allies for the twin purposes of prosecuting the Germans for war crimes and alerting the public to atrocities they had been only dimly aware of, if at all.

A soldier speaks with female survivors of Mauthausen shortly after the camp was liberated in May 1945.

 

American generals made a point of publicizing what they saw in the camps. Patton ordered the entire town of Weimar to march through Buchenwald so its residents could see the piles of emaciated corpses and a lampshade made of human skin, among other gruesome sights. Encountering the camps, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, ordered camera crews to film them as evidence of war crimes.

“It was as if the liberators, coming originally from Eisenhower, predicted the phenomena of Holocaust denial,” said Judith Cohen, chief acquisitions curator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. “And Eisenhower said he wanted documentation so that people wouldn’t attribute this to propaganda. That’s an amazing thing, because, of course, we see Holocaust denial left and right these days.”

In sending the photographs to the Journal, Aguilar said he had the same thought.

“I’ve always heard stories about the Germans always trying to deny that they treated the people like that,” he said. “Well, there’s proof in those pictures.”

According to Parker family lore, some of his photos ended up in the hands of prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials.

Some of Parker’s pictures also made it into the USHMM Photo Archive, courtesy of Seibel. One of them, shown here on the top right, Cohen recognized as a particularly iconic image — a picture of a soldier speaking with female survivors. In the archive, however, the photos are missing the photographer’s name. While other members of the Signal Corps went on to win widespread fame, including movie director Frank Capra and film producer Darryl F. Zanuck, Parker remained largely anonymous outside the world of Hollywood glamour photography.


Emaciated prisoners in a bunk in Mauthausen shortly after the camp was liberated.

Cohen said large amounts of historically significant material — diaries, photographs and other documents — still are stored in people’s homes, as Parker’s photos were.

“There’s an amazing amount of material still in private hands,” she said. “And we desperately would like to get it.”

“We are in a race against time,” she added.

Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar at the American Jewish University in Bel Air, agreed.

“The reality is we’re now at one minute to midnight in the lives of the survivors, of the living witnesses,” Berenbaum said during an interview in his office. “Kids are emptying out their parents’ homes. Survivors are dying every day.”

Parker, according to his daughter, hardly ever spoke about what he saw during the war.

Moving to California in the 1940s after his Army service, Parker became a Los Angeles Police Department photographer for 11 years. He was let go for moonlighting as a photographer of pinup girls, a career that later earned him some acclaim in Hollywood.

But what he saw in Europe evidently left him with an unusually strong stomach for horrific images. Paula Parker said her father photographed the gruesome Black Dahlia murder scene for police in 1947 and kept copies, although she later threw them out, not fully aware of their value.

A soldier poses in front of an oven at Mauthausen used for the cremation of human remains.

 

She recounted that once, during a family vacation, her father spotted a fatal train crash along the road and pulled over.

“My mother, she couldn’t stand blood anyway,” Paula Parker said in a phone interview. “She was so upset that my father would take time out of the vacation to take pictures of people dead.”

“After the war, nothing bothered him, I think,” she said. “My dad could do things that other people couldn’t.”

While the 13 Mauthausen pictures are unsigned and no independent source could confirm Parker shot them, his daughter — who saw the photos for the first time when she was about 30 — believes they came from his camera. He often developed his own photographs and kept duplicates as keepsakes, she said.

Moreover, the Mauthausen photographs were stored among hundreds of others she inherited that he shot over his lifetime. They showed family, friends, car races, golf games, Hollywood stars like Mae West and Bing Crosby (shot for Globe Photos), and images from other countries and of natural wonders that were taken for use in advertisements promoting American Presidents Line, a shipping company.

When she spoke with the Journal, Paula Parker said clearing out her father’s photos was a necessary part of  preparing for her Nevada retirement, after working in Jewish delis around the San Fernando Valley for 38 years, sometimes holding three jobs at once. She said she and Aguilar threw out most of her father’s photographs but kept a select few.

She was ready to pass along the pictures of starving prisoners, barbed-wire enclosures and piles of corpses.

“Oh, I’ve seen them enough,” she said, “and I’ll always remember. What am I going to do, hold on to them?”


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Nazi Chocolate: Oy


The recent resurgence of public Nazi presence reminds me of some Nazi chocolate history. I discuss this more fully in my book.

European Jewish businesses, including a number of Jewish chocolate enterprises, were forced to shut down during World War II. Stephen Klein fled Vienna the day after the 1938 Nazi march into Austria known as the Anschluss.

In Vienna, Klein had owned one of the city’s largest commercial suppliers of chocolate. A Nazi competitor marched into Klein’s offices and seized ownership of Klein’s company the day after the Anschluss. To escape likely arrest, Klein hurriedly left his two children and pregnant wife behind, spending five months in Belgium before arriving in the United States. In New York, he started selling European chocolate from pushcarts, eventually developing what became the very popular Barton’s Bonbonniere.
Barton’s in turn assisted other World War II refugees seeking to immigrate to America. Memorabilia from the company will be displayed at the Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum from October 20, 2017–February 25, 2018 at Temple Emanu-El, NYC the first ever exhibit about Jews and chocolate.

Nestle’s chocolate subsidiary, Maggi, employed thousands of war prisoners and Jewish slave laborers in its factory in Germany near the Swiss border. As recently as 1997, it refused to open its Nazi-era records. Nazis also used chocolate bars to lure Jews onto cattle car trains to concentration camps. They used chocolate to poison Allied officers. German saboteurs designed a chocolate-covered, sleek, steel bomb intended to explode seven seconds after breaking off a piece of the bar.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that a hideaway of former Nazis, Bariloche, Argentina, is known as the chocolate center of Argentina. One of the main streets is Mitre Avenue is known as the Avenue of Chocolate Dreams. Visitors learn more at Havanna Museo del Chocolate. Bariloche’s annual chocolate festival features an 8 meter high Easter egg. Germans settled there at the end of the 19th century. By the 1930s it already had the look of of an alpine town and came to be called “Little Switzerland.” By the 1990s attention centered on hidden Nazis, including SS Hauptsturmfürer Erich Priebke.

If these stories leave a bad taste in your mouth, as they do mine, I suggest that in addition to supporting organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, reach for some quality chocolate.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz speaks about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, (2nd Edition, Jewish Lights, 2017) makes a great gift, especially bundled with chocolate. She is co-curator of the exhibit, “On Jews and Chocolate,” October 20, 2017 – February 24, 2018 for Congregation Emanu-El of New York’s Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum, NYC. (Free admission and group tours)

Rabbi Sharon Brous’ Rosh Hashanah sermon: The bug in the software of the West


Rabbi Sharon Brous

America is turning from a place with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state. What are we going to do about it?

The synagogue in Charlottesville, bracing itself for the Nazi rally planned in late August, requested a police presence to protect worshippers on Shabbat morning. You may have heard: the police failed to send even a single officer, so the synagogue hired a private armed security guard to stand in front of the building. As Nazis paraded by, waving swastika flags, they shouted, “There’s the synagogue!” and “Seig Heil.” Learning that Nazi websites had specifically posted a call to burn the place, congregants left out the back exit and removed the sifrei torah from the premises. It’s true that law enforcement was busy that weekend, but also confounding that they would fail to understand the particular threat neo-Nazis pose to Jews.

I’ve never given a High Holy Day sermon on antisemitism. It’s not that it wasn’t a problem before Charlottesville: it’s that there were always bigger, graver, more urgent problems. As Jews in an America facing moral crisis, plagued by racism and white supremacy, poverty, inequality and climate denial, I didn’t want us to focus primarily on our own victimization. Instead, I wanted to draw our attention to the ways in which Jews were called to engage as a fairly privileged segment of a broader culture. I still believe all of that, but this year I wanted to start with antisemitism both because it’s taking dangerous new shape in America, and because antisemitism is bound up in the broader challenges facing our country. Very simply: the way that the Jewish community addresses antisemitism today matters.

They say that antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred—and its most pernicious manifestations, in Europe, left that land drenched in our people’s blood. Massacres, expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms, libels and ultimately gas chambers stand in eternal testimony to the danger of hatred fueled by church and state alike. James Carroll recently described antisemitism as “the bug in the software of the West,” that insidious, ever-present illness that excludes Jews from moral concern and allows for heinous crimes like the Holocaust to happen.

Antisemitism caused holy hell in Europe. In America, it has been ever-present, but it has never brought the same kind of existential risk that we confronted elsewhere. Thank God. For Jewish immigrants from Europe and Arab lands, even the cold embrace of America was a welcome contrast to the storm of bloodthirsty hatred overseas. Yes, Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of New Amsterdam called Jews “deceitful… repugnant… enemies and blasphemers.” Yes, we suffered a century of discrimination in employment, housing and education. The lynching of Leo Frank, wrongly convicted in the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, is seared into the Jewish collective conscience, and yes, Henry Ford funded mass distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We must not downplay the sharp immigration quotas of eastern European nations with large Jewish populations and Jewish exclusion from American social, educational, political and economic life in the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was derisively referred to as the “Jew Deal,” and the SS St. Louis was mercilessly turned away and nearly 1000 Jews seeking asylum from Nazis were sent back, most to their deaths. We must remember to teach our children about the prohibitive housing covenants that restricted where Jews could live, and I will always remember the mix of confusion and shame I experienced as a child learning that two of the three country clubs in the New Jersey suburb I grew up in had strict “No Blacks, No Jews” policies.

Yes, we constantly joke about (and I hope also take seriously) the need to have our passports updated. And many of us still quietly note potential Nazi escape routes when deciding on a new home. But have we not come to feel pretty safe and comfortable here?

In America, Jews have achieved unprecedented prominence in nearly all sectors: political, social and financial. Here we have become Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Professors and Chief Oncologists. A few years ago, the mayors of the three largest U.S. cities were all Jews– one of them is a member of our own shul. Several years ago, when David and I walked into the Hanukkah party in the White House, I cried watching the West Point cadets, wearing kippot, sing “Ma’oz Tsur”—certain that my Grandma Harriet never could have dreamt of such a thing.

Yes, America has been good to us. So good that maybe we’ve forgotten a little bit who we are.

So good that many of our Jewish institutions failed to find the words to condemn the spike in anti- Semitic attacks that coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign. Failed to speak out against White Nationalist sympathizers– men who have trafficked in antisemitism and racism for years—becoming senior White House officials. Failed to protest when—again and again—our deepest Jewish commitments—care for the stranger, the poor and the vulnerable—have been thrashed about in a political tempest that demands outrage and resistance.

So good that somehow, Jewish senior cabinet members silently abided the President of the United States as he delivered one of the most damning equivocations in modern history, revealing a profound and disturbing inability to simply say: “There is no place for Nazism and white supremacy in this country. Take your hatred and get off our streets.”

What has happened to us?

I was recently asked in high-profile interview: “Why isn’t the Jewish community more involved in the struggle for the rights of targeted minorities in this country? Given your history, you’d think Jews would be on the front lines!”

My initial reaction: what are you talking about? We’re fighting with all we’ve got! Of course, I told her about all the Jews deeply involved in multi-faith and racial justice work today, about the electrifying presence of Jewish activists on the street, opposing efforts threatening the rights and dignities of Muslim and Mexican and LGBTQ allies and neighbors. Standing strong in solidarity and friendship. I spoke of how proud I was of our own community, with our inexhaustible Minyan Tzedek leadership inspiring folks to step up in strategic and meaningful ways. I talked about how Jews are on the front lines, fighting for democracy, equality and justice.

But even days later, I couldn’t get her question out of my head. What made her think the Jewish community wasn’t involved? And then I realized: who are the dominant voices in our community shaping the public perception?

There’s Israel’s Prime Minister, who frequently claims to speak for the Jews, who has repeatedly given cover to, indeed warmly embraced, this President, even after his most egregious missteps. There’s the Prime Minister’s son, who, in the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah, was the banner photo on the neo- Nazi Daily Stormer website after posting a classically antisemitic cartoon on his Facebook page. There are the President’s own family members, observant Jews, who have their rabbis contorting themselves to permit them to fly on AirForce One on Shabbat… I wonder: did they seek rabbinic dispensation for their silence in the face of the Muslim Ban, the rescinding of DACA, the ban on transgender people in the military? And of course, there are the unelected, self-appointed leaders of the American Jewish Establishment, funders and organizational heads who will, of course, decry Nazism, but fail to call out the clear and present role of the administration in normalizing white supremacy and antisemitism, for fear of falling out of favor.

Do you think I’m overstating the point?

I wonder how many here know the difference between white supremacy and White Nationalism? I didn’t, until I started reading and listening to Eric Ward, an African-American senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has been sounding the alarm on the difference between the two. White supremacy is an ideology of racial superiority and subjugation of people of color built into this country’s DNA. The much newer White Nationalism is a radical social movement committed to building a white-only nation. And antisemitism, Ward argues, is the beating heart, the fuel that moves the engine of White Nationalism.2 Thus, the conflation of Nazi and White Nationalist symbols and aspirations in Charlottesville: this is a movement modeled after Nazi Germany whose goal is to eradicate Jews and people of color from the country.

In his thirty years of studying and fighting White Nationalism, Ward says he has not seen the movement operating at such a level of sophistication as we’re now seeing. It has been simmering, he says, waiting for an opportunity. And now the perfect storm has occurred.

Derek Black, the now-estranged son of the Grand Wizard of the KKK explains: White Nationalists expect to be condemned by everyone. Every elected official knows it’s political suicide not to condemn Nazis and White Nationalists. Until one Tuesday in August when the President of the United States could bring himself only to say: “You had some very fine people on both sides.” According to Black, that was a huge victory for White Nationalists. “Tuesday was the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement.”

Make no mistake: not only was that Tuesday in August the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement, it was a critical moment, potentially a turning point moment, for Jews in America. Because suddenly, in one press conference, America turned from a place, like so many, with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state.

Yes, these people, with their menacing hatred born of fear and ignorance, with their contorted faces and their murderous chants, they who play softball with words and symbols that cut to the heart of our people’s trauma, they who worship the statues—literally idols to an American past that degraded and dehumanized millions of Black Americans—they are the ones with whom the administration found sympathy.

Charlottesville did not happen in a vacuum—it is the inevitable outcome of racism being met with anything short of forceful, explicit condemnation. There’s a reason white supremacists didn’t wear hoods to march in streets this summer. They didn’t feel they had anything to hide… because this time they marched with nods of approval from the highest offices in the land.

There have always been angry white men who have held some kind of erotic fascination with Hitlerian symbols, who get high off of and may even kill for their Jew-hatred. But we know from history that the real danger comes when antisemitism is supported by the state. That’s what makes this moment different.

That’s what’s at stake when well-intentioned leaders ignore the whitewashing of Jews from Holocaust remembrance and remain silent at the suggestion of moral equivalence between Nazis and those protesting Nazis.

Mind you, these are some of the same Jewish leaders who continue to sound the alarm daily on any hint of antisemitism in the racial justice movement, where it does rear its ugly head all too often. Our allies on the left need to know who they’re getting in bed with when they dabble in, enable and give license to antisemitic trope. But it is communal malpractice to focus our collective outrage and resources on the left while excusing, minimizing and even ignoring antisemitism from the one place it’s ever presented an existential threat to our people: the armed and state-supported far right. As if BDS, problematic as it is, poses a greater danger to the Jewish people than Nazis emboldened by the President of the United States.

Is it wealth and power that have caused this misalignment? Is it our dependence on a few mega-donors who essentially control the public agenda of the Jewish community? I wonder: is it our voice, or our will that we’ve lost?

Listen to the terrifyingly prescient words of Hannah Arendt, written in 1942: “…Our people—those who are not yet behind barbed wire– are so demoralized by having been ruled by philanthropists for 150 years that they find it very difficult to begin to relearn the language of freedom and justice.”

Is that how we, too, have forgotten to see the world through prophetic eyes? Forgotten that we’re called “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? Is that how, only 70 years after our greatest tragedy, with the words “Never Again!” still emblazoned on our hearts and the walls of our institutions, we somehow find ourselves downplaying the danger of a regime that rose to power stigmatizing vulnerable minority populations and daily manifests disturbingly fascistic tendencies? Is “Never Again” just an empty promise?

Or is it that we now can only see through one lens: “Is it good for Israel?” As if it is in any way conceivable that an America that is profoundly morally compromised is good for Israel. How could we, who measure time in millennia, be so utterly myopic?

For 70 years, our driving force as a community was vigilance to antisemitism. Forgive us, but witnessing the near extermination of your people tends to leave an impression. Yes, much of our communal obsession was rooted in trauma. Some of it also came from the realization that there was no greater adhesion than shared terror; if we kept front and center others’ eternal hatred of us, we’d stick together in a country that offered more open doors, more access and more ability for many Jews to pass than any we’d previously inhabited.

So from trauma and fear, we set off five star alarms every time a swastika appeared on a school desk. For 70 years, we led with the threat of existential crisis—precisely, ironically, as our community grew to be the strongest and most secure we’ve ever been, anywhere in the world.

But now, as the smoke of antisemitic hatred fills the classroom, we’re asking the students to please stay calm and remain seated, because we don’t want to cause a stir. No need to threaten political alliances. Let’s not misconstrue bombast as ideology! And, by the way, why should I be worried if the Prime Minister of Israel is entirely unconcerned?

It’s no wonder the growing alienation of young people from the institutions our grandparents built. We desperately need a new play book.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for soul examination. It’s also a time for us to examine at the soul of our community and our nation. We do this in the hopes that some clear-headed thinking might help us figure out where our bruises and blind spots are, and what we can do to move forward.

In his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin, Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story of Rip Van Winkle. What Dr. King was taken by was not the fact that Rip slept for 20 years, but instead “that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.”

“There are all too many people,” King said, “who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

In a few moments, we’ll hear the sound of the shofar, calling us to awaken from our slumber. This is the central moment of the Rosh Hashanah experience. Think of what it means that our tradition places an alarm clock right at the heart of the new year celebration. It’s as if the spiritual architects of our tradition understood one critical fact about human beings: we will sleep through the revolution. It’s human. But then Rosh Hashanah bursts into our September, shaking us awake, reminding us that sleeping while the world burns is simply not an option.

Last year, the shofar came as a jolt in the night, calling us to grapple with our nation’s moral crisis, to defiantly lift our gaze toward a politics of aspiration. The year before, the shofar was a call to action: to pair our broken hearts over three-year-old Aylan Kurdi in his tiny sneakers with some real effort on behalf of Syrian refugees.

Some years, the blasts of the shofar free us from the folly of presumed powerlessness. Some years, they come to awaken us from our privileged detachment. And some years, it’s about recalibration—a call back to our core values and true purpose.

Chants of “Jews will not replace us!” are our wakeup call this year. It’s our task to walk away from Charlottesville with a renewed sense that we were put here not to be comfortable, but to be prophetic.

Remember Joseph, thrown by his brothers into a viper pit and sold into slavery in Egypt? Abandoned by everyone who should have cared for him, Joseph is disoriented, dislocated, forced to rebuild his life in a land not his own.

But through some mix of grit, luck and divine intervention, this slave quickly rose in the ranks working וַיְ הי י ֵסף יְ ֵפה־ for the powerful Potiphar, giving him respect and authority. Until the Torah tells us that Joseph was well built and handsome (Gen 39:6). That’s a strange comment for the ת ר וי ֵ פה ַמ ְר אה׃ Torah, so sparse with words, to make. (This isn’t a Tinder profile, it’s the Book of Genesis. What’s going on here?) Rashi explains: As soon as Joseph began to gain power and influence in Potiphar’s home, he started to eat and drink and curl his hair. This infuriated the Holy One, who cried out: Your father mourns for you and you’re curling your hair? Has all this power and luxury made you forget who you are? You’re so enamored by Egypt that you’ve forgotten your people, their suffering, your destiny? Do you think this is what you are here for?

Nehama Leibowitz describes that Joseph then found himself on the brink of spiritual disaster. “The plight of the poor and downtrodden exiled from their land is difficult enough,” she writes, “but doubly dangerous is the plight of one who achieves favor in the eyes of his masters so that they advance him for their own needs to the highest of positions.”

And it was in that moment that God plotted Joseph’s fall from grace.

Privilege, comfort, abundance: these are all great blessings. If we’re paying attention, the shofar wakes us up before they become curses.

So what can we do? I’m going to suggest three things.

First, we—the Jewish community—have to be clear and honest about the dangers we’re facing today. We cannot sugarcoat this. Especially in a time of all-out assault on truth, we have to speak openly and clearly about the threat. We need to hold our leaders accountable: this is not a moment for normalizing, justifying or hedging. Timothy Snyder warns that “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.” Anticipatory obedience is when regular people voluntarily compromise on small values or principles, signaling to a regime how willing they are to conform to new standards. The problem is that eventually, it’s simply too late to stand up and resist. We cannot be party to this.

Second, we have to get creative and we have to be bold. On one hand, you heard about the 2014 counter-protest to the annual Nazi march in Bavaria, when residents sponsored the marchers in what they called Germany’s “most involuntary walkathon,” festooning the town in pink banners, throwing confetti at the Nazi marchers and encouraging them to keep walking because every meter brought in donations to an organization promoting defection from extremist groups. Inspired by this model, we did something similar last year when the antisemitic and homophobic Westboro Baptist Church protested outside this building, raising thousands of dollars for The Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

And at the same time, we have to be bold in our thinking and organizing, particularly around the advancement of racial healing in this country. We have to commit to helping America make teshuvah— reckon with and reconcile our nation’s past. I’ll be talking more about this tomorrow.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to take the vulnerability that we felt from Charlottesville, in Ruth Messinger’s words, the “body shock” of seeing Nazis on US soil, and renew our commitment to join forces with other marginalized and vulnerable people in the US. Many of these communities have far fewer resources and are more directly and dangerously targeted than the Jewish community. What I’m suggesting is that at precisely the moment that we Jews feel most vulnerable in America, we need to turn to our Muslim, Latino, Black, Sikh and immigrant neighbors and double down on support, solidarity and love.

It is precisely in our moments of greatest danger that we must affirm exactly who we are. Now we need to lead with the Jewish values that are the air we breathe, that give us both life and reason to live. Now we must remember that we were put in this world to bring a message of justice and love, that the memory of degradation, dehumanization, near extermination lives in our bones, calling us to work to transform the societies we live in. Our goal is not to eat, drink and curl our hair. Nor is it simply to survive. We are called to a higher purpose, to be bearers of light and love, sources of hope and strength. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “To be or not to be is not the question. How to be and how not to be is the question.”

We are here to cry out against injustice, to fight for human dignity. To give love and to receive it. To pry open hearts and minds, to lift the fallen and strengthen the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, to advance the causes of dignity and peace—for our people and for all people. We must not abandon our core commitments when things get tough; we must make justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream.

Mother Teresa once brought food to a family with eight children who had not eaten in days. She entered their home and looked into the faces of children “disfigured by… the deep pain of hunger.” She handed a plate of rice to the mother, who divided the rice in two and left the house. When she returned a few moments later, she served the remaining half plate to her children. “Where did you go?” Mother Teresa asked her. “To my neighbors; they are hungry also.” “I was not surprised that she gave,” Mother Teresa recalled, “—poor people are really very generous. I was surprised she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.”

Antisemitism is a real and present danger in the US today, inextricably woven into the fabric of the racialized hatred that is tearing our country apart. It’s now more than ever that we must stand together. Join us for interfaith actions with our LA Voice partners. Join and support the Poor People’s Campaign. Go to an Iftar at the Islamic Center. Affirm that the best antidote to White Nationalist hatred is multiracial and multifaith alliances.

Luxury and power were a toxic combination for Joseph. He lost himself beneath those fancy dinners and curled eyelashes. It took many years for him to find himself again. At some point, with his estranged brothers standing before him, וְ לא־יָ כל י ֵסף ְלה ְת ַא ֵפק– Joseph could no longer constrain himself. He wept so loudly that all of Egypt heard him as he said, ֲא ני י ֵסף — I am Joseph (Gen 45:1). I look like an Egyptian, I live in the palace, but know that I am yours. #JeSuisJuif. I am a Hebrew. My loyalty is to my people.

His brothers were dumbfounded, but Joseph had never been more clear about anything in his life.

We should not be ashamed of our success or achievements in this country; we should be grateful for the opportunities we’ve found in America. But we also must never forget who we are, and who we are called to be in the world.

Susan Bro, mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, murdered by a Nazi on American soil in 2017, spoke at her daughter’s funeral:

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her. I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

Yes, Susan: we will make it count. May your daughter’s memory be a blessing—for you and for us all. This moment is a clarion call; it is a wakeup call. Let us not sleep through the revolution.


Sharon Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR.

Senate resolution forces Trump to sign off on threat of white supremacists


President Donald Trump on Sept. 7. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The Senate has advanced a bipartisan resolution post-Charlottesville calling on President Donald Trump to reject white supremacists and, in a rare move, requiring his signature.

The resolution was placed Thursday on the calendar, which means it has cleared procedural hurdles and will soon come up for a vote. That’s unusually fast for Senate legislation for a resolution introduced the previous day.

Its sponsors — Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats of Virginia, and Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Johnny Isakson of Georgia — used a mechanism that mandates the president’s signature on the resolution. Most nonbinding resolutions simply require majority votes, as they stop short of being law, and express the sense of a body. This would commit Trump to the resolution’s sentiments.

The resolution “rejects white nationalism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.” It also urges the president and his administration “to speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy, and use all resources available to the president and the president’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

The resolution assiduously avoids blaming any other parties for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, when white supremacists sought to protect Confederate monuments. An alleged white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who is named and honored in the resolution.

Trump on the day of the attack and in subsequent days earned opprobrium from leading Democratic and Republican figures for saying “many sides” were to blame for the violence and that there were “very fine people” on both sides.

The resolution also calls on the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security to “investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism by white supremacists.” Trump recently shut down funding for just such a Homeland Security task force.

Anne Frank’s diary is now a comic book


The comic book directed by Ari Folman is the first such publication authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation. Illustration by Ari Folman

In a bid to preserve interest in the Holocaust by future generations, the Basel-based Anne Frank Foundation unveiled the first authorized comic book based on the teenager’s famous diary written in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam.

The 148-page adaptation, which is to be published Sept. 18 in France and in some 40 languages worldwide, was presented to journalists in the French capital Thursday by the graphic diary’s illustrator, David Polonsky from Israel, and its writer, the Israeli film director Ari Folman, who is working on the first full-length authorized animation film based on the comic book.

The comic book, referred to as a graphic diary by its developers, was produced in cooperation with the Anne Frank Foundation, or fonds — the organization that Anne’s father, Otto, entrusted with preserving her memory — contains colorful illustrations both of realities described in the book, including the teen’s difficult relationship with her mother and sister, and her dreams and fantasies.

One full-page drawing, based on Anne’s writing about wanting to become a journalist, shows an older Anne sitting at her desk with framed newspapers in the background, including a Life magazine cover featuring a picture of her.

Another shows her family members and other Jews with whom they lived in hiding for two years in Amsterdam depicted as animals, corresponding to Anne’s humorous anecdotes about their personalities. Other drawings feature allusions to great visual artworks, including by Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt.

“I’m worried we’re coming to an era where there won’t be Holocaust survivors on Earth, no living witnesses to tell the story,” said Folman, who was born to Holocaust survivors whom he said told him and his sister “way, way too many” horrible stories from the genocide. As they disappear, “the entire story of the Holocaust risks becoming something ancient so it’s essential to find ways to preserve” interest in the Holocaust, he said during a Q&A in Paris.

Anne, her sister and parents and several other Jews were deported in 1944 to be murdered following a raid by Nazi soldiers on the so-called secret annex where they lived in hiding with help from the Dutch resistance. Anne died seven months later in a concentration camp. Her mother and sister also died. Only Otto survived, and he edited his younger daughter’s writings and had them published in 1947.

Folman, who is well-known internationally for his film about Israel’s Lebanon War, “Waltz with Bashir,” said his first reaction was to “immediately say no” after being approached by the Switzerland-based Anne Frank Foundation, or Fonds.

Folman and Polonsky initially turned down the offer, they said, because artistically they doubted their ability to make a contribution that would stand out from the many films, books, theater shows, operas and musicals that have been produced over the story of Anne Frank — perhaps the world’s most famous Holocaust victim following the publication in dozens of languages of her diary over the last seven decades.

There has been “too much done around the story,” Folman said. But he reconsidered after talking to his 95-year-old mother, whom she said is now “living with the goal of seeing the premiere” of the film he is making about Anne Frank.

Since the 1940s, many authorized and unauthorized adaptations of the Anne Frank story have been created in many media. In Japan alone, the Anne Frank story has been the subject of several comic books – graphic novels in the Japanese manga style. But these publications were not authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation for historical accuracy corresponding to Anne’s actual writings.

The film, Folman told JTA, will treat also the last “horrendous” seven months in Anne Frank’s life, despite the absence of material on this period written by her.

“We used other historical sources to address this part of her life,” he said. “It was a condition of mine to work on this.”

‘Filming the Camps’ shows how directors chronicled horrors of WWII


Screenwriter Samuel Fuller’s satchel is part of an exhibition at LAMOTH. Photo by Eric Hall, LAMOTH

In early 2017, when Beth Kean, executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park, was booking a new exhibition, “Filming the Camps: John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens, from Hollywood to Nuremberg,” she could not have imagined that fresh images of neo-Nazis marching would be in many people’s minds when the exhibition would open on Aug. 27.

But confronting was was thought unimaginable and deciding how to document and report it are major elements of what the exhibition is about. On display through April 30, it all comes together to inform and warn.

Just as we might think white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching couldn’t happen here, Kean wants Angelenos to realize, both through the exhibition and the museum’s permanent collection, that World War II “wasn’t just something that happened halfway across the world. It affected the people of Los Angeles.”

Through film footage and interviews of Hollywood directors Stevens, Ford and Fuller at the time the concentration camps were liberated during World War II, the traveling exhibition, which already has been to several cities, documents the extent of the horror of the concentration camps, which many people had trouble accepting as real once the war ended.

With both imagery and highly descriptive captions written by Ivan Moffat, a British screenwriter who settled in Hollywood after the war, we come to understand, just as those who first viewed these images, the meaning of “genocide” — a word coined in the early 1940s by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer — a deliberate mass murder of peoples by their oppressors.

“Having the exhibit at our museum, which focuses on three directors who made their mark in L.A., who enlisted in the U.S. Army and filmed the liberation of the camps, is very relevant, since it fits our theme of highlighting the Los Angeles narrative,” Kean said.

The exhibition’s curator, Christian Delage, a historian and filmmaker who did much of his research in Los Angeles, also emphasized the local connection. “L.A. is very, very far from Germany and Poland, but they made it there,” he said of the directors.

Stevens, known for directing Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Hollywood musicals, was drafted into the Army and assigned to direct the Special Coverage Unit (SPECOU) of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Tasked with gathering evidence of war crimes, the unit was ordered to collect and record information “in a uniform manner and in a form which will be acceptable in military tribunals or courts,” according to the exhibition text.

The exhibition points out that one of Stevens’ major objectives was “to convince Americans of the authenticity of the evidence gathered by his unit.” To that end, the exhibition includes a number of interviews by Stevens with several survivors of Dachau, shot with a camera with synchronous sound.

A film sequence shot by Stevens in Dachau documents, step by step, how the gas chamber operated: A shot of the metal door with the latch on the outside, then the false shower heads, the vent, the gas pipes leading into the chamber and the control panel.

Another sequence at Dachau, shot by Stevens’ crew and edited by him, shows the condition of the camp at liberation, including a train filled with corpses

In 1945, according to the exhibition text, the footage of Dachau taken by Stevens’ crew appeared in a documentary, “Nazi Concentration Camp,” that was used as evidence of Nazi war crimes during the Nuremberg trials.

Stevens and his group also recorded at Dachau a speech given by Rabbi David Max Eichhorn, one of the first rabbis to enter the camp, to a group of survivors and others.

“We know that upon you was centered the venomous hate of power-crazed madmen,” the rabbi said. “In every country where the lamps still burn, Jews and non-Jews alike will expend as much time and energy and money as is needed to make good the pledge which is written in our holy Torah … ‘You shall go out with joy, and be led forth in peace.’ ”

“For me, it was very moving to listen to the speech by the rabbi,” Delage said. “He was pushing them toward life again.”

Ford, who already had won an Academy Award for best director for “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1940, headed the Field Photographic Branch, a special unit of the Office of the Coordinator of Information of the U.S., responsible for producing such films as “December 7th” and “Midway,” for which he won an Academy Award for best documentary. He and his crew filmed the liberation of Dachau. (Ford and Stevens are two of five Hollywood filmmakers featured in the 2014 book and 2017 Netflix documentary, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.”)

Fuller comes into the picture in a different way. A former crime reporter for the tabloid press, he became a scriptwriter. In 1942, he joined the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, which was nicknamed “The Big Red One.” Shooting with a camera he asked his mother to send from home, Fuller, who later would direct such films as “Verboten!” and “The Crimson Kimono,” used it to film the liberation of the Falkenau concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

The exhibition also features a display of Fuller-related artifacts, made available by Christine Fuller, the director’s widow, and Samantha Fuller, his daughter, who live in Los Angeles. Among them are the camera Fuller used at Falkenau, a canvas satchel on which he doodled, his helmet, the Silver Star he was awarded by Congress and a Red Cross request form that says, “Cigars Please.”

A visitor to the exhibition may wonder after examining the frames documenting the unthinkable: How were these men able to do their  work day after day? Ford and Fuller, Delage said, “were soldiers — that helped them to resist the primary emotion. The fact that they were used to the violence of the war helped them to deal with the vision of the camps.”

“For Stevens, it’s a little different” Delage said. “He was coming from a world of musicals and comedies.  I think he was really affected.”

In terms of a point of view, Delage believes what you can see in the exhibition is “how they tried to keep a good distance. Not too far or too close.” The directors were trying to gather evidence that would bear scrutiny “and not just to shock people.”

LAMOTH’s Kean, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, said she hopes young people, like those she saw in the coverage of the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., take notice of the shocking nature of the exhibition. 

“We have a sense of urgency now,” she said.

This is your brain on Trump


Locals react as President Donald Trump arrives at a rally in Huntington, West Va., on Aug. 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Do you ever find yourself wondering what the story is with those thrilled faces behind Donald Trump at his rallies?

Unlike us, they’re not spies in a house of horrors.

That sea of Make America Great Again hats doesn’t give them the creeps. When Trump cues them, as he did in Phoenix on Aug. 22, to jeer John McCain, no ambivalence about belittling a war hero battling brain cancer tempers their contempt. When Trump whines and whinges about the coverage his Charlottesville rant got, they realize, and don’t care, that he’s rewriting what he said — they heard him confer moral equivalence on neo-Nazis and anti-Nazis. But his act entertains them, and their complicity in his edits adds a perverse pleasure to the press hatred he rouses in them.

Who are these people?

They can’t all be the 9% of Americans who believe that holding white supremacist or neo-Nazi views is acceptable.

But there’s a decent chance they’re among the 62 percent of Trump voters who think millions of illegal votes won Hillary Clinton the popular vote; the 54 percent of his voters who say the most oppressed religious group in America is Christian; the 52 percent who believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya; the 46 percent who believe Clinton ran a satanic child-sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor; the 45 percent who say the racial group facing the most discrimination in America is white people; and the 40 percent whose main source of news is Fox News.

I get that Trump’s base feels marginalized, left behind by a minimum-wage economy, powerless to control their futures, dissed by urban elites. I know why they’re fed up with partisan gridlock (I am, too); I see why they’d favor a business brand over a political name as president. They’re disgusted by the corruption in Washington (ditto); no wonder they’re drawn to a bull who’d break some china and a bully who’d break some heads.

But after seven months of lying, sleaziness, impulsiveness, laziness, vengeance, arrogance, ineptness, ignorance, nepotism, self-love and Putin love, how can 3 out of 4 Republican voters still be sticking with him? How come those faces I see on TV don’t see the nightmare I see? (I don’t mean that bizarre “Blacks for Trump” guy; I mean the rest of them.)

That’s what I’m wrestling with. Here’s what I got:

It’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they’re human. It’s not because they’re so different from me. It’s because they’re so much like me.

But here’s what makes that hard to swallow: I can’t muster the humility to believe we’re both wrong, and I can’t summon the relativism to believe we’re both right. But believing that I’m right and they’re wrong, as I do, gets me laughably crosswise with everything I know about human cognition.

Homo sapiens have refined a method of study and understanding — science — that’s reaped powerful knowledge about the world. But the more we’ve used science to study ourselves, to probe the neurobiology of how we think and what we feel, the more inescapable it’s become that “rational” is too flattering a term to describe what makes humans tick, even when we’re at our best.

It’s not pretty to admit, but no matter how practiced we are at critical thinking, how hip we are to the social construction of reality, how savvy we are about manipulation and framing, we still conflate what we want to be true with what actually is true. Our minds unconsciously invent retroactive rationales — we reverse-engineer justifications — for what our bodies already have made us think, say and do. What we call reason turns out to be a byproduct of our addiction to feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Human cognition is a captive of confirmation bias: We seek out and believe information that reinforces what people like us already believe. Confronted by evidence that contradicts what we think, we double down; confronted by chance, we confect necessity. Instead of changing our minds, we tell ourselves stories and cling fast to our tribal identities. A universe that’s run by luck is terrifying, but a good narrative imposes causality on randomness, finds patterns in chaos and purpose in lives. Our hunger for knowledge isn’t as strong as our yearning to belong, to defeat fear and loneliness with affiliation and family. We may call the baskets into which we sort facts “true” and “false,” but at bottom they’re euphemisms for “us” and “other.”

And yet my awareness of the limitations of logic, my appreciation for the ways human hardwiring privileges feelings over facts — they don’t inoculate me from maintaining that Trump is objectively unfit for office. I can’t let neuroscience discount my claim to truth-value: I don’t think calling Trump a liar illustrates confirmation bias at work. The reason the people I see at Trump rallies on my TV screen believe the psychopath at the podium is telling the truth may well be their membership in Tribe Trump. That explanation may nudge my empathy for them upward, but it doesn’t dampen my conviction that I’m right and they’re wrong, and it doesn’t make their belief in the falsehoods he spews any less scary.

Science may be humbling, but humility doesn’t make me feel like a dope when I call out dopiness when I see it.


MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Trump adviser Gary Cohn reportedly considered quitting following Charlottesville


President Donald Trump delivers remarks following a meeting on infrastructure at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017 in New York City. Standing alongside him from L to R, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney. He fielded questions from reporters about his comments on the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and white supremacists. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Gary Cohn, a prominent Jewish member of President Donald Trump’s administration, considered resigning over Trump’s response to a far-right rally in Charlottesville, The New York Times reported.

[Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin: You good with this?]

Cohn, the top economic adviser for Trump, drafted a letter of resignation, according to the report Friday, which cited two unnamed people familiar with the draft.

In an interview Thursday with the Financial Times, Cohn said the White House “can and must do better” in consistently condemning hate groups. His remarks came nearly two weeks after the Charlottesville rally, which turned deadly when an alleged white supremacist rammed a crowd of counterprotesters with a car, killing one and injuring at least 19.

It was his first public reference to the national dialogue about the violence. As a “patriotic American,” Cohn said he did not want to leave his job as director of the National Economic Council.

“But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks,” he said.

After the Charlottesville rally, Trump said that both far-right marchers who gathered in the southern Virginia city and counterprotesters shared the blame for the violence that ensued. Trump later condemned the Ku Klux Klan, racists and neo-Nazis amid criticism that he failed to single out the far-rightists immediately afterward, but a day later said there were “very fine people on both sides.” Cohn was standing with three other officials behind Trump in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15 when the president made his latter remarks to reporters.

“Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK,” Cohn said in the Financial Times interview. “I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups, and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.”

Cohn added: “As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job.”

He also told the Financial Times he spoke privately with Trump about these issues.

“I have not been bashful saying what I think,” Cohn said.

In the days after Charlottesville, Cohn’s family — including his wife — told him he needed to think seriously about departing, The New York Times reported, citing two people briefed on the discussions. Several of his friends in the business community also urged him to step away from the administration. Cohn is a former executive at Goldman Sachs.

Amid fears that Cohn would resign, the U.S. stock market dropped until the White House denied the rumor. Cohn, who had spent his entire career in the trading world before joining Trump late last year, was deeply troubled by the market reaction, people close to him told The New York Times.

Cohn’s critical statements of the president’s performance come as Trump prepares next week to start a major national effort to sell a tax-cut plan, which Cohn has been toiling for months behind the scenes to craft, The New York Times noted.

His remarks were in marked contrast to a statement by the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who also is Jewish and stood directly behind the president during the Aug. 15 news conference.

“I don’t believe the allegations against the president are accurate, and I believe that having highly talented men and women in the country surrounding the president in his administration should be reassuring to you and the American people,” he told former Yale classmates who had urged him to resign.

La Crescenta Park’s Nazi ties reflected in new historical marker


Top: A performance of a German musical comedy at the park in the early 1950s (Photo courtesy of AHAMedia.com and Deutsch-Amerikanischer Verband). Bottom: German-American Bund Party choir of Friends of New Germany at the park in 1936 (Photo courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Oviatt Library, Cal State Northridge)

The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation unveiled a historical marker at Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park in La Crescenta on Aug. 18 that includes an explanation of the park’s historical ties to Nazis.

The new marker takes note of the park’s past, acknowledging that “in the years before World War II” and “as Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany, supporters of Hitler at times paraded in this park.”

[Peter Dreier: A tale of two cities – Charlottesville and La Crescenta]

The unveiling followed a controversy that arose last year from the installation, and subsequent removal, of a previous sign at the entrance that read, “Welcome to Hindenburg Park,” recognizing former German President Paul von Hindenburg, a World War I hero who appointed Hitler as chancellor in 1933. The installation of that sign angered Jewish community members who knew of Hindenburg’s history.

Mona Field, an Eagle Rock resident and former member of the L.A. Community College District board of trustees, who is Jewish, was among those who advocated for the removal of the Hindenburg Park sign, which was paid for by the Tricentennial Foundation, a nonprofit German-American heritage organization, with the county’s approval. The sign was removed last May, about one month after its installation.

Hans Eberhard, 85, the German-born chairman of the Tricentennial Foundation, was 17 when he immigrated to the United States in 1949. At that time, Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park was a private park owned by the German-American League. As Hindenburg Park, it was the setting for dances, picnics and other community events for Germans in the area.

“Probably in the late ’50s, I started to go to the Hindenburg Park,” he said. “When I first came [to Los Angeles], I didn’t know anybody here. People get to know you and find out you’re from Germany, that you’re German, [and say] ‘We have an affair, come on down.’ ”

By paying for the earlier sign, Eberhard said he was attempting to honor the park’s history. But part of that history — in the years before World War II, during Hitler’s rise to power — included rallies staged by the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi group.

Following the removal of Eberhard’s sign, the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations appointed an ad hoc task force to create a replacement historical marker. Eberhard and Field, who both attended the unveiling, were among the people on the task force.

Field was instrumental in developing the language for the new marker, which features text, photographs and captions. It is titled “German-American History at Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park.” The photographs include an image showing members of the Bund party, in 1936, posing before a flag with a giant swastika. The photo is courtesy of the special collections and archives of the Oviatt Library at Cal State Northridge, which maintains an archive titled “In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California, 1933-1945.”

Eberhard, who is not Jewish, is concerned that the image of the swastika could foment anti-Semitism.

“The history [as depicted by the marker] is OK. What I don’t like is the picture with the big swastika. I think that attracts undesirable elements. That’s a little offensive, don’t you think?” he said, suggesting that there might be other ways to convey what happened in the past.

Field said she did her best in working with multiple interests in creating a marker that reflects a part of history that has implications today as the United States debates the ascension of neo-Nazis.

“My thing is not to confront people,” she said. “My thing is to fix a problem.”

Jason Moss, executive director of The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, also attended the new sign’s unveiling. He said he was pleased that after more than a year of debate, Field’s and Eberhard’s task force overcame differences and created something tangible.

“What I love about the marker is that it captures the true history of what took place at the park,” he said. “The ad hoc committee was able to come together and work through something that was very difficult, and in the end, I don’t think history was whitewashed.”

Why some Jews still support Trump


Illustration by Steve Greenberg

Watching President Donald Trump equivocate during his criticism of the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., many liberal Jews saw a new low for an administration they felt never occupied high moral ground in the first place.

But many of Trump’s most ardent Jewish supporters had an entirely different reaction, responding to his freewheeling commentary with little more than a shrug, as if to say, “What’s the big deal?” To them, criticizing Trump for a lack of moral clarity because he failed to single out neo-Nazis for condemnation was just another example of the liberal media and the Democratic establishment blowing his comments out of proportion.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis,” said Warren Scheinin, a retired engineer in Redondo Beach. “He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

For right-leaning Jews in the Southland like Scheinin, who have stood by the president so far, the media rather than Trump or even neo-Nazis pose the greatest threat to American democracy. To many Trump supporters, if Charlottesville mattered at all, it mattered far less than his promises to reverse the course of the previous administration at home and abroad, especially on difficult issues involving Israel, North Korea and immigration.

While it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of Jews who still support the president, it’s likely small. More than two-thirds didn’t vote for him in the 2016 election.

Among all Americans who cast ballots for Trump, however, many apparently continue to stand by him. A CBS News poll found that 67 percent of Republicans approved of his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a separate poll this month by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., 41 percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the president. Of those, 61 percent said nothing he could do or fail to do would cause them to change their minds about him.

Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles who researches Jewish political sentiment, said it is difficult to measure how many Jews continue to enthusiastically support Trump rather than merely accept his leadership.

“For those who are in bed and comfortable with him, and even with his quirks and his inconsistencies, there’s little that will push them away from him,” Windmueller said. “But for those who are troubled by at least some of his statements and actions, I think they’re simply hoping for some way out of this nightmare.”

Windmueller pointed to a “credibility gap” between those who put their faith in Trump and those who trust mainstream media outlets.

“Whatever he said, the media would twist it,” said Alexandra Joans, 66, a property manager in Tarzana who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries but shifted her support to Trump once he became the nominee. “If he said today was Friday, they would say, ‘You’re a damned liar, you should be impeached.’ ”

President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

 

Benjamin Nissanoff, 45, the founder of a line of body-care products who lives in West Los Angeles, said the media are quick to label Trump a Jew hater, but they didn’t criticize President Barack Obama when, in an interview with Vox, he did not denounce a 2015 attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris as anti-Semitic. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Obama said: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community.” However, he did not refer to anti-Semitism in the Vox interview.) 

“The media not only didn’t challenge [Obama] on it, they defended him against it,” Nisanoff said. “To me, that is almost an equivalent, analogous situation. Where this president, in my opinion, made a gaffe and — instead of defending him like they did for Obama — they went on offense and they attacked him for a poorly worded and phrased condemnation.”

For some Jewish voices that have defended Trump in the past or stayed silent while others attacked, the president’s comments on Charlottesville seemed to cross a line. But that put them out of lockstep with his base among conservative Jews.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January, said he wished that Trump had been a more effective communicator at a time of crisis.

“If he was concerned there not be any violence at the demonstrations, he could have said, ‘I appeal to all Americans to obey the police and not violate any of the rules,’ ” Hier said. “But instead, he seemed to draw a moral equivalency between perpetrators and victims.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which praised the president when he appointed a diplomatic amateur, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel, and withheld criticism when he failed to mention Jews in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, spoke out against his Charlottesville comments.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis. He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

Responding to Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests, the group’s national chairman, Norm Coleman, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Matt Brooks, its executive director, contradicted him in an Aug. 16 statement, saying, “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the [Ku Klux] Klan.

“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” they wrote.

But other Jewish Republicans saw nothing objectionable in the president’s comments, only the backlash that ensued. After the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, a group of 16 lawmakers in Sacramento, rebuked Trump for his comments, the only Republican member, State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County, resigned from the caucus.

In an Aug. 17 statement, the caucus said Trump “gives voice to organizations steeped in an ideology of bigotry, hate and violence.” Stone fired back hours later with a statement of his own, saying the caucus “receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.”

Carol Greenwald of Maryland, co-founder of the grassroots group Jews Choose Trump, who supported him throughout the 2016 campaign, dismissed the criticism from organizations like the RJC.

“They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” she said. “They didn’t support Trump for a minute during the campaign.”

She sees the fallout from Trump’s Charlottesville remarks as part of a crusade by the media aimed at damaging the president.

“They ran out of the Russian collusion [story], that Trump is a traitor, because there’s obviously no evidence for it, and so they’re now trying to destroy his presidency by saying Trump’s a racist,” she said.

Scheinin also believes Democrats are running with the Charlottesville story to damage Trump.

“The only reason he’s being harassed about it is because the left loves to harass the president,” he said.

Counterdemonstrators attack a white supremacist during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 

The former Northrop Grumman engineer agreed with the president that both sides in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence.

“I don’t know why people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the media coverage. “If the counterprotesters hadn’t showed up, nobody would have been killed. It would have blown over.”

Like Joans, Greenwald and others interviewed for this story, Scheinin said he sees far-left groups such as antifa, known for its use of violence to intimidate conservative speakers and protesters, and Black Lives Matter, which has equated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with genocide, as more of a threat to democracy and Jewish life in America than the far right.

“The skinheads don’t really bother me,” Joans said. “They’re useless to me. I worry about the left more because they’re the true fascists.”

For Trump stalwarts, the perception that violence and hatred are rampant on the left makes it easier to sympathize with the president’s suggestion that both sides of the Charlottesville rallies should be targeted for condemnation.

Estella Sneider

Estella Sneider, a celebrity psychologist who campaigned for Trump and appeared frequently on television to support him, disputed allegations that Trump is a racist or a xenophobe, pointing to his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law, foreign-born wife and Blacks he appointed to positions in his administration, such as White House communications aide Omarosa Manigault. “Why are people not seeing this?” Sneider said.

Sneider’s family on her father’s side was almost entirely annihilated by the Holocaust. She said she was nauseated by the Nazi symbols and chants at the torchlight march in Charlottesville. After watching Trump’s remarks, however, she was satisfied that he had unequivocally condemned the white supremacists.

“It would be unfair to lump every single Trump supporter into being white supremacists and white nationalists and neo-Nazis, in the same way it would be unfair to lump all liberal Democrats into being antifa,” she said. “Trump was right in saying that not everybody there was a neo-Nazi.”

Nissanoff, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he was offended by comparisons between Charlottesville protestors who chanted “Jews will not replace us” and Nazis.

“The word ‘Nazi’ is such a powerful idea that to dilute it and start to equivocate with a bunch of losers who run around with tiki torches I think diminishes what a Nazi and Nazism really was,” he said.

In Los Angeles, members of the Israeli community continue to provide a source of Jewish support for Trump.

Ari Bussel, 51, who runs a liquor distributorship in Beverly Hills, was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Israel. He described himself as a proud Republican and said he felt Trump has not been given a chance to lead the country. He said Trump has been “vilified as the greatest Satan, the actual fulfillment of imaginary fears and baseless accusations.”

“As for the latest accusations,” Bussel added, “whatever the president would have said would not have satisfied some people and the American-Jewish leadership — exactly those who vocally and fiercely fought against his being elected.”

For Adi Levin, 47, a homemaker in Woodland Hills who emigrated from Israel in 2000, Trump’s support for Israel is more important than his record on race relations. She said the coverage of Charlottesville has been biased against the president.

“They like to criticize Trump and will continue doing so no matter what he’ll say or do,” she said. “I never heard them criticize Obama the same way, even though he never criticized or said anything about Muslim extremists.”

However, Levin said she wishes Trump would pick his words more carefully.

Cheston Mizel

“It’s obvious that the media doesn’t like him,” she said, “but I don’t think it will hurt to try and be more politically correct.”

The Orthodox community has been another source of pro-Trump sentiment in Los Angeles and beyond. For some of his observant supporters, Trump’s record on religious liberties and Israel far outweigh his handling of race relations.

Cheston Mizel, president of Mizel Financial Holdings and a congregant of Pico Shul, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, said the attention to Charlottesville and to other presidential controversies has distracted from Trump’s successes, including appointing the pro-Israel Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and nominating Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“While there are obviously things that are problematic about this presidency, Nikki Haley and Neil Gorsuch are two clear bright spots,” he said.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft, 58, owns the Mitzvah Store on Beverly Boulevard and goes to synagogue nearby at Congregation Kehilas Yaakov. He grew up in a liberal Democratic family in Kansas City, Mo., but in the 1980s, after meeting Ronald Reagan at a Kansas City Jewish country club where he was a lifeguard, he changed his party affiliation to Republican.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft

Although he originally supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries, once Trump made it to the general election, Kraft’s choice was clear, he said: He voted to make America great again.

Asked whether he feels Trump has adequately denounced white supremacists, Kraft pulled out his iPhone and played a YouTube video of clips edited together to show Trump repeatedly denouncing white supremacist David Duke in various interviews with reporters.

“It was sufficient,” Kraft said of Trump’s response to Charlottesville. “Those who hate Trump could not accept his condemnation of the violent left.”

Ayala Or-El contributed to this article.

Antifa, Nazism and the opportunistic politics that divide us


White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Americans are more united than ever on issues of race and free speech.

So why the hell are we so divided?

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist terror attack on anti-white supremacist protesters, the vast majority of Americans agreed on the following propositions: white supremacism is evil; neo-Nazism is evil; violence against peaceful protesters is evil, whether from left to right or vice versa.

Yet here we are, two weeks after the event, and the heat has not cooled.

That’s not thanks to serious disagreements among Americans. It’s thanks to political opportunism on all sides.

It’s easy to blame President Donald Trump for that reaction; his response to the Charlottesville attack was indeed deeply disturbing. It was disturbing for the president to initially blame “both sides” for the event, as though those counterprotesting white supremacism were moral equals of those protesting in its favor. It was more disturbing for the president to say there were “very fine people” at the neo-Nazi tiki torch march, and to add that he had no idea what the “alt-right” was.

Trump’s bizarre, horrifying response to the Charlottesville attacks would have justified criticism of him. I’ve been personally pointing out the president’s stubborn and unjustifiable unwillingness to condemn the alt-right for well over a year (I was the alt-right’s top journalistic target in 2016 on Twitter, according to the Anti-Defamation League). Such critiques would have been useful and welcome.

Instead, the mainstream left has politicized the situation through two particular strategies: first, labeling conservatives more broadly as neo-Nazi sympathizers; second, justifying violence from communist/anarchist antifa members.

The first strategy is old hat by now on the left. On college campuses, conservatives are regularly labeled beneficiaries of “white privilege” who merely seek to uphold their supremacy; anodyne political candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been hit with charges of racism from the left. Democrats routinely dog Republicans with the myth of the “Southern switch” — the notion that the Republicans and Democrats changed positions on civil rights after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to Republicans winning the South. (For the record, that theory is eminently untrue, and has been repeatedly debunked by election analysts ranging from Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics to Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin and Richard Johnston of theUniversity of Pennsylvania.)

But that false conflation found a new outlet for the left in support for antifa (anti-fascism). Antifa is a violent group that has attacked protesters in Sacramento, Berkeley, Dallas, Boston and Charlottesville; it’s dedicated to the proposition that those it labels fascists must be fought physically. It’s not anti-fascist so much as anti-right-wing — it shut down a parade in Portland last year because Republican Party members were scheduled to march in that parade. Antifa’s violence in Boston two weeks after Charlottesville wasn’t directed at Nazis or Nazi sympathizers, but at police officers and normal free-speech advocates.

Yet many on the left have justified their behavior as a necessary counter to the white supremacists and alt-righters. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) justified the violence by appealing to the evils of the neo-Nazis. Professor N.D.B. Connolly of Johns Hopkins University wrote in the pages of The Washington Post that the time for nonviolence had ended — that it was time to “throw rocks.” Dartmouth University historian Mark Bray defended antifa by stating that the group makes an “ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late.”

This is appalling stuff unless the Nazis are actually getting violent. Words aren’t violence. A free society relies on that distinction to function properly — as Max Weber stated, the purpose of civilization is to hand over the role of protection of rights to a state that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Breaking that pact destroys the social fabric.

Now, most liberals — as opposed to leftists — don’t support antifa. Even Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced antifa’s tactics in Berkeley, for example. But in response to some on the left’s defense of antifa and their attempt to broaden the Nazi label to include large swaths of conservatives, too many people on the right have fallen into the trap of defending bad behavior of its own. Instead of disassociating clearly and universally from President Trump’s comments, the right has glommed onto the grain of truth embedded in them —  that antifa is violent — in order to shrug at the whole.

The result of all of this: the unanimity that existed regarding racism and violence has been shattered. And all so that political figures can make hay by castigating large groups of people who hate Nazism and violence.

Let’s restore the unanimity. Nazism is bad and unjustifiable. Violence against those who are not acting violently is bad and unjustifiable. That’s not whataboutism. That’s truth.

If we can’t agree on those basic principles, we’re not going to be able to share a country.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Atlanta private school students expelled, suspended for Jews vs. Nazis beer pong


Screenshot from WSB-TV 2

A student from a private high school in Atlanta was expelled and four others were suspended after a photo on social media showed them playing a game of Jews vs. Nazis beer pong.

The student who hosted the party earlier this month was suspended and can reapply to The Lovett School. Two other students who were watching the game but not playing were banned from extracurricular activities for the first two weeks of the new school year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday.

Among the nearly dozen guests at the party, 19 are entering their senior year at the school. There were also some alumni, and some of the guests were minors.

The school learned of the game when a local rabbi, Peter Berg, told the headmaster about the party after receiving the photo in an email from several people.

“The fact that someone could even conceive of such a game and then play it and think it’s funny is beyond words,” Berg told WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News. “To see that image as a Jewish person is something that the Jewish students in that school, it’s gonna take a long time to get over, if ever.”

The photo shows large red beer cups laid out on a table in the shape of a swastika and a Star of David.

In a statement sent to the news channel, the school said: “Character education is at the heart of all we do at Lovett, and we deeply appreciate the individuals and organizations across our community who are helping us to continue to learn and grow from this very troubling incident.”

What’s a bigger threat to Jews, left or right?


White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Who’s worse, the fanatics who want to kill us now or the extremists who want to kill us later? That was the question Jews locked onto this week, like two dogs playing tug of war with a sock. It’s entertaining until one of them loses a tooth.

The fight began after President Donald Trump equivocated in his condemnation of neo-Nazis and placed the blame for the violence at the Aug. 12 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., on both the alt-right and the people who came to protest them.

Trump’s insistence that there was blame on “many sides” and there were “good people on both sides” drew justifiable denunciation from a broad swath of the Jewish world. The nonpartisan Anti-Defamation League (yes, it’s nonpartisan), of course, condemned the president’s remarks. But so did Haskel Lookstein, the Orthodox rabbi who officiated at Ivanka Trump’s conversion, as well as the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

If there’s one thing most Jews can still manage to agree on, it’s that Nazis are bad.

But then came social media, and that’s where the fights broke out.

Yes, what Trump did was terrible, but the real danger to American Jews is the left, some people argued. It’s the antifa people, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and Black Lives Matter with its anti-Zionist platform who intimidate Jewish students on college campuses, shut down free speech for pro-Israel speakers, and in the case of BDS, work toward a world where Israel and the Palestinians can bloody each other in a Lebanon-circa-1982-style civil war. At this year’s Chicago SlutWalk, the leftist organizers refused to let Jews march under a banner showing the Star of David, a Jewish symbol that long predates the State of Israel. 

Yeah, the leftists shot back, but what about … Nazis? It’s the alt-right members who carry guns, threaten synagogues as they did in Charlottesville, chant “Jews will not replace us,” and far and away commit more violent attacks. To paraphrase Sally Field, they hate us, they really hate us.

This is how the arguments play out on Facebook, Instagram and, occasionally, as they say on Twitter, IRL — in real life.

Some debaters go straight to history, or at least to something they remember from the History Channel. The left gave us Stalin and Mao. The fascists gave us Hitler. The left aligned with Palestinian terrorists. The right gave us … Hitler.

The right says that a few pathetic men carrying swastikas can’t compare to an international movement like BDS. The left points out that a few pathetic men carrying swastikas is an exact description of the Nazi Party in 1921.

The right claims there’s something called the alt-left that is dangerously anti-Semitic. The left points out that Fox News host Sean Hannity invented the term “alt-left” to stoke fear, whereas a neo-Nazi created the word “alt-right” to rebrand his loathsome movement.

“There is no comparable side on the left to the alt-right,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on MSNBC this week.  “White supremacists amass with …  a nationalist agenda that pushes out minorities based on how you pray, who you love or where you’re from. So, it’s really not comparable.”

I’ve read the platforms of antifa groups online, and they all state they oppose all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. That’s not a claim you find on DailyStormer.com. Having said that, I wouldn’t be shocked one day to find anti-fascists showing up to intimidate marchers at a pro-Israel rally. Leftist politicians in England like Jeremy Corbyn side with terrorists against Israel, and their sickness is infectious.

The bottom line is, after our initial almost-unity in condemning Trump’s remarks, we quickly split on which extreme should concern us more. Astonishingly, the Democrats in the debate tend to “objectively” consider the neo-Nazis a far worse threat, while the Republicans “objectively” conclude that the antifas and BDS-ers are the clear and present danger. People come in with their biases and leave with them intact. No minds are changed in the making of this debate.

Here’s what I think: We need to sleep with one eye open, sometimes the right one, sometimes the left one.

The far right and far left always circle back to meet each other under the same DSM entry for paranoia, conspiracy theories, violence and Jew hatred. The far left disguises anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism. The far right disguises nothing: They hate Jews and the “Zios.”

These days, the far right has gotten a big blast of wind in its sails from our president (thanks for that) and the limp response from fellow Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who failed to stand up to him. Not to mention the Jews who serve or sometimes live with Trump. They only make things worse.

But winds shift. That means next time someone tries to convince you that all the danger blows from one direction, remind them that it doesn’t. The Jewish left needs to mind the left, and the Jewish right the right. Let’s work together to fight the fanatics and their enablers wherever, and whoever, they are.


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.

The Torah of ‘Game of Thrones’


Photo courtesy of HBO

I used to think HBO’s “Game of Thrones” depicted fantasy.

Over seven seasons, the show has featured creatures and events that are not of this world, even as they are fun to imagine: an army of the dead; domesticated dragons; faithful dire wolves; human “wargs,” who can enter the minds of animals and control them; and the threat of an indefinite winter that will sow chaos and cold throughout the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.    

These are not things we mortals must contend with, so for those of us who enjoy “Game of Thrones,” we suspend our disbelief over dragons that win wars and obsess over cliffhangers without ever taking the show too seriously. We tell ourselves it’s a guilty pleasure, without feeling much guilt. It’s absorbing but not deep; brilliant but not profound.

And we couldn’t be more wrong.

In the wake of two terror attacks in Europe last week — in Spain and Finland — as well as the storm over the deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., I watched “Game of Thrones” on Aug. 20 with new eyes.

If there is a core truth that our world shares with the fictional civilization of Westeros, it is that we are both caught in an inexorable pull toward calamity.

Conflict is the ruling ethos of our day. Gone is the postwar era in which U.S. leadership, international agreements and economic collaboration sustained a world order. The stability that much of the world enjoyed for the latter part of the 20th century has been destabilized by the forces of populist nationalism, protectionism, nuclear threats, competition for global dominance, terrorism, civil war and climate change. “Game of Thrones” used to look like melodrama; now it looks like metaphor.

In the world of Westeros, as in ours, the precondition of existence is to combat an endless stream of existential threats. On the show, it’s a remote and resurgent army of the dead known as White Walkers, who want to annihilate the Seven Kingdoms and everyone in it; for us, it’s amorphous terrorist cells that plot to kill in the name of God and achieve world dominion through an Islamic caliphate.

On the show, the nefarious Cersei Lannister will plot, plunder and murder to preserve her power; in our world, Kim Jong Un and Bashar Assad have demonstrated that no human price is too high to pay to prolong their reigns. Nature brings catastrophe, too: Just as Westeros faces the danger of an endless winter, we face global warming.

Under conditions like these, where there is no rest or respite from the challenges to basic survival, “Game of Thrones” tells us there are no easy solutions for a world in flux. Human beings must expend their time and their resources, using all their economic, political and military capital to stave off chaos. And then it comes, anyway. Again and again and again. 

Forces for good exist, although not always in divine balance. There are heroes on the show, honorable men and women who serve as moral actors and fight for a better world no matter how dangerous the risks or impossible the odds. Many of them die. Evil forces tend to prevail more often because the cravers of power are willing to risk everything precious and the heroes are not. And as history has proven time and again, when evil eventually is defeated, it usually comes after horrendous destruction and loss. As in life, the show resists condemning bad characters to their fate until they’ve done bad deeds. But then it’s too late.

“When you play the game of thrones,” villain Cersei Lannister tells hero Ned Stark in Season One, “you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

What better explanation is there for the extreme political partisanship we see in many places in the world today? People wonder where the moderates have gone, but in a dog-eat-dog world, there’s no room for centrists. Neutrality is an abdication of responsibility when survival demands you take a side.

Although most every kingdom in Westeros functions more smoothly than our current administration, there are always plots to upend the status quo. The emancipation of women has unleashed strong but not always fair female leadership, altering the destiny of Westeros. The game of thrones is now a faceoff between two queens: a cunning despot and an emancipator of slaves.

But the outcome doesn’t really matter.

“I’m not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords,” one battle-worn character said to another in last week’s episode.

So for what, then?

“Life,” he said. 

“Death is the enemy. … [And though] the enemy always wins, we still need to fight him. You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here. But we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves.”

In a world on fire, the show tells us, protecting the vulnerable is the noblest aim. It’s a very Jewish idea — and it isn’t surprising to find it here; the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, are both Jewish.

So as it nears its final season, “Game of Thrones” has traded fantasy for realism, assuring us there is little reward for doing good but that life ticks on, enabling the game to continue.


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

Lawsuit just the start of crackdown on white supremacists, Feuer vows


Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer conducts a press conference regarding his office’s commitment to prosecute white supremacists’ activities and hate crimes in Los Angeles. Photo by Ryan Torok

Days after his office filed an Aug. 14 lawsuit against three people allegedly connected to a Canoga Park home serving as a gathering place for white supremacist gang activity, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said the suit is just the beginning of a concerted effort by his team to track down and prosecute those who engage in hate crimes and other criminal behavior locally.

“In addition to lawsuits already brought regarding alleged white supremacist gangs in the Valley, there is more work under investigation on that very issue right now. I can’t discuss the state of the investigation publicly,” he said, addressing reporters at L.A. City Hall on Aug. 18. “So we are going to do that; we’re going to be vigilant in prosecuting hate crimes and continue outreach — I and others have engaged in outreach in communities — to encourage people to come forward.”

The three defendants named in the L.A. Superior Court lawsuit are Lisa Bellinaso; her mother, Isabella; and Bellinaso’s boyfriend, Ryan Matthew Andrews. The suit asks that the home, located at the 8400 block of Remmet Avenue, where Bellinaso and Andrews have been living, be declared a public nuisance and that a judge enjoin further drug dealings there.

The legal action followed a recent uptick in anti-Semitic activity in Santa Monica, where members of the conservative group the Red Elephants and the alt-right group the Beach Goys reportedly have appeared at meetings of the Santa Monica-based Committee for Racial Justice. The Santa Monica Mirror reported on Aug. 15 that during an August meeting of the Committee for Racial Justice, the tensions boiled over when one participant stood up to the far-right attendees of the meeting to express solidarity with Jews.

“I have 15 years of Catholic school and tonight I am a Jew!” the woman said.

Additionally, Feuer’s press conference, among other things, addressed the Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville, Va., where a neo-Nazi demonstration clashed with a counterprotest, resulting in the death of one woman. At such a divisive time in this country, Feuer said it is incumbent on him as a Jewish city leader to stand up for marginalized communities, including Muslims.

“I’ve been making a systematic effort to go to mosques, Islamic centers and elsewhere because I think it is really important, not only because I’m a leader in this city but because I’m a Jewish leader in this city, to demonstrate the importance of us being together, of standing together,” he said. “That kind of outreach, conspicuous outreach, by leadership now, is, I think, pivotal.

Feuer told the room of about 30 reporters his Jewishness compels him to think about what he can do for those who cannot do for themselves.

“It happens that the theme of the [forthcoming] High Holy Days at my synagogue is taken from a teaching called the Pirkei Avot, a compilation of stories and of wisdom. And the theme is, ‘In a place where no one is acting like a human being, one needs to strive to be human,’ ” he said. “On a personal level, each of us can use this moment to think very deeply about who we are, what matters to us, and our relationships to each other and to the nation itself.” n

Trump’s target: Immigrants like us


President Donald Trump in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug. 22. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

While reporting on the current generation of immigrants, I’ve been struck by how they resemble Jews who, like them, left the old country for a risky journey to the United States.

We forget family roots as the years pass. Only determined genealogists have the curiosity to trace families back to the towns of the Ashkenaz and Sefarad. 

But there is no better time than now to think about roots.

Who would think that the top news of the day would be American Nazis running wild, rampaging with their swastikas and anti-Semitic chants? They are evocative of the vicious young men who stormed through Russian cities and villages during pogroms, in Jewish quarters in the Middle East, in European cities when Hitler reigned.

Then, to make matters worse, President Donald Trump sank to the level of Hitler apologists when he said of the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., “You … had some very fine people on both sides.” 

The United States has been a welcoming land for Jews. But the Nazi sympathizers and Trump’s comments ought to remind us of a certain precariousness in our lives. Paranoid perhaps, but that gloomy thought is with me as I cover the immigration issue for the website Truthdig.

When Trump took office with his pledge to sharply limit immigration and to deport those here without documentation — numbering about 11 million — Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer, son of an immigrant mother, said he thought immigration was one of the most important stories of our time and that we were in the middle of it in Southern California.  I thought so, too.

Take Boyle Heights, for example.

I began exploring Boyle Heights, Los Angeles’ traditional immigrant center, for the Los Angeles Times in 1970.

Much has changed since then. Brooklyn Avenue, the Boyle Heights’ main street of some of our readers’ youth, is now Cesar Chavez Avenue, and the Jews who made it their community long ago migrated westward. But some of the heritage of the old Boyle Heights — then a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood with a tradition of activist politics — remains.

That activism was apparent to me during a recent community workshop organized by Truthdig Managing Editor Eric Ortiz. The event was designed to show young people how to get news out in this era of internet journalism.

The concerns of these young journalists , who contribute to Boyle Heights Beat, a bilingual community newspaper and website, ranged from fighting the gentrification of Boyle Heights to reporting on the wave of fear in the Latino community over the rapidly increasing arrests of undocumented immigrants.

One story in a recent edition was about Los Angeles’ first all-solar-powered arts and music festival in Mariachi Plaza. Another was a moving account by a Boyle Heights Beat reporter about what happened when her father, here on a green card, was deported. What distinguishes the stories is that they give full pictures of life in Boyle Heights, rather than limiting themselves to the usual media accounts of undocumented immigrants being hauled away by authorities. 

My former Los Angeles Times colleague Hector Tobar wrote of these usual accounts in a New York Times op-ed, calling such stories “kind of immigration porn,” designed to titillate readers and viewers. “You are many times more likely to see a deportee on the TV news than a Latino doctor or teacher,” he wrote. “My objection is not to the coverage of deportations. … But the humiliated and hunted people you see in coverage of the deported are not the whole person. Tenacity and stubbornness are the defining qualities of undocumented America.”

These were the qualities of our Jewish immigrant forebears. They had the tenacity, stubbornness and courage to leave the old country for a faraway land whose language they frequently could not read or speak. They were impoverished before they left and often more so when they arrived. Grit and, often, family members pulled them up — sometimes way up.

These qualities are not recognized in the cruelly restrictive immigration measure proposed by Trump that would cut the number of immigrants to this country by half and, among other provisions, require English language skills. It would also eliminate some family sponsorship of immigrants, the route most immigrants follow to get into the United States. The provision would devastate Latino and Muslim families.

One of the provision’s authors was Trump aide Stephen Miller. As Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman wrote, Miller is the descendent of immigrants who benefited from American openness and generosity.

If you can, visit immigrant communities, go to meetings, explore the schools and watch people fight deportation in immigration court. Look carefully. You’ll see in their faces the faces of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.

Today, Latinos and Muslims are under threat from the Trump administration. As inconceivable as it sounds, one day it could be us.


BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Paul Ryan rejects constituent rabbi’s plea to censure Trump


Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan fielding a question from Rabbi Dena Feingold at a town hall in Racine, Wisc., on Aug. 21. Screenshot from CNN

Responding to a local rabbi at a town hall, Sen. Paul Ryan said Donald Trump “messed up” in his Charlottesville comments but dismissed a bid by Democrats to censure the president as a “partisan hack-fest.”

Ryan, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, fielded the question by Rabbi Dena Feingold at a town hall in Racine televised on CNN on Monday.

Feingold, of Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, began by noting that her family and Ryan’s had been friendly for decades. (Feingold’s brother Russ is a former Democratic senator from the state.)

“Given our shared upbringing, I’m sure that you are as shocked as I am at the brazen expressions, public expressions of white supremacy and anti-Semitism that our country has seen since the November election,” Feingold said.

“And our synagogue in Kenosha has had to have extra security hired and we’ve asked the Kenosha Police Department to help us out so that people can feel comfortable coming to our synagogue to gather,” she said. “And so following up on what’s been asked already, Speaker Ryan, as the leader of the congressional Republicans, I’d like to ask you what concrete steps that you will take to hold the president accountable when his words and executive actions either implicitly or explicitly condone, if not champion, racism and xenophobia. For example, will you support the resolution for censure?”

She was referring to a motion introduced last week by 75 House Democrats — led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who is Jewish — that censures Trump for his “inadequate” response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a far-right rally earlier this month. Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist protesters clashed there with counterprotesters, and a counterprotester was killed when an alleged white supremacist rammed a crowd with his car.

Trump said afterward that “many sides” were to blame for the violence, and that there were some “very fine people” on both sides.

Ryan said at the town hall that Trump had “messed up” in his responses, but the congressman also praised the president for a separate address delivered just before the town hall started in which he called for unity. His reply to Feingold was acerbic.

“I just disagree with you,” Ryan said. “I will not support that. I think that would be — that would be so counterproductive. If we descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, into some bickering against each other, and demean it down to some political food fight, what good does that do to unify this country?”

The moderator, Jake Tapper, pursued the issue, noting the fears in the district among Jews and among Sikhs, who were the targets of a lethal 2010 racist attack. The CNN newsman argued that the concerns about heightened racial tensions were not necessarily partisan.

“Forget his party for a second,” Tapper said. Trump is “giving aid and comfort to people who are fans of losing, discredited, hateful ideologies. ”

Ryan hesitated in his reply, but ultimately stood his ground.

“It is very, very important that we not make this a partisan food fight,” he said. “It is very important that we unify in condemning this kind of violence, in condemning this kind of hatred. And to make this us against them, Republicans against Democrats, pro-Trump, anti-Trump, that is a big mistake for our country, and that will demean the value of this important issue.”

Of Trump, Ryan said, “He needs to do better.”

The authors of the censure motion pushed back on Tuesday, saying in a statement that Ryan was shying away from moral accountability.

“In the wake of Charlottesville, Democrats and Republicans alike have been moved to reject the president’s ambivalent and wholly inadequate response to acts of domestic terrorism.” said a statement from Nadler’s office. “Many have gone so far as to condemn any attempt to project a moral equivalency between white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis, and those who gathered to protest against the ‘Unite the Right’ rally and the racist ideals it represents. Yet Speaker Ryan remains silent, and continues to omit calling out the President directly for his morally repugnant statements.”

I applaud Billy Joel for wearing the yellow Star of David


The author with Billy Joel in 1980.

Billy Joel wearing a yellow Star of David on Aug. 21. Photo by Myrna M. Suarez/Getty Images

Jewish fans of Billy Joel took to social media today to share photos of him wearing yellow Star of David patches on his shirt at his Madison Square Garden concert last night.  It was an obvious protest against the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who’ve been defiling America’s streets of late.  But it also was a not-so-obvious full embrace of his heritage as the son and grandson of German Jews who barely escaped the Holocaust.

For me, it was a particularly heart-warming and emotional moment. I got to know Billy in 1979 when I became news director of WLIR, a highly popular and influential Long Island radio station that had been among the first to play his music.  The singer was a fixture at our studios, he played on our baseball team, he took us out to an Italian restaurant and I did several memorable interviews with him.  He once publicly thanked me for helping him with a charity with which he was involved, and privately told a colleague of mine that he really liked my work.

Given that background, when I heard he was planning to perform in the Soviet Union in 1987, this longtime member of the “Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry” had to speak up.  Although I’d never discussed it with him, I knew that Billy’s father Helmut (later Howard) had escaped Nazi Germany with Billy’s grandparents, making their way from Switzerland to Cuba and eventually, the United States.  Billy’s mother was also Jewish, although his upbringing on Long Island had little Jewish content.

I contacted a mutual friend and asked if he’d get a message to Billy.  I remember the friend asking if I wanted to speak with him on the phone.  I said I preferred to put it down on paper.

I wrote a long, impassioned plea, asking Billy to not tour Russia without speaking about the plight of Soviet Jews, who were just then breaking the chains of their long oppression by the Communist regime.  I reminded him that we both were sons of German Jews who had been fortunate enough to escape the Nazis, and that very few people had spoken up for our families during that dark time.

The mutual friend promised to hand the typed letter to Billy.  There was no response.  A couple of weeks later, just before the tour began, I called to check, and was told that Billy had read it.  He proceeded with the tour, and never said a word about his fellow Jews.

I only spoke to Billy once after that, several years later, and didn’t bring it up. In 2001, I was surprised and pleased to see that he’d participated in a fascinating documentary called “The Joel Files.”  The film depicted the Nazi theft of Billy’s grandfather’s thriving business in Berlin, and showed the musician contemplating the names of his close relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust.

I was impressed and moved that Billy agreed to be part of that project.  And today, 38 years after I first met him, I actually gasped when I saw those photos online, of Billy wearing the yellow star that his relatives were forced to display before being dragged to their tragic deaths.  His ex-wife Christie Brinkley and their daughter Alexa both tweeted their support, with Brinkley writing “Thank you, Billy, for reminding people what was, so it may never be again”. 

I’m sure that seeing thugs marching through the streets of an American city, carrying Nazi-like torches and flags adorned with swastikas, must have infuriated him.  Perhaps being a father of two has affected Billy’s evolving relationship with his family’s history.  Whatever the reasons, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the Piano Man, now that he’s hit exactly the right note.

When American Jews fought Nazis — in New Jersey


An anti-Nazi protest in front of the German legation in New York, 1933. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

The Nazi punching debate (is it OK to punch a Nazi?) went viral in January after a liberal protester slugged white supremacist Richard Spencer in the face during President Donald Trump’s inauguration. It was reignited this month following brawls between far-right nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, and counterprotesters, including some associated with the combative antifa movement.

Although most eyewitness accounts of the events in Charlottesville pin much of the blame for the violence on the far-right marchers, and a counterprotester was killed by a car driven by a suspected white supremacist, critics like attorney Alan Dershowitz disapproved of the “anti-fascists” who showed up at the rallies.

“They use violence, and just because they’re opposed to fascism and to some of these [Confederate] monuments shouldn’t make them heroes of the liberals,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”

But whether it’s OK to confront hatred with violence is not a new topic of conversation. The question was debated in the 1930s among American Jews, who were faced with both the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Nazi sympathizers at home.

One hotbed for the debate was Newark, New Jersey, home to a large German-American population and a fair share of supporters of the Nazi cause. Though only around 5 percent of the city’s German-American population of some 45,000 sympathized with the Nazis, they made it known, said Warren Grover, a historian and the author of the 2003 book “Nazis in Newark.”

Following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Jews in Newark saw Nazi-sympathizers marching down their city’s streets.

“The threats they faced were physical because the Nazis were marching in uniform. Many of them were armed. They broke windows, and they attacked merchants, but never with fatal consequences,” Grover said of residents of the city’s Third Ward neighborhood, where many Jews and Nazi supporters lived side by side.

Nazis also screened movies with anti-Semitic messages and hung anti-Jewish posters in the city, Grover told JTA. At a local election in bordering Irvington, they plastered posters across the city urging residents not to vote for Jewish candidates.

In response, Jews started organizing to defend themselves. Across the country, Jews would fight Nazis on an ad hoc basis. But in Newark, a more organized group emerged: the Minutemen. Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky had started the group in New York, but the Minutemen were shut down there by the authorities after some Jews reported them, fearing the use of violence would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism.

In Newark, however, the Minutemen took hold, aided by another Jewish gangster, Abner “Longy” Zwillman, and led by former professional boxer Nat Arno. On Oct. 18, 1933, JTA reported on a typical clash, outside a Nazi meeting at a German auditorium: “The meeting, at the Schwabenhalle, under the auspices of the Friends of the New Germany … was the target for stones and stench bombs thrown by the anti-Nazis in the crowd of about one thousand who waited outside the hall.”

The following May, JTA reported on a melee in Irvington: A “Nazi meeting terminated in fisticuffs, a miniature riot, arrests and injury to many persons.”

Though the Minutemen were “cheered and accepted by the majority of the Newark Jewish population,” Grover said, not everyone was enthusiastic.

Some Jews, especially those affiliated with Reform synagogues, “felt it gave Jews a bad name to be engaged in brawling, and they felt the government would take care of it,” he said. Those who opposed the group tended not to live in the Third Ward.

Yet the mostly Jewish group, which also had a few Irish and Italian members, became a powerful tool to fight Hitler sympathizers..

“The Minutemen were ready for them. The Minutemen had clubs and stink bombs, and they attacked the participants of the event,” Grover said of one Nazi mass demonstration in 1933. “Police came, and there were some arrests, and people said later that the Jews, the Minutemen, had no right to attack a peaceful gathering in a Newark hall.”

The Minutemen boosted Jewish morale.

“Physical prowess as exhibited against the Newark Nazis, Irvington Nazis, was a matter of pride for the Eastern European Jews who came because of the pogroms in Russia in the 1880s,” Grover said. “They took pride in it because they saw the newsreels coming from Germany [showing] how the Jews in Germany were being treated and all the different anti-Jewish legislation.”

Ultimately, Grover said, the group served its purpose: deterring Nazis from organizing in Newark.

“Just the thought of having Minutemen present at any of their meetings discouraged a lot of the Nazis from holding public meetings,” he said. “They were successful because a lot less propaganda was brought out by the Nazis because of fear of the Minutemen.”

‘Adopt-a-Nazi’ campaign raises funds to counter a white nationalist rally in San Francisco


Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" march down East Market Street toward Emancipation Park during the United the Right rally on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It sounds like a deal with the devil, but a new GoFundMe page that asks people to “Adopt-a-Nazi” is actually a fundraiser for a civil rights group.

San Francisco attorney Cody Harris and the Jewish Bar Association of San Francisco are behind the tongue-in-cheek response to a far-right “free speech” rally in San Francisco on Aug. 26.

The campaign asks visitors to donate a small amount of money to the Southern Poverty Law Center by “sponsoring” each person expected to attend the rally. Some donors have pledged $6; others have given $600 or more. About 300 people are expected to attend the rally.

Launched on Aug. 17 with an initial goal of $10,000, the campaign passed that target in 24 hours. The goal was changed to $100,000 and then to $125,000. As of Tuesday morning, more than $91,000 had been raised.

The link has been shared 10,000 times on Facebook.

“What it shows is that people want to do something positive,” Harris said.

When Harris heard about the San Francisco rally, he was shocked that a national issue stirred by the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, was coming to his doorstep. He created the GoFundMe page “Adopt-a-Nazi (Not Really)” to raise money for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national organization fighting hate and extremism and tracking neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

Harris came up with the idea after hearing about a town in Germany that countered a neo-Nazi parade in 2014 with a fundraiser to benefit anti-extremist groups. He asked the Jewish Bar Association of San Francisco, where he is a board member, to take on the effort.

The Aug. 26 rally is being organized by the Portland-based group Patriot Prayer, whose events have been marked by clashes between protesters and counterprotesters. The group is led by Joey Gibson, a Trump supporter who has publicly denounced white supremacists but whose rallies still draw white nationalists, anti-Semites and self-described fascists, according to SPLC and other groups.

Gibson has said that security for the Patriot Prayer group will be provided by the Oath Keepers, an armed, militia-like group that the Anti-Defamation League has described as a “large but loosely organized collection of anti-government extremists.”

The rally, which has been condemned by local and national politicians and drawn opposition from around the Bay Area, has tentative approval from the National Park Service. A final decision is expected any day.

Bay Area Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations are split on how to respond to the rally and its “alt-right” message, which often contains racist and anti-Semitic tropes. Some plan to join counterprotests at Crissy Field, while others say the best response is to attend planned alternative, peaceful gatherings elsewhere.

One woman was killed and dozens were injured when a car driven by a suspected white supremacist plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters following a far-right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.

11 former White House Jewish liaisons: Trump doesn’t understand anti-Semitism


President Donald Trump shown before making a statement on the violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 14. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

As Jewish liaisons to four different presidents, we had the responsibility inside the White House to give voice to the perspectives and priorities of the American Jewish community. While our community may not be unified in matters of policy and politics, our spiritual practice, cultural traditions and history have instilled in American Jews a shared commitment to protecting those targeted by bigots, racists and others spewing hate and division.

The presidents we served repeatedly used their bully pulpit to condemn hatred and bigotry when it appeared, whether in America or overseas. A video of President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1981 NAACP Convention following the lynching of an African-American man in Alabama has gone viral in recent days. President Bill Clinton led the nation’s mourning following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and we all vividly recall President George W. Bush’s eloquent remarks standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and President Barack Obama’s eulogy and rendition of “Amazing Grace” following the murder of nine African-American worshippers at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

President Donald Trump, in his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and to other examples of anti-Semitism, shows that he neither understands his responsibilities nor the nature of the ancient hatred of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. His equivocation and unwillingness to speak clearly, without restraint, against blatant examples of racism, anti-Semitism and related manifestations of hate, as well as his refusal to lay blame for violence, are anathema to the best traditions of his office and to the examples set by the presidents we served. And in his failure, he exposes not just Jews but all Americans to greater danger.

If we were working in the White House today, we hope we would have had the courage, honesty and integrity to call upon President Trump to demonstrate moral leadership – and to resign in response to a failure to do so.

If we had a successor in the current White House — there is no liaison to the Jewish community in the Trump White House — we hope he or she would have done so, too.

We need that leadership more than ever. The reason is not just because we have witnessed violence in our streets.

We need moral leadership to respond to the rise of hatred we are witnessing in the nation we love – hatred motivated by the things we cannot change such as the color of our skin, the faith we practice, the land of our birth, the language we spoke as toddlers.

We former Jewish liaisons know that the Jews in America feel hate and reject it, whether it’s directed at them or someone else. We are commanded by our faith to welcome the stranger, to comfort the oppressed, to reach out to the weak and dispossessed. We Jews have always been targeted and called out because of our differences from the majority. And even when we’re not called out and targeted, we know that those who use hate as a political tool will eventually turn their sights on us.

We hear today the chants against the Jews or the “Zios.” We hear in an American city the “alt-right” protesters chant “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi marching trope of “blood and soil.”

We see in some academic and media circles the casual lumping together of Jews as enemies of the state, incapable of loyalty to America.

We see the use of the language and the imagery of anti-Semitism – the hooked noses and the bloody hands — resurrected in modern digital media to deny to Jews our humanity, our individuality and our agency. We see the rough language of Brownshirts casually tweeted by young Americans – “toss them in the ovens,” “throw rocks at the yahood [Jews].” We see the resuscitation of the blood libel.

And we know, the experience of Jews in America may be different from our historical experience as a religious minority elsewhere in the world, but this anti-Semitism is not different. We’ve see this hatred before.

So we say to the president:

“Mr. President, this nation has a problem. People think they can say and do hateful things with impunity. You have a responsibility. Not to weigh hatred against hatred. Not to divide blame equally among ‘both sides.’ Not to excuse those among you who hate by pointing out others who hate worse.

“There are among your supporters and your appointees people who are anti-Semitic. Do not treat them as a cost of doing your political business. Cast them out – not only from your political tent, but from the conversation about America’s future. They don’t have a place in either.

“You must stand on this nation’s strongest moral foundations and principled aspirations and against the violence and hatred. And you must recognize that whenever the Jew is attacked, there is a deeper hatred at work. Anti-Semitism serves as a gateway to other forms of group-based bigotry and hatred.

“The language of anti-Semitism is the language of national suicide – it is, sadly, a mother tongue to discredited and extinct ideologies known throughout human history. If anti-Semitism takes root in America, it will be America’s ruin. Because whoever gives voice to the ancient and tired tropes of anti-Semitism, his mouth goes dry with ashes.

“Mr. President, you must call out and stand against any creeping normalization of anti-Semitism —without obfuscation, hesitation or equivocation – not only because anti-Semitism is odious, but also because it will invariably lead to other forms of hatred and bigotry that divide and destroy our nation.”

Matt Nosanchuk (Barack Obama)
Noam Neusner (George W. Bush)
Jarrod Bernstein (Barack Obama)
Adam Goldman (George W. Bush)
Jay S. Zeidman (George W. Bush)
Scott Arogeti (George W. Bush)
Deborah Mohile Goldberg (Bill Clinton)
Jay K. Footlik (Bill Clinton)
Jeanne Ellinport (Bill Clinton)
Amy Zisook (Bill Clinton)
Marshall J. Breger (Ronald Reagan)

(The authors each served in the White House as the president’s liaison to the American Jewish community in Democratic or Republican administrations.)

Charlottesville says it provided protection to synagogue, refuting initial account


Police blocking off the street after a car rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Local officials said police provided protection to a synagogue during a far-right rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia refuting a claim by a Jewish community leader that they had refused to do so.

On Friday, Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones said it “is simply not the case that Congregation Beth Israel was left unguarded” during Saturday’s event, when neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in the city. The synagogue’s senior rabbi also seemed to confirm the police statement.

“Police stationed an officer on the corner of the block where the synagogue is located, plus another 32 officers about one block away in the other direction,” Jones said in a statement to JTA. “In addition, we had snipers on a rooftop in close proximity whose primary responsibility was to monitor a two-block radius which included Beth Israel.

“We also had a group of Virginia State Police officers who were walking a four-block radius between two of our parks on a route that passed the synagogue on several occasions throughout the day’s events.”

The synagogue’s president, Alan Zimmerman, had written in a blog post earlier this week that “[t]he police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services.”

However, Congregation Beth Israel’s senior rabbi seemed to confirm the police account of the incident in a statement Thursday.

Rabbi Tom Gutherz said he and Zimmerman had met with the police on Wednesday and “officials reviewed with us the security provisions they made for the safety of our congregation during the protests. Based on our discussion, we are now confident that the steps they took were carefully considered to protect us and were effective. We note that we had also met with and spoken to the department prior to the rallies as part of our preparation.”

In his blog post, Zimmerman said the synagogue had hired security after police allegedly did not provide protection.

“On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped),” he wrote in the post on ReformJudaism.org, which was titled “In Charlottesville, the Local Jewish Community Presses On.”

The synagogue did hire security guards for the first time in its history ahead of the far-right event at Emancipation Park, a short block from the synagogue. Rally participants chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, and a counterprotester was killed when a car driven by a suspected white supremacist plowed into pedestrians.

Zimmerman, like other eyewitnesses, described intimidation by rally participants or supporters.

“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of Seig Heil and other anti-Semitic language,” he wrote. “Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.”

In a separate interview, Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin, an educator at the synagogue, noted that members of antifa, the anti-fascist street movement, also defended clergy and houses of worship during the rally.

“There was a group of antifa defending First United Methodist Church right outside in their parking lot, and at one point the white supremacists came by and antifa chased them off with sticks,” she told Slate.

Other members of the clergy gave similar accounts to Slate, praising left-wing counterprotesters for protecting them from the far-rightists.

“Based on what was happening all around, the looks on [the faces of the far-right marchers], the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps [of Emancipation Park] would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so,” Brandy Daniels, a postdoctoral fellow in religion and public policy at the University of Virginia, told Slate.

President Donald Trump blamed the violence at the rally on “many sides.”

How to counter white supremacists energized by Trump


White supremacists carry a shield and Confederate flag as they arrive at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on August 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The smartest graffito I ever saw proclaimed “If I didn’t believe it with my own mind, I never would have seen it.” The converse works too: deep beliefs blind people to the obvious.

Maybe that observation explains president Donald Trump’s insistence that last weekend’s Charlottesville debacle was really about a Robert E. Lee statue, despite the ubiquitous Nazi flags, and the chants of “Jews will not replace us.”

Trump is not entirely wrong that there was violence on both sides. Many Nazis were eager for a fight, and some of the anti-fascists (who have disrupted conservative speakers on campuses in recent months) were too. But for him to equate the groups with the presidential stamp of moral equivalence does more to promote white supremacy than any other presidential act in memory.

The Nazi-like torch-lit march to the Lee statue, and the Nazi flags (let alone the Confederate ones) should have been enough to tell the president that this event wasn’t about anything other than white supremacists feeling empowered to express their belief that the only true Americans are white Americans.

Trump said he needed a couple of days to figure out what happened, but didn’t he hear the “Jews will not replace us” chant? Does he have any clue what that means?

White supremacists see themselves as biologically superior to non-whites. Yet they see America becoming a nation that will, in just a few decades, be majority non-white. They fear they are being “replaced,” but how can they be losing this battle to people they define as inferior? The explanation is that there is a hand on the scale, making them lose. It’s the Jews, and their support for immigration and civil rights for all, that are the culprits.

Jews are “replacing” whites in two ways, in their view. One is the perceived power of the Jewish community, which while small has had great success in many spheres. They also believe Jews actively seek to destroy whites by injecting “inferior races” into society. This is not a new libel. The charge that Jews secretly conspire to harm non-Jews is at the core of Nazism. It was also popular among many of the “America Firsters” of the 1930s.

The chants about Jews, the flags, the torches, were clear evidence – in their own words and actions – what the alt-right was organizing for. So how was Trump so blind and deaf?

Perhaps because he knows that to many of his supporters the slogan “Make America Great Again” means “Make America White Again.”

Perhaps because he gained the presidency by stoking fears of the “other,” the other being non-white immigrants and Muslims, while retweeting antisemitic memes.

White supremacists not only revel in Trump’s stereotyping of people they loath, they easily see the Trump double standard.

Yes, there are immigrants who commit acts of violence, and Trump holds immigrants responsible as a group. Yes there are Muslims who commit acts of terror, and Trump effectively blames all Muslims.

When white supremacists and neo-Nazis spew hatred, he says wait, there are some good people among them, you can’t tar a whole group; and as a matter of fact those who oppose the white supremacists are no better.

The double standard goes further. Imagine a Muslim man plowing a car into demonstrators. Within nanoseconds the presidential Twitter finger would have blamed “radical Islamic terrorists.” Same act by a white supremacist – where’s the tweet?

The Nazis have good reason to feel empowered. They see a president targeting non-white groups, and twisting logic like a pretzel to defend white racists. They know that others whom they seek to recruit, who might otherwise fear being associated with overt hate, see the president essentially saying it’s ok.

Symbols are powerful, and people have died for them. The rallying point for the alt-right was not Robert E. Lee as a person, but Robert E. Lee as a symbol of white supremacy. But again, Trump missed the obvious. He’s not entirely wrong that some on the left would want to remove symbols of slavery, and that by that logic Washington and Jefferson are troubling figures. I agree with him that these statues (unlike the Confederate flags over statehouses) should stay. We erase the troubling parts of our history at our peril; much better to leave them – Lee included – and surround them with explanations why they were venerated as part of an effort – that still continues – to promote the oppression of black Americans.

But Trump made no such distinction, and his statements over the last days have ensured there will be other Charlottesvilles, the white supremacists believing the president is behind them.

When this happens, policing must be better (keeping groups apart), and other political figures – as many did this past week — must condemn white supremacy in strong terms.

Local groups, including religious and human rights groups, have a key role here too.

Earlier this year, faced with a threatened, armed, neo-Nazi march in western Montana, the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation partnered with the Montana Human Rights Network to launch a “project lemonade” response. People made financial pledges, so if the Nazis marched, they would donate money (up to a specified limit) tied to how long the march lasted. The money would go to things the Nazis detested, such as security for Jewish institutions, hate crime training for the police, and educational efforts against bigotry. In effect, the Nazis’ speech wasn’t free – they were helping raise money for things to defeat them and their message.

The Nazis didn’t show up in Montana, after people from around the country made Lemonade pledges.

I encourage other local groups to adopt this same strategy. It’s a way for all of us to stand together against hate, even when the president does not.


Kenneth S. Stern is the Executive Director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation.

What you need to know about antifa, the group that fought white supremacists in Charlottesville


Protesters and counterprotesters clashing at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Is it OK to punch a Nazi in the face?

That’s the question animating much of the discussion of Saturday’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which quickly devolved into a brawl between rally-goers and a contingent of anti-fascist counterprotesters known as antifa. Following the clashes, a white supremacist rammed his car into the counterprotest, killing Heather Heyer, 32.

Leaders and activists across the spectrum — except President Donald Trump — have unequivocally condemned the racist, anti-Semitic rally. But they are divided on whether physically attacking white supremacists is justified simply because they are white supremacists.

Some have celebrated the antifa activists for standing up to hate. But others have condemned them alongside neo-Nazis for engaging in violence. And on Tuesday, Trump appeared to equate them with the rabble of white supremacists, branding antifa the “alt-left” and saying “there’s blame on both sides.”

Here’s what you need to know about antifa, the loose network that fights fascists on the streets.

Antifa was born from groups that fought the original fascists.

In 1934, Milwaukee police arrested three leftists who infiltrated a pro-Nazi meeting and began scuffling with supporters of Hitler. The leftists were part of a group of several hundred anti-fascists who entered the meeting, broke it up and pelted the keynote speaker with rotten eggs. The melee ended only after 100 police arrived to restore order.

Today’s antifa (an abbreviation of “anti-fascist action”) sees itself as the ideological descendant of activists like these. Anti-fascist brawlers — many of them communists, socialists or anarchists — began organizing in the 1920s and ’30s to oppose the rising dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Spain through demonstrations and street fights. The groups re-emerged in Europe in the ’70s and ’80s to combat white supremacists and skinheads, and the idea migrated to America, where groups were originally known as “Anti-Racist Action.”

While it’s hard to pin down numbers on antifa in the United States, members and experts say the movement has boomed since Trump’s election. Mark Bray, a lecturer on human rights and politics at Dartmouth College, estimates that there are a couple hundred antifa chapters of varying sizes and levels of activity across the country.

“The threat posed by the ‘alt-right’ in the context of empowerment through Trump made a lot of people concerned about fascist, neo-Nazi, white supremacist violence,” said Bray, author of the forthcoming book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.” “They turned to the Antifa model as one option to resist it. The option of physically confronting these groups has spread among the left and been normalized.”

It has no formal organization or leadership structure.

Like the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter, antifa has no institutional structure or unified plan of action. Much of its activism comes through informal collaboration around certain cities or regions, and individual members taking initiative. Separate Facebook pages exist, for example, for New York antifa, New York City antifa and Western New York antifa.

Long before antifa gets to physical altercations with the far right, members will attempt to prevent white supremacists from assembling or spreading their message. Bray said some antifa members will pressure white supremacists’ employers to fire them.

Daniel Sieradski, a Jewish antifa member who became involved following the presidential election in November, said he and other activists try to pressure venues to cancel white supremacist events, and only show up to counterprotest once that fails. (Sieradski formerly worked at JTA as the director of digital media.)

“I’ve always identified with the spirit of the movement, which is to challenge racists when they come into your community and try to incite hatred and violence,” Sieradski said. “Every effort is made to prevent the Nazis from showing up in the first place. Once they manage to do so, the demonstrations do not get violent until confrontations are provoked.”

Antifa tends to align with the left — and some members are anti-Zionists.

Because antifa is so loosely constructed, it has no formal ideological agenda beyond opposing fascism. But the movement has roots in left-wing movements like socialism or anarchism. Bray said that members may be part of other left-wing activist groups, like the Occupy movement, and subscribe to ideas popular in progressive circles.

The Torch Network, a group of antifa chapters, includes in its “points of unity” opposition to “all forms of oppression and exploitation.” That includes fighting “against racism, sexism, nativism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination against the disabled, the oldest, the youngest, and the most oppressed people.” The group is also pro-choice. Unlike the Black Lives Matter platform, it does not single out Israel or Zionism.

Bray said that while anti-Zionism is not a focus of antifa, many members tend to be anti-Zionist as part of their far-left activism. Anti-Racist Action groups, he said, had taken part in anti-Zionist events in the past.

Sieradski said, however, that Jews play a significant role in the movement because “we’re fighting Nazis and anti-Semitism is the prime ideological viewpoint of Nazis.”

Antifa has no problem with fighting Nazis …

Antifa has no qualms about scuffling with white supremacists. The group gained publicity in February when it physically fought alt-righters at the University of California, Berkeley, during a speech by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Tussles with the far right have followed at other events.

Sieradski said violence is a “last resort,” but added there is nothing wrong with responding to anti-Semitic or racist rhetoric with a punch. Those who are advocating ethnic cleansing deserve to be beaten up, he said, and showing white supremacists that their rallies will end with them being hurt will deter them from assembling.

“When Nazis are screaming epithets in our faces, should we just smile?” Sieradski asked. “They come into our towns and yell at us and threaten us and say they want to kill us. Should we take that sitting down because fascists deserve free speech, too? When someone is threatening you with an existential threat, you fight back. You don’t stand there and take it.”

Antifa members also reject the notion that the movement instigated the violence in Charlottesville or is as guilty as its white supremacist foes. Spencer Sunshine, who counterprotested at the Charlottesville rally and witnessed the deadly car ramming, said there certainly were fights, but there is no comparing antifa with the far right.

“Any equivalence between antifa and fascists is a complete lie,” he said. “We were not armed the way the fascists were, and certainly did not drive a car into crowds. It was a total Nazi rally.”

… but has been criticized for its violent tactics.

Antifa has garnered its share of liberal critics who say nothing — even neo-Nazism — justifies violence and the suppression of free speech. Critics also say that antifa’s violence draws attention to the far right and allows white supremacists to claim they are acting in self-defense.

“They’re troubling tactically because conservatives use antifa’s violence to justify — or at least distract from — the violence of white supremacists, as Trump did in his press conference,” the liberal Jewish essayist Peter Beinart wrote Wednesday in The Atlantic. “They’re troubling strategically because they allow white supremacists to depict themselves as victims being denied the right to freely assemble. And they’re troubling morally because antifa activists really do infringe upon that right.”

Following Saturday’s rally, Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted “Whether by #AltRight or #Antifa, no excuses for violence and, keep in mind, this is exactly the response that the bigots seek to provoke.”

Mark Pitcavage, an ADL senior researcher, said his group cannot condemn one side’s violence and condone the other. He added that the attention Charlottesville gained is also energizing the “alt-right” to hold more rallies.

“I don’t know how you can put together a calculus of violence where some sort of act of violence is unacceptable if one group does it but if another group commits it, that’s acceptable,” he said. “We’d just rather not see violence.”

But Pitcavage added that right-wing violence has been far more destructive than antifa’s, which to his knowledge has not led to any deaths. According to a 25-year study by the Cato Institute, nationalist and right-wing terrorists have killed about 10 times as many people since 1992 as left-wing terrorists, which may or may not include those who identify with antifa.

“That doesn’t mean that the sides are equal, the causes are equal,” he said. “It’s important to realize that their violence does in no way compare in numbers or severity to the far-rightist violence in the United States.”

RJC, Orthodox groups reject Trump’s ‘both sides’ remarks


President Donald Trump speaks about the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Jewish American groups closely aligned with Trump or with Republican traditional positions have joined the widespread criticism against the President for drawing a moral equivalence between the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanting anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans in Charlottesville with the counter protesters.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

In a rare statement issued on Wednesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership implored Trump to dispel any notion of moral equivalency and forcefully reject Nazis and white supremacist groups. “The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are dangerous anti-Semites. There are no good Nazis and no good members of the Klan,” RJC National Chairman Senator Norm Coleman and Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “ We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry, and antisemitism.”

Trump has remained defiant in face of the backlash and is “without regret,” CNN reported on Wednesday.

The Rabbinical Council of America, the leading organization of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in North America, called the failure to unequivocally reject hatred and racism “a failing of moral leadership.”

“While as a rabbinic organization we prefer to address issues and not personalities, this situation rises above partisan politics and therefore we are taking the unusual approach to directly comment on the words of the President,” Rabbi Elazar Muskin, president of the RCA, said in a statement. Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, added, “The RCA joins with politicians of all parties, citizens of all political persuasions, and people of all faiths calling on President Trump to understand the critical consequences of his words.”

Appearing on i24News, Orthodox Union (OU) President Moshe Bane said he was “a bit confused” by Trump’s response to the weekend events in Charlottesville, Virginia. “It seems very inconsistent with his general sensitivities to bias crimes, hatred and terrorism,” Bane noted. “We are assuming – for our purposes – that he really didn’t mean the moral equivalency that he suggested because if he did, that would be totally unacceptable and abhorrent to us.”

“We are hoping that this is a communications issue, that he doesn’t appreciate the message that is being sent by saying there is blame on all sides,” Bane added. “ I can’t believe that any of [his Jewish advisors] would be supporting a moral equivalency message. I do not know what kind of communications they have on this kind of issue, I don’t know how receptive he is to input on his articulations of his views, but I am certain that they don’t have a perspective of moral equivalency in this situation.”

Agudath Israel of America issued a response to Trump’s comments late Wednesday evening. “While, as the president said, there were violent individuals in both camps, there is obviously no comparison between a group of people who gather to espouse a philosophy of hatred and exclusion and a group that gathered to oppose that odious message,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America, told Jewish Insider. “Had the president ended his addressing of the Charlottesville issue with his second set of remarks, it would have been a much clearer message than the one he left us with on Tuesday night. I don’t think he is either a racist or an anti-Semite, but it’s important to not give comfort, intentionally or inadvertently, to such lowly elements of society.”

Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site, forced offline by Google, heads to the dark web


Andrew Anglin runs the anti-Semitic Daily Stormer website. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The neo-Nazi and white supremacist site The Daily Stormer has moved its domain to the dark web after Google and GoDaddy forced it offline.

Google booted the site, known as one of the internet’s most prominent anti-Semitic outlets, from its domain name service on Monday for running an article smearing Heather Heyer, the victim of the car ramming at the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. The GoDaddy domain platform, which Daily Stormer had been using since 2013, had done the same on Sunday. Both said the site violated their terms of service.

On Tuesday, Motherboard reported that some Twitter users were sharing links to a dark web version of the site.

“The dark web site seems to function in much the same way as the original, with posts on recent events and other content,” Joseph Cox reported.

Users may have to download Tor software, which gives access to certain anonymous sites on the dark web — the collection of networks that use the internet but function outside the realm of normal domain name providers — to find The Daily Stormer in its current form.

The Daily Stormer’s article on Heyer, 32, drew waves of criticism for calling her a “fat,” “childless” “slut.”

Andrew Anglin, the site’s founder, has not publicly commented on his plans for the site, which played a role in organizing Saturday’s protests.

On August 13, Daily Stormer was supposedly hacked by Anonymous, a collective of worldwide hackers who gained national attention in 2008 when they hacked the Church of Scientology website. The Daily Stormer hacking job was made public with a post, which read:

HACKERS OF THE WORLD HAVE UNITED IN DEFENSE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
YOU SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED US

A few hours later, Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin posted a follow-up:

Anglin Here. I’ve Retaken Control of the Site. The Daily Stormer Never Dies.

Since the fiasco, Anonymous has taken to Twitter to rebuke the claims of an alleged hack. “Seriously, suck less,” they tweeted to Daily Stormer in response.

The Independent was the first to note that the “hacking job” came after the neo-Nazi website was notified by its server GoDaddy that it would be shut down in 24 hours after violating their terms of service.

On August 13, Daily Stormer posted a hateful article about Heather Heyer, a victim of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, titled: Heather Heyer: Woman Killed in Road Rage Incident was a Fat, Childless 32-Year-Old Slut.

 

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