September 19, 2018

Tufts University to Offer Course Taught by Pro-BDS Professor

Photo from Wikipedia.

Tufts University is going to be offering a course this fall called “Colonizing Palestine” that will be taught by a pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) professor and teaches that Israel “illegally occupies Palestine.”

Under Tufts’ Colonial Studies program, the course description for “Colonizing Palestine” states that the class “will explore the history and culture of modern Palestine and the centrality of colonialism in the making of this contested and symbolically potent territory” and will familiarize themselves with the likes of the late professor Edward Said, who once referred to Yasser Arafat as “a much misunderstood and maligned political personality” and poet Suheir Hammad, who wrote in a poem following the 9/11 terror attacks, “if there are any people on earth who understand how new york is feeling right now, they are in the west bank and the gaza strip.”

“Students will address crucial questions relating to this embattled nation, the Israeli state which illegally occupies Palestine, and the broader global forces that impinge on Palestinians and Israelis,” the course description states. “Themes covered include notions of nationalism and national identity, settler-colonialism, gender and sexuality, refugee politics, cultural hybridity, class politics, violence, and memory.”

The professor teaching the course, Thomas Abowd, is an avid supporter of the BDS movement and has accused Israel of implementing “apartheid-like” policies against Palestinians and that Israel supporters use the Old Testament as a “real estate guide.”

Additionally, in a 2015 thread on Tufts’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Facebook page, Abowd wrote, “I missed all the ‘so much anti-Semitic hate here’ – sounds quite delusional to me.” The thread he commented on featured comments that accused Israel being “a state built by White Jewish men for White Jewish men” and that Israel engages in “ethno-religious oppression.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt condemned the course in a statement sent to the Journal.

“We support academic freedom but Tufts University must ensure that classes examining the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not one-sided platforms for propaganda that demonize Israel and empower anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said. “Political bias is best left out of the classroom.”

In a phone interview with the Journal, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper called the course “indoctrination” said the fact that “a leading American university” is offering such a course is “shocking” and “deeply disturbing.”

“If this is the trend of where this school is going, I wouldn’t give them five cents,” Cooper said.

Tufts Hillel called the “Colonizing Palestine” course “prejudicial and unnecessarily provocative” in a statement sent to the Journal.

“We continue to work actively with university leaders and colleagues across Tufts to create a setting where opposing views on contentious issues can be shared in dignified and constructive dialogue,” Tufts Hillel said.

Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations, said in a statement to The College Fix, “As an institution of higher education, Tufts is committed to the free exchange of ideas. The university’s courses represent a broad spectrum of ideas and topics that enable students to become familiar with a variety of perspectives on important and complex issues facing our global society.”

Collins also pointed to a class called “Negotiation and Mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Past Lessons and Future Opportunities” as an example of a differing perspective of the Israel-Palestinian conflict provided by the university.

When the Fix confronted Abowd on if he would ensure that his class wouldn’t turn into “a one-sided, anti-Israel screed,” Abowd replied, “Do not contact me again or I will call the police.”

Other instances of hostility to Israel on Tufts includes a September 2017 “disorientation” guide created by students that called Israel a “white supremacy state”; in April 2017 the university’s student senate passed a resolution on the day before Passover calling for Tufts to divest from companies that conduct business with Israel.

H/T: Campus Reform

Pro-Palestinian Group Disputes Booker’s Claim He Didn’t Know About Anti-Israel Sign

REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has faced some heat for posing with a sign that read “From Palestine to Mexico, All the Walls Have Got to Go.” Booker’s spokesperson has said that Booker didn’t read the sign; now the pro-Palestinian group associated with the sign is disputing that claim.

Here is the picture of Booker with the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) sign at the recent Netroots Nation conference:

Booker’s spokesperson, Jeff Giertz, told Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Booker “didn’t have time to read the sign.”

“From his cursory glance he thought it was talking about Mexico and didn’t realize it had anything to do with Israel,” Giertz said.

However, the USCPR told The Intercept that Booker had to have known what the sign said because they spoke to him prior to taking the photo.

“It was in this overwhelmingly supportive environment at Netroots Nation that our contingent had the opportunity to meet Sen. Cory Booker briefly and discuss our work for freedom, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people before posing for a photo with him,” a representative for the pro-Palestinian group said.

The Intercept’s Zaid Jilani also pointed out that one of the USCPR members was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the line, “Palestine is a queer, feminist, refugee, racial justice issue.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center responded to Booker’s photo by touting the Israeli security fence for having “successfully halted suicide bombers” and asking the senator to clarify his stance on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“We understand that the senator does not fully grasp what the sign said, but he is a leading American political figure who has been touted as a future President of our nation,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement. “Therefore, The Simon Wiesenthal Center respectfully asks Senator Booker to clarify his stance on the anti-Israel BDS campaigns and on the anti-terrorist barriers that Israel has constructed.”

Booker has previously spoken in front of and taken money from pro-Israel groups, but has differed from them lately with his support of the Iran nuclear deal and vote against the Taylor Force Act, as well as a bill that prevents United States companies from engaging in the BDS movement.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Files Brief for Russia to Release Schneerson Library to Chabad

Screenshot from Facebook.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center announced in a July 25 press release that they have filed an amicus curiae brief to a Washington, D.C. court calling on Russia to release the historic Schneerson Library to Chabad.

The library was initially seized from Chabad by the Soviet Union shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution; the library’s archives were then stolen by the Nazis before being reclaimed by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.

Chabad first filed a lawsuit to reclaim the library in 2004. In 2009, Russia backed out of the lawsuit, alleging that Chabad didn’t have any right to the library. All 100 senators and the Department of Justice have sided with Chabad, although the State Department in 2016 filed a “Statement of Interest” that Chabad’s claim to the library goes against international law. That State Department has yet to nix that statement.

“The Schneerson Library, made of thousands of books and archives, is a source of inspiration to hundreds of thousands of followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, and to millions of others deserves more respect than to be lying in a basement or warehouse somewhere in Moscow for 73 years,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and legal counsel Martin Mendelsohn said in a statement.

The Schneerson Library was named after Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson, who collected 12,000 books and 25,000 religious documents that contain the thoughts and teachings of various rabbis.

Israeli Professor Assaulted by Palestinian in Germany; German Police Respond by Beating Professor and Apologizing for It

An Israeli professor was visiting Germany, only to be assaulted by a Palestinian. The police responded to the incident by attacking… the professor.

The Times of Israel (TOI) reports that the 50-year-old University of Baltimore philosophy professor, who has not been publicly identified, was walking through a park in the city of Bonn with a friend. The 20-year-old Palestinian, who has also not been identified, took umbrage at the yarmulke the professor was wearing and knocked it off numerous times as he shouted “No Jew in Germany!”

The Palestinian also smacked the professor’s shoulder and shoved him.

The professor, who was in Germany as a guest lecturer, attempted to defend himself, as he chased after the Palestinian. The police, however, according to TOI, thought that this meant the professor was the aggressor – especially after he didn’t comply with their calls to stand down. They initially went after the professor, resulting in an altercation where “he was hit in the face and wrestled to the ground” by police, according to TOI.

Eventually, the professor’s friend explained to the police what had transpired, prompting the police to arrest the Palestinian and apologize to the professor.

“A terrible and regrettable misunderstanding in the field, for which I have expressly apologized to the professor concerned,” Bonn police chief Ursula Brohl-Sawa said in a statement. “We will examine exactly how this situation came about and do everything possible to avoid such misunderstandings in the future.”

The Palestinian was eventually released from detainment, but he faces charges of assault and incitement. The police are saying he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the assault.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper slammed the Bonn police’s actions in a statement.

“It is difficult to fathom how a middle-aged professor wearing a kippah would be identified as the perpetrator,” Cooper said. “Then comes word that the suspect, rather than being held in jail, received a psychiatric evaluation and then sent home? We are deeply concerned that in Germany, France, and The Netherlands, that ‘psychiatric evaluations’ are being used to whitewash anti-Semitic acts instead of confronting and dealing forthrightly with violent Jew-hatred.”

Cooper added, “During his recent visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, we told German President Steinmeier of our concerns that German authorities aren’t doing anything to confront the anti-Semitism that many Arabs and Muslims in Germany harbor. The incident in Bonn is yet another indication that Germany is not yet taking this source of anti-Semitism seriously enough. The Wiesenthal Center urges Chancellor Merkel’s government to expand the budget and powers of Felix Klein the Anti-Semitism Commissioner to ensure police and other state entities are properly trained to respond to such hateful attacks.”

German President Discusses Iran Nuclear Deal and Anti-Semitism

PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

In a discussion with Jewish leaders at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance on June 18, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed a range of issues, with a focus on the Iran nuclear deal and the rise in anti-Semitism in parts of Europe.

On the Iran deal, Steinmeier acknowledged it would be difficult for Europe to continue to uphold the deal because President Donald Trump, in walking away from the agreement, had laid out secondary sanctions on companies doing business with Tehran. He also said he didn’t think the Iranian mullahs would relinquish their grip on power anytime soon.

Steinmeier was Germany’s chief negotiator when the Iran deal was forged in November 2013. In October 2015, Steinmeier hailed the agreement as “an opening for further diplomatic endeavors.” On May 6, Steinmeier told ARD, a German public news outlet, that former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was correct in saying that the deal avoided war.

“One has to remember what could happen if this agreement collapses again and new re-armament takes place in the Middle East,” Steinmeier told ARD.

Two days after Steinmeier made those remarks, Trump announced the U.S. was exiting the Iran deal, arguing that it enriched and emboldened Iran’s reign of terror in the Middle East. After his announcement, Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and Associate Dean and Global Social Action Director Rabbi Abraham Cooper praised Trump’s decision.

“Leaving the status quo with Iran awash with billions of U.S. taxpayers’ cash would only ensure a growing circle of violence and terrorism in the region and ultimately could help pave the way for a nuclear arsenal that could reach our shores,” Hier and Cooper said in a statement.

During his visit, Steinmeier, together with a German delegation that included Germany’s ambassador to the U.S. and 10 members of the federal parliament, took a tour of the museum led by Hier, Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s Executive Director Rabbi Meyer May and Board Chairman Larry Mizel. 

Steinmeier became the first German official to read a letter at the museum written by Adolf Hitler in 1919, in which Hitler first outlined his plans for the annihilation of the Jews.

Steinmeier became the first German official to read a letter at the museum written by Adolf Hitler in 1919, in which Hitler first outlined his plans for the annihilation of the Jews.

Hier told the delegation that Hitler wrote the letter when he was working for the Bavarian army’s propaganda section. Asked to respond to a Bavarian army undercover agent – — Adolf Gemlich — whether Jews were responsible for backstabbing Germany during World War I, Hitler wrote a four-page letter to Gemlich that read in part: “Anti-Semitism stemming from purely emotive reasons will always find its expression in the form of pogroms. But anti-Semitism based on reason must lead to the systematic legal combating and removal of the rights of the Jew, which he alone of the foreigners living among us possesses (legislation to make them aliens). Its final aim, however, must be the uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether. Both are possible only under a government of national strength.”

About 22 years later, Hier said, those words became a “horrifying reality for Jews in Germany.” 

In response to today’s rise in anti-Semitism, including a June 8 Al Quds Day protests in Berlin with 1,600 protestors showing support for the Iranian regime and calling for the destruction of Israel, Steinmeier said that Germany expects newcomers to understand Germany’s past and to abide by the laws of the nation, including the protection of its Jewish minority.

At the end of his visit, Steinmeier told reporters: 

“Germany and the United States are bound by our eagerness to develop democracy, so we are looking not only backward to the past, we are looking to the future where digitalized communication will influence our daily life and our societies, and will change for sure the liberal democracies.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center SMACKS Child Separation Policy Critics for Invoking Holocaust Comparison

Screenshot from Twitter.

The issue of separating children from their parents at the border has sparked an intense, emotional debate throughout the country over the past few days, even causing some to compare the policy to Nazi Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has had enough of those comparisons.

Among those who have made the Nazi comparison include former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden and former CNN host Soledad O’Brien:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also seemed to invoke the comparison on June 19, telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: “This is the United States of America. It isn’t Nazi Germany, and there’s a difference. And we don’t take children from their parents until now and I think it’s such a sad day.”

Additionally, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough ranted on June 15 that the children at the border “are being marched away to showers,” adding that “the Nazis had said that they were taking people to the showers and then they never came back.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper condemned such comparisons in a June 19 statement, saying that while the child separation policy is “unacceptable,” comparisons to the Holocaust are “sickening.”

“All they achieve is to demean the memory of 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and confuse young people who know little or nothing about history,” Hier and Cooper said. “Our border guards and Homeland Security personnel are the opposite of Nazis. Critics should stop slandering them. We live in the world’s greatest democracy. Our elected officials have the tools to fix what’s broken and our national debate shouldn’t be tainted by Holocaust revisionism and misappropriation.”

On June 20, President Trump announced that he would be signing an executive order to end the policy. His action is expected to be challenged in the courts, as it contradicts a 9th Circuit Court decision. The administration is hoping that Congress can change the law.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Calls On European Countries to Denounce Abbas for Anti-Semitic Cartoon

(PPO)/Handout via REUTERS

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is calling on the European Union – specifically France and Germany – to condemn Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for displaying an anti-Semitic cartoon on social media.

Abbas, who is currently hospitalized in Ramallah for pneumonia, can be seen in a picture posted to social media on May 21 reading a newspaper that featured a cartoon of an Israeli soldier taking away a baby’s milk bottle and forcing it to drink poison.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper said in a statement that the photo “shows how deep the cancer of hatred the Palestinian Authority President harbors for the Jewish State, her people and values.”

“The validation of that cartoon by him exposes how little difference there is between the PA and Hamas,” Hier and Cooper said. “Both continue to brainwash a new generation of children that Israelis are interlopers and latter-day Nazis.”

They added, “The big lie tactics employed in the so-called marches of return, gained the Palestinians nothing of practical value, with the exception that the man in street in Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East is convinced that Jews are baby killers, cold blooded murderers who deserve whatever terrorist or other bombing attacks on inflicted on Jews, inside in Israel and/or around the world.”

It’s not known if Abbas had intentionally posed for the photo with the cartoon showing, but it would be in line with some of his most recent rhetoric.

The cartoon is based on the reports of an 8-month-old baby dying at the recent Gaza riots, however there is reason to believe that the baby died from a pre-existing medical condition and not from the tear gas deployed by the Israel Defense Force (IDF).

Abbas is could be discharged from the hospital as soon as May 23.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Praises Trump for Leaving Iran Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum after announcing his intent to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Simon Wiesenthal Center praised President Trump for announcing the United States’ exit from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8.

In a statement sent to the Journal, Rabbis Marvin Hier and Jonathan Cooper, the founder and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center respectively, denounced the regime in Tehran for denying the Holocaust and its repeated lies to the international community.

“Lying is the national anthem and magna carta of the Ayatollah’s regime,” Hier and Cooper said. “Proof of the Ayatollah’s perfidy about its drive to nuclear development was uncovered by Israeli intelligence and is proof positive that Tehran can not be trusted on life and death issues impacting the region and the world.”

Hier and Cooper added, “Leaving the status quo with Iran awash with billions of US taxpayer’s cash, would only ensure a growing circle of violence and terrorism in the region and ultimately could help pave the way for a nuclear arsenal that could reach our shores.”

In his announcement, Trump explained that the U.S. would be leaving from the deal because it enriched the world’s “leading state sponsor terror” and the paved way for them to acquire a nuclear bomb while failing to address its ballistic missile program as well as its militant actions in the Middle East. The U.S. will also be re-imposing sanctions on Iran.

“America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail,” Trump said. “We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not allow a regime that chants death to America to obtain the most dangerous weapons on earth.”

Trump then issued a warning to the regime.

“If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before,” Trump said.

He also told the Iranian people that “America stands with you.”

“The future of Iran belongs to its people,” Trump said.

Yom HaShoah Event Looks Back, Forward

Screenshot from Facebook.

“Since the 1950s, Holocaust survivors have taken on two simultaneous missions: shaping and preserving the memory of the Shoah on the one hand, and constructive social action on the other.”

Those were the opening remarks by Museum of Tolerance Director Liebe Geft, emcee at the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration event on April 12 at the museum, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The event’s standing-room-only crowd included dignitaries and guests from more than 15 countries, along with speakers, students and survivors.

As attendees entered the hall before the official ceremony, images of survivors, along with their birthdates, birthplaces and Holocaust stories unfurled onscreen with the Simon Wiesenthal quote: “Hope lives when people remember.”

The quote aptly highlighted the fact that, throughout the year, Holocaust survivors speak at the Museum of Tolerance four or five times a day to share their experiences and life lessons. However, with the number of survivors dwindling, it also emphasized the importance of continuing education and commemorating the solemn anniversary.

“You are truly an inspiration to us all,” said Consulate General of the State of Israel Sam Grundwerg, himself a grandson of Holocaust survivors and the great grandson of those who perished.

“Today we fulfill our sacred obligation to remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered,” he continued. “The sacred obligation is not merely to remember the past, it’s an obligation to learn its lessons, and most importantly to apply them to the present in order to secure the future of our people.

“Let us pay tribute to the heroes that contributed substantially to the State of Israel and the rebuilding of Jewish families and communities throughout the world. And also let us be grateful and proud that the Jews are once again a sovereign nation.”

“If there is a flourishing Jewish state in 2018, it is because of the sacrifice of our survivors, who clawed their way out of despair to fight in the War of Independence in 1948.” — Rabbi Abraham Cooper

A high point of the event was the emotional reunion of Alice Weit (nee Gerstel) and Simon Gronowski, two Belgian Holocaust survivors who hadn’t seen each other in 76 years. (After Weit discovered her maiden name mentioned in Gronowski’s book, they connected online and via phone, and finally met in L.A.) Gronowski’s mother, Hannah, hid the Gerstels, and later helped Gronowski, who was 10 at the time. He was the only one in his family to survive.

Belgian Consul General Henri Vantieghem said it was important for Belgium to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust, to promote equality between people and tolerance among the population. He referred to Gronowski’s story as one of love, hope and humanity. “Thank you for [showing] happiness can triumph over disaster,” he said.

Perhaps the most impassioned remarks came from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He shared anti-Semitic memes and images, and talked about the mainstreaming of Holocaust denial, last month’s brutal murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris, and other horrors around the world.

“The Nazis had two goals: murder all Jewish lives and eradicate Jewish life,” he said. “If there is a flourishing Jewish state in 2018, it is because of the sacrifice of our survivors, who clawed their way out of despair to fight in the War of Independence in 1948, married and brought children into the world, rebuilt Jewish life in Israel and across the globe, despite the horrors and losses they experienced.”

The program closed with the singing of Psalm 22 by Cantor Arik Wollheim of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

After the event, attendees were on hand for the reopening of Pulitzer Prize-
winning photographer Marissa Roth’s “Witness to Truth,” a permanent exhibit of portraits of survivors who serve as the museum’s docents.

Moving & Shaking: Museum Gala, Julie Platt, Joseph Siegman

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, attended the 90th Academy Awards ceremony last weekend. Photo courtesy of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a two-time Academy Award-winner and a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, attended the 90th Academy Awards ceremony on March 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

“I’m proud to say, as an active member of the academy, I’ve voted ever since I won my first Oscar in 1981. I never missed the opportunity,” he said. “I exercise my membership obligations every year faithfully, because I think you should not be a member of theAcademy if you don’t intend to vote.”

Hier, one of more than 6,000 Academy members, attended the event with his grandson.

“I met a lot of interesting people and, of course, my grandson was thrilled,” Hier said. “A lot of people came over to me because I was wearing a yarmulke.”

It marked the third time Hier attended the Academy Awards. The first time, in 1981, was when the SWC’s film division, Moriah Films, won the Oscar for best documentary feature for “Genocide.” Moriah Films’ “The Long Way Home,” a documentary about Jewish refugees, also won an Oscar in 1997.

At the Dolby, Hier schmoozed with industry friends, including Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, and Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal and a past SWC honoree.

Although he was unable to discuss which nominees he voted for, Hier said he was happy to see Gary Oldman win the lead actor award for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the biopic “Darkest Hour.” Last year, Oldman spoke at the SWC’s Museum of Tolerance, after a members-only screening of the film.

Julie Platt, chair of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Photo courtesy of the Foundation for Jewish Camp

The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has selected Los Angeles philanthropist, community leader and activist Julie Platt as its board chair.

Platt will serve a three-year term at the charitable group, which works with more than 250 day and overnight camps, creates additional Jewish camps, works to increase camp enrollment and retention and trains camp professionals.

Platt, whose selection was announced on Feb. 23, will deliver her initial address as board chair on March 17 in Baltimore during the biennial FJC Leaders Assembly.

“Building on FJC’s track record of success, I am excited to help lead the Jewish camp field to adapt and evolve to remain competitive and compelling,” Platt said in a statement. “In our rapidly changing world, Jewish camp becomes even more vital for developing leaders and building a stronger community. I look forward to encouraging generous philanthropists across North America to support the FJC board and staff as we continue to grow the field.”

In her youth, Platt attended Camp Ramah in Ojai, a Conservative summer camp. She is the fifth chair in the history of FJC, which was established in 1998.

“We are thrilled that she has now assumed this important leadership role,” said the organization’s CEO, Jeremy Fingerman.

Platt also serves as board chair at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Her husband, Marc, is a successful film producer whose credits include “La La Land.”  They have five grown children, including their son Ben, who appeared on Broadway in the title role of “Dear Evan Hanson.”

From left: Sheila Moore, JFS senior director of comprehensive senior services; Heather Angel-Collin, director of Holocaust Programs and Valley Storefront Senior Center; and Sherri Kadovitz, program coordinator at the Israel Levin Senior Center, attend the Cafe Europa Purim party. Photo by Michael Sidman.

More than 250 guests attended Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFS) lively Cafe Europa Purim Party on Feb. 27 at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino.

Café Europa, a social club offering Holocaust survivors educational and social activities — including organized trips, holiday celebrations and entertainment — is one of JFS’ signature programs. Guests at VBS included survivors and their families, as well as program donors, caregivers and staff.

The event included a Purim spiel with JFS President and CEO Eli Veitzer playing the role of King Ahasuerus. VBS provided a catered lunch, hamantashen and mishloach manot gift bags and a photo booth for attendees. Klezmer Juice, a traditional Yiddish band, played music that spurred many onto the dance floor.

“Every Purim is a special event for our survivors because some of our survivors each year become too frail to attend, so it’s very meaningful for them to be at the synagogue, to be with their friends, hear familiar music, sing and dance and eat together,” said JFS Director of Holocaust Programs Heather Angel-Collin.

Café Europa has two locations, in the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley, where social gatherings for survivors are held regularly. For the Purim celebration, survivors were invited to come together from across the city.

“Having our two Café Europa groups together at Purim allowed survivors from the city to see their Valley friends and vice versa, so our Purim party was something of a ‘family reunion’ for many of the survivors,” Angel-Collin said.

The photo booth, in particular, was a big hit, she added.

“Being able to take pictures with their friends at the photo booth and to have that photo as a memento really meant a lot,” Angel-Collin said.

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Joseph Siegman, who was recognized by the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Photo Courtesy of Siegman

Joseph (Joe) Siegman of West Los Angeles has received the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Netanya, Israel, in recognition of his decades-long work to promote sports in Israel and California.

Siegman, a television producer and writer, founded the Hall of Fame in 1979 and served as its chair from 1981 to 1989. He has since served as chairman of its selection committee and for 15 years was a member of the U.S. Maccabiah Games Organizing Committee.

Not merely a sideline supporter, Siegman represented the United States on the cricket and lawn bowling teams at five Maccabiah Games in the 1970s and ’80s.

“I didn’t bring home any gold, silver or bronze medals from my five Maccabiah forays, but I did capture the United States national lawn bowling championships in 1989 and 2003, representing the Beverly Hills Lawn Bowling Club,” Siegman told the Journal.

The Hall of Fame, located at the Wingate College of Physical Education in Netanya, has inducted nearly 300 top Jewish athletes. The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually. For details, visit jewishsports.net.

Siegman has been a publicist and manager for numerous Hollywood stars, ranging from Ed Asner to Henny Youngman, and a producer of live shows and television shows. His producing credits include the seminal reality series “Celebrity Bowling” and “The Comedy Shop,” hosted by Norm Crosby, which featured such veteran comics as Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Youngman, Garry Shandling, Nathan Lane, Howie Mandel, Arsenio Hall, Michael Keaton and many others.

Between all these activities, Siegman has written a series of historical reference books under the title “Jewish Sports Legends.”

Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

From left: Jewish Republican Alliance (JRA) co-founder Bruce Karasik, author and radio talk show host Larry Elder and JRA co-founder Mitch Silberman attend a JRA event at Valley Beth Shalom featuring Elder. Photo by Tracie Karasik, TLK Multimedia

Republican author and radio talk show host Larry Elder shared his conservative views and discussed the challenges of being conservative in the era of Donald Trump during a Feb. 26 lecture at Valley Beth Shalom.

“The 800-pound gorilla in this room is a man named Donald Trump,” Elder said. “Trump was not my first choice. Out of 17 Republicans, I think he was my 20th…But I’ve never seen anybody connect with people like that since Ronald Reagan.”

“Donald Trump understands this country,” he said.

The Jewish Republican Alliance (JRA) organized the event, during which Elder acknowledged the president’s inability to apologize for ill-advised remarks, including criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision to send troops to Iraq after the 9/11 attacks. Elder said criticism of the Iraq War, specifically that Republicans lied about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, has hurt the Republican brand.

Camaraderie among community members supportive of the Trump administration permeated the event, which drew about 750 attendees to the Encino synagogue.

“Look to your right, look to the left — no, not the left,” said JRA co-founder and financial adviser Mitch Silberman, garnering laughs. “Aren’t you excited to know you’re not alone?”

Additional participants included JRA co-founder Bruce Karasik, a real estate broker who spoke in praise of Vice President Mike Pence’s support for Israel, and Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron, who started the event by leading the attendees in the singing of the national anthem and “Hatikvah.”

Karasik and Silberman, who live in the Conejo Valley, co-founded the JRA in 2016 to support Republicans in heavily Democratic California. The organization operates chapters in the Conejo Valley, the San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles and Newport Beach.

During his remarks, Elder, known as “The Sage From South Central,” said his views have not always won him fans among his fellow African-Americans. He said he has been called everything from an Uncle Tom to a sellout, but has seldom been called wrong.

From left: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum honorees Vera and Paul Guerin, attend the USHMM 25th anniversary dinner, which honored the Guerins. Photo courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum commemorated its 25th anniversary with a dinner on March 1 at The Beverly Hilton.

The event honored Vera and Paul Guerin, their family and the memory of Vera’s parents, Lilly and Nathan Shapell, with the National Leadership Award. Nathan Shapell survived two concentration camps, Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and became a successful real estate developer in California. He was one of the founders of the museum. In 2013, Vera sold her late father’s business, Shapell Industries, and is involved in philanthropy in the Jewish community. The event raised more than $1.3 million.

Evening participants included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who presented the Guerins with their award. During his remarks, Garcetti called the Washington, D.C., museum the “moral conscience of our entire nation.”

Broadcast journalist Pat Harvey emceed the event, which began with Wilshire Boulevard Temple Senior Rabbi Steve Leder leading the 1,000-plus crowd in the ha-Motzi.

Before the award ceremony, museum Director Sara Bloomfield and Daniel Greene, curator of the museum’s exhibition “Americans and the Holocaust,” discussed films including “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and “Casablanca,” which influenced how Americans thought and felt about the Germans during World War II, Greene said. Just as those films did not mention the Jewish people in their depiction of the war in Europe, Americans at the time were less concerned about the treatment of Jews under the Nazis than they were about the threat the Nazis posed to American principles such as democracy.

Attendees included L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin; Samara Hutman, director of Remember Us; Andrew Cushnir, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Executive Director Beth Kean; and Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa.

Adele and Beny Alagem, Hella and Charles Hershson, and Cheryl and Haim Saban co-chaired the dinner, the theme of which was “What You Do Matters.”

Hitler Car Sale to Help Wiesenthal Center

Adolf Hitler appears in a parade while riding in his custom-built Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser Offener Tourenwagen, which will be put up for auction. Photos courtesy of Worldwide Auctioneers

A 1939 Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser Offener Tourenwagen used by Adolf Hitler will be put up for auction on Jan. 17 and 10 percent of the sale price will go to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC).

“We’re quite comfortable the Hitler car is not going to be auctioned and sold to a hater, a neo-Nazi or Klansman, or a group like that, that would glorify Nazism,” the Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, said in an interview. “We are happy with their decision that 10 percent should go to Holocaust education and we intend to use it exactly for that. Adolf Hitler would turn over in his grave if he knew 10 percent of the sale of a car that once belonged to him was donated to SWC, an organization named for the world’s most famous Nazi hunter.”

Worldwide Auctioneers in Scottsdale, Ariz., will conduct the auction.

Rod Egan, chief auctioneer at Worldwide Auctioneers, said he expects the Mercedes-Benz 770K, which is usually valued at about $5 million, to sell for more than $10 million, given its historical significance.

The vehicle, just one of five surviving vehicles of its kind in private hands, was ordered by, built for and used by Hitler, according to the auctioneer’s website. It was delivered to Berlin on July 29, 1939, and made its public debut on Oct. 6, 1939, in a large motorcade designed to maximize Hitler’s safety, the website says.

The vehicle “remain[s] quite likely the world’s greatest achievement in terms of automotive design, engineering, and construction,” the website says.

The U.S. Army seized the vehicle in 1945.

“It’s a trophy,” Egan said. “Hitler lost and we took his flagship car, really is what it comes down to.”

After World War II, the car was used in the U.S. military motor pool before the Greenville, N.C., branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars obtained the vehicle. Egan discovered the car’s existence when it was owned by Las Vegas hotelier Ralph Engelstad. In 2004, a European buyer purchased the car. Worldwide Auctioneers company obtained the vehicle for consignment after a client a couple years ago expressed interested in buying a Mercedes-Benz 770K.

Egan declined to identify the vehicle’s current owner.

“Adolf Hitler would turn over in his grave if he knew 10 percent … was donated to … an organization named for the world’s most famous Nazi hunter.” — Rabbi Marvin Hier

Rabbi Hier said the money the SWC receives from the auction would be used to record speeches Holocaust survivors deliver at schools.

“We’re going to videotape those speeches and make sure they endure for posterity, so when visitors come to the SWC, no matter what day they come, they always will be able to hear the speech of a Holocaust survivor telling them why it is important to be mindful of haters,” Hier said.

Egan said he was pleased a portion of the sale from the company’s auction would benefit SWC.

“The fact that it [SWC] has international reach was a big factor for us as well, and frankly, when you look at how we earmark funds and why we do it in the first place, the Center checked all the boxes: anti-Semitism, hate, terrorism, human rights,” he said. “In today’s world, today’s climate, it is more important every day.”

Wiesenthal Center Voices ‘Distress’ After Ratner Allegations

Brett Ratner (far left) was honored at the Jewish National Fund Tree of Life dinner. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has expressed concern about allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Hollywood producer and director Brett Ratner, who serves on its  board.

“Our Center has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior,” the center said in a Nov. 3 statement. “We are deeply distressed by these reports and we will be following the developments closely.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 1 that six women had come forward with accusations against Ratner.

“Our Center has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.” — Wiesenthal Center statement

Wiesenthal Center Communications Director Michele Alkin said on Nov. 6 that the organization’s board plans to discuss the accusations against Ratner during a regularly scheduled meeting next week.

The center is one of at least two Jewish organizations with which Ratner has ties. He is also a supporter of Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Alexander Muss High School in Israel. JNF honored Ratner Oct. 29 at its Tree of Life dinner.

JNF did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the allegations and its decision to honor him.

In a 2008 Journal story, writer Danielle Berrin said Ratner had made unwanted sexual advances as she attempted to interview him in his home.

In 2011, he resigned as producer of the Academy Awards after he came under fire for making an anti-gay slur during an interview.

“Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot, who is Israeli, had been scheduled to to present Ratner with the JNF award, but backed out, citing a scheduling conflict. That decision caused speculation that she was distancing herself from Ratner.

“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, filling in for Gadot, told the JNF audience that Ratner supported her early in her career, asking nothing in return. Ratner “singlehandedly made my presence here as a director possible,” she said in presenting the award.

Ratner, who is Jewish, is one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers. The website of his entertainment company, RatPac Entertainment, says his films have grossed more than $2 billion. The movies include the “Rush Hour” franchise, “Horrible Bosses” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

He is one of several Jewish figures in Hollywood and other industries facing recent accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women. Others include disgraced Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein and actors Dustin Hoffman and Jeremy Piven. The allegations against Weinstein have spurred the #MeToo social-media campaign, with women recounting alleged sexual assault or undesired attention from men.

Literary editor Leon Wieseltier, journalist Mark Halperin and screenwriter James Toback have also faced accusations.

None of the allegations has led to criminal charges. Ratner, through his attorney, has disputed the accusations against him, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Top 15 Jewish Los Angeles stories of 5777

The Jewish year 5777 wasn’t eventful only on the national stage. Here in Los Angeles, the Jewish community had its share of notable controversies and causes for celebration.

The following are 15 local stories that had L.A. Jews talking this year.

Danielle Berrin recalls her assault by Ari Shavit (October 2016)

In a courageous cover story, Jewish Journal senior writer Danielle Berrin detailed how a prominent Israeli journalist, later named as Ari Shavit, groped and propositioned her during a professional interview. Berrin related her experience to the universal prevalence of sexual assault, an issue that emerged in the public spotlight when a video surfaced of then-presidential nominee Donald Trump making lewd comments about women to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” Shavit admitted he was the subject of Berrin’s story several days after it was published, apologized and resigned from his positions at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper and Channel 10 TV.

In highlighting the gendered endemic of sexual assault and the stigma of speaking out, Berrin, who later was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club, began the Jewish New Year with a timely call for justice.

Jewish Family Service CEO Paul Castro announces retirement (October 2016)

Paul Castro

Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), announced Oct. 13 that he would leave his post in December 2017 after 35 years at the nonprofit. Castro is not Jewish, but that never interfered with his leadership on JFS projects like the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center and the Westside Jewish Community Center’s Social Day Care Center for seniors and people with disabilities. During his tenure as CEO, Castro raised $17 million of the $25 million needed to rebuild the JFS Lois and Richard Gunther Center, the future hub of JFS outreach.

On Sep. 12, 2017, another prominent Jewish community leader announced his retirement: American Jewish University President Robert Wexler will step down at the end of the academic term, after 25 years at the school. Under his stewardship, the university opened the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 1996 and merged with Brandeis-Bardin. Wexler is credited with overseeing numerous campus construction projects and growing the university’s endowment from $5 million to more than $100 million.

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier delivers benediction at Trump inauguration (January 2017)

Rabbi Marvin Hier

 

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, stirred controversy when he offered an original prayer and a blessing to President Donald Trump at his Jan. 20 inauguration. Hier, who performed the invocation alongside various faith leaders, defended his decision by stating a peaceful transition of power is “the trademark of democracy.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous

IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous speaks at D.C. Women’s March (January 2017)

The day after the inauguration, 3.3 million women in 500 American cities marched in protest of Trump’s presidency and in favor of universal human rights. Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR delivered a speech at the Washington, D.C., Women’s March that referenced the Exodus story of Shifrah and Puah, two rebellious Egyptian midwives who defied Pharaoh’s orders to kill Hebrew firstborns. On the largest single-day protest in American history, Brous appealed to spiritual unity and shared humanity.

Photo by Rob Eshman

Jews join immigration ban protests at LAX (January 2017)

Following Trump’s executive order that shut the United States’ doors on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, Jews joined thousands of Los Angeles natives who gathered at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in protest. A number of signs at the protest highlighted harmony between Muslims and Jews, or drew comparisons between the refugee ban and Hitler’s early strategies.

B’nai David-Judea disobeys OU ban on female clergy (February 2017)

In the face of a Feb. 3 Orthodox Union (OU) policy statement that opposed the inclusion of women in Orthodox clergy, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Orthodox Pico-Robertson synagogue B’nai David-Judea issued a defiant response: Clergy member Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn would be offering the drasha that Shabbat. Kanefsky referred to the ways “women have vastly increased the amount of Torah study, Mitzvah observance and spiritual sensitivity within their respective Orthodox congregations,” and criticized the OU for “imposing one perspective on all of its member synagogues.”

Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz

Colorful L.A. rabbi known as ‘Schwartzie’ dies at 71 (February 2017)

The red-bearded rabbi who wore rainbow suspenders and set up Jewish astrology readings on the Venice Boardwalk died on Feb. 8. Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz was the founder and director of Chai Center, a Jewish nonprofit outreach organization in Los Angeles that engages Jews through weekly Shabbat dinners, free High Holy Days services and other events.

Cartoon in UCLA student newspaper denounced as anti-Semitic (February 2017)

UCLA cartoon

Outrage erupted on UCLA’s campus when the Daily Bruin published a cartoon that struck many as anti-Semitic. The cartoon depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of the Ten Commandments, with one caption stating, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land,” and another suggesting Israel would follow its “stealing” with murder. The Daily Bruin issued an apology for the cartoon, which even drew a denunciation from a pro-Palestine group on campus.

Leah Adler, restaurateur and mother of Steven Spielberg, dies at 97 (February 2017)

Leah Adler

Leah Adler might have been best known as film director Steven Spielberg’s mother, but she earned her own renown in the Los Angeles Jewish community as the owner of kosher restaurant The Milky Way on Pico Boulevard Adler, who died Feb. 21, was a former concert pianist from Cincinnati who enjoyed chatting with restaurant patrons about kosher cuisine and providing life advice. Some might recognize her from the 1994 Academy Awards, when Spielberg kissed her and described her as his lucky charm while accepting the best director Oscar for “Schindler’s List.”

JCCs receive bomb threats amid national scare (February 2017)

Westside JCC

 

The Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) became one of more than 100 JCCs and Jewish day schools across the country to receive bomb threats over the phone in 2017. Among the other targets was the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, which received a hoax threat Jan. 31 that prompted the evacuation of approximately 300 seniors, parents and children. The Los Angeles Police Department evacuated the Westside JCC and searched the premises, but the threat was a false alarm. Four months later, University Synagogue of Brentwood and both Wilshire Boulevard Temple campuses also were shut down due to online bomb threats, none of which materialized.

Stephen Miller

Exploring Jewish Trump aide Stephen Miller’s L.A. roots (March 2017)

Stephen Miller began his work with the Trump campaign in 2016 as a “warmup act” before the presidential candidate took the stage at rallies. Later, as senior adviser to the president, Miller worked closely with Stephen Bannon to craft the executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. Given Miller’s zealously nationalistic political rhetoric, it surprised many to discover he is the great-grandson of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. The Jewish Journal profiled Miller’s youth as a congregant of liberal-leaning Los Angeles synagogues and a graduate of Santa Monica High School.

Politicizing the pulpit (June 2017)

When Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe argued in a Jewish Journal article that rabbis should refrain from expressing political opinions in their sermons, he ignited a debate that engaged rabbis and community members from every corner of Los Angeles. Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous all penned responses in the Journal challenging Wolpe’s apolitical position and questioning the possibility of drawing a line between politics and Torah. Wolpe’s article gave rise to a sort of symposium that considered a rabbi’s moral responsibility amid a politically turbulent year.

Marilyn Hall

Marilyn Hall, wife of Monty Hall, dies at 90 (June 2017)

Actress, writer, producer and philanthropist Marilyn Hall died June 5 at the age of 90. Hall, wife of game show host Monty Hall, produced documentaries for Jewish institutions such as Brandeis University, the United Jewish Welfare Fund and Tel Aviv University. Her roster of accomplishments also includes producing  two Emmy-winning TV movies and co-writing “The Celebrity Kosher Cookbook.”

Westwood flyers warn of new Hezbollah-inspired group (July 2017)

Iranian Jews were on edge when they discovered flyers in Westwood’s Persian Square district announcing the inception of a group calling itself the “Army of Hezbollah in America.” The handbill, written in Farsi, vowed to avenge any U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf with terrorist attacks on American soil. It also denounced the influence of the “Zionist media.” The Los Angeles Police Department said it turned over information about the flyer to the FBI for investigation.

Izak Parviz Nazarian

Iranian-Jewish philanthropist Izak Parviz Nazarian dies at 88 (August 2017)

Izak Parviz Nazarian, co-founder of investment firm Omninet and former board member of technology company Qualcomm, died on Aug. 23 at age 88. After a difficult childhood in Iran, Nazarian fought with the Haganah in Italy and joined Israeli troops in the War of Independence. Nazarian immigrated to Los Angeles after the Iranian Revolution, where he built a successful technology empire with his brother, Younes. A passionately pro-Israel philanthropist, Nazarian founded the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming Israel’s electoral system.

Kingdom of Bahrain and Wiesenthal Center team up to promote religious tolerance

Bahrain’s Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center with interfaith leaders during the signing of The Bahrain Declaration on Religious Tolerance. PHOTOGRAPH BY MONICA ALMEIDA

Even for Los Angeles, where spectaculars are often met with a stifled yawn, the international tribal gathering in the Beverly Wilshire ballroom was an eye opener.

There were delegations of Buddhists in saffron robes, Sikhs in turbans, Muslims with keffiyehs and hijabs, Jews with kippahs and Christians in business suits.

At the invitation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, some 400 members of these diverse groups came together Sept. 13 to sign and support a declaration denouncing religious hatred and violence in all forms, to support full freedom of religious choice and government protection of minorities and to ensure that religious faith “serve as a blessing to all mankind and as the foundation of peace in the world.”

Given the past and present behavior of mankind, it doesn’t take a skeptic to view this and similar declarations as pie-in-the-sky illusions. What is different in this instance is that the declaration was promulgated and drafted by the ruler of Bahrain, a small island nation in the Persian Gulf where such ideas have been in effect for centuries.

Bahrain has some 1.4 million residents, 70 percent of whom are Muslim. Christians make up 14 1/2 percent of the population, 10 percent is Hindu and 2 1/2 percent is Buddhist. The percentage of Jews is listed in different surveys as a fraction of 1 percent, but the actual number is even smaller, ranging between 36 to 40 actual residents.

Large numbers of Jews left the country following riots in 1947 and 1967, but Jewish, Muslim and British sources agree that the riots were triggered by pro-Palestinian outsiders and that resident Arabs went out of their way to protect their Jewish neighbors.

With the ascendancy of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to the throne in 2002, domestic and foreign observers see an almost utopian state of relationships among Bahrain’s religious groups. However, human rights groups and the U.S. State Department have accused the monarchy and ruling class, who are Sunni Muslim, of discriminating against the country’s majority Shiite Muslims.

The monarch, who has an impressive collection of Frank Sinatra records, has enshrined religious tolerance both in the country’s law and by personal example. For instance, since 2015, he has celebrated Chanukah with both Jews and Muslims in attendance.

At the dinner in Beverly Hills, Sami Abdulla, a government minister responsible for housing projects, was asked whether there were any problems in what sounded like paradise on earth. He said the main fear of his countrymen was that the region’s many problems and hostilities would spill over into their nation.

Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, the Orthodox rabbis whose unorthodox projects and initiatives as leaders of the Wiesenthal Center often vex more conventional Jewish organizations, visited Manama, Bahrain’s capital, by invitation, early this year.

A walk through the city, Cooper said, was an eye-opener. He said he saw a church, with a huge cross, next to a Hindu temple, and nearby an impressive mosque. Even a small synagogue, the only one in the Persian Gulf region, still stands in an older part of the city.

Hier and Cooper met with King Hamad and discussed the ruler’s plan to establish a Museum of Religious Tolerance in the capital by the end of this year.

Bahrain does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. However, Cooper noted, that during the audience with the king, the king denounced the Arab boycott of Israel and said his subjects were free to visit Israel.

A universal statement on religious tolerance, written by the king, was celebrated as The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration at the Beverly Hills event. Key points emphasized freedom of religious choice, religious rights and responsibilities and “faith illuminating the path to peace.”

The evert drew guests including officials from such predominantly Muslim nations as Kuwait, Egypt, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan. Arab officials stood as the colorful Bahrain National Orchestra, conducted by Field Marshal Mubarak Najem, played “Hatikvah,” preceded by the Bahraini and U.S. national anthems, sung by Sumaya Meer and Cantor Arik Wolheim.

The keynote speaker was Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, son of the king and a formidable athlete, who led the Bahraini delegations and had toured the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.

As the evening’s climax, guests formally signed the Bahrain Declaration, among them the speakers, visiting Arab officials, clergymen of various faiths, television personality Mary Hart, who served as the evening’s master of ceremonies; UCLA Professor Judea Pearl, and Betsy Bennett Mathieson, president of This Is Bahrain, a government-supported booster organization.

Mathieson presented each guest with a lapel pin featuring symbols of the country’s seven religions, with a Jewish menorah adjoining a Christian cross and a Muslim crescent.

Asked whether the evening’s upbeat tone and hopeful notes were warranted in the light of the Mideast’s apparently endless conflicts, Cooper said Bahrain, like Israel, “lives in a tough neighborhood. But if there is to be any hope for the future, it will have to be realized by voices of religious moderation.”

Trump acts on politics in the pulpit with executive order

President Donald Trump displays an Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty on May 4. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s executive order to weaken a prohibition against religious and other nonprofit organizations from endorsing political candidates has driven a wedge between Jewish religious leaders. Some cite it as a victory for First Amendment rights while others view it as a threat to the separation of church and state.

The prohibition is a 1954 provision to the federal tax code known as the Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofit organizations from certain political activities.

On one side of Trump’s action are clergy, such as Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who argue that religious leaders should speak out on issues they support. Hier once was censured by the Federal Elections Commission for violating the prohibition.

“We should fully honor the separation of church and state, but that has nothing to do with giving a sermon,” said Hier, who led the prayer at the White House ceremony on May 4 when Trump signed the order and who spoke at the president’s inauguration. “When you’re a rabbi or a priest, and you feel strongly about an issue, you can name names! And you can say don’t vote for him! It wouldn’t be such an aveira,” he said, using the biblical Hebrew word for sin.

Other Jewish leaders and institutions, however, expressed dismay at the order, saying it sanctioned oppressive behavior and undermined the role of clergy as unifying figures. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), a social justice advocacy group representing 900 Reform congregations across the United States, called the order “dangerously broad.”

Rabbi Joel Simonds, the RAC’s West Coast director of policy and associate rabbi at University Synagogue, said that while the pulpit should be used to rally against injustice, “justice isn’t partisan.”

“There are plenty of organizations and communities that can be partisan and that can speak out,” Simonds said. “But we have a unique place in our society and in our community to not dehumanize the other … and to preserve that safeguard [between church and state].”

The Johnson Amendment is named for then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), who later became vice president and president. It forbids nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates, contributing to election campaigns or otherwise influencing legislation with public statements. Violating organizations may see their tax-exempt status revoked — although the Internal Revenue Service has seldom enforced the rule.

It does not prevent religious organizations from expressing views intended to support one side of an issue.

The president’s executive order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” instructed the Treasury Department not to single out religious organizations for speaking “about moral or political issues from a religious perspective” when similar activity would not be considered a violation by a secular nonprofit.

The language used in the order was a relief for those concerned that Trump favored granting religious institutions even wider latitude. In February, he had vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy” the amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast. (Only Congress can fully repeal it.)

For those who had anticipated a more drastic measure, there still was plenty to dislike about the president’s action.

“I’m concerned about what drove this executive order,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of the synagogue IKAR. “I believe that if this administration were really concerned about religious freedom, that this would not be the step that one would see.”

Brous pointed to the rising tides of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as issues of religious freedom that demanded action from the White House.

“There are actual vulnerable religious minorities in the country right now that need protection, and this executive order is a bit of a dance with the players who created the ‘War on Christmas’ in order to play to the [conservative] base, and to create the sense that we are getting the back of those religious figures,” she said.

The order also directs federal agencies to consider amending the mandatory inclusion of birth control in health insurance policies offered by private employers, a change widely sought by the religious right.

The Orthodox Union (OU), a national organization that supports the Orthodox Jewish community, applauded the order for giving people the right to incorporate personal religious views into workplace policy.

Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for policy, said supporting religious freedom had been a White House priority until Barack Obama took office in 2009.

“[President Trump] is reasserting religious liberty as a primary consideration for how the executive branch implements law and policy,” Diament said. “We don’t have as Jews the same view [as Christian groups regarding contraceptive coverage]. But we do believe religious freedom needs to be protected — and the Obama administration could have but chose not to.”

Diament added that the OU supported the Johnson Amendment and likely would not have supported the executive order had its language been more aggressive. “We’re concerned about rabbis in synagogues being pressured into taking political stances that they may not want to take and may divide their community,” he said.

Hier pointed out that clergy making political statements is already a fact of life, an assertion that Brous agreed with. Moreover, Hier said, if someone came along who really was threatening — a candidate who was anti-Israel or a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, leadero of the Nation of Islam, were his examples — there would be an obligation to speak out.

When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, Hier found himself in such a scenario. Jackson had referred to New York City as a “Hymietown,” using a derogatory term toward Jews.

“We condemned it and basically said that nobody should vote for him because it indicated to me the commitment to anti-Semitism,” Hier said.

Shortly thereafter, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a nonprofit organization, received a warning letter stating that it had breached the Johnson Amendment. That encounter informs Hier’s opinion of the law today.

Brous agreed with Hier that clergy should not shy away from bad political actors. But she disputed the need to oppose them at the pulpit. “There’s a candidate that’s been trafficking in racism and bigotry and misogyny of all forms, and I did not need to stand up ever and say vote for this person or vote for the other person.

“It’s enough to say, this is about democracy versus authoritarianism, this is about decency versus indecency, this is about moral right versus moral wrong, without having to hold people’s hands and pull the lever in the voting booth.”

Still, Hier conceded, if Congress repealed the amendment, he doubted that a rabbi would have much influence over his congregants: “People don’t adopt policies based on what the rabbi says. That we have to leave for the time of the Messiah.”

He said that he would not weigh in on future elections from his station. But for those who don’t want to hear about politics when they go to pray, Hier joked “they shouldn’t join a shul.”

The rapper and the rabbi: Ice Cube and Rabbi Abraham Cooper heal old wounds

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper and rapper, actor and event emcee Ice Cube. Photo by Marissa Roth

Ice Cube, the well-known rapper and actor, was about the last person anyone might have expected to emcee the recent Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance 2017 National Tribute Dinner.

It wasn’t so long ago that Cube and the Center had a nasty feud over lyrics to a 1991 song that some interpreted as anti-Semitic.

Yet there he was at an event on April 5 at the Beverly Hilton to honor Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal, who had requested that Cube — real name, O’Shea Jackson — lead the festivities.

“It was an opportunity to close a circle that was a long time in the making. “We did a schmooze before the event,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, who was embroiled in the controversy with Cube at the time.

The song at issue, “No Vaseline,” had called out Jerry Heller, the manager of the Cube’s rap group, N.W.A., before Ice Cube started a solo career.

Cube blamed Heller, who was Jewish, for problems that had befallen N.W.A.

“It’s a case of divide and conquer, ‘cause you let a Jew break up my crew.” Cube rapped on “No Vaseline,” which drew immediate condemnation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Cooper responded, “We’re not asking Ice Cube to mask the reality of the streets. By all means flag the social problems, but don’t exploit them by turning a professional spat between a former manager and an artist into a racial dispute.”

“I respect Jewish people because they’re unified. I wish black people were as unified,” Cube shot back.

Cooper and Cube took their back-and-forth to television screens, appearing on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“The last time [we saw each other] was spending an hour-plus on the set in Chicago with Oprah and back then in those days, the early Oprah days, we were more like guests in the middle of a lion’s den,” Cooper said in a phone interview this week. “It was a very raucous crowd.”

Cooper told the Journal he’d never been a fan of rap music – he said he was “from a generation before.” He described himself as more of a “Four Seasons guy.”

It was possible, he said, he had been too hard on Cube due to his lack of understanding of what informed his lyrics, adding that their “interaction [at that time] was right at the beginning of that stuff,” when people did not think rap music had any kind of cultural future.

“He was claiming at the time, and I think he probably was correct, that there was an authenticity to his anger,” Cooper said. “He was reporting from a different part of the planet.”

YouTube, Google graded poorly on hate, terrorism by Wiesenthal Center

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is criticizing YouTube for allowing the proliferation of videos such as this one, posted by an account associated with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The video-sharing site YouTube and its parent company, Google, fared poorly in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual social media report card for their handling of hate- and terrorism-related material.

The Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that fights hate speech, says YouTube is being exploited by terrorists to encourage acts of violence and instruct would-be attackers in their methods. The site received a C- in the category of “terrorism” and a D for “hate.”

“Google/YouTube is rightfully under fierce criticism for placing digital ads from major international brands like AT&T and Johnson & Johnson next to extremist videos celebrating terrorist attacks that should never have been allowed on its platform in the first place,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, said March 28 at the media briefing where the grades were unveiled. It took place at the New York City comptroller’s office, four blocks from ground zero.

DTH grades17_Poster

Courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

He said the Wiesenthal Center awarded YouTube its low grades for allowing terrorism “how to” videos to proliferate on its platform, and for failing to take down thousands of posts by hate groups. He pointed to a number of videos posted on the site in the wake of a recent terrorist attack outside the Houses of Parliament in London, praising the attack and encouraging others to follow suit.

YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A more in-depth report, “Digital Terrorism + Hate,” available at digitalhate.net, details the ways in which terrorist groups use social media to recruit, network and instruct potential attackers. The report names a number of accounts, tactics and pages associated with terrorism.

“Frankly, one of the things that we need is for the companies to be more responsive to their responsibilities,” Cooper told the Journal. “Almost all the companies set rules, and some try a lot harder than others to live up to them.”

He lauded recent changes at Twitter, whose grades have improved since the Wiesenthal Center began issuing the report cards in 2015. The company’s grade for “hate” rose from a D to a C since last year. Cooper said the change was due to Twitter’s move to deactivate hundreds of thousands of accounts associated with terrorism and hate speech.

Facebook received the highest marks because of its “sophisticated in-house system of blocking” objectionable accounts and content, according to Cooper. Other platforms, such as YouTube and Twitter, are reactive rather than proactive, he said.

But in general, Cooper said Silicon Valley has demonstrated a lack of leadership when it comes to fighting hate online. He said the Wiesenthal Center hopes to convene social media companies to comprehensively address the problems of digital hate speech and web use by terrorists. Failing that, the nonprofit would look into other, more drastic measures.

“If they don’t get a handle on this, we can be looking at the horrible R-word — regulation,” he said in the interview. “I’m not particularly enamored with that solution. It’s always messy when you go to Washington.”

However, he said he will be educating public officials about the trends highlighted in the report.

At the press conference, Cooper also announced that the Wiesenthal Center will be offering tutorials for high school students “to empower young people to deal with the tsunami of hate.” The center plans to pilot the tutorials with teens in New York City.

He told the Journal, “Since they usually see [online hate speech] before the adults anyway, we’re going to do our best to try to empower them with some guidelines about how to deal with it.”

Wiesenthal Center calls for task force to catch callers making JCC bomb threats

A complex in Wilmington, Del., housing four Jewish organizations was evacuated after receiving a bomb threat on January 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of Siegel JCC in Wilmington

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to set up a task force to catch the callers who have made false bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the country.

In its statement issued Tuesday, the Jewish human rights NGO said it also called on President Donald Trump to outline his administration’s plan to combat what the center called “surging anti-Semitism.”

The statement said the center appreciated “the efforts made by law enforcement to protect people of all faiths,” but added that “given the current circumstances,” it was urging Session to create the task force “with the assignment of identifying and capturing the culprit or culprits who seek to terrorize American Jewry through their threats.”

“The multi-pronged threats of anti-Semitism today demand concerted action,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, dean and associate dean, respectively, of the center, said in the statement. “We look to President Trump to take a leadership role in addressing the problem of anti-Semitism and hate in America head-on in a speech at a time and place of his choosing.

“We need lead leadership from the top to effectively combat the hate.”

Trump on Tuesday morning condemned anti-Semitism, calling it “horrible” and saying it “has to stop.”

Jewish groups and political leaders have called on Trump to speak out against anti-Semitism, especially after four waves of bomb threats called in to dozens of JCCs in the past five weeks.

The JCC Association of North America said that since Jan. 9, there have been 69 bomb threat incidents at 54 JCCs in 27 states and one Canadian province. All were hoaxes but forced the evacuation of many of the buildings.

Jewish leaders discuss Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day omission

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Condemnation of President Donald Trump excluding Jews in his Jan. 27 statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day was across-the-board, with organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, which has been critical of Trump from the time of his candidacy, to the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has been supportive of him, criticizing the omission.

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the U.S. President’s Jan. 27 statement says, excluding “Jews.” “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

In the wake of the statement’s release as well as confirmation from the Trump administration’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, that the exclusion was intentional, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC)—whose founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration—issued a statement calling on the White House to update the statement.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center reiterates its call for Friday’s Presidential statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day to be updated to specifically mention the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazis,” the Jan. 29 statement says.

That update never came, much to the chagrin of Jewish leaders. In a Tuesday phone interview, SWC Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said because the Holocaust was focused on the systematic murder of Jews, any International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement neglecting Jews is not just wrongheaded, but dangerous.

“It has real implications in places like Europe, where, as we speak, in the last 10 days there were Muslims in a German [high school] who didn’t want to participate in a Holocaust memorial and one of their professors said we have to listen to their side and be sensitive to it,” Cooper said.

It is fine to remember non-Jewish victims, according to Cooper. In fact, Wiesenthal, himself, was committed to memorializing non-Jewish victims of the Shoah. The famed Nazi hunter and survivor’s insistence on doing so, however, did not detract from his devotion to remembering the primary victims, Jews.

“A generation ago, Simon Wiesenthal was basically the only major Jewish figure to also talk about non-Jewish victims of the Nazis. In fact, when the Roma [gypsies] were initially left off the [then-] new U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council [the governing body of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum] it was Wiesenthal who enforced the issue, saying they were also victims of the Nazis and they have to be on there,” Cooper said. “He spoke about it with great passion in those years … In the same breath he would also say it’s also important to remember the Final Solution…the only target of that genocidal policy were the Jews,” Cooper said.

In an interview, Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was active in the free Soviet Jewry movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which, experts say, was a cause American-Jews took on, in part, out of guilt of not doing enough to rescue European Jews during the Shoah, says Jews are “sensitive” when it comes to Holocaust remembrance.

“We’re sensitive. The Jewish community is sensitive to this. It’s not our egos that’s driving this. It’s the motive behind white-washing the name, white-washing the Jews out of the Holocaust experience,” he said.

“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd used the term “White-wash” when, this past Sunday on his show, he asked White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus if the Trump administration regretted not including “Jews” in his Jan. 27 statement.

“I don’t regret the words, Chuck,” Priebus said, as quoted by a transcript of the broadcast, available at nbcnews.com.

Priebus was not the only Trump administration official to defend the exclusion. On Monday, during a news conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the “nitpicking” that has been done to the statement is “pathetic.” Additionally, Spicer said a Jewish individual with relatives who were in the Holocaust helped craft the statement. He declined to name the person when a reporter asked if it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s Orthodox son-in-law, who drafted the statement.

On Monday evening, Politico identified Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president of Russian-Jewish descent, as the person behind the statement.

Cooper, for his part, said the Jewish “nitpicking,” to borrow Spicer’s words, is not demonstrative of Jews being overly-sensitive. The anger over the exclusion, he said, is about getting the facts straight.

“It’s not about being oversensitive; the Shoah is the Shoah. We would prefer if we weren’t the target but we were and if you’re going to make a statement and going to memorialize it,” he said, “you need to get it right.”

 

Wiesenthal Center’s Hier defends decision to appear at Trump inauguration

Sitting in his office at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where he’s founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier pushed a stack of printouts across his desk — blessings and invocations he’s delivered on behalf of four sitting U.S. presidents.

“I’ve done invocations for President [Bill] Clinton, both Bushes, Ronald Reagan,” he said. “I wouldn’t make any exception.”

The Dec. 28 announcement that Hier would offer a benediction at the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump — the first rabbi to appear at an inauguration since Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk at Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 — was greeted immediately with controversy: Why would the head of an organization dedicated to fighting hate bless a politician whose candidacy faced repeated accusations of ethnic and religious intolerance?

A petition on Change.org calling on Hier to back out gathered more than 2,000 signatures in three days.

“By speaking at his inauguration, especially as a hero of a half-century battling hate and intolerance, we feel you lend those elements of your ‘brand’ — if inadvertently — to help create a smokescreen for Trump,” the petition reads.

But Hier remains unfazed. For him, the decision to appear as one of six faith leaders at the Jan. 20 swearing-in — and the only non-Christian — was an easy one. The peaceful transition of power is “the trademark of democracy,” he said, and he was honored to receive the invitation. 

“Who’s sitting on the platform [at Trump’s inauguration]?” he asked. “His worst opponents, sitting in the peaceful transfer of power: Hillary and Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, President and Mrs. Obama, George W. Bush and his wife — and they say that I shouldn’t partake. Come, come! Isn’t that the height of hypocrisy?”

His appearance shouldn’t be viewed as an endorsement, Hier said. He pointed out that he criticized Trump during the campaign, for instance when the candidate suggested a registry of Muslims in the United States.

“I’ve stated my views and I was invited to give the prayer anyway,” he said.

What’s more, he said, his appearance won’t impede his willingness to criticize the Trump administration in the future, just as he has criticized past presidents. For instance, in 1985, the Wiesenthal Center was among the most vocal opponents of then-President Ronald Reagan’s decision to visit a German cemetery where Nazi troops were buried, despite Hier sharing a close personal relationship with the president. 

“The same will happen under the Trump administration,” he told the Journal. “But what we’re not going to do is play this game that only when the president of the United States is a Democrat, then everyone should go to the inauguration.”

He said he would not be swayed by critics.

“They’re entitled to their points of view,” he said. “They’re not influencing me. Marvin Hier is going to the inauguration. They’re not influencing me at all. And they need to know, tremendous amounts of people have emailed me and called me and said, ‘Don’t you dare listen to these people.’ ”

He addressed concerns about the so-called alt-right, a loose-knit group of white supremacists emboldened by the Trump campaign, saying right-wing anti-Semites have received too much attention in recent months relative to anti-Semitic criticism of Israel on the left. 

“We’re very concerned about the alt-right,” he said. “We’re also concerned about the loonies on the left that never get any play, the ones who hate Israel. … Both extremes can do great harm to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

President Barack Obama’s decision to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution to pass condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank was the “biggest anti-Israel thing ever done,” he said, though he stopped short of labeling it anti-Semitic. 

Hier is optimistic that the next administration will represent a change in tone.

“If I were Hamas, I’d be very nervous,” he said, referring to the terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip. “The new president is going to do the opposite of President Obama. He’s going to mention Hamas 1,000 times and forget to mention the settlements, evening the score of the way it’s been all these years.”

Hier dismissed news reports linking his inauguration appearance to $35,000 in donations made to the Simon Wiesenthal Center by the family of Jared Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

“They’re longtime supporters of Simon Wiesenthal,” Hier said of the Kushners, whom he considers friends. “It’s got nothing to do [with the inauguration]. They were supporters before Ivanka met Jared.”

He declined to preview his remarks except to say that he would draw on an argument by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik regarding a discrepancy in Exodus. According to the Torah, God observed the Israelites’ suffering in Egypt when Moses fled after striking down a cruel slave driver, but didn’t send the prophet to their aid until 60 years later. “What’s this business of the respite of 60 years?” Hier said.

“God waits on his human partners,” he explained. “If his human partners are not willing to assume their proper role and act, He’s prepared to just wait it out — 60 years, 600 years, 6,000 years. So one of the themes will be that when a human being is born, they do not collect Social Security at birth, because the expectation is: Do something first. That’s the point.”

Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier to deliver prayer at Trump inauguration

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, will offer a prayer at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Hier reportedly will offer readings, recite an original prayer and give Trump and incoming Vice President Mike Pence each a benediction at the Jan. 20 ceremony.

“Since the first inaugural ceremony, our leaders have paid tribute to the blessings of liberty that have been bestowed upon our country and its people,” Tom Barrack, the chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said in a statement issued Wednesday announcing the six faith leaders who will participate in the inauguration. “I am pleased to announce that a diverse set of faith leaders will offer readings and prayers at the swearing-in of President-elect Trump and honor the vital role religious faith plays in our multicultural, vibrant nation.”

Hier told the Los Angeles radio station KPCC that the Inaugural Committee contacted him about his participation and that he said “it would be my honor to do so.” He said his prayer will have a “21st century ring to it.”

The last rabbi to pray during a presidential inauguration was Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, head of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for 30 years, during Ronald Reagan’s 1985 ceremony.

Hier and his Wiesenthal Center earlier this week called the U.S. abstention on a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israel for settlement building the top anti-Semitic incident of 2016.

The other faith leaders who will participate in the inauguration are Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Pastor Paula White of New Destiny Christian Center; the Rev. Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Bishop Wayne Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International.

On Jan. 21, a Saturday, the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral will include representatives of all religious faiths, according to the committee, which said it would release more details about the participants in the coming weeks.

The latest anti-Semitic meme scheme: Linking Palestine to Ferguson and Louisiana

Two years ago this summer, an 18-year-old African American man who had lunged for the gun of a white police officer in his patrol car was shot and killed on the street. The officer was subsequently exonerated by a grand jury, but Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in a week of race riots.

Soon after, Sixties Black Power activist Angela Davis delivered a lecture at UC Santa Cruz entitled from “Ferguson to Palestine.” That was the launch of the age-old blood libel against Jews by affixing an American tragedy to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Some in the emerging Black Lives Matter movement linked Israel’s self-defense against terrorist onslaughts from Hamas-controlled Gaza, to police killings of black men in America. Hamas operatives in Gaza took time out from their rocket barrages against Israel civilians to post selfies announcing their solidarity with Ferguson rioters. -Palestinian militants organized on St. Louis campuses actually were bused to Ferguson where they carried signs blaming the Jewish people for the alleged crimes of Ferguson police, a few of whom had once visited Israel.

Now, there is a new meme that Israel has African American blood on its hands has been revived by NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Under the hashtag “#No Justice No Peace #From Gaza to Baton Rouge”—they accused Israel of responsibility for the shooting death in front of a convenience store by the police in Louisiana of an African American man Alton Sterling. An SJP post suggests that Sterling is the American equivalent of Ali Dawabsheh, a Palestinian baby killed in the West Bank.

SJP is already notorious for its history of harassing Jewish students on the NYU campus—including serving them with fake eviction notices. But it has reached a new low by libeling Israel for the new controversies over police shootings of African American in Louisiana and Minnesota. (The Wiesenthal Center has supported calls for a Justice Department investigation of the questionable police shooting of a black motorist Orlando Castile in St. Paul, stopped for a defective tail light.)

There is even a new academic theory behind the revived blood libel against Jews and Israel for alleged police brutality against African Americans. It’s “intersectionality” or that all of the twenty-first century world’s evils somehow connect back to the founding of Israel and the Jewish State’s attempt to defeat terrorist genocide against it. Here’s one example from the Facebook Page the New York City Students for Justice in Palestine announcing participation in 2015’s Million Student March against college tuition hikes: “The Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education. While CUNY aims to produce the next generation of professional Zionists, SJP aims to change the university to fight for all peoples liberation.”

No doubt, now that Dallas has experienced a blood bath of dead and injured police ambushed by a crazed African American gunman said to be incensed by the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, we can expect new charges from SJP-types seeking to leverage outrage and angst over the American racial divide to their cause of ridding the Holy Land of Jews. By cynically seeking to connect imaginary dots between two real conflicts, these fanatics succeed only in creating more hate, divisiveness and distrust between two communities who should be natural allies in the struggle for human dignity.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Wiesenthal Center

‘Imam of the Jews’ works to combat Muslim radicals

Over dinner at a Simon Wiesenthal Center benefit on April 18 at which he was to be honored, Imam Hassen Chalghoumi pulled out his iPhone to scroll through pictures of himself with a host of foreign dignitaries.

He thumbed past Sen. John McCain, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli President Shimon Peres — each of whom he gamely referred to as “my friend.” Before the end of the night, a sumptuous banquet for Hollywood executives and Jewish leaders at the Beverly Hilton, he would have a few more friends to show off.

But the friends he’s earned on his warpath against anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism have caused him some trouble in the Muslim community of Drancy, France, where he serves as the imam. 

He’s seen his car lit on fire and yarmulkes burned in protest outside his mosque. When he spoke out against the Islamic State in 2015, saying its members have Satan as their prophet rather than Muhammad, the terrorist group put out a fatwa on him — a call for his assassination. Chalghoumi’s family now lives outside of France for their safety.

“My wife and children have had to make numerous sacrifices, and it is of them I think tonight,” he said as he accepted the award onstage at the Hilton. “It is their medal of valor, as well.”

Chalghoumi is tall and broad, with a small goatee and a round, boyish face that is almost always smiling under a white fez. For his activism and close relationships with Jewish organizations, his opponents have labeled him “Imam of the Jews,” a title he now views as honorific.

Back at his dinner table, he pointed across to a tall, suited man in spectacles sitting quietly. The man was an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer, he said, part of his security detail. In Los Angeles, his detail is two cops. In Paris, it’s 12. In Brussels, 20.

The next morning, the imam sat stretched on a couch in the office of Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder. The Wiesenthal Center had flown him to Los Angeles to accept a medal of valor at its 2016 national tribute dinner, and it hopes to collaborate with him on their shared goal of fighting anti-Semitism.

The same off-duty police officer in spectacles and a suit waited quietly outside the closed door.

“The good news is that this man’s the real deal,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. “The bad news is he’s one in a million.”

Drancy’s imam has been fighting the radicalization of young Muslims since long before the world’s attention turned to Paris after the terrorist attacks that killed more than 100 people last Nov. 13.

“I wasn’t waiting for the attack,” he told the Jewish Journal. “I foresaw it. I was working on it for a long time.”

The imam is quick to dismiss the people who perpetrated that attack and similar acts of violence as fake Muslims and barbarians.

“When they commit crimes in the name of Islam, they too say they are Muslims,” he said of the terrorists. “But I don’t recognize them as Muslims.”

Chalghoumi has set out to recast Islam as a humanist and peaceful religion, especially as a message to disaffected young men in France most prone to being won over by radical ideologies. In his dealings with young people, many simply need to talk with a knowledgeable person of the Islamic faith in order to recognize radical ideology as a sham.

Other cases are not so simple. 

Chalghoumi recalls a couple asking him, in 2012, to intervene with their son, whom they suspected was being radicalized. When the young man wouldn’t meet with him, he put the parents in contact with the French authorities, who arrested the young man but quickly let him go again. Soon after his release, he fled to Syria. 

After the Nov. 13 attack, the imam made the gut-wrenching discovery that the man had been one of the perpetrators of the attack on Paris’ Stade de France football arena.

“There are cases like that that are impossible,” he said. “I can’t do anything about it — the state has to take measures. Their ideology of death, they harbor it because they have inside them so much hate. Is it because of their family? Are they part of a gang? Because in general, it doesn’t start in mosques.”

In 2008, Chalghoumi started the Conference of Imams in France, a group that has grown to 180 religious leaders aimed at creating “an Islam of Europe, that fits in the laws and the values of Europe.” The group has spoken out with conviction and regularity against recent acts of violence in Paris and Brussels.

The imam’s fight for the soul of his religion was inspired in part by the history. The Parisian suburb of Drancy, where he lived, served as the railway terminal through which 70,000 prisoners passed on their way to Nazi concentration camps. 

“Remembering the Shoah is a human duty,” he said. “It’s just human victims, assassinated, massacred because of their religion, their belonging.”

He began to learn more about the Holocaust after moving to Drancy in 2000 to start the local Association of Muslims. Since then, he’s paid respects at Holocaust memorials in Israel and Germany.

His activism in Holocaust memory has brought him a fair deal of strife. In 2006, days after he spoke at Drancy’s Holocaust memorial, vandals broke into his house. Since then, there have been more break-ins and attempts on his life.

From an early age, multiculturalism played a large role in the imam’s life. Born in Tunisia in 1972 to a family of modest means, he grew up in the diverse La Goulette port neighborhood of the country’s capital, Tunis, where he recalls a kosher restaurant peacefully coexisting with the Muslim majority.

“We don’t talk about the People of the Book as infidels; we talk about them as the family of the book,” he said of his upbringing in the Islamic faith.

He said the type of radical Islam spreading in low-income areas of France and Belgium are an opportunistic interpretation of the religion: “The façade is Islamic but the reality is politics.” 

Extremist Muslim leaders exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to energize their supporters. For instance, he pointed to dogged activism on the European continent by the Muslim Brotherhood, imported from the Middle East by political refugees.

“It’s not the same Islam as the Islam in the countries where they come from,” he said. “It’s not about peace, love — it’s about confrontation.”

Take, for instance, the idea of jihad — often translated as “struggle” — which has come to refer to Islam’s most militant and extreme wing. Chalghoumi draws a different interpretation. 

“Ramadan is a jihad against the soul,” he said, switching between halting English and Arabic-accented French. “To resist your ambitions — like [Yom] Kippur. For hours, no eating — that’s jihad.”

He shares with the Wiesenthal Center the conviction that radical Islam in the 21st century has to be met where it exists, namely on the Internet. 

“The majority of work we have to do, 60 percent, is on the Internet,” he said. “Because that’s the vehicle, the means of hate. America attacks Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Tora Bora, all those places. But now Al Qaeda is on the Internet, you can’t just bomb them.”

Much of his activism is directed at European corporations that allow terrorist groups to spread their message online. Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center associate dean, recalled that when he first met Chalghoumi at a conference on anti-Semitism, the imam pointed to a Google representative and said, “J’accuse! [I accuse!]” Chalghoumi holds the search engine responsible for allowing terrorists to operate on its site.

As the interview wrapped up, Cooper re-entered the room with a laptop open to a screen grab of a homophobic game a Wiesenthal Center researcher had unearthed, where users play as ISIS soldiers and execute suspected homosexuals. 

“It’s a failure in the system,” Chalghoumi commented.

“Parents don’t know,” Cooper said.

“No control,” the imam said.

“No control, no knowledge,” the rabbi said. “There has to be a whole change in approach even as to how you raise your children.”

Chalghoumi looked drawn and worried. “France doesn’t deserve what’s going on right now,” he said.

Wiesenthal center explains silence on Trump

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is pushing back against public criticism that it has remained silenced in the face of Donald Trump’s recent comments and actions. The same incidents that prompted the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to come out with forceful statements of condemnations regarding Mr. Trump in recent weeks.

“In the face of Trumps eight months of racism, misogyny, neo-fascism, calls for violence et.al. What exactly has the SWC done? Virtually nothing,” Scott Goldstein, a Los Angeles-based film director who used to work for the Wiesenthal Center, wrote in The Huffington Post on Monday.

Goldstein created most of the core multi-media exhibits for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance and New York Tolerance Center. He also produced and directed the documentary “Holocaust” for the New York Tolerance Center.

Goldstein suggested that the organization is covering up for Trump since its chairman, Larry Mizel, is also on the Board of Directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“I beg you, do something,” Goldstein concluded his post. “For the sake of decency, for the sake of carrying out your own mission statement, for the sake of the nation we love, do something loud and strong. Publicly and unequivocally condemn Donald Trump’s bigotry and hatred.”

Reached for comment, the Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed disappointment that Goldstein chose to single them out “to create the impression that we support a particular candidate.” In a lengthy statement shared exclusively with Jewish Insider, they pointed to a quote by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in the Jewish Week last week, in which he urged Trump to denounce the endorsement of David Duke. The Human Rights NGO also issued a statement condemning Trump’s Muslim ban a few months ago.

According to the SWC, “Every four years during presidential campaigns, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which never endorses candidates for any political office, receives numerous requests from members of the public to react to statements made by various politicians who they believe have crossed the line. In the long history of the Center, we have never failed to criticize both Democrats and Republicans as far back as Jesse Jackson’s “Hymie Town” comment and Ronald Reagan for his Bitburg visit.”

Goldstein, according to the organization, sent a barrage of emails about Donald Trump and has refused to accept the explanation that the Center, as well as other human rights organizations, can’t be in a position to respond to every remark made by a politician every single day. “We are disappointed that Mr. Goldstein, who has done fine work for the Center in the past, singled us out to create the impression that we support a particular candidate,” the statement read. “Nothing can be further from the truth and Mr. Goldstein knows it. We are left to wonder whether his attack has more to do with the fact that he is angry that we have not engaged his services for our new projects.”

Twitter praised for cracking down on use by Islamic State

Officials with the nonprofit Simon Wiesenthal Center praised Twitter Inc on Monday for increasing efforts to thwart Islamic State's use of its platform for recruitment and propaganda.

The center's Digital Terrorism and Hate Project gave Twitter a grade of “B” in a report card of social networking companies' efforts to fight online activity by militant groups such as ISIS.

“We think they are definitely heading in the right direction,” the project's director, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, told Reuters in a telephone interview ahead of Monday's release of the report card at a press conference in New York.

He said the review was based on steps that Twitter has already taken and information that center staff learned in face-to-face meetings with company representatives.

Islamic State has long relied on Twitter to recruit and radicalize new adherents. The Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization, has been one of toughest critics of the Twitter's strategy for combating those efforts.

Some vocal Twitter critics have tempered their views since December, when the site revised its community policing policies, clearly stating that it banned “hateful conduct” that promotes violence against specific groups and would delete offending accounts.

Researchers with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism last month reported that Islamic State's English-language reach on Twitter stalled last year amid a stepped-up crackdown by the company against the extremist group's army of digital proselytizers.

The center gave Twitter grade of “C” in a report card last year, which covered efforts to fight terrorism along with hate speech. This year it gave two grades, awarding Twitter a “D” on hate speech, saying the company needed to do more to censor the accounts of groups that promote hate.

A Twitter spokesman declined comment, but pointed to a statement on the company's blog posted Feb. 5 on combating violent extremism.

“We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service,” Twitter said in the blog.

Among other major Internet firms included in this year's survey, Facebook Inc got an “A-” for terrorism and a “B-” for hate. Alphabet Inc's  YouTube got a “B-” for terrorism and a “D” for hate.

Simon Wiesenthal Center center urges dismissal of Croatia’s culture minister

The Israel-based Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Croatia's government on Friday to dismiss its culture minister, saying he took a disdainful attitude toward Croatian resistance to fascism during World War Two.

The Jewish human rights group expressed “shock and indignation at several actions taken and comments made” by minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic.

Hasanbegovic has previously dismissed similar criticism as unfounded. He could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

During World War Two, Croatia was under Nazi control and led by local collaborators called Ustashe. Many Croats fought as partisans within the communist-led resistance movement.

Croatia is now a member of the European Union.

“We urge the Croatian government to replace Hasanbegovic with a person suitable for the post of minister of culture who will bring honor and prestige to the post, rather than embarrass his country before the entire world,” the director of Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, said in a statement on its website.

No comment was immediately available from the Croatian government or from Hasanbegovic.

Zuroff accused Hasanbegovic, a historian who is also involved in publishing, of failing to recognize the genocidal nature of the Nazi-sponsored Ustasha regime, and showing disdain for Croatians who fought against it.

Hasanbegovic is a minister in Croatia's center-right government, an alliance between the conservative HDZ party and the small reformist Most party.

Croatia's center-left opposition and several civic groups have already criticized Hasanbegovic's appointment.

Hier and Hier: From yeshiva boy to global storyteller

The longer I live in America, the more fascinated I become with the story of American Jewry —  how a wandering and persecuted people discovered a free and open nation and have given so much back.

At the heart of this story are some larger-than-life Jews who have influenced every facet of American life, from Hollywood, Wall Street and Silicon Valley to academia, popular culture, media, social action and politics. 

One Jew who surely belongs to this prominent cast is Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Here is a yeshiva boy from New York’s Lower East Side who grows up to become one of the world’s most influential Jews, thanks to a special brew of smarts, chutzpah, faith and humor.

Those traits are in full view in Hier’s new memoir, “Meant to Be,” which offers up hundreds of little anecdotes to paint the portrait of a big life. The book’s title speaks to Hier’s faith that everything in life happens for a reason, and that it is always for the good.

But Hier easily could have titled his book “To Make a Long Story Short,” because the man’s life revolves so much around stories — stories about things that happened to him or to others, stories that he has handy for any occasion, stories from the Bible that move his soul, stories that help him land a big donor or a movie star, and, his favorite type, stories that make him laugh.   

From left: Sen. Edward  Kennedy, Simon Wiesenthal and Rabbi Hier, when the senator received the Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

“There are many reasons why we Jews have survived nearly three thousand five hundred years of persecution and turmoil,” he writes. “I am convinced that one of the them is our ability to laugh, even during the most trying circumstances.”

Hier is one of those people for whom smiling seems to be the default position, as if he’s always on the hunt for good news. You can imagine him smiling as he wrote some of the stories in the book, as when he recounts his first meeting with Frank Sinatra in the late-1970s. At the time, his plan for a Holocaust museum was still just a dream. Sinatra offered to help, but because he called himself only an “honorary member of the Jewish tribe,” he reached out to his Jewish neighbor, Danny Schwartz, asking him to bring along his “Jewish telephone directory.”

Like so many stories in the book, the Sinatra story leads to a series of other events and meetings that invariably lead to good things. Most of the stories are connected to people — from Hollywood stars, world leaders or major donors to quirky characters, including funny rabbis and even janitors.

Perhaps the quirkiest story is the one that ignited Hier’s mission to honor the victims of the Holocaust.

It started innocuously enough during a family outing to the La Brea Tar Pits in the summer of 1977. Hier overheard a little girl asking the tour guide: “Will dinosaurs come back to earth one day?”

As Hier recounts the story, “The amiable guide smiled and reassured her that the earth’s changing climate conditions prevented dinosaurs from returning.”

Oddly, something about that answer stuck with Hier. His mind wandered. He thought about “human creatures, whose time on earth is dependent as much on political conditions as environmental ones.” And then he wondered if a political climate can ever return a monster like Hitler to power.

That question weighed on him for weeks: “How many of the visitors who came to the La Brea Tar Pits to learn about prehistoric animal fossils knew anything about the cataclysmic events that had engulfed our world in the 1930s and ’40s? Why didn’t America have a major Holocaust education center like Israel’s Yad Vashem to teach the story of the murder of six million Jews — one third of the world’s Jewish population? Why hadn’t the American Jewish community — the world’s largest — built a major Holocaust museum?”

Hier then recounts the decisive story of the book: Over Shabbat cholent in his Pico-Robertson home, he brings up the idea of a Holocaust center with his lifelong partner, his wife, Malkie. “It’s a great idea,” she tells him. “It will have an impact on the whole community. I think you should do it.”

That cholent meeting set off a decades-long adventure to build two of the most prominent institutions in the world. But while the building of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance have garnered enormous attention and made Hier a global name, when you read the book, you realize that something has gotten lost in the media picture: Hier is still, at heart, a yeshiva boy from the Lower East Side.

It’s easy to overlook that Hier began his career as a successful pulpit rabbi in Canada, eventually leaving after 10 years because “there were no yeshivas for my sons in Vancouver.” When he moved his family to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, he had no idea he would ever be involved with the Holocaust or fighting anti-Semitism. His plan was to start a yeshiva for post-high school students of all backgrounds and denominations and contribute, as he says, “to the unbroken chain of Torah study that had sustained Jews over the centuries.”

By forging an association with Yeshiva University (YU) of New York, one of the oldest Jewish educational institutions in America, he gave his new yeshiva instant credibility. With the help of initial funding from the Belzberg family, he bought an empty building on Pico Boulevard and began his new life in Los Angeles immersed in Jewish education.

One of my favorite stories in the book is when Hier visits the empty building on Pico and meets the janitor, Jack Rufus, a “tall, slender African-American man with deep worry lines on his forehead.”

Hier tells Rufus about his plan for starting the school, admitting that “I don’t exactly have any students, and we haven’t hired any teachers yet.”

Rufus, who was hoping to keep his job, responds: “You mean to tell me, you don’t have any teachers or students, but you bought this building? Rabbi, I don’t mean any disrespect, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. That’s like going horseback riding without a horse.”

Hier proceeds to tell Rufus a Chasidic story about two men who went to see the same rebbe for a blessing to have children. The blessing worked, but only for the man who immediately bought a baby carriage — in other words, only for the man who had true faith in the blessing. Hier told the janitor that he had received his own blessing from a rebbe to open the school. He had so much faith in that blessing, in fact, that he hired Rufus on the spot.

It’s while Hier was building his new yeshiva that his improbable visit to the Tar Pits led him to think about building a Holocaust center. From then on, Jewish education and Holocaust remembrance became his two consuming passions. Only two months after the yeshiva opened in late 1977, the Simon Wiesenthal Center opened inside the yeshiva’s west wing.

A key story in the book is how Hier convinced Wiesenthal, the legendary pursuer of Nazi war criminals, to agree to have his name on the center. Hier recounts a long courtship, punctuated by a hairy car ride through the streets of Vienna.

At a meeting with the great man, Hier mustered all his chutzpah: “Mr. Wiesenthal,” he said, “I recently visited a museum in L.A .where people come from all over America to learn about dinosaurs. In fact, there are a half dozen such places in America. But where can people go to learn about the Nazis? Who will teach them that thirty-two years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is still going strong? If we don’t teach young people now, we will once again be caught unprepared, and history will repeat itself.”

The Wiesenthal name helped put Hier’s Holocaust center on the map, just as the YU association did the same for his yeshiva. As they both took off simultaneously, the two tracks of Hier’s life began to take shape: an international leader around Holocaust remembrance and fighting anti-Semitism, and a local leader in Orthodox Jewish education in Los Angeles, first with the yeshiva and then with its successor high school, Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA), which he led until 2005. 

These two sides symbolize the two Marvin Hiers: the global storyteller who wants to change the world, and the yeshiva boy who stays loyal to his Jewish roots.

The yeshiva boy dreams of keeping the flame of Torah alive with the Jews of his community; the global storyteller dreams of keeping the memory and lessons of the Holocaust alive with people everywhere.  

The yeshiva boy wears a yarmulke on his head; the global storyteller wears a smile on his face.  

The smile and the stories help Hier attract prominent people to his projects; the yamulke keeps him grounded in the story of his people and the primacy of Torah observance.

Hier is not just one of these. He’s both. He’s as comfortable telling stories in Yiddish to a group of yeshiva students as he is receiving an Academy Award for one of the documentaries produced by his film company, Moriah Films.

But if I had to venture a guess as to which side is more dominant, I would pick the yeshiva boy. It is the yeshiva boy who drives the global storyteller in a way that always comes back to help the Jewish people. It is the yeshiva boy that nourishes his faith that, in the end, everything will come out for the good. 

“As I look back over the trajectory of my life, from New York’s Lower East Side to Vancouver, Los Angeles and Jerusalem, from yeshiva bocher to rabbi, political activist, film producer and museum founder,” he writes near the end of the book, “I realize that I have always held firm to that deceptively simple idea. I have always believed that no matter how many people try to extinguish the flame of the Jewish people, they will never succeed, because the irrevocable covenant God made with Abraham will always produce unexpected helpers and new circumstances to rekindle it.

“I have always believed in miracles, whether the ancient types, staves that turn into snakes, seas that split, manna that falls from trees, or the greater miracles of our own time, the creation of Israel, the incredible victories of the Israeli army and the renaissance of yeshivas and Jewish day schools throughout the world.”

Hier’s obsession with Jewish education counters the critique that, for all of the universal imperatives of Holocaust remembrance, it’s not an enduring source for creating a Jewish identity. Showing how Jews died and how Jews are hated doesn’t teach Jews how to live. Hier understood that only Jewish education can do that.

Early in his rabbinic career, while teaching a class for teenagers, Hier quoted Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s interpretation of the biblical verse, “And he [Abraham] sat at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.”

What is the significance of the “heat of the day”? Soloveitchik explained that “Abraham purposely positioned himself at the entrance of his tent in the midday sun, despite the fact that it would have been more comfortable inside, because the Covenant of Abraham demands that every Jew stand guard, engage with the world, and contribute to it, despite the challenges even ‘in the heat of the day.’ ”

Maybe because of his undying faith, Hier never seems intimidated by the heat of the day. That might also explain why Hier refused to stay comfortable inside the Simon Wiesenthal Center, despite its successes. He writes:

“By the late 1980s, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Moriah Films had established international reputations. Our social action campaigns were effective and widely covered by the press, and our films were being screened in theaters and shown on television stations around the world. The Center had an active board, a national staff of thirty, and a membership approaching one hundred thousand.”

But Hier was restless. It wasn’t enough to teach the world about the Holocaust. To increase global impact, he needed to make the Holocaust more relevant, more universal. He decided to broaden the scope of the museum to promote the value of tolerance.

Hier and his team raised money for a new, larger facility that would link the events that took place between 1933 and 1945 to “post-Holocaust history, which was rife with examples of atrocities that resulted from racism and hatred. We wanted both to teach the story of the Holocaust and to apply its lessons to the present and the future in a Museum of Tolerance.”

The deliberations over whether and how to include the persecution of non-Jews in the new museum provide some of the more sensitive stories in the book. In the end, the deciding factor, brought up by none other than Wiesenthal himself, was that “Jews needed friends and allies to conquer hatred.”

On the heels of the success of the Museum of Tolerance, a phone call in 1993 from the legendary mayor of Jerusalem, the late Teddy Kollek, would change Hier’s life once again — this time with a mission to build a Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem.

Thus began another long journey, complicated by legal challenges over the site, as well as endless delays and major fundraising needs. The ability of Hier and his team to raise significant funds and stick to his mission through all the ups and downs is a testament not just to his tenacity but to his faith. The Jerusalem museum, now scheduled to open in 2017 (24 years after that first phone call from Kollek), is a good example of both. It is Hier’s faith in God that gives him the tenacity to keep going.

Hier mentions so many of the “unexpected helpers” who have supported his dreams through the years — donors, partners, employees who remain loyal for decades, prominent Hollywood and political figures, family members and so on — that you get a sense he wrote the memoir as much for them as for anyone.  

There’s nothing wrong with that. If this book becomes a long thank-you letter to all those who helped a yeshiva boy from the Lower East Side write his own great American story, then surely it was meant to be. 

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

Hier sees ‘all markings of a terrorist attack’ in San Bernardino shooting

The San Bernardino shooting rampage, in which 14 persons were killed and 21 wounded, “has all the markings of a terrorist attack,” according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a veteran analyst of global terrorism.

It makes no sense, Hier said, that a married couple would leave its six-month old baby behind and stock their home with an arsenal of weapons and ammunition over a work dispute, as some have suggested.

“At this point, humanity seems to be traveling on a two-lane highway, one lane leading to marvelous advances in medicine and technology, and the other lane back to our brutish beginnings, when our ancestors huddled in caves and killed anyone different,” he added.

What will happen to our proud cities if Londoners are afraid to visit Piccadilly and New Yorkers Times Square, Hier asked.

While not linking all Muslims to terrorism, and praising Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for his firm denunciation of terrorism, Hier pointed to a recent study by the Pew Research Center as cause for concern.

Citing the study of 35,000 Muslims in 39 countries, Hier said that 22 percent of respondents said that they believed in militant jihad.

“That would come to some 330 million believers in physical jihad, much more than ever supported Nazism and fascism during World War II,” Hier added.

Hier urged that leaders of all religious faiths and all members of the United Nations – including the Muslim countries – stand up and declare terrorism to be a crime against humanity.”

The Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, added a warning on the constantly growing use of the internet and social media to promote terrorism and provide instruction in launching deadly attacks.

Cooper, who started investigating terrorist incitement through the internet some 22 years ago, emphasized that social media must take pro-active steps to deal with this danger.

Just returned from a trip during which he spoke with senior European officials, Cooper reported that, following the Paris attack which claimed 130 victims, there was no longer a “scintilla of political correctness” among government leaders in Europe.

Michael Oren responds to ‘Ally’ backlash at local event

Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren’s dual loyalties — and his frustration with the growing separation between Israel and America — were evident in his remarks July 1 when he appeared at the Museum of Tolerance to discuss his recently released, controversial memoir.

“Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide” (Random House) is an autobiographical account following an American native who made aliyah and renounced his American citizenship in order to serve in the Israeli government.

“I always thought of myself as a person who can span the divides,” Oren, who is based in Tel Aviv, said during the 90-minute event, which was billed as “A Special Evening with Michael Oren” and drew a crowd of about 300 people.

The book is, as times, critical of President Barack Obama’s approach to Israel, alleging that he hurt the U.S.-Israel alliance by putting “daylight” between the countries and by implementing policy decisions that caught Israel by surprise. 

Watch the full event. Story continues after the video.

Museum of Tolerance Director Liebe Geft delivered an introduction, and Oren then spoke for approximately 20 minutes before participating in a lengthy back-and-forth with Journal President David Suissa, who joined the former ambassador onstage. Oren attributed the current divide between the two countries to the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama just see the world differently. 

“You have two men who have profoundly different worldviews,” said Oren, a historian who served as ambassador from 2009-2013 and now is a member of the centrist Kulanu Party in the Knesset. 

He called Obama “political correctness incarnate” and said that Netanyahu has no patience for that trait. But he also laid blame, in part, on American-Jewish writers who, he said, author op-eds criticizing Israel. 

“Open up any op-ed page — it’s a bunch of Jews yelling at each other,” he said in one of many remarks that garnered laughs from the audience. 

A theme in the book is dual loyalty, Oren said, explaining he is open about being loyal to both the U.S. and Israel. But, he added, somewhere along the line he made the conscious decision to prioritize his loyalty to Israel. (That said, he still loves his native land, particularly American football.) 

Oren has acknowledged the intentional timing of the book’s release coinciding with the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, of which he is a critic. 

At the Museum of Tolerance event, he discussed the backlash he has faced since the book’s June 23 publication as well as the reaction to op-ed essays he published in advance of the book. Some critics have been from the Jewish community itself, including Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman, who described a section of an Oren essay published in Foreign Policy Magazine that draws a connection between Obama’s attempts to create inroads with the Arab world and the president’s relationship with his “Muslim father” as “amateur psychoanalysis.”

“What’s sad to me is it has to do with the state of American-Jewish leadership,” Oren said regarding the backlash, referring to how American-Jewish leaders are far from united in their opinions about Israel. 

He also said he is unhappy with how personal the criticisms have become over the last couple of weeks. 

“The attacks on the book haven’t been about the book. They’ve been about me,” he said.

The crowd skewed older and was, judging by the frequent breakouts of applause, sympathetic to Oren’s message. But he also spoke of the importance of cultivating young Jewish leaders in their 20s and 30s who would dedicate themselves to nurturing positive relations between the U.S. and Israel. This, he said, is the key to improving frayed relations between the two countries. 

He treated the crowd to a discussion of, among other things, his experience writing a book from the first-person point of view, which was an intense and personal process. 

“Yes, it took me a year to write, but it really took me more than five decades to write,” he said. 

“I urge you to accept my earnestness in saying if I hadn’t written the book, I don’t know if could have lived with myself. … I wrote it for the love of my country and the love of my people,” he said, “and I hope that comes across in the book.”

Letter to UC Regents from the Simon Wiesenthal Center

In a letter today to UC Regents, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urging them to recognize anti-Semitism as a serious 21st century threat. 

The letter read, in part: 

“Too many Jewish families with a spouse, daughter, son, or grandchild at a major university in California or outside have heard from a loved one who has experienced or witnessed the bullying, intimidation, and even hate crimes spawned by classic Jew-hatred or by campaigns to demonize and erase the state of Israel. Campus life is supposed to provide an open and safe environment for learning and debate on controversial issues. It has often failed to provide such an environment for young people who proudly and outwardly display their pride in being Jewish and voice their love for Israel.  The Regents serve in a public capacity on a Board that under the law has the same rights as other government entities to express their opinions on moral issues such as the right of members of the university community to be free from intimidation or attempts to stifle their viewpoints. Without infringing on free speech rights under the First Amendment, the Regents can and should exercise their own right to accept a definition of anti-Semitism that meets the challenge of our times. Against this backdrop Gov. Janet Napolitano, president of the respected University of California system, has made an important decision that would help administrators, students, and other members of the community to better understand and oppose anti-Semitism: She has expressed her personal support for the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism (http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/fs/2010/122352.htm) which includes ‘using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis’ or ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.’  The Regents should respond to the current environment on campus by adopting a definition, which recognizes such odious speech and expression for what they are: anti-Semitism. By following President Napolitano and adopting the State Department definition, the Regents will provide UC administrators with moral guidance they sorely need in protecting the rights and identities of all students,” Hier concluded.