Activist Linda Sarsour in New York City on June 29. Photo by Joe Penney/Reuters

How the Dems can lose 2018


Last week, the Democrats released a new bumper sticker for their 2018 Congressional campaign: “I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

It’s not a bad political notion so far as it goes — opposition in politics is an effective tool, as Democrats learned from Republicans, who campaigned against Obamacare and Democratic spending policies to the tune of 1,000 state legislature seats, 12 governorships (including in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts), 10 Senate seats and 63 House seats. Now Democrats hope to reverse the math.

But there’s something else going on here, too. Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings. That’s because for all the talk by Democrats about Republican extremism, Republicans actually have moved closer to the center on policy, while Democrats have embraced an ugly combination of Bernie Sanders-style socialism and college campus-style intersectionality.

Leave aside the boorish antics of President Donald Trump and the incompetence of Congressional Republicans. Here is the fact: Trump is the most moderate Republican president since Richard Nixon. He has successfully passed almost no major policy in seven months. His foreign policy on North Korea and Syria is barely distinguishable from former President Barack Obama’s. His approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been praised by Palestinians and former Obama officials. He’s the most pro-LGBT Republican in presidential history; his stance on abortion has been vague; his White House chief strategist has openly embraced higher taxes on upper-income earners, as well as a massive infrastructure spending program; he has embraced the central premises of Obamacare. Trump may act in ridiculous ways that defy rationality — his Twitter feed is littered with stupidity and aggression, of course — but on policy, Trump is closer to Bill Clinton of 1997 than President Obama was.

Democrats, meanwhile, are moving hard to the left. When former Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times calling for Democrats to move back to the center, he was roundly excoriated by the leading thinkers in the Democratic Party. He was an emissary of the past; he had to embrace the new vision of the leftist future. That leftist future involved radical tax increases, fully nationalized health care, and — most of all — the divisive politics of intersectionality. Sens. Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may own the policy side of the Democratic coalition, but the heart of the Democratic coalition lies in polarization by race, sex and sexual orientation. Forget a cohesive national message that appeals to Americans regardless of tribal identity: The new Democratic Party cares only about uniting disparate identity factions under the banner of opposing Republicanism.

The clearest evidence for that alliance of convenience came earlier this month, when Democratic darling and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour was caught on tape promoting “jihad” against Trump. Sarsour said that the sort of “jihad” she liked was “a word of truth in front of a tyrant or leader.” But she deliberately used the word “jihad” because of its ambiguity, not in spite of it: Sarsour has stated that pro-Israel women cannot be feminists; she supports the imposition of “Shariah law” in Muslim countries; she has stated of dissident and female genital mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she wishes she could take her “vagina away”; she has long associated with the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood; she opened her “jihad” speech by thanking Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who has repeatedly advocated for a violent form of “jihad.”

Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings.

Democrats rushed to her defense nonetheless, hoping to preserve the intersectional concerns that animate their base. Never mind that Sarsour is no ally to LGBT rights, or that she blames “Zionists” for her problems. She represents an important constituency for Democrats, and so she must be protected. More than that, she speaks anti-Trumpese fluently, and thus is an important figure for Democrats.

This isn’t rare on the left anymore. Much of the Democratic establishment supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a longtime Nation of Islam acolyte who spent years defending that group’s most extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric — a man so radical that he openly associated with the Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which recently labeled Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) an “Israel Firster.”

Even as the Democratic Party embraced Sarsour and defended her ambiguous use of the word “jihad” — after all, she was opposing Trump the Impaler — leftist spokespeople rushed to microphones to denounce President Trump’s speech in Poland, in which he called for a defense of “the West” and “our civilization.” Leftist columnist Peter Beinart labeled the speech racist. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review points out, we now have a Democratic Party that spends its time defending the use of the word “jihad” against the president but labeling the phrase “the West” a problem.

Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it works out.

And so Democrats must focus on President Trump. They must hope that he smacks himself in the face with a frying pan. They must bank on some sort of Trump-Russia collusion revelation. They must pray that the focus stays on Republicans rather than turning back to Democrats. After all, Sanders-Sarsour doesn’t sound like a winning combination.


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

Via Souad Mekhennet/Facebook

A crash course in extremism


Of all the dangerous situations a single woman of marriageable age could enter into, interviewing Islamist extremists could easily top the list. 

But for reasons even she cannot explain, journalist Souad Mekhennet has been spared the grim fate of so many others, including many women and journalists who have not survived their encounters with Islamic jihad. 

In the early pages of her best-selling memoir, “I Was Told to Come Alone,” Mekhennet admits that her background makes her an “outlier” among those covering global jihad and claims it has given her “unique access to underground militant leaders.”

Though she was born and raised in Germany, she is a Muslim of Turkish-Moroccan descent who is well versed in the principles of Islam and speaks both Middle Eastern and North African Arabic. She also considers herself Western, liberal and feminist. As a child, she dreamed of becoming an actress.

It was the film “All the President’s Men” that led her to a career in journalism. Today, as national security correspondent for The Washington Post, Mekhennet’s manifold identity has played a role not only in her entrée to the dangerous, unpredictable and clandestine world of jihad but in her motivations for covering it. 

“Sometimes it’s really tiring,” she said when I met her during a recent book tour to Los Angeles. “Sometimes it hurts. Because I try to challenge; I try to somehow build bridges.”

Her work is reportage, but it’s also personal. Mekhennet tries to explain jihad to the West and the West to jihadists, often finding herself in the peculiar position of mediator. Not everyone wants to hear what she has to say: that violent extremists are people too; that they have stories to tell, beliefs that can and should be interrogated but which can be accessed only if we, Westerners, would listen.

For almost two decades, Mekhennet has searched for the answers to why and how individuals become radicalized. She began her work just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the widow of a 9/11 firefighter told a group of journalists she blamed them, in part, for why her husband was killed.

“She said, ‘Nobody told us there are people out there who are hating us so much,’” Mekhennet recalled. “And she looked at me, because I was the only person of Arab-Muslim descent there. And she was waiting for an answer, and I couldn’t give her one.”

Mekhennet’s investigation has taken her all over the world, from the insular terrorist cells of Europe to the front lines of wars in Iraq and Syria. Along the way, she has struggled to understand those who use Islam to justify violence and to explain their motivations to a stupefied West. She tries to reconcile a perversion of Islam with the one she inhabits, claiming religion doesn’t radicalize people, people radicalize religion.

Throughout her encounters, Mekhennet finds herself in talmudic-like disputes with extremists, challenging them over their interpretation of the Quran. She told one ISIS commander, “This is not the jihad, what you’re fighting. Jihad would have been if you’d stayed in Europe and made your career. It would have been a lot harder. You have taken the easy way out.”

Her methods may seem audacious, even dangerous for someone who often finds herself in isolated areas beyond the rule of law of any government. And how many Western journalists could argue like that with a terrorist and live to tell the tale? Only someone educated in Islamic teaching could even mount such an argument, and one of the lessons of Mekhennet’s book is that knowledge of one’s subject is essential to ferreting out truth.

The question is: To what end?

No explanation can justify brutality. Plenty of people have suffered injustice and not taken up weapons and killed innocents. If Mekhennet’s version of Islam is compatible with modernity, then why is it also compatible with a murderous caliphate?

“When it comes to violent acts or terrorism, it is unfortunately the reality that [some] people are using Islam or call themselves Muslims and commit acts of violence,” she said. “There is a problem that we have within our Muslim communities where we need to have an honest conversation about who is speaking on behalf of Islam, and what kinds of interpretations and ideologies are out there, and how can we deal with that [as a community]?”

Mekhennet’s book is a cri de cœur to the West to try to understand “the hearts and minds” of extremists to better defeat them. She believes current policies are misguided, and that simplistic generalizations portraying a clash of civilizations are playing into the hands of recruiters who exploit Western antipathy to Islam to indoctrinate young jihadists.

For many radicals, she says, “it’s too late; there is a point of no return.” But others, she believes, can be saved.

“This is not a clash of civilizations or religions,” she said. “This is a clash between people who want to build bridges and look at what we have in common and those who want to preach divides.”

She recounted the time she went to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage. Next to the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, is another place of honor where it is believed Abraham set foot. Having spent years studying religious divides, “this was a moment, where I said to myself, ‘Why are people not getting it? We’re connected.’”

Doctors and nurses at a hospital in Idlib hold up a Save the Syrian Children banner after receiving medical supplies from Tamar and Philip Koosed in March. Photos courtesy of Philip Koosed

Couple devises DIY method of getting critical medical supplies into Syria


It was midday in China, early morning in Syria and dusk in Los Angeles — time for Philip and Tamar Koosed to get to work.

Each night in their San Fernando Valley home, they say goodnight to their children, Asher, 3, and Itzhak, 1, then turn to a do-it-yourself operation that is saving lives daily halfway around the world in Syria.

With no staff and virtually no overhead, they have stitched together a network of doctors, suppliers and shippers to send medical aid to the war-torn provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

Working from a wish list provided by the doctors they work with, the Kooseds source the goods either from Chinese factories or in-kind donations from medical companies. In just more than a year, they have moved more than $20 million in medical supplies, working from their home office in Sherman Oaks.

The need is unrelenting. Now in its sixth year, the Syrian civil war has displaced some 12 million people and trapped hundreds of thousands more in war zones. Idlib and Aleppo have been the sites of intense bombing by the Syrian government, which uses munitions designed to maximize civilian casualties. Throughout the persistent conflict, humanitarian groups have faced a gamut of obstacles, from cities besieged and choked off by militants to a government that allegedly targets medical workers intentionally. 

“Our focus is extremely narrow,” Philip said. “How do we provide doctors with lifesaving medical supplies, medical equipment and save as many children as possible?”

The couple’s own children are a major motivation for their work.

“There’s not a time in which I see an image of a 3-year-old and I don’t see my own 3-year-old,” Philip said, sitting nex to Tamar in their living room, “or see a 1-year-old being pulled from the rubble and think, ‘That could be my own son.’ ”

“It’s so transparent that we’re just lucky,” Tamar added. “Like Asher and Itzhak were born to us — but they could have been born in Aleppo. It’s just pure luck.”

‘Two naïve Jews from the Valley’

Philip described their effort as “two naïve Jews from the Valley, trying to save the world in Syria.” The reality is more complex.

Philip, 34, grew up in the San Fernando Valley before co-founding what would become a multimillion-dollar supply-chain management firm while he was an undergraduate at USC. Tamar, 33, runs a consultancy that assesses the impact of social investments by nonprofits and businesses around the world. They didn’t know it at the start, but their skills and contacts were well-suited to saving lives.

From left: Philip and Tamar Koosed and their sons, Asher, 3, and Itzhak, 1.

By June 2016, the couple, who met at USC, had made donations to aid groups in increments of $50 or $100, sometimes more, but they remained largely aloof. “We actively chose to be numb,” Philip said. “I think you kind of have to do that to a certain extent to live.”

The onslaught of horrific images from Syria began to weigh on them. It became the subject of their bedtime conversations, night after night.

Philip and his business partner recently had sold their supply-chain management business for $30 million — though Philip still is the company’s president — and the couple was looking to make a onetime sizable donation and move on with their lives. But they were underwhelmed by their donation options.

“You see Doctors Without Borders, and you see the number of [medical] kits they’re able to send into those areas, it’s something like 800 kits they’re able to get in,” Tamar said. “You see that they’re having a really difficult time.”

With Philip’s manufacturing contacts and Tamar’s involvement with humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), they figured they could do better. They hatched a plan to reach out to doctors in Syria to assess their needs, then build a supply chain to meet them.

“Anybody else that would have come to me and said, ‘So, we’re starting to send medical supplies inside of Syria,’ I would have looked at them like they had three heads,” said Mike Brand, director of programs and advocacy for Jewish World Watch (JWW), an Encino-based anti-genocide organization.

Brand had worked with Tamar over the years and was impressed by Philip’s background. Unlike multinational humanitarian organizations, the couple had no red tape or bureaucratic delay to deal with.

“A lot of bigger NGOs don’t have the ability to find locals and just have them take care of stuff,” Brand said. “It’s just not how they operate.”

The couple got to work. By March, less than a year after they started, trucks rolled from Turkey into Syria bearing banners with the name of their fledgling organization, Save the Syrian Children, depositing medical supplies in hospitals across Idlib and Aleppo.

Call for support is answered

At first, most of the work for Tamar and Philip was vetting doctors and hospitals in Syria thoroughly to make sure they were who they said they were, and not the likes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the jihadist group known as the Al-Nusra Front. “There are a lot of bad actors in Syria,” Philip said.

Finding doctors on the internet or through Tamar’s contacts, they cross-referenced each of their identities with sources inside and outside Syria.

Once they had vetted the doctors and assessed their needs, the next step was to build a supply chain from China to Syria. That was the easy part — building supply chains literally is Philip’s job. “It’s what I do every day and what I have done for the last 17 years,” he said.

For the first six or seven months, they didn’t think about how they were going to pay for the supplies they were shipping. By December, the goods were being loaded onto a 40-foot shipping container in Shanghai.

“The goods were about to ship, and we were like, ‘OK, we’re $100,000 on the hook, we better start talking to people about this,’ ” Tamar said. 

They put out the word, with Philip’s sisters helping on social media. They didn’t know what kind of response they would get.

“To a person, everyone said, ‘How can we help?’ ” Philip said. “I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was surprising.”

His network at Stephen Wise Temple proved to be of particular help. Philip had attended the day school there — it’s where he first met the co-founder of his supply-chain business — and his parents were longtime members of the temple.

At a synagogue event a few months after the Kooseds’ plan began to take shape, Philip and his father ran into Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback. Philip told Zweiback what he was working on.

“I was just really blown away,” the rabbi said.

The Kooseds were looking for a fiscal sponsor, a nonprofit organization that could accept tax-deductible donations on the couple’s behalf and channel the money into buying more supplies. In rabbinic school, Zweiback had started an organization called Kavod, whose purpose is to funnel money from donors to qualified charities. It was exactly what Tamar and Philip needed, sparing them precious time in obtaining nonprofit status.

“If they had to wait six or 12 months to do this, that would mean four shipments they couldn’t make,” Zweiback said. “And that would mean children that can’t have access to basic medical supplies.”

Zweiback helped the Kooseds put an appeal in the temple newsletter. Soon, word of their activism spread beyond the synagogue.

This month, JWW finalized a grant to allow the couple to ship a container of medical goods to Syria on its behalf.

“Nobody has called Syria a genocide per se yet, but it certainly has moved in the direction of the most horrific violence,” said Susan Freudenheim, JWW’s executive director. “We don’t want to take sides in this; we just want to help save lives.”

Though Freudenheim declined to provide the dollar amount of the grant, she said it was enough to fill a 40-foot container with supplies, slated to be filled and shipped in July. She said JWW was attracted to the project because of its low overhead, the cut-rate cost of goods Philip is able to acquire and the couple’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“We’re talking about the equivalent of a garage band,” Freudenheim said. “These people are very, very devoted to what they’re doing.”

The couple also reached out to their professional networks.

Sue Chen, CEO of Carson-based Nova Medical Products, heard about the couple’s work through an email they sent out to members of the Santa Monica Bay chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization, a business networking group.

“I wrote them [back] at 2 o’clock in the morning because I just couldn’t wait,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep, and I was like, ‘I have to be involved.’ ”

Nova specializes in products that help people with physical challenges or disabilities maintain independence and mobility. In April, two containers donated by Nova left the port of Long Beach with canes, wheelchairs and crutches, along with thousands of items of clothing and canned food donated by the company’s employees. The shipment was expected to arrive this month.

“Thousands of people are dragging themselves around to get from point A to B to try to somehow go on with life, and I have products that are sitting here right now that could change their entire world,” Chen said. She told herself, “I’ve got to get this product over there as soon as possible.”

Working with ‘real heroes’

Tamar was born in a small city in Brazil, where much of her family still lives. She communicates with them through WhatsApp and Telegram — the same technology she uses to talk to doctors in Syria.

Each morning, after working well past midnight, the couple gets up with their kids at around 6:30 a.m.

“I wake up to messages from my family in Brazil and from doctors in Syria,” Tamar said.

Their long nights have begun to pay off for people in Syria. Their first shipment, distributed to 28 hospitals in Idlib and Aleppo, included 200,000 surgical masks, 800,000 pieces of gauze and 150,000 surgical blades.

Each step of the shipping and distribution, from crossing the Turkish border to ripping open boxes in hospitals, is documented carefully at the couple’s request. They also ask doctors to shoot video testimonials about the materials they receive.

“We hope that you continue to support us, as it is impossible for us to get medical supplies as we are trapped here in Idlib,” one doctor, who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons, said on video after receiving supplies from the first shipment.

After a gas attack in April that killed dozens of people, the Kooseds launched an emergency appeal and outfitted hospitals in the war zone with hazmat kits to keep doctors safe as they treated patients who might carry the residue of harmful chemicals.

Two Syrian children embrace in a memorial photograph. Photographs such as these sometimes circulate in Idlib and Aleppo after children die in gas or bomb attacks.

The requests have become more specific and complicated as doctors have grown to trust the couple, and vice versa. The Kooseds have shipped X-ray and electrocardiogram machines, costly medications and a cranial drill for neurosurgery.

Dr. Omar, a neurosurgeon in Idlib who asked that his surname not be used for security reasons, said in an email to the Journal, “The hospital I am working in now has received a lot of the lifesaving medical supplies. These supplies also have been delivered to about 30 hospitals in the area of Idlib province. Philip and I have been working on special orders for brain surgery and other special surgeries, as well.”

In total, the Kooseds have delivered five shipments, with another three en route and two more planned. They estimate their aid has amounted to more than $21 million worth of goods. But the couple still feels that their work is merely a footnote to the heroic daily efforts of the surgeons and other medical staff they work with in Syria.

“We’re trying to help real heroes on the ground and real victims,” Philip said. “That’s all we’re really doing and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel special. It’s something that anyone can do. The first step is just doing something.”

For more information on Save the Syrian Children, go to SavetheSyrianChildren.org

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in the Fardos neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters, on Dec. 13, 2016. Photo by Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Israel reportedly is secretly aiding Syrian rebels along Golan border


Israel has been secretly providing aid to Syrian rebels on the border in the Golan Heights for several years, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The aid includes cash, as well as food, fuel and medical supplies, the newspaperreported in an article that first appeared on its website Sunday night. The story cited interviews with about half a dozen Syrian fighters.

The Israeli army is in regular communication with rebel groups and its financial assistance helps pay the salaries of fighters and buy ammunition and weapons, according to the report. In addition, Israel has established a military unit that oversees the support in Syria.

Rebels and the military loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been fighting since 2011 in a civil war that at times has spilled over into Israeli territory with errant fire. The Israeli military has responded to the rocket and artillery fire that landed on Israel’s side of the Golan Heights.

Israel has acknowledged treating thousands of Syrians injured in the war, both on the border and in hospitals in the north of the country, as well as providing some humanitarian aid to civilians living near the border, including food and clothing.

Israel’s military neither confirmed nor denied The Wall Street Journal report, telling the newspaper that the Israel Defense Forces is “committed to securing the borders of Israel and preventing the establishment of terror cells and hostile forces … in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians living in the area.”

The fighters interviewed for the story told Journal reporters that the Quneitra-based group Fursan al-Joulan, which means Knights of the Golan, is the main rebel group coordinating with Israel, which first made contact with the Israeli military in 2013 when Israel cared for some of its fighters. Its spokesman told the Journal that “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” and “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”

Israel, which captured and annexed the Golan Heights in 1967, reportedly is concerned about a permanent Iranian and Hezbollah presence at its border under Assad, and that Iran would transport weapons to be used against Israel to Hezbollah military bases in southern Lebanon and the Syrian side of the Golan. Israel in recent years has bombed such arms shipments, leading to accusations that it was involving itself in the civil war.

The Highs and Lows of Paris


I have spent the past 12 days in Europe with my son. He went to Greece and Italy, then joined me in London and Paris. It was a wonderful holiday and watching the joy and wonder on his face as he discovered parts of the world he has always wanted to see, was everything. Thanks to Facetime, he was able to take me along on his adventure and it was spectacular.  I will treasure this time together always.

We took the Eurostar from London to Paris and spent 28 hours walking everywhere. We strolled endlessly and saw amazing things. We had lunch atop the Eiffel Tower, ate crepes under the Arc de Triomphe, drank wine on the Champs-Elysses, and said a prayer at Notre Dame. It was magical and that I shared it with my beloved boy was special. I am the mother of a remarkable human being.

I look at the pictures today and I smile because it was a great trip, but also because there is proof of the trip. When my son was young there were no selfies, just me and a camera. I have a ton pf pictures of my son growing up, but very few of us together. I was always taking the pictures, so the shots of us are limited. It is sad, but makes the pictures I’m able to take now even more important.

I look at the pictures from Paris and can remember what we were talking about as we strolled along. It was very special and I am happy that when my son visits Paris again with his wife, or takes his children, he will be able to tell them that he went there with his mother for the first time, and is happy to share it with them now. Perhaps that is silly, but it matters to me that we build a history together.

I cannot think about our time in Paris and not think of the unbearable sadness we also saw. No matter where we went, there were Syrian families on the streets. Mother and fathers with their young children, looking broken, but hopeful. They would smile and one could see the pain and humiliation in their eyes, while also seeing the hope and relief. It was tragic and demands serious attention.

Watching a woman breastfeed her baby on the street, surrounded by wealth, when it is clear she needs a shower and a meal herself, is heartbreaking. In what world does it make sense that living on the street with your children is safer than living in your home? We live in a time when we can see everything that is going on in the world, but when you see it in person, it touches your heart in a different way.

Paris is the most romantic city in the world. From every location, every direction, every time of day, there is no view that is not beautiful. It is a city that inspires love, and she has now inspired me to be more loving. Me and my son left Paris wanting to do more, wanting to help, wanting to not pretend that the problems of the world are not also our problems. We need to make changes, quickly.

I am inspired by my son’s view of the world and the work that needs to be done.  Paris was the highlight of my trip for a lot of reasons. I saw my son as man, not a boy. I looked into the eyes of a woman sitting in the street and heard her ask for help, even though she never spoke. I was inspired to not only appreciate the love I have, but want to spread it. Paris has demanded that I keep the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in the Fardos neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters, on Dec. 13, 2016. Photo by Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Syria’s alleged crematorium ‘invokes worst nightmares of Nazi atrocities,’ ADL chief says


The head of the Anti-Defamation League drew parallels between Syria’s alleged use of a crematorium to dispose of bodies to actions committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s national director, also called on the international community, including Russia, to take action to stop the violence perpetuated by the Syrian government under the leadership of President Bashar Assad.

“As Jews, we are particularly shocked by the extreme brutality of the Syrian regime, which invokes the worst nightmares of Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people,” Greenblatt said Tuesday in a statement. “The world learned from the twentieth century that it did not do enough to stop the crimes of the Nazis which led to the genocide of six million Jews.

“The nations of the world — including first and foremost Russia, which continues to aid and abet Assad’s brutality — must act to put an end to the inhumane actions of the Syrian government.”

On Monday, the United States said it believes the Syrian government built a crematorium to cover up the killing of as many as 50 detainees a day at a prison north of Damascus.

“Although the regime’s many atrocities are well-documented, we believe the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass atrocities taking place in Saydnaya prison,” said Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, according to CNN.

Jones added: “We are appalled by the atrocities taking place in Syria” with the “seemingly unconditional support of Russia.”

The U.S. Holocaust Museum in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon said it welcomed the release of the previously classified imagery pointing to the alleged crematorium.

Photographs of torture and death in by Syrian security forces in secret facilities have been on display at the museum since 2015; the photos were taken by a former regime photographer code-named Caesar. “These photographs constitute the most comprehensive evidence of the regime’s widespread and systematic targeting of Syrian civilians,” the museum said in its statement.

“The State Department’s revelation that the regime is now taking extraordinary efforts to cover up its crimes, through the suspected use of crematoria, demonstrate why it is all the more important to redouble efforts to bring the conflict to an end and investigate, document, and hold accountable those who direct and carry out these widespread atrocities,” according to the statement.

Lynne Silbert (left) and Ada Horwich with a Syrian child at a refugee center in Greece. Photo courtesy of IsraAID

How to help save Syrians


Why did we go?
As images of the Syrian refugee crisis played out on our TV and computer screens, we, like so many people, felt helpless and horrified. 

We wanted to help, and fortunately for us, we knew where to turn.

Both of us had met Yotam Polizer, co-chief executive of IsraAID, Israel’s largest humanitarian nongovernmental organization. Working with Muslims, Christians and Jews, IsraAID has provided lifesaving disaster relief and long-term support in nearly every humanitarian crisis of the 21st century — setting a good example for Israel in the process.

The group currently is working in 17 areas of the world, including South Sudan, Nepal, Haiti, Jordan, Kenya, the Philippines, Colombia, Peru and Greece, where Syrian refugees are landing to flee a civil war now in its sixth year.

IsraAID has been working in Greece since September of 2015.  By now, fighting between the Syrian government and opposition groups has resulted in the deaths of 470,000, by some estimates, and displacement of over 6 million more, according to the United Nations. Greece has become a primary way station, from where refugees hold out hope that they will reach Germany, a “promised land” of sorts that has absorbed the most Syrian immigrants — more than 600,000 — among all countries in Western Europe.

As mothers, grandmothers and psychotherapists, we fell in love with IsraAID’s mission to respond immediately to people facing natural or man-made disasters, even those from countries like Syria that have declared Israel its enemy.

Polizer invited us to see firsthand the magnitude of the crises and the work IsraAID has been doing in Greece.  And, because of our training, we were asked to be consultants to the staff for the eight days we visited. IsraAID has sent 120 Arab and Jewish-Israeli professionals to provide support for the refugees, focusing on long-term trauma counseling for about 750 refugees.

IsraAID works in seven refugee shelters and camps around Greece, providing psycho-social support through therapeutic groups for women, men, children and adolescents, as well as individual counseling and specialty needs for others, such as art therapy for women and children.

Most organizations either save lives or change lives. IsraAID does both. Polizer invited us to visit IsraAID’s project in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece, which has a long Jewish history. There, at the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea, we met members of his team: Sigalit, a Jewish Arabic-speaking psychotherapist; Anat, a Jewish Arabic-speaking art therapist; and Khaled, an Arab-Israeli occupational therapist.

We visited three sites where the refugee families are housed: An abandoned high-rise, a rundown hotel in the countryside and a converted factory with no private kitchen or toilet facilities. Each site is supported by NGOs from Greece, Italy, Great Britain and elsewhere, offering various services, such as facility management, facility construction, education and recreation.

All the refugees in Thessaloniki had arrived by boat after observing drownings and illnesses on their journey from Syria. After first living in tents, suffering a terribly cold winter, they were moved to more “permanent” shelters, like the ones we worked in. Most of the families were not intact, separations caused by deaths and relocation: three or four children with no father, fathers with no children, children with no mother.

What did we do?

On days that we were with children, we observed their need for attention and affection and an eagerness to learn English, play, do art projects, dance and throw around balls. We spent hours facilitating play and communication skills as children described their treacherous sea journey by holding their tummies and pretending to shiver.

We sat in women’s groups led by Anat and Sigalit. As they slowly built up trust, the women became open to new challenges facing them: How to parent in new lands with new cultures, how to encourage education for their children, and how to speak up for their needs and express their feelings. Some of the mothers even forgot how to play with their children. The leaders helped them to remember.

We watched Khaled, age 26, who did not appear old enough to be a father but was old enough to reach the adolescent boys, helping them to express their feelings and cope with undue stress and aggression. Without speaking the language, we recognized in the boys hope, excitement and connections. For instance, Amid, 12, began the session sitting apart from the other boys but with Khaled’s skills and encouragement, moved next to another boy and even left the session speaking with some of the other kids.

Often, we were invited in for a cup of tea with the families in their meager surroundings. Despite their circumstances, their culture of hospitality remained.

We met Fatima from Aleppo, a mother of four. Her youngest child is only a year old and has never met her father. He was able to relocate to Germany and hoped that would hasten the family’s permission to move there. So far, there is no indication that the move will happen. While Fatima attended a women’s group, we sat with her children and played games.

Each refugee family is given an allowance for food and necessities, and Fatima’s small apartment was immaculate despite her limited resources. Due to traumatic experiences walking from Syria to Turkey and crossing the water in a dangerous lifeboat, she insisted her children stay inside. We had hoped to take them outside to meet others, but she was too frightened.

Susi, 7, was living in the rundown hotel with a depressed aunt and her father, whose culture did not teach him parenting skills. Her mother relocated to Germany, hoping to speed the family’s reunification. Susi was in perpetual motion due to her high level of stress, depression and separation anxiety caused by being away from her mother. She hugged us as we entered the grounds, pulling us away from others in a desperate attempt to find comfort and affection. When we had to leave, Susi ran after us and jumped into the car. Our hearts were broken, not knowing what to do. We drove away but the sad memory has stayed with us.

Mohammed, 16, was living in the concrete factory. We first saw him body-building in a parking lot. Although he looked quite healthy as the leader of a group of adolescent boys, led by Khaled, we learned later that he has had two heart surgeries since arriving by lifeboat.

As we observed him in the group, we realized Mohammed’s anger and aggression were transformed into leadership and role-modeling. It was hard to imagine that he recuperated in this rundown facility without private bathrooms and quiet surroundings. We couldn’t help but wonder what his future will be. We pray for his future.

Realizing the need for important supplies, we went shopping and bought personal items for the women, formula and diapers for the babies, and soccer balls and art supplies for the children. We also bought colorful wooden chairs to add to the community’s limited supply. IsraAID distributed the items for us.

As these families wait for relocation, which may take one or two more years, if ever, we felt grateful for the work of IsraAID in making the delay less difficult.

There are many reasons to despair while watching the darkness descending on Syria. But don’t ignore the light.

People watch the Israeli Air Force planes fly in formation over the Mediterranean Sea on May 2. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Experts downplay expectations for Trump’s Abbas meeting | Ivanka’s West Wing agenda | Wilbur Ross calls Syria strikes ‘entertainment’


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HAPPENING TODAY — In public debut, F-35 jets streak over Israel for Independence Day: “Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets soared above cities throughout Israel on Tuesday for the country’s annual Independence Day flyover, marking the first time the public got a look at the Air Force’s state-of-the-art plane. Israel is the first country outside the United States to receive the state-of-the-art F-35, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin. In total, the country is planning to purchase 50 of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft, known in Israel as the “Adir,” or “mighty one,” and has thus far received five of them.” [ToI]

“UNESCO disavows Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in 22-10 vote” by Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Tuesday’s “absurd” 22-10 UNESCO vote disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem still represents a positive diplomatic change: more states abstained or supported Israel than voted against… According to Israeli officials, Germany was a driving force behind a deal that would see all EU states abstain in exchange for the removal of the most incendiary anti-Israel passages. But on Monday, Italy announced that it would vote against the resolution, apparently ending the effort to forge a European consensus.” [JPost; ToI]

“Why Israel Got Into a Dust-Up With Germany” by Daniel Gordis: “Most Israelis are keenly aware that without the IDF, they would not survive. Of all weeks of the year, this was certainly not the moment for a German to come to Israel to meet with an organization that most Israelis believe wants to make Jews vulnerable once again.” [Bloomberg]

“Every Senator Agrees the U.N. Must Change” by Senators Chris Coons and Marco Rubio: “As both the U.N.’s principal founding member and its largest financial contributor, the U.S. must insist on real reforms. We in Congress have a responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight of U.S. engagement at the U.N. and its use of our citizens’ tax dollars… Still, the U.N. continues to fund and maintain many standing committees that serve no purpose other than to attack Israel and inspire the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. These committees must be eliminated or reformed.” [WSJ

TAYLOR FORCE ACT — “Senators Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton write to Trump that the PA is no partner for peace with Israel as long as it’s ‘spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year funding and incentivizing terror'” [Haaretz; FreeBeacon]

DRIVING THE WEEK — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered no clarity at yesterday’s press briefing about Trump’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ahead of the Trump-Abbas meeting on Wednesday. “The President’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” he asserted. “That’s obviously the goal and the discussion that he’s going to have with the head of the Palestinian Authority. But that’s going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build with the ultimate goal that there’s peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Asked about newly announced Israeli settlement building in E. Jerusalem,Spicer said, “I’m sure that we’ll continue to have conversations with the Prime Minister and — I’m not going to — that will be something that President will continue to discuss.” [CSPANA possible announcement about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “is still being discussed by staff,” added Spicer.

YESTERDAY IN DC — Washington Institute (WINEP) panel calls for lowering expectations from Trump-Abbas meeting — by Aaron Magid: “In spite of the sudden spate of optimism that the Trump administration can do it, I would argue no major breakthrough is available now. No lack of effort or shortage of time prevented the deal so far during the many years since Oslo,” explained Channel 2 Arab Affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari. “[Abbas] is not the man who is going to sign the deal giving up on the return of many, many refugees. Embarking upon a final status effort is going to once again backfire. It is simply not there now. Therefore, the big question is whether the Trump administration will come to the table with a fallback, which can only be some version of a comprehensive interim (deal).”

Trump’s approach to the meeting with Abbas “needs to be in the first instance to demonstrate the difference from Obama,” argued Ambassador Dennis Ross. “The one thing that can’t be the result of this meeting is that Abbas leaves and feels it’s ok to say no to Trump. He needs to understand that when you say no to Trump, you pay a price.”

At the same time, WINEP Fellow Ghaith Omari advocated that the Trump administration adopt a nuanced approach when setting the goals for the meeting. “If President Trump asks for too much and too quickly, Abbas might shut down and he might retreat to preserve his domestic standing and nothing will come out of the meeting,” Omari said. “On the other hand, if the President asks for too little and is willing to engage on a diplomatic process with no preparation, we might end up with a very familiar story with a peace process where neither or one of the sides is willing or able to reach a deal, and we are just being strung along.” [JewishInsider]

“Can Trump Make Mideast Peace Without Gaza?” by Grant Rumley: “Any feasible peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians will require serious concessions from both sides. And no Palestinian leader sitting in the West Bank can compromise on the most sensitive issues in Palestinian politics – the status of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, etc. – while a rival party controls half the territory of a future Palestinian state… Rather than ignoring Hamas, the U.S. can support a political process that not only diminishes the terror group’s standing but also gives the more pragmatic (albeit flawed) Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority a chance at re-establishing a legitimate claim to Gaza in future negotiations.” [Politico] • In Palestinian Power Struggle, Hamas Moderates Talk on Israel [NYTimes]

“What Trump’s meeting with Abbas means for the Middle East” by Aaron David Miller: “The bottom line on the Abbas meeting — like the Netanyahu visit in February — is that for now the emperor (in this case the peace process) has no clothes. It’s not yet ready for prime time. So whatever Trump’s strategy, and it’s not at all clear he has yet developed one, this meeting with Abbas and the Palestinians will be the first of many if the President is serious about involving his administration in a peacemaking effort.” [CNN]

SPOTLIGHT: “Trump’s Israel-Palestine Negotiator Isn’t Qualified — And that might be exactly why he pulls off a peace deal” by Armin Rosen: “[Jason] Greenblatt is only in the world of Middle East diplomacy because his longtime boss was elected president, but in the context of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, the appearance of favoritism might actually help him… It’s harder to stall an envoy, or to go behind the envoy’s back and appeal to other, friendlier administration officials or congressional allies, when the sides believe that the mediator is a direct extension of the president… Greenblatt is about as personally close to the president as someone in his position could be. And Trump has been remarkably and even uncharacteristically consistent on Israeli-Palestinian peace… Closeness with an engaged president is a powerful tool for an envoy — as long as there’s a policy vision and a sustained commitment from the Oval Office underlying his work.” [FP

“Rodrigo Duterte Says He May Be Too Busy for White House Visit” by Felipe Villamor: “President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said on Monday that he might not accept President Trump’s invitation to visit the White House, because he was “tied up” with a busy schedule… “I’m supposed to go to Russia, I’m also supposed to go to Israel.”[NYTimes

“Trump’s warm words for strongmen set off alarms” by Annie Karni: “We’ve always had relationships with governments that are problematic, but we hold them accountable on it and we don’t lavish them with praise this way,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry… “It completely undercuts our soft power our influence and our credibility as the leader of the free world… The fear of complicating relationships with the United States acts as a restraint — when Trump lavishes this praise, he implies there is no restraint.” [Politico]

“Ivanka Trump’s West Wing Agenda” by Jodi Kantor, Rachel Abrams and Maggie Haberman: “Ms. Trump is her father’s all-around West Wing confidante… The two trade thoughts from morning until late at night, according to aides. Even though she has no government or policy experience, she plans to review some executive orders before they are signed, according to White House officials. She calls cabinet officials on issues she is interested in, recently asking the United Nations ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, about getting humanitarian aid into Syria. She set up a weekly meeting with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary… Sometimes she seeks out Mr. Trump, telling other staff members, “I need 10 minutes alone with my father.” “A lot of their real interactions happen when it’s just the two of them,” Jared Kushner, Ms. Trump’s husband and fellow aide, said in a telephone interview.” [NYTimes]

“Trump Adviser Jared Kushner Didn’t Disclose Startup Stake” by Jean Eaglesham, Juliet Chung and Lisa Schwartz: “Mr. Kushner’s stake in Cadre — a tech startup that pairs investors with big real-estate projects – means the senior White House official is currently a business partner of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and billionaires including George Soros and Peter Thiel, according to people close to the company. The Cadre stake is one of many interests — and ties to large financial institutions — that Mr. Kushner didn’t identify on his disclosure form, according to a Wall Street Journal review of securities and other filings.” [WSJ]

ON THE HILL — “Senate panel puts Russia sanctions bill on hold” by Karoun Demirjian: “The committee’s ranking Democrat, Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), had hoped that the Russia sanctions bill would advance to a vote alongside compromise legislation to impose stricter sanctions against Iran over a spate of recent ballistic missile tests and the activities of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps… That Iran sanctions bill — compromise legislation that Corker and Cardin unveiled in March after more than eight months of wrangling — could be voted on by the full Senate later this month, Corker said… The Senate does not go on an extended break again until the week of Memorial Day, and Corker said Monday that the Iran sanctions bill “could move at the end of this work period.”” [WashPost

LongRead — FRENCH ELECTIONS: “The Future of Europe Hinges on a Face-Off in France” by Lauren Collins: “I wandered away and started talking to a woman wearing a quilted leather jacket and lots of mascara. “I adore Marine!” she said, identifying herself as Michèle… She had high hopes for the election, particularly after what had happened in America. “Bravo, bravo for Trump!” she said. She was unimpressed by Macron, whom she called “a little opportunistic asshole.” She asked if I knew that he was “a Rothschild banker” (Macron worked for the firm from 2008 to 2012, earning around a million dollars a year), invoking a slur—I heard it repeated over and over, and not just by F.N. supporters—that seemed laser-targeted toward some primal place in the French imagination, where a fondness for conspiracy theory intersected with a suspicion of high finance. “Rothschild banker” suggested, without having to say it, that Jewish influence was at work, making it all the more irresistible for the Front National.” [NewYorker

** Good Tuesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Interview with Mitchell Davidson, Managing Partner of Post Capital Partners [LinkedIn] • David Geffen Sells Malibu Home for Record $85 Million[THR] • Media mogul Barry Diller’s IAC to buy Angie’s list [Reuters] • Chinese tycoon who sought stake in Kushner property faces scrutiny [BostonGlobe]

HEARD AT THE MILKEN GLOBAL CONFERENCE — White House advisor Reed Cordish discussed the administration’s plans for workforce development: “We’re going to retrain America to take on the new jobs we need.” Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was also on the panel, appeared to endorse the idea. [Pic]

Via the Jewish Journal’s Ryan Torok who is covering Milken this week: At the conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke of the effectiveness of policy implementing sanctions against terrorist organizations or countries sponsoring terrorism, including Iran. “These sanctions really do work [on countries such as Syria],” he said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network. “When you cut off the money to terrorist organizations, you have a big impact and I think you saw this in the case of Iran. The only reason Iran came to the table to negotiate was because of economic sanctions on them,” he said, “and that’s what created the incentive.””

“Wilbur Ross Says Syria Missile Strike Was ‘After-Dinner Entertainment’ at Mar-a-Lago” by Gene Maddaus: “Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.” As the crowd laughed, Ross added: “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.” [Variety]

“Unusual Honor for U.S. Jews on Israeli Independence Day Fires Up Local Twittersphere” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “The fact that the speeches of the torch-lighters, billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Marvin Hier, were in English instead of Hebrew particularly grated on some ears. “Truthfully, it would feel much more natural to me to hear Arabic spoken at the torch-lighting than English,” diplomat Shani Cooper, Israel’s deputy head of mission in Ankara, Turkey, tweeted. Channel 2’s political reporter and commentator Amit Segal went a step further, tweeting that: “The torch should only be lit by those who speak Hebrew and live in Israel. Elementary.” … Several on Twitter joked that the gesture to wealthy American Jews was necessary in order for [Minister Miri] Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to raise sufficient funds for the country’s planned 70th anniversary festivities next year.” [Haaretz] • How a US billionaire’s Jewish spark became an Independence Day torch [ToI]

SPORTS BLINK — Aly Raisman teams up with T-shirt company to remind us Life is Good: “The executives at Life is Good are hoping that Aly Raisman’s gold-medal glory can rub off on the Boston apparel company. The gymnast has signed a two-year partnership with Life is Good, and she played a key role in creating a line of T-shirts being launched this spring. The new Ally Tee Collection is geared to girls and women and features three designs that emphasize kindness, authenticity, and courage.” [BostonGlobe]

DESSERT: “Israeli-born chef strikes gold with top U.S. prize” by Richard Leong: “Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov, praised for his modern Israeli cuisine, struck gold by winning the top U.S. chef prize from the James Beard Foundation on Monday… Solomonov… turned his focus on Israeli and Jewish cooking after his younger brother David who served in the Israeli army was killed on Yom Kippur in 2003.” [Reuters]

BIRTHDAYS: Former Lord Chief Justice and President of the Courts of England and Wales, Baron Harry Kenneth Woolf turns 84… Professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, journalist, international negotiator and private consultant, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir turns 80… Author, publisher, president of four radio stations in the Pacific Northwest, conservative political activist, gun rights advocate, Alan Merril Gottlieb turns 70… Former member of the Texas Senate (1993-2013), she was born in NYC to Holocaust survivor parents, Florence Shapiroturns 69… Former US AID contractor, imprisoned by Cuba from 2009 to 2014, Alan Gross turns 68… Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, previously Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (2014-2016) and Managing Editor of Time Magazine (2006-2013), Richard Allen “Rick” Stengel turns 62… Member of the New York State Assembly, previously a member of the NYC Council and former Deputy Superintendent of the NYS Banking Commission, David Weprin turns 61… Billionaire businesswoman, entrepreneur, civic leader, she served as US Secretary of Commerce (2013-2017), now chairman of the private investment firm she founded PSP Capital Partners, Penny Sue Pritzker turns 58… DC-based CBS News correspondent, once a K-12 student at CESJDS in Rockville, Julianna Goldman turns 36… Campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, previously the executive director of the Young Democrats of America during the 2012 election ctycle, Emily Tisch Sussmanturns 35… Communications Specialist at the NYC office of HIAS, previously a Senior Strategist at West End Strategy Team, Gabe Cahn turns 27… Founder & CEO of the Helena Group, Henry Elkus turns 22… Director of communications at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, previously senior director of media relations at the National Retail Federation, Stephen Schatz… Rosalyn Spiegel… Susanna Fried… Israel’s best tour guide Michael Bauer

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

From left: Netanel Kahana, Anat Morag, Ofir Michaeli, Alex Kleiner, Mimi Kaplan, Chris Tucker, Noam Sonnenberg, Yael Nor, Omri Sagir and Shira Glasner come together at the Milken Institute Global conference. Tucker, known for the "Rush Hour" film franchise, appeared with the young adults, who are participants of a Milken Innovation Center delegation that traveled to the conference from Israel. Photo by Ryan Torok, with help from Mimi Kaplan

Celebrity converges with Israel fellows at Milken Institute Global Conference


 

George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States an founder of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, appeared in conversation with Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States an founder of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, appeared in conversation with Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

Former President George W. Bush participated in a conversation with Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, at approximately 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

At the beginning of the discussion, the two discussed one of the more positive element’s of the 43rd president’s legacy, increasing foreign aid to the African continent.

“I believe all life is precious, and I believe we’re all God’s children,” Bush said, explaining his commitment to Africa.

Bush hopes to prevent the current administration from cutting foreign aid to Africa.

“My mission today is to … urge Congress not to stop the funding on a program that’s effective,” Bush said, appearing in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.

Actor Chris Tucker, in attendance at the Milken Institute Global Conference, expressed interest in visiting Israel.

“I haven’t been to Israel, but I want to go…So, I’m a Christian, I want to go visit the Holy Land…I was raised in church, my mama raised me in church. [I value] my spiritual side. It’s so important to stay balanced,” he said in an interview with the Journal.

Tucker goes to church “every Sunday,” unless he is on the road for work, he said. He attends a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) congregation. In the photograph above, he appears with fellows from Israel from the Milken Innovation Center.

Israel Prime Minister's Office Director General Eli Groner. Photo by Ryan Torok

Israel Prime Minister’s Office Director General Eli Groner. Photo by Ryan Torok

“I have no doubt California can stand up to its [water shortage] challenges,” Eli Groner,Israel Prime Minister’s Office Director General, said, appearing on a May 3 Milken Institute Global Conference panel titled “Start-up Nations: Creating Laboratories for Developing Economies.” “It has been done, can be done, but it takes real focus.”

Joining Groner on the panel were Jeremy Bentley, Citi Israel head of financial institutions and public sector; Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board; Richard Blum, chairman of Blum Capital, a member of the board of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former chair of the UC Board of Regents; Angela Homsi, director of the Angaza-Africa Impact Innovation Fund; and Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Glenn Yago, senior fellow at the Milken Institute and senior director at its Israel Center, moderated the discussion.

Seated in the audience, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said he wished supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement had been there, so they could hear representatives of Africa discuss the work they are doing partnering with Israeli businesses.

“This is reality, and BDS is ideology,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said. “It’s a shame.”

"Start-up Nations: Creating Laboratories for Developing Economies." Photo by Ryan Torok

“Start-up Nations: Creating Laboratories for Developing Economies.” Photo by Ryan Torok

On Wednesday, Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, conducted a conversation with former President George W. Bush. The two discussed immigration, the Middle East, W. Bush’s passion for painting and more.

“That’s what this whole conference is about in some way – markets,” Adam Silver, NBA commissioner, said in a May 2 panel titled “Commissioners of Sport: Agile Leadership in a Competitive World.”

In the lobby of the Hilton at 3:45 p.m. Herbert Simon (second from left), owner of the Indiana Pacers, mix and mingled with pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz (far right). Photo by Ryan Torok

In the lobby of the Hilton at 3:45 p.m. Herbert Simon (second from left), owner of the Indiana Pacers, mixed and mingled with pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz (far right). They were on their way to a panel titled “Commissioners of Sport: Agile Leadership in a Competitive World.” Photo by Ryan Torok

 

On May 1, during the Milken Institute Global Conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke of the effectiveness of policy implementing sanctions against terrorist organizations or countries sponsoring terrorism, including Iran.

“These sanctions really do work [on countries such as Syria],” he said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network, appearing the first day of the three-day conference. “When you cut off the money to terrorist organizations, you have a big impact and I think you saw this in the case of Iran.

“The only reason Iran came to the table to negotiate was because of economic sanctions on them,” he said, “and that’s what created the incentive.”

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Courtesy of the Milken Institute

 

In an interview with David Rubinstein, a billionaire financier and philanthropist who has been a supporter of Jewish life at Duke University, Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., U.S. secretary of commerce, said he is hopeful President Donald Trump will have a positive impact on the American business community.

“Every business executive I see, even ones who have specific complaints…every one of them is very encouraged by the new president,” Ross said on Monday afternoon during a Global Conference lunchtime session.

Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

 

This year’s conference, held April 30-May 3, drew more than 4,000 attendees from 48 states and more than 50 countries. 75-percent of the speakers were new speakers, according to the Global Conference, which was held at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hilton, site of the Milken Institute Global Conference. Photo by Ryan Torok

Beverly Hilton, site of the Milken Institute Global Conference. Photo by Ryan Torok

 

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, has advised the president on business matters, such as the China currency manipulation issue. On Monday, Dimon appeared in an interview with Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

“I was not a Trump supporter, but he asked me to serve in this [the president’s business strategic advisory council]. I was criticized by a lot of people, including one of my daughters…[But] I’m a patriot. I am going to try the best I can to help my country,” Dimon said.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. Photo courtesy of Milken Institute

 

A dinner session on Monday featured Jon Favreau, J.J. Abrams and Apple executive Eddy Cue.

Favreau, director of “Jungle Book,” a live action reimagining of the classic animated film, said he heeds to the philosophy of making the old new again.

“[Telling] the old stories and giving it a new look, using new technologies and new settings,” is rewarding, Favreau said, appearing in a conversation titled “Multi-Hyphenates.”

“I think ‘multi-hyphenate,’ is a term for a lucky person with ADD,” Abrams, director of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” said.

Abrams spoke of moviegoing as a “communal experience,” while addressing the phenomenon of people opting to watch new releases at home.

“We are desperately working to give people something worthy of their time,” Abrams said.

Favreau, on making the film, “Chef,” said he appreciated the opportunity of becoming acquainted with real chefs.

“As a filmmaker, you have access. When you say you are directing a movie, something about the magic of the movie business, it opens up doors and you can sit and talk to the top people in each of these fields – futurists, chefs, soldiers, police officers, generals. They will talk to you and give you their perspective. It’s incredibly fulfilling. For me to get into that [when working on ‘Chef’], just chopping shallots and that mindfulness brought to the work, it was very meditating,” he said. “It was very fulfilling.”

Both Abrams and Favreau are Jewish.

From left: Jon Favreau, Eddy Cue and J.J. Abrams

From left: Jon Favreau, Eddy Cue and J.J. Abrams

 

Check back for updates.

 

 

Celebrating Israel’s global humanitarian impact on its 69th birthday


When a car bomb went off in the town where he had evacuated to, shrapnel ripped through Fadi’s leg, making it nearly impossible to walk on his own. A father of four, Fadi has lost 25 family members, his village, and his way of life in Syria’s brutal civil war. Yet, he says he may be able to run again, thanks to the world-class medical treatment he is receiving from Israeli doctors.

As Israel prepares to celebrate its 69th birthday, the Jewish state stands out on the international stage for its thriving democracy, diverse and dynamic society, and innovative humanitarian work, which makes a global impact well beyond the country’s tiny size.

In Syria — a country officially at war with the Jewish state since its independence — Israel has responded to its neighbor’s six years of devastating conflict with an outstretched hand and an open heart. More than 2,600 Syrians have received medical care in Israel since 2013.

Within a month of the outbreak of hostilities in Syria in 2011, the Israeli organization IL4Syrians began sending fresh water, food, medical supplies and post-trauma care specialists, who covertly crossed the Syrian border to provide care. In addition, the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID has been providing medical and psychological support since 2011 to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq, Greece, Turkey and Germany. The Israeli government is now constructing a plan to absorb Syrian children who have no home, including victims from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s horrific gas attack April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun.

As Israel prepares to celebrate its 69th birthday, the Jewish state stands out on the international stage for its thriving democracy, diverse and dynamic society, and innovative humanitarian work.

Israel’s humanitarian intervention in Syria illuminates the dream its founders long envisioned: that a modern Jewish state could not only serve as a homeland and haven for the Jewish people, but also as Or LaGoyim — a light unto nations.

At Israel’s founding, the future of this vision was far from certain. Surrounded by hostile neighbors — with swamps in the north, deserts in the south, very little water and no natural resources — the new country had to fight for its survival.  

Against all odds and in the face of constant threats, Israel has not only survived, but thrived. In 68 years, we have transformed from a developing country into a high-tech powerhouse, earning the nickname “Startup Nation.” Israel has turned arid desert into blooming farmland, built tiny towns into thriving cities and gathered a scattered people into a modern nation. With a population of just 8 million, it has produced 11 Nobel Prize winners and has 83 companies listed on the NASDAQ — more than any country except the U.S. and China.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Israel as the eighth-most powerful country in terms of international influence and leadership, and Bloomberg ranks Israel as in the 10th-most innovative economy in the world. For the past four years, Israel consistently has ranked as the world’s 11th happiest nation.

Israeli innovation is lifting up people in all corners of the world — whether on the plains of Africa, where Israeli-designed sustainable bio-sand filters give residents long-term access to safe drinking water, or in the tropical forests of South Asia, where advanced agricultural techniques are helping farmers to move from poverty to prosperity.

While Israel’s journey has been nothing short of remarkable, as our nation begins its 69th year, we still must fight for our freedom and legitimacy — not only against threats of terrorism and the specter of enemies such as Iran — but also against a coordinated campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.  

Israel’s enemies have turned college campuses into anti-Israel bastions of hate, and international forums like the United Nations into theaters of the absurd, where demonizing the Jewish state takes precedence over everything else, including pressing issues like the conflict in Syria. Each year, the U.N. Human Rights Council spends more time investigating and criticizing Israel — the only free and democratic country in the Middle East — than the rest of the world combined, as brutal dictatorships like Iran and North Korea get a free pass.

After 2,000 years of being a people without a state, and without a voice, we have once again become a sovereign nation that can speak up for itself, and that cannot only defend itself, but also help others and shine as an example for humanity. Although we may not always get credit for it in the international arena, Israel will never cease to pursue our values, striving to be a light unto the nations. On this anniversary of Israel’s independence — and the many more to come — we celebrate not only the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, but the way that the modern Jewish state continues to make a difference in the world — one innovation, one invention and one refugee at a time.


Sam Grundwerg is the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Why is Trump strict with Assad but not with Erdogan?


As we watch a new American administration crafting its foreign policy, we are reminded that the world is a complicated place and that defining one’s policy towards it can be a complicated exercise. Look at what the Trump administration has done in three arenas in the last two weeks:

It bombed Syria, signaling that the US is going to intervene in certain places, even if there is no obvious immediate American interest at stake.

It pushed the envelope in North Korea, showing that the US is willing to be bolder in dealing with one of its most persistent and dangerous enemies (but how bolder, and in what way, is not yet clear).

It congratulated Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his narrow and controversial victory in a referendum that gives him unparalleled powers to rule his country.

What do we learn about Trump from these three events?

First of all, we learn – or should be reminded – that everything in this world is interconnected. Turkey is needed if Syria is to be tamed. North Korea is a Syrian ally and provided it with the material to attempt to build a nuclear bomb. The Trump administration is making its first steps on the world stage and seems growingly aware of this fact. There are ideological inconsistencies that emerge as moves are made in such a world, but they are both inevitable and necessary.

Take, for example, the issue of intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. In Syria, Trump intervened. In Turkey, where the results of a referendum threaten to further erode the democratic character of the country, he chooses to be silent. The Europeans responded to the vote in Turkey with disappointment and even outrage – but the US President made a congratulatory phone call to Erdogan.

The Russians are more consistent than Trump in such cases. As a rule, they oppose intervention in the internal affairs of other countries (of course, they intervene when it suits them). The Europeans are also more consistent: they want to educate everyone (but are unwilling to do much about it except talking). The question is for Trump: why be strict with Syria’s Assad and not with Turkey’s Erdogan?

One possible answer is that Trump acts impulsively and without strategic reasons. He was moved by what he “saw on TV,” as Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker. But Coll himself counts more possible reasons. “One limited rationale might be that Syria’s conflict has eroded global treaties banning the use of chemical arms.” Put another way: Erdogan’s affair is truly “internal” – it concerns Turkey alone. And Trump does not feel any need to lecture Erdogan on the value of democracy.

The US wants Turkey’s cooperation on certain matters and is not interested in the country’s domestic situation as long as it has this cooperation. Assad’s behavior is different. True, what Assad does is part of an internal battle for superiority within Syria. But the use of chemical weapons has impact on foreign affairs. It breaks a taboo that is necessary for other countries and actors to think twice before they use such weapons (hence, the miserable comment by Sean Spicer on Hitler). Of course, the outrageous behavior of North Korea is even less “domestic” in nature. Thus, the Trump administration is not inconsistent in its decision to tackle it.

But there are also other ways of looking at these three actions. For example, we might consider the feasibility of action – and Trump’s pragmatic calculation – for each of them. Why bomb Syria? Because the US can do it without having to pay a serious price for it. This was precise, limited, well-targeted.

Why accept Erdogan’s victory without much hesitation? Because there’s nothing of value the US can do about it. The Europeans will protest and cry, but this seems to have little effect on Erdogan and Turkey’s voters. The US, in this case, is keeping its eye on the ball: Turkey is needed to fight ISIS and tame Syria. There is no value in picking a fight with it. Not until it does things that shake the international order.

And what about North Korea? Well, Trump’s policy in North Korea is still a mystery. He talks tough, because he can and, more importantly, because he hopes that this will help him convince the Chinese that it is time for them to be more active in calming their problematic neighbor. Calming, but not much more than that. Getting rid of the regime in North Korea or disarming its nuclear capabilities are not realistic goals at the moment.

As Ian Buruma explains in the Atlantic, “China is the only power with any influence in North Korea, but the last thing Beijing wants is for its communist neighbor to collapse. The Kim regime may be annoying, but a united Korea filled with U.S. military bases would be worse, not to mention the potential refugee crisis on China’s borders.”

What do we learn from all this?

First, Trump’s foreign policy is less confusing than some newspapers want you to think. There are confusing statements here and there, and lack of coordination, but the overall policy is not inconsistent and can be easily explained.

Second, Trump does not feel committed to always following the script that he carved during his campaign – but also that his policy is going to resemble many of the things that he talked about as a candidate.

Third, Trump as a foreign policy leader currently has two instinctive postures, the brutal warrior and the deal maker. He is not an educator, he is not a policy wonk, he is not an ideologue, he does not belong to a school of thought. He is the president who’s willing to use the Tomahawk when you stand in his way and who’s willing to cut a deal when you’re ready to negotiate.

King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo via WikiCommons.

A Mideast bonfire of the hypocrites


The day after more than 80 of his Arab brethren perished in a horrific gas attack in Syria, King Abdullah II of Jordan stood at a White House press conference and repeated the biggest lie of the past half-century: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict … is essentially the core conflict in our region.”

For decades, this great lie has been a lifeblood for Arab leaders looking to change the subject from the vicious conflicts of the region and the oppression of their own people. Their countries may be in total meltdown, but if they pivot to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they know the international community and the media will lap it up.

Arab dictators are simply getting a good return on their investment in Jew-hatred. Thanks to their brilliant job of promulgating this hatred for so long throughout their societies, whenever things start to heat up, they can just serve up the perfect scapegoat: “It’s all about the conflict with the Jewish state!”

That is how we ended up with the sorry spectacle of an Arab king telling the world with a straight face that the conflict with the Jews is the key problem in the region.

Never mind that when Foreign Policy (FP) magazine announced its “Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2017,” the top three came from King Abdullah’s very own region, and, needless to say, none of the 10 mentioned Israel or the Palestinians.

The first was Syria and Iraq, where after nearly six years of fighting, an estimated 500,000 people have been killed and some 12 million uprooted.

The second was Turkey, which, as FP reports, “is facing worsening spillover from the wars in Syria and Iraq and a spiraling conflict with the PKK. Politically polarized, under economic strain, and with weak alliances, Turkey is poised for greater upheaval.”

The third was Yemen, where the war has created “another humanitarian catastrophe, wrecking a country that was already the poorest in the Arab world. With millions of people now on the brink of famine, the need for a comprehensive cease-fire and political settlement is ever more urgent.”

You can go down the list and find conflicts throughout the region that make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict look like a therapy session. From rampant Islamic extremism and political turnover to economic stagnation and age-old sectarian hatreds, the region is bursting with volcanoes that have absolutely nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians.

I’m sure you remember the famous Arab Spring protests of 2011, when tens of millions of Arabs exploded onto Mideast streets because they couldn’t take it anymore. The funny thing is, none of the protestors was screaming about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Instead, they were screaming for basic stuff like human rights, civil rights, freedom, economic opportunities and so on.

In other words, they wanted what their Arab brothers and sisters already have in Israel, where Arab judges have made it all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. How’s that for dark irony?

That might explain why Arab leaders are so intent on making Israel the biggest problem of the region. They know the truth is the exact opposite — that Israel is not the problem but the solution to the Middle East.

As much as it pains them to admit it, they know their countries would be a lot better off if they were more like Israel. They see how constant innovation in Israel keeps improving the quality of life; how Israel’s open society has created a vibrant and progressive culture; how Israeli Arabs have more freedoms and economic opportunities in the Jewish state than in any country of the region.

If you’re an Arab leader raised on Jew-hatred, how humiliating must that be?

But there’s something else these hypocrites know well — they know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t be solved anytime soon, certainly not with the region in violent turmoil and the prospect that the West Bank would turn into another terror state if Israel left. This is great news for leaders petrified of losing their power. It means their trusted Jewish scapegoat is alive and kicking.

These insecure dictators, who couldn’t care less about the welfare of the Palestinians or of their own people, know that as long as a solution to their favorite conflict remains far, far away, they can keep milking the Big Lie and live to see another day.


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

A view of the Suruc refugee camp in Turkey, which houses some 35,000 Syrian refugees. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Recalling lessons of Passover, Israelis pray for their Syrian ‘enemies’


At a Shabbat service in Tel Aviv on Friday evening, congregants recited the mourner’s prayer for those killed in Syria’s civil war.

Standing before a mural of the Tree of Life, the rabbi of Beit Daniel, the largest Reform synagogue in Israel, delivered a sermon on the Jewish obligation to condemn the savagery of the war. And a bar mitzvah boy led a prayer for peace in honor of the Syrian people, whom Israelis have long considered enemies.

“When you include something in your prayers, you push it to a higher level of consciousness,” said Gilad Kariv, the head of the Reform movement in Israel and a member of Beit Daniel. “We declared that the Syrian people are rooted in the deepest part of our soul as individuals and as a community.”

After an apparent chemical attack in Syria on April 4 killed dozens of people, including children, liberal and Orthodox Israeli Jews alike adapted their Passover prayers to address the tragedy unfolding just across their northern border. They found inspiration to pray for Syrians in the story of the holiday, which some Jews have long interpreted as urging sympathy for the oppressed — and even the oppressor.

Israel’s Reform movement this year asked its members to dedicate the Sabbath before Passover, called Shabbat Hagadol, to the Syrians and refer to them at least twice during the seder, which recounts the Israelites’ biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt. The first mention is to come before a prayer for peace by the 18th-century Hasidic rebbe Nachman of Braslav, which some may add to the Haggadah. The second should come when seder participants spill a drop of wine for each of the 10 plagues God visited upon the Egyptians to win the Israelites’ freedom.

Kariv cited the view that the wine ritual symbolizes that the Jewish “cup of joy” is diminished because the Israelites’ emancipation came through the suffering of the Egyptians. If inheritors of that Jewish tradition can find room to forgive the biblical Egyptians, he said, Israelis can certainly sympathize with Syrians, with whom they have battled and never made peace.

“Despite the fact that Israelis can identify the Syrian people as our enemies, the vast majority of us feel deeply saddened about what is happening next door,” he said. “We are using this tradition to remind us to have sorrow for the suffering of all people.”

Zeev Keinan, a longtime leader in Israel’s Conservative, or Masorti, movement, delivered a Torah commentary on Friday at his Maayanot synagogue in Jerusalem about whether Israelis should pray for the Syrians. His conclusion – yes – was not a surprise to anyone who read the prayer he wrote several months ago for the Syrian people on behalf of the movement. He said the prayer, which has been widely distributed, is being read at his synagogue and others throughout Passover.

Appropriately, Keinan noted, a line from the prayer is taken from a passage of Exodus that refers to the aftermath of the final plague God inflicted on the Egyptians: the death of every non-Jewish firstborn son.

Keinan, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, said repurposing the phrase “there is not a house without one dead” (Exodus 12:30) is in keeping with the Passover tradition. In addition to the spilling of the wine, Keinan referred to the Talmudic story that God stopped the angels from rejoicing when  the Egyptian soldiers who were pursuing the fleeing Israelites drowned in the Red Sea, saying, “How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying.”

In the Orthodox world, a prayer for Syrians has been making the rounds online ahead of Passover. Written in 2013 by a leading religious Zionist ethicist, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, the prayer reads in part: “We beseech You in prayer to arouse in the killers their basic humanity and evoke mercy in their hearts, that they may recognize that we are all created in the image of God, and that there are limits even to human cruelty.”

Cherlow said he wrote the prayer, despite a reluctance among Orthodox Jews to add to Jewish liturgy, out of concern for the “civilians and children” in Syria. He said Jews are commanded “as part of our going out of Egypt” to observe that they are allied with any oppressed or displaced people. But Cherlow acknowledged being uncertain about what exactly to ask of God, given that most of the warring parties in Syria could be considered enemies of Israel.

“In this case, I can’t say we know what we wish for,” he said. “While I can’t use the term ‘happy,’ I prefer the bad people shoot each other and not kill me.”

Echoing the overwhelming sentiment in this country, Cherlow said Israel has little choice but to maintain its policy of nonintervention in Syria. Most Israelis feel getting involved would accomplish little and risk incurring the wrath both of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his backers Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, as well as the radical Islamic rebel groups, including the Islamic State, that seek to topple him.

Still, Cherlow emphasized that prayer is not enough in the face of evil, and said the events in Syria also inspired him to demand action. He recently recommended to the army’s chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot, that the Israel Defense Forces expel reserve soldiers who assist as mercenaries in conflicts in African and South American countries, among others, and formally add ethical considerations to its decisions about weapons sales.

According to Kariv, Israel’s Reform movement plans to issue a letter on Wednesday demanding that Israel, which has not taken in any Syrian refugees, welcome 100 orphan children from the country — a plan proposed earlier this year by haredi Orthodox Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

Salah Skaff, 25, showing a picture of his daughter Amira Skaff, 1.5 years old, who died after an airstrike in Douma, Syria, on April 7. Photo by Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

Trump and the cry of Syria’s children


“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies,” poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote.

Tell that to the children of Syria, the kingdom where everybody dies.

The once beautiful country, full of history and antiquity, culture and cuisine, is now a cemetery. Six years into a bloody civil war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents, the world is once again faced with the images of dead and suffering children. 

This week, we saw horrifying scenes of children screaming for their dead parents and parents screaming for their dying children. We saw dozens of children lying dead on the floor. Babies, infants poisoned. We saw their bloodied faces, their foaming mouths, their desperate, disconsolate eyes and learned that they died choking on gas, and we couldn’t look away.

There’s something about helpless, powerless children that inspires even the most puerile grownups to act like adults. 

“That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” President Donald Trump said after the chemical attack on the Syrian village Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens. “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies … that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.”

For the children of Syria, “red line” has become synonymous with empty promise. President Barack Obama had his “red line” but he may as well have drawn it in pencil; our spineless Congress eventually erased it. Who would have thought, then, that RealDonaldTrump, king of inconsistencies and erraticism, would draw his own red line? 

Trump isn’t exactly known for his political fidelities or his values — but if there’s anything that matters to him besides himself and his business empire, it’s his family. The images of devastated children struck a chord with the father-in-chief and inspired him to act like the commander-in-chief.

We were warned Trump would be unpredictable — and is he ever. 

After prodding Obama not to act in Syria, then blaming him for not acting enough, Trump defied his critics and even some of his friends on April 6 by launching a targeted airstrike on the Syrian airfield from where the chemical attack was launched.

He did not hesitate to name and blame Syria’s Mad King, President Bashar al-Assad, for the attack, much to the dismay of his reputed bestie Vladimir Putin. While Assad’s Russian enabler tried to obfuscate the facts, deflecting his own bloodguilt and calling for an “investigation,” President Trump, for once, told the truth.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said during a White House announcement. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” 

Across the world, another playground bully was horrified by the attack and joined Trump in unequivocal condemnation.

“There’s no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially, with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu said. His statement earned a swift rebuke from Putin, who called his accusations “groundless.”

In risking the wrath of the Russian leader, Trump was so grateful for Netanyahu’s support of the first military action of his presidency that his vice president, Mike Pence, called Netanyahu to thank him. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin declared the United States “an example for the entire free world.”

At a time when Trump’s approval ratings are dismal and he doesn’t have the success of “The Apprentice” to tuck him in at night, the praise must feel delicious. In launching a strike, Trump also risked alienating his base — and chief adviser Steve Bannon — whose anti-globalist motto “America First” means that even dying children must come a distant second. War is expensive, they argue, but so is protecting the first lady in absentia from the White House and the president’s $3 million trips to Mar-a-Lago to play golf.

Perhaps the president feels just a little bit guilty that the children choking on sarin gas are the same children he tried to block from seeking refuge in the U.S. with his incendiary travel ban. 

Now that his paternal instincts are kicking in and Trump must balance the needs of the world’s children with the needs of his own children, he might look to Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers — he can easily borrow it from his son-in-law, Jared Kushner (who famously kept a copy in his real estate office).

Im ein ani li, mi li? If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

U’kh’she’ani le’atzmi, mah ani? If I am only for myself, what am I?

The children of Syria don’t care about Trump’s promise of “America First.” They don’t care about the world’s tightrope walk around Russia. Or about Iran’s malevolent intentions toward Sunnis and the State of Israel. They don’t care who are their allies and who are their enemies, or even whose plane it was that dropped the poisonous gas that burned up their lives. 

The children of Syria care only about one thing: that this conflict ends.

V’im lo ’akhshav, eimatai? And, if not now, when?


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

How complicated is Syria? Trump just helped ISIS


We like our problems clean and direct. Good versus evil. Good fights evil. Good wins.

The Syrian regime of President Assad is evil. Its use of chemical weapons to murder children was barbaric. It makes sense to not let him get away with it. So, you can argue that President Trump was right to order missile strikes against the regime.

This satisfying moral action, however, should not make us dumb down a complicated conflict. The dominant reality of the Syrian conflict today is that it represents evil vs evil. You can get rid of one evil only to see something worse replace it.

On one side of the conflict, you have the Assad regime, supported by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. A few years ago, Assad was on life support. Now, with his strong partners, he’s made a comeback.

On the other side of the conflict are anti-regime rebel groups who fight each other as much as they fight the Assad regime.

The largest is ISIS, with 25,000 to 80,000 fighters. ISIS has become the enemy par excellence in the Western world. Trump has talked incessantly about destroying them. Now consider this: By striking Assad, Trump ended up helping ISIS. Complicated enough?

Besides ISIS, there are groups like Al-Nusra Front (15,000 to 20,000 fighters), Jaysh al-Islam (17,000 to 25,000), Ahrar ash-Sham (10,000 to 20,000), Asala wa-al-Tanmiya (13,000), Jaysh al-Fatah (10,000), Sham Legion (4,000) and Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union (3,000).

In the middle of this jungle is the Free Syrian Army, with 100,000 fighters, which was started by former Syrian officers. Everyone seems to fight them.

Geography further complicates the picture. The country has been heavily splintered. Different groups have different power bases. Of course, the more land you can conquer the more power you have.

In the North is the Kurdish group, which is another story altogether, because Kurds are known to be more moderate. But Turkey hates the Kurds. Just as Iran and Syria are supporting the Assad regime, countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting their own rebel groups.

The point is this: Syria has become a complete, violent mess. When it comes to the most likely winners in this conflict, the choice has become evil versus evil. The good people of Syria who initially rose up against Assad, and the militias they organized, have been slowly crushed.

As much as it may satisfy us to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, it’s important to keep our eye on the whole picture. What can America do? At this point, not much. Six years ago, when the more moderate rebel forces were stronger, we could have given them military assistance and established no-fly zones. Would it have worked? Who knows? There’s no certainty when so many violent forces are at play.

What we do know today is that extremist groups have the upper hand pretty much everywhere and that Russia has established its own military presence. That limits our options. On the humanitarian front, we can certainly help establish safe zones to assist the millions of refugees. We can even order the occasional pinprick attack to show we’re still here and we have our limits, and the use of chemical weapons is one of them.

But let’s be real. There are no good options. The Syrian fire has gotten too big to simply suffocate. Yes, let’s stay vigilant. Let’s make sure things don’t get too out of hand and spill over into other countries (like Israel). But as vexed as I am to say this, when evil fights evil, sometimes the best option is to let them fight it out, and to help ensure no one wins.

As Daniel Pipes writes, “Iranian- and Russian-backed Shi’ite pro-government jihadis are best kept busy fighting Saudi-, Qatar-, and Turkish-backed anti-government Sunni jihadis; because Kurds, however appealing, are not contenders for control of the whole of Syria; and because Americans have no stomach for another Middle Eastern war.”

Trump can go on about how attacking Assad is a “vital U.S. interest,” but who’s he kidding? Is he ready to invite the head of ISIS to the White House for peace talks?


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

The USS Porter firing a Tomahawk missile at a Syrian military airfield in the Mediterranean Sea on April 7. Photo by Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Why Israelis are happy about Trump’s missile strike — and why they should be wary


Israel’s government and pundits are unabashedly pleased by the missile strike ordered by President Donald Trump early Friday on the Syrian airfield from where Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack is believed to have been launched.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out a statement out at 6 a.m. local time – unusually early – just to make clear he “fully supports” the strike.

“In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” he said.

Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles on the airfield in northern Syria believed to be where a sarin attack that killed at least 72 civilians, including many children. The missile attack, Syria said in reports that could not be confirmed, killed nine civilians – including four children – and six troops, and caused extensive damage.

Here are some reasons why Israelis are backing the strike – and some reasons why it might not be so simple.

The moral imperative

Images of children gassed a few hundred miles north of Israel hits close to home for a country where the helplessness that Jews faced against the Nazi genocide remains a defining national characteristic.

“There was a genuinely strongly felt moral issue, and that was something that Israelis felt across the political spectrum when the pictures emerged of people killed in the chemical attack, given the Jewish people’s history of being gassed in the Holocaust,” said Daniel Shapiro, who until January was the U.S. ambassador to Israel and still lives there.

Israelis in just days have raised hundreds of thousands of shekels for the victims; fundraisers have explicitly invoked Holocaust imagery.

“No Jew can stay silent as children are being gassed in the streets of Syria,” IsraelGives says on its web page.

The sheriff is back in town.

Israelis were frustrated by the Obama administration’s hesitancy in confronting Assad.

In 2013, President Barack Obama said the use of chemical weapons would trigger an attack. But when Syria crossed the line, instead of launching an attack, Obama coordinated a deal with Russia under which Syria would divest itself of its chemical weaponry. It now appears clear to the United States and its allies that Syria’s divestment was more fraud than fact.

Trump while campaigning for the presidency appeared to want an even further retreat. His sole conceptualization of Syrian President Bashar Assad until last week was as an ally in combating Islamic State terrorists, an embrace that Obama, however feckless his chemical weapons retreat was, forcefully rejected. Trump officials said last week that they were ready to reverse stated Obama administration policy that any resolution to the Syria conflict must include the removal of Assad.

That worried Israelis – most prominently Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman – who were concerned that a resurgent Assad would allow Israel’s deadliest enemies, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, a foothold on Israel’s border with Syria.

Trump over the last three days did a 180 on Assad – “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” the president said the day after the chemical attack — and so, commensurately, have Israelis warmed to Trump.

“American leadership is once again credible,” Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, until last year the director of policy at the Israeli Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio. “When you use nerve gas against a civilian population, the message is clear.”

Netanyahu in his praise for Trump said the message should resonate as far as Iran and North Korea. The prime minister and his government continue to see the 2015 nuclear deal Obama negotiated with Iran, trading sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, as a license for Iran and its proxies to continue its regional interventionism.

Israel “hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere,” Netanyahu said.

Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who spent years in Syria, said in a media call that the chief concern for Israel and America’s Sunni Arab allies was what was “baked into” the nuclear deal: “That Iran could use rump governments in Iraq and Syria to shoot people into the region into submission” while the principal U.S. concern was sustaining the Iran deal.

What’s not predictable

1. Do Israeli jets still get to take out potential threats without triggering a Russian response?

An ally of the Assad regime, Russia was furious at the missile attack and suspended its “deconfliction” agreement with the United States – one under which the two nations give each other prior notice of any military action, particularly from the air, so there’s no risk of an inadvertent clash.

Russia has a similar arrangement with Israel; does that go by the wayside? Israel as recently as last month sent jets into Syria to stop the smuggling of Syrian arms to Hezbollah.

Gilad, speaking on Israel Radio, said he was confident that Russia would continue to allow Israel to act.

“I don’t think there’s any threat on Israeli action as long as it in the defense of Israel’s interests,” he said.

2. Is Israel more of a target than before?

Israel’s most potent threat is Hezbollah, which has positioned tens of thousands of missiles throughout Lebanon since the last Hezbollah-Israel war in 2006. Israeli brass believes Hezbollah could be positioning itself for another Israel war, if only as a pretext to draw attention away from Syria, where its alliance with Iran and the Assad regime has taken hits.

Hezbollah called the missile strike an “idiotic” action that was “in service” to Israel and predicted that it would increase tension.

3. Russia’s mad? But wait, we like Russia.

Netanyahu has gone to great lengths to cultivate Russia, in part because Israel sees Russia as the likeliest agent to broker a final status deal that would keep Iran and Hezbollah as far as possible from Syria’s southwest, where Israel’s border is.

He endured a tongue lashing on Thursday from Russian President Vladimir Putin just for intimating that Syria is responsible for the chemical attack. (Russia insists there is no proof yet.)

The closeness of Trump and his team to Russia – in Washington, increasingly seen as a burden, as it engenders a string of scandals – is seen as a plus in Israel, where it was hoped Trump would leverage his friendship with Putin as a means of containing Assad, Hezbollah and Iran.

“Israel still sees Trump as a dealmaker with Russia, and they want to know if Trump drives a wedge between Russia and Iran-Hezbollah-Syria,” David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute, said in an interview.

4. That Sunni alliance thing … it’s complicated

The conventional wisdom in Washington after the attack is that Trump has revivified the U.S. profile in Israel among the United States’ Sunni Arab allies.

Except as much as Assad is despised among Sunni Arabs, both for his belonging to the secretive Alawite sect and his alliance with Shiite actors like Iran and Hezbollah, direct U.S. intervention is not necessarily popular.

Critically, Egypt – whose leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, just this week lavished praise on Trump – was less than enthusiastic about the strike.

“Egypt affirms the importance of sparing Syria and the Middle East the dangers of crisis escalation in order to preserve the safety of the nations that comprise it,” its Foreign Ministry said Friday, according to Al-Ahram. “We see the necessity for swift action to end the armed conflict in Syria to preserve the lives of the Syrian people through a commitment by all Syrian parties for an immediate cease-fire and a return to negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations.”

Egyptian unhappiness could hamper Netanyahu’s bid to use Egypt as a conduit to new peace deals with other moderate Arab states.

“Sisi sees Assad rightly or wrongly as part of the battle against Islamic extremism,” said Shapiro, who is now a senior visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel.

“There’s also the more traditional Egyptian value of not wanting to see any foreign intervention in an Arab state lest it be directed at Egypt,” he said. “And Egypt has in recent months gone a bit closer to the Russians, and Russians have participated in counter ISIS operations in western Egypt. That creates some potential tensions between Egypt and its strategic partner Israel and Sisi and his new friend Donald Trump.”

5. It’s open-ended – which means, duh, we don’t know how it will end.

Tabler cautioned against seeing long-term consequences because of a single strike; no one knows yet where Trump will take U.S. involvement.

“This strike is not the same as the invasion of Iraq in 2003,” he said.

Israel initially was supportive of the U.S. action in Iraq, but soon grew apprehensive as the Bush administration neglected increasing threats from Iran and its war radicalized Sunni Arabs in the region.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the strike was a one-off.

“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today,” he said in a media availability.

That did not assuage concerns among Democrats and even some Republicans in Congress, who called for consultations with Congress ahead of any further action.

“Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on Twitter: “I’m deeply concerned the strike in Syria could lead the U.S. back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement in the Middle East.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, alongside Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sept. 4, 2016. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

Israeli minister: Syria strike repositioned America as regional leader


Adding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s praise for the U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian army base, a senior Israeli Cabinet minister said it “restored America’s regional leadership in a big way.”

Yisrael Katz, the intelligence minister and a member of the Cabinet’s defense forum, spoke Friday with Army Radio about the U.S. strike the previous night in which dozens of guided missiles were launched at an army base of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. Earlier this week, his military was accused of using chemical weapons in attacking rebel-held areas.

“There are things that only the No. 1 superpower in the world can do,” Katz said. “In contrast to the failed policy of leading from behind, which led to Iran’s entrenchment, the United States has restored America’s regional leadership in a big way in the Middle East.”

Also Friday, Netanyahu praised President Donald Trump in a statement that said Trump, “in both word and action,” had “sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision.”

Israel, Netanyahu added, “hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”

U.S. defense officials “updated Israel in real time” about the strike, Katz also said.

Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Netanyahu to protest the Israeli leader’s condemnation of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Putin said the allegation was unproven and that Netanyahu should have waited for an international investigation before commenting.

Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, told Army Radio on Friday that the disagreement did not signify a deterioration of relations with Russia.

“There are understandings in place” despite rhetoric intended for the media, he said.

Russia last year joined Iran’s military intervention in Syria in favor of Assad, who has lost control of approximately 75 percent of the internationally recognized territory of Syria since the eruption of a civil war in 2011 that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Former President Barack Obama, who spearheaded an international agreement offering Iran sanctions relief in exchange for a scaling back of elements of its nuclear program, had described the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a red line following previous attacks. Obama’s critics accused him of failing to enforce that red line.

According to the international media, Israel has carried out a number of military strikes in Syria before and during the civil war, primarily to keep advanced weapons from being moved or reaching Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian militia that is based in southern Lebanon and is committed to fighting Israel.

President Donald Trump delivers an statement about missile strikes on a Syrian airbase on April 6. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

On Trump’s order, U.S. missiles target Syrian airbase


U.S. warships launched 50-60 missiles at an airbase in northern Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians in President Donald Trump’s first major intervention in the Middle East.

The Tomahawk missiles hit Shayrat airfield on Thursday, north of Damascus, CNN reported, citing Pentagon sources. The Bashar Assad regime is believed to have launched the chemical attacks on Iblid province in northern Syria earlier this week which killed at least 82 civilians, including many children.

Trump ordered the attack from his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida, where he is spending the weekend.

“It is in the vital national security interests of the United States to prevent the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said in a short statement to the media at Mar-A-Lago.

As a result of Assad’s repression and use of chemical weapons among other means, Trump said, “the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize threatening the United States and allies.” Trump has said he sees the exodus of refugees from Syria as a threat to the West because of terrorists who may be among them. He has twice sought to bar their entry into the United States; both bids were stayed by the courts.

Trump had indicated earlier that he was considering action.

“Yesterday, a chemical attack — a chemical attack that was so horrific, in Syria, against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies,” Trump said Wednesday during a press opportunity with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a U.S. ally whose nation borders Syria. “Their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.”

The Assad regime has denied responsibility and its ally, Russia, has resisted U.N. Security Council action, saying that it is premature to blame Assad for the attack. Trump, in his short statement to the press on Thursday, said there was “no dispute” Assad was behind the attack.

The missile launch represents a sharp departure from the policies of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who resisted targeting the Assad regime while maintaining some U.S. involvement in the efforts to push back the Islamic State, the terrorist group that is among Assad’s enemies.

It is also a dramatic departure from how Trump campaigned for president, when he lacerated Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, for deepening U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and called for a pullback of U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.

Just last week, Trump officials suggested that the United States was withdrawing from what was for years a U.S. policy of seeking Assad’s removal.

At his Wednesday press conference, Trump said he was flexible in how he approached policy. “I have that flexibility, and it’s very, very possible — and I will tell you, it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” he said.

CNN reported that Trump informed other countries prior to the attack, although it did not specify whether Israel was among those countries. Israel is concerned about any escalation north of the Golan Heights, which Israel controls; that area, in southwest Syria, is not near the targeted base.

The attack could for the first time in Trump’s presidency rattle what had been warming ties with Russia.

Women and children wait to be registered prior to a food distribution carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Thonyor, Leer state, South Sudan, on Feb. 26. Photo by Siegfried Modola/Reuters

The Passover paradox


In early March, the United Nations announced that the world is facing — and this is not hyperbole — “the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945.”

If you’re thinking Syria or European migrants, you’re wrong. Neither of those issues was mentioned once.

Right now, the great humanitarian crisis of our world is food insecurity — a condition afflicting tens of millions of people who have limited or uncertain access to nutritional and safe food. 

According to the U.N., an estimated 20 million people will face the threat of starvation and famine this year in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. The New York Times devoted a special section on April 2 to the stories of 130,000 people forced from their homes by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, who have camped next to a highway in the Niger desert in search of food and water.

UNICEF is warning that “1.4 million children could starve to death this year.” And I hesitate to describe the accompanying pictures of children already in peril — their faces sunken, desperate, nearly deformed from malnourishment.

Now comes Pesach, a harvest festival. It arrives every spring when the earth is bursting with blooms, when crops are growing and nature renews itself, offering its bounty.

And yet, it forces us to confront hunger.

The relationship between hunger and the Passover seder is so central to the holiday that reiterating the connection is stating the obvious. Early on, before we do almost anything else, we hold up the matzo, and we sing “Ha Lachma Anya” — behold, the bread of affliction. The central symbol of Pesach literally is the poor man’s bread: It is the bread of the persecuted, degraded and displaced who could not afford to waste a single second letting dough rise when the moment for liberation came.

On Pesach, our task is to relive the experience of slavery and its infinite deprivations so deeply, so viscerally, it should be as if each one of us had personally gone out of Egypt.

And yet, when I think of the modern Jewish seder table, I think of abundance. Most of us probably enjoy multiple courses of food, flowing wine, crystal glasses, fine china, luxurious table linens. Others partake of popular Pesach “vacations” with kosher buffets so ample they could feed a king, a queen and their court. And I wonder if all of this abundance on the holiday when we are meant to recall deprivation is missing the point. Slavery is having to do without; but our seder tables sometimes are paradigms of excess.

The year 2016 was the second year in a row in which the Department of Housing and Urban Development named Los Angeles as the city with the most chronically homeless people in the country. An estimated 44,000 people sleep on the streets of our city each night. On Pesach, we’ll sing, “All who hunger, you are welcome here,” but how many of us will invite a hungry person to eat at our table? How many of us will welcome the stranger, the orphan, the refugee?

Our tradition is clear about our obligation, as Jews, to make the world better. We all understand this. That’s why we give to charities, and pay taxes, and support food kitchens, and engage in the fight for political equality and justice. The Shulchan Aruch demands that every Jewish community establish a kupa, a welfare fund to be distributed to those in need. It also prescribes a tamchui, a communal kitchen that provides food for the poor. 

But it doesn’t end there.

Our tradition also recognizes that something different happens when you invite a hungry person into your home. That it is spiritually elevating to break “bread” with someone who is not like you — who does not share your background, your skin color, your socioeconomic status. The holiday table can become an extraordinary equalizer in allowing us to realize our shared humanity. What makes us human is not what we have; it is what we have to give.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to invite one of my mother’s former students to spend Shabbat with my family and me. He is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who lost nine family members in a horrendous slaughter. He and his brother, a former child soldier, and a young woman who also survived the conflict sat in my grandmother’s living room as we lit yahrzeit candles together and remembered all of the people we had lost. That night, we counted more dead among us than living. It was one of the most profound moments of human connection in my life. A Shabbat meal bound me to refugees as we ate, sang, shared and danced to real African drums.

What would it look like if more families modeled this kind of exchange the way my mother did for me? What is the point of digging into our formative pain as a people if it does not awaken us to the pain of others? It’s not enough just to tell the story.

Our communal destiny is to write a new one.

Chag sameach.


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

Shivi Froman

We refuse to fall into the abyss


On Jan. 18, 2016, a Palestinian youth entered my hometown and stabbed my beloved wife, Michal, who was five months pregnant at the time. One young terrorist brought us face to face with the pain, danger and hatred that has accompanied our return to Zion. A few days of mortal danger for a beloved woman and an unborn child clarified the moral obligation we have to defend ourselves without compromise.

Last Oct. 16, I published my first post calling on the people of Israel to take action against the horror taking place just beyond our border in Syria. Thousands of Israelis responded, creating the largest crowdfunding campaign in Israel, raising millions of shekels for humanitarian aid — aid that was transferred by the Israeli Flying Aid organization to the real victims of that war: the suffering children in Syria.

These donors were thousands of Israelis who did what people in no other nation have done, not even Muslim countries. Thousands of Israelis who, with donations large and small, chose to be on the right side of history. This was done despite the bloody history between the Syrians and Israelis, despite the current situation between the two countries, which is full of hate, despite the uncertain future between us. Or, in the words of one of our donors: “My husband and my brother were killed in Israel’s wars with Syria, and my donation is the way I choose to honor them.”

This is not my personal story; it is the story of Israeli society, a small example of the strange existence that is our reality. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said the whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is not to be afraid. To live the true reality of our lives, we must achieve a delicate balance in crossing this bridge, without falling into either side of the abyss.

On the one side is an abyss of surrender to those who want to destroy us; an abyss they have tried to throw us into in the past; an abyss they hope will swallow us in the present. On the other side is the abyss of focusing only on our own existence, of drowning out everything and everyone else.

But despite our enemies’ hopes that we will either fall into one abyss and disappear or descend willingly into the other, and despite their accusations, we, the Jewish people and Israeli society, are carefully traveling across this bridge. We refuse to fall into the abyss. We refuse to lose ourselves and our identity as Jews in the Land of Israel. We also refuse to lose the image of God within us and our responsibility to others, even when they are our enemies.

There is so much pain in this world, and so many people who are purposely inflicting that pain. And it saddens me that the United Nations has chosen again and again to focus on Israel, a nation that is walking a very narrow bridge. We’ll continue on the path we have chosen because that is who we are. We will continue to exist as we are, because that is what is right and what is true. We will continue to exist as we are, because it is the righteous way to defeat the likes of those in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement who are against us.

My father passed away four years ago. Menachem Froman z”l was a rabbi, a resident of Judea and Samaria, and a peace activist. My father taught me that we were born with two hands. One hand with which to defend ourselves, and a second hand to extend in peace, compassion and caring for others. He taught me that our lives should be the clapping that happens when these two hands come together. Our lives should be an ongoing encounter between these conflicting motivations.

So let us raise both hands. Let us honor those two tasks — for the people of Israel, for the State of Israel, for our right to exist in our homeland, for our constant desire for peace, for the Israel Defense Forces and those who stand up for Israel, for Israelis who are engaged in acts of humane compassion, wherever they may be, for all those sharing our prophets’ vision of making the world a better place.

This is our story.

This article is adapted from a speech delivered on March 29 at the United Nations and reprinted at timesofisrael.com.


SHIVI FROMAN is an Israeli human rights activist and co-founder of Just Beyond Our Borders, a crowdfunding initiative that provides humanitarian aid for children in Syria.

Former US President Barack Obama, Photo by Joshua Ernst/Reuters

Syria reinforces a lesson: Israel mustn’t rely on the US


President Donald Trump was quick to blame his predecessor, President Obama, for the horrors taking place in Syria. In Israel, commentators and former officials voiced similar claims. President Obama, they said, enacted a policy that is partially responsible for the actions of President Bashar Assad. He drew a “red line” – his red line was the use of chemical weapons. Then, when tested by Assad, he reneged. Then, lured by the Russians, he decided to trust a diplomatic solution to the crisis. His actions were not without reason (I explained some of them in detail here), but the consequences were clear: the US lost its ability to deter Assad, and with it any shred of influence over events in Syria.

But why blame just Obama? What was it in his actions that is worth singling out? Maybe it is the hypocrisy: The President tended to use big words unbacked by actions. Maybe it is the naiveté: The President believed that he could use words to deal with those who only understand force. But when it comes to Syria, Obama deserves blame no more than many others. France could have intervened and did not do it, and the same goes for Britain, and Germany, and China, and Israel. Each of these countries – not to mention Russia – has enough power to make Assad regret his cold decision to use chemical weapons. Yet these countries decided to stay put. Neither Obama, nor Holland, nor Cameron, nor Merkel, nor Netanyahu intervened. All of them made the same calculated choice: Why do I need this as my responsibility? If you want to blame them for something, it is this: They prioritized the interests of their voters and constituents – of Britain, of China – over the interests, and the lives, of the poor Syrians.

Choosing to point at Obama alone stems from a wide gap between expectations and actions. All over the world, people expect more from America; and when America decides to act much like everyone else (that is, do nothing), there is disappointment. So it is very possible that the problem here is not Obama (or Donald Trump, assuming he also decides to do nothing – and this is still unclear). The problem here is the rest of us. The problem here is the expectations that people around the world have from a faraway nation, busy with itself, which has no special appetite to keep playing the role of world policeman. Obama did not solve Syria’s problems, and he did not solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he did not stop Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power. Obama ignored what he could ignore, and postponed what he couldn’t just ignore. Syria was not a priority for him. Deterring Assad was never a priority for him. Up until yesterday, it was not a priority for Trump either.

For us, residents of non-American countries, there are lessons to be learned from this. The first of these lessons: we need to be strong militarily. Those who want to base their security on soft power, or cunning diplomacy, or great friendship with other countries, or empathy, or local agreements, or global regimes, or international law – all these should recalculate their strategy. In tough areas such as the Middle East, those who have military power will survive, and those who don’t will not. Israel must face this reality soberly, if not gladly, every time it ponders its budgetary priorities, every time it considers its other concerns, every time it debates a peace treaty, or a draft of a peace treaty, or whatever.

But this is not the only lesson to be learned from recent events in Syria. Israel ought to also learn something about its relations with America. The Americans will not save Israel. And even if they promise to do so, they will still not save it. And if they give guarantees, Israel will not always be able to trust them. Thus, it is better not to make them the cornerstone of Israel’s strategy. And what this means is that Israel is not just allowed to reject American proposals, to dodge American pressure, and to avoid American initiatives if they are based on the assumption that America can be the guarantor of Israel’s security – Israel must do all these things: reject, dodge, avoid. And, of course, Israel would be more than justified in laughing off American, and other countries’, moral lecturing.

And of course, all this must be done politely and considerately, because the US is still Israel’s strong and reliable ally. The US is still much better on most things than most other countries. And yet, it is crucial to remember that there is politeness and there is essence, and the two aren’t one and the same. Israel does not wish to have disagreements with the Trump administration – but it has an interest to defend its diplomatic and security needs. Israel wishes to have an open, honest, and friendly dialogue with the US, but it must keep its ability to defend itself by itself.

And truly, as Israel engages in talks with the Americans – whether it is about the Palestinians, or Iran, or other issues – the prospect of disagreement that leads to open strife is unsettling. Relations between the Israeli government and the Obama administration were unsettling. The idea of having similar disagreements with the Trump administration is unappealing.

But one look to the north-east clarifies matters: Relying on anyone to save us in a time of need is even less appealing.

 

Refugees, most of them Syrians, struggle to leave a half-sunken catamaran carrying around 150 refugees as it arrives on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing part of the Aegean sea from Turkey, October 30, 2015. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

Evoking Holocaust, lawmakers demand ‘never again’ for Syria


WASHINGTON – Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined together on Tuesday urging the US government to act more decisively to stop the Syrian bloodshed while drawing upon the lessons of the Holocaust. When displaying the photos of “Caesar” — the codename of a Syrian military defector who smuggled out of the country over 28,000 images of torture and death in Assad prisons — Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee explained, “When you see the images of the Holocaust in the 1940s and the images of Syria in the 21st century, one can just get chilled to think that what has humanity learned all these years? We used to think things couldn’t happen here or any place else and now we see, we were really wrong.”

Over 400,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2011, many of whom are innocent civilians. Over 11 million Syrians have been displaced, over half of the country’s population in the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (D-CA) recalled his father who took photos of the Dachau Concentration Camp after it was liberated in 1945. “When high school students would hear his lecture, they would ask why was the world so asleep to Hitler’s concentration camps? He would explain there was very little visual evidence at that time until those camps were liberated,” the California lawmaker noted. “That’s why he (Caeser) ran that risk so that the visual evidence would be right here in front of us. So, what is our excuse?”

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Democratic Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) also spoke at the gathering beside large posters of the gruesome photos taken by Caesar of Syrians brutally tortured and slaughtered. Al Munzer, a Holocaust survivor from Nazi-Occupied Holland evoked his murdered relatives and said, “Like in the Holocaust, inaction is to be complicit. I am here today to give voice to my sisters and to 1.5 million other children killed in the Holocaust who call out to the children burned and maimed and orphaned by bombs in Syria,” Munzer added “Their plight must be front and center of this country’s foreign policy and the world’s attention.”

In a deeply personal plea, Qutaiba Idlbi, a Syrian from Damascus who was tortured in Assad’s prisons urged President Trump, “I know that the new administration has the power to stand in the face of all types of terror.” Idlibi detailed the necessary steps he believes to stop the bloodshed. “I plead with you to establish safe zones in my country that will stop the Assad regime planes and the Iranians from targeting civilians,” he urged. “There are people that remain detained for six years in these prisons awaiting your support. Do not let them down.”

Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pick up truck near the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. Aug. 1, 2016. Photo by Ammar Abdullah/REUTERS.

Syrian truck driver on road to Damascus reportedly killed by Israeli drone


A Syrian man was killed when the truck he was driving in the Quneitra region of the Golan Heights on the road to Damascus allegedly was fired on by an Israeli drone, Syrian media is reporting.

The Israel Defense Forces is not commenting on the alleged air strike, neither confirming nor denying the Syrian reports.

The alleged victim has been named as Yasser al-Sayed, with some reports calling him a terrorist member of Hezbollah and others identifying him as a civilian.

Hours before the strike, Syrian media reported that Syrian army forces had repelled an Israeli drone in the same area.

The actions come after the IDF confirmed carrying out aerial strikes in Syria and intercepting missiles launched at its aircraft from the ground on Thursday night.

No Israelis were hurt during the strikes Thursday night or from the anti-aircraft fire, the first time that Israel has used the Arrow anti-missile system.

According to the nrg news site, the strikes Thursday were against targets affiliated with Hezbollah, possibly on a weapons shipment to the Shiite terrorist group, which is based in Lebanon but is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces against rebels and Sunni militants.

The incidents on Thursday are reported to be the most serious between Syria and Israel since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago. At that time, Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Syria and Syria’s air defense system fired an anti-aircraft missile at the Israeli planes.

Israel is believed to have carried out several attacks on Syrian soil in recent years, but usually refrains from confirming or denying reports on its alleged actions there.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in an interview with Israel Radio threatened to take out Syrian air defense systems.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said. “Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise.”

President Donald Trump on Feb. 24. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Liberté, égalité, Trumpism


One month into the Trump presidency, I flew to Paris to escape.

I was suffering from an acute case of Trump Fatigue, exhausted by the endless bad news, the moral outrage, the hysteria of the left, the hypocrisy of the right, the mass protests and activist meetings — not to mention the sleepless nights, the fear and uncertainty, the hundreds of articles about the future of American democracy, U.S. foreign policy, an ever-complicated Israel, and how the world as we know it is basically going to hell.

It turns out that although my capacity for outrage is apparently endless, my stamina for expressing it begins to ebb at a certain point, and then it’s time to do something dramatic, like follow through on my threat to leave the country.

So I flew to Paris thinking I’d walk the streets of Le Marais, stare at Monet’s “Water Lilies,” skulk around the gardens of Musée Rodin and eat a lot of cheese. I would revive myself with a renewed commitment to Bohemian ideals of truth, beauty, freedom and love — like in the movie “Moulin Rouge!” — and reclaim a sense of optimism for the future. What better way to restore some joie de vivre to my battered American soul than visit the place that invented joie de vivre?

I made it about as far as the cab ride from the airport when I realized that the stark political realities I had hoped to leave behind were in some ways closer than ever.

To enter Paris, my driver had to pass a small tent city of homeless people, who weren’t typical homeless people at all, but scores of women wearing hijabs, crowding the intersection with cardboard signs that read, “Je suis Syrien.”

To see up close what in the United States is discussed mainly in the abstract was shocking in its realism. In an instant, the only thing separating me from the Syrian civil war that destroyed and displaced millions of lives was the door of a cab.

Within an hour, it was easy to see why politicians such as Marine Le Pen have capitalized on France’s immigration “problem,” which is ripe for politicization. The evidence France has not well integrated many of its immigrants is creeping farther and deeper into Paris.

Homelessness and idleness were visible on street corners and in metro stations. And it isn’t only Syrians you see, but Algerians, Malinese and Senegalese, all trying to make their way in a country that, like the U.S., contains factions that are becoming increasingly nationalistic and hostile to outsiders. If you are inclined to seek reasons for why immigration is a threat to France’s fantasy of itself, you can easily find them.

Perhaps that’s why some Parisians are sympathetic to Trump’s anti-immigrant tactics. At a concert at the Maison de la Radio, I sat next to a sophisticated middle-aged woman who told me she didn’t much mind President Donald Trump. “The Clintons would have been much worse,” she whispered between Prokofiev and Shostakovich. “They wanted war. Trump only wants the money” — which she pronounced “Monet,” like the artist.

Some Parisians couldn’t care less about Trump’s atrocious identity politics, his nepotism or his greed —as long as he doesn’t drag Europe into another Iraq War.

But that comment seemed somewhat ironic, only a few days later, during dinner with Italian expatriates who are much more worried about the damage France may do to itself should Le Pen get elected and have her way. Over homemade tortelli with brown butter and crispy sage, an academic from the prestigious Sciences Po, the Paris Institute of Political Studies, warned that if European nationalist trends continue — resulting in more referendums like the one that led to Brexit — the porous borders and economic cooperation that have cemented European peace since World War II could disappear, producing renewed potential for regional conflict. Recently, this professor said, one of the top deans at his school suggested renaming his course track from “Negotiation” to “War Studies.”

“It’s like we’re going backward,” the professor said. “All the progress we made after the war — the focus on human rights, peace and prosperity for all — it’s as if it doesn’t matter.”

Europe, like America, is divided. And they’re watching us very, very closely. Even the French daily Le Monde is obsessed with the reality show that is the Trump White House and is now publishing a regular column called La journée de Trump — a roundup of the president’s day.

So much for my glamorous escape.

Political anxieties are alive and well in Paris, too, and no amount of aperitifs or digestifs can distract from a world in flux. “Travel robs us of refuge,” wrote French philosopher Albert Camus. He believed that we cannot hide ourselves when we travel — that we are “stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks … completely on the surface of ourselves.”

I used to come to Paris and feel only its wonders; now I also see its stains.


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

About 700 people attended a New York City rally in support of refugees organized by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on Feb. 12. Photo by Josefin Dolsten

Jews gather at rallies across U.S. urging support for refugees


Over 100 years ago, Barnett Levine was greeted by the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty as he arrived in the United States, having fled anti-Semitism and pogroms in his native Poland.

On Sunday, his grandson saw those very same sights when he joined about 700 others in this city’s Battery Park downtown at a rally protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order banning all refugees from the country for 120 days.

“I am the grandchild of four immigrants who came here when the gates of the United States were wide open and they made a life here,” Harold Levine, a 60-year-old marketing consultant, told JTA. He added: “I think that it is the duty of the Jewish community to pay this forward to other immigrants who are trying to come to the United States.”

The rally was organized by HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, part of an initiative by the immigrant resettlement group called the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees.

The president issued his order last month, which also banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. On Thursday, a federal appeals court ruling upheld a stay on the ban, a move praised by Jewish groups, including HIAS.

Harold Levine brought a poster to the New York City rally showing his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States over 100 years ago, fleeing anti-Semitism in his native Poland. (Josefin Dolsten)

Thousands attended rallies on Sunday as part of the HIAS initiative, including in Boston, Washington, D.C, and other major cities, a representative for the group told JTA. The demonstrations had more than 20 co-sponsors, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Mark Hetfield, the CEO of HIAS, said the rallies were a rare moment of joining together in support of refugees.

“I haven’t seen anything like this since I got my start [with HIAS] in 1989, which was at the height of the Soviet Jewry movement,” he said. “This is a galvanizing moment like that, but the difference is that then we were standing up for Jews, and now we are standing up as Jews.”

At the New York rally, participants braved icy wind, hail and rain to join in chants of “When refugees are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back” and “Never again means never again for everyone” between speeches by rabbis and clergy members, politicians and leaders of Jewish groups. Among the speakers were Mayor Bill de Blasio; Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the ADL, and Sana Mustafa, a Syrian refugee.

In Boston, speakers at a rally with several hundred participants included City Councilor Josh Zakim, whose father, the late Lenny Zakim, was the longtime director of the New England Anti-Defamation League; Imam Faisal Khan, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Wayland, and Fred Manasse, a child Holocaust survivor who was brought to the U.S. by HIAS.

Speeches — even those given by non-Jewish speakers — were peppered with references to Jewish history and traditions.

“In this city we believe we can live in harmony,” de Blasio said in New York.” It’s not perfect, but we believe we can do something that the whole world is struggling to do, that we can all be together … people of all religions and backgrounds, that is what we’re fighting for — doesn’t that fit beautifully the profound Jewish concept of tikkun olam, of healing the world?”

Elianna Kan, left, said the fact that her family members came to the U.S. as refugees from the Soviet Union motivated her to attend the New York City rally with her friends Will Hunt and Sarah Rosen. (Josefin Dolsten)

Ellison, who told JTA that the rally was “one of the main reasons” for his visit to New York, talked in his speech about the MS St. Louis, a ship with 900 Jewish refugees from Germany that tried to enter the United States and other countries but was turned away. He called the incident “a shameful time in our country.”

“All of our officials who worked with this stuff knew about it. We can’t say we didn’t know — we knew,” said Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a front-runner to lead the Democratic National Committee. “We didn’t want to get involved, we wanted to just mind our own business, we just kind of thought, ‘Oh, this is not our issue.’”

Jewish ritual featured prominently. At one point during the New York rally, representatives of 10 of the co-sponsoring groups went on stage and tore pieces of cloth, mimicking a Jewish ritual in which mourners rend their clothing. The tearing was done to remind attendees of refugees who had died before being able to reach safety, as well as those who are now facing dangerous circumstances.

Bill de Blasio HIAS

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the HIAS rally in New York, Feb. 12, 2017. (Gili Getz)

In addition to co-sponsoring the New York event, the ADL on Sunday also launched a campaign to rally opposition to Trump’s executive order urging people to share on social media their family stories of coming to the U.S. and tagging posts with #ThisIsARefugee.

“We remember that we were once strangers, too, that Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and oppression during the Holocaust were often denied entry with claims eerily similar to some of the claims that are being made today to deny entrance to refugees, and we think that’s wrong,” Greenblatt told JTA on the phone before the rally.

Participants at the rally said they were compelled to attend for a variety of reasons, both personal and historical.

Lisa Davidson, a 41-year-old professor who attended the New York event, said she saw historic parallels between the Holocaust and the civil war in Syria.

“What’s going on in Syria right now is criminal, and it is sort of reminiscent of what happened in the Holocaust in the ’30s and ’40s, and I think that we don’t want to repeat that again, and we don’t want to sit and say that we did nothing,” Davidson said.

Lisa Davidson, seen at the New York rally, says she sees parallels between the Holocaust and the civil war in Syria. (Josefin Dolsten)

For some the motivation came from their family history. Levine, the marketing consultant whose grandfather immigrated to the U.S. over a century ago, brought with him a poster saying”This is personal” and showing a photograph of his grandfather and his immigration paperwork.

“I couldn’t not come here. The minute I heard about it, I thought I had to come,” he said.

Elianna Kan shared similar reasons for coming. The 28-year-old translator and journalist said her family came to the U.S. in the 1970s as refugees from the Soviet Union, receiving financial and logistical help from HIAS.

“I’m here and have the privilege of being born in a free country because people who were concerned with the plight of my family, whether or not they had a personal connection, were out there, and this seems like an even more extreme case,” she said. “It’s a different case, but the parallels are far too obvious to me.”

(JTA correspondent Penny Schwartz contributed reporting from Boston.)

Demonstrators at Chicago’s O’Hare airport protesting Donald Trump’s executive order on Jan. 29. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Jewish groups praise court for upholding stay on Trump’s travel ban


Jewish groups welcomed a federal appeals court ruling upholding a stay on President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees and of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“We applaud the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and hope that it sends an important message to the nation and the world that the United States is a nation that does not exclude people based on their faith and welcomes those seeking refuge,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement it posted on Twitter just minutes after the court ruled on Thursday.

The tweet noted that the ADL had joined an amicus brief in the legal action originally brought by the State of Washington against the ban.

The unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit panel of three judges was a narrow one, upholding last week’s decision by a federal court in Seattle to stay the ban pending further consideration of its legality.

Also commending the ruling was the American Jewish Committee. “We welcome the 9th Circuit ruling–an important moment for U.S. democracy and values,” it said on Twitter.

HIAS, the Jewish group advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees, tweeted links to the decision. It also has joined an amicus brief against the ban, in Maryland.

One of the HIAS tweets was a reminder that its battle against the ban is not over; Trump’s ban may yet be upheld by the courts.

“We will continue fighting Pres. Trump’s executive order until we’ve re-secured the American tradition of #WelcomingRefugees to our shores,” it said.

HIAS is spearheading rallies on behalf of refugees to take place in nearly a dozen states this Sunday. A focus will be Trump’s executive order. Also backing the rallies are the ADL, the American Jewish World Service, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the rabbinical associations of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called the court’s ruling “a victory for American freedom over Presidential tyranny.”

“The court has sided with refugees who thirst for hope over a president who yearns to hate,” the center said in a statement.

Trump appeared ready to take his case to reinstate the ban pending further legal review to the Supreme Court. “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” he said on Twitter.

Neither Trump nor his team has explained what imminent danger cannot withstand the temporary stay on his order, issued about a week after he assumed office last month; no terrorist committing a crime on U.S. soil has hailed from any of the seven nations listed in the ban.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, called on Trump to give up on the executive order.

“President Trump ought to see the writing on the wall, abandon proposal, roll up his sleeves and come up with a real, bipartisan plan to keep us safe,” he said on Twitter.

Alan Dershowitz, the noted constitutional lawyer, had similar advice.

“Precedent trumps President Trump,” he said on CNN.

President Donald Trump. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Why it’s so hard to write about Trump


Every profession has its challenges. For writers who try to come up with fresh insights on current events, the Donald Trump era is especially challenging. I mean, how many different ways can you write that our new president is a human train wreck?

What I have found, though, is that most people don’t want to talk about anything else. Right now, many of them are so angry and worked up over Trump that they have this deep need to express that anger. So, when they seek out what to read, they gravitate toward stuff that makes them feel better — in other words, stuff they completely agree with.

It’s tempting for writers to feed into that. I know I can write column after column bashing Trump and make lots of readers happy. Of course, I will essentially be repeating what many of you already know and are already fuming about. These days, anti-Trump columns are not a dime a dozen, they’re a penny a million (and for good reason).

But if all I do is confirm your beliefs, I’ll be doing you a disservice. I’m also here to challenge you, even if you may not be in the mood.

Take the case of Trump’s sloppy and overextended executive order on visas and immigration that resulted in hundreds of people, mostly Muslims, being humiliated or put in limbo or stranded at airports. In response, much of the country has exploded in anger, marching at airports and mobilizing an opposition movement. You can read hundreds of columns tapping into that anger.

But do you know what I think about when I see the pain and chaos inflicted by a rude and reckless Trump? I think of former President George W. Bush, who, unlike Trump, was a polite and decent man.

You see, this polite and decent man was responsible for squandering $3 trillion of our tax money on a ruinous war in Iraq that cost hundreds of thousands of human lives. And then I ask myself: As much as I can’t stand the vulgarity of Trump, would Trump have sucked our country into that big rip-off of a war? And if the answer is no, what is that worth?

I also think of the polite and decent former President Barack Obama, who allowed a humanitarian disaster to unfold in Syria that resulted in nearly 500,000 dead and millions of refugees, and I ask myself: Where were all the demonstrators then? Where was the public outcry? It’s not fair to blame the complex Syrian disaster only on Obama, but it is fair to ask why he didn’t do more.

One reason is that he didn’t want to jeopardize his nuclear deal with Iran, which has empowered the world’s No. 1 sponsor of terrorism to spread its carnage to Iraq, Syria and throughout the region. The deal is not without its benefits, but I still have to ask myself: Would Trump have driven a harder bargain that would have taken into account Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism? And if the answer is yes, what would that be worth?

It’s uncomfortable to think that decency doesn’t necessarily correlate with success.

None of this should make you feel better about Trump. It’s not meant to. Rather, it’s meant to put things into some larger perspective. America is coming off 16 years under two of the most decent and classy presidents in recent memory, and yet, we still ended up with untold horror for millions of people in a part of the world those presidents were totally focused on.

It’s uncomfortable to think that decency doesn’t necessarily correlate with success. Trump’s offensive style may be infuriating. His ideas may be scary. His initial moves may be reckless and cruel. All that may be true, and it may well lead to much darker days ahead. But it’s also possible that his forceful approach may spook and deter evil regimes like Iran, or shake up the hypocrites at the United Nations or even help create humanitarian safety zones in Syria. If such success happens, will we discount it because it came from a man we abhor?

People who are still in meltdown over Trump can’t conceive of the possibility that he may have any redeeming qualities. I get that and I have my own doubts. That’s partly why it’s so hard to write about him — most people just expect you to bash him. They don’t really want to read anything else.

Once in a while, though, it’s good to take our minds out for a walk and hear things we don’t expect to hear, if only to remind us of what makes America really great — that we live in a society that honors diversity of thought, including thoughts we have no time for.


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

Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for Research at Amnesty International's Beirut Regional office, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Feb. 6. Photo by Jamal Saidi/Reuters

Syrian government campaign of extrajudicial executions


Amnesty International says as many as 13,000 hanged at prison

A new report by Amnesty International describes a campaign of mass hangings and extrajudicial executions at Saydnaya prison. Since 2011, at least once a week, groups of up to 50 people were taken from their prison cells and hanged to death. In five years, as many as 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya.

The report called “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, also shows that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uses torture and deprives detainees of food, water, medicine and medical care. The report shows how these policies have killed large numbers of detainees.

“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.

“We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at Saydnaya Prison and in all other government prisons across Syria. Russia and Iran, the government’s closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies.

“The upcoming Syria peace talks in Geneva cannot ignore these findings. Ending these atrocities in Syrian government prisons must be put on the agenda. The UN must immediately carry out an independent investigation into the crimes being committed at Saydnaya and demand access for independent monitors to all places of detention.”

Amnesty carried out investigations over one year, and interviewed 84 witnesses including prison guards, detainees, judges and lawyers. In many cases, the prisoners did not know they were about to be killed. The report said that hangings at Saydnaya are carried out once or twice a week, usually on Monday and Wednesday, in the middle of the night. Those whose names are called out were told they would be transferred to civilian prisons in Syria. Instead, they are moved to a cell in the basement of the prison and beaten severely. They are then transported to another prison building on the grounds of Saydnaya, where they are hanged. Throughout this process, they remain blindfolded. They do not know when or how they will die until the noose was placed around their necks.

The accused are not given any real trial. One former judge from a Syrian military court told Amnesty International the “court” operates outside the rules of the Syrian legal system. “The judge will ask the name of the detainee and whether he committed the crime. Whether the answer is yes or no, he will be convicted… This court has no relation with the rule of law. This is not a court,” he said.

The Amnesty Report comes as Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has made gains against Islamic State and retaken large swaths of territory. While it once seemed impossible that Assad would stay on as Syria’s leader, it is now seeming more likely that he will. Assad has an interest in convincing both his citizens and the world that he can peacefully govern Syria.

“The regime has been trying very hard to make things look like everything is okay to the external world,” Laila Kiki, the media spokeswoman at the Syria Campaign, which is a global Syrian advocacy group based in Washington D.C. and Beirut, told The Media Line.

But the Amnesty Report shows that life in Syria is far from normal.

Rape is common, as is torture. Amnesty says at least 17,000 people have died in prisons across Syria in addition to the 13,000 hanged between 2011 and 2015.

“Every day there would be two or three dead people in our wing… I remember the guard would ask how many we had. He would say, ‘Room number one – how many? Room number two – how many?’ and on and on… There was one time that… the guards came to us, room by room, and beat us on the head, chest and neck. Thirteen people from our wing died that day,” said “Nader”, a former Saydnaya detainee.

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

When an executive order prompts civil disorder


Shortly before Shabbat fell on Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively slammed the door on refugees seeking entry to the United States — at least for now.

Shock and dismay had been building in the Jewish community since a draft of the order was leaked days beforehand, and on Jan. 28, those sentiments exploded onto Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s cellphone in the form of concerned messages from her congregants at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“When Shabbat ended last night, my phone was blowing up — emails, photos,” she said Jan. 29 as a crowd milled past her at the arrivals gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). “For Jews, there’s a clear line that’s been crossed.”

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

At LAX, where a number of travelers had been detained because of the order, thousands poured through terminals and onto the curbs the afternoon of Jan. 29. Police cut off traffic through much of the airport and largely gave protesters the run of Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Many protesters were Jews from congregations across the city, and even on signs held aloft by non-Jews, a certain Jewish influence could be detected in references to 1930s Germany and proclamations of “Never again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Let them in!’

As weary travelers emerged to boisterously chanting crowds, Adam and Noah Reich held a sign reading, “Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers.” While they spoke with a reporter, a short woman with olive skin, a total stranger, walked up and hugged both of them. That type of thing had been going on all afternoon.

“Maybe like, a dozen so far,” Noah said. “We’ve been here for a couple hours and people just come up to us.”

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

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

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

Gabriel was one of dozens of attorneys swarming the terminal, many with signs reading “lawyer” and announcing their foreign language proficiencies, hoping to be of help to stranded travelers or those recently released by Immigration and Customs officers.

“When you have individuals whose rights need to be protected, that’s when lawyers need to step in,” Gabriel said.

In fact, there was little work for the attorneys at the terminal, since those detained were stranded elsewhere, in the bowels of LAX, incommunicado. The crowds were chanting, “Let them in!” but lawyers were struggling even to make contact with those stranded.

“Our understanding is that there are a number of people with legal travel documents who are being detained in customs and border patrol, in custody,” said immigration attorney Michael Hagerty.

Hagerty was serving as ad hoc media liaison to a group of attorneys at the airport (as announced by a cardboard sign reading “media liaison”). Among his charges were representatives from legal aid clinic Public Counsel and the local American Civil Liberties Union. But information about those in limbo -— even a basic head count — proved difficult to come by.

“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know exactly what their legal status is on an individual basis, but in all likelihood, they are legal permanent residents, they are refugees with legal refugee travel documents, people with student visas,” Hagerty said.

As he spoke, wayfarers cut through surging crowds, pushing carts and lugging suitcases. For those just arriving, it must have presented an overwhelming scene: shouts of “USA!” from flamboyantly dressed protesters, their signs decorated with images ranging from the Statue of Liberty to Trump with a Hitler mustache, and outside, drums banging out an incessant beat.

Marchers mobbed the sidewalk on both the upper and lower levels, along with the international terminal itself. The crowd lined the curb, waving signs at passing cars, and some took to the upper levels of parking garages across the street to look down over the scene.

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

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

Mollie Goldberg from Los Angeles

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

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

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

Clergy respond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling over security, Holocaust memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took umbrage with comparisons to Jewish refugees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galvanizing young Jews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Rob Eshman

Trump’s anti-American immigration ban


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this time, the xenophobes are in charge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_4107