November 20, 2018

Columbia Updates Statement on Pittsburgh Shooting That Didn’t Mention Jews or Anti-Semitism

Photo from Pixabay.

Columbia University revised their initial Oct. 28 statement on the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh after facing criticism for not mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism.

The initial statement, which was sent out to the Columbia community from Columbia’s student life office, says that they are “deeply saddened by the senseless violence” and they “stand strongly against these efforts to create fear and terror.”

“For some in our community, this is a particularly frightening time as we have seen a growing number of highly visible attacks directed at faith and identity – on worshippers and people of faith as they go through their daily lives, on groups gathered to celebrate an LGBT Latin night at Pulse Nightclub, on civil rights and anti-racist protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, and in so many other places, as occurred in last Wednesday’s shooting of two African-American shoppers in Kentucky,” the statement read. “Please know that you are not alone, and that you are a part of this community founded on the fundamental dignity and worth of all.”

Zachary Neugut, a Columbia alumnus, tweeted on Oct. 28 that he was “embarrassed” by the university’s email.

“Classic @Columbia to send an email about the #TreeOfLifeSynagogue shooting and mention anti-LGBT and anti-black hatred but NOT ANTI-SEMITISM,” Neugut wrote. “The world has gone mad, I’m embarrassed today to call myself an alumnus & regret having donated to @CC_Columbia this year. #Columbia”

Neugut tweeted on Oct. 29 that Columbia apologized to him in a private Twitter message and revised their statement. The statement now reads, “We are deeply saddened by the horrific anti-Semitic attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning. Violence in our nation’s houses of worship is an affront to the freedoms our community holds dear. We stand strongly against yesterday’s violent attack on the Jewish community and against other efforts to create fear and terror.”

“They shouldn’t make this mistake in the first place and their new statement is barely better,” Neugut tweeted. “Conflating anti-Semitism with other hatreds is idiotic.”

Neugut elaborated further in a Facebook message to the Journal that anti-Semitism “has nothing to do with the other ‘forms of oppression’ (though those are obviously also bad).”

“Instead of taking an intersectional approach which dilutes the focus from Jewish oppression immediately after the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history, the focus should be on anti-Semitism,” Neugut wrote.

Negut added that he was angered by Columbia’s initial statement because he “had only amazing experiences” at Columbia up till that point.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in an email, “11 Jews are mass murdered in a synagogue on Shabbat morning by a gunman who was screaming ‘kill all Jews’ and a university in New York City with massive Jewish alumni is caught disrespecting a grieving Jewish people? Updating? How about a wake-up call for all universities to stop coddling anti-Semites on their campuses?”

“These academics get an F,” Cooper added. “They simply refuse to say the A word. And too many university leaders refuse to deal with anti-Semitism on their own campuses leaving Jewish students targets for anti-Semitic intimidation and worse.”

“This refusal to recognize, let alone combat, anti-Semitism explains why the Simon Wiesenthal Center supports a Congressional bill to define the term, so the U.S. Dept. of Education can finally defend Jewish students when Universities won’t.”

Columbia had not responded to the Journal’s request for comment at publication time.

Pittsburgh Should Unite Us, Not Divide Us

Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

There may be many reasons to target President Donald Trump, but those who are blaming him for the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue last Saturday are only accentuating the deep divisions within our community. 

I realize that with the midterm elections around the corner, it’s tempting to double down and simply blame Trump for anything bad that happens in America. But before rushing to politicize the horror in Pittsburgh, it would behoove us to slow down a little.

Anti-Semitism transcends politics.  

First, the vile anti-Semite who murdered 11 Jews, Robert Bowers, didn’t just hate Jews—he also hated Trump. As Kelly Weill writes in the Daily Beast, he “raged at Donald Trump for being insufficiently anti-Semitic.”

Bowers, Weill writes, was “among a set of neo-Nazis who criticized President Donald Trump for being, as they saw it, not biased enough toward Jews.” When Bowers wrote on Gab, “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation,” he was surely aware that Trump is surrounded by Jews, including his Jewish grandchildren, and has embraced his daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism.

Bowers would certainly recoil at the president’s statement on the day of the massacre that “Anti-semitism represents one of the ugliest and darkest features of human history. Anti-semitism must be condemned anywhere and everywhere. There must be no tolerance for it.”

So, if we’re going to speculate about what triggered this murderer, let’s include the fact that President Trump was too pro-Jewish to nourish this Nazi’s appetite for Jew-hatred. Of course, if it’s Jew-hatred this killer is looking for, he can find just as much on the Farrakhan left as on the nationalist right.

Second, we know one thing that did trigger Bowers— Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the venerable Jewish nonprofit that aids Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. Two hours before his rampage, Bowers posted on Gab: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

I get that Trump has used harsh and divisive rhetoric, but does that mean he’s responsible for this bigot’s rage at HIAS and his DNA-level rage at immigrants?

My point is not to defend Trump but to argue that we’re missing the bigger picture. Choosing the murder of 11 Jews in a synagogue as yet another opportunity to target Trump distracts from the evil act itself. It makes it about politics, not human hatred. It keeps us all in partisan-fighting mode.

I’d be saying the same thing if a far-left, anti-Zionist Jew-hater had committed this atrocity. I’d be imploring the Right not to exploit the tragedy to bash the anti-Zionist Left. I’m not naïve. I know that virtually everything these days has become political.

But if there were ever a cause that merits putting our political differences aside, how can it not be fighting anti-Semitism?

As ADL leader Jonathan Greenblatt wrote in the New York Times on Sunday, “People of all faiths and ideologies must speak out clearly and forcefully against anti-Semitism, scapegoating and bigotry in our society.”

To put it more bluntly, should we focus our energies against Trump or against Jew-haters? Greenblatt’s predecessor, Abe Foxman, agrees that Trump “needs to change the rhetoric he uses to explain his policies,” but, as he said on JPost, “Trump is part of the problem but not the problem. We have to make him not the problem because we don’t want to politicize anti-Semitism, which is a disease of both the Left and the Right.”

How useful was it for Jewish Trump critics in Pittsburgh to release a statement saying, “President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh…” followed by a series of demands? Even if those demands are the height of morality, it’s embarrassing to use a moment of public grieving to target a president.    

Our community pays a heavy price when we allow our political ideologies to get in the way of the great Jewish imperative of our time. Instead of uniting to fight a common foe, we are digging in and turning on each other.

Instead of discussing strategies to anticipate and fight Jew-hatred of all kinds, we’re fighting over which political side is more responsible.

If we’re serious about honoring the lost souls of the Tree of Life, we must transcend our obsession with politics and unite around the ultimate Jewish cause of fighting anti-Semitism. If we fail to do that, the only ones who will celebrate will be the anti-Semites– both right and left.

My Name Is Jew, and I Want My Name Back

Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

My name is “Jew.” My name is smoothed by centuries of storms, polished by the rolling river of time. My name is a diamond, born of friction and pressure, thrust to the surface by fiery lava, precious, multi-faceted. My name is “Jew” and my name is the philosopher’s stone, turning base metals into gold, turning all that is mundane in this world and infusing it with meaning, turning it into the shining substance of the sacred.

My name is “Jew” and my name turns the animal of man, his brutality, his beastliness, into beauty and righteousness, elevating him above his dust and his dross.

“Jew” is the stamp on the greatest love-letter ever written, from Creator to created, the love-letter in which we are given the Ten Commandments, the ethical guideposts of civilizations, the love-letter that proclaimed that every person is made in the Image of God, b’Tzelem Elohim, that every living vessel, whether broken or whole, is infused worthiness, casting down cast systems, a love-letter that told the story of all humanity descending from one couple, that we are one family, no one superior to another, a love-letter that illustrated the redemption of a slave people into a nation of priests, a people whose babies had been drowned in the river, a people beaten and in rags, restored to dignity, a thread of royal blue tied to the corner of their garments, a reminder of each individual’s inherent nobility.

Dear humankind, Here is Shabbat, the world’s greatest religious gift, a day upon which the flower and the gardener stand as equals to one another, day of peace, of rest, of family, of vision of a future world. Enjoy. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, I have put My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between [God] and the world. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Love your neighbor as yourself. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Welcome the stranger in your midst. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Let my people go. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, 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. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof. Love, Jews.

I want my name back.

Jew means “championing what is arguably the single most revolutionary concept in human civilization, monotheism.” One God. A universal moral code of conduct.

Jew means having partnership with the Divine for the repair of our broken world. Tikkun Olam.

Jew means helping the other is my responsibility during my lifetime. Jew means confessing my shortcomings and striving to better myself.

I want my name back. My name is “Jew.”

Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles is the senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles.

Words That Kill: The Genocidal Nature of Anti-Semitism

Screenshot from Twitter.

“Screenshot from Twitter.

Let’s say a young man sprays “John loves Sally” onto a wall to celebrate his new love.  It may be a misdemeanor because it damages property, but otherwise it’s harmless graffiti. So too when John then sprays the symbol of his favorite white supremacist band. But when he scrawls a swastika and “Death to the Jews” on the Jewish cemetery wall, it is a genocidal threat.

The slaying of innocent Jewish lives in Pittsburgh by accused gunman Robert Bowers, who turned his rhetoric about killing Jews into the actual killing of Jewish people, is the latest example of many centuries that evidence such behavior. The history of anti-Semitism is strewn with the corpses of Jews who could not get out of the way when words turned to violence. This is not a matter for the Jews alone; rather, the problem belongs to our entire society in not recognizing the lethal potency of anti-Semitism.

Let us be clear: This is not just hate speech, this is an explicit threat. We need laws to allow intervention much earlier, or this will not be the last time we see Jewish people die in America because they are Jews.

We need no reminder that the Nazis were the masters of rhetoric. No one should have been surprised when Hitler murdered the Jews, because the logical ramification of everything he wrote and said was the extermination of the Jews. The book, “The Yellow Spot: The Extermination of Europe’s Jews” was published in 1936. It was clear to the authors four years before the Final Solution began that some kind of final solution was inevitable, based on what was being said.

“There is a difference between speech that is hurtful but not harmful, and speech that is demonstrably harmful in its own right.”

There is legal precedent following the Rwandan genocide, as determined by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda established by the United Nations Security Council. Ferdinand Nahimana is serving time for running a radio station that incited hatred; Simon Bikindi is serving time for writing songs of hatred. Yes, a musician was given a life sentence by an international tribunal for song writing. The only conclusion: words can and did kill.

Several European countries outlaw Holocaust denial. These preventions of speech have nothing to do with fact-checking history in the courts; that would rail against everything that free speech laws are made to protect. But because there is a fundamental recognition that speech denyjng the Holocaust carries with it the inherent threat of the original crime itself.

As a newly minted U.S. citizen about to vote for the first time, I took an oath, learned the Constitution’s amendments and am proud to uphold them as a dutiful American. The First Amendment in particular gives us all great and wonderful freedoms. There is a difference between speech that is hurtful but not harmful, and speech that is demonstrably harmful in its own right. Our narrow reading of harm requires a physical act to take place to determine whether the speech can be retroactively linked to the motive or intent of the violent party. The connection of the speech to harm only occurs after the harm.

It is time to re-examine death threats to Jewish people in the light of history. Phrases such as “All the Jews must die” allegedly called out before the killing at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh is now demonstrably harmful. We know very well that anyone who says “Death to the Jews” is uttering an existential threat to actual Jewish lives based on a substantial body of evidence.

It is time our lawmakers wrestle with and confront the reality that anti-Semitism attacks our society and has proven itself to be a killer of Jewish people and others. Other hatreds have similar legacies that must also be reconsidered. Racism, homophobia and xenophobia are all proven killers. It is the role of the law to do everything in its power to prevent such loss.

Stephen Smith is the Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

Pittsburgh Massacre an Attack on Humanity

Words fail in the aftermath of the horrifying tragedy in Pittsburgh.

Eleven synagogue worshipers were brutally murdered while in the midst of their prayers. Six others, including police officers, were wounded. The FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh office, Bob Jones, said that it was the most “horrific crime scene” he’s witnessed in his 22 year career with the Bureau.

The shooter, Robert Bowers, shouted “all Jews must die” while he carried out his massacre. Commentators are already calling this the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

The name of the congregation in which the attack took place is “The Tree of Life”. But on this day it became identified with death.

What makes this all the more tragic is the event which was taking place at the time. The synagogue was in the midst of rejoicing with a family celebrating a brit milah and baby naming, affirming a child’s identification with the Jewish people.

A celebration of life turned into a bloodbath. And we can only ask, will it never end?

We mourn with broken hearts. But it would be a mistake if we merely perceived this as an attack on Jews, as but another in the lengthy list of anti-Semitic atrocities of history.

When Jews are murdered in a house of God it is an affront to every person who believes that all of humankind was created “in the image of God.” It represents the ultimate rejection of civilized society.

Sadly, what happened in Pittsburgh is not an isolated incident. It is an echo of a kind of evil which we have come to witness in recent times. And it is an evil which, either on a conscious or subconscious level, has a powerful motivation.

Terrorist attacks are heinous crimes no matter where they occur. Carried out in places of worship, their malevolence is not only magnified multiple times but their rationale also takes on a different meaning. That is unfortunately what we have seen with ever greater frequency.

In July 2008, Jim David Adkisson began his shooting spree at the Tennessee Valley Universalist church in Knoxville Tennessee. He killed two people and wounded seven others. He justified his actions by citing the historically progressive policies of the Unitarian church. Four years later a white supremacist, Wade Michael Page, attacked a Sikh temple, or gurdwaras, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six people and wounding four more before committing suicide. In June 2015, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who frequently posted publicly about his desire to kill nonwhites, murdered nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston South Carolina. And just last year 26 people were killed in the deadliest church shooting in American history at the First Baptist Church in Sutherlands Springs, Texas.

What explains this striking parallelism? Why have churches and synagogues and houses of worship become appealing targets of hatred?

It is almost certain that the perpetrators of these crimes know that they can commit the maximum emotional devastation when they strike at the very heart of the spiritual fabric of the community. Houses of God are sources of inspiration for good. They are the foundations of civility, of respect, of the dissemination of values which make possible human survival.

And that is what makes them such appealing places upon which to express their prejudices, their bigotry and – in the most profound psychological truth – their inner self-hatred.

Simon Wiesenthal warned us years ago that “the combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.” We have long been concentrating on the dangers of technology and its awful potential for human destruction. We need to put equal effort into combating the hatred which knows no limits and finds its most satisfying outlet against those very places which bring the world the beauty of God and of love.

This story was originally posted on

Cry, Don’t Politicize. 9 Comments on the Pittsburgh Massacre

People mourn the loss of life as they hold a vigil for the victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018. REUTERS/John Altdorfer

I have nine comments on the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27:

It is heartbreaking. Full stop. Have a moment of silence, light a candle, remember that when Jews are killed for being Jews you bleed, all Jews bleed. Thus, treat this butchery of hate not as an opportunity to advance a political agenda. Make it personal. Make it about love. Mourn it.


Yes, it is the worst ever massacre of Jews in America. Don’t over interpret this fact – as it is mostly a coincidence. Some killers are less successful, some more. No one goes on a murderous rampage thinking oh, I will just kill three or five Jews. A butcher on a rampage kills as many Jews as possible. In this case, it was more than all previous such cases.


America did not change yesterday, not for Jews, nor for other Americans. In America mass killings of this type are a horrific recurrence. It can be a school or university, a gay club or a rock concert, it can be a synagogue. America is armed to its teeth, and has its fair share of radicals, lunatics and delusional haters. This is a deadly combination. From time to time, Jews will be the victims.

“Making Jews feel even more exposed, even more a target of hate, could be the result of wrong, politically driven policies.”


The question of security, of guards, of locked gates, is not very interesting. It is a technical question, one of risk assessment, of cost-benefit assessment. The leaders of institutions must consult with professionals and decide how best to secure the gathering places of Jews. President Trump, speaking yesterday about the attack, made a comment about the need for guards that some observers were quick to interpret as a “blame-the-victim” tactic. It was not. It was just Trump being Trump, and making a statement that was not well crafted. As for security: he may have a point. Or not. Let professionals decide.


Trump was also the target of many other observations following the massacre. Some went as far as blaming him for it. This is both unfair and foolish. Mass killings occurred before Trump. Hatred of Jews did not start at his watch. True – the US is tenser, more violent, more on edge in the Trump era. Is he the cause of it, or just the result? Probably both. And yet, there is no doubt that the President is not a Jew hater, does not encourage or condone hate of Jews, does not aim to hurt Jews.


Yes, and blaming him is a fool’s errand. Trump has many followers. Most of them bear no ill will against Jews. Yet if the Jews make the president their prime target of criticism – if they portray him and his supporters as anti-Semitic haters – alienation will follow, and anger.


The counter argument has power. The Jews are not tourists in America, they are not guests. If they see a wolf, they must cry. If they see injustice, they must wage a battle. Under such circumstances, restraint is the remedy. Wage a battle – wisely. Wage a battle – cautiously. Wage a battle – to win. Waging it to lose could be admirable, and very dangerous.


A few Israeli spectators also politicized the murder. On Israeli Radio a senior commentator made it about Conservative Judaism – the Pittsburgh synagogue is Conservative – not being recognized by the state. Again – unfair and unwise. And for similar reasons. No Jew wants other Jews to get killed – because of disagreements over theology. No Jew should be made to feel guilty about the murder, just because he or she do not agree with Conservative Judaism.


Jews tend to respond to such instances of violence in two ways: Those of them who feel a part of the community raise their level of involvement and awareness – those of them who have doubts lower their level of communal participation, to stay safe.

This is not an easy test for the Jewish community. And its implications are not immediately known. Making Jews feel safe as they identify Jewishly and engage Jewishly ought to be the main task ahead. Making Jews feel even more exposed, making Jews even more a target of hate, could be the result of wrong, politically driven, policies.

Federal Charges Filed Against Pittsburgh Shooter

Police officers guard the Tree of Life synagogue following shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018. REUTERS/John Altdorfer

Federal charges are being filed against 46-year-old Robert Bowers for shooting and killing at least 11 people and injuring several others at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh.

According to a statement from United States Attorney of the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott W. Brady and FBI Special Agent Robert Jones, Bowers will be charged with 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, eleven counts of use of a firearm to commit murder, four courts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

“The crimes of violence are based upon the federal civil rights laws prohibiting hate crimes,” Brady and Jones said. “The FBI in Pittsburgh is leading the investigation.”

Bowers reportedly shouted, “All Jews must die!” during the shooting and had a slew of anti-Semitic posts on the far-right social media platform Gab.

More to come…

Jewish World Reacts to the ‘Deadliest Attack on the Jewish Community’

At least 11 people were killed and 10 others were injured at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning during a bris, according to Curt Conrad, chief of staff for Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor.

According to NBC News, the alleged gunman has been identified 46-year-old Robert Bowers, who was shot at least once by police during the exchange of gunfire at the synagogue. He was taken to the hospital and is undergoing treatment.

The Times of Israel reports that Bowers had an account on the far-right social media platform Gab, where his profile read: “Jews are the children of the Satan.” He also railed against HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society], a nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid to immigrants and refugees.

Bowers also reportedly shouted “All Jews must die!” during the shooting.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, “It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.”

“Our hearts break for the families of those killed and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh,” Greenblatt said. “We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. We are actively engaged with law enforcement to support their investigation and call on authorities to investigate this as a hate crime.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center released this statement:

“We are sickened by this horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s historic Jewish neighborhood. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the dead and injured as well as the rest of the congregation and Jewish community.”

“We urge President Trump to immediately convene an emergency meeting of religious leaders to help stop the slide to extremism in American Society,“ said Rabbi Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, Dean and Founder and Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action said in a statement released Saturday night in Austria, Vienna.

“Americans need and want leadership from both sides of the political aisle to stop the continuous slide to the brink. The President should also immediately convene a cross section of faith leaders to help turn the tide against hate and extremism.

“This Wednesday the SWC will release a national poll that shows a plurality of Americans believe the US is headed to a Civil War,” the rabbis concluded.

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) issued the following statement:

“Once again, a vicious act of malice has transformed a place of worship into a crime scene. While federal officials work with local and state law enforcement to investigate this tragedy, what we do know is clear: This was a hate crime of horrific proportions.

“Antisemitism has no place in our society. If we fail to commit in fighting against such hatred together, I fear it will continue to plague our country and lead to more senseless killings like what we saw this morning in Pittsburgh.

“Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Tree of Life Synagogue community. May their memories be a blessing to all.”

The Union for Reform Judaism also issued the following statement:

The slaughter of our brothers and sisters praying in their holy synagogue this Shabbat in Pittsburgh breaks our collective heart.

The murders took place during a prayer service in the Tree of Life congregation where, like synagogues all around the world, they were reading from Genesis recounting how Abraham welcomed perfect strangers into his tent. How painful and ironic that we live in a time when we have to temper our loving welcome of strangers as we protect our communities from violence and hate.

There is much which is unknown about today’s horrific killings. We will learn more over the next hours and days. We will continue to work with our nation’s synagogues and other houses of worship and law enforcement to enhance security and provide effective protections for our communities – and our nation.

This time the Jewish community was targeted, in what may be the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. Other times it has been African-Americans. Or Sikhs. Or Muslims. Or members of the LGBTQ community. Or too many others. What we know is this: the fabric holding our nation together is fraying. It is our task to ensure that it does not come apart.

Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks said in a letter to their congregants that they plan on beefing up their security in response to the shooting:

This morning we were shocked and saddened to learn of a mass shooting during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. In response, we have taken immediate steps to increase the security presence on our campus.
We are monitoring national and local law enforcement communications; at this time there are no known threats to our community. We continue to work with law enforcement to evaluate and ensure we have adequate security measures in place on our campus.
We mourn this horrific shooting and stand with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh during this traumatic time.
Our hearts go out to the all those who have been affected by this senseless act of terror. May the memory of these innocent victims be a blessing.
The Israeli-American Council released this statement:
The Israeli-American Council is horrified by the tragic news this morning of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where innocent people were murdered in cold blood and others were injured, including numerous police officers. 

Our community mourns the loss of our brothers and sisters who were savagely killed on a Shabbat morning simply because they were Jews, and as they were praying together and celebrating the arrival of a newborn to the community. Our prayers go out to the fallen loved ones and to the injured. 

Today’s events are yet another reminder that the age-old evil of anti-Semitism remains a uniquely dangerous and destructive force in our world. Slaughtering Jews whether they are worshipping at a synagogue in Pittsburg, shopping at a Kosher supermarket in Paris, or walking on the streets of Jerusalem is just the extreme manifestation of this ongoing scourge. We must remain united and vigilant against this heinous evil and fight it wherever it rears its ugly head. 

We are all one Jewish family. At difficult moments like this, Jews of all denominations and political leanings must come together to provide comfort, healing, and strength to each other. The IAC is committed to lead these efforts in our communities from coast to coast. We will continue our fight against hate and anti-Semitism. 

We thank the law enforcement community that rushed to the synagogue and stopped this horrific attack.  

Baruch Dayan Emet. May the memory of the fallen be for the blessing. 

The Israel Project noted the recent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in a statement:
The Israel Project condemns the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mourns the loss of life, and expresses our support for the victims and their families at this difficult time. The attack was clearly motivated by anti-Semitism – a growing trend in the U.S. that can no longer be ignored or explained away.

According to the ADL, 2017 saw a 60% increase in acts of assault, harassment, and vandalism against Jews and Jewish institutions. In 2018, there are more people running for elected office in this country, who espouse anti-Semitic views, than ever before.  FBI statistics show over 50% of religious Hate Crimes are attacks on American Jews. These are shocking developments and our community needs to begin a serious dialogue about how to respond effectively. 

Joshua S. Block, CEO & President of The Israel Project said: “Today is a very sad day for all of America. Targeting people on the basis of religious and cultural identities goes against everything we stand for as Americans and as a country. These tragic events underscore the importance of safeguarding our cherished democratic freedoms. Fighting anti-Semitism is not the responsibility of the Jewish community alone. Fighting anti-Semitism is a responsibility for society at large.”

President Donald Trump in a statement told CNN, “If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him… When people do this, they should get the death penalty,” he said. “Anybody that does a thing like this to innocent people that are in temple or in church … they should be suffering the ultimate price, they should pay the ultimate price.”

More to come…

UPDATE: Amanda Susskind, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Los Angeles Regional Director, told the Journal that the ADL isn’t aware of any current threats in the Los Angeles area but they are on “higher alert.”

“The [LAPD] chief and the [L.A. County] sheriff are good about getting more attention to the Jewish community, especially on Shabbat [and] I think there has been an amped up level of security today,” Susskind said.

Masa Israel Journey shared with the Journal the following statement regarding today’s shooting:

“On behalf of the Masa Israel Journey professional team, participants, and alumni from around the world, I want to express my horror and strongest condemnation of the heinous crime committed this Shabbat morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where it is reported that several worshippers were shot and killed with more injured, including police officers.

Media reports suggest that the evil man responsible for this crime murdered the people in this synagogue simply because they were Jewish. Anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred, but it is all too present in our world today, targeting Jews in America, Israel, and all around the world. We must fight this evil in all of its forms.

As Shabbat goes out tonight, the Masa family’s thoughts and prayers will be with the victims and their families. We grieve with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. At this moment of grief and tragedy, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters all around the world.”

Swarthmore SJP Calls for University to Join BDS

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Swarthmore’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter is calling on the university to divest from companies that do business with the Israel.

The Phoenix, Swarthmore’s student newspaper, reports that SJP held a rally on Oct. 9 calling on the school to divest from seven specific companies – a list that included Boeing, Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Hyundai and Hewlett-Packard – that “are complicit in Israeli settlement of disputed land.”

“I think the goal is more broadly is several things: get Israel to end the blockade on Gaza, get Israel to end its military occupation of the West Bank, and allow Palestinians the right of return, which they are guaranteed under international law,” SJP member Fouad Dakwar said at the rally.

Swarthmore Students for Israel wrote in an Oct. 10 statement on Facebook that they “vehemently condemn” SJP’s latest announcement:

Israel is an issue that supersedes religious and political lines and we firmly stand with the Pro-Israel community, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike. As such we recognize the variety of opinions within the pro-Israel spectrum but come together with the soul binding belief that Israel has the right to exist and that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination. Furthermore, Swarthmore College prides itself on critical thinking, open dialogue, and respect for each other’s humanity and right to existence. The BDS movement has proven time and time again that it strictly opposes every single one of these values.

At this time we are unaware how SJP plans to initiate this campaign or how it will manifest, but our student and alumni community can rest assured that we will do our utmost to combat it in all forms as it reveals itself. When the time comes, we hope our allies will reach out and help us defeat this.

The reality stands that pro-Israel and Jewish students are harassed and/or assaulted, both on the national level and within the Swarthmore community. It is unacceptable. The support is here. The community is here. We are here.

Swarthmore Students for Israel’s co-president, Rebekah Katz, wrote an op-ed in The Phoenix titled “BDS is a Denial of My Existence” arguing that while she is a progressive who is critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and supportive of a two-state solution, SJP seeks to destroy Israel altogether:

In my experience, however, advocates of Students for Justice in Palestine don’t necessarily see my viewpoint. They often make the claim Zionism is defined as white supremacy and colonialism, and advocate for BDS as a solution to that erroneous definition, and fail to recognize the spectrum of opinions within the pro-Israel community. If they’re going to draw these conclusions, than they also need to understand how the organizations and movements they support reflect terribly on the cause they claim to be fighting for. When I see Students for Justice in Palestine, I see their co-founder Hatem Bazian perpetuating blatant antisemitism on Twitter by retweeting memes of a foolishly depicted Hassidic men with the overlay “Mom, look! I is chosen! And now I rape, smuggle or steal the land of the Palestinians! #Ashke #Nazi;” I see aggressive and intimidating protest exhibited at UCLA’s Indigenous Peoples Unite panel discussion; I see major activists tweeting (and deleting) things like “‘I would have killed all the jews in the world, But I kept some to show the world why I killed them’ -Hitler- #PrayForGaza #PrayForPalestina.” I see support for indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza landing in civilian homes filled with mothers and children and stabbing attacks and shootings, and blatant conflations of anti-Zionism and antisemitism perpetuated by their own advocates despite my hearing their own constant assertions that they are not the same thing.

Katz added that the SJP-BDS crowd tends to view Israel as simply being a safe haven of “white European and American” Jews, yet ignore the fact that Israel is a place of refuge for “Jews of color in the Yemeni, Mizrachi, North Africa, Sephardic, and Arab communities.”

“To advocate for the disintegration of the Jewish state via BDS is to advocate for the displacement of these very people,” Katz wrote. “And so how do I disregard the reality that the Jewish people are still in danger to this day, that six million of my people were massacred no more than 80 years ago and the constantly impending fear that there’s no telling when a massacre may happen again? How am I supposed to throw away the level of protection that Israel provides by supporting its disintegration? How am I supposed to ignore the millennia of pain my own people have faced? And so, how could I possibly support a movement that, at its core, threatens to take that away?”

Swarthmore Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown told The Phoenix that the university does not divest from companies based on political purposes.

“The investment guidelines of the Board of Managers clearly state that endowment investment decisions are made without regard to social issues,” Brown said.

SJP’s prior activity on Swarthmore’s campus includes protesting a Swarthmore Students for Israel and CAMERA event on campus and calling for the school to boycott Sabra hummus. The university responded to the hummus protest by offering an alternate brand of hummus in addition to Sabra hummus.

University of Winnipeg Apologizes for Anti-Semitic Event

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The University of Winnipeg admitted that an event held earlier in the year on campus was anti-Semitic and has apologized for it.

The event, “My Jerusalem: Responding to the U.S. Embassy Announcement,” took place on Feb. 28 during Purim. B’nai Brith Canada said at the time that the event featured two Palestinian speakers – Fadi Ennab and Idris Elbakri – accusing Israel of “genocide” of being the equivalent of “European settlers.

B’nai Brith also accused the panel of being “one-sided” and not providing the pro-Israel perspective.

“The University of Winnipeg should not be spending public money on absurd anti-Israel propaganda,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn, said in a statement at the time. “It is absolutely shameful to host an event concerning Judaism’s holiest city on a Jewish holiday, while refusing to include any mainstream Jewish voices.”

“The University administration owes Winnipeg Jews an apology.”

The university established a committee to investigate the matter; the committee concluded that the event met the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The committee recommended that the university publicly acknowledge the anti-Semitism that took place and take steps to ensure that it never happens again, such as putting on events that educates students on the Holocaust and anti-Semitic stereotypes.

“The University regrets the anti-Semitic statements made at the My Jerusalem event,” the university said in an Oct. 18 statement.

The statement added that while the university did not organize the event, the Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment (RWLE) standards were still applicable to an on-campus event, and such anti-Semitic statements violate the RWLE standards.

“Whether providing space, hosting or organizing events or discussions, the University strives to ensure a respectful environment,” the statement read “In response to the recommendations contained within the report, the University will work with members of the Jewish community and other racialized groups to enhance our campus environment and promote safety and inclusivity.”

Ran Ukashi, national director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights told Arutz Sheva he was “pleased” with the university’s statement.

“This incident also highlights the importance of universities using the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism, as it clearly identifies what constitutes anti-Semitism, which includes the promotion of anti-Jewish hatred under the guise of anti-Zionism,” Ukashi said.

Alison Mayersohn Retires From ADL

Alison Mayersohn with her grandchildren Orly and Avi. Photo courtesy of Alison Mayersohn.

If you’re a Los Angeles Jewish community professional or you work in any major media organization that writes about issues of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, chances are you not only have heard of, but also have worked with, Alison Rudolph Mayersohn — the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Los Angeles deputy regional director. 

Born in Westwood, Mayersohn has spent the past 15 years working at the ADL, but the 65-year-old officially hung up her hat on Oct. 19, after giving four months’ notice to her boss, Regional Director Amanda Susskind. 

“That’s just like [Mayersohn],” Susskind told the Journal via telephone. “She said, when she gave her notice in July, ‘I’ll stay through your wedding.’ ” (Susskind married earlier this month.)

Susskind called Mayersohn, “The ‘A’ Team. I’ll miss her sunny disposition, her sense of humor. She often breaks into song in the office — not particularly in tune, but we love her for it.”

On a more serious note, Susskind said Mayersohn “runs the office better than I do when I’m not there. She can keep a lot of balls in the air.” 

Asked to highlight one incident that summed up Mayersohn’s 15-year tenure, Susskind paused before stating, “The ADL’s Sherwood Prize for law enforcement officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to combat hate. [Mayersohn] is personally responsible for taking that to a great level of media awareness.”

In a separate interview with the Journal, Mayersohn also noted this as a highlight of her career. 

Mayersohn receiving Senn Award at ADL Los Angeles Gala, Beverly Hilton Hotel, 2010. Photo Courtesy ADL

Jewish Journal: How did you make the decision to retire? 

Alison Mayersohn: I’d been thinking about it and full disclosure, I’m almost 66. I knew at some point I would retire and I kind of waited until it felt right. 

I felt I had had a really good run both in the totality of my career and in my 15 years at ADL. I was ready to spend more time away from work. I hadn’t been ready when I turned 65. I really do want to spend more time exercising and what I would call body maintenance, and I hope that the last phase of my life is as healthy as possible. And I want to travel more. We have a total of six grandchildren around the country. I’d like to spend more time with them as they grow up. 

JJ: What drew you to work at the ADL? 

AM: I was at the Jewish Federation of Orange County for nine years, the last eight as director of marketing. I wanted to come back to Los Angeles. I wanted to use all of my media experience, because that’s definitely a skill set. I had done a lot of community organizing and [the ADL position] included that and I was particularly interested in issues relating to anti-Semitism and Israel.

JJ: Where did that interest come from?

AM: I grew up in a secular home and I became interested as a teenager in Judaism and then I went and minored in Jewish studies at UCLA, and a lot of my career was in the Jewish communal field. I had sought out involvement in the Jewish community for that feeling of community and sort of found a home in being a Jewish communal professional. It made me feel even more part of the community and I felt I was doing something valuable. 

JJ: Were there any experiences in your ADL tenure that you found pleasantly surprising and conversely, anything that was shocking or overwhelming?

AM: When I [first] came here one of my colleagues said, “Many of us who come to work here are used to being the smartest person in the room. You will never be the smartest person in the room.” That was really, really good advice and it was true. You’re working with incredibly smart people who are working on the cutting edge issues of the day. 

On the other side, I had an understanding about anti-Semitism when I got the job. I had experienced it a little as a young person. Certainly from working at various Jewish federations, I understood it. As a history major at UCLA I certainly understood the history of anti-Semitism, but when you are in a position that day after day you’re seeing photos and images and hearing stories from people, I think that there’s nothing that anyone can do to prepare for what that’s like to do for 15 years.

JJ: How do you deal with that and not become overwhelmed?

AM: You try not to get jaded. You want to still be reactive and get upset but at the same time you can’t spend 24 hours a day getting upset. You hope that what you’re doing is helping in some large and small ways. 

In a large way you’re hoping to reduce anti-Semitism, although we’ve certainly seen an increase in anti-Semitism in the last couple of years. But on the other hand, you can help the individual. They come to you and they’ve never heard the epithet “dirty Jew” and as someone with a lot of experience talking to a lot of people I hope that I’m able to help calm them and help them put it in perspective. 

“I don’t feel in terms of anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment or diversity — any of those things that [the ADL] stands for and worked so hard for — that the current climate is better now.”
— Alison Mayersohn

JJ: What are some of the changes you’ve seen at the ADL during your tenure?

AM: Campus issues have become more and more of an issue. Also, we have gotten calls from the time I started here to this year where people call and are astonished that somebody left them a voicemail saying, “I think you should go back to the ovens,” or some other horrible thing like that. Those things happened when I came here in 2003 and they’re still happening in 2018.  It’s horrible.

And since 2016, there’s been less and less civility and people are more willing to say these things. And people are also more willing to call us and tell us about them. I think the whole issue of lack of civility in the public square has been way more front and center in the last couple of years.

The other thing I have seen, especially before Charlottesville, [Va.], people would say, “You work at the ADL. That must be interesting but how much anti-Semitism is there really here?” Now, nobody says that to me. What they say is, “Oh my God, you must really have your work cut out for you.”

JJ: What are you most proud of at your time with the ADL? 

AM: I think it would have to be the really, really good press coverage that I have gotten for the unsung heroes of law enforcement who have won the ADL Sherwood Prize. That’s been extremely gratifying to me. And also I think being able to mentor the next generation of Jewish community professionals has been very gratifying. 

JJ: In 2010 you won the ADL’s Senn/Greenberg Award for professional excellence. What was that experience like? 

AM: It was a great honor and presented to me at our annual gala. It was very nice to be recognized like that.

JJ: Is there something you wish you could have done in your 15 years but didn’t get to do?

AM: I didn’t get to eradicate anti-Semitism. I think it’s tough to feel that 15 years later things are worse than they were when I started. I don’t feel in terms of anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment or diversity — any of those things that we stand for and worked so hard for — that the current climate is better now.

Facebook Takes Down Farrakhan Video Comparing Jews to ‘Termites’

Screenshot from Facebook.

Facebook has taken down Louis Farrakhan’s video in which he compares Jew to “termites,” The Wrap reports.

The video, which was posted to Facebook with the caption, “To members of the Jewish Community that don’t like me. Thank you very much for putting my name all over the planet. Because of your fear of what we represent, I can go anywhere in the world and they’ve heard of Farrakhan. Thank you very much.”

The clip is of a recent Farrakhan speech, where he states that he isn’t anti-Semitic because he’s “anti-termite.”

Facebook told The Wrap that the video “violates our hate speech policies,” amounting to “Tier 1 hate speech” that falls under the category of “dehumanizing” language.

Farrakhan’s video is still up on Twitter, as Twitter has stated that it doesn’t violate their policies since they haven’t established policies on dehumanizing rhetoric. The Anti-Defamation League has called on Twitter to take down the video.

Some Twitter accounts have accused Twitter of bias since they haven’t down the Farrakhan video yet they have suspended a couple of popular right-wing accounts without providing much of an explanation for doing so.

Twitter has not responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

Rep. Sherman Condemns SJP Conference in Letter to UCLA

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) condemned the upcoming National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference, scheduled for Nov. 16-18 at UCLA, in a letter to the school’s chancellor, Gene Block, arguing that the conference promotes anti-Semitism.

The Oct. 11 letter begins by noting that SJP members “have posted violent anti-Semitic rhetoric on social media, ranging from calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people, to admiration of Adolf Hitler.” Sherman added that National SJP’s website would fall under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism that was recently adopted by the State Department, such as comparing Israel to the Nazis.

Sherman also stated his concern that only those who have been “verified and vouched for” by SJP or another pro-Palestinian group on campus would be allowed to attend, meaning that most Jewish students wouldn’t be allowed to attend the conference.

“Even if SJP can point to a handful of Jewish students allowed to attend, the exclusion of the vast majority of Jewish students raises issues under Title VI,” Sherman wrote. “A public university should not allow any to implement a litmus test for event participation on their campus based on an applicant’s beliefs, religion, or national origin.”

Sherman added that if UCLA’s SJP chapter ­– a co-sponsor of the event – is funded by mandatory student fees, then the conference would be in violation of the University of California’s policies for excluding large numbers of students from attending.

“I am sure you support Title VI of the Civil Rights Act like I do, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally assisted programs or activities,” Sherman wrote. “This includes protecting students from anti-Semitism and preventing discrimination against most Jews in admissions to a conference held on campus.”

Sherman’s letter concluded, “While I recognize UCLA’s responsibility to allow freedom of speech, our campuses should never become an environment where Jewish students are harassed, bullied, or prohibited from learning.”

Posted by Adam Milstein on Thursday, October 18, 2018

Chancellor Block responded to Sherman in a letter obtained by the Journal. Block’s response states that while UCLA “unequivocally condemns anti-Semitism” and is against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the First Amendment requires them to allow the conference to proceed on campus.

Additionally, Block noted that SJP has told UCLA that they will not be using mandatory student fees to fund the conference.

“Since they are not using these university funds for the event, there is no mandate that the conference be open to all University members,” Block wrote.

Block added that UC policy does however prevent student groups on campus from discriminating membership based on viewpoint and that the university will ensure that students will be safe on campus.

“We will continue to stress that our students should approach controversial topics thoughtfully and respectfully, without resorting to insult or ethnic bias,” Block wrote.

Report: 72% of L.A. Religious Hate Crimes Targeted Jews In 2017

The latest report from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations shows that 72 percent of hate crimes against religion in the county were against Jews in 2017.

Following Jews on the list were Muslims, Catholics and Protestants:

The number of hate crimes targeting Jews increased by 4 percent from 2016, from 71 to 68 percent.

Among all targeted groups, Jews were third at 14 percent, behind the LGBT community (21 percent) and blacks (25 percent).

Some examples of hate crimes targeting Jews in the Los Angeles area includes graffiti on a wall in Van Nuys in May 2017 stating “Hitler did nothing wrong” and white supremacist symbols spray-painted on the garage in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) building in West Los Angeles, according to the ADL.

Screenshot from Twitter.

Hate crimes overall rose by 5 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the commission’s report.

“We feel particularly fortunate to have LA County as a partner in our work to reduce hate crimes and increase public awareness of the impact of these message crimes,” ADL Los Angeles Regional Director Amanda Susskind said in a statement. “The LA County Hate Crime Report is a reminder that the important work of ADL is still needed.”

Read the full report here.

GOP Congressman Endorses White Nationalist Mayoral Candidate

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) endorsed Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy on Monday, a white nationalist who attended the 2017 Charlottesville protests.

King tweeted:

Goldy was let go from the right-wing news outlet Rebel Media after she covered the Charlottesville protests and then proceeded to go on a podcast from the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website. She has also recommended a book that called for the “elimination of Jews” and said that neo-Nazis have “well thought-out” ideas on the “JQ [Jewish question].”

King himself has been under fire for his past re-tweets of white nationalists, prompting King to tweet:

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tweeted that King’s endorsement of Goldy was “disgraceful”:

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has said in a statement that they are not comfortable endorsing King:

King’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ADL: Twitter Should Take Down Farrakhan Tweet Comparing Jews to ‘Termites’

Screenshot from YouTube.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is calling on Twitter to take down a tweet from Louis Farrakhan that compares Jews to “termites.”

In an Oct. 16 tweet, Farrakhan wrote, “I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-Termite.” The tweet featured a video of Farrakhan speaking in front of a crowd on Oct. 14 marking the 23rd anniversary of his Million Man March.

“To the members of the Jewish community that don’t like me, thank you very much for putting my name all over the planet because of your fear of what we represent,” Farrakhan said in the speech. “I can go anywhere in the world and they’ve heard of Farrakhan.”

Farrakhan added, “I’m not mad at you, because you’re so stupid.”

The minister proceeded to allude to criticisms calling him an anti-Semite.

“Stop it,” Farrakhan said, “I’m anti-termite. I don’t know nothing about hating somebody just because of their religious preference.”

In a statement emailed to the Journal, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that Twitter should take down “Farrakhan’s hateful content.”

“Louis Farrakhan has a long history of vile, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. His latest remarks dehumanizing Jews by calling us termites are despicable,” Greenblatt said. “We call on Twitter to remove Farrakhan’s hateful content from the platform to prevent him from spreading and normalizing such hateful messages. This content is exactly the kind of thing the new Twitter policy the company outlined just a few weeks ago is meant to stop.”

Buzzfeed reporter Joe Bernstein tweeted that Twitter told him that Farrakhan’s tweet didn’t violate their policies:

Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment.

Several congressional Democrats, such as Reps. Keith Ellison (R-Minn.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), have reportedly been seen with or dined with Farrakhan. Women’s March leaders have also attended Farrakhan’s speeches and been involved with his Nation of Islam organization. A photo was recently taken of Farrakhan with former Attorney General Eric Holder at Aretha Franklin’s funeral.

This article has been updated.

Lawfare Project Warns U-M of Potential Legal Action

Photo from Flickr.

The Lawfare Project, an organization that provides legal defense for Jewish and pro-Israel students, wrote in a memorandum to University of Michigan administrators that the school could be subject to legal liability if it doesn’t properly address the recent controversies that have engulfed the campus.

The Oct. 15 memo, which the Journal has obtained, begins by noting that the university could “be subject to liability under federal anti-discrimination law as well as other provisions of federal law and the Michigan Compiled Laws and Constitution” if they don’t adequately address the “hostile environment” on campus toward Jewish students.

Two instructors at the university have declined to write letters of recommendation to students who wanted to study abroad in Israel; one of the instructors, Professor John Cheney-Lippold, has been disciplined by the school. However, Lawfare notes in their memo that the university has yet to commit to an investigation of academic boycotts within their academic personnel and has yet to take any action against the second instructor, teaching assistant Lucy Peterson.

“This is neither an issue of free speech nor an issue of academic freedom. A refusal by a state actor to write a letter of recommendation for Jewish students wishing to study in the Jewish state is not protected speech––it is unlawful conduct,” the memo states. “These principles are enshrined in American jurisprudence: one cannot refuse services to an individual based on that person’s membership in a protected class, and then attempt to hide their bigotry behind the First Amendment.”

Additionally, during an Oct. 4 lecture required for art students, former Black Panther Emory Douglas showed an image comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahut to Adolf Hitler. After University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said it was “one of nearly 200 slides,” Art & Design student Alexa Smith has revealed that Douglas had presented a second anti-Semitic slide during the lecture.

“This attempt to minimize the anti-Semitic content of the lecture suggests that President Schlissel was either unaware of, or ambivalent to, other, even more abhorrent slides that have been unearthed since his statement was released––including one that depicts Jews as pigs, drinking from bottles of money and holding a wand with a Star of David,” the memo states. “This imagery invokes history’s classical––and most genocidal––anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and all the deep-seated bigotry associated with them. The Jew-hatred inherent in this presentation cannot be whitewashed by pointing to the number of other, ‘non-Jew-hating’ slides in the lecture.”

The memo went on to cite other instances that have created the “hostile environment” on campus, including a swastika painted on the men’s bathroom at the university in November 2017, the same day that the school’s student government approved an Israel divestment resolution.

The memo concludes by suggesting that the university investigate and thoroughly sanction their academic personnel for engaging in boycotts of Israel, adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, and issue a statement condemning all forms of anti-Semitism. The memo also indicates that some students are looking into possible “legal options” against the university.

“Today The Lawfare Project urged the University of Michigan to take appropriate steps to respond to recent disturbing incidents of blatant anti-Semitism on campus,” Larry Hill, chairman of The Lawfare Project, said in a statement. “We are monitoring the situation at U-M very carefully, watching to see what the university administration says and does moving forward. There is no academic benefit to the use of images invoking the most hateful and conspiratorial anti-Semitic canards, and no free speech right to impose one’s own political agenda on students under one’s control and tutelage. U-M has a moral and legal responsibility to address discrimination on campus, and we hope it will take swift action to fulfill that obligation.”

SJP Worksheet Accuses Zionists of ‘Wiping Out’ Palestinians

Screenshot from Facebook.

The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter in Houston, Texas held a session at a recent immigrant youth conference that accused Zionists of “wiping out” the Palestinians.

At the United We Dream National Conference, from Oct. 5-7, attendees could “meet with undocumented and immigrant youth from across the country,” according to the conference’s website. Students at the conference provided StandWithUs with the relevant information regarding SJP.

A screenshot of a “Key Terms and Sources” worksheet from the session, titled “Palestine Without Borders,” has Zionism defined as “the ideology that advocates for the establishment of an exclusively Jewish state that necessitates the wiping out the native Palestinian people from their homeland.”

The worksheet goes on to define white supremacy as the “establishment of white dominant empires all over the world from the U.S. to Israel,” adding that Israel is trying to uphold a majority of “white Jewish people.” The worksheet also listed Israel as examples implementing apartheid and “settler colonialism”; the latter was defined as the “type of colonialism materializes through the occupation of a land by completely uprooting and displacing the native population.”

Nofar Salman, an Israel fellow at the Houston Hillel, posted on Facebook, “SJP is targeting the Jewish students on campus and we will NOT be victims of anti-Semitism and twisted lies.”

“We are choosing #LoveOVERHate.”

Shabbat Shalom Y’all. A lot of people have suggested to me not to post the anti-Semitic incidents that happen on our…

Posted by Nofar Israel Fellow on Friday, October 12, 2018

Talia Lerner, StandWithUs’ southern campus coordinator, said in a statement, “American Jews have a long history of supporting immigrants, making it particularly shameful that SJP brought anti-Semitism into this conference. At a time when Americans are so divided, we should be coming together against hate instead of having groups like SJP fan the flames.”

National SJP is scheduled to host its annual conference from Nov. 16-18 at UCLA.

N.Y. Dem Assemblyman Criticizes Gillibrand for Sarsour Association

Screenshot from Twitter.

Dov Hikind, a Democrat assemblyman in New York who is retiring after this year, released a video on Twitter criticizing Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) for appearing onstage with Linda Sarsour at a rally protesting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Hikind began the video by listing out some of Sarsour’s past statements, including her showing support for Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted by an Israeli court of a 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two college students, and saying that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.”

“Sen. Gillibrand, I know you,” Hikind said. “I know you stand for the principles that make America great. I know that you are a person who does not accept any kind of racism and anti-Semitism. But senator, you cannot sell out the principles that you have always lived by simply because you want to be president and you have to appeal to people on the extreme left.”

Hikind added, “When it comes to racism and anti-Semitism, there is no compromising.”

The outgoing assemblyman then gave a pointed message to the media, stating that the media is responsible for helping create “a new generation of anti-Semites and racists” on both sides of the aisle when they fail to expose and shame racism and anti-Semitism.

“A racist, an anti-Semite, needs to be ostracized, condemned,” Hikind said. “Period.”

Sarsour introduced Gillibrand at an Oct. 6 rally during Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote. Sarsour called Gillibrand “another champion, another one of our people who works for us on the inside.”

Gillibrand previously praised Sarsour and the other Women’s March leaders – Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland – in a 2017 piece in Time. Gillibrand called them “extraordinary women” who “are the suffragists of our time.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Sarsour, Mallory and Perez for their associations with Louis Farrakhan in March 2018.

Gillibrand’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

H/T: Daily Wire

U Mich President Apologizes to Jewish Students Over Recent Controversies

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Mark Schlissel, the president of the University of Michigan, apologized to Jewish students in a letter sent out to the university community over the recent controversies on campus.

Schlissel first addressed the two instructors, professor John Cheney-Lippold and graduate student instructor Lucy Peterson, who refused to write letters of recommendations to students who wanted to study abroad in Israel.

Refusing to write letters of recommendation for political reasons violates university policy, Schlissel stated.

“U-M strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and no school, college, department or unit at our university endorses such a boycott,” Schlissel said. “Our view is that educators at a public university have an obligation to support students’ academic growth, and we expect anyone with instructional responsibilities to honor this fundamental university value. Our students deserve to be afforded all of the opportunities they have earned through their academic merit.”

Schlissel added that the university has established “a panel of distinguished faculty members to examine the intersection between political thought/ideology and faculty members’ responsibilities to students.”

The university is also apologized to the two Jewish students who were denied letters and is helping the two students gather everything they need to complete their applications to study abroad in Israel.

On the matter of the required lecture that featured a slide comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, Schlissel noted that the speaker, former Black Panther member Emory Douglas, was invited to campus to discuss his artwork.

“Israel was not singled out here as imagery critical of many other political leaders was also a part of the talk,” Schlissel said. “This was the point of the talk itself – that imagery can be a powerful component of movements aimed at social justice.”

However, Schlissel acknowledged that it was understandable why students would be offended at the Netanyahu-Hitler analogy.

“We are sorry students were hurt by this experience,” Schlissel said.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) praised Schlissel’s statement in a tweet:

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, also praised Schlissel’s statement as well as the university’s decision to discipline Cheney-Lippold in an email to the Journal: 

“We commend President Schlissel for his strong statement and the welcomed disciplinary measures taken against Cheney-Lippold. We are pleased that U-M has recognized the serious harm that an academic boycott’s implementation causes its own students. U-M has shown leadership in curbing this discriminatory behavior and stood up for all of its students’ civil and academic rights with this precedent. While the public discussion started with one student sharing her misguided professor’s actions, there are more than two dozen U-M professors who have expressed public support for the academic boycott. The problem is bigger than just John Cheney-Lippold, as further evidenced by recent reports of a second, nearly identical incident that harmed another student. We fully commend U-M for the steps taken thus far to discipline Cheney-Lippold, and for establishing a panel that we hope will lead to a clear and comprehensive policy on professors who attempt to use their professional positions to push a personal, political agenda.  Hundreds of faculty serving on U.S. campuses have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel.  We hope other university presidents will follow President Schlissel’s leadership.”  

UMich Students Call for School to Adopt IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

Alexa Smith, the University of Michigan Art & Design student who revealed in a Facebook post that a speaker at the school had a slide comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, announced that she and other students are pushing for the school to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Smith and other students had met with Gunalan Nadarajan, the dean of University of Michigan’s Stamp School of Art and Design, and Dr. Robert Sellers, the university’s chief diversity officer, earlier in the day to discuss the matter. This was a response to former Black Panther Emory Douglas’ lecture on campus, where he had the Netanyahu-Hitler slide, as well as a slide that depicted missiles adorned in Israeli flags striking the word “peace.”

“In order for anti-Semitism on this campus to be tackled head on, it must first be defined. Example 10 of the IHRA definition states that ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of Nazis’ is an example of anti-Semitism,” Smith said in a Monday Facebook post. “We could have avoided this mess if the University had a policy of teaching this definition to all professors and faculty. In the future, the University will have a guideline to draw a clear line between ‘provocative’ and ‘hate speech.’”

Smith added that the IHRA demand was “well-received” and they are “cautiously optimistic” that it will come to fruition.

“Thank you to everyone who shared my post, made phone calls, and put pressure on the University,” Smith wrote. “It gives us, Jewish students, strength to see that hatred against us will not go unnoticed.”

In a YouTube video, Emory Douglas, the former “revolutionary artist” and minister of culture for the San Francisco Black Panther Party, is seen showing a slide juxtaposing Netanyahu and Hitler with the words “Guilty of Genocide” emblazoned across their heads during his Oct. 4 campus lecture. Another slide depicted the word “peace” being attacked by missiles adorned with American and Israeli flags.

Douglas’ lecture was a part of the Stamps School of Art & Design’s Penny Stamps Speakers Series. Art students are required to attend 11 of  14  lectures; Douglas’ lecture was part of the series.

The university’s public affairs office released a statement that Douglas “covered a wide array of subject matter within the overarching context of his work” and that the Israeli leader’s image was “a single slide among nearly 200 other slides not related to Israel that were presented over the course of an hour.” It added that Douglas’ work is “critical of a wide range of world leaders, including several U.S. presidents.”

Rick Fitzgerald, the assistant vice president for public affairs at the University of Michigan, told the Journal in an email that he could confirm Smith and other students had a “productive meeting” with Nadarajan and Sellers.

“The matter remains under review,” Fitzgerald said.

This latest controversy comes on the heels of reports that two University of Michigan instructors refused to write letters of recommendations for students to study in Israel. On Sept. 5, professor John Cheney-Lippold told Literature, Science and Arts (LSA) junior Abigail Ingber that he couldn’t write the letter because “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” On Oct. 9, the Washington Post reported that economics junior Jake Secker asked teaching assistant Lucy Peterson to write him a letter of recommendation. Peterson initially agreed to write the letter, only to decline when she learned that Secker wanted to study in Israel.

“Along with numerous other academics in the U.S. and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine,” Peterson wrote. “… I would be happy to write a recommendation for you if you end up applying to other programs.”

Secker met with LSA Associate Social Sciences Dean Rosario Ceballo on Oct. 5, where she offered to write him the letter of recommendation and pledged that “some sort of change” would come.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told the Journal in an email, “ADL understands that not all speech critical of Israel is anti-Semitic. However, discourse and symbols used with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can become anti-Semitic and once it crosses that line, it must be dealt with quickly and correctly. We would support universities taking the IHRA definition into account as part of its consideration in examining allegations of anti-Semitism on campus.”

This story has been updated.

Virginia JCC Vandalized With Swastika Graffiti

Screenshot from Twitter.

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Northern Virginia was vandalized on Saturday with 19 spray-painted swastikas on it.

Surveillance footage shows an unidentified person spray painting the swastikas onto the JCC at 4:30 a.m. Staff members of the JCC first discovered the graffiti at 8 am. The investigation remains ongoing.

“These acts do not represent the community around the J or the community in Northern Virginia,” Jeff Dannick, executive director of the JCC, and David Yaffe, president of the JCC’s board of directors, wrote on the JCC’s Facebook page. “As we also know, our neighboring churches also have suffered recent vandalism. The J as a whole, and particularly through the focused efforts of our Committee for a Just and Caring Community, will continue to participate as a positive force in both the Jewish and wider communities.”

Since the vandalism occurred, several community members have shown their support for the JCC by leaving messages in chalk on the sidewalk around the building that read, “Love is the answer” and “We stand with you.” Others showed support by sending flowers, emails and calling the synagogue with support.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) shared a photo of the vandalism on Twitter and wrote, “An insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism is happening in Virginia and across the country. We must meet it with fierce condemnation and an over-abundance of love and unity. We cannot allow hate to fester.”


On their Facebook page, the JCC wrote that they were “touched by the outpouring of support” and that the graffiti was removed on Saturday afternoon.

“Thank you to everyone who has offered your kind words and support of solidarity against hate,” the post read.

In 2017, 20-year-old Dylan Mahone was arrested and charged for vandalizing the JCC as well as a church and a community college with anti-Semitic graffiti.

The investigation remains ongoing.

U Mich Speaker Compares Netanyahu to Hitler in Required Lecture

Screenshot from Facebook.

The University of Michigan brought a speaker to campus as part of a required course for students who compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler as part of his lecture.

Alexa Smith, a student at the university, wrote in a Friday Facebook post that she was mandated to watch Emory Douglas, who is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movements and a former Black Panther, give “an overtly anti-Semitic lecture.” She shared a photo of a slide from Douglas’ lecture that juxtaposed Netanyahu and Hitler with the words “Guilty of Genocide” emblazoned across their heads.

Accompanying the slide was the definition of genocide: “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.”

“In what world is it OK for a mandatory course to host a speaker who compares Adolf Hitler to the Prime Minister of Israel?” Smith wrote.

She added, “As a Wolverine, I sat through this lecture horrified at the hatred and intolerance being spewed on our campus. As a Jew who is proud of my people and my homeland, I sat through this lecture feeling targeted and smeared to be as evil as the man who perpetuated the Holocaust and systematically murdered six million Jews.”

Smith noted that she sat through a required lecture a couple years ago in which the speaker called Israel a terror state and that Israeli soldiers were not human.

“This time I will no longer sit quietly and allow others to dehumanize my people and my community,” Smith wrote. “The administration is repeatedly failing to forcefully respond to antisemitism, and so it comes back worse and worse each time. A line needs to be drawn and it needs to be drawn now.”

Yesterday I was forced to sit through an overtly antisemitic lecture as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, which…

Posted by Alexa Smith on Friday, October 5, 2018

The event was hosted by the Stamps School of Art & Design for their “Penny Stamps Speakers Series Presentation.” Art students are required to watch 11 specific lectures; one of those lectures was Douglas’ lecture.

The University of Michigan told The Daily Wire in a statement:

“The menu of speakers is diverse and dynamic and we do not control or censor what they say. You may find that you discover even more about yourself and the world around you from that which you debate or those with whom you find conflict in view. Discovering what you do not agree with will help you find your voice as much or more perhaps than the things you find resonance with.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that the Netanyahu-Hitler analogy was anti-Semitic:

In a statement sent to the Journal via email, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper called the required lecture “beyond an outrage.”

“In the name of free speech, a public university invites a speaker who equates in word and visually Netanyahu and Hitler with the term genocide,” Cooper said. “Students are required to sit through a propaganda presentation based on an insidious lie. If Hitler was ultimate evil and Bibi = Hitler what’s the message to fellow students about Jews/Zionists on campus? Beyond an outrage.”

“Will the University apologize or take action or make a comment beyond protecting free speech of bigot?”

Amanda Berman, the co-founder and president of the Zioness movement, praised Smith on Facebook.

“I am so proud of this amazing Zioness Alexa Smith for standing up for herself amid an increasingly hostile environment for Jewish students at the University of Michigan,” Berman wrote. “Everyone should read this and be aware of what is going on — just two weeks after a professor refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student wishing to study abroad in Tel Aviv. This is anti-Semitism and we must all fight it together.”

Nazi Flag Painted on N.C. University’s Free Expression Tunnel

Screenshot from Facebook.

A Nazi flag, as well as other neo-Nazi propaganda, was spray-painted on Appalachian State University’s Free Expression Tunnel and first discovered on Sunday.

The university’s Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) chapter found the graffiti that morning; the chapter’s president, Koby Ellick, shared a photo of the graffiti on social media before students painted over it.

The graffiti featured a Nazi flag; above were the words “Heil Hitler” and to its right were the words “the Holocaust is a good thing” as well as a Star of David.

Posted by Watauga NAACP Branch on Monday, October 1, 2018

In response to the graffiti, the university’s Student Government Association (SGA) issued a statement that read that the tunnel “is not intended to cultivate a culture of hate – targeting students or individuals because of their identity, culture, profession, or expression.”

The statement added that certain forms of speech, such as defamation, are not protected under the First Amendment.

“As a public university, we are committed to protecting freedom of speech,” the statement read. “As members of the Appalachian community and contributors to campus culture, we are committed to ensuring that all people are welcomed and accepted on this campus.”

Megan Hayes, the associate vice chancellor and chief communications officer, told the Winston Salem-Journal that the university would be investigating the incident, but as of now they don’t who painted the Nazi graffiti.

The campus Hillel issued the following statement on Facebook:

North Carolina Hillel is deeply disturbed to learn that Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic language were painted on Appalachian State University’s free expression tunnel over the weekend. These words and images are incredibly painful and offensive to Jews and non-Jews alike, denigrating the memory of six million Jews and millions of other victims of the Nazis, and have no place on campus or anywhere in society.

We are working with University officials to ensure this matter is investigated and properly addressed to protect the safety and respect for all members of the campus Jewish community. Our staff are here to support any student or community member who has concerns or would like to discuss this issue.

Algemeiner’s Shiri Moshe noted that the Nazi graffiti was discovered a couple days before a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor spoke on campus on Tuesday.

The Appalachian, the university’s student newspaper, wrote on Oct. 3 that in response to the graffiti, as well as a white nationalist group’s recruiting banner being found on campus a year earlier, the paper will be involved in ProPublica’s “Documenting Hate” project.

“If you are a witness or victim of a hate incident, fill out the Documenting Hate form found under the news navigation header on our website,” the paper wrote. “Your story will be shared with ProPublica so that reporters and civil-rights groups can have a clearer picture of what’s happening and can reach out to you for more information.”

Dutch Man Assaulted in Berlin After Being Asked If He’s Jewish

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Dutch man was reportedly assaulted by a couple of men in Berlin on Sept. 29 after being asked if he was Jewish.

According to Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the 31-year-old man, who has not been publicly identified, was asked by two men if he was Jewish. The man responded by asking why they wanted to know, and the two men allegedly proceeded to assault him.

The two men reportedly left in a taxi.

Andrew Srulevitch, the ADL’s director of European Affairs, tweeted that the man “wasn’t Jewish, but this is still an anti-Semitic assault.”

In July, a Syrian-Jewish man was reportedly assaulted in a Berlin park by 10 teenagers and young adults after they noticed that he was wearing a Star of David emblem. In June, a 19-year-old Syrian Palestinian man admitted to using a belt to attack a 21-year-old Israeli student wearing a kippah.

According to German government data, attacks on Jews in Germany increased by 10 percent in the first half of 2018 from the first half of 2017; around 20 percent of those attacks in the first half of 2018 occurred in Berlin.

IAC for Action, UCLA Student Speak Out Against SJP Conference to UC Regents

Screenshot from YouTube.

At a Sept. 27 UC Boards of Regent meeting at UCLA, the Israeli-American Coalition for Action and a third-year student at UCLA spoke out against UCLA for its plan to host the National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference in November.

The student, Justin Feldman, accused SJP of aiming to demonize Israel through “resolutions to boycott Israel, claiming that Israel is an apartheid state, and even comparing Israel to Nazi Germany –– all of which are officially defined as anti-Semitism by the United States State Department.”

Feldman proceeded to highlight what he called “disturbing” statements from various SJP members, including desires to “stuff some Jews in the oven” as well as inviting “speakers with proven connection to terrorist organizations such as Hamas.”

“Some are even convicted terrorists themselves, like Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted [in Israeli courts] and jailed for the murder of two Israelis and many more wounded,” Feldman said. “These are SJP’s role models. Does this sound like a human rights conference to you?”

Feldman added that the SJP conference will be closed to the public, arguing that this violates UCLA policy and that pro-Israel students should be allowed to attend in order to defend Israel and expose any instances of anti-Semitism that occurs at the conference.

“I ask you, the UC regents, to either prevent SJP from hosting this conference at UCLA… or alternatively, require SJP to open its conference to all students,” Feldman said.

Subsequently, Jonathan Harris, director of the IAC for Action, cited tweets from SJP members that read, “May Allah curse the Jews, and that’s all,” “Where do Black Jews sit? Wait for it…IN THE BACK OF THE OVEN,” and “Give me a weapon and send me to Gaza.”

“Would a group dedicated to the hatred of African-Americans be as welcome?” — Jonathan Harris

Harris added that 36 percent of Facebook and Twitter posts from people affiliated with SJP at an unnamed American university “endorsed terrorism and violence against Jews,” arguing that this showed that SJP is “anti-Semitic at its core.”

“A group rooted in hatred for Zionism and the rights of the Jewish people is coming to UCLA to celebrate itself and seek legitimacy in the realm of public discourse,” Harris said. “Would a group dedicated to the hatred of African-Americans be as welcome? Or perhaps a group routinely justifying violence against women? Such groups, clearly, would not be allowed, yet a national network promoting hatred and violence against Jews will come to UCLA. “

By allowing SJP to hold a conference that is closed to the public, Harris argued that UCLA is failing to abide by its anti-discrimination policy for Jewish and Israeli students.

“SJP’s hatred of Jews and Israel is racism,” Harris said, “Violent, rationalized racism. And this conference in Los Angeles sends one clear signal to anti-Semites: ‘Come to UCLA – you are welcome here.’”

After the two spoke, UC Regent Sherry Lansing said that she had thought that UCLA required all conferences to be open and that it was “very concerning” that SJP’s conference is going to be closed to the public.

In an emailed statement to the Journal, the university noted that SJP’s national conference is still “in the early planning stages,” so it’s not yet clear if the event is going to be closed to the public.

“If the conference is not open to the entire campus community, it will not be eligible for University funding,” the statement read. “However, if the conference foregoes University funding, there is no systemwide or UCLA policy that would require the event to be open to the entire campus community.”

“There is a systemwide UC Policy that requires that certain Registered Campus Organization (RCO) events be open to all university community members. However, that policy applies only to events where compulsory campus-based student fees are used for the activity.”

UCLA has come under fire for agreeing to host the SJP conference; for instance, a petition from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has called on UCLA to reverse its decision. More than 1,600 people have signed the petition as of publication time.

The description of the conference on SJP’s national website called for the destruction of Zionism and accused it of promoting “ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid, and death.”

Israel to Boycott UNESCO Anti-Semitism Event

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a Wednesday statement that he would be declining UNESCO [United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization]’s invitation to attend an event on anti-Semitism, criticizing the entity’s “persistent and egregious bias against Israel.”.

Netanyahu pointed out that UNESCO has passed 71 resolutions condemning Israel since 2009, with only two other resolutions condemning other countries.

“The mark of anti-Semitism was once singling out the Jewish people for slander and condemnation,” Netanyahu said. “The mark of anti-Semitism today is singling out the Jewish state for slander and condemnation.”

Netanyahu added that UNESCO needs to stop denying Israel’s historical ties to the Western Wall and the Cave of the Patriarchs.

“If and when UNESCO ends its bias against Israel, stops denying history and starts standing up for the truth, Israel will be honored to rejoin,” Netanyahu said. “Until then, Israel will fight anti-Semitism at UNESCO and everywhere else.”

Both the United States and Israel exited from UNESCO in 2017; at the time, the State Department stated that it was due to UNESCO’s bias against Israel and that they kept Syria on the human rights committee despite the ongoing civil war in the country.

Jewish Revisionist ‘Merchant of Venice’

Photo by Alex Miller

Regarded as one of William Shakespeare’s greatest plays, “The Merchant of Venice” has also been a painful thorn in Jewish sides, its antagonist Shylock epitomizing the stereotype of the miserly Jew and perpetuating anti-Semitism for more than 400 years. 

Sarah B. Mantell’s new play “Everything That Never Happened,” a world premiere production at the Boston Court Pasadena, seeks to right the wrongs Shakespeare wrought. 

Focusing on four “Merchant” characters: Shylock, his daughter Jessica, her lover Lorenzo and the servant Gobbo, the play “treats them as if they were real, three-dimensional human beings, not stereotypes,” director Jessica Kubzansky told the Journal during a break in rehearsal. “What I love about this play is that the characters [are] real people, with rich, complex desires.”

A self-described “Shakespeare freak,” Kubzansky loves the Bard and has often directed his plays. “I worked on ‘The Merchant of Venice’ a few times in a workshop, struggling how to make it make sense for me as a Jewish person, as a human, as a woman. There’s plenty of misogyny as well as anti-Semitism in the play,” she said. “Every time, I bumped up against things that I couldn’t reconcile, so I said no. But this play is richly beautiful and complex and full of love, and that’s redemption from the Shakespeare [that] was just about punishing and

Kubzansky compared the revisionist characters to those in the original. In “Merchant,” “Shylock is a vengeance-focused Jew with no human quality. In this play, he’s a beautifully human man with passion and pain and vulnerability,” she said.

Shakespeare’s Jessica “hates her father, she spends money profligately, she uncaringly climbs out the window and goes away with Lorenzo. She has no difficulty with the choices she made,” Kubzansky continued. “In this play, she loves her father and is very aware of the cost of leaving your religion and culture” to marry a Christian man. “It’s complicated and painful.”

This resonated with Kubzansky, because her sister married out of the Jewish faith, much to the dismay of their parents. “It was a big, hairy deal in my family. It’s all resolved but there was a time when it was very, very difficult,” she said.

“This play is richly beautiful and complex and full of love, and that’s redemption from the Shakespeare [that] was just about punishing and stereotypes.” — Jessica Kubzansky

Shylock is portrayed by Leo Marks, who has a Jewish father but wasn’t raised in the faith. He said he’s been thinking more about his Ashkenazi heritage as a result of doing the play. “I’ve been reading this great book called ‘Shakespeare and the Jews.’ ”

Marks said “The Merchant of Venice” “has a lot to answer for, and [“Everything That Never Happened”] takes it to task in a really smart, fierce but also funny, deeply human, thoughtful way,” he said. 

“This play imagines Shylock as a deeply loving father. He’s making his way in a world that’s not easy for him and he’s faced with really tough choices,” Marks said. “He’s not this otherworldly creature who wants revenge. He’s humanized. [Mantell] is saying, ‘Why do we accept these stories about Jews and let them define us? Why not tell our own stories?’ And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Kubzansky called the play “as poetic as Shakespeare in its own way. It’s really funny, until we punch you in the gut.” 

She imagines that if Shakespeare did a rewrite today, “he’d write it like this. He was a product of his time and he was writing to the stereotypes. This play completely reframes the story, and shows how beautiful, funny and painful it is to
be human.”

“Everything That Never Happened” runs through Nov. 4 at the Boston Court Pasadena.

Jewish Groups Call for Disciplinary Action Against Michigan Professor

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Myriad Jewish groups are calling for University of Michigan Professor John Cheney-Lippold to be disciplined for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel.

In a Friday letter organized by the AMCHA Initiative, 58 Jewish groups, including World Jewish Congress, The Lawfare Project and the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, said that recent statements from University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the university were insufficient.

“Impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible. Individual faculty members have the right to express public support for an academic boycott of Israel,” the letter states. “But when faculty like Prof. Cheney-Lippold go as far as implementing the boycott’s guidelines by taking action to suppress students’ ability to travel to or study about Israel, they have abrogated the most basic professorial responsibility of promoting the academic welfare of their students.

“Such discriminatory behavior that impedes the rights of students must be sanctioned to the fullest extent of university policy.”

The letter added that the Wednesday statement from the university, saying they were “disappointed” in Cheney-Lippold, but didn’t actually condemn Cheney-Lippold’s actions and gave credence to the various opinions held by professors at the university.

“Both your omission and inclusion give the impression that individual U-M professors will be permitted by your administration to discriminate against students wanting to study about and in Israel,” the letter states. “This is deeply alarming, given that there are at least two dozen U-M faculty members in a number of departments who have expressed public support for the academic boycott of Israel, including seven faculty members currently serving as chairs and directors of U-M academic departments and programs. Left unaddressed, this isolated incident could lead to unchecked discrimination, and the denial to students of their fundamental rights.”

Additionally,  in a Friday press release, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called for the Department of Education to investigate the matter, as well as for the university to discipline in the professor.

“This goes well beyond criticizing Israel, disagreeing with Israeli policy or even a personal boycott of Israel, which is despicable but a protected right,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said. “Jewish students are being punished for their affinity with Israel. In denying the letter of recommendation purely on his dislike of Israel and using a double standard to justify it, Cheney-Lippold has egregiously violated this young woman’s civil rights.”

Cooper asked if Cheney-Lippold would ever refuse to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in China or Pakistan, calling it “a gross hypocrisy.”

“Jewish students need protection from the likes of Cheney-Lippold and the academic bigotry he practices,” Cooper said. “University of Michigan and other great universities must hold anti-Semitic civil rights violators accountable for undermining the academy’s core mission.”

StandWithUs and Alums for Campus Fairness also sent a letter to Schlissel arguing that Cheney-Lippold should be disciplined based on the university’s policies.

“Mr. Cheney-Lippold’s email discriminates against Jewish students based on their religion, Israeli students based on their national origin and others at the University of Michigan who wish to study in Israel,” the letter states. “Furthermore, his refusal to write a letter of recommendation based on his support of a discriminatory academic boycott adversely affected a student’s education at the university. As you know, studying abroad is an enriching educational opportunity and a vital service offered to University of Michigan students. Mr. Cheney-Lippold is creating an ‘intimidating, hostile, [and] offensive’ education environment for this student, which unreasonably interferes with her’“participation in a University activity,’ in violation of university policy.”

App for Fighting Anti-Semitism Gets Foundation Grant, a smartphone app that urges its users to take action against online anti-Semitic content, has received a $190,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. will receive the money “over three years to mobilize, train, empower and engage hundreds of teens and young adults in the L.A. Jewish community to effectively advocate for Israel across social media platforms,” the Foundation said in a press release. CEO Yarden Ben Yosef told the Journal in a phone interview that the grant money would be used to open two media rooms in L.A. — one in the Israeli American Council’s Shepher Community Center in Woodland Hills and the other at a location yet to be decided.

“We’re trying to be a platform for different organizations and different people who choose to be part of this powerful community, and basically to be the answer for the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel initiatives in the L.A. area,” Ben Yosef said.

He added that UCLA’s recent decision to allow Students for Justice in Palestine to hold its national conference on the university’s campus in November shows the necessity “to bring the knowhow and method to the L.A. community.”, a joint project of the Israeli American Council (IAC), the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) and the Maccabee Task Force, is a social media app that notifies users of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content online, provides them opportunities to fight back, and awards them points for completing “missions.”

Ben Yosef claims has a 95 percent success rate at forcing the removal of anti-Semitic content online, saying it has played a role in getting “dozens” of posts taken down on a weekly basis from platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. He said a video posted on Instagram titled “How to Kill an Israeli” was taken down after nearly 300 users urged Instagram to remove it.

“This is why a lot of people from the community chose to send us content,” Ben Yosef said. “They know that we are their tool to remove this content from online.”

Earlier this year, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan praised when he announced he was launching “an international effort to unite Israel’s supporters around the globe and provide them with a platform that strengthens their activities, with tools that will help all of us fight hatred together, and with resources to spread the truth.”

“Ben Yosef claims has a 95 percent success rate at forcing the removal of anti-Semitic content online, saying it has played a role in getting “dozens” of posts taken down on a weekly basis.

“Along with civil society initiatives such as the application developed by the Israeli-American Council and IDC students, we believe that this will be a game-changer in defending Israel online and around the world,” Erdan said in February.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement also has taken note of the app’s success, and anti-Israel websites such as Electronic Intifada have attempted to discredit it.

“They say that we’re not a real grass-roots movement, it’s [an Israeli] government initiative or whatever,” Ben Yosef said. “The truth is we’re not getting any support from the government. It’s only a people initiative — grass-roots.”

Ben Yosef added, “When you see the founders, IAC and the IDC, both are nongovernment organizations, and you realize how ridiculous it is to think that is a government organization.”’s various media rooms — some of which are located in Boston and New Jersey — are in partnerships with and received funding from local organizations. The media rooms are staffed by volunteers and are given leeway to determine the specific online content to go after.

The app has a 4.5-out-of-5-star rating in Apple’s App Store.

“This is the story of,” Ben Yosef said, “to do a ripple effect of different communities and, in the end, to create a huge crowdsourcing of online activism for the Jewish people and Israel.”