January 21, 2019

Wild Tales of the World Wide Web in ‘Valley of the Boom’

Valley of the Boom Tells Three Tales of the Dotcom Boom and Bust Photo courtesy National Geographic

The 1990s dotcom boom gave rise to mega-successful companies that changed the world. But for every Netflix, Amazon, Facebook or eBay, there are dozens more that crashed and burned when the internet bubble burst. The fascinating true stories of three of those startups play out in the six-part series “Valley of the Boom,” which premieres Jan. 13 on National Geographic. 

Blending scripted drama with documentary interviews with tech figures including Mark Cuban (MicroSolutions, Dallas Mavericks) and Arianna Huffington (a series producer), creator Matthew Carnahan (“House of Lies”) dramatizes the “browser war” between Netscape and Microsoft; reveals the fugitive con artist behind the bogus video streaming platform Pixelon; and tells the tale of two college students who launched the social networking site theGlobe.com in their Cornell University dorm rooms, a decade before Facebook. 

Reminiscent of “The Big Short,” Carnahan’s unconventional storytelling method often breaks the fourth wall and incorporates irreverent humor, a rap battle, a flash mob, a dance sequence, a puppet representing tech mogul Bill Gates and a one-man Greek chorus (Lemorne Morris).

“[The show] never tells you what to feel about the internet or these characters. It becomes this existential conversation, and that’s all you could ever want from entertainment.”

 — Oliver Cooper

Jewish actors Oliver Cooper and Dakota Shapiro portray theGlobe.com founders Todd Krizelman and Stephan Paternot, who appear in interviews interspersed throughout the series. Cooper didn’t meet Krizelman, but Shapiro met and got to know Paternot. Shapiro initially was concerned about how he would match up to the person he was portraying, but realized that “an imitation would not have been very interesting,” he told the Journal. “[Oliver and I] thought that if we embraced the energy and dynamic that they had, it would work and I feel like it did.” 

Neither actor had heard of theGlobe.com before being cast. While growing up in Byron Bay, Australia, Shapiro knew little about Silicon Valley, and relied on research to prepare. But Cooper has a relative with a similar rise-and-fall story. “My uncle Mark Holtzman was the CEO of Webvan, an online grocery delivery service,” he said. “It became huge, then it failed miserably. He’d given my parents and grandparents stock. My grandfather was like, ‘I should have sold that damn stock!’ ”

Cooper, whose recent credits include “The Front Runner,” grew up in the Toledo, Ohio, dreaming of a career in stand-up. “Most of my favorite comedians, my inspirations, were Jewish — Mel Brooks, Adam Sandler,” he said. Of Polish and French-Jewish heritage, he was raised in a Reform family with a “pretty traditional Jewish upbringing. I had a bar mitzvah, went to a Jewish summer camp.”

He moved to Los Angeles at 19 and got a brief internship at “Conan” through a family connection. He aced his first audition for a role in “Project X,” and from there, “it’s been a slow and steady trudge up the mountain that is Hollywood,” he said. “I’m a legend in the Jewish community now, according to my grandmother,” he said.

Shapiro had his sights set on becoming an actor from an early age, and came to Los Angeles at 14 to attend the Idyllwild Arts Academy. He continued his studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff, Wales. Returning to L.A., he was cast in a small role in “The Affair,” but considers “Valley of the Boom” his big break.

His American mother is of British heritage and not Jewish, and his father’s parents were Russian Jews who immigrated to South Africa. They met in India, where his father was doing spiritual studies and his mother had gone with her then-fiancé. “My father saw my mother dancing and he fell in love with her. I was unplanned, and they went to Australia to raise me,” Shapiro said. “I wasn’t really raised with Jewish traditions but when I visited my dad’s family in South Africa, we would observe and I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed the community and spirit of it. I understand it more now than when I was a kid. I think there’s beauty in the tradition.”

Although he relished working on “a fast-paced, light-spirited piece with some dramatic moments” in “Valley of the Boom,” Shapiro is generally more attracted to “characters that are a bit darker and contradictory in nature, characters at odds with themselves,” he said. “Any character that’s fleshed out and unique is interesting to me and is what pulls me.”

“I want to be a sex symbol for the Jewish community. It’s why I got into this,” Cooper quipped before giving a serious response. “I love playing in the dramedy world. I don’t love straight comedies. I find it harder than doing drama. I love playing believable characters, with a humorous tone but rooted in real drama. I want to do something with a romance in it. You don’t usually see a guy like me in those types of movies.”

Cooper is eager for viewers to see “Valley of the Boom” and thinks they’ll be surprised by the stories and the way they’re told. 

“Valley of the Boom,” he added, “never tells you what to feel about the internet or these characters. It becomes this existential conversation, and that’s all you could ever want from entertainment.”

“Valley of the Boom” premieres at 9 p.m. Jan. 13 on National Geographic.  

The Paper Rebellion: An Excerpt

The Internet is an unending conversation; every argument is rebutted, shared, revised, and extended. It is a real-time extension of happenings in the world, exhilarating and exhausting.

I suppose my abandonment of the Kindle is a response to this exhaustion. It’s not that the Kindle is a terrible device. In fact, it’s downright placid compared to the horns and jackhammers blaring on social media. But after so many hours on the Web, I crave escaping the screen, retreating to paper.

It was predicted that e-books would overtake the paper book, that they would become the totality of publishing. Well, doomsday has come and gone. Paper books have held their ground, and e-book sales have failed to accumulate at their predicted pace. Actually, they have plummeted.

My hunch is that a good portion of the reading public wants an escape from the intense flow of the Internet; they want silent reading, private contemplation — and there’s a nagging sense that paper, and only paper, can induce such a state. The popular gravitation back to the page — not the metaphorical page, but the fibrous thing you can rub between your fingers — is a gravitation back to fundamental lessons from the history of reading.

I apologize for the following disclosure, which isn’t intended to implant any insoluble images: My favorite place to read is the tub. A warm soak, the platonic state of mental openness and relaxation but for the possibility of water damage to the page. If the tub is occupied by another member of my brood, I will tolerate the bed. Obese pillows behind the back, a strong lamp spotlighting the text.

It’s a banal disclosure, really. These are quite common locales for reading, perhaps the most common. Indeed, the entire history of the printed word points toward consuming books in such intimate settings, toward reading alone in our place of refuge. We choose to read in private to escape, but also because of the intellectual possibilities that this escape creates.

My hunch is that a good portion of the reading public wants an escape from the intense flow of the Internet; they want silent reading, private contemplation — and there’s a nagging sense that paper, and only paper, can induce such a state. 

During the early Middle Ages, the book was quite literally a miracle. It was the means by which the priest conveyed the word of God. Literacy was sparse. In Europe, maybe one in one hundred people could read. As the historian Steven Roger Fischer puts it, “to read” was to read aloud. Silent reading was a highly unusual practice. There are only a handful of recorded instances of it, worthy of note because they so shocked observers. Reading was perhaps the ultimate social activity. Storytellers read to the market, priests read to their congregations, lecturers read to university students, the literate read aloud to themselves. Medieval texts commonly asked audiences to “lend ears.”

Despite the relative intellectual bleakness of the era, literacy slowly crept beyond a small elite. The growth of commerce created the glimmerings of a new merchant class, along with professional texts that catered to its needs. Texts — once imposing blocks of letters, with one word jammed into the next, no white spaces separating them — were tamed by new syntactical rules. There were increasingly breaks between words, punctuation even. Reading grew less strenuous, more accessible. It took several hundred years for the changes to fully register, for public reading to give way to silent reading.

It was one of the most profound transformations in human history. Reading ceased to be a passive, collective experience. It became active and private. Silent reading changed thinking; it brought the individual to the fore. The act of private reading — in beds, in libraries — provided the space for heretical thought.

If the tech companies hope to absorb the totality of human existence into their corporate fold, then reading on paper is one of the few slivers of life that they can’t fully integrate. The tech companies will consider this an engineering challenge waiting to be solved. Everyone else should take regular refuge in the sanctuary of paper.

From “World Without Mind” by Franklin Foer, published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Franklin Foer.

Net Neutrality Offers Bipartisan Opportunity

Photo from Flickr/Kin Lane.

At a time of crippling political division, the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote on its initiative called “Restoring Internet Freedom” provides a rare opportunity for cooperation across party lines.

That’s because 83 percent of Americans (including 75 percent of Republicans) disagree with the FCC, according to a poll conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland. The poll shows that, when presented with arguments from both sides of the issue, Americans overwhelmingly support “net neutrality,” a policy that went into full effect in 2015 before being reversed by the FCC on Dec. 14.

Members of Congress should heed this rare bipartisan consensus and overturn the FCC’s decision.

Net neutrality is the principle that all information on the internet should be treated equally by internet service providers (ISPs) and be freely accessible to consumers. As a policy, it prevented Charter Spectrum, Comcast, AT&T and other ISPs from favoring, restricting or blocking our access to specific websites. It also stops them from allowing or forcing certain companies to pay extra for faster internet service. Under the new rules, ISPs no longer face these limitations.

The FCC’s repeal of net neutrality has garnered such strong opposition mainly because it gives ISPs the freedom to charge more for access to certain aspects of the internet, or even to promote websites they own by blocking access to competitors.

This is not a purely hypothetical scenario, as AT&T briefly blocked FaceTime on Apple devices for certain customers in 2012. Critics fear that while Google, Facebook and other large corporations would be able to pay more to offer faster service to consumers, smaller companies would be forced to offer a slower product than their larger rivals and would risk being driven out of business. Another main concern is that some consumers could be priced out of access to parts of the internet that they currently use at no extra cost.

Opponents of net neutrality argue that it is a burdensome government regulation that stifles innovation and discourages the spread of internet service to underserved areas. They contend that existing public disclosure requirements for ISPs are sufficient for them to be held accountable by consumers in the free market.

In a competitive free market we would, in fact, be able to punish an ISP for blocking or restricting our favorite websites by switching to a different company that offers better service. The trouble is, when it comes to ISPs, most Americans have very few options. Most of us are lucky if we even have a choice between two companies that provide high- speed internet. As long as ISPs maintain monopolies  in our local communities, there is very little that can stop them from restricting access or raising prices.

This severe lack of competition among ISPs is at the core of why net neutrality is necessary. Federal, state and local governments must act to encourage more ISPs to enter the market, but until there is real competition we need regulations to preserve internet freedom as we know it.

The FCC vote is not the end of this debate. Democratic senators are planning to introduce legislation to erase the FCC’s new policy under the Congressional Review Act, and a number of state attorneys general have announced their intention to file lawsuits to block its implementation. While there was a congressional letter supporting the FCC, it was signed by fewer than half of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Some Republican lawmakers have even begun to speak out in support of net neutrality. While this opposition (or lack of support) does not come close to reflecting the full 75 percent of Republican voters who are against the FCC decision, it does suggest that bipartisan cooperation is possible.

America is a nation so divided that bipartisan agreement on anything is cause for celebration. When it comes to net neutrality, we have more than agreement, we have a consensus among 83 percent of Americans. While reversing the FCC vote is not a solution to the lack of competition among ISPs, it is a necessary step to protect consumers in the meantime. Congress should take that step.

Max Samarov is director of research and campus strategy for StandWithUs. This article represents his personal views.

Social media has been hijacked by ISIS – Silicon Valley must end terrorists’ online campaigns or governments will

It looks like that ISIS’ shrinking Caliphate may actually end in Iraq and Syria in the not too distant future. Tragically, that welcomed development however soon it occurs, won’t end the all-too-real threat of escalating terrorist attacks. New evidence indicates that the Manchester Concert homicide bomber met with ISIS operatives in Libya another failed state that could be the next terrorism central.

 So why not a coalition of the willing to drain that swamp and be done with it. Without question, as Israel has proven killing large number of terrorists can make a big difference. And the elimination of thousands of well-trained and battle-hardened terrorists- be they ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabab, etc; remains a key factor in turning the tide in the war against terrorism. Denying the terrorist groups of  territory they control will rob the evil doers of the R&D centers and the cash to upgrade and expand their lethal crusades to bring down the world order.

But to be clear, ISIS, al Qaeda, and al Shabab terrorism will not end in a hail bullets.That’s because there is another battlefield in the global war that the terrorists are winning hands down:  The Internet. With only a few bumps in the road, terrorists, their global support networks, their sophisticated media, propaganda, and recruitment campaigns have taken full advantage of civilization’s most powerful marketing tools to create and control an romanticized Islamist narrative that has gained them a virtual but all-too-real army of supporters on every continent.

Each year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center publishes its Digital Terrorism and Hate Report  detailing the online terrorism tutorials, the tweets celebrating every “martyr” of every outrage, the glossy online magazines urging on the faithful to mow down, stab, shoot and blow up the infidels, crusaders(Christians) and sons of apes and pigs(Jews). We exposed the pressure cooker bomb recipe three months before it was used against innocents at The Boston Marathon. Over the last two years we warned social media companies that terrorists networks were embracing encryption, a tactic that has enabled suspects to go dark before they launched attacks. Some of the companies have refused to change their rules of usage and even refused to cooperate with authorities after atrocities were committed.

Our Digital Terrorism and Hate Report Card shows mixed grades in their commitment to degrade online capabilities of extremists. In the meantime, online recruitment for terrorist cells and lone wolves continued unabated. And sometimes, as in Stockholm, the perpetrators themselves  boast of their killings on social media.

After the House of Commons, Manchester and London Bridge atrocities, in the United Kingdom, beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May has thrown down the gauntlet. On the eve of this week’s national elections, she is vowing to regulate online activity.

Internet companies and purveyors of encryption apps have only themselves to blame, as some firms refused to cooperate with authorities even after hundreds of innocent victims were murdered in the US, UK, and France.

As body counts continue to mount, counter arguments against government intervention ring more hollow. There is no freedom of speech or right to privacy for anyone launching, aiding, or abetting mass murder and mayhem. Will such measures push the extremists to the dark side of the Internet? Perhaps. And while that wholesale move may make it a bit more challenging for intelligence and police agencies to follow ISIS and its ilk, it would rob the terrorists of their most effective marketing platforms.  We must put an end to the terrorists’ unchallenged sophisticated social media campaigns that continue to gain tens of thousands of young adherents in the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, and the US.  

To coopt similar action to 10 Downing Street by Capitol Hill, Social Media giants led by Facebook/Instagram, Google/YouTube, and Twitter, along with messaging Apps Telegram, WhatsApp, and Surespot, must immediately commit to unleash their unparalleled “big brother” and hi-tech prowess to degrade and eliminate the food chain of terrorism and hate from their midst.

If Silicon Valley fails to take effective action, terrorist onslaughts will continue and expand. And the era of the unfettered online golden goose could come to a screeching halt amidst Congressional hearings, legislation, and regulation.

Theresa May is right. Enough is enough!

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

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

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

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

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

DTH grades17_Poster

Courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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

YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH: Addicted to porn culture: Is porn changing sex?

The average age a boy sees Internet pornography for the first time is 11 years old. For girls, the culture offers an equally stark choice: be “beddable” or be invisible. Jewish Journal columnist Danielle Berrin interviews Jewish-feminist crusader Dr. Gail Dines, the world renowned scholar, author and anti-porn activist. Dines will tell you what you need to know about your kids – and maybe even your partner.

Brought to you by Jewish Journal and Beit T’Shuvah.

A Jewish feminist’s crusade against violent pornography

by Danielle Berrin, Senior Writer

“I always say to people: ‘Hold your applause, because you’re not going to be so happy with me in about 30 minutes,’ ” author and scholar Gail Dines said at the beginning of a lecture she gave recently in Los Angeles. (I should add, please be advised this column contains sexually graphic descriptions.)

Dines rightly sensed that the atmosphere in the room was a mix of anxiety and fear: What was this English-accented dynamo going to tell us? Or worse, what was she going to show us? 

Read the full story here.

U.S. says its Internet speeds to triple in 3-1/2 years

U.S. Internet connection speeds have tripled over 3-1/2 years to keep up with consumer demands for streaming video and downloading content but the United States still lags many other countries.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in a report on Wednesday average download connection speeds had increased to nearly 31 megabits per second (Mbps) in September 2014 from about 10 Mbps in March 2011.

Rising Internet speeds have been driven by consumer demands for growing amounts of bandwidth to watch movies, play video games and download data.

The industry is ramping up efforts to boost speeds. Google Inc is offering up to 1,000 Mbps in nine cities, while AT&T is offering the same speed in 20 cities and plans to add 36 metro areas next year.

Comcast Corp said last week it is testing its own 1,000 Mbps service in Philadelphia and by the end of 2016 will offer the service in some other areas.

The FCC says video accounts for more than 60 percent of U.S. Internet traffic, a figure that may rise to 80 percent by 2019.

Still, the United States only ranks 25 out of 39 nations in 2013, according to the FCC. It said the United States was behind many countries including France, Canada, Germany and Japan — but ahead of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Israel. The fastest was Luxembourg with average download speeds of 47.32 Mbps.

The report said that among major providers, Cablevision Systems Corp. led with average download speeds of 60 Mbps, followed by Verizon Communications Inc and Charter Communications Inc each with around 50 Mbps. Cox Communications Inc followed at 40 Mbps, while Comcast was about 35 Mbps.

In January, the FCC redefined benchmark broadband speeds to 25 Mbps for downloads, up from the 4 Mbps set in 2010.

“Advances in network technology are yielding significant improvements in broadband speeds and quality,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Faster, better broadband will unleash new innovations and new services to improve the lives of the American people.”

The report, Wheeler said, holds Internet providers “accountable.”

Among U.S. states, New Jersey had the fastest average Internet download speeds at 57 Mbps, while Idaho had the lowest at about 14 Mbps, just above Ohio and Arkansas.

The FCC measures Internet performance with monitoring boxes in more than 5,000 volunteer homes. The FCC says download speeds are now much closer to advertised than in 2011.

Facebook to launch Israeli-made satellite to bring Internet access to Africa

Facebook will launch an Israeli-made satellite to bring Internet access to sub-Saharan Africa.

The AMOS-6 satellite is being built by Israel Aerospace Industries and will be operated by the Israeli company Spacecom, in partnership with Eutelsat Communications of France.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the partnership with Eutelsat to launch the satellite on his Facebook page on Oct. 5.

The satellite, which is expected to operate for 16 years, is set to launch in 2016, Zuckerman said.

The satellite costs about $300 million and Spacecom is expected to earn about $100 million from the deal, according to Reuters. 

Facebook founder calls for universal Internet to help cure global ills

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a host of celebrities kicked off a campaign on Saturday to make Internet access universal, saying this was critical to fulfilling the United Nations' newly adopted agenda to combat global ills.

Calling for efforts to ensure Internet access for everyone globally by 2020, Zuckerberg said Internet connections are a dynamic tool for sharing knowledge, creating opportunities, lifting communities out of poverty and promoting peace.

“A 'like' or a post won't stop a tank or a bullet, but when people are connected, we have a chance to build a common global community with a shared understanding,” Zuckerberg told at a private luncheon with business leaders at the United Nations.

“That's a powerful force.”

The 193 U.N. member nations on Friday formally adopted a sweeping set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, that aim to end poverty and combat inequality and climate change over the next 15 years and call for shared peace and prosperity.

The objectives, described as “a to-do list for people and planet” by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are intended as a roadmap to be implemented by government and the private sector.

The connectivity campaign calls on governments, businesses and innovators to bring the Internet to the some 4 billion people who now do not have access, organizers said.

Signing on to the connectivity campaign were U2 star Bono, co-founder of One, a group that fights extreme poverty; actress Charlize Theron, founder of Africa Outreach Project; philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates; British entrepreneur Richard Branson; Huffington Post editor Arianna Huffington; Colombian singer Shakira, actor and activist George Takei and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales.

Lawsuit to seize Iranian regime’s Internet licenses

Attorneys representing American-Jewish victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism have filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C., to seize control of Internet licenses and domain names belonging to the Iranian regime. 

The legal motion was made in June against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a U.S. government agency headquartered in Marina Del Rey that controls all Internet domain names. The maneuver aims to force the Iranian regime to pay nearly $1 billion in unpaid judgments from civil lawsuits won by Jewish victims against the Iranian regime for funding suicide bombings and shootings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad nearly two decades ago. 

“We are demanding compensation and justice for the victims and their families,” said Nistana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney based in Israel representing the Jewish terror victims through the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, which she founded and directs. “The message we are trying to send Iran is that you have financed these Hamas attacks, you killed and injured innocent Jews, and now it’s time to pay compensation for your crimes.”

Countries around the world, including Iran, are authorized by ICANN to allocate top-level Internet domain names. The Jewish victims of Iranian-sponsored terror are seeking to obtain control of the domain names ending with “.ir” (Iran) and use them to leverage payment from the regime for their judgments. 

Officials working at the Marina Del Rey headquarters of ICANN declined to comment on the case when contacted by the Journal. Recently, government attorneys for ICANN filed a motion to request the court to completely vacate this latest case brought by the terrorism victims.

Darshan-Leitner, who hails from an Iranian-Jewish family, said the legal move against ICANN comes after many years of being unable to collect on judgments from the different cases against the Iranian regime for funding Palestinian terror attacks against Jews.

“For years the Iranian government has refused to pay its judgments, thumbing its nose at these terror victims and the American court system,” she said.

Darshan-Leitner thinks this time will be different. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows victims of terrorism to collect judgments against foreign governments that have sponsored terrorism against Americans by seizing the foreign government’s properties or assets that are in the U.S., the attorney said. She argues that the Iranian domain licenses are valuable assets the regime has been able to retain in the U.S.

Darshan-Leitner said the case at hand is especially important to her.

“We believe that the slogan ‘never again’ means first and foremost that no one can murder Jews and simply walk away,” she said. “There has to be a heavy price, and simply forgiving Iran or shrugging our shoulders means that Jewish blood will be deemed cheap in the eyes of the nations.” 

Family members of the Palestinian bombing victims said they were frustrated with the lack of support from the U.S. administration in their efforts to collect on judgments from U.S. courts against the Iranian regime.

“It’s not right that the U.S. government would provide these licenses to Iran while [Iran] is refusing to pay off the judgments handed down against it for funding global terrorism,” said Baruch Ben-Haim, whose son Shlomo was severely injured in a 1995 terrorist bus bombing in Israel; Ben-Chaim and his son have American and Israeli citizenship, and live in Israel.

Many Los Angeles Iranian Jewish leaders said they are supportive of Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin’s pursuit of compensation for the terror victims.

“We are proud and in awe of Nistana’s legal acumen and courage,” said Sam Yebri, president of the L.A.-based Iranian Jewish nonprofit 30 Years After. “This move rebuts the element of financial sanctions that some find objectionable …  for those who say they want to hold Iran accountable but not hurt average Iranians, they must embrace Nistana’s work.”

Shurat HaDin was founded in 2003 in Tel Aviv with a mission to, as its website states, bankrupt “terror groups and grind their criminal activities to a halt — one lawsuit at a time.”

To date, the law center has won more than $1 billion in court judgments against terror organizations and state sponsors. It boasts freezing more than $600 million in terror assets and recouping more than $120 million to compensate victims and their families.

This isn’t the law center’s first interaction with Iran. In 2006, Darshan-Leitner filed a suit in U.S. federal court in New York against former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on behalf of Iranian-Jewish families whose loved ones were kidnapped and imprisoned during the 1990s while attempting to flee Iran illegally.

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist who heads the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said the new case will be valuable to pressuring the Iranian regime.

“I have to say that Nistana’s efforts are extremely beneficial because it publicizes the forgotten cases, continues to expose the people responsible and the Iranian regime’s involvement,” he said. “It can also financially hurt the enablers of terrorism in Iran and demonstrates to the world that while the [United Nations] is either biased or oblivious to most global atrocities, there are still ways for individual victims to seek justice.”

Targeting Iranian Internet licenses and domain names may also curtail the regime’s use of the Internet to advance its radical fundamentalist ideology.

“All of the Iranian regime’s officials are using cyber [social media] for promoting terrorism,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian Muslim activist who heads the Marze Por Gohar Iranian opposition group in Westwood. “Not only should Iran’s supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, but all of the regime’s officials should not be given the courtesy of exploiting any social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for their sick purpose — but as we can see, they all have a significant presence on these sites today.”

For their part, the Iranian regime has not acknowledged Darshan-Leitner’s move to seize control of its Internet licenses and domain names. The Farsi-language, Iranian state-run news website Tabnak recently reported on the case involving ICANN but did not indicate any reason for the legal action against Iran.

Representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls from the Journal for comment. 

Terror victims seek control of Iranian Internet domains

Lawyers in Israel and the United States representing victims of terrorism filed papers claiming Iranian Internet domain names.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel Aviv and Robert Tolchin of New York served the claims on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the lawyers said Tuesday, seeking redress for $16 million awarded to victims of terrorism by a U.S. court in 2006.

“The Iranians must be shown that there is a steep price to be paid for their sponsorship of terrorism,” Darshan-Leitner said in a statement. “In business and legal terms it is quite simple – we are owed money, and these assets are currency worth money.”

The papers, according to the lawyers’ news release, seek “top-level domain (TLD) names provided by the U.S. to Iran … and all Internet Protocol (IP) addresses being utilized by the Iranian government and its agencies.”

Why we write

On Monday, I gave a talk to visiting young Israelis on a subject near and dear to my heart: Just what is the Jewish Journal?

These Israelis were next-generation leaders, here in Los Angeles as part of the KOLOT program, which exposes secular Israelis to Jewish tradition, something Jews in the Holy Land can manage to miss learning about in their country’s public schools.  

I met them at the newly refurbished Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Jewish newspapers, I explained, are the least-appreciated, least-understood and often most-despised institution in Jewish life. To be a Jewish journalist — bearer of bad news, muckraker, gadfly, thorn and nudge — is often to be a minority within a minority, a Jew among Jews.

But Jewish papers have been integral to successful Jewish communities. The first modern one, the Gazeta de Amsterdam, launched in 1675, just 70 years after the first newspaper of any kind. There were Jewish papers in all 13 American colonies and a national Jewish paper, called The Jew, beginning in 1823. L.A.’s first Jewish paper, the German-language Süd-Californische Post, was founded in 1874, when there were only 300 Jews among the city’s 5,500 residents.   

Why? Because as Jews disperse, they need an institution that gathers their stories, that keeps them informed and, when necessary, sets a communal agenda.

And in a free country, there’s another important role. As waves of Jewish immigrants came to America at the turn of the century, the great Jewish Daily Forward taught a generation of Jews to be Americans — how to find work and fit in. Today, the role of the Jewish paper has flipped. One of its larger purposes is to teach Americans to be Jews: to connect them to a larger community, to provide a window into Jewish life and learning in a very secular world.

You would think, in a modern world, the demand for Jewish media would decline. The opposite is happening. The Jewish Journal’s print circulation is up, and jewishjournal.com now reaches close to 1.5 million people around the world each month through its Web site and mobile apps. Old Jewish media outlets like The Forward and JTA — formerly the Jewish Telegraphic Agency — have been revitalized; new ones, from The Times of Israel to tabletmag.org to eJewishPhilanthropy.com, are popping up constantly. One reason is that the issues and ideas Jews care about have become the issues and ideas the world cares about: Terrorism. Fundamentalism. The Middle East. The role of religion in politics. How to meld tradition with modernity. 

But even more important, in an uncertain world, people yearn for connection, tradition and community. And the first place they look for it — as with anything these days — is the Web.

But, the young tech-savvy Israelis wondered, if Jews can connect on Facebook or Instagram, isn’t that enough? It’s not, any more than WhatsApp can replace The New York Times. There still has to be somebody out there gathering stories, reporting them to the highest-possible standards, providing the most thoughtful and well-edited opinions, and reaching out to as broad an audience as possible, with no greater motive than to connect, inform and inspire.

What the Web offers is a way for Jewish media to reach — for the first time — not just every Jew, but everyone. This is a remarkable moment in Jewish history, when we have the freedom, power and ability to present Jewish life and learning to an unlimited audience. Nothing, I believe, will have a greater impact on the next phase of Jewish history than how we use that potential.

That’s the challenge I left to the young Israelis, one that the (mostly) young staff at the Jewish Journal has already taken on.

As for me, you will not see my column in this space for the next four months. After 19 years at the Jewish Journal, including 12 years as editor-in-chief and two years as publisher, as well, I am taking a four-month sabbatical. I’ll be working on a writing project that needs a bit more focus than I can squeeze in around the long hours that we all put in to make the Journal what it is. 

If I can be allowed one parting request, it is this: Support the Jewish Journal.  As I told the visiting Israelis, no other Los Angeles Jewish institution reaches as many Jews on a daily and weekly basis. No other institution tells and records our communal story. No other institution reaches as many Jews otherwise uninvolved in community life. For that matter, because we distribute free and on the streets and over the Web, no other L.A. Jewish institution reaches as many non-Jews each and every week.

For all that outreach, the Journal is the rare Jewish nonprofit institution that earns 90 percent of its revenue on its own, through the hard work of our advertising and subscription staff. But that extra 10 percent provides the crucial funds we need to invest in bringing the Jewish world to you, to grow and change along with our community and with the new resources of technology. For that, we very much need you to make a tax-deductible contribution, annually and generously, at jewishjournal.com.

This last part isn’t what I talked about with the Israelis — I’m just asking you. But as I did say to them, shalom v’lhitraot — goodbye, and see you later.

Thin God’s image

Scrolling down the Pinterest page, I see countless photos of bikini clad girls with emaciated bodies. Mirror selfies tagged as ‘thinspiration’ showcase razor-sharp hipbones, protruding ribs, and skeletal thighs set several inches apart.  The blogger’s comments? “Thigh gap and flat stomach…this is what I want,” and, “I will look like this by summer.”

While the Internet has seen many fads that aim to set the standard of beauty for girls and women, the “thigh gap” trend is one of the most destructive and disturbing to date. The goal is to have legs so thin that your thighs don’t touch, even when standing with your feet together.

In reality, this goal is nearly impossible to achieve without a certain body type. Unless a girl has naturally slender legs and wide-set hips, she would have to go to far and often dangerous lengths for a space between her thighs.

It has come to the point where if you type in “thigh gap” on Pinterest, the top of the screen reads  “Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause  serious health problems or could even be life-threatening,” followed by the number for the National  Eating Disorders Association Helpline.

Yet, bloggers from all over the world continue to use social media sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram to post workout tips, phrases that promote eating less, and photos of girls with the coveted thigh gap as inspiration for their weight loss goals. Pictures of models, celebrities, and —  wait for it — Holocaust victims are among the images featured on the site for “motivational purposes.”

Although the thigh gap trend is horrifying and tragic in the eyes of any human being, as a Jewish teenager I feel that it strikes an even deeper chord. Throughout my life, I have been taught that everyone is created in God’s image. While this can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, at its core it means that we should embrace people’s differences and accept that we are all equally beautiful in our own right. This includes body shape, skin color, special needs and everything in between.

I remember reading a Mishnah passage in my ninth grade Jewish Studies class: “A person mints many coins from the same mold and they all resemble one another. But [God] forms each person in the image of Adam and not one of them resembles his fellow” (Sanhedrin 4:5).

It pains me to know that so many girls are striving to alter their bodies’ natural forms to resemble the runway models on the Pinterest page. So many girls are giving in to the pressure to eat less so the space between their thighs will be as wide as the photo reposted on the Tumblr blog tells them it needs to be. And so many are sitting back and watching as teenagers all over the world damage their physical and emotional health trying to match the coins minted from the Instagram mold.

One thing that can’t be stressed enough is that beauty is not something that can be defined — not by Tumblr, not by magazines, and not by the girl who complains about needing to lose five pounds. Many bloggers are taking this idea to heart and creating anti-thigh gap pages to combat negative body image. Blogs like The Beauty of Curve are becoming increasingly popular, and with them the phrase, “No Thigh Gap, No Problem.” The pages feature images of real, healthy women and celebrities with a wide range of body types, supporting the idea that there is beauty in diversity — beauty that God would want us to recognize.

Curvy, thin, tall, short or something in between, every body type is a reflection of God’s beauty and perfection — whatever your interpretation of that may be. There is one thing, however, that I think we can all agree on: up in heaven or wherever She may be, God is probably not trying for a thigh gap.

This article is reprinted from The Roar, a publication of the Milken Student Press

Best. Site. Ever.

It’s common these days to micromanage what information we receive. Many of us have a list of favorite Web sites and blogs we regularly go to, as well as Facebook pages and mobile apps that reflect our individual tastes and ideologies. It’s a way of maintaining some level of control amid the chaos of the Internet.

There’s an opportunity cost, however, to micromanaging this flow of information: We rarely experience the joy of what I call “bumping into knowledge.”

That’s why I want to tell you about my all-time favorite Web site, Arts & Letters Daily (aldaily.com).

This is not really a Web site. It’s more of a playground for human thought, a garden of fascinating ideas, a cocktail party for the incurably curious.

The site is wonderfully ugly. There are no cool images or graphics, just columns of words … striking, original words that are like mental speed bumps.

And, thank God, it’s not interactive. There are no inane comments from rabid and angry readers. It’s a one-way freeway of intellectual delights — they serve, we savor.

As many as 15 topic areas are listed on its masthead: philosophy, aesthetics, literature, language, trends, breakthroughs, ideas, criticism, culture, history, music, art, disputes and, yes, even gossip.

The home page features three column headings: Articles of Note, New Books, and Essays and Opinions. Under each heading is a series of brief blurbs, each one linking to an article from a broad range of publications, many I’d never heard of before discovering the site.

There are no ideological or topical boundaries. The only boundary seems to be: Is this a smart and fresh read?

The site is curated daily, which means you’re guaranteed a daily dose of brain food.

Just to give you a sense of what it feels like to be on the site, here’s a sampling of some thoughts and ideas you’re likely to encounter on any given day:   

“A modern Marx. Jonathan Sperber’s attempt to confine the man to his milieu misses the point. Marx’s ideas shape our world …”

“Technology confounds Sven Birkerts. What happens when this not-quite Luddite goes for a ride with Siri? A transcendental experience ensues …”

“Albert Camus’s writings on the Algerian war are marked by their honesty, consistency, even purity. His peers — Sartre, de Beauvoir, Aron — were cynical at best …” 

“ ‘Never before has anti-Semitism been so eliminationist in its rhetoric,’ says Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, ‘not even the Nazi period.’ Chilling. But is it true?”

“Before Soho was boho, there was Covent Garden. Its theaters, bordellos, and back alleys gave rise to a modern archetype: the poverty-stricken artist …”

“The demonic Picasso. In the absence of morality, it is monstrosity that carries the weight of his work, and shakes the viewer’s beliefs …”

“Could humans — so fractious and violent — forge a moral lingua franca, a unified system for weighing values? Let the metacognitive revolution begin …”

“For all of us, but especially for Generations X and Y, a sustained and quiet read is harder to get than ever. Cultural studies is to blame …”

“Income inequality will worsen, predicts Tyler Cowen, but revolution is not stirring. Our economic and social future will be a ‘hyper-meritocracy’…”

Get the picture? The site provides a constant flow of challenging ideas that hit you from all sides. Imagine that. You lose control. You are constantly surprised. You are at the mercy of a curator’s taste. 

One minute, you’re reading about a critic’s outrage at “America’s cultural debasement …” the next you read about how “regret is what makes us human.”

Right after a piece on how “putting pen to paper unlocks a sort of alchemy,” you read about Michael Ignatieff, “a man who would be philosopher-king … left Harvard and reinvented himself as a politician. Or so he thought …”

AL Daily, which is owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education, is the brainchild of the late Denis Dutton, its founding editor. According to Wikipedia, Dutton was inspired by the model of the Drudge Report but wanted to reach “the kinds of people who subscribe to the New York Review of Books, who read Salon and Slate and The New Republic — people interested in ideas.”

The plain, word-heavy design of the site “mimics the 18th century English broadsheets and a 19th century copy of a colonial New Zealand periodical, the Lyttelton Times.”

The site is so intellectually rich that it even includes a little section titled “Nota Bene” (Latin for “mark well”), which offers a collection of daily links to more quirky articles.

In short, the site is the antidote to boredom and predictability. It counters the modern-day habit of finding refuge in media channels that mostly confirm what we already know and believe.

It’s comfort food, but only for those who don’t seek comfort.

In that sense, it might be the ultimate Jewish site, designed not to comfort us but to challenge us, not to reinforce us but to move us, not to change our minds but to open them.

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

Israeli who murdered his parents used tips he found online

An Israeli who stabbed his mother and father to death was convicted of murder on Monday partly because he searched online for tips including “how to kill your parents and get away with it.”

Daniel Maoz, 29, wanted money from his inheritance in order to pay heavy gambling debts, the Jerusalem District Court found. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2011 murders.

The case presented an unusual challenge to the prosecution: DNA evidence linking Maoz to the killings was found at the murder scene, his parents' apartment, and he tried to explain that away by accusing his identical twin brother of the crime.

In its decision, the court cited other physical evidence and an examination of the defendant's computer to refute that.

The incriminating Internet searches also included “can soap clean DNA from a knife?” and “murder for inheritance”, a transcript of the ruling showed.

Maoz said he made the searches out of “academic curiosity.”

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Louise Ireland

Rebooting Bubbie

Who’s your bubbie

When it comes to food, she might not be the short, Yiddish-speaking grandmother that comes to mind.

“Every family has a recipe that it holds dear, and every recipe has a person behind it, and typically, yes, it is your Yiddish bubbie,” said David Sax, author of “Save the Deli.” “But it can also be a grandmother who came from a Sephardic country, or a housekeeper who came from the Philippines and was the one who made Shabbat dinner every Friday night, or the prison guard who raised you but fed you well, lovingly.”

Sax is one of the founders of Beyond Bubbie, a new project and Web site sponsored by the Jewish creative think tank Reboot. Beyond Bubbie aims to mingle food, memory and meaning to produce a multisensory, visceral connection to Jewish (or another) heritage. 

The project launched last week at the Skirball Cultural Center with a panel of five top chefs and food writers — four of them Jewish — exploring how food memories have affected their careers. More than 100 people showed up for appetizers, drinks, dessert and memories.

“I feel like my entire culinary endeavor, starting from when I was a kid, was about finding my inner grandmother,” said moderator Evan Kleiman, the host of KCRW’s “Good Food.”

Kleiman said she didn’t have actual bubbies in her life — because she was the youngest of all her first cousins, her grandmothers were gone by the time she came around. And her single mother was more about getting food on the table than cooking.

But she said she has cookbook bubbies, food mentors and strong food memories.

“Beyond the blood person of bubbie is bubbieness — the person who takes you in hand and believes they are feeding you more than just food, and really focuses their attention on you when you’re small,” she said.

Drawing out those memories can draw people closer to meaning, said Yoav Schlesinger, executive director of Reboot, a network of about 400 creative Jewish leaders who incubate new ideas for Jewish life. East Side Jews in Los Angeles, Sukkah City architectural competition in New York and the National Day of Unplugging are all Reboot projects.

“Reboot has always been about recapturing, revitalizing, reinventing, re-envisioning tradition, culture, meaning and ritual, and what could be more central to culture from a Jewish perspective than food?” Schlesinger said. 

He envisions Beyond Bubbie as a multicultural endeavor, not just for Jews, especially since Jews today have multicultural families. 

Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold comes from a multireligion family, and he told the Skirball audience that his Jewish bubbie, his father’s mother, was a terrible cook. 

“My Jewish grandmother was famous for starting her Thanksgiving turkey at the end of October, just so it would be done on time. She broiled halibut for an hour and a half,” he said. 

Gold’s mother, who converted to Judaism, did her best with matzah balls.

But it was his Southern Baptist grandmother, who grew up on a farm in northern Louisiana, who taught him what it meant to be in a kitchen, especially when she came to live with his family in her last days.

“I stood with her in the kitchen, forcing her to fry chicken, so I could learn how to do it,” Gold said. “And she taught me how to listen to the food — to close your eyes and listen to the sound of the chicken cooking.”
Gold said he’s tried to be a food bubbie to his own children, and he confessed to being a farmers market schmoozer — the guy who stands there giving advice about what to do with collard greens or purple cauliflower.

Gold also had a question for panelist Micah Wexler, whose acclaimed West Hollywood restaurant, Mezze, recently closed. Gold told Wexler he noticed that Wexler’s menu became progressively more Jewish in Mezze’s first year or two of being open. Was that deliberate? 

Wexler said his cooking was deeply influenced by his grandmothers — one an artist and kitchen experimenter, and the other, Grandma Emily, who excelled at Ashkenazic fare. 

At first that Ashkenazic influence didn’t show up on his menu, which leaned toward innovative takes on Mediterranean food — dishes like snail kabob and sea urchin couscous. Then one day he mistakenly received an order of chicken livers and decided to make his grandmother’s chopped liver and challah. Before long, his chef friends were all coming to try it out, and it soon became a staple at Mezze.

“I didn’t set out to be a modern Jewish chef. I think it just came from the fact that these were the flavors and this was the food I grew up around,” Wexler said. 

Akasha Richmond, owner of AKASHA in Culver City and once the personal chef for Michael Jackson, has quite a bubbie to live up to. Her Russian bubbie’s knishes were like French pastry, she said, her kreplach like Tuscan ravioli. 

“I never had better food in my life,” Richmond said. “I only had that taste once in recent years. I was at an Armenian Christmas event, and there’s this Armenian dish where they layer a thin pastry with cheese. And I started crying at the table, because I had been drinking a lot, and because it tasted so much like my bubbie’s knishes.” 

After her bubbie died, she stopped eating Ashkenazic food and cooked with more of a Sephardic inflection. But soon after she opened AKASHA, she decided to try a Rosh Hashanah dinner. 

“We made chopped liver, and I’m a health nut, but I realized it needed chicken fat. And I just kept putting in more and more chicken fat — and it was sooo good,” Richmond said. “People grabbed me, crying, saying how it was the first time they had their grandmother’s food in such a long time.”

Roxana Jullapat, who owns Cooks County on Beverly Boulevard, said butter was a major ingredient in her grandmother’s Costa Rican cooking, and though this grandmother died when she was 5 (all that butter gave her heart disease, Jullapat said), the food memories are burned into her consciousness. The scent of slow-dripped coffee with a mother lode of sugar and cream, and the stink of ripe tropical fruit, always bring her back to Costa Rica. 

Jullapat, the non-Jewish chef present, said she often finds herself defending Costa Rican food — kind of like Ashkenazic food — and she proved herself to the Skirball audience with a dessert of Tres Leches, a gooey cake topped with meringue.

Sax’s own crusade to defend and revitalize the deli started when he was a child. 

One of his most formative food experiences was at Yitz’s Delicatessen in Toronto, where his family went every Friday night.

“Mr. and Mrs. Yitz would greet us in the warm, loving way, as if we were their very own grandchildren,” Sax said. “Mr. Yitz used to practice judo, and he had these big, fat meat-hook hands, and he would shove them into these barrels of sunflower seeds and give them to us. We didn’t even like them — we shoved them into our pockets and threw them out later.”

But it’s that warmth and personal connection that burned the deli into his memory, and it is those kinds of connections that he hopes will spark deeper conversations as Beyond Bubbie grows with events in New York and San Francisco, and an organically evolving Web site, where dozens of people already have posted recipes and stories.

“It’s an easy way to start a conversation about things that go far deeper than food or ingredients. These things are very meaningful, and that is why when you ask any Jews anywhere about the subject of food, it tends to spark a long and passionate conversation,” Sax said.

For links and recipes from these chefs, visit this story at jewishjournal.com.

New cybercrime law in the United Arab Emirates is rights issue

Trying to stop the Internet these days may feel like Sisyphus pushing a rock to the top of the mountain. But officials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are certainly giving it a try.

A new cyber-crime law issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan protects credit card and bank account information published on the Internet, providing jail time for anyone convicted of using electronic means to forge credit cards or ID cards. It also makes it a crime to solicit prostitution or encourage someone to commit adultery.

The measure also “effectively closes-off the country’s only remaining forum for free speech,” says a new report by Human Rights Watch. It makes it illegal to “criticize senior officials, argue for political reform, or organize unlicensed demonstrations.” Anyone charged under the new law could pay penalties of up to $270,000 as well as imprisonment.

The statute comes amid growing discontent with the ruling monarchy despite massive salary increases for public sector employees and a $2.7 billion package to assist poor Emirates with outstanding loans.

“Over the last year the climate of repression in the UAE has worsened dramatically and over 60 members of the Al-Islah movement, a non-violent opposition movement, have been detained,” Nadim Khoury, the Deputy Director of the Middle East for Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. “Some have even had their citizenship revoked. That is a dangerous precedent.”

The European Parliament last week passed a resolution expressing concern about the changed atmosphere in the UAE.

Khoury says the President and other government officials have not been responsive to charges leveled by Human Rights Watch. “As the environment in the UAE has worsened, our access to the country and the willingness of the government to engage in substantive debate has declined dramatically,” he complained.

The UAE is a federation of seven ‘emiratis’ or principalities, each headed by an emir, but with one president for all seven. In the almost two years since the “Arab Spring” — protests that have swept the region — began, the unrest has bypassed these small states. Yet in recent months, opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Al-Islah have begun calling for regime change.

It is those calls that the new cyber-crime law is aimed against, says Dr. Theodore Karasik, the Director of Research for the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, the wealthiest of the seven emirates.

“From the UAE’s point of view, the tensions that are sweeping the region is another reason this new cyber law has been put into place,” he told The Media Line.

Karasik said that, perhaps surprisingly, most citizens seem to support the new legislation.

“It is seen as necessary because of the amount of hacking and other cyber-related crimes,” he says. “The Middle East faces cyber threats from both criminal networks and non-state actors. This law is seen as just part of doing business.”

But it also shows that the UAE’s rulers are growing increasingly nervous about the threat that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which won elections in Egypt and Tunisia, could pose to the current regimes. Other threats come from academics and human rights activists. In March, Muhammed Rashid Al-Kalbani, a young UAE national, was arrested for tweeting about the Arab Spring. He was accused of “damaging national security social peace.” Under the updated cybercrime law, he could be fined and imprisoned.

The new law will also encourage self-censorship. Wary of being arrested, activists may choose not to post on Facebook or Twitter, aware that the government is watching them.

The regime is hitting back hard at any opposition.

“We hear today that there are some who are trying to tamper with the stability of the UAE,” Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al-Qasimi, the ruler of the small Ras Al-Khaimah said recently, according to an official government press release. “I would like to say to them: the people of the UAE don’t need lessons from anyone. They are confident in themselves and in the solidarity that they share. They don’t change.”

Al-Qasimi also defended the government’s policy of stripping citizenship from some opponents of the regime.

“He who does not like this should leave for another place,” he said. “Any treachery is a shame for him and for his country.”

With the new cyber-crime law, the monarchies of the UAE are trying to stop protests from spreading on the Internet. But, like Sisyphus, they are unlikely to succeed.

Criminalize anti-Semitic websites, Rome provincial council says in motion

Rome’s provincial council is calling for websites that promote racism and anti-Semitism to be blocked and such online hatred criminalized.

The council on Monday unanimously passed a motion voicing solidarity with Rome local official Carla Di Veroli and with the Rome Jewish community in general following anti-Semitic attacks on Di Veroli that appeared last week on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront.

Di Veroli, who is Jewish, has long been an anti-fascist and minority rights activist.

The motion also commits provincial officials to “assume every appropriate initiative” to urge the relevant authorities and institutions to block websites that “spread ideas that instigate racial hatred, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and homophobia.” It pushed for a law to brand online hate spread on websites as a criminal act.

New internet censorship in Gaza

Many Gazans have long lamented that there’s not much to do in the Gaza Strip. There are no movie theaters, pool halls or bowling alleys — all of which are seen as “un-Islamic.” And it’s not getting any better. In fact, now, curbs are being extended further – to the Internet.

The Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza issued a new law this week that forces Gaza’s ten main internet providers to block all access to any websites with pornographic content.

“This move is aimed at preserving our morals,” Osama Al-Eisawi, Minister of Communication and Information Technology in the Hamas government said in a statement. “Our social fabric needs protection and we are actually protecting Internet users in Gaza.”

Al-Eisawi said that any Internet provider that does not obey the law will be closed down. He explained that the law is an extension of the one passed in 2008, when the filters to block pornography were put in place, but individual users could still choose to lift them. Now, that choice is no longer available.

Hamas officials say the law is being imposed in response to many requests from parents and what he called “other organizations.”

“We don’t aim at oppressing any freedom or censoring any political websites; we will just block the websites that have a pornographic nature,” Dr. Kamal Al-Masri, the Director General of Licensing at the Ministry of Communications said.

“We will stay in coordination with all the Internet providers in Gaza regarding this law. We have systems and technologies that will help us keep tracking those providers. If any provider breaks the law then they will be prosecuted or face a complete shut down,” Al- Masri concluded.

Some in Gaza worried that the ban on pornography is just a first step to total control, arguing that in the future, Hamas could choose to block political websites. But most say the ban will not be effective, in any case. Gazans are considered to be especially Internet-savvy, some believe because it is so difficult for them to leave Gaza to travel abroad (they need permits from either Israel or Egypt to leave Gaza).

“I would like to think of myself and others as grown-up adults who have the freedom of choice over whether to put filters on our Internet connection or not,” Adam Al-Agha, a student sitting in front of a computer screen at an Internet café told The Media Line. “Youth here are very advanced when it comes to technology –we can easily surpass this barrier using certain techniques.”

Other similar moves by the Islamist Hamas movement have failed to gain traction. Hamas first legislated against pornography with a law in 2008, but backed-off when Internet providers and the public protested. Hamas also tried to ban restaurants and coffee shops from selling hookah (water pipes with flavored tobacco that is popular throughout the Middle East), but the government amended the rule, saying men could smoke hookah in public but not women, for whom it is considered to be immodest. In each case, Hamas retracted the ban after protests. However, one rule that has been mostly enforced prohibits men from cutting women’s hair.

In response to the Internet law, though, some critics say Hamas is a strict Islamist movement that is trying to Islamize Gaza. Others consider the moralistic moves by Hamas to be a way of demonstrating its control over Gaza.

Officials from Pal-Tel (Palestinian Telecommunication Company), who preferred to remain anonymous, said the filters blocking pornography will slow down the Internet connection, frustrating many users.

A statement from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology said there have been complaints that even non-pornographic websites were being censored.

“We are happy to receive any complaints,” the statement said. “Some non-pornographic websites were banned or could not open because of the Internet providers, not because of us.”

He said that some internet providers had technical issues after putting the filters on while others were differed over which websites should be blocked.

We are all working on fixing these little issues,” the statement said. “The filter is very new and it's normal to face mishaps at first.”

The statement ended with a warning: “We will soon issue the names of Internet providers who implemented this law and the names of those who broke it. Those who broke it will face legal charges.”

Online anti-Semitism in Spain doubled in 2011, report says

Online anti-Semitism in Spain doubled in volume last year, according to a Spanish Jewish community monitor.

In a report on anti-Semitism in Spain in 2011, the Observatory on Anti-Semitism in that country counted more than 1,000 anti-Semitic sites and web pages that it said were created in Spain. In 2010 the observatory counted 400 such sites. The observatory includes Spanish Facebook pages and groups in its reports.

The document on 2011 is the observatory’s third annual monitor report. The observatory was co-founded by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain.

In addition to the observatory’s research of anti-Semitic websites, the observatory received 57 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2011. Of those, the observatory deemed 42 to be anti-Semitic. In 2010, the center received half the number of reports.

“There is growing public awareness of the [observatory] initiative,” a Jewish federation spokesperson said. 

A few of the incidents reported involved the heckling of Jews in public. On Sept. 17, a group of youths confronted members of a Jewish cultural group at a mall in Saragossa. The youths allegedly told the group that Jews were “fascists, racist murderers” and that “there should be no Jews in the world.”

Spain, a nation of some 47 million people, has approximately 50,000 Jews. The similarly sized Dutch Jewish community registered 123 anti-Semitic incidents in 2011 throughout the Netherlands, with a population of 17 million.

During 2011, “there have been notable progresses in the legal field, as well as increased efforts in the fight against anti-Semitism,” the Observatory on Anti-Semitism in Spain’s report said.

The observatory nonetheless called on the political establishment to address “ambiguous wording” in the penal code. This, according to the observatory, leads to “contradictions” in the fight against hate crimes.

Rabbinical court fines man for being unfaithful on Facebook

A woman reportedly proved to an Israeli rabbinical court that her husband was unfaithful by showing it correspondence between him and other women on Facebook.

The court awarded the woman damages from her husband of about $40,000, Ynet reported. It did not identify where the couple was from or when the decision was reached.

The couple, in their 30s, met on a dating website and ultimately married. Six months after they were married, the woman found that her husband was corresponding with other women on Facebook and on dating websites, according to Ynet.

The woman told the rabbinical court that her husband doomed the marriage.

The court agreed with her and ordered her husband to pay a divorce settlement.

For haredi Orthodox, Internet threat harkens back to the Enlightenment

To the outside observer, the Charedi Orthodox anti-Internet rally at New York’s Citi Field may have looked uniform: a single mass of black hats, white shirts and brown beards.

But the crowd at the May 20 event was far from homogeneous.

Yiddish speakers sat next to Anglophones. Chasidim from Brooklyn mixed with “yeshivish” Charedim (non-Chasidic) from Lakewood, N.J. Bobov Chasidim cheered along with Satmars. These groups, while similar in many ways, usually stay within their own communities.

But it’s hardly the first time the Charedi community has faced a threat from the outside world.

As speaker after speaker at the rally made clear, the Internet is the latest in a series of threats dating back to the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah, which first opened up a path for Jews to leave tradition for the secular world.

“Just as they fought tooth and nail against the Haskalah, they’re fighting again against this,” said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York who studies Charedi communities. “They live in a singular world. They’ve tried to keep all the doorways locked from the inside, but you can only lock something from the inside if the people are willing to keep it locked.”

Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman and others made clear at the rally that they view the Internet as a profound challenge to the Charedi way of life.

“This issue is the test of the generation that threatens all of us,” Wachsman, a Charedi lecturer, said. “Your strength at this gathering will determine what we look like a few years from now.”

At the same time, the Internet has become a necessity for many, if not most, Charedim: They use it to conduct business, communicate with each other and even to promote Jewish observance.

“In the sense that they have already used the Internet to spread their message far beyond the local community, the Internet has been good for them as well,” Heilman said. “They’re going to use it, going to say that the end justifies the means.”

The late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, famously embraced technology as a means of spreading the faith. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which did not officially participate in the rally, was an early adapter to the Internet age and has used online tools to spread its message.

“Everything God created in this world could be used for good or the opposite,” said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, director of Chabad.org. “It’s our responsibility to channel the enormous powers of technology in a positive manner.”

But the Internet’s dangers — not just pornography and the window it provides into the secular world, but even its potential for distraction — present the Charedi lifestyle with the challenge of how to use it for good while keeping out the bad.

The Charedi community is not alone in this struggle.

Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi who maintains an active Web presence, said the Internet challenges anyone who cares about ethics.

“To some extent, we all need to have the Internet moderated for us,” Miller said. “Beyond modesty, there’s content that I don’t think is healthy or beneficial for individuals to see or read.”

Adrianne Jeffries, a female blogger who sneaked into the rally disguised as a man, wrote that although not Charedi, she found herself agreeing with some of the speakers’ points at the rally.

“There wasn’t much I could quibble with in the speech,” wrote Jeffries, who blogs for BetaBeat, a technology blog associated with The New York Observer. “The Internet is about instant gratification? It’s ‘fleeting and empty’? It causes us to waste productive hours? It threatens the preservation of isolated communities with strong traditions, such as the ultra-Orthodox Jews? Well, yes, but …”

For a community whose survival depends in part on maintaining its isolation, the Internet can be particularly pernicious.

“Jews should separate themselves from the general community,” Rabbi Yechiel Meir Katz, the Dzibo rebbe, said at the rally. “The great rabbis have done so in order to safeguard future generations.”

Even as he delivered his speech — in Yiddish that ran with English subtitles on Citi Field’s JumboTron — many in the crowd could be seen thumbing their BlackBerrys or iPhones.

“The battle against the Haskalah they lost,” Heilman said. “It’s clear that they’ve lost this one already.”

Alan Mittleman, a professor of Jewish thought at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, said that on the contrary, the Charedim are winning the battle against the Internet just as they survived the Haskalah.

“It’s a problem that they’ve already solved,” he said of the Internet. “It’s more powerful and invasive, a new kind of threat, but it’s the same kind of thing.”

Haredim fill N.Y. baseball stadium to decry error of Internet’s ways

The sellout crowd that filled Citi Field on Sunday night wore black and white, not the New York Mets’ blue and orange.

And instead of jeering the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves, they faced a foe that was, to hear them talk about it, far more formidable: the World Wide Web.

“The Internet even with a filter is a minefield of immorality,” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, a haredi Orthodox lecturer. “This issue is the test of the generation. Your strength at this gathering will determine what Judaism will look like a few years from now.”

The rally to caution haredi Orthodox Jews about the dangers of the Internet drew a crowd of more than 40,000 men to the stadium, most of them wearing black hats. The group organizing the rally, Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, or Union of Communities for Purity of the Camp, barred women from attending—consummate with the haredi practice of separating the sexes.

In Yiddish and English speeches, rabbis from haredi communities in the United States, Canada and Israel decried the access that the Internet gives haredim to the world outside their community. Speakers called the Internet “impure,” a threat to modesty and compared it to chametz, or leavened bread, on Passover.

Almost no rabbi directly addressed pornography, which is prohibited by traditional Jewish law. Several speakers also lamented the Internet’s potential to distract men from learning Torah.

To a man, each of the rabbis who spoke said that Jewish law forbids Jews from browsing the Internet without a filter that blocks inappropriate sites. The speeches in Yiddish were broadcast with English subtitles on the stadium’s JumboTron.

Rabbi Yechiel Meir Katz, known as the Dzibo rav, compared the threat of the Internet to the dangers that Zionism and the European Enlightenment posed in the past to traditional Jewish life.

“A terrible test has been sent to us that has inflicted so much terrible damage” on haredim, Katz said. The Internet poses a greater threat to haredim than secularism did, he said, because “in previous challenges we knew who the enemy was. Today, however, the challenge is disguised and not discernible to the naked eye.”

The crowd ranged in age from small children to senior citizens. One participant, Yitzchak Weinberger, said that although the speakers focused on the Internet problem rather than solutions, the event was “inspiring.”

“This is a beginning,” said Weinberger, 43. “They’re coming to raise awareness. Every situation is different, everyone requires some filter.”

While haredim must limit their internet access, “many people do need to use it,” he added.

Before the rally began, about 50 people protested the event across the street from the stadium. Later, the counter-demonstration reportedly grew to some 300 people. Many of the protesters came from Footsteps, a local organization that helps those who leave haredi Orthodox life integrate into non-haredi society. In particular, they complained that Ichud HaKehillos invested money in the rally rather than in preventing child molestation in the haredi community.

“Their priorities are messed up,” said Ari Mandel, a former haredi. “Not only do they ignore child molestation, but they intimidate victims. If your house is on fire, you don’t worry about leaking pipes.”

The rally came after a series of reports in The New York Jewish Week, the Forward and The New York Times about haredi intimidation of victims of sexual abuse who have gone to the police to report their haredi tormentors.

Haredim fill N.Y. stadium to decry Internet’s dangers

The sellout crowd that filled the New York Mets’ Citi Field on Sunday night wore black and white, not the Mets’ blue and orange.

And instead of jeering the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves, they faced a foe that was, to hear them talk about it, far more formidable: the World Wide Web.

“The internet even with a filter is a minefield of immorality,” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, a haredi lecturer. “This issue is the test of the generation. Your strength at this gathering will determine what Judaism will look like a few years from now.”

The rally to caution haredi Orthodox Jews about the dangers of the Internet drew an audience of more than 40,000 men to the stadium, most of them wearing black hats. The group organizing the rally, Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, or Union of Communities for Purity of the Camp, barred women from attending—consummate with the haredi practice of separating the sexes.

In Yiddish and English speeches, rabbis from haredi communities in the United States, Canada and Israel decried the access that the Internet gives haredim to the world outside the haredi community. Speakers called the Internet “impure,” a threat to modesty and compared it to chametz, or leavened bread, on Passover.

Almost no rabbi addressed pornography directly—which traditional Jewish law prohibits. Several speakers also lamented the Internet’s potential to distract men from learning Torah.

To a man, each of the rabbis who spoke said that Jewish law forbids Jews from browsing the Internet without a filter that blocks inappropriate sites. The speeches in Yiddish were broadcast with English subtitles on the stadium’s JumboTron.

Rabbi Yechiel Meir Katz, known as the Dzibo rav, compared the threat of the Internet to the dangers that Zionism and the European Enlightenment posed in the past to traditional Jewish life.

“A terrible test has been sent to us that has inflicted so much terrible damage” on haredim, Katz said. The Internet poses a greater threat to haredim than secularism did, he said, because “in previous challenges we knew who the enemy was. Today, however, the challenge is disguised and not discernible to the naked eye.”

The crowd ranged in age from small children to senior citizens. One participant, Yitzchak Weinberger, said that although the speakers focused on the problem of the Internet rather than on solutions to that problem, the event was “inspiring.”

“This is a beginning,” said Weinberger, 43. “They’re coming to raise awareness. Every situation is different, everyone requires some filter.”

While haredim must limit their internet access, “you can’t not use it,” he added.

About 50 people protested the event across the street from the stadium. Many of the protesters came from Footsteps, a local organization that helps people who leave haredi Orthodox life to integrate into non-haredi society. In particular, they complained that Ichud HaKehillos invested money in the rally rather than in preventing child molestation in the haredi community.

“Their priorities are messed up,” said Ari Mandel, a former haredi. “Not only do they ignore child molestation, but they intimidate victims. If your house is on fire, you don’t worry about leaking pipes.”

The rally came after a series of reports in the N.Y. Jewish Week, the Forward and The New York Times about haredi intimidation of victims of sexual abuse who have gone to the police to report their haredi tormentors.

Opinion: Teach children to be their own Internet filters

Tens of thousands of Jews filled Citi Field in Queens on Sunday and heard from haredi Orthodox leaders that the Internet should be avoided in the home at all costs and used sparingly at work, and then only with a filter blocking content that could be damaging spiritually.

Debate as you will what some may see as draconian edicts to protect the Jewish community from moral corruption. But at the heart of the matter is a question that should concern us all: How do we keep our children safe on the Internet?

We know that we cannot work around the Internet. Research from the Pew Foundation indicates that 54 percent of children say they go to Google first when they have a question, as opposed to only 26 percent who say they go to a parent and 3 percent to a teacher. Rather we must figure out how parents and teachers can make this important tool work safely and effectively for our kids.

The difficulty is that even the simple solutions are incredibly complicated. Powerful filters can block illicit images and material, but those filters often block out the good with the bad and limit far too much useful information. This solution has been discussed and debated on our own campus concerning Internet access in dormitories.

Some yeshivot have considered avoiding technology altogether and sticking with books and blackboards. But that would leave students without the digital competence required to succeed academically in college and beyond, not to mention that it would rob teachers of increasingly exciting and effective educational tools.

The only real answer is that as parents and teachers, we must instill in our children a strong value system based on Jewish morals and traditions that allows our children to become their own filters when exploring the Internet. That would be far more powerful than any protective software.

The onus is clearly on us because it seems that children will listen to our rules, at least when it comes to the Internet. Only three in 10 young people reported to a Kaiser Foundation survey that they are given clear rules about how much time they may spend using a computer, watching TV or playing video games. The average child with no rules spends more than three hours per day on such media. Those who are given rules spend considerably less time.

Yeshiva high school students said they would be receptive to rules. More than half of those surveyed by researcher Debbie Fox, director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, said that they would welcome more guidance from parents regarding Internet use.

These same students, in fact, said that they would be far stricter with their own future adolescent children regarding responsible Internet use than their parents, and would monitor their children much more closely.

The dangers of the Internet are not limited to challenging content. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that about half of students in grades seven through 12 said they do their homework with media open that do not pertain to their task at hand. In other words, about 50 percent of middle and high school students are doing homework with divided attention. And while some kids may believe that they are being more efficient, multitasking has been proven in adults to cause higher levels of stress and lower levels of efficiency.

While some kids can multitask well, it’s up to parents to actively determine if their children work more efficiently while doing so or while focusing on their work without interruption. Parents should collaborate with their children to test whether they are more efficient when not being interrupted or distracted, and then meter their background activity accordingly.

The greatest challenge of all, however, may be making sure that our kids completely separate from the Internet at times.  According to the Pew Foundation, 75 percent of American teens prefer texting to in-person contact with friends. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this generation’s empathy levels among adolescents are significantly lower than those of previous generations.

It may seem that adolescents in every generation feel isolated and tuned out at some point or another. But it turns out that their computer habits may be compounding the problem. Parents need to teach children that some of their relationships must include direct face-to-face interaction without the distraction of text messages and cell phone calls.

While some of what occurred at Citi Field this past weekend might seem foreign, we must work to ensure that our students and our children can grow up as highly moral and successful Jewish digital citizens.

Dr. Eliezer Jones is the educational technology specialist at Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership. Dr. David Pelcovitz is the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus chair in psychology and Jewish education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. For more information about safe Internet rules and guidelines, visit www.yuschoolpartnership.org/parentguidedigitalage.

Orthodox rally for a more kosher Internet

An upcoming haredi Orthodox mega-rally in New York about the dangers posed by the Internet has a promotional Twitter account.

The event’s box office has an email address. Speeches will be live streamed. And one of the event’s organizers owns a Web marketing company specializing in search engine optimization.

This isn’t your average anti-Internet demonstration.

After years of oft-flouted rabbinic bans on Internet use, a group of both Chasidic and non-Chasidic rabbis is pushing a new approach that will be unveiled at the Mets’ CitiField on May 20. Organizers project an attendance of some 40,000 Orthodox Jewish men; women were not invited.

Without letting up on their severe condemnation of technology and the Internet, the rabbis behind the CitiField event are accepting the Web’s inevitability while instructing their followers to use Internet-filtering technology.

“No one here is a Luddite who denies the manifold benefits that technology has brought to mankind as a whole,” said Eytan Kobre, spokesman for the event. “But at a certain point, a mature, thinking individual stops and says, ‘I’ve got to make a … cost-benefit analysis … [of] what ways it is enriching my life [and] in what ways it is undermining it.’ ”

The event will open with a Kosher Tech Expo featuring Web filtering technology. Despite this new openness, the rabbis involved insist they still oppose the Internet.

“The purpose of the [gathering] is for people to realize how terrible the Internet is and, of course, the best thing for every [good Jew] is not to allow it in his home at all,” Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon told the Brooklyn Orthodox daily Hamodia.

Salomon, spiritual guide of Beth Medrash Govoha, a large and prominent haredi Orthodox yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., is one of the lead sponsors of the CitiField rally. Internet without a filter, he told the paper, is “treif gamur,” or completely unkosher.

Haredi Orthodox bans on Web use date back at least a dozen years. Orthodox religious leaders worry about the easy availability of pornography online, the viewing of which violates communal modesty standards. Some also object to Orthodox-run blogs and news sites that often offer critical perspectives on communal leadership.

The outright bans, however, appear to be failing. Haredi Orthodox men fiddle with smartphones on New York City subways. Twitter use is not uncommon among young Satmar Chasidim in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Home Internet access is said to be widespread even in upstate New York’s strictly observant Chasidic community Kiryas Joel.

Compounding these challenges to rabbinic Internet bans are the employment opportunities for haredi Orthodox in high-tech. Technical jobs don’t necessarily require a high school or college degree, which is a plus in Orthodox communities where men often forgo secular studies, according to David M. Pollock, an official with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York who has worked to place Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn in tech jobs.

At the annual convention of the haredi Orthodox umbrella group Agudath Israel of America last November, speaker after speaker warned of the danger of technology and the Internet, according to a member of the Orthodox community who attended the event. Jaws dropped when, during a keynote speech, a respected haredi Orthodox rabbi pulled out his smartphone to read from an email.

“Sorry, gentlemen,” the rabbi said, according to the attendee. “Yes, a BlackBerry.”

The May rally is an effort to reconcile the fact of Orthodox Internet usage with the thinking behind the rabbis’ bans.

“It’s about embracing the good that exists in the technological, the brave new technological world that we have, but being not at all naive and being extremely keen to the overwhelming challenge that it presents to all of us,” Kobre said.

Convened by a newly formed rabbinical group called Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, or the Unification of the Communities for the Purification of the Camp, the rally lacks the institutional backing of Agudath Israel, long the central address for joint efforts between Chasidic and non-Chasidic Jews. Ichud’s organizational sponsor is a little-known 4-year-old Lakewood not-for-profit, the Technology Awareness Group, which provides Orthodox Jews with information about Web filtering technology.

On May 20, the expo featuring filtering software will be followed by a series of addresses by Orthodox rabbis.

“We’re not looking to lock people down,” Kobre said of the filtering software. “We’re reaching out to mature individuals, people who are sincerely religious individuals … that understand what [the Internet] is doing to us and want to respond to it.”

News reports have pegged the amount raised for the rally at $1.5 million. Kobre could not comment on the figure, and CitiField officials did not respond to an inquiry about stadium rental rates.

Kobre said the efforts to minimize Internet use and employ filters have parallels in the largely successful efforts to ban televisions in Orthodox communities. Televisions were widespread in haredi Orthodox homes in the 1960s and ’70s, he said.

“There was sea change over the decades,” Kobre explained. While he grew up in a home that had a television, few right-wing Orthodox homes have them now. “There is an understanding that television is largely detrimental to our spiritual health,” he said.

The Internet rally’s chief rabbinic backers are Salomon, who is a widely known British-born non-Chasidic rabbi, and Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, 87, who leads the Skulen Chasidic sect in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. Others who have signed letters in support of the rally include the heads of prominent American yeshivas and representatives of major Chasidic sects.

Despite their approval of filtered Internet when absolutely required, the rabbis behind the event describe the danger of technology in the starkest terms. In an interview that ran on the front page of Hamodia, Salomon said that the Internet and modern technology had dragged down the Jewish people to their lowest level since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, in 70 CE.

At a public event last September, the Skulener rebbe put the danger in more poetic terms, according to an earlier Hamodia report. “A fire is burning, but not of flames,” he warned. “It is a fire of poison from the yetzer hara,” the evil inclination, “that is burning the soul, the likes of which has never been seen.”

Orthodox groups have made intensive efforts to meet the event’s projected attendance of 40,000. Ichud ran a full-page advertisement in Hamodia on April 25 signed by rabbis from Montreal and Los Angeles, among other cities. The ad called on Orthodox Jews from outside the New York area to come to the gathering. And though children are banned from the event, Orthodox yeshivas in Brooklyn and elsewhere are asking parents to attend.

One letter posted online, sent to parents of students at the Bnos Leah Prospect Park Yeshiva, a Brooklyn girls school, appeared to require that parents go to the CitiField event.

“We therefore demand that each and every parent attend this special gathering,” the letter stated in underlined text.

A Twitter feed promoting the event that appeared to be associated with its sponsors went abruptly silent in April. The last post announced that rabbis had asked that it no longer post updates on the social networking site.

Not all Orthodox leaders back the rabbis’ effort to push Internet filters. The camp of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, one of the two claimants to leadership of the large Satmar Chasidic sect, reportedly will boycott the gathering. Teitelbaum’s group objects to allowing Internet access at home at all, even with filters. The Satmar also generally refuse to attend religious gatherings conducted even partially in English.

Meanwhile, Zalman Teitelbaum, Aaron Teitelbaum’s brother and rival claimant, has extended his measured support for the gathering. Insiders suspect that he’s done so at least partially to distance himself from his brother.

Orthodox blogs have also traded polemics and contested reports on why the Lubavitch Chasidic community was not initially invited to the gathering. The Lubavitch operate a robust network of websites geared toward outreach to non-Orthodox Jews. Lubavitch-linked blogs reported on May 8 that the community was ultimately invited following a meeting between Portugal and three Lubavitch leaders.

Controversy has also surrounded the organizers’ decision to bar women from attending the CitiField event. Kobre attributed the decision to logistical issues, presumably relating to the difficulty of erecting a divider between men’s and women’s sections in a stadium.

In a front-page April 30 story in Hamodia asking why women would not be allowed to attend the event, organizer Lazer Paskes noted that the event would be live streamed to specific locations in Jewish communities where women could gather to watch.

“Being able to participate locally will also make it much easier on the mothers who will be hesitant to leave their children for more than absolutely necessary,” said Paskes, who runs a Web marketing firm called Optimal Targeting.

This story originally appeared in the Forward newspaper. To read more, please go to forward.com.

Survey discovers Israel’s digital divide

The higher one’s income the more likely he will be connected to the Internet, a new survey of Israelis’ Internet use has found.

Some four out of 10 respondents, or 40.7 percent, who defined their income levels as “well below average” are not connected to the Internet, but fewer than one in 10 respondents, or 8.7 percent, who defined their income levels as “well above average” are not connected to the Internet. 

In addition, as the level of religious observance increases, the number of people not connected to Internet also increased: just 7.7 percent of the secular public is not connected at all to the Internet, compared with 58 percent of the haredi Orthodox.

The survey also found that more than half of Internet users in Israel participate in a social networking service at least once a week. Some 73 percent of users aged 15-17 use a social network every day and one of every 10 users aged 65 and older use a social network each day. In addition, 100 percent of new immigrant youth aged 15 to 17 are active in social networks, which allows them to stay in touch with friends in their country of birth. 

One in four Israeli teenagers aged 15 to 17 writes a blog. In addition, 28.3 percent of the Arab public who reported that they write a blog do so each day, compared to 12 percent of older Jews who write a new blog post each day. Some 37 percent of readers of blogs from the Arab public read blogs every day, compared with 24 percent of readers of blogs from the Jewish population who read blogs every day.

The study also found that one-third of Israeli Hebrew speakers only visit Hebrew-language sites.

The study “Israel in the Digital Age 2012” was conducted by the Mahshov Institute and funded by Google Israel. The survey spoke with 1,200 respondents and examined unique segments of the population, including children (aged 12-14), teens (aged 15-17), the haredi Orthodox, Arabs and new immigrants.

Quit Facebook or risk expulsion, N.Y. Orthodox school orders students

An Orthodox Jewish girls’ high school in Brooklyn has ordered its 11th-grade students to close their Facebook accounts and pay a fine.

Administrators at the Beis Rivkah High School, which is associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, reportedly called each 11th-grader with Facebook account out of class to issue her a written ultimatum to either delete the account and pay a $100 fine or be expelled, CrownHeights.info reported last week. About half the 11th-graders reportedly have Facebook accounts.

Some parents and students are upset by the crackdown, CrownHeights.info reported, saying that students had been urged to create the accounts last year in order to vote for Beis Rivkah in the Kohl’s Cares charity giveaway, which gave money to the schools with the most votes via Facebook.

An unnamed school administrator told CrownHeights.info that the school was eliminating Facebook from its students’ lives in an effort to restore a higher level of modesty among the students.

Q&A with an expert on bullying

Ron Avi Astor, the Richard M. and Ann L. Thor Professor in Urban Social Development at USC, has been studying the epidemiology of school violence for nearly 30 years. In 1997, he moved his family to Jerusalem for one year to run the first-ever large-scale comprehensive school violence survey in Israel, with his partner, Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Rami Benbenishty. Together they co-authored the book “School Violence in Context: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School, and Gender” (Oxford University Press, 2005). The study is still considered one of the most rigorous and ambitious ever conducted, and there are plans to replicate it in France, Chile and Taiwan. Here, Astor discusses its findings and what it has to teach Jewish schools in the United States.

Jewish Journal: The term “bullying” means many things. What exactly are we talking about when we’re talking about bullying?
Ron Astor: Bullying covers a wide range of behaviors that are qualitatively really different from each other: name calling, social exclusion, teasing, kicking, hitting, fistfights, weapon use, ganging up on somebody, writing things about people or posting it. It used to be in the bathroom, now it’s using the Internet to upset, humiliate or threaten somebody. Generally, the person who does the bullying needs to be stronger socially and psychologically, and it needs to happen more than once.

JJ: Who are the prime targets?
RA: In general, kids who tend to be more isolated, kids who are weaker in terms of social connection, who the bullies feel [are isolated enough that] they can get away with it.

JJ: Bullying has suddenly become a very hot topic. But, haven’t people always been mean?
RA: Until 2001, we didn’t run studies on bullying in the United States, but after the shootings at Columbine, a theory came out in the media saying that the reason why these kids became shooters is that they were bullied at school. But there is no evidence to show that bullying leads to shooting; if that were true, it would be Armageddon in Los Angeles. 

JJ: Is being part of a minority group an advantage in deflecting bullying, as opposed to those who suffer in isolation? 
RA: It’s too general to say, “I’m part of the Jewish people; I’m not alone.” I could be Jewish, and be on a Jewish campus, and not have any friends and be very isolated. But, if a group becomes cohesive and organized, I think that actually protects people from being harmed. We’ve seen that with civil rights.

JJ: Some adults excuse bullying behavior as a “kids will be kids” developmental milestone. How do you deal with bullying that is really dangerous and bullying that is just part of growing up? 
RA: On the one hand, you don’t want people to go meshuggah about this stuff, where everything a little kid does has to have serious consequences. On the other hand, there have to be consequences that are appropriate. Society tends to speak only in terms of how adults respond, but that’s reactionary. What’s better is a wider belief and philosophy about what a human being should be like. 

JJ: Why did you choose school violence as the focus of your career research?
RA: It has to do, in part, with growing up Jewish. If you look at all our holidays, it’s all about being a victim and how we respond as a society to victimization. Also, growing up in L.A. at the height of Bloods and Crips, gangs in schools … living at a time when there was a lot of racial tension. We lived in a much more violent society than we have right now. So it was the combination of the Jewish questions and what I saw around me growing up.

JJ: In an essay about Jews and school violence, you wrote that American Jews don’t perceive school violence as an American Jewish problem. Why is that?
RA: At the time, Jews were following what the rest of society was saying, and society had branded youth violence as a minority problem and a poverty problem. But what this whole focus on bullying has done has told all of America that this is a problem that cuts across all categories. No group or segment of our society is immune to bullying.

JJ: You also wrote that when you began your research, almost no scientific literature existed about Jews and darker issues, such as child abuse, family violence, drug addiction, mental illness or as suffering from problems such as bullying or school violence. Was this a way of keeping a low profile on ugly issues?
RA: The Jewish community in the United States understands that even though we love to see ourselves as a model community, and I think we are, we have problems like everybody else. We’re al’ kol am [a nation like other nations], and that’s a process partially influenced by Israel.

JJ: After you conducted the study in Israel, you reported that the country saw a 20 to 25 percent reduction in school violence rates, which you believe is related to the fact that the entire educational system made combatting school violence a top priority. Why hasn’t that happened in the United States?
RA: If you looked at the average high school pre-World War II, it had 500 students. After that, when people started moving toward factory models, schools followed. Instead of teachers patrolling hallways and saying hello, they became a math teacher, a history teacher, a science teacher, and the classroom became the domain of their work. But if you look at where bullying takes place, it happens in the hallway, the playground, the bathroom — all the places where a teacher’s professional role doesn’t exist. One idea is to move back to the old view, where a teacher sees the entire child and the entire school as their domain. That’s what the whole mission of education is supposed to be about.

JJ: You’ve complained that it’s been difficult to get exposure for your findings in the U.S. Jewish community. Since this interview is happening because of the release of a movie, would you say you owe a debt to Hollywood?
RA: [laughs] I owe a debt to Hollywood and to you. This is one of most in-depth interviews I’ve done — in 20 years. My stuff has been in Newsweek, Time, NPR, CNN —  the only place I couldn’t crack was the Jewish news.

The battle to get ‘Bully’ seen by those who need it most

At Sioux City Middle School in Iowa, 12-year-old Alex Libby is the odd-man-out. Seen by his peers as different, he has golden hair, gentle eyes, a wide, flat nose and permanently puckered lips. Together, they might seem to express something both pouty and vulnerable, sweet and sad. Kids are not so kind. “People call me fish face,” he blankly tells the camera in the new documentary “Bully” by filmmaker Lee Hirsch. “I don’t mind.”

Hirsch’s camera follows Alex to the bus stop. He breathes heavily and loiters sort of aimlessly until another boy his age begins to taunt him, “I’ll break your Adam’s apple, which will kill you!” the boy shouts. On the bus, yet another boy tells Alex he plans to bring a knife to school. “I’m gonna f—- you up,” he taunts. “You’re gonna die in pain.”

The documentary, which hits theaters on March 30, comes at a time when the prevalence and perils of bullying are thick in national consciousness. Last week, former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was found guilty of a hate crime, convicted of 15 criminal charges including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and tampering with evidence for using a Webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man. Engaging in a practice commonly known as cyberbullying, Ravi used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to invite others to join him. “Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” Ravi Tweeted on Sept. 19, 2010. “I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” A few days later, Ravi Tweeted a second time, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”

Three days after the initial incident, Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi leaped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Although Ravi was not charged in relation to Clementi’s death, the case has widely been seen as a watershed moment because, for the first time, an act of cyberbullying has been successfully prosecuted. But the phenomenon of bullying is nothing new. The word is simply a modern catchall to describe an ancient behavior; even before “Lord of the Flies,” there were Joseph and his brothers. Yet bullying covers such a broad range of behaviors — from teasing and name-calling, to threats and even physical violence — and affects an even wider swath of ages, starting as early as preschool and continuing through adulthood, when, in the workplace it’s called harassment, it could probably hold rank as one of the most challenging social problems in human history.

[Q&A with an expert on bullying]

Before bullying became a buzzword and a subject of serious scientific study, it was widely but erroneously believed to be an affliction of race or poverty. For Jews, victimization that comes from being different from the dominant culture is a familiar theme. But while a minority status determined by race, religion, gender, social status or sexual orientation often becomes a factor in discrimination, bullying is not restricted to minority groups. Nor is it believed to be more or less prevalent within one group over another.

Today, sociologists generally agree that the phenomenon is universal and that it happens on a global scale. In 2010 in the United States, 828,000 nonfatal victimizations at schools were reported among students ages 12-18, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics on behalf of the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. The same study found that nearly half of those were considered “violent victimizations,” and more than 91,000 incidents qualified as “serious violent victimizations.” It was also reported that the majority of all childhood victimizations occurred at school, including 17 homicides and seven suicides.

All this makes it likely that you, your child or someone you know has experienced some type of bullying at some point during adolescence. And more than any sociocultural identification — black, Jewish, gay, wealthy — the single most powerful determinant in whether an individual is susceptible to bullying behavior is social isolation. How strange, then, to perceive minority status as a happy accident of fate; sometimes it is precisely affiliation with a group that can be lifesaving.

“The thing I think about a lot is, ‘What are the activators of pain?’ ” Lee Hirsch, the 40-year-old filmmaker of “Bully,” said during a phone interview from New York. “I love movements and politics and platforms, but the thing that interests me the most is, what can compel people to move off the sidelines?”

All photos from “Bully,” courtesy of the Weinstein Co.

Whether there are genetic incentives for altruistic behavior is a perennial query of evolutionary biology. A recent article in The New Yorker magazine by Jonah Lehrer illuminated a scientific debate about the genetics of altruism. Is it actually biologically good to do good? “Charles Darwin regarded the problem of altruism — the act of helping someone else, even if it comes at a steep personal cost — as a potentially fatal challenge to his theory of natural selection,” Lehrer writes. “And yet, as Darwin knew, altruism is everywhere, a stubborn anomaly of nature. Bats feed hungry brethren; honeybees commit suicide with a sting to defend the hive; birds raise offspring that aren’t their own; humans leap onto subway tracks to save strangers. The ubiquity of such behavior suggests that kindness is not a losing life strategy.”

As more students report having witnessed bullying than experiencing it, converting bystanders into altruistic defenders could prove transformative. It is the message conveyed by Hirsch’s film, and it is his hope that the film will seed a social revolution — a battle against bullying, so to speak, that would make prevention and containment a permanent part of America’s educational culture.

“Tackling this idea of bullying as a nation, in a really deep way,” Hirsch wondered, “does that get at a bigger truth or bigger transformation than bullying itself? Does confronting [this issue] help us see more about life and the choices that we make?”

Hirsch urgently believes that now is the time to seize upon the spotlight and influence public discourse. “There’s something so universal and collective in the experience of bullying. There is a conversation to be had that hasn’t yet been had, and I think that’s why I’m so committed to classrooms seeing this film; what could come out of that is thrilling to think about.”

It’s too bad, and just a tad ironic, then, that Hirsch is also having to battle for his movie to be seen. When the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) scarlet-lettered the film with an “R” rating for explicit language, it complicated the filmmaker’s plans to screen the movie in schools for students. Because, while the film is reliably entertaining, it’s not exactly a choice pick for a Saturday afternoon. It was designed to be consciousness-raising and educational.

“Bully” tells the story of five students and their families as they confront the real-life consequences of school-day torment. For a year, Hirsch and his camera traveled to five cities to observe the effects: To follow Alex, the documentary’s default star, Hirsch was given unprecedented access to three schools in Sioux City, Iowa — an elementary, middle and high school — where his cameras were allowed full access in hallways, classrooms and on the playgrounds. Given the many discomfiting scenes that emerge in the film — Alex is shoved, stabbed, ridiculed and threatened — it seems either miraculous or insane that the school agreed to participate. Hirsch attributes this to their desire for change. “They want to be part of the solution,” he said.