March 20, 2019

Sen. Cruz Calls UNHRC Israel Report ‘Absurd and Dishonest’

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S., March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) report accusing Israel of war crimes at the Gaza border “absurd and dishonest.”

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry submitted a report to the UNHRC on March 18 concluding that Israel had violated international law for using “lethal force” against civilian protester during the Gaza border riots.

In a conference call later in the day with reporters organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security in America (JINSA), Cruz said that the report failed to acknowledge the fact “that both Hamas and Hezbollah use human shields as a tactic.

“They intend to exploit those human shields for when they are injured or killed when Israel defends itself,” Cruz said, arguing that Hamas knows that the media and the “useful idiots” at the United Nations will use the civilian deaths to attack Israel.

Cruz highlighted a May 17 New York Times headline that read, “‘Israel kills dozens at Gaza border as US embassy opens in Jerusalem” as an example of Hamas exploiting civilian deaths to create anti-Israel propaganda.

“The actual fact is that there were riots and violent attacks at Israel’s borders,” Cruz said, pointing out that the rioters, many of whom were Hamas terrorists, threw grenades, burning tires, and fiery kites in attempt to terrorize Israeli border towns. Hamas even acknowledged that they were behind these violent acts, Cruz said.

“And yet in the New York Times coverage, it was not acknowledged,” Cruz said.

Cruz also noted an instance in 2014 where Hamas used the basement of a Gaza hospital as their headquarters for operations, putting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) “in an impossible situation” of choosing between letting Hamas operate there and continue terrorizing Israelis or risk civilian deaths by attacking the hospital that are then used by the media and the United Nations “to demonize and attack Israel.”

The report, Cruz contended, is yet another example of how “the United Nations has long been a reservoir of deep anti-Israel animus.” He said that the United States “has real skin in this game because the enemies of Israel are also the enemies of America” and that media coverage and the U.N. failing to acknowledge Hamas’ use of human shields increases the likelihood that the same strategy could be used against American troops. Cruz added that the U.S. receives “immense benefits” from Israel’s military and intelligence in fighting against those enemies.

“Truth is powerful,” Cruz said. “There is a reason why New York Times and other media outlets disseminate propaganda and lie.”

“I believe truth is stronger than lies and light is stronger than darkness,” Cruz said.

Following Cruz on the call was South Texas College of Law Professor Geoffrey Corn, who argued that the UNHRC report was based on two premises: That Hamas terrorists participating in the riots still counted as “civilians” and that the riots only constituted as an “imminent threat” if rioters breached the border. Corn said that it would be “very difficult” for the IDF “to let that border be breached and then try and close the breach.”

“The IDF didn’t take the position that every breach of the fence qualified as an imminent threat, but there must have been moments” where it concluded otherwise,” Corn said.

He added that use of force against an enemy like Hamas must be “robust” as opposed to a civilian.

Following Corn was retired U.S. Commander John Bird, who praised the IDF for thoroughly practicing the rules of engagement to minimize civilian deaths and that they were “policing themselves” on the matter, even going to outside legal avenues if they were concerned that mistakes were made. He also argued that the IDF “saved more lives” by preventing Hamas terrorists from breaching the border and attacking Israeli border towns.

“I think the U.N. played into the Hamas strategy of this hybrid warfare… that Israelis are on the wrong side of international law,” Bird said.

Israel Supreme Court Bars Far-Right Candidate From Elections

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s Supreme Court voted to disqualify Michael Ben-Ari, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, from running in national elections over his racism and racist incitement, JTA reported.

The court decided on Monday by a vote of 8 to 1 in favor of an appeal by the Reform Movement in Israel, represented by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). That overturned a decision made by the Israel Central Elections Commission on March 12 to allow Ben-Ari to continue his campaign.

The appeal cited numerous examples of racism and racist incitement by Ben-Ari throughout his career. In arguments before the court on Thursday, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Ben-Ari’s racist ideas, which he desires to turn into reality, “constitute the candidate’s central and overriding goal … [and is] a defining expression of his identity as a candidate.”

In May 2018, Ben-Ari, who served in the parliament from 2009 to 2012 as part of the National Union Party, said that Arab citizens of Israel are a “fifth column” that wants to destroy the state.

Ben-Ari’s party, which follows the tenets of the banned Kach party and its leader Meir Kahane, joined with The Jewish Home and National Union parties to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties in a deal brokered in part by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Anat Hoffman, the executive director of IRAC, applauded the decision in a statement, saying, “Today, the Supreme Court sent an important message that racist incitement has no place in Israel’s democracy.  Our Torah teaches that all people are created in the image of God, without any qualifying statements, and we are proud to be the only Jewish movement working to enact this vision of equality in the Jewish State.”

Retired Haifa District Court Judge Menachem Ne’eman told Arutz Sheva that the Supreme Court decision to disqualify Ben-Ari is a “regrettable decision that would further harm public trust in the Supreme Court.”

“I can assume that those people who think like me that this decision is one that shouldn’t have been made will express their opposition by voting more massively for the list in which Ben-Ari was supposed to be included,” he said.

Israeli Father Shot in Terrorist Attack Dies of Wounds

A wounded Israeli man is evauated to Beilinson hospital in Petah Tikva, after a terror attack at the entrance to the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel.(Flash90)

A father of 12 shot during a terror attack in the Ariel and Gitai junctions in Judea and Samaria died Monday morning, March 18, of his wounds.

Rabbi Achiad Ettinger of Eli is the second person who killed in the Sunday, March 17, morning attack. Ettinger, who reportedly fired four bullets at the attacker from his car after being shot in the head and neck, was the founder of the Oz V’emuna Hesder Yeshiva in South Tel Aviv.

Ettinger’s family asked that his organs be donated, JTA reported.

“Rabbi Ettinger’s life’s work will continue and be amongst us even after his passing, and the strength he gave his pupils and the community he led will continue to strengthen us through the enormous grief and sorrow,” President Reuven Rivlin, who visited the family at the hospital on Sunday, said in a statement.

The suspected attacker, who has not been found as of Monday morning, has been identified as Omar Abu Laila, 19, of the Az-Zawiya village. He reportedly does not belong to a terror organization nor have a history of security violations. JTA reports that Israeli security officials have arrested his father and 16-year-old brother.

On Sunday morning, Abu Laila allegedly stabbed soldier Gal Keidan, 19, and stole his gun, shooting at passing cars at the Ariel Junction where he hit Ettinger, before getting in an abandoned car and heading to the next location, where he shot at soldiers waiting at a bus stop. Keiden was buried Monday morning in Beersheba.

For Ilhan Omar, It’s Not About Israel, It’s About the Jews

Rep. Ilhan Omar Photo from Flickr.

The best and worst thing about a 24 hour news cycle is how quickly stories move in and out of our consciousness. The British Parliament struggles with Brexit, there’s a horrible plane crash in Ethiopia, then an embarrassing college admissions scandal in this country, and then worst of all, a ghastly terrorist attack in New Zealand. In the middle of all this conflict and this sorrow, it’s easy to forget how recently the headlines were about Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and the anti-Semitic slurs of which she has grown so fond.

But this also gives us the chance for some perspective that is often harder to achieve in the middle of the troubling debate such as the one that Omar has instigated. Even though not that much time has passed since she publicly revived the “dual loyalty” insult that American Jews have endured for most of our history, maybe we can look back at her charges from a greater emotional distance than might have been possible in the moment.

Among Omar’s allegations is the contention that U.S. Middle Eastern policy is the result of large sums of money spent by Israel’s supporters. In addition to her obliteration of the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, though, Omar also makes a broader point about the role of money in American politics.

“I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil-fuel industry,” she said, in a combination of self-righteousness and ideological selectivity. “It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

OK, so let’s address it.

Money spent by foreign governments on lobbying and other types of advocacy is legal (although foreign spending on our political campaigns, of course, is not.) So perhaps Omar thinks that is a problem. If so, the targets of her first complaints might be the nations of South Korea and Japan, who spend $57 million and $45 million since the beginning of 2017, both far more than Israel. (Keep an eye on those nefarious Bermudans too: their government spent $52 million lobbying our government over that same time.) Other countries that spend at approximately the same level as Israel are Ireland, the Bahamas, and the Marshall Islands.

If Omar’s motivation was the need for stricter campaign finance reform, we could assume that she would just as outraged by the money these other countries spend to lobby our country’s government. Yet only Israel’s advocacy has inspired her to such anger.

Where these numbers get even more interesting is when you break them down by per capita spending, by the amount of money spent per resident of the country in question. Israel spends $3.43 per resident on lobbying the U.S. government. The nation of Qatar, one of Iran’s most reliable allies in the region and one of the world’s most notorious supporters of terrorism, spends just over $5 for each of its 2.6 million residents. Not surprisingly, Omar is not on record criticizing Qatari’s considerable investment in lobbying American politicians. Maybe it’s not “all about the Benjamins” after all.

There are many strident critics of Israel’s government who don’t resort to personal vitriol and vindictiveness when mounting a policy-based attack. I obviously don’t agree with the goals of anti-Zionists, but I recognize that those who oppose the policies I believe will ensure the safety and security of the Jewish state are entitled to their opinions too.

But that’s not who Omar is. In her diatribes, she has only occasionally and belatedly bothered to mention settlements or the Iran nuclear agreement or any other aspect of Middle Eastern geo-politics.”

For Omar, it’s not about Israel. It’s about the Jews. It’s anti-Semitism, pure and simple, and it has no place in the halls of our Congress.

Omar frequently suggests that much of the anger directed toward her is a result of prejudice toward Muslims. But when Jewish religious and community leaders joined memorial services across the world to grieve the unspeakable tragedy in New Zealand, it didn’t matter that the victims were praying to Allah or that they lived in a city named after Jesus.

Just as Muslim leaders across the country stood with us after the heartbreak of Pittsburgh, we stand with them after the tragedy of Christchurch. That same shared commitment to our common humanity allows people of good will to disagree on matters of politics and geopolitics without resorting to bias and bigotry. This is our problem with Ilhan Omar, not a lack of respect for her religion but rather a recognition of her intolerance for ours.

This article was updated on March 17. 

Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and Pepperdine University. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.


Israel, Hamas Agree to Ceasefire After Rocket Strikes

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chief of staff Aviv Kohavi hold a security consulations at the Kirya Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv. March 14, 2019. Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire on March 15 after a series of rocket strikes occurred the day before, the Times of Israel reports.

Two rockets were fired toward Tel Aviv on March 14 from the Gaza Strip, prompting Israel to respond by launching missile strikes against more than 100 Hamas targets in Gaza later in the evening and into the early morning on March 15. Nine rockets were subsequently fired from Gaza into Israeli border towns; the Iron Dome intercepted six of those rockets. Four Gazans were injured and five Israelis were treated for shock from the strikes.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initially said that Hamas was responsible for the rocket attacks against Tel Aviv; both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad denied responsibility. The IDF later concluded that “low-level Hamas forces” accidentally launched the rockets, according to the Times of Israel.

Egypt reportedly helped negotiate the ceasefire, although Israel has not confirmed that the ceasefire has been agreed to, Hamas has told the Times of Israel that they’re not interested in any further escalation with Israel; the terror group decided to postpone the weekly riots at the Gaza border due to “public interest” and to prepare for larger riots on March 30 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the weekly riots.

Hamas Cracks Down on Gaza Protesters

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Members of the Hamas terror group can be seen engaging in violent actions against Gazans protesting against Hamas’ rule.

Ofir Gendelman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arab media spokesperson, tweeted out a video of Hamas opening fire against Gaza protesters:

Another video, quote-tweeted by retired Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, shows Hamas members assaulting protesters in an alley:

According to the Times of Israel, the protests took place in northern and central Gaza and were protesting Hamas for impoverishing the Gaza Strip. Ayman al-Batniji, a spokesperson for Hamas police, said in a statement that the protesters “closed roads and ignited fires” and that “the police have restored calm and order, and a number of violators were arrested.”

Journalists were not allowed to take videos or photographs of the protests.

Hamas cracking down on these protesters comes amidst two rockets being fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv. Both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have denied responsibility.

Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. Middle East Envoy, tweeted, “Hamas violently suppresses its own people demonstrating against Hamas’ rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel. OUTRAGEOUS! This is what prevents the world from helping the people of Gaza! We strongly support Israel in defense of its citizens.”

Rockets on Tel Aviv: 6 Short Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu REUTERS/Amir Cohen
  1. The event: Two rockets fired from Gaza in Tel Aviv. No one was hurt. The prime minister does what prime ministers do. Security consultations. The night is still young.
  2. Gaza is tense: Gazans demonstrate against Hamas, because of the dire economic situation. Hamas negotiates with Israel, through mediators, as it searches to ease the restrictions on its activity. Israel is willing to accept a solution that better Gaza’s situation — as long as this solution does not give Hamas more power to launch attacks against Israel.
  3. Who fired the rockets?: Maybe Hamas, to divert the attention away from its own failures. It is less likely to see demonstrations against Hamas when Israel is launching a counter attack in Gaza.
  4. What could happen next? Israel must and will respond harshly to the attack. Then the ball is in the other court. Hamas can absorb the counterattack and let the tension subside. Or it can counter the counterattack by firing more rockets. If this happens, a war becomes more likely.
  5. Israel is in the midst of election season: In such times, politicians cannot look weak or hesitant. Starting tonight, Gaza becomes a main campaign issue. The ultra-right is going to argue that a tougher policy is necessary. The center is going to argue that Benjamin Netanyahu failed – its leaders will also be tempted to call for a tougher policy. Netanyahu will have a dilemma: Does he remain moderate and cautious- as was his habit since the end of the 2014 war. Maybe. But for both operational and political reasons he might decide that the time to escalate is now.
  6. For now, all predictions are off: No one expected to see rockets in the Tel Aviv skies tonight. No one knows if this was a short eruption before the calm, or a beginning of a longer cycle of violence.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

Photo Shows Rep. Tlaib With #SuspendPitzerHaifa Booklet

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listens to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) react to her comments about racism during former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen's testimony at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) appeared to support the effort to end Pitzer College’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Daniel Segal, an anthropology and history professor at Pitzer, tweeted out a photo on March 10 of Tlaib holding a booklet with a cover that read, “#SuspendPitzerHaifa.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel also tweeted out the photo:

StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein tweeted, “Shame on Rashida Tlaib for supporting the Pitzer College Council proposal to suspend the college’s study abroad program with the U of Haifa. How does promoting this kind of hate, help peace?”

Rothstein wrote in a subsequent tweet, “You want to boycott an exchange program with Haifa University which has over 40% Arab Israeli students? And why? Because you have a peace plan? Your support of @BDSFail hate will never lead to peace.”

Tlaib’s office and Segal did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Journal as of publication time.

Tlaib is an open supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. In December, Tlaib told The Intercept that she is refusing to go on AIPAC’s (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual trip to Israel and will instead be doing her own trip to the Palestinian territories.

The Pitzer College Council vote on the University of Haifa study abroad program will take place later on March 14. Student representation on the vote will be limited and the only media outlet allowed in is The Student Life, a publication that is funded by the Claremont Colleges student governments.

Forgotten ‘Spies’ Finally Get Their Due

Israel is much admired, even among its enemies, for the valor and acuity of its storied secret service, Mossad. Before there was a Mossad, however, and even before there was a State of Israel, a few brave young men and women were already at work in conditions of the greatest danger to serve a Jewish state that was still in the making.

Among them were three young men who were all named Cohen but who were not related to one another — Gamliel, Yakuba and Havakuk — and a fourth man named Isaac Shoshan, whom author Matti Friedman befriended when Isaac was already a nonagenarian. Their exploits in advance of the War of Independence in 1948 are presented with the urgent episodic pacing of a spy novel in Friedman’s “Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel” (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). But the book is a work of history and biography, the untold tale of a unit of the Haganah known variously as “the Black Section,” “the Dawn Section,” “the Arab Section” or, more bluntly, “the Ones Who Become Like Arabs.” 

Indeed, the four young men were all Arab-speakers, only one of whom was born in what was soon to be Israel. Friedman likens them to contemporary Israelis whose families also came from Yemen, Syria and other Middle Eastern corners of the Diaspora: “These were Israelis, but not the kibbutz pioneers of the old Zionist imagination,” Friedman explains. “These were people from the Islamic world, in the Islamic world, their lives entwined with the fate of Islam.” Their command of the Arabic language and their ability to disguise themselves as native speakers were weapons of war. “If Arab spies were needed, the Jews wouldn’t pay them — they would be them,” Friedman writes.

The author, a veteran Associated Press foreign correspondent who has reported from Israel, Lebanon, Morocco and Moscow, among other places, was born in Toronto and now lives in Jerusalem. His first book, “The Aleppo Codex,” won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal. His 2016 book, “Pumpkinflowers,” was chosen as a notable book by The New York Times and other publications. “Spies of No Country” already has been honored with the Natan Book Award.

As it happens, we learn more about what a real-life espionage agent actually does in “Spies of No Country” than in any mere thriller. To be sure, the members of the Arab Section trained in the use of firearms and explosives, and “when they could round up a few bullets, they held target practice.” But they also “slipped in and out of Arab towns, practiced dialect, saw what fooled people and what didn’t.” Their tradecraft sometimes consisted only of “sitting at a cheap café or smoking on the steps of the post office, looking around, asking a question of a passerby as casually as possible.”

Now and then, we are able to witness the daring and dangerous missions that we hope to find in a book about espionage. When Jewish agents discovered an Arab plan to detonate a car bomb in a Jewish neighborhood, for example, the members of the Arab Section went to work on a car bomb of their own, placing it in a stolen car, parking it next to the Arab car, and then blowing up both vehicles in a pre-emptive strike. The bomb was assembled in a classroom at Technion, the scientific university in Haifa, and the detonator was fashioned out of a condom, an ampul of sulfuric acid, and quantities of sugar and potash. An Oldsmobile was stolen for use as a getaway car, and Isaac was assigned to be the driver even though he had never driven a car before. “This wasn’t allowed to slow things down,” Friedman reports. “Yakuba taught him to drive the Oldsmobile in the streets around [Technion], gears on the first day, steering on the second.” On the day of the operation, Isaac left the car in first gear all the way to the target because he had not yet mastered the manual transmission.

“Their mission didn’t culminate in a dramatic explosion that averted disaster, or in the solution of a devious puzzle. Their importance to history lies instead in what they turned out to be — the embryo of one of the world’s most formidable intelligence services.” — Matti Friedman

At least one of the secret missions revealed in “Spies of No Country” is so exotic that it sounds like something out of the imagination of Ian Fleming. The armored yacht that had been built for Hitler during World War II ended up at anchor in the harbor of Beirut. To deny use of the vessel by Arab forces, the Arab Section was assigned the task of detonating a bomb under its hull. “Evidence of Nazi fingerprints on the Arab side always drew special attention from the Jewish intelligence services,” writes Friedman. “If later on [the attack] was remembered by the Arab Section as ‘the jewel of our operations beyond the border,’” as Friedman reports, “the appraisal was less about the results than about seeing whether the Jews could pull

 off something like this at all.”

Friedman refuses to hype the heroes of his own book. “Their mission didn’t culminate in a dramatic explosion that averted disaster, or in the solution of a devious puzzle,” he writes. “Their importance to history lies instead in what they turned out to be — the embryo of one of the world’s most formidable intelligence services.” In fact, the author reveals a conversation between Havakuk and Isaac when they wondered aloud what would happen to them “if the Arabs really do capture Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.” Havakuk jokingly told Isaac that “he wasn’t concerned, because he had a contingency plan for Jewish defeat: ‘We can always go back to Palestine as Arabs.’ ”

At the same time, Friedman’s book is animated by his conviction that respect must be paid to these overlooked heroes. “People trying to forge a Jewish state in the Middle East should have seen that Jews from the Middle East could be helpful,” he argues. “The newcomers might have been invited to serve as equal partners in the creation of this new society, but they weren’t. Instead they were condescended to, and pushed to the fringes; it was one of the state’s worst errors, one for which we are still paying.” Thus does Friedman rectify a moral and historical wrong when he calls our attention to the four young men whom we come to know so well and admire so much in the pages of “Spies of No Country.”

Jonathan Kirsch, attorney and author, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Jewish Vampire Is Out for Blood in Israeli Series ‘Juda’

Photo by Banijay

The scary bloodsuckers of “Dracula” and “Nosferatu” can be found at one end of the spectrum of film and television vampires, while the immortal heartthrobs of “Twilight,” “True Blood” and “Interview With the Vampire” are on the other. But the quirky, hapless undead hero of the Israeli series “Juda” defies categorization. To start with, he’s Jewish.

The eight-episode sci-fi/caper/horror/comedy hybrid, which premieres on March 19 on Hulu, introduces petty criminal and gambler Juda Ben-Chayim. Juda heads to a poker game in Romania, where a beautiful vampire bites him in the neck and takes his winnings. Suddenly, he’s super strong and literally bloodthirsty, and she’s horrified to realize her victim is a Jew because the vampire code prohibits biting them. The consequences are dire, because feeding on Jews means vampires lose their powers. And as Juda later learns from a rabbi, his destiny is to destroy all other vampires.

The series was created by and stars Israeli actor, director, writer, musician, radio host, painter and comedian Tzion Baruch. Baruch, 39, came across the idea for the show in a dream seven years ago. He was also inspired by his love of superheroes, movies including “Interview With the Vampire,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” and films by Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton. In creating “Juda,” Baruch wanted to make up for the lack of Jewish vampires in cinematic lore and take a bite out of the age-old anti-Semitic myth that Jews feed on the blood of Christians.

“That’s what makes this series different than others,” Baruch told the Journal. “The hero’s name is Juda and the name has a negative connotation [to other vampires] because he’s Jewish. We cleanse his name. The audience falls in love with him and, with that, I make a spiritual correction. Vampires were always associated with the Christian world. The Jewish people were persecuted throughout history, and it’s time for a Jewish superhero,” Baruch said.

He describes the show as “the vampire world meets Judaism meets ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ ” As for the theme that feeding on Jewish blood is forbidden, Baruch said, “You can look at it from two angles: that the blood is cursed or that it is actually blessed.”

In the series, Juda’s adviser is a rabbi who “explains everything through kabbalah,” Baruch said. “He explains that nothing was made up. Everything is in history. You just need to read things correctly. If we look at the Torah as a vampire story, then Cain killed Abel in one bite and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me swallow some of this red, red pottage for I am faint.’ If you take all of this and put it in a vampire story, it all connects.”

Baruch is the son of a Tunisian-Jewish mother and a Russian-Jewish father. His family escaped to Israel before World War II. Baruch said he leads “a traditional and spiritual life. I am very connected to Judaism. “[‘Juda’] is a very personal story for me. My wife (actress Yana Yosef) converted to Judaism. [Ours] was a forbidden love that became possible.” 

Growing up in a “tough neighborhood” in Ramla in central Israel, “I had an amazing childhood,” Baruch said. “I was different from people around me. My escape was art. I sat in my room and painted all day long. I knew I wanted to be an actor and performed onstage for the first time at 13. I started off as a comedian. I’m part of a famous comedic trio (Shlishiyat Ma Kashur) in Israel.” 

 “Vampires were always associated with the Christian world. The Jewish people were persecuted throughout history, and it’s time for a Jewish superhero.” — Tzion Baruch

Although he’s acted for seven years in the series “The Arbitrator” (2007-13) and movies including “Hallelujah” (2003) and “The Bubble” (2006), “Juda” is the first project Baruch created. It was a hit with Israeli audiences, winning top ratings and awards at the Series Mania Festival in 2017. 

“We were worried at the beginning and afraid of anti-Semitism, but in the end [audiences] loved it,” Baruch said. “It was No. 2 on the top-10 series downloads on VOD in Israel. The broadcaster thought it would be a niche series, but at the end, it spoke to everyone.”

The series’ second season is now in production. “It’ll be even crazier than Season 1,” Baruch promised. His next projects are a movie titled “The Rabbi’s Pledge” and a series titled “The Guard,” about an Israeli who moves to the United States “and gets in trouble with his identity. It has a spiritual [angle],” he said.

An English-language version “Juda” is also in the works, “which we are very excited about, but the details are still under wraps,” he said. “I will be involved.” 

However, Baruch is eager for American audiences to see the show in its original form, and thinks viewers will be drawn to the action, music, comedy and its unlikely Jewish hero as he comes to understand his powers and begins to enjoy them. 

“From the beginning, I wanted to touch the entire spectrum of human emotions: to scare them, to excite them, to entertain them and make them laugh. They can expect entertainment and fun,” he said. And fodder for discussion as well. “After each episode they’ll want to check the Holy Books to make sure that what they saw is true.”

“Juda” begins streaming on March 19 on Hulu.

Adding Diversity to the Startup Nation

People tend to imagine Israel in one of two ways. They envision either a technological hub — a futuristic utopia built on ancient soil; or a war-torn land of camel-trodden dunes — a bleak and dusty landscape peppered with ancient stone buildings in the casbah style.

Both of these are true. Israel is, after all, a land of contradictions. 

The country’s reputation as a tech powerhouse is deserved. It has a thriving innovation sector, a high concentration of startups and a penchant for producing technology valued around the world. At the same time, the vast majority of Israelis are not involved in the tech industry and don’t directly enjoy its benefits.

The high-tech sector has done little to mitigate the fact that Israel has some of the highest poverty rates in the developed world, and that most of the country’s minority populations like Arab Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox remain unemployed or underemployed. As The Economist magazine reported, “The dynamic, globalized startup nation accounts for only about a tenth of employment.” 

Noted Tel Aviv University professor and researcher Dan Ben-David put it more starkly in his 2012 article, “The Start-Up Nation’s Threat from Within”: “How is this relatively high level of Israeli innovation factoring into the country’s productivity — and then into its living standards? The relation between the two is poor, at best.” 

Amir Mizroch, director of communications at Start-Up Nation Central (SNC) in Tel Aviv, is well acquainted with Israel’s “threat from within” but sees it as a solvable problem. SNC was formed by The Paul E. Singer Foundation (PESF) and is funded by the PESF and a select group of philantrhopic partners. SNC pursues two main objectives: to connect Israeli startups with global companies and markets, and to develop untapped “human capital” in Israeli society.

“The high-tech sector represents 44 percent of all of Israeli exports,” Mizroch said. “But this vast industry is resting on a very narrow column. Of the 300,000 workers in Israel’s tech sector, the vast majority are male, Ashkenazi Jews with similar backgrounds in military intelligence units.” 

This dependence on a limited pool of talent and perspective puts Israel at a disadvantage when it comes to global competition.

According to a recent report conducted by SNC and Israel’s Innovation Authority, 1 in 4 growth-stage Israeli tech companies is setting up research and development operations abroad — usually in the Ukraine or India — to take advantage of lower labor costs but also because Israel has a relatively small talent pool. 

Israel’s quick start in the technological innovation sector is due to a couple of factors, Mizroch said. One can be summed up with the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” — as a young country isolated from its Middle East neighbors, Israel had to innovate to grow its economy. The other factor is density — Israel is small and its close-knit culture encourages collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas.

But the rest of the world is catching up. If Israel wants to keep its lead, its business and labor experts agree, it needs to quicken its pace and broaden its talent pool.

“In Israel, you’re expected to have chutzpah, to push your way forward. Arabs aren’t like this. They’re very polite.”
— Tal Morris

Recently, at the shared workspaces of WeWork Jerusalem, staff members with SNC’s “Excellenteam” program were preparing for the graduation ceremony that would mark the end of their pilot course. Furniture was being pushed out of the way as folding chairs were brought in. 

Excellenteam is one of SNC’s human capital programs. It consists of two parallel courses, one for Arab Israelis and one for Charedi women. Designed to help participants get a foot in the door of Israel’s high-tech sector, the program provides hands-on programming experience and training in soft skills such as networking, resumé writing and job interview etiquette.

To the uninitiated, the term “human capital” may sound like impersonal corporate jargon. As a visitor scanned the WeWork offices, however, it was clear that the human element was being emphasized.

In a conference room, participants in Excellenteam’s course for Arab Israelis were putting the finishing touches on the final presentations of their projects. Before they started the course, they were strangers from different backgrounds — Muslim, Christian and Druze, northerners, southerners, urbanites, suburbanites and small-village dwellers. Now, as they traded ideas, they sounded like friends who had known one another since childhood. After weeks of studying together (interspersed with all-night, pizza-fueled hackathons and team-based projects) they had built something of vital importance to success in Israel’s high-tech world: a community.

The Start-Up Nation Central office. Photo by Amit Geron

Majd AbuHattoum, a participant from Nazareth, said he entered the Excellenteam program with modest expectations. He figured it would be a good way to “waste” three months between his university studies and the job market, especially since the program was paid for by scholarships. Why pass up extra training without extra cost?

“I knew it would be OK tech-wise, but I didn’t expect how amazing it would be socially,” AbuHattoum said. “I’ve never been close with people from Jerusalem or Beit Jann [a Druze village in northern Israel] before. We have different accents and different cultures. But everyone got along really great. That’s not always what you expect with a group like this.”

The sense of community AbuHattoum experienced is often taken for granted by current Israeli tech workers, many of whom come from similar backgrounds and are pipelined into tech careers from the same military intelligence units and universities.

“Arabs don’t always have an older brother or a cousin or a friend in the high-tech scene who can tell them how things work,” said Tal Morris, the program staff member in charge of recruiting and working with Excellenteam’s Arab participants. “Without a network, they have to figure it out on their own.”

But the lack of a network is just one of many challenges Israel’s minorities face when seeking employment in the tech sector.

“Sometimes employers will pass on the resumé that says ‘Muhammed,’ ” Morris said. “One candidate sent his CV out 50 times under his own name and heard nothing back. Then he sent it out three times with the name ‘Gadi’ and got an interview right away.”

When Arab candidates do get called to interviews, cultural differences present a further barrier. 

“In Israel, you’re expected to have chutzpah, to push your way forward,” Morris said. “Arabs aren’t like this. They’re very polite.”

“Start-Up Nation Central pursues two main objectives: to connect Israeli startups with global companies and markets, and to develop untapped “human capital” in Israeli society.”

Religious candidates face similar discrimination. “There’s a stigma that ultra-Orthodox engineers are cheap and mediocre,” said Ohad Reifin, SNC’s vice president of strategy. “They aren’t. But sometimes their training is.”

Minority candidates often don’t pursue top positions because they assume they won’t be considered, according to Maty Zwaig, SNC’s director of human capital programs. “We speak to the big companies all the time and the HR departments tell us they don’t receive many CV’s from Arab or ultra-Orthodox candidates,” Zwaig said.  

Companies want employees who can hit the ground running. Secular, male Jewish candidates come to the workforce with years of hands-on experience gained through internships, the military or both. Arab and Charedi candidates rarely have such experience.

Efrat Traube, a graduate of Excellenteam’s course for Charedi women, put it this way: “Computer science graduates don’t really know how to do anything. Imagine that we’ve been studying basketball. We know that a shot from here is two points and a shot from there is three, but we’ve never been on the court. We won’t be able to play if you throw us the ball.”  

For a person who lives in the ultra-Orthodox world, studying in college is often a hard-earned privilege, and they can be discouraged when they realize that their degree is not enough on its own to secure a high-paying career. 

“It’s not a trivial thing that we even have a degree,” Traube said. “Most of the people here did something brave just by deciding to study.” 

Participants in the Excellenteam course for Charedi women also are balancing professional development with busy family lives. In the Charedi world, husbands dedicate their lives to talmudic studies, so the responsibilities of managing the household and being the breadwinner falls to the wife.  

Two of the Charedi participants, in fact, had babies during the run of the course and returned within weeks of giving birth to resume their studies. Stories like these are a testament to the women’s ambition and tenacity, but also present a clear picture of the challenges the women will face in trying to maintain a career and raise a family.

“I don’t like to go there,” Traube said. “I want to believe that as long as you’re good enough, you’re going to get places.”

The program’s staff members shared her optimism, and during the graduation ceremony they emphasized one particular point: Arab Israelis and Charedi women have something vital to contribute to the country’s innovation economy, and the high-tech sector needs them as much as they need it.

“Arab Israelis and Charedi women have something vital to contribute to the country’s innovation economy, and the high-tech sector needs them as much as they need it.”

SNC is not alone in trying to address Israel’s “human capital” problem.

At the academic level as well, efforts are being made to expand and diversify the pool of Israelis heading into computer science programs.

Professor Yaffa Zilbershats, chair of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council of Higher Education, said there is no shortage of good candidates for computer science programs in Israel. However, there is a shortage of places where they can learn, a shortage of infrastructure, and a shortage of quality teachers. 

“Our main obstacle is scarcity of teachers,” Zilbershats said. “The good people, even if they have PhDs, are being abducted by the industry where they can earn more money.”

In collaboration with the government and with the tech industry, the Planning and Budgeting Committee has been working to provide more funding for tutoring and assistance programs in an effort to ensure that a greater percentage of students succeed in their degree studies and are ready for the job market. 

“This is of value for all students, and in particular for Arab Israelis and Charedim,” Zilbershats said. “We provide academic support, social support, mental support, anything they need. We also work with the industry to create opportunities for students to work on hands-on projects as they study.” 

In Israel, what unites also divides. Military service, in certain swaths of Israeli society, is the great equalizer, a shared experience of camaraderie and responsibility. The flip side of this cohesion is the divide that military service places between secular and religious people, Jew and Arab. National identity and religion have a similar effect. When shared, they produce the tightest of bonds. When not shared, they often create alienation.

The high-tech industry, then, presents a unique opportunity for Israel: It can be a source of national pride and distinction, without the divisive trappings of ethnicity, peoplehood or religion; something that everyone can get behind and take part in.

At least in theory.

“Most of the people here did something brave just by deciding to study.”
— Efrat Traube

At the WeWork offices, as people arrived for the graduation ceremony, many different sectors of Israeli society were represented.

Until this day, the training courses for Charedi women and Arab Israelis had been kept separate. Avital Bass, Excellenteam’s program manager, admitted to being nervous about bringing together the two groups. She had her eyes peeled for any signs of tension or discomfort among the people taking their seats on the folding chairs.  

If there was any tension, it wasn’t expressed — a small but reassuring indication that Israel is more than the sum of the stereotypes repeated about it.

During the ceremony, the graduates went before a panel of judges to present the projects they had been working on. 

From the Charedi women’s group, the winning presentation was a remarkable project designed for use in schools with special-needs children. The software they created sensed environmental changes in a classroom (such as sudden bright lights, an increase in noise or overcrowding) and alerted teachers as to which students might be affected by the conditions, offering tips for helping the students cope in constructive ways.

The Arab Israeli teams’ winning project, called “Catch Me If You Can,” used facial recognition software to match the faces of people scanned by outdoor advertisements with the faces of people seen purchasing those advertised products at a store. A bit unsettling, perhaps, but a clever, appealing idea for businesses wanting to measure the effectiveness of their advertisements.

While watching the presentations at the graduation ceremony, it became apparent what a positive effect an initiative like Excellenteam can have. 

SNC’s main goal is to expand Israel’s talent pool, but its program can expand a much larger pool of human creativity as well. Programmers and designers from different backgrounds will think differently, will find new solutions for tired problems and will identify challenges that a homogenous group might fail to recognize.

If the Excellenteam program continues to grow, it could very well transform Israel’s tech landscape. It could also change the lives of Charedim, of Arab Israelis and, indeed, of all Israelis.

Matthew Schultz is a writer living and working in Tel Aviv.

Can Israel Win Back the Democratic Party?

Photo from Flickr.

In June 1972, Israel’s ambassador to the United States was criticized by The Washington Post for being an “undiplomatic diplomat.” The ambassador was Yitzhak Rabin. The occasion was the presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern. Rabin’s supposed offense was expressing Israel’s preference that Nixon would come out on top. “While we appreciate support in the form of words we are getting from one camp,” Rabin told an interviewer, “we must prefer support in the form of deeds we are getting from the other camp.” 

Words — from the Democratic camp. Deeds — from the Republican camp.

Nearly 47 years later, a majority of Israelis feel the same as Rabin did then. Support for Israel is bipartisan in words mostly, in practice it is highly partisan — and not because of what Israel does or does not do. 

It is well-established fact that Democratic voters look less favorably on Israel than their Republican counterparts and fewer see it as a strong ally. Survey after survey, including a recent survey by Gallup, shows the gap. And as The New York Times reported a few months ago, the party itself is also changing, as “a cluster of activist Democrats … has dared to breach … strong support for Israel….” It’s true that mainstream Democrats call these Democratic Party leaders “fringe,” but the surveys indicate that this fringe might now reflect the perspectives of the party’s elected officials. 

For Israel, this is a highly troubling development, a matter of national security. Striving to have “bipartisan support” was always the policy of Israel and its allies. And while bipartisanship was always somewhat overhyped, it mostly worked well from the late 1970s until recent times. Rabin, the ambassador to the Nixon administration, had a close relationship with Democratic President Bill Clinton. 

The change in tone and attitude has been gradual. As Israel moved rightward, following the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Democratic Party moved leftward, from Clintonian triangulation to Barack Obama, and then even further to the left. Israelis feel at ease when Republican presidents — George W. Bush, Donald Trump — are at the helm. They felt much less comfortable with Obama, whom a majority of Israeli Jews considers the “worst president” for Israel in the past 30 years. 

While bipartisanship was always somewhat overhyped, it mostly worked well from the late 1970s until recent times. 

What can Israel do to mitigate the erosion of Democratic support? For many liberal Americans, and also some Israelis, the answer is simple: Israel must change its policies to win back the Democratic Party’s support. American liberals point their fingers at various Israeli policies — from not ending the West Bank occupation to bombing Gaza and passing “illiberal” legislation — that they say underlie the growing alienation. Opposition leaders in Israel blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for aligning his government with conservative Americans and thus creating a “serious problem” for Israel when the Democratic Party comes back into power. 

Undoubtedly, some of Israel’s policies contribute to making liberal Americans less enamored with the country they once adored. But a serious look at the trends must end with a disappointing conclusion from an Israeli viewpoint: There is not much that Israel can do to bring Democrats back into its corner, other than wait for the tide to reverse.

It goes without saying that Israel must invest in bipartisan support to the highest extent possible. No sane Israeli leader is going to forgo the support of half of Americans because of laziness or carelessness. On the other hand, U.S. bipartisan support is just one item on the list of many that Israel must worry about. First and foremost, it must worry about survival in a dangerous neighborhood. Thus, any discussion of Israel’s ability to impact the views of Democratic voters must begin with a straightforward question: What would be the cost of regaining their support? 

The answer — again, sadly — is that the cost seems to be too high. Here is one example: Democratic voters and legislators overwhelmingly supported the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. Israeli voters and their government believed this deal was dangerous for Israel. So, in 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak in Congress against the deal.

This was a highly partisan move, a “risky gambit” as professor Daniel Drezner called it. Back then I opposed it, believing that Netanyahu “has turned Israel into a political football.” Indeed, he had. Republicans cheered his speech; Democrats were furious with it. In retrospect, I was wrong. Had Netanyahu not decided that the benefit (making the case, refusing to surrender) outweighed the risk (further alienating Democrats), it would have been much harder to imagine Trump taking the bold step of withdrawing from the deal. 

Israel’s dilemma is not hard to understand: Losing bipartisan support is strategically dangerous; accepting a reality of an emboldened Iran is strategically dangerous. Sometimes a choice must be made. Which of these two is more dangerous? More urgent? More susceptible to influence?

While for Israel to assuage its policies on Iran, or on Gaza, is certainly dangerous, its ability to influence Democratic tendencies at a reasonable cost is far from clear. Rabin understood this in the 1970s, when he was looking at a Democratic Party smitten with McGovernites — “the kind of liberal he had learned to dislike,” as professor Ephraim Inbar wrote in his book, “Rabin and Israel’s National Security.”

Netanyahu probably sees a similar picture as he looks at a Democratic Party highly influenced by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and highly attentive to activists whose philosophy is intersectionality. He looks at the party whose leaders not long ago vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed in the Senate by a 93-5 majority, with only one opposing Democrat) but recently, vehemently, opposed this move. 

Israel and the Democratic Party have changed since 1995. Democrats became less tolerant of hardnosed realistic policies — the exact types of policies that Israel gradually adopted. 

Can Israel make moves that would mitigate the trend of it becoming unfashionable among Democrats? Sure. It needs to make such goal a priority whenever possible. But it is important to acknowledge a frustrating reality: Since Israel is not going to completely alter its security policy, only little mitigation is possible.

Democratic support for Israel is weakening as a result of internal American dynamics. When Democrats turn to moderate centrism — as in the days of Presidents Lyndon Johnson or Clinton — relations with Israel are solid. When Democrats move leftward — as in the days of McGovern or Obama — relations with Israel become rockier. This is basically true whether Israel is led by a Labor government headed by a Rabin or a Likud government headed by a Netanyahu.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

U.S. State Department Recognizes Golan Heights As Israeli Territory

Photo from Pixabay.

The U.S. State Department has officially recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory in its new human rights report.

Axios reports that the human rights report, which was released on March 13, recognizes the Golan Heights as being “under Israeli control”; prior administrations had recognized it as “occupied territory.” The report also removed the “occupied” term in referencing Judea and Samaria.

A senior State Department official told Axios, “As we stated last year, we retitled this Human Rights Report to refer to the commonly used geographic names of the area the report covers: Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Gaza. That is in line with our practices generally. We also believe it is clearer and more useful for readers seeking information on human rights in those specific areas. The title of the report was updated to reflect current practices in the Department and to be clearer and more useful to readers and researchers.”

The State Department’s Golan Heights move comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have lobbied for the Trump administration to formally recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Axios notes that referring to the Golan Heights as “under Israeli control” isn’t “a recognition of Israeli sovereignty,” it is “a clear signal in that direction.”

According to Jewish Virtual Library (JVL), the Golan Heights was under Syria’s control from 1948-1967; Israel took control of it after the Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981. If Israel were to withdraw from the Golan Heights, it “could jeopardize its early warning system against surprise attack,” JVL notes.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the Israel Defense Forces revealed on March 13 that they discovered a “Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure” in the Golan Heights.

Women Praying at the Kotel Is Normal

Members of the activist group "Women of the Wall" pray with a Torah scroll during a monthly prayer near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City July 24, 2017. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS.

“When Adar begins, joy increases.” But not at the Kotel. 

I was there for Rosh Chodesh to celebrate with Women of the Wall (WOW) on its 30th anniversary. Over the years I’ve prayed with WOW whenever I am in Jerusalem on Rosh Chodesh. Being with friends, praying out loud, is meaningful and normal for me. 

But after Friday morning I wonder what “normal” means.

Last week, Jerusalem was plastered with billboards: 

“Keep the Kotel Normal.”

Some excerpts, roughly translated: 

“For 30 years the Reformim have desecrated the holiness of the Kotel. A handful of women create provocations for recognition in a movement that encourages assimilation. Our struggle is not just about the Kotel; their next targets will be conversion, marriage, kashrut and other religious issues. This a struggle about the Jewish character of the state of the Jews. Friday these women will celebrate 30 years of activity. They intend to bring a thousand people to the Kotel, causing damage to generations. The only way to protect prayer conducted according to halachah is if thousands of Jews come to the Kotel this Friday.” 

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox students, teenaged boys and girls, were bused in, making it impossible for the more than 500 women who came with WOW to pray. We were spit on, pushed and, in several cases, physically assaulted. Some of the women had panic attacks; it is a miracle that no one was trampled to death. But even more terrifying, and ultimately more tragic, was the hate in the faces of these ultra-Orthodox girls. They were indiscriminant about whom they shoved, including several older women, one of whom is a famous Orthodox scholar. Our more than 200 male supporters also were harassed. It was clear we were in danger, with the police unwilling or unable to keep us safe. So for the first time in 30 years we stopped midway during our prayer and with great difficultly worked our way toward Robinson’s Arch, where we completed the service. 

Keep the Kotel normal. Is this what “normal” will look like?

“What is provocative about wanting to pray at the Kotel?”

Why are these ultra-Orthodox rabbis so fearful of “a handful of women” that they brought busloads of young religious students to stop us from praying? It had to cost a lot to bring buses and coordinate this campaign. Who actually paid? Was this outpouring intended to send a message before the elections? How dare the police blame WOW for provocation? What is provocative about wanting to pray at the Kotel? Especially now, when, after all those years, the right of women to pray out loud wearing tallit and tefillin has been affirmed by the courts. 

In contrast to the Friday experience, the evening before was celebratory. One of the tributes was a video from former chair of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, who said: “The compromise we negotiated in 2016 will eventually be implemented. It is only a matter of time.” Another highlight was WOW’s honoring the paratroopers of 1967. As they received their award, one said: “This award should go to you. We captured the Wall and then we gave the keys over to generals who gave the keys to one of the most extreme factions in Israel. We didn’t liberate the Kotel. It is still a prisoner. You are the paratroopers who will liberate the Kotel.” 

This anniversary is a testimony to how much we’ve accomplished in 30 years. First, we have put the issue of religious pluralism at the center of the Jewish conversation. Second, our persistence and our willingness to compromise has brought us close to our goal. Leaders of many of the major parties in Israel (except Likud) responded to the events with a commitment to implement the Kotel Compromise negotiated in 2016 but later frozen by the government under ultra-Orthodox pressure. Third, on March 6, the attorney general clarified in a precedent setting letter to the Rabbi of the Wall: “Your claim that women’s prayer with a cantor is not in accordance with local custom is
not correct.” 

In other words, the way Women of the Wall want to pray is in accordance with “local custom,” i.e. normal. 

May the time come soon when “normal’ means there is more than one way to be a Jew and there is room for everyone at the Kotel. Then joy will really increase.  

Laura Geller is Rabbi Emerita at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

March 15, 2019

Petition Calls for Pitzer to Keep Israel Study Abroad Program

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A petition was started on March 6 calling for Pitzer College to maintain its study abroad program at the University of Haifa when the Pitzer College Council convenes on March 14.

The petition, which was initiated by Students for Academic Freedom, states that they are “deeply troubled by the recent vote by members of the Pitzer faculty calling for an end to the College’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa.”

“That the faculty motioned to end a major academic partnership without considering any student input is not only a breach of academic freedom, but a blatant disregard for the shared governance system that Pitzer students and faculty have enjoyed for decades,” the petition states.

The petition adds that the study abroad program “encourages collaboration and broadening horizons for participants rather than advancing a political agenda.”

“Ending this academic opportunity for students violates the College’s own stance that ‘Pitzer College celebrates cultural diversity and intercultural understanding,” the petition states. “Limiting student participation in any study abroad program makes it more challenging for students to deepen their ‘appreciation of global diversity’ and severely restricts academic freedom for the Pitzer College community.”

At least 420 people have signed the petition as of publication time.

Zev Hurwitz, the director of campus affairs for the American Jewish Committee, wrote in the Journal that if the Pitzer College Council votes on March 14 to end the program, it would be “a dangerous precedent.”

“At issue in the Pitzer vote is not only the study abroad program in Haifa, but the idea that a student should not have his or her academic pursuits hindered by outside political influences,” Hurwitz wrote. “Proponents of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) have attempted to define academic freedom as a principle that forces students to adhere to a boycott, potentially against their will. True academic freedom allows the free exchange of ideas regardless on circumstances in the host country.”

Gadot, Rivlin, Sela Fire Back Against Netanyahu’s Instagram Remarks

Gal Gadot at the UK premiere of “Criminal” at The Curzon Mayfair in London on April 7. Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin joined Gal Gadot March 11 in pushing back at remarks made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu wrote on social media March 10 that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”

The Times of Israel reported Rivlin rebuking Netanyahu at a Jerusalem conference about Egyptian-Israel peace March 11 by saying, “We must get to the point where we are truly able to say: No more war and bloodshed between Israelis and Arabs. Between Israel and all Arabs.”

“I refused and refuse to believe that there are political parties that have surrendered the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish, state,” Rivlin continued. “Those who believe that the State of Israel must be Jewish and democratic in the full sense of the word must remember that the State of Israel has complete equality of rights for all its citizens.”

Netanyahu’s response came from an Instagram post made on March 9 by model and actor Rotem Sela, who wrote, “Dear God, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human.”

Actress Gal Gadot who is most well known for playing DC superhero Wonder Woman, backed Sela in an Instagram story (which has since expired) March 10 writing “Love your neighbor as yourself …  The responsibility to sow hope and light for a better future for our children is on us. Rotem, sister, you are the inspiration for us all.”

Two Israelis Dead Following Ethiopian Plane Crash

Boeing Jet 737 MAX 8. Photo from Wikipedia.

Two Israelis were among the passengers of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash March 10 that killed all 157 people onboard (149 passengers and eight crew members). The plane crashed six minutes after takeoff.

Israel has offered its assistance to the Ethiopian government following the crash of the Boeing 737 which was en route to Kenya from Ethiopia. Passengers were from 33 different nationalities, according to The Jerusalem Post.

During his morning briefing March 10, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to the families of the victims.  

“I would like to send condolences to the government and people of Ethiopia, and to the families of the victims who perished in the plane crash. If there is anything we can do, we are – of course – ready to do it. We have also said this to the Ethiopian government.”

The cause of the crash has not been identified. The Boeing 737-8 MAX plane was new and had been delivered to the airline in November. Airline CEO Tewolde GebreMariam visited the crash site and told reporters that the pilot sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return.

The aircraft is the same model as the Lion Air flight that crashed into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people on board. That crash is still being investigated.

According to Kan, the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines is regarded as the best-managed airline in Africa. 100,000 Israelis traveled on Ethiopian Airlines in 2018, mostly to India and the Far East.  

According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are approximately 350 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircrafts in operation worldwide, flown by 54 operators– which include Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Norwegian Airlines and WestJet. To view the complete list of carriers of the aircraft, click here.

Thomas Friedman Gets AIPAC Wrong

Thomas Friedman; Photo from CNBC

Thomas Friedman, the venerable Middle East commentator, has a problem with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the pro-Israel lobby group whose mission is “to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.”

In his most recent column in the New York Times, Friedman accuses Aipac of being “a rubber stamp on the right-wing policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has resulted in tens of thousands of Israeli settlers now ensconced in the heart of the West Bank, imperiling Israel as a democracy.”

When I read that, I thought: What is Friedman asking for, exactly? Would piling on the attacks on Netanyahu really help Aipac’s mission to strengthen, protect and promote the US—Israel relationship? Aipac is a lobby group, not a think tank. As a rule, it respects and honors the democratic choices of Israeli voters, whether they choose Labor leaders like Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Rabin and Ehud Barak, or Likud leaders like Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon.

Friedman seems to blame Aipac for Israeli voters who have put their faith in more security-driven, right-wing coalitions over the past decade. And if anyone is to blame for Israel becoming a more partisan issue in Congress, which Friedman also attributes to Aipac, I would look first at the alarming anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist vibes arising out of new members like Ilan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. If anything, Aipac’s efforts are mitigating this trend.

Apparently, in Friedman’s fantasy world, there’s no end to Aipac’s power. If only Aipac had taken on Netanyahu, if only they had attacked his right-wing policies that have resulted in “tens of thousands of Israeli settlers now ensconced in the heart of the West Bank,” maybe the Palestinian leaders would have come to their senses and a two-state solution would have been more likely.

Never mind that there were already “tens of thousands of Israeli settlers” well before Netanyahu took office, and it was the Labor party not the Likud party that started the settlement enterprise in the first place.

And as much as people may hate Netanyahu, he was still the only Israeli prime minister who implemented a settlement freeze that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “unprecedented.” And despite the constraints of his right-wing coalition, according to a January 2019 piece in the Jerusalem Post, “The growth rate in the settler population has slowed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to its lowest point in over 23 years and possibly its lowest point ever.”

Never mind all that.

In full melodramatic mode, Friedman wants to put the weight of the highest Jewish ideals on Aipac’s back: “I don’t like Aipac,” he writes, “because I strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to build a nation-state in their ancient homeland — a nation-state envisaged by its founders to reflect the best of Jewish and democratic values.”

Is he implying that Aipac doesn’t believe in all that?

It’s clear that by putting so much undue pressure on Aipac, Friedman is unfairly maligning the group. First, he should know better. He should know, for example, that it’s not Israeli policies—right wing or left wing—that have most stymied the peace process, but the pathological rejectionism of a Palestinian leadership that refuses to do anything that might be good for the Jews or even their own people. Israeli voters have figured that out. 

But by implying that Aipac could have done something about an epic failure to resolve an intractable conflict that has jeopardized “the best of Jewish and democratic values,” Friedman is doing more than unfairly maligning Aipac.

Unwittingly, he’s reinforcing the age-old canard of dark, all-powerful Jewish forces that control the levers of power and can get anything done.

No Israeli government, left or right, has succeeded in making peace with the Palestinians. By suggesting Aipac has the power to influence that, Friedman is treating the group the way anti-Semites treat any Jewish lobby group: Too powerful. 


Poll: 69% of Americans View Israel Favorably

FILE PHOTO: A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

A Gallup poll taken between Feb. 1-10 revealed that 69 percent of Americans view Israel favorably. In 2018, that number was 74 percent.

The poll, released on March 6, surveyed 1,016 Americans. Twenty-one percent of those polled viewed the Palestinian Authority (PA) favorably. That percentage remained the same in 2018.

Among political party and ideology, 87 percent of conservative Republicans, 72 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans, 66 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats and 58 percent of liberal Democrats viewed Israel favorably. In 2018, those numbers were 85 percent, 70 percent, 67 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

By contrast, 36 percent of liberal Democrats, 26 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats, 20 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans and 10 percent of conservative Republicans viewed the Palestinian Authority favorably. These were all increases from 29 percent, 21 percent, 14 percent and 9 percent respectively, in 2018.

Additionally, 59 percent of Americans sympathized with Israelis over the Palestinians in 2019, whereas 64 percent felt this way in 2018. Twenty-one percent of Americans sympathized with the Palestinians over Israelis in 2019, an increase from 19 percent in 2018. Seventy-six percent of Republicans said they sympathized with Israelis over the Palestinians, a sharp decline from 87 percent in 2018, and 43 percent of Democrats said they sympathized with Israelis over the Palestinians, a decline from 49 percent in 2018.

“Americans’ overall views toward Israel and the Palestinian Authority have changed little in the past year, with roughly seven in 10 viewing Israel very or mostly favorably and two in 10 viewing the Palestinian Authority in the same terms,” Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad wrote. “At the same time, the new poll finds a slight softening of Americans’ partiality toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly among moderate/liberal Republicans and, to a lesser extent, liberal Democrats.”

House Anti-Semitism Resolution Vote Postponed

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stands during a meeting with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

A vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, initially scheduled for March 6, has been postponed.

Politico’s Jake Sherman said that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told him that “she isn’t sure a resolution will get a vote this week” and she doesn’t think that Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) recent Israel remarks were “intentionally anti-Semitic”:

According to U.S. News and World Report, the resolution is being written to address other forms of bigotry in addition to anti-Semitism, including Islamophobia.

The resolution is being drafted in light of Omar’s Feb 27 statement questioning Israel supporters’ “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted on March 6 that Omar “has repeatedly used age-old anti-Semitic tropes that have marginalized & persecuted Jews for centuries, before Israel even existed.”

Omar didn’t answer questions from reporters when asked about the resolution on March 5.

A Guide to Deciding If Netanyahu Should Stay or Go

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

“The attorney general has reached a clear conclusion, by which corrupt, improper motives, were at the core of Netanyahu’s actions.” So, this is it.

Or maybe not. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he plans to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pending a hearing. The decision was announced 40 days before election day. The hearing will come many months after election day. Mandelblit clarified — and muddled — the situation by the same action. He informed voters that there is evidence Netanyahu is criminally corrupt, pending a hearing and a trial. He also confused voters by revealing this information. How should they respond to it?

There are three typical responses in Israel to this new, if expected, development. One is to see Netanyahu as not guilty, despite the new information, some of it quite disturbing, that appears in the 50-page document that details how Mandelblit reached his conclusion. One is to see Netanyahu as guilty, despite the fact that there is still a hearing that can change legal minds, and possibly a trial, which can vindicate or implicate him. 

The third option is the that of the perplexed voters, those who don’t yet know how to respond to the new information. Pollster Menachem Lazar told me that about 1 in 5 voters haven’t decided whom to vote for. That’s 24 seats in the next Knesset. Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University has tallied that about 15 percent of voters are undecided. But based on other questions he asked, Fuchs believes that there are many more voters who still might change their minds. Of course, not all of these voters are undecided because of Netanyahu or his looming indictment. But some are. What should they weigh as they make a decision? I am not sure that all of them run through all the options in a methodical way, but there is a way to do such a thing. It goes like this:

If you consider Netanyahu guilty, and a bad prime minister, then don’t vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

If you consider him not guilty, and a good prime minister, then vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

If you consider him not guilty, and a bad prime minister, then don’t vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

“What should undecided voters weigh as they make a decision?”

But here is the tricky scenario: If you consider Netanyahu guilty, and a good prime minister,  then you must ask a follow-up question: Would you tolerate a corrupt prime minister for any reason? 

If not, don’t vote for Netanyahu (or for parties supportive of him). 

But if under certain circumstances — say, if you think that without him, the country would be in grave danger — you’re willing to consider a corrupt, yet efficient, prime minister, then another follow-up question is necessary: Is this the case of corruption, and is this the man, and are these the circumstances that could prompt you to elect a corrupt yet efficient prime minister?

This is where the 50-page document issued by Mandelblit becomes handy. Voters likely have a solid opinion of Netanyahu as prime minister. Voters also have a perspective of Israel’s current circumstances. So, all voters need to complete their assessment is the document. They should read it and make one of the following two conclusions:

One: This is too much corruption for me to tolerate Netanyahu because A) Israel’s circumstances are not grave; or B) There are people besides Netanyahu who can deal with the circumstances (grave or not).

Two: This seems corrupt, but I still want Netanyahu because A) Israel’s circumstances are grave; and B) Only Netanyahu can deal with such circumstances.   

Is it easy to reach a conclusion? For some it is, for others it isn’t. Try to understand the dilemma.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

The Kosher Adventure Maker

Avicam Gitlin

Avicam Gitlin has no shortage of swashbuckling vignettes to tell about his job cooking and planning vacations for observant Jews through his work at the Kosher Culinary Travel.

Four years ago, Gitlin was sleeping on the deck of a yacht he had chartered for a family vacationing around the Greek Isles. The yacht was moored off a desert island some 40 nautical miles from the Greek coast. In the middle of the night, Gitlin awoke to shouts of ‘Help!’ coming from the island. He filled a dinghy with water and food and together with a couple of crew members rowed to the island. There, they found two Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland. Gitlin called the coast guard, which picked up the men, who eventually were able to start a new life in Europe. Back on the yacht, his clients remained asleep in their opulent cabins, completely unaware of the adventure that had transpired. 

On another occasion, Gitlin, 38, was in Tuscany, Italy, when he walked into a butcher shop owned by the legendary Dario Cecchini. Cecchini loomed over half a cow splayed open on the block, knife in hand with a crazed look in his eye. But when he noticed Gitlin’s yarmulke he dropped the knife and ran over to greet him with an ebullient “Shalom.” Over a glass of kosher wine he kept for special occasions, Cecchini told Gitlin how, as a young orphan, a Jewish family took him in and, since then, he has had an unwavering affinity for the Jewish people. During their shop-talk, Cecchini also divulged the recipe for a semolina olive oil cake, which Gitlin uses to this day. 

“I was always interested in seeing the world and this was my way of combining my passion for food and my passion for travel.”

 “My take on travel is to be immersed in as much of the local aspect as you can,” Gitlin said. That’s why his business has been designed to allow observant Jews to experience global travel without forgoing one of the paramount aspects in encountering foreign cultures: food. 

You won’t, for example, find Gitlin in Zambia boiling gefilte fish for his clientele. Wherever he is in the world — and he’s been just about everywhere — he sources local ingredients and recipes. In Tuscany, for example, Gitlin took over a restaurant for an entire week. The restaurant was owned and operated by four generations of the same family. Gitlin kept the staff and chef on, and they served a slightly modified version of the existing Tuscan menu, without the pork. He found a local liquor-maker who made the hard stuff kosher; a cheese maker who agreed to make kosher cheese; and partnered with a local, kosher organic winery.

Israeli-born but raised in Orlando, Fla., Gitlin said cooking has always been a part of his life. As a child, he clung to his mother’s skirts in the kitchen, helping her cook traditional Iraqi fare. He made aliyah in his early 20s, earned his undergraduate degree in political science, and opened a telemarketing call center before packing it all in to pursue a culinary career. 

Nearly a decade later, Gitlin has cooked up a kosher storm alongside renowned chefs in some of the world’s most famous restaurants, including  Montage in Maui; La Cabro d’Or in Provence, France; and La Taverna del Pittore in Tuscany.

 “I was always interested in seeing the world,” Gitlin said, “and this was my way of combining my passion for food and my passion for travel.”

Hard Lessons Before Steps Toward Peace

War and conflict are a messy business that rarely corresponds to the tidy accounts taught in schools. That certainly can be said about Israel’s struggle to be born and exist. Intellectual honesty demands a hard look at all aspects of the turmoil and its effects on Israelis and Palestinians.

Conflicts are always messier when opinions are fueled by religion. For many Jews, resettling the land of Israel after an absence of 2,000 years marked by wandering, persecution and near annihilation represents the attainment of a safe haven and the chance of becoming a “normal” nation.

From childhood, Palestinian children are taught that their ancestors had been living on the land for thousands of years and were uprooted by a European-Asiatic people with no valid claim to the land, displacing their parents and grandparents. The world stood idly by, they are told, and allowed this to happen because of guilt over the Holocaust. It is a sacred duty of every Palestinian to devote their lives and perhaps even to be martyred to drive out the “Crusader imperialist Jews,” they are taught.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is exceedingly complex. To couch it simply in terms of “an occupation of a land by a people who have no claim to it and the subjugation of its native people who have the sole rights to that land” completely negates the possibility that the other side has a narrative that ties them to the land, or even the possibility that the other side has a right to a narrative.

Lost in the war of ideas that underlies the conflict is the simple notion that this is simply a land dispute between two peoples who lay claim to all of the area referred to by some as Israel and by others as Palestine.

“Each side is taught to regard the other as stereotypical evil, the ultimate “other,” people to fear and loathe.”

In my view, the Israeli-Palestine conflict will never be resolved at its root cause until each side reaches a profound conclusion that the other has a valid narrative that binds them to that land.

Each side eventually must come to the realization that the other side “isn’t going anywhere.” Only then can the process begin toward true mutual respect, coupled with the understanding that in no way, shape or form can one side hope to exert total control over all of the land. After that is understood, both sides are left with three options: unending conflict, division of land where each side must compromise deep-seated religious beliefs, or living as equal citizens in one multiethnic society.

Teaching students only one side of the story, something that is becoming increasingly prevalent in American universities today, is not only intellectually dishonest but will ultimately perpetuate the conflict indefinitely.

At the root of this conflict is prejudice in its purest form. Each side is taught to regard the other as stereotypical evil, the ultimate “other,” people to fear and loathe. Very little effort is expended to bridge the gap by trying to meet as people on a large scale in good faith.

Much ink has been spilled over the years on the terrible cancer that is prejudice, which we all experience to a greater or lesser extent. Mostly, we read about the victims of prejudice and rightfully so, but not enough is said or written about the corrosive effect that being the target of prejudice has on its perpetrators. There are many forms of bigotry and the terrible cost that is paid by all involved. Most of us, when asked what prejudice is, describe racial prejudice. Although that is the most pervasive form of prejudice, especially in the United States, prejudice, in general, is about judging a  person without having sufficient facts about that person.

Studying the effects of prejudice is becoming increasingly important during a time when there’s an upsurge of its ugly impact all over the world. Until both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict move beyond their prejudice, the shootings, stabbings and bombings will never end.

Leo Rozmaryn is a reconstructive hand and microvascular surgeon and author of “Lone Soldier,” a historical fiction novel of romance, mistaken identity, war and politics set during the tensions between the U.S. and Israel during the early 1970s. For more information, visit 

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Episode 129 – The Right Wing Israeli Arab that Fights for Gay Rights

Being an Arab living in Israel brings about many dilemmas, internal conflicts and possibly a very serious identity crisis. While some Israeli Arabs prosper, man other Arabs are living in Gaza in debilitating poverty, and suffering under the brutal, murderous dictatorship of Hamas.
Most Israeli Arabs support the Joint List of Arab parties, a minority actually support right-wing, Zionist parties like the Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.

Some Israeli Arabs work in industrial areas in the occupied territories, whereas others support the BDS movement that does everything within its power to shut down the very same industrial areas, rendering thousands of Palestinians jobless.

Anyway, you get the point. Being an Arab Israeli is complicated. And now imagine what it means to be an Arab Israeli fighting BDS around the world, a supporter of Zionism, and a son of an ex-South Lebanon Army general who fled to Israel in the year 2000.

Jonathan Elkoury was one of our first guests, in episode 21 titled 2001: A Lebanese Odyssey with Jonathan Elkhoury. If you wanna hear Jonathan’s story, you gotta check it out. Now, two years later he’s back to talk about his courageous journeys defending Israel’s right to exist, his political and personal struggles here in Israel, and yes, also the nation-state bill.
We’re very honored to be joined today by Jonathan Elkoury.

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Rep. Engel: Rep. Omar Won’t Be Removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told CNN on Mar. 5 that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) will not be removed from the committee he chairs, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, anytime soon.

“First of all, it’s not up to me, this is done by the [House Democratic] leadership,” Engel told host Erin Burnett. “I don’t know that that would do anything except exacerbate the situation anymore. I’m looking to get rid of anti-Semitism, not looking to punish anybody.”

On Feb. 27, Omar said she wanted to discuss how pro-Israel politicians have “allegiance to a foreign country.” Engel said in a Mar. 1 statement that Omar’s remarks “were outrageous and deeply hurtful.”

“It’s unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Engel said.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on March 7; however, some argue that Omar should be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee altogether.

Just as Republicans stripped King of all his committee assignments, Democrats should keep Omar from serving on any House committee,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper wrote in a March 5 Fox News op-ed. “Stripping a representative of his or her committee assignments is a serious punishment. And it sends an unmistakable message to the American public that there still are red lines in our national discourse.”

Rep. Zeldin: ‘We Need to Crush the BDS Movement’

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) expressed how the Jewish and pro-Israel community needs to destroy the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement during StandWithUs’ “Israel in Focus” International Conference at the Hyatt Regency at Los Angeles International Airport on March 3.

Zeldin was on a panel with Florida city Bal Habour Mayor Gabriel Groisman, Rep. Brad Sherman’s (D-Calif.) district director Scott Abrams and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), who tuned into the panel via Skype.

Zeldin told the 500 attendees that Senate Bill S.1 “combats the BDS movement” and “supports our alliance with Jordan, and increases sanctions on those propping up the Assad regime.”

“We need to crush the BDS movement, we need to confront it head on on college campuses,” Zeldin said, adding that it’s necessary to protect “innocent Jewish students being targeted with anti-Semitism” on college campuses.

He argued that despite what the bill’s critics say, S. 1 “does not impede free speech.”
“It gives state and local contracts the ability to end contracts with businesses opposing Israel,” Zeldin said, adding that anti-Israel individuals would still be free to promulgate their views on Israel if the bill passes.

Zeldin also mentioned the bill “hasn’t even been sent to committee” in the House of Representatives after it passed the Senate on Feb. 5.

Abrams said that there needs to be “bipartisan” opposition to BDS and stressed the need for an official anti-Semitism bill to be passed by Congress. Zeldin agreed, stating it was necessary to educate people throughout the country on anti-Semitism.

Groisman touted the Bal Harbour Village Council’s unanimous passage of a 2017 ordinance defining anti-Semitism, in part, as “delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.” He added that Florida’s state legislature is taking up a bill that would make the ordinance a statewide law.

“Police officers need to know the language of anti-Semitism that’s being used today” when investigating hate crimes, Groisman said.

Groisman stressed to attendees that the Jewish and pro-Israel community needs “leadership from everybody when it comes to the state of Israel, the Jewish people and fighting anti-Semitism.”

Schneider said in his video that conference attendees need to have “the confidence in your day-to-day conversations” that “we support Israel because Israel is our best ally in the world,” not because of “dual loyalty.”

“We share values, we share interests, we share threats,” Schneider said, adding that it only makes sense to have a “common bond” with Israel.

Zeldin concluded the panel by telling attendees that anti-Semites should be held accountable. He also challenged attendees to get involved with local campaigns or newspapers.

“Don’t let anyone speak for you whose hate is filling their heart,” Zeldin said.

House Resolution to Address Rep. Omar’s Israel Remarks

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) leaves the U.S. Senate chamber and walks back to the House of Representatives side of the Capitol with colleagues after watching the failure of both competing Republican and Democratic proposals to end the partial government shutdown in back to back votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The House of Representatives intends to draft a  resolution to address Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent remarks about Israel, Politico reports.

In an email to the Journal, a senior Democratic aide said the resolution would be brought to the House floor on Wednesday.

The pending resolution comes after Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt sent a letter on March 4 to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to introduce a resolution after Omar said on Feb. 27 that she wanted to discuss “the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

On Mar. 2, Omar doubled down on the statement, tweeting, “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”

Greenblatt wrote in his letter, “Accusing Jews of having allegiance to a foreign government has long been a vile anti-Semitic slur that has been used to harass, marginalize, and persecute the Jewish people for centuries. Sometimes referred to as the ‘dual loyalty’ charge, it alleges that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens because their true allegiance is to their co-religionists around the world or to a secret and immoral Jewish agenda.”

Greenblatt added that the “disturbing increase in anti-Semitism in our country and around the world” makes it important for Congress to vote on a resolution that rejects “her latest slur and make clear that no matter what may divide the 435 members of the House of Representatives, they are united in condemning anti-Semitism.”

The senior Democratic aide told the Journal that House Democratic staffers started working on the resolution over the weekend, before Greenblatt sent his letter.

Omar’s office did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.


SWU Conference Session: How to Defend Israel

Israel supporters should always make it clear that they support a two-state solution.

This, according to Dr. Michael Harris, co-founder of San Francisco Voice for Israel. Harris made his remarks to attendees at StandWithUs’ (SWU) “Israel in Focus” International Conference this past weekend at the Hyatt Regency at Los Angeles International Airport.

Stating support for a two-state solution is the way to debate those who are anti-Israel, Harris said. Anti-Israel extremists, he said, can’t bring themselves to support a solution that would provide legitimacy to a Jewish state.

Harris suggested confronting those who are anti-Israel with the question, “I support peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, what about you?” to see if they try to “weasel” out of it with a statement along the lines of, “I support equal rights for everyone.” Then, he said, you can corner them on that statement.

Harris advocated following what he calls the ARM method:  Answer, Reframe, Message. As an example, he pointed to the claim that Israel kills  children on the Gaza border. He said, Israel advocates should respond with, “This is a tragedy,” but then re-frame it by asking, “Why is Hamas bringing children to a site where they’re violently attempting to invade Israel? Why are they using them as human shields? Hamas has turned Gaza into an armed terrorist camp,” Harris said. “They are the ones who bear a moral responsibility for this.”

He added that playing on people’s emotions is important. He noted that the anti-Israel crowd typically does this by naming Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces. But Israel advocates can play the same game, Harris said, whether it’s raising awareness about people who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists or highlighting specific individuals whom Israel has helped with its humanitarian work.

Harris listed five commandments that Israel advocates should abide by when debating: tell the truth, avoid ad hominem attacks, don’t generalize with overly broad statements, don’t use extreme rhetoric and focus on the desire for peace. For instance, Israel advocates shouldn’t make statements such as all Palestinians support terrorism or that all supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement like Hamas.

On the issue of BDS, Harris said that the movement’s call for a “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees is essentially calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, as doing so would result in Arabs outnumbering Jews, 9.5 million to 6.6 million, respectively.

Harris said there is inherent anti-Semitism in the BDS movement,citing as examples pro-Palestinian students at UC Davis chanting “Allahu Akbar” at Jewish students during a 2015 BDS resolution vote and BDS supporters calling for American Jewish musician Matisyahu to be removed from the 2015 Rototum Sunsplash festival in Spain for not endorsing Palestinian statehood.

“This is what all of us are fighting back against,” Harris said. “If the Jewish community doesn’t stand up for this, who will?”

UCLA SSI: Anti-Zionists Hijacked Intersectionality

Screenshot from Facebook.

UCLA’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter says anti-Zionists have hijacked the intersectionality narrative.

Chapter President Justin Feldman told around 30 people at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Feb. 28 that intersectionality is defined as where “oppressed people” who face racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, etc. “fight for their social justice separately as these forces interrelate and [create] ‘intersecting’ systems of oppression.”

Feldman argued that anti-Zionist organizations including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have stolen seven narratives regarding Israel and intersectionality. Among them was SJP comparing police brutality toward blacks in America to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Feldman cited New York University’s SJP chapter’s July 2016 Facebook post following the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, which stated, “Many US police departments train with the #IsraeliDefense Forces” and that “Palestinian liberation and black liberation go together.”

“Only senior commanders and staff actually go to train [in Israel], not patrol officers that are going around black communities in the United States,” Feldman said. He added that none of the police officers involved in the unjustified shootings of blacks in America were trained in Israel and crowd control methods were never discussed.

Feldman also said the United States has similar law enforcement partnerships with other countries, “ranging from Australia [and] Asia to Europe. To say that Israel, one country, is responsible for training American officers to brutalize black Americans in United States isn’t backed by fact,” he said.

The second stolen narrative, Feldman said, is anti-Zionists attempting to co-opt the civil rights. Feldman gave as an example a sign at a 2013 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade that read, “Stop $30 billion to Israel.”

Feldman pointed to a 1967 quote from King about Israel during the Six Day War: ‘The whole world must see that Israel must exist and has a right to exist and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.’

“Since the assassination of MLK by a white supremacist, many anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist people have been using his legacy as a means to fuel hatred against Jewish people and against Zionists, but most importantly against Israel’s right to exist,” Feldman said.

The SJP crowd also attempts to exploit the U.S.-Mexico border crisis, Feldman said, saying anti-Zionists claim that Israel’s border fence is a symbol of racist oppression, just like President Donald Trump’s attempt to build a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But this is “a false comparison,” Feldman said, arguing that Mexicans coming across the border are “not opposing any threat to civilian life in the United States. But in the Middle East it’s a lot more tumultuous.”

Feldman pointed out that before the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, Israel didn’t have any form of “security barrier,” and they only built one to stem the tide of Palestinian suicide bombings. He also noted that 65 countries have border fences and walls, including Arab countries like Lebanon with a “full concrete barrier” to deal with Palestinian refugees, which SJP never talks about.

“It’s astounding, it’s hypocritical, and it just goes to show how little regard they [SJP] have for Palestinians’ lives,” Feldman said.

Another narrative co-opted, Feldman said, is the treatment of Native Americans by “white European” colonizers as equivalent to how Israelis treat Palestinians. Feldman called this comparison “offensive,” stating that European colonizers committed genocide and spread disease against Native Americans. Jews, on the other hand, were frequently forced out of Israel throughout history, only to return to the land. “Israel’s the only country in the world that speaks the same native tongue as the indigenous peoples did 3800 years ago,” he said.

The anti-Zionist crowd, he added, also likes to accuse Israel of being an apartheid state. Under South African apartheid, blacks were in segregated residential communities, excluded from representation in the central government, and treated as “separate but inferior” under the law, Feldman said, adding that Israel does not treat its minority citizens like that and that most Palestinians living in the West Bank are under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The real apartheid, Feldman argued, is the anti-Zionists’ notion that “Jews have no right to live in their ancestral land.”

Feldman then said that anti-Zionists tend to appropriate the Holocaust, going as far as claiming that Anne Frank would have been pro-Palestinian, a sentiment that her own family has denounced. “That is absolutely crossing the line,” Feldman said.

Feldman pointed out that Adolf Hitler allied with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the Holocaust and that al-Husseini pledged to “provide SS troops from the Muslim world to Hitler’s militias.”

Ethnic cleaning and genocide can’t be applied to Israel, Feldman said, because “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where all the minority populations are going up and up.” The Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza are also increasing.

The final “stolen narrative” discussed was the idea that Jesus was a Palestinian, which Feldman said is a talking point stemming from the PA’s attempt “to deny Israel’s right to exist by distorting Jewish history.” Feldman highlighted Matthew 2:1 in the Bible, which states: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea.”

Feldman concluded the presentation by saying, “We can defeat woke-washing [appropriating social justice] and its effects on grassroots activism.”