June 26, 2019

Lost in Translation

The Tehran Grand Bazaar Photo from depositphotos.com

Forty years after the Islamic Revolution mercilessly pulled at Iranian Jewry like a powerful vacuum cleaner over a precious Persian rug — forcing us to rebuild our lives as immigrants or protected refugees — many in the Jewish community know what Iranian Jews have gained in the United States and what we have given back to this country.

From a local angle, one look at downtown Los Angeles, Westwood or Beverly Hills — at synagogues pulsing with chatty people, thriving businesses and startups — points to a community that truly has moved beyond survival to thrive, build, create and renew.

Yet, after 40 years of living in the U.S., Iranian Jews still haven’t acknowledged everything we have lost as we’ve sought to rebuild ourselves in this country.

I’m not referring to the lives, homes, possessions and memories we lost in Iran. Those hold their own spaces in the unfillable voids of our hearts and quiet yearnings of our dreams. The loss is hidden within a piece of ourselves — in a certain, simple humanity within us that often is muted amid the wonderful noise of an all-American life.

We all know what we gained by escaping Iran. Perhaps now it is time to ponder what few have dared ask before: How are we worse for it? Is what we have lost irretrievable, as we relentlessly push forward with our American dreams?

was raised in a home in post-revolutionary Iran filled with women, including my mother, both of my grandmothers and a multitude of aunts. Women were everywhere; from our living room, where they sat cross-legged on the Persian carpet and rolled up dozens and dozens of stuffed grape leaves together, to the backyard, where they hung freshly laundered shirts on the line to dry and warned children not to steal the clothespins and clasp them over their noses. They worked in the garden, pruning the fragrant red roses and throwing big handfuls of seed and grain into our dove aviary. In the kitchen, they huddled around giant pots of boiling meat broth and argued over who had the definitive Persian stew recipe, and tasted each dish that had been prepared, in a magnificent display of culinary competition and slightly devastating constructive criticism.

“Flora,” my favorite aunt, was apt to say to my mother, “Tabby’s too thin. She looks like a stalk of parsley. Feed her one raw egg mixed with chocolate powder every day.”

I love America, and I love being an American, but if I have any more personal space, I’m going to suffocate.

“Chicken fat is the best thing for scrawny children,” another aunt would chime in. “Everyone knows that. Flora, substitute chicken fat for oil and you’ll see a real difference.”

Finally, in a cold, firm voice meant to convey that as the matriarch who had seen everything, she was the ultimate authority on thin kids, my maternal grandmother would say, “That child needs [barbari] bread in the morning, full-fat yogurt in the afternoon and plenty of meat in the evening.”

I remember sitting on my mother’s lap, listening to many conversations like this and delighting in knowing that women not only are incredible and indispensable, but they truly know everything. I loved those women, and from the safety of our home, I was mesmerized by the sight of their luscious hair, which they (and I) were forced to cover in public after the revolution.

When I think back to my childhood in Iran, I remember much more than the nightmare of having lived as a young, female Jew with Ayatollah Khomeini in power and President Saddam Hussein’s Iraq waging war upon us from across the border.

I recall all those glorious women: the ones with fat calves and thin wallets; the ones who shared every secret, except for that one recipe that remained forever theirs; the ones who gathered together, raised children together, shared their loneliness about their marriages together; the ones who laughed, sobbed and complained together, yet weren’t fated to stay together because nothing rips at the heart of a family more than wars and revolutions.

Some of those women even came to this country, and I often wonder if they’ve ever experienced a day of real peace and comfort since — the kind that lets a weary soul rest, not the kind derived from luxurious couches, smooth cars or a Costco every 15 miles.

In America, we always confuse comfort with contentment.

Thirty years after those childhood moments I spent in the company of those women who loved me and defended me, held me accountable and asked more of me, I am raising my own children in America — in the company of seemingly no one. 

Today, I work part time from home and am blessed to be able to care for our toddler and infant. Yet I spend nearly all those moments — whether at home or at the supermarket — in solitude. I have all the freedom in the world to raise my children the way I see fit (my husband is at work every day) yet I grieve that my children will never know the glorious experience of having been raised by a group of vibrant women, as I was — even if that came with its challenges because the unsolicited advice my mother received from everyone else never seemed to end.

With some exceptions, American women are free to mother as they choose. However, Americans often forget why we’re free to raise our children as we wish: It’s because we’re almost always alone.

From teenagers who escape reality by shutting out parents and turning on phones; young men and women who struggle with drug addiction or mental health issues on their own because they’re afraid to tell family members; married couples who can’t reveal their infertility struggles without being deemed somehow defective; to any adult who still lives at home with his or her family, we’re all still alone, because there’s something about living in the U.S. that lends itself quite well to living — and struggling — on your own.

For a new generation of Iranian American Jewish mothers, the village that once raised children in Iran now is compressed into a local “mommies” group on Facebook. Even that can elicit guilt and shaming from total strangers who wonder in the form of a comment why you would ever let your child “have a rash like that for more than an hour.”

The entrance to the Tehran Grand Bazaar
Photo from depositphotos.com

In such instances, I truly miss having been raised by my grandmothers and aunts in Iran, who would have come up to my mother and said, “You know we love you, but for God’s sake, put some fenugreek and cold cream on your child’s bottom before she turns as red as the beets.” I long to hear such feedback from a know-it-all aunt who could visit me several times a week, rather than from “Debbie” in a Facebook mothers’ group.

The fact that many young women who stay home with their children usually are alone during the day also means they now have extraordinarily greater loads on their plates than ever before. “Tabby,” my mother observed last month as she watched me standing slightly crookedly in front of our kitchen counter, “you stand on your feet too much. When I was your age, I didn’t know what [body] pain was.”

She was right. For nearly a decade, she raised her two daughters with the help of my maternal grandmother, who cooked many of our meals; my paternal grandmother, who lovingly played with us for hours on end; and our many aunts, who slipped us a big bowls of pasta behind our mother’s back when she told us not to ruin our appetites with anything other than meat.

These days, my mother would like to help me but she knows mostly recipes for Persian food, which, however sumptuous, our toddler rejects because he’s discovered chicken nuggets. She struggles to read to him from our multitude of English-language books, and although she cannot pronounce Seussian words such as “wocket” and “nizzards,” she appreciates the books’ magical whimsy.

I understand all of those wonderful women who helped raise me in Iran were able to do so because they could afford to stay home, or because traditional Iranian society did not expect them to work. In the United States, a working woman is the norm. It would be unrealistic to demand I or anyone else be surrounded at home by a support network of people who have nothing better to do than to give us advice on how to persuade our children to eat right.

This is America; we all work and we all hustle. If we need creative ways to feed our children, that’s what Pinterest is for. But for some reason, arguing over chicken fat versus raw eggs and chocolate with my phone instead of a human being always falls flat.

Having a job may be stimulating and rewarding, but it doesn’t mean we still won’t feel alone. Individualism — that wonderful benchmark of the American spirit — can be just a stone’s throw away from solitude and isolation.

I am blessed to have several aunts within proximity to our home in Los Angeles, but I see them only a few times a year because of two of the greatest blessings-turned-curses in this wonderful country: Everyone here is perpetually, maddeningly busy, whether she is 5 or 65, and the indisputable reality of living in a country where everyone respects boundaries and no one wants to “intrude upon your time.”

I am raising my own children in America — in the company of seemingly no one.

The American emphasis on the individual and individual space not only is a foreign value in Iran, but all over the Middle East, including Israel, where a small family dinner at home often turns into a block party with neighbors, and friends arrive at one’s apartment uninvited but certain they’ll never be turned away because “it’s not the right time.”

Personal space is overrated, especially in this city, where one could spend an entire day driving and not talk to another soul. I love America, and I love being an American, but if I have any more personal space, I’m going to suffocate. 

The first lesson I learned about the U.S. came in the form of a Chicken McNugget. Immediately after landing at Los Angeles International Airport, our family experienced its first, true moment of American life: We found a McDonald’s, but because we’re Iranian, we became frustrated and overwhelmed at the sheer number of ways someone could make a sandwich. The same paradox of choice soon showed us that in America, there was more than one way to be Jewish, and that included deciding not to be Jewish.

We had never heard of distinctions such as Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or anything else when we were in Iran. If you were Jewish, you either were known to be more practicing or less practicing. That was pretty much it. No one quibbled over who was a “good Jew” because it was hard enough to ensure you were being a “good Iranian,” especially after the revolution, when the first Jewish casualty of the brutal, new theocracy was a generous philanthropist named Habib Elghanian, who was murdered for “being friends with the enemies of God,” a reference to the various charitable causes he supported in Israel.

In Iran, Jews lived as a minority without the option of disassociating from their Jewish identity and joining the majority, unless they wanted to convert to Islam. Even if they were less-observant Jews, as far as many in the greater Shiite population was concerned, they still were Jews — and Jews only. 

America simply doesn’t work like that. Here, we’re still a minority, but the only people who never let us forget that at our core, we’re Jewish — whether we’re Reconstructionists, Chabadniks or completely unaffiliated — are anti-Semites. Otherwise, it can become easy even for us to forget we’re Jewish.

Despite an alarming uptick in anti-Semitic incidents during the past few years, I believe the majority of non-Jewish Americans wouldn’t conduct business with a colleague or admit someone to an institution of higher education before thinking to themselves, “I wonder if he is a Jew?”

That wasn’t the case in Iran. For reasons ranging from last names that sounded Jewish to good old-fashioned gossip, everyone knew who was Jewish and who wasn’t. This meant Jews had no choice but to stay within their community simply because Iranian society was less apt to let them break out of it.

Until the turn of the 20th century, this separation was a physical one, as most Jews in Iran were forced to live in Jewish quarters, commonly referred to as the “mahaleh,” because they were believed to be so “najes,” or ritually impure, that they could contaminate the general Muslim population. Jews were banned from leaving their homes during the rain or snow lest their impurities get washed onto a Muslim.

Eventually, the walls of those ghettos wore away, and in the two decades leading up to the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Jews of Iran assimilated more into the greater population in that many embraced secular lifestyles and counted Muslim Iranians as close friends and co-workers. Yet the unspoken boundaries between Jews and the greater population still were alive and palpable. 

In Iran, Muslims define Jews; in the United States, Jews define themselves, and often this means they negate themselves because they reject any semblance of Jewish identity. It would only be a matter of time before some Iranian American Jews began to do the same.

Individualism — that wonderful benchmark of the American spirit — can be just a stone’s throw away from solitude and isolation.

“Daniel” believes he is “religiously homeless” but describes his situation with the kind of apathy most people normally reserve for choosing laundry detergent. He won’t set foot inside an Orthodox, Persian synagogue because it reminds him of everything he came to hate about it as a child. According to Daniel, this includes rabbis who try to “scare” congregants into observing halachah, or Jewish law, rather than inspiring them, and Hebrew prayers he cannot understand because he never had any formal Jewish education.

Yet, he cannot attend services at a Reform congregation because everything — from the melodies to the nerve-wracking silence of people praying rather than chatting — are too foreign to him. He’s also anxious that at any moment, a rabbi, informed by gossip, will pull him aside and try to convince him to end his two-year relationship with a young woman of Mexican descent who is not Jewish. He’s stopped attending inspirational talks on Jewish issues aimed at students and young professionals because none of these lectures has come close to the kind of passion and joy his girlfriend exudes when she talks to him about the amazing kindness of Christianity.

Would Daniel have faced such isolation and struggle had he been in Iran? Of course not. He would be living under an oppressive regime and scraping together enough money to buy his family some meat (the rate of inflation in the country currently is 51%) while cursing himself for not having tried to leave Iran sooner. He would have been miserable, but according to his mother, at least he would have made it to a few Shabbat services every now and then.

In America, we each received a second life, but the real question is: What are we doing with that life?

There’s a lot to be said for community, in all its forms: the elderly baker who made fresh loaves of barbari bread so elegantly that the dough almost seemed like an extension of his hands, and who always slipped you a little extra piece and gave you a blessing that your mother should have more healthy children; the kosher butcher who knew exactly what kind of meat you needed the day before Shabbat; the neighbor who heard your bitter screams and invited you to her home for a cup of a tea and a plea for you to be more compassionate to your emotionally detached husband. They were all there — in a land of blessing and curse — where you seldom locked your front door and always lived as a Jew, because society rarely allowed you the chance to identify as anyone else.

There’s a reason why most people — including Persians — prefer peacocks over pigeons. While pigeons annoy, peacocks display, and they display brilliantly. They often hide their true beauty until just the right moment, then whip it out in a fantastic show of lavish opulence. They remind me of a young Persian man who dresses humbly, then drives off in his shiny new Maserati, or every family who takes out a second mortgage on its modest home to fund a $700,000 wedding.

Were we like this back in Iran? A few of us were, but I believe we all had the potential to flaunt what we had — that is, once we were able to get our hands on something. That’s where America came in.

Twenty-five years before Facebook, Iranian American Jews were living in a way that elicited awe, respect and, yes, envy, which is exactly what many wanted. Then social media came along and made what used to be a glamorous wedding attended by 400 into an enviable wedding “trailer” film, shot overhead with a drone and viewable by 2,000 people who didn’t attend the wedding.

In the 1970s, my father asked if he could marry my mother. Technically, he didn’t even ask her; he stood before her and her family, in witness of his own family, praised my mother’s virtues and asked my grandfather for the privilege to marry her. In a way, it sounds backward and unromantic, and qualifies as the very definition of the collective as opposed to the individual.

Today in the United States, or at least in Beverly Hills, a wedding proposal is a very private moment, shared only by the loving couple — and a few photographers, videographers and perhaps a florist. After the happy news is announced via social media, there’s a flurry of congratulatory messages — hundreds of them — all delivered virtually.

In one instant, that private moment becomes publicly visible and with it, self-questioning begins. Parents see those images on Facebook and might wonder why their daughters still are single; wives click on a photo and are envious of the engagement ring in that picture; older folks feel happy for the bride and groom but might wonder why they were fated to endure such a miserable marriage. We all compare.

In Iran, Muslims define Jews; in the United States, Jews define themselves, and often this means they negate themselves because they reject any semblance of Jewish identity.

In Iran, especially after the revolution, miserable societal conditions overshadowed personal misery, whether in the form of an unhappy marriage or unfulfilled career goals. We had bigger fish to fry than feeling inadequate over the size of engagement rings.

In this country, we not only have the freedom and means to fry the fish, but we sit alone and chew on every single piece, often with a side of bitterness and ingratitude.

Ironically, we now have the opportunity to know more about others’ lives than ever before, but most of what we know — such as someone’s latest glamorous vacation — matters little, and we hardly see one another.

In America, we each received a second life, but the real question is: What are we doing with that life?

Are we working harder, driven by an obsession to give more tzedakah this year than we did last year, or by an obsession to have better devices this year than we did last year?

Are we desperate to be married so we can love and be loved and also ensure Jewish continuity and transmit 3,000-year-old values, or so we can have perfect photo ops and congratulatory messages from 800 of our closest friends?

Are we taking full advantage of America’s religious freedoms by choosing to actively live as Jews, or not holding ourselves accountable for whatever assimilation we believe inevitably will knock on our doors?

America is amazing in that it redeems and saves us but also allows us the opportunity to wholly lose ourselves. But do I ever wish I still lived in Iran? Never. 

I have bigger fish to fry.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker and co-founder of 30 Years After, which promotes civic action, leadership and participation in Jewish life among Iranian American Jews.

N.Y. Times Seen as Bad News for Jews

The New York Times remains the gold standard in world journalism, but its luster has been blemished by its own missteps over its long and ongoing run as America’s newspaper of record. That’s the point of “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016,” by Jerold S. Auerbach (Academic Studies Press), a study of what Auerbach regards as its sins of omission and commission when it comes to the Jewish state.

“Along the way, [publisher] Adolf Ochs’s enduring motto was inverted,” Auerbach asserts. “All the news ‘fit to print’ became news printed to fit New York Times’ discomfort with the idea, and since 1948, the reality of a thriving Jewish democratic state in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.”

As Auerbach points out, the Ochs and Sulzberger families, owners of The New York Times starting in the late 19th century, were assimilated Jews who were disturbed by “the ominous cloud of dual loyalty” that hung over the Jewish community in America. For that reason, it was a practice of the Times to use only initials for reporters whose first name was “Abraham,” including distinguished journalists whose last names were Raskin, Rosenthal and Weiler. And the heroic achievements of the founders of Zionism in the first half of the 20th century were “only occasionally noticed by the Times and invariably disparaged.” 

That’s a fact of history, of course. But Auerbach’s book is meant to persuade his readers that the Times has only gotten worse. He is unsettled by the editors, reporters and commentators who are responsible for the coverage of Israel. He argues that the Six-Day War sparked a renewed period of hostility toward “a triumphant Israel,” and he charges the Times with failing to meet “the challenge to provide fair coverage” to Israel’s first right-wing government in 1977. “His support for settlements in what had been Jordan’s West Bank elicited incessant criticism of Israeli ‘occupation’ that shows no sign of abating,” Auerbach writes.

The villains, according to Auerbach, include U.S.-based writers such as Thomas Friedman, Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof, op-ed contributors from Israel such as David Grossman and Ari Shavit, and the late Amos Oz, whom he blames for launching “a fusillade of criticism of Israel.” Auerbach is troubled by the fact that in 2015, then-Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren and reporter Isabel Kershner were “joined by Diaa Hadid, a Muslim advocate of the Palestinian cause who was hired in response to the Public Editor’s suggestion that an Arabic-speaking journalist would enhance Times coverage.”

 “Print to Fit” is a work of special pleading, perhaps best summarized by a blurb that characterizes the book as an effort to answer “the question of whether Jews should judge Judaism by the standards of The New York Times or the Times by the standards of Judaism.

Ironically, Auerbach himself has been a contributor The New York Times, and his author bio points out that one of his 11 books was chosen as a New York Times Noteworthy Book in 1976. He is Professor Emeritus of History at Wellesley College and served as a Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University. Yet “Print to Fit” is a work of special pleading, perhaps best summarized by Edward Alexander, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, whose blurb characterizes the book as an effort to answer “the question of whether Jews should judge Judaism by the standards of The New York Times or the Times by the standards of Judaism,” whatever Alexander (or, for that matter, Auerbach himself) understands by the phrase.

To his credit, Auerbach documents the sometimes nausea-inducing and heart-breaking record of The New York Times at various crucial points in Jewish history. He concedes, for example, that Adolf Ochs was “[a]nguished by the persecution of the Jews” in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, but he argues that Ochs “remained determined that the Times must not be identified as a Jewish newspaper.” As a result, the Times underplayed or overlooked the facts of the Holocaust even as Jews in the millions were suffering and dying, a policy that he rightly calls “an appalling dereliction of journalistic responsibility.” Not until 1944, he points out, did the Times begin to find space for the facts of mass murder, but even so, “[t]he horrors of Auschwitz never made the front page.”

Auerbach’s use of quotation marks around the word “occupation,” as quoted earlier in this review, is a clue to his method and his motive. He complains that the West Bank is “rarely identified as biblical Judea and Samaria” in the pages of the Times, and yet Auerbach himself puts quotation marks around the phrase “West Bank” as if the phrase were an artifact of propaganda. We are left with the impression that Auerbach would be more comfortable if the Times adopted the aspirational vocabulary of Likud instead of plain English words to describe the facts on the ground in the Middle East. Or, to put it another way, he objects to the hiring of a Times reporter whom he condemns as “a Muslim advocate of the Palestinian cause,” but he appears to lament the absence of Jewish reporters who are willing to act as advocates of the Israeli cause. 

So we are left with the painful question quoted above — should we judge the Times by the standards of Judaism? And, even if so, what standards of Judaism does Auerbach embrace? It’s significant that he finds “West Bank” to be an off-putting way to refer a geographical feature of the Jordan River, and he describes that place as “the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.” To some Jewish readers, the phrase he prefers is a cherished article of faith. For others, however, it may be an argument, but it is certainly not a phrase we should expect to find in a secular newspaper whose mission is to serve the American democracy.


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

Azerbaijani Muslim who saved thousands of Jews from Holocaust

Abdol-Hossein Sardari Qajar

When he began his diplomatic service in Paris, he was hoping to have a calm, unencumbered life as a diplomat in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

But very shortly after his arrival, this City of Love turned into a City of Hatred due to Nazi invasion. Many of his diplomat colleagues fled the city, including his ambassador. But he decided to stay in Paris – a decision that would change his life and the lives of thousands of others.

This was Abdol-Hossein Sardari Qajar, a diplomat of Azerbaijani descent from Iran. He belonged to the famed Azerbaijani Qajar dynasty who ruled Persia from 1789 through 1925. Following a long series of wars between Persia and Russia in the early 1800s, the historic territory of Azerbaijan had been divided between these two empires. Hence there is a large, 30 million-strong Azerbaijani community in Iran today. Sardari Qajar was a member of this indigenous Azerbaijani community of Iran.

Following his ambassador’s departure from Paris, the 26-year old Sardari Qajar was in sole charge of the Iranian mission there in his capacity as Consul General. This is when the hell broke out. Nazis and their French collaborators would search the country for each and every Jew to send them to death camps.

There were around 150 Jews from Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan (primarily from the city of Bukhara) in France. Once the northern parts of France were occupied by Nazis, these Jews presented themselves as ‘Jugutis’ to the collaborationist Vichy government and Nazi forces. Jugutis were Persian Jews who were practicing Judaism privately at home in Iran and were nominally shown in their official papers as Muslims.

In September 1940, the Nazi occupation forces ordered all Jews of France to register with the police. This is when Sardari Qajar understood he had to act. And act very fast. He sent a letter to the Vichy government arguing that Jugutis were actually well-assimilated Persians by culture and intermarriage and should not be considered Jews. He wrote:

“According to the study, the Jugutis of Central Asia belong to the Jewish community only by virtue of their observance of the principal rites of Judaism. By virtue of their blood, their language, and their customs, they are assimilated into the indigenous race and are of the same biological stock as their neighbors, the Persians and the Sartes (Uzbeks).”

By effectively arguing that Jugutis were also ‘Aryans’, hence racially akin to the Germans, Sardari Qajar actually beat Nazis in their own game.

After much persuasion, Sardari Qajar finally succeeded with his plan. When all Jews of France were forced to wear the yellow Star of David and 75,000 were sent to Nazi death camps, an exemption was issued for Iranian Jews. Moreover, Sardari Qajar started issuing new Iranian passports for Jews, without the consent from his government, which allowed them to leave Europe. This risky and selfless act of compassion saved around 3,000 Jewish lives as passports were issued for entire families and their friends.

Fariborz Mokhtari, the author of “In the Lion’s Shadow: The Iranian Schindler and his homeland in the Second World War,” noted: “[Sardari] started issuing these passports to Jewish Iranians because that was his main concern. But the Jewish Iranians had French or non-Iranian partners; some of them were married to non-Iranians. After he helped the Iranians, they went to him and asked him to help their friends. Sardari trusted the Iranians and therefore he trusted the people they introduced to him [and gave them] Iranian documents.”

Sardari Qajar’s life after the war was marked with many tragedies. He was devastated when the woman he loved and wanted to marry to – a Chinese opera singer – disappeared during her trip in China without a trace. He also faced much pressure in Iran in the early 1950s for “disobeying the government orders and overstepping his authority while in Paris”, eventually being forced to quit the diplomatic service and move to UK, where he passed away in 1981 in poverty.

He never sought any recognition for what he did. When Yad Vashem asked him in 1978 of his work in France, he answered: “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.”

In 2004, Sardari Qajar was honored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which has been home to many of the Jews he saved. Some other Jewish organizations have also honored and recognized this courageous Azerbaijani. I hope very much that the Simon Wiesenthal Center, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other Jewish institutions will finally do justice to Sardari Qajar, by properly recognizing his Azerbaijani heritage as well.

Considering the 2,000-year old peaceful co-existence of Jews with the Azerbaijani people, it is deeply meaningful that Sardari Qajar was of Azerbaijani descent. What Sardari did for Jewish people was a natural expression of who he was, and where he came from. He was cut from Azerbaijani cloth, made of courage and love for brotherhood that makes religion or ethnicity irrelevant. Sardari Qajar did what he was raised to do: respect and protect the sanctity of human life. Every human life.

As we see increasingly more ethnic, religious and racial hatred, engulfing different parts of world, stories like that of Sardari Qajar’s saving innocent people of other faith, risking their own lives, give us hope for the world where humanity trumps everything that divides the humankind.

Shaming Religious Fanatics

Every time terror strikes, a similar and logical drama unfolds. We express shock, outrage and revulsion at the level of human depravity, we grieve for the victims, we commit to fighting the evil of terrorism, and then we resolve to overcome the darkness of that evil with the light of human solidarity.

This is not just the right thing to do — it’s what we need to do.  

When the terrorist act is motivated by religious belief, as was the case with the horrific massacres in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, we are careful not to offend the religion as we condemn the evil of the act. That is also the right thing to do.

By now, we know that the bombings of churches and hotels across Sri Lanka, which resulted in 321 dead (as of press time) and more than 500 wounded, were carried out, according to local authorities, by a radical Islamist group (and perhaps a second) with help from international militants.

It’s worth noting that reactions from across the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds generally avoided mentioning the religion of the alleged perpetrators.

“There is no silver bullet when you deal with religious radicals who are willing to kill and die in the name of their God. But at the very least, we owe it to all past and future victims to look for ways to disturb their souls.”

“We denounce this heinous outrage and appeal for zero tolerance of those who use terror to advance their objectives,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a typical reaction.

“We are outraged by the horrific attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. … Such outrages cannot be tolerated in any civil society, and nobody should be forced to worship in fear. We hope that those who are responsible and those who aided and abetted them will be brought to justice,” Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Chairman Arthur Stark and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement.

Those statements could have applied to any terrorist act, regardless of motive.

It’s true that when the motive is fascism or racism or any motive not rooted in religion, we are less reluctant to condemn the ideology, as we saw with the recent attacks in Pittsburgh and New Zealand. But maybe because a disproportionate number of violent acts are committed in the name of Islam (including many against other Muslims), we are especially and justifiably sensitive not to paint all Muslims with that dark brush.

The question remains, however: Can we add something to our condemnation of religious terrorism that would deter such acts without offending a whole religion?

I realize there is no silver bullet when you deal with religious radicals who are willing to kill and die in the name of their God. But at the very least, we owe it to all past and future victims to look for ways to disturb their souls.

“Can we add something to our condemnation of religious terrorism that would deter such acts without offending a whole religion?”

One approach we have tried is to claim the terrorist has “hijacked” or “perverted” his religion. But because this is usually directed at the general public, it serves more to defend the image of the religion than to shame potential killers.

And let’s face it: Any fanatic who thinks he is doing God’s work by murdering innocent people — whether he is Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu — deserves to be humiliated.

You can’t shame a religious killer with secular talk; the only language he’ll listen to is the language of faith. Religious leaders of all faiths must speak directly to their own fanatics and show them why they are sinners. The point is not to defend a religion with the public, but to shame and potentially even rehabilitate fanatics who harbor murderous beliefs.

As part of that process, we ought to consider different labels for religious killers. It’s not enough to use obvious labels like terrorist or extremist or hijacker of religion. That just feeds into their pathologies.

One label I heard recently that may have some merit in diminishing the fanatic is “half-believer.” A religious killer may be a believer, but he is incomplete. He has a long way to go before he can be a true believer. Because of his violent ways, not only is he not superior to others, he is inferior. That is pretty sobering. 

I have no clue, of course, if any language can ever get the attention of a religious extremist who is drunk on certitude. Maybe the only real language is the blunt threat of physical violence or “bringing them to justice,” which must always be our primary options.

But what I do know is that every time a fanatic murders in the name of religion, all religions suffer. It’s up to each faith to take responsibility for their own fanatics. That wouldn’t necessarily eradicate terrorism, but it would help rehabilitate religion.

Defining Israel in Black and White

A Jewish Yemenite family in transit to Israel in 1949. Photo from the National Photo Collection of Israel

About seven years ago, as Israel’s newly arrived consul for media affairs in New York City, I had a memorable moment during a speaking engagement at a prominent congregation. After I finished addressing the audience, and right after Kiddush, an elderly man tapped me on the shoulder. “Young man,” he said, “it is wonderful to see Arabs who speak so favorably and beautifully about Israel.”

I was surprised, maybe even taken aback, but almost instinctively smiled and thanked him — in Arabic: “Shukran, sir. Israel is very dear to me.”

This was a teachable moment for me. This man — no doubt a loving Jew and one so supportive of Israel — could not associate the color of my skin with my Jewish roots. As if Jews came in white and white alone. It was then and there I realized that the problem of ignorance about Israel — which today feeds the animosity toward the Jewish state and makes room for false accusations to be heard and accepted — was not rooted solely in the malaise of the general public or non-affiliated Jews. It was a problem of the organized Jewish community in the United States, those who go to shul and temple and attend Jewish schools, yet who remain oblivious to the expansive history of half of the State of Israel’s people: the Jews from Arab and Muslim lands — Mizrahi Jews.

The Jewish organizational world is not homogenous, nor is it devoid of any mention of Mizrahi Jews. Various organizations have come into being over the years to share their incredible and largely untold story, from JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) to the Iranian American Jewish Federation, the younger group 30 Years After, and many others.

Within the non-Sephardic sphere, StandWithUs (my professional home from 2015-2018), as part of its curriculum taught in high schools and on college campuses, produced educational materials about the fate of Jews from Arab lands, their history and arrival in Israel. I am proud of our ability, during that time, to shine light on the history of the ancient Yemenite Jewish community. (It was a story that hit close to home. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents were Yemenite Jews, and their full story escaped even me, a direct beneficiary.) StandWithUs shared the incredible story of the Yemenite Jews’ arrival in Israel through Operation Wings of Eagles in 1948-1949, when Alaska Airlines planes with their courageous crew members brought them home after thousands of years in exile. But the story of that community does not only touch upon their plight at that time, when they were attacked and harassed by their Arab neighbors. Indeed, almost half of the Yemenite Jewish community made its way to Israel at the end of the 19th century out of sheer Zionism, following their dreams and yearning for their ancestral homeland.

Also, in Iraq, there was the Farhud, the June 1941 pogrom against the magnificent Iraqi Jewish community in Baghdad, during which hundreds of innocent Jews were killed, thousands were injured, and numerous Jewish homes were looted and destroyed. Authors such as Edwin Black made it their mission to remind the world of the Farhud, year in and year out, to Jews and non-Jews alike. Black wrote of his experience at a memorial event for the Farhud, held at the United Nations in June 2015:

While I was speaking to the packed room, a woman I did not know, sitting in the front row, slowly shook her tear-stained head in disbelief and muttered softly … barely audible … “I never thought I would hear these words in this building.” The woman, it turns out, was of Iraqi Jewish ancestry. The building was the iconic United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan. … Farhud in an Arabic dialect means violent dispossession. … The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of the Arab community in Mandatory Palestine, organized a blood-curdling massacre by Nazi-allied Arabs against Baghdad’s peaceful Jewish community on June 1-2, 1941. The ensuing mass rape, beheading, murder, burning, and looting spree was the first step in a process that throughout the Arab world effectively ended 2,600 years of Jewish existence in those lands. Ultimately, some 850,000 to 900,000 Jews were systemically pauperized and made stateless in a coordinated forced exodus from the Arab world. Many Sephardic Jews consider the 1941 Farhud, which murdered and maimed hundreds, to be their Kristallnacht. 

“Israel is an incredibly diverse place and includes so much more than just one ethnic “color,” as opposed to the scenario its adversaries attempt to portray.”

Not until 2014 did the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, designate Nov. 30 as the official day to commemorate the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, as 850,000 Jews fled their ancient homes in the Arab and Muslim world to find refuge in the nascent Jewish state. Tired and weary, many of them came carrying very little, if any, of their belongings. And there in Israel, alongside their brothers and sisters, they built a life. Refugees they were but are no more. Indeed, it was a unique achievement worthy of much praise and celebration on a global scale.

Israeli writer and author Adi Schwartz, in a May 2011 article, shed an interesting light on Israeli society as it struggled to acknowledge its own history as a refuge for those who needed it. “Zionism,” he wrote, “preferred to describe its vision in terms of resurrection and homecoming. The desire to instill pride into this national enterprise resulted in downplaying the clearest of historical justifications for the reestablishment of the State of Israel — the persecution of the Jewish People for generations. Acknowledging such a justification was perceived as an admission of inferiority.”

This struggle was evident in the discussions that took place from time to time dealing with the plight of Jews from Arab lands and the Middle East. As Schwartz wrote:

“Some of those immigrants, and their descendants, acknowledged their rights and defined themselves as past refugees, yet others fiercely objected to that definition. When member of the eighth Knesset, Mordechai Ben-Porat, presented a resolution concerning ‘the legitimate rights of Jews who had to abandon Arab lands,’ his speech was interrupted by a member of his own party, Knesset member Habib Shimoni, a native of Iraq himself as well, and proclaimed: “Jews are not refugees. They chose to arrive of their own volition.” In the course of a similar debate on the issue in the Knesset in 1987 around the definition of a refugee, an insinuated accusation surfaced, according to which Ashkenazi Jews attach this dubious title to Sephardic Jews only, whereas they define themselves only as Zionist pioneers. In the pursuing debate, Ran Cohen, a Knesset member of Iraqi descent, wondered out loud: “Are we refugees? I don’t feel like one. Can anyone say that we, Jews from Arab lands, arrived here only to seek refuge from harm, whereas the power of Zionism, the attraction of this land and the notion of redemption played no part at all?!”     

Indeed, Israeli society has had to come to terms with its past as a shelter for refugees, whether those refugees escaped from pogroms in Baghdad or Kishinev, Russia.

The issue of Mizrahi Jews became more central in the past decade as it was framed in the context of the political process between the State of Israel and the Arab world. This pertained to a specific topic that arose in the negotiations, relating to the property left behind by Jews who fled Middle Eastern countries and the rights of those Jews and their descendants to be compensated for their losses. Or, rather, the issue came about to equate those losses with those of Palestinian refugees, and thus create a zero-sum game that potentially could neutralize a key Palestinian claim — that of the rights of Palestinian refugees — and thus overcome a major hurdle and help propel the political process toward a desired solution.

As the Economist magazine reported in February 2014, “Much as Palestinian refugees and their offspring remember the orange groves and cinemas they lost in Jaffa when Israel was born in 1948, Jews who once lived in Iraq recite the qasidas — lyrical Arabic poetry — and recall the time when most of Iraq’s banks and transport companies were run by Jews. ‘Iraq has gone downhill since they forced us out,’ sighs a professor at a gathering of academics of Iraqi origin at Or Yehuda, a Tel Aviv suburb, slipping into Arabic: ‘Mubki, lamentable.’ ”

However, the narrative of Mizrahi Jews does not and should not exist only as a counterreaction to that of Palestinian refugees. It is much more than a bargaining chip on the table. It is a story very much worth telling. As mentioned above, Zionism drove many members of the ancient Yemenite Jewish community to arrive in Israel in 1881. Those early pioneers, who were lucky enough to survive the journey, faced difficulties upon arrival in the Land of Israel. They were rejected by some of their Ashkenazi brothers and sisters, who doubted their Judaism.

The ignorance did not end there. While Mizrahi Jews were many and present in Israel’s culture and everyday life, the country’s educational system for too long taught Western Jewish history to the letter while only slightly touching on the history of Mizrahi Jews, if at all. This lack of knowledge contributed to the marginalization of this important community in the overall Israeli narrative.

In response, the Israeli government has taken important steps in recent years to narrow the gap. Israel’s Ministry for Social Equality in 2016 allocated about $2.5 million in U.S. dollars for a special project to document the stories, heritage and history of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands. The goal is to collect personal testimonials from Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews — their lives before they made aliyah, their situation when they left or were expelled from their homes, and the story of their absorption into modern Israel. Upon announcing this national project, Minister Gila Gamliel stated: “This is not a uniquely Mizrahi interest but a national, Jewish and Zionist interest. From now on, the Jewish story will be more complete, and Israeli citizens young and old will get to hear, study and become familiar with both the Eastern and Western sides of the glorious heritage of the Jewish people.”

In addition, Israel’s Education Ministry set up a special committee on this matter — the Biton Committee, which recommended changes to school and university curricula to include more content about Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. This was followed by the Education Ministry’s announcement that it was creating a database of speakers who would come to schools to tell their personal stories to “perpetuate the heritage of the Jews of the East and Spain.”

However, Mizrahi Jews are not the only black Jews, as evidenced by The International Israelite Board of Rabbis, which describes itself as an organization “founded in 1919 that represents thousands of peace-loving black Jews who prefer the term Israelite because of its scriptural significance.”

In January, the American Sephardi Federation and the Morocco-based Association Mimouna hosted the Jewish-Africa Conference in New York. The conference not only claimed to strengthen ties between the mainstream Jewish community and Jews in Africa, but between white and black Jews, as well. Rabbi Capers Funnye, chief rabbi of the International Israelite Board of Rabbis and leader of the Chicago-based Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, participated at the conference. Funnye has undergone a conversion by Conservative rabbis and is bent on building bridges with the mainstream Jewish community. “It means a great deal to the African American Jewish community [and] the Jewish community of West Africa, because we’ve been a long time in saying we’re here,” Funnye told the Times of Israel.

Indeed, the dangers of ignoring non-white Jews flow far beyond the bounds of the Jewish state. The vocal anti-Israel camp claims that Israel is nothing but a colonial entity, a strange and malignant growth on the body of the Middle East. “White Jews, go home!” they shout. “You don’t belong here and you never did.” It was the infamous anti-Semitic White House reporter Helen Thomas who urged Jews to go back home to Germany and Poland (while ludicrously and insanely claiming that “Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street are owned by Zionists”). But we didn’t only come from Germany, Poland or Europe. We came from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algiers, Libya, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. While there, the Jewish community built glorious institutions, created beautiful customs, curated a wealth of Jewish wisdom, wrote books and composed delightful poetry. The literary marvels of Mizrahi Jews remain some of the most luminous gems in the Jewish book cabinet to this day.

The very idea that Jews hail only from Europe is a laughable notion, especially as the more recent waves of immigration to Israel have included our brothers and sisters from Ethiopia. Various operations in the course of the last few decades brought Jews from Ethiopia to Israel — black Jews who speak Amharic, a language that was, for the most part, new to Israel. Ethiopian Jews were welcomed to Israel with open arms, yet due to the special nature of that community and the cultural gap between them and modern Israel, absorption has not been easy and tensions are still felt to this day. While many younger Ethiopians are doing much better (not devoid of difficulties, of course, but a success overall), older immigrants sometimes complain of being isolated and left behind. And though mistakes have been made, not only in the case of Ethiopian Jews but also in the absorption process of others in the earlier days of the state, Israel’s future has always depended on the newcomers’ ability to integrate into a changing and dynamic society.

As so many already know (although not enough), Israel is an incredibly diverse place and includes so much more than just one ethnic “color,” as opposed to the scenario its adversaries attempt to portray. Take a walk in central Tel Aviv and a multitude of languages swarm your ears: Arabic, Russian, Yiddish, Amharic and, of course, Hebrew. Culinary treasures from Morocco, Libya and Russia fill the markets, where beautiful and fragrant spices from the Middle East appear before you like an ethnic rainbow.

“The issue of Mizrahi Jews became more central in the past decade as it was framed in the context of the political process between the State of Israel and the Arab world.”

The narrative of black Jews must not only serve as a talking point against the claims of the anti-Israel forces, it is crucial that we in the U.S. get to know it as part of Jewish history in its entirety so we can sustain the bond between the world’s two largest Jewish communities — in America and Israel. Getting to know each other is vital, and estrangement is a sure path to destruction and failure.

Author Daniel Gordis addressed this tension in a 2017 essay in Mosaic magazine:

Eurocentric though much of the Zionist narrative has been, at least half of Israel’s Jews hail from regions in which the European Enlightenment did not take root, where Western theological tropes never became the currency of religious discourse, and where Jews never openly rebelled against their tradition. One paradoxical result is that, for these Jews, religion is for the most part a more relaxed and “natural” part of life. Many Mizrahim comfortably call themselves Orthodox, attend Shabbat services in the synagogue, and then drive to the beach — behavior that can strike observant Ashkenazi Jews as utterly inconsistent or blatantly sacrilegious.

The sad truth is that the organized Jewish community as a whole, as well as the prominent Jewish organizations, are yet to seriously deal with and teach the history of half of the Jewish people in a profound and significant way. It’s definitely not enough to assign professional fundraisers to solicit support within those communities in Brooklyn, Great Neck or elsewhere. And make no mistake about it: If we do not take this challenge head on, others will.

In April 2017, an organization called Jews for Racial and Economic Justice held an event titled “Israeli Black Panthers, Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Solidarity.” Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions group, tries to do the same — spin history in their direction and “own” the Mizrahi Jewish narrative for their own nefarious purposes. Recently JIMENA, together with other Sephardic organizations, harshly criticized those attempts, stating that Jewish Voice for Peace  “tokenizes, appropriates, revises and explicitly lies about Mizrahi and Sephardic history and experiences in order to promote a hostile, anti-Israel agenda.”

The struggle to allow Mizrahi Jewish identity to emerge and shine means diving into the inspirational history of its communities. It›s about teaching their stories in schools, the same way other parts of Jewish history are taught. The more we fiddle, the more we fail. It’s time to change the texture of our fabric so that it fits the body wearing it.


Shahar Azani is a former Israeli diplomat, an author, public speaker and strategic consultant. 

AJC Launches ‘Listening Tour’ to Strengthen Muslim-Jewish Relations

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is working to deepen engagement with American Muslim communities, institutions and leaders by creating a listening tour.

The AJC opened a dialogue in Washington D.C. this week with leadership from Masjid Muhammad, the Nation’s Mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) among others.

Talking points included the joint battle fighting bigotry and hate crimes against Muslims and Jews, identifying and combating misperceptions and navigating intercommunal conversations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Stanley Bergman, AJC honorary president and Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC) national co-chair, and David Inlander, AJC Interreligious Affairs Commission chair, led the delegation.

“Jews and Muslims share traditions, values and culture, and in the United States, we both participate in a thriving democracy as religious minorities,” Ari Gordon, AJC’s U.S. director of Muslim-Jewish Relations, said in a statement. “We must learn to work through the tensions that threaten to divide us so that we can yield the fruit of working on a common agenda. This requires decisive action, but we must also listen, learn and understand what moves and disturbs our Muslim partners, even as we ask that they do the same about Jews.”

AJC leaders are also planning to visit American Muslim institutions across the country to inform AJC’s national leadership on the best ways to build bridges and partner with American Muslims.

In recent years, AJC has expanded its commitment to Muslim-Jewish relations by launching MJAC in partnership with ISNA and increasing outreach on the regional level.

In addition to their listening tour, AJC announced March 25 that they have partnered with the New Zealand Jewish Council to provide financial support to the Muslim community who was affected by the mass killing at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“The answer to those who traffic in hate, who perpetrate violence against houses of worship, must be unity, solidarity, and linked arms against evil,” AJC CEO David Harris said.

Imam Mohamed Magid, executive imam of the ADAMS Center, said in a statement, “Muslims and Jews need to stand up for each other when either group is attacked. We must also commit to fighting anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim bigotry as they appear within our own communities.”

Making Room for One Another: Muslims and Jews in the Days After Christchurch

Flowers and cards are seen at the memorial site for the victims of Friday's shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, March 19. REUTERS/Edgar Su

When the news of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand broke, I was in a room full of Muslims and Jews talking about Ilhan Omar. As a convener of Muslims and Jews working to build resilient relationships in Los Angeles, I am in a room like this at least a couple of times a month.

I want to tell you about this room because I believe we need to get as many of us into a space like this as soon as possible. The work will not go as fast as it needs to. It never does. And at the same time, as Rabbi Tarfon says in the Mishnah, “It is not for us to complete the work, but neither are we are free to desist from it.” Whatever work we can do, I believe, will make all of us stronger for whatever lies ahead.

By “the room” here, I don’t mean our physical location. Rather, I refer to the voices and hearts populating my living room Thursday night. It had been an especially rancorous couple of weeks in Muslim/Jewish relations. Some of the knottiest schisms between different parts of our communities had been splashed across the landing pages of news sites and opinion sections, and were discussed on nearly every political podcast I listened to for two solid weeks. Our issues were impacting national politics, with forces using Muslims and Jews as wedges against one another stoking fires. And some of that speech was dangerous speech – speech that incites violence.

Our team decided last Monday to give our alumni an opportunity to come together to share with one another how controversies surrounding Omar’s comments were impacting them. What did they need to be heard on? What did they need to hear from others? What were they angry about, curious about, scared about in this moment? It is often easier to avoid these hard conversations. And that is precisely the moment when it is essential to reconvene, reconnect and listen. To keep ourselves from retreating or from feeling that there are subjects standing between us as silent barriers, jeopardizing the authenticity of our relationships.

Alumni came together, some who hadn’t met before, representing a fairly wide political spectrum. Twice the number we were expecting. People spoke honestly about what was triggering them most. People witnessed different ways people experience antisemitism and Islamophobia different definitions, lines drawn in different places, different feelings and fears some ancient, and some from as recently as last week. People were able to speak and be heard. We had the opportunity to hear from everyone and use that as a springboard for deeper conversations in small groups.

At the end of the evening, we came together to hear what people were taking away. Multiple people from various perspectives described an “Aha!” moment in which they saw from the vantage point of the others what “dual allegiance” felt like when levelled at their community. There was not always full agreement about precisely where to draw the line. But there was compassion and deep acknowledgment. There was curiosity. There were new perspectives that might be shared across communities. And in the middle of digging into what Islamophobia looks and feels like to Muslims right now, one of our alumni checked her phone and shared the news coming from New Zealand.

And there it was.

On Friday, many of the same group and other alumni joined together at the Islamic Center of Southern California for a press conference and Friday prayers. The Jewish community showed up in large numbers, still fresh from the pain of Pittsburgh when the LA Muslim community showed up with such strength for us.

As I walked around this room, watching people I know and love assembling in this sacred space I saw tight hugs, felt tears fall on my shoulder, heard strong, supportive words – the solidarity we all need right now. I thought about the families mourning in New Zealand, and about my friends here in Los Angeles worrying about how to speak with their children, and how to keep them safe. And I was also thinking about all of us in the days after.

I was wondering this: on the day after, which of us in this room would dip into Islamophobia without realizing what we are doing? Which of us would dip into antisemitism without understanding that’s what we have done? Who will pass on tweets, op-eds, videos that in some way endanger the other’s community (and then, eventually, our own)? We all need to be able to identify when we are stepping over important boundaries. Because when we continue to move forward without thinking without really thinking about these questions, the harder it becomes to work against the more obvious forces of hate. And make no mistakemost of those forces right now will be just as happy targeting Jews as they will Muslims . . . and vice versa.

So, who among us will be dipping in without realizing it? The answer is probably all of us (at some point). Because, as members of this society and this world, we swim in antisemitism. We swim in Islamophobia. We need each other’s compassion. We need each other’s trust. We need spaces that allow us to be vulnerable enough with one another to begin to see our blind spots and to take in as much of the 360° as one might. This is what makes us stronger on the day after.

So find yourself a room. Make room for other’s perspectives. Fill some of that room with what’s at stake for you. And please make sure you are talking with people you don’t completely agree with. If you are a Jew looking for a Muslim to tell you what you already believe and not to challenge you you are not doing the work we need to be doing now. If you are a Muslim looking for a Jew to echo your beliefs and not to challenge youyou are not doing the work that needs doing. In the words of the Quran, “People, We have created you . . . as nations and tribes so that you may recognize each other.” (43:13)  Rabbi Tarfon urges us to keep going, even when we haven’t yet reached complete recognition or understanding. It will take more than a lifetime, but right now, our very lives might depend on it.


Andrea Hodos is the Program Co-director of NewGround: a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, and each year convenes fellowships for Muslims and Jews to build resilient relationships across Los Angeles.

Converging on Humanity

Peace

On Sunday, March 17, when I didn’t think the news could get any worse, I heard from my Egyptian friend Marwa Maziad, a scholar of international relations at the University of Washington. She messaged me a link to a Haaretz op-ed titled, “After Christchurch and Pittsburgh, U.S. Jews and Muslims Need Each Other More Than Ever.” It featured a photo from an interfaith vigil in Manhattan. A woman is holding a sign that reads: “Your Jewish cousins have your back.”

“We talked about cousins way before everybody else,” Maziad wrote. “I think it will happen this time.”

That morning, a Palestinian had killed two Israelis near Ariel, authorities said. Some Palestinians handed out sweets to celebrate. Also that day in Amsterdam, protesters with Palestinian flags turned their backs on a Dutch rabbi’s remarks at a vigil for the victims of the Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre. Two days before, Chelsea Clinton was verbally attacked by a group of psychotic New York University students, who accused her of causing the New Zealand terrorist attack because she dared to criticize Rep. Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism.

I wasn’t feeling very optimistic.

But Maziad persisted: “I’m optimistic because I believe things happen for a reason — and they eventually stabilize.” Tragedies like New Zealand “help to bring people together,” she said.

She sent me a passage from the Quran: “O mankind, indeed, We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another.” 

“People need to see themselves in the other,” Maziad wrote. “That level of familiarity will heal people — and help them converge on humanity. … Literally at the level of, ‘Oh, they have eyes and ears and hair and necks in the same places!’ Like babies, when they start examining the adults who are holding them,” Maziad explained. “That takes away from the demonization of all by all. Knowing one another becomes a life purpose.”

I told her that she was beginning to lift my pessimism.

“Optimism is a political act,” she responded. “We need to look for similarities even before we respect our differences. Also, just know that at the root of all things bad is fear. When that fear is addressed, peace will follow. We have one family legacy. One region. One God. If we go back to that as often as we should, there would be more peace.” 

I realized that what Maziad was saying converged with the philosophy of my Lebanese friend Imad. In line with positive psychology, Imad argues that there will always be toxic people and situations in our lives. The key is not to react to them — let toxicity happen without responding to it with anger or fear. If we don’t react, it will by definition become less significant. 

“We have one family legacy. One region. One God. If we go back to that as often as we should, there would be more peace.” — Marwa Maziad

It’s not a coincidence that I’ve gone through the hardest year of my life surrounded by serene Muslims. That closeness allowed me to grieve with them over New Zealand and inspired me to write about the current political situation with honesty and tough love. 

We can let negativity define our lives — and social media make that very easy — or we can choose optimism. Optimism does not mean ignoring reality. It means seeing it, understanding it, but then hoping and believing that the bad happens for a reason.

The Shabbat after the Christchurch tragedy, I invited my Muslim neighbors over to say a prayer after we lit the candles. Before we began, I told the kids — two Jews and two Muslims — that the man who is suspected of killing 50 worshippers in two mosques hated both of our religions.

No one spoke for a minute as that sank in.

My neighbor Saya and her son, Reese, recited “Al Fatihah” after we sang the blessing. Al Fatihah is the first chapter of the Quran, I learned. Its seven verses form a prayer, and many interpret its meaning — “the opener” — to refer to its ability to open a person to faith in God.

At the end, they said, “Amin.” 

“Did you just say Amen?” I asked. 

“Yes, we said Amin,” they replied.

Cousins, converging on humanity.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

L.A. Faith and Civic Leaders Denounce Attacks at Two New Zealand Mosques

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Photo by Ryan Torok

Showing solidarity with the New Zealand Muslim community reeling from deadly attacks on two of its mosques, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous and other civic and interfaith leaders denounced the acts of violence.

Appearing at a press conference at the Koreatown-based Islamic Center of Southern California, Garcetti said his role as a civic leader and his Jewish faith compelled him to show up to support the Muslim community.

“I come as a mayor and as a Jew to be here at the Islamic Center because every single time we see these moments, we know who we are and we are tested about what we are and what we believe in,” he said.

Around 100 people turned out to the press conference, where Brous called the shootings in New Zealand “pure hatred.

“I want to be very clear that this attack was perpetuated in the name of an ideology, the ideology of white supremacy, which is the cancer that threatens to destroy not only this country but our world,” she said. “This cancer that has wrapped itself around the spine of our nation, which we now export willingly to anyone who will receive it.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous and Edina Lekovic hug in a show of love and support between a rabbi and Muslim-American leader. Photo by Ryan Torok

At least 49 people were killed and 20 injured during the carefully planned March 15 attacks at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch and another place of worship in the suburb of Linwood.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called Friday “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

A Muslim weekly prayer service – called Jummah – followed, with an imam delivering a sermon focused on the tragedy.

Los Angeles Jewish Community Invited to Muslim Solidarity Event at Noon Today

MARCH 15: People attend a funeral ceremony in absentia for the victims of twin terror attacks on New Zealand mosques in Christchurch, on March 15, 2019 in Duzce, Turkey. (Photo by Omer Urer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In the wake of last night’s terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Los Angeles Jewish community is invited to a community-wide press conference and prayer service at the International Islamic Center of Southern California at noon. IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous will be among the speakers. The press conference will take place at noon, followed by a prayer service at 1 p.m.
The Muslim community rallied around the Jewish community following the Tree of Life shooting last October.  The Jewish community is now rallying around our Muslim friends.
The event will take place at the Islamic Center of Southern California – 434 Vermont Ave. Los Angeles, 90020

Religion and The Poetry of Order

The evening before I watched the new film “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” — a dialogue between religion critics Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz — our Yemenite neighbor, Saya, came to our apartment to light our seventh-night Hanukkah candles. I told her how the menorah had been in our family for more than 100 years and that the Hebraic script on it spelled out “Israel.” My 9-year-old son, Alexander, taught her how to use the shamash. “Everything has an order,” he told her rabbinically.

Having lived through a strict Muslim upbringing that included two arranged marriages, Saya now calls herself an atheist — as does Harris, who was born to a Jewish mother. In many ways I feel closer to Nawaz, who calls himself a liberal Muslim and sees no contradiction between maintaining a tough, rational mind and having a love for the poetry of religion.

At its core, that’s what the film, based on Harris and Nawaz’s 2015 book of the same name, is about: How to move forward so that both Muslims and non-Muslims can see that there doesn’t have to be a contradiction between the two. Saya rejected much of what she was taught as a child, including a fierce hatred of Jews, and therefore can come to our home to light our candles with an open mind and heart. Nawaz got to his place of understanding via a stint as an Islamist and his near-execution in an Egyptian jail. 

But instead of rejecting Islam flat-out, he seeks to reform it. How? First, by distinguishing between Muslims and Islam (conflation leads to bigotry); second, by distinguishing between the four types of Muslims: jihadis, who seek to create an Islamic caliphate through violence; Islamists, who seek to impose a caliphate through nonviolence; strict religious Muslims, who believe in following the Quran but don’t want to impose Sharia law on others; and secular Muslims. Most of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, Nawaz says, fall into the third group.

It is when the conversation turns to scripture that things get dicey. “Words are not infinitely elastic,” Harris says. You cannot simply ignore or reinterpret the more barbaric parts of the texts. “There will always be a temptation toward literalism, as well as a link between belief and behavior.”

“Dialogue is the only remedy. Without conversation we become more and more entrenched in our views.”

— Maajid Nawaz

Nawaz, who started the group Quilliam in 2008 to help make Islam compatible with liberal democracy, counters that Islamic texts should not be read literally: “I don’t accept that there’s a ‘correct’ reading of scripture; it’s open to myriad interpretations.” In some ways, Nawaz is trying to do for the Quran what the Talmud did for the Torah: show, for example, that some passages are metaphorical, not to be followed literally. 

“Nawaz is borrowing the very ancient (and very Jewish) tradition of interpretation,” said Rabbi Eli Fink, adding that Talmudic interpretation did not begin in earnest until 200 BCE and continues today. Still, though I am rooting for Nawaz wholeheartedly, he clearly faces an uphill battle.

Sadly, the battle is not just from Islamists and jihadis. “I was expecting pushback from Islamists,” Nawaz says. “But most disappointing is the opposition from those who call themselves liberal.” Nawaz coined the term “regressive leftist” to describe liberals who are so mired in identity politics that they end up losing all sense of morality, let alone rationality. 

Nawaz talks about how Islamists, when he was among them, would purposefully exploit the multiculturalism of the left. They once put up a poster on a campus in the UK that read: “Women of the West: Cover Up or Shut Up.” They snuffed out all opposition to the poster by calling university administrators “racist.” The poster stayed up — and spurred a murder. 

That tale alone makes this documentary worthwhile, although neither Nawaz nor Harris is under any illusion that it will solve every problem. But it provides a much-needed beginning. Their hope is to inspire nuanced dialogue.

“Dialogue is the only remedy,” Nawaz says. “Without conversation we become more and more entrenched in our views. And we need to give people permission to talk across ‘identity’ lines — you don’t need to be Muslim to challenge Islamist theocracy. That alone will lead to a less identity-driven — a more rational — conversation.”


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Pittsburgh Tragedy: Azerbaijan Extends Solidarity and Hope

Signs of support are being shown throughout Pittsburgh following last week’s deadly synagogue shooting. Photo by Alan Freed/Reuters

When I learned about the tragedy in Pittsburgh, I felt profoundly sad. Eleven Jews had just been murdered by a depraved anti-Semite; their lives ripped away in a sacred space, a synagogue, on the Jewish day of rest and prayer. For those lives taken, and for the mourners reeling from this tragedy, that Shabbat is truly eternal, and one man’s act of hateful violence is unconscionable and unforgivable. 

In my homeland of Azerbaijan, messages and sentiments of solidarity and prayers for the victims and their loved ones have been pouring out from every corner. In a letter addressed to President Donald Trump, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev wrote: “I was deeply saddened by the news of casualties as a result of an armed attack at a synagogue in the city of Pittsburgh. On the occasion of this tragic event, on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Azerbaijan, I extend my deepest condolences to you, the families and loved ones of those who died, and all the people of the United States.”

As consul general of Azerbaijan to the Western United States, I join my nation — a majority-Muslim country with thriving Jewish and Christian communities — in an outcry of support, solidarity and the most heartfelt condolences. As someone who has made Los Angeles a new home and has been privileged to become close friends with many Jewish leaders and organizations across California and throughout the United States, I reach out in total devastation as a friend and as a neighbor. To all of my Jewish brothers and sisters, my heart breaks for your loss and pain. I think of the many synagogues across Los Angeles where I have enjoyed celebrating Shabbat, and I think of the pain everyone is in, of how this tragedy is far too close to home.

“What happened in Pittsburgh is truly an assault on all people who believe in peace, because our values and our hopes are undeniably intertwined. “

Over the past six years, I have spoken to many shuls and organizations about the concept of multifaith harmony and respect, how it works in Azerbaijan, and how critical it is for communities across the United States and beyond; and how so many of us have shared this vision of peace that we know is possible. Clearly, our work is far from complete. We have so much yet to achieve together. 

My thoughts go out to my Jewish friends, colleagues and neighbors in Azerbaijan. I think of the synagogues and the hundreds of children of the Orthodox Jewish day school in our capital city of Baku, and I am thankful knowing that they are safe, that our national values and policies guarantee that safety every day. I am grateful that educating every child about the evil of anti-Semitism is part of the mandatory curriculum in Azerbaijan’s public schools, and that our society shuns it in its many forms. I think of the all-Jewish Red Town of Quba, where Jewish children walk proudly wearing kippahs, attending daily minyan and studying at one of the several shuls. 

I think of Jews across the world, and really all people of every religion, ethnicity or creed, and the blessing of each day that we walk safely through this tumultuous world. What happened in Pittsburgh is truly an assault on all people who believe in peace, because our values and our hopes are undeniably intertwined. 

The hatred of Jews hurts everyone, just as the hatred of any group of people is a sickness that affects our entire world; a revolving phenomenon of bigotry, racism and xenophobia that comes in many forms and leaves the same lasting mark wherever it exists. My condolences also extend to every victim of terror, to the many Muslims and Christians who were murdered by terrorists because of their faith. I think of the hundreds of lives lost in Khojaly in Azerbaijan, and how Jews and Muslims were killed side by side by invading forces in Karabakh, simply for being Azerbaijani. 

The loss of 11 precious lives on Oct. 27 signifies the same prejudice that has plagued our world for millennia. Whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or a member of any other group found under the sun, we all deserve a world that is free from such destructive and inhumane tendencies. We all deserve a world that is free from anti-Semitism or any other version of hatred.

I hope that with our collective perseverance and an ever-increasing measure of time, the movements of hope, peace, respect and love for each and every fellow human being will outshine and overwhelm the forces of hatred and evil. And I believe we must do more than hope. We must act boldly and exhaustively in our policy, our schools, our daily practice and in how we treat one another. We must unambiguously stand against all forces of prejudice in the world, so that we can one day know a world without hate. A world that truly embodies “never again.”


Nasimi Aghayev, based in Los Angeles, is consul general of Azerbaijan to the Western United States and dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps.

Israel’s Intermarriage Paradox

Lucy Aharish and Tzachi Halevi pose for a photo at their wedding party in Hadera, Israel, on Oct. 11. Photo by Meggie Vilensky/Reuters

Two Israelis get married. An everyday occurrence but in this case, both Israelis are celebrities; one a TV journalist and personality, the other, an actor. So the wedding is national news. Also, one, Lucy Aharish, is a Muslim — the other, Tzachi Halevi of TV’s “Fauda” fame, is Jewish. 

Intermarriage in Israel: The fewer you have them, the more noise you have. A Jew and a Muslim cannot legally marry each other in Israel. But Israelis long ago found ways to circumvent laws they dislike, especially laws that attempt to impose rabbinic dictates on them. A Jew and a Muslim rarely marry each other in Israel. 

After the celebrated wedding, a Member of Knesset from the Likud Party released an ugly comment, denigrating the couple. A pushback was quick and harsh. Aharish is a charming and beloved public figure. She is sharp-tongued, patriotic, pretty and honest. It is easy to understand how an Israeli-Jewish actor fell in love with her. Still, a debate ensued about the issue of intermarriage, revealing a wide array of views. And at the heart of this issue, a paradox.

Here is it: 

The sector that most opposes intermarriage — the religious right — is also the sector that most opposes separation from the Palestinians in the West Bank. In fact, the sector opposes intermarriage but also opposes creating the conditions that reduce the incidence of intermarriage. 

On the other end of the political spectrum, the people least concerned about intermarriage are those most inclined to separate from the Palestinians, hence reducing the interaction of Jews and non-Jews between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean.

Interesting, isn’t it? If you are concerned about intermarriage — or better understand that although marriage is a complicated, personal decision, but that for Jews, a high number of intermarriages is a problem — wouldn’t you strive to have a clear Jewish majority in a well-defined territory? The inconsistency of the religious-right position is noteworthy. And even more noteworthy is the reason for it.

In fact, there are two reasons. The first is that the religious right doesn’t understand the society in which they live. The second is that objection to “intermarriage” in Israel is more about nationality than it is about religion. 

“Objection to ‘intermarriage’ in Israel is more about nationality than it is about religion.

Beginning with the first undercurrent that creates the paradox, members of the religious right do not understand that for many centrist, leftist and mostly secular Israelis, intermarriage is hardly a demon. Consider this: Self-defined “totally secular” Jewish Israelis prefer that their relative will marry a non-Jew over him or her marrying a Charedi Jew. 

Consider this: A clear majority of Israelis support the idea of establishing civil marriage in Israel knowing full well (at least, most know) that this creates a legal path to intermarriage. In other words, one of the reasons why the religious right doesn’t see the contradiction between greater Israel and objection to intermarriage is its assumption that most Israelis will behave like a member of the religious right, that is, refrain from intermarriage even in a highly diverse society. This is a false assumption. Jewish Israelis, given the opportunity, will intermarry in high numbers.    

The second undercurrent makes the religious right’s assumption seem somewhat more rational. Consider this: According to a recent survey by Jewish People Policy Institute, Jews in Israel have a much higher objection to a “close relative” marrying an Arab than to a “close relative” marrying a non-Jew that is not Arab. The difference is stark — not merely a few percentage points. The percentage of Jewish Israelis who would be “shocked” if a relative married an Arab is double the percentage of Israeli Jews who would be “shocked” if their relative marries a non-Arab gentile. In other words, objection to intermarriage — common among most sectors of Jewish Israelis — is much more about national identity that it is about religious norms. 

With these numbers in mind, the religious right’s position seems less contradictory. It is not worried about intermarriage in a greater Israel — in which many Muslim Palestinians reside — because it knows that Jewish Israelis object to marriage with Arabs, not for religious reasons, but for national reasons. Alas, such objection depends on specific circumstances. It depends on circumstances of ongoing national conflict. In other words: for the religious-right position to have merit, the conflict with the Palestinians must never be resolved. 

Or else. 

Intermarriage in inevitable. Some leftist-secular Israelis might not care to have such an outcome, but religious-right Israelis do care. Hence, an unresolved paradox. 

Religion in an Uber

I love a cocktail, and because I am a complete lightweight, I use Uber. It is easy and inexpensive, as long as they don’t nail you with their bogus surge pricing. Important to note that if you book an Uber and it cancels on you, then you rebook it 30 seconds later and there is surge pricing, complain to them because that is both lame and unethical. This however is not a blog about Uber pricing, but rather about my recent Uber driver.

If you are interested in people’s stories, talk to your Uber driver. I have met some wonderful people while riding in their cars. I’ve been driven by a Drake lookalike who was so handsome I stuttered when we spoke. There was a grandmother making extra money to help her single mom daughter, who was so great I moved to the front seat. There was a woman who is raising 9 children and drives to get a break from her kids. Uber is great.

Saturday night I went out for dinner with a friend. He drove to my place and we took an Uber to sushi. When we got in the car there was something in Arabic playing and didn’t sound like music, as much as chanting, so I asked if he was listening to prayers, because that is what it sounded like. He told me it actually was prayers, I told him they were beautiful, and somehow we went from prayers to not all Muslim’s being extremists.

I’m not sure if my positive reaction to the prayers made him open up, but he felt compelled to say not all Muslim’s were bad, and many speak out against extremists who are bringing harm to their faith. He wanted me to explain to him why the media never talks about the brave few who are willing to speak out. I didn’t have an answer, which I think made him sad. I appreciated that he wanted to be heard, and felt bad the ride was so short.

We live in a time when it is difficult to be a lot of things. Life has levels of complication when you are gay, black, Jewish, or transgender, to name just a few. It makes me happy when people are proud of who and what they are, so it was great that this man was comfortable enough to play prayers for strangers. He asked me at one point if I was Muslim, and I said no. I didn’t tell him I was Jewish, which I am ashamed of.

I’m not sure why I didn’t say I was a Jew when he asked me if I was Muslim. I’m not sure why I would even have said I was Jewish in that moment. I am proudly and openly Jewish. I say openly because I have many Jewish friends who are quiet about their faith.  It struck me as odd that I would choose this moment to be quiet and not share. I respect his bravery, but am sad for thinking it requires bravery to speak of religion.

Religion has always been something we need to be careful with I suppose. It brings people together, and tears them apart. If fuels love and hate on both small and epic levels. At the end of the day I’ll continue talking to Uber drivers, because connecting to a fellow human being matters, and exchanges about religion can be enlightening if we allow them to be. Sometimes talking to a stranger inspires you to keep the faith.

 

Israeli, Muslim Women Team to Fight for Equality in Hollywood

From left: Lee Broda, Shani Atias, Noa Tishby, Azita Ghanizada. Photo by Gerri Miller

Stories of sexual misconduct and abuse, workplace discrimination and pay inequality have dominated the headlines recently, drawing attention to issues women face every day in Hollywood. But for women of Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian heritage, there are additional issues of stereotyping and racism that make getting ahead that much harder.

Women Creating Change hopes to counter that through networking, creative collaboration and bridging the long-standing divide between Jews and Israelis on one side and other Middle Easterners on the other.

The new organization, founded in June by Israeli actress-producer Lee Broda, held its inaugural event on Nov. 18 at Los Angeles Community College, featuring a panel discussion, workshops on writing and branding, as well as one-on-one mentoring sessions.

“It’s one thing to talk about empowering women and another to actually make it happen,” Broda told the Journal. “We’re bringing the Arab-Muslim and Israeli-Jewish worlds together to create opportunities, refer each other, hire each other. We’ve connected writers with producers. There already are results.”

Broda acknowledged that “there are issues on both sides” that may make it uncomfortable for some Israelis and non-Israelis to work together at first. “But just by understanding and talking about it, we can be a voice and show our communities that it is possible to find common ground. It’s a small shift that we’re making, but we’re hoping it will trickle down,” she said.

Israeli actress, singer and activist Noa Tishby (“The Affair,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”), the daughter of a feminist mother whose father was Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, never faced discrimination as a young actress in Israel. “It never occurred to me that women can’t do the same things men can,” she said on the panel. “Then I moved to the States, and people wouldn’t even take meetings with me because I’m Israeli and a woman. It was shocking to me.”

Tishby talked about being bumped from a project she created and said she’s been “humiliated and propositioned” in the past. Nevertheless, she said, “It’s important that we acknowledge the difficulties. We will not win all the time. It’s going to continue to be hard. But we should not shy away from trying.”

“We will not win all the time. But we should not shy away from trying.” — Noa Tishby

Actress Azita Ghanizada (“Alphas,” “Complete Unknown”), who was born in Afghanistan, has often faced negative ethnic stereotyping in her acting career. But the Jewish creators of “Alphas” changed her character from Chasidic to Muslim when they cast her. And the character she plays in the forthcoming “Kilroy Was Here” originally was written as Latina but is now a Muslim. She sees both “small steps” as a victory for diversity and inclusiveness.

Ghanizada is encouraged that filmmakers like Ava DuVernay “see things through a differently colored lens” and believes Women Creating Change “is a step in the right direction. It creates an open dialogue between women from different regions of the world,” she said. “We have similar stories based on common threads of how we grew up and what we struggle against. There are way more similarities than differences created by politics and religion.”

Moroccan-Israeli actress Shani Atias, who has a recurring role on “Ten Days in the Valley” (returning to ABC on Dec. 23) will appear in the Starz series “Counterpart” in January. The younger sister of Moran Atias (“Tyrant”) will play the title role in the biblical movie “Jezebel” and star in “The Color Red,” a short film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She’s a founding member of Women Creating Change.

“With SAG-AFTRA, Women in Film, and other great organizations backing us up, we’re already one step ahead of the game,” she said. “The next step would be passing laws and regulations that [state] you have to hire a certain amount of women, and that women have to get paid equally. It has to start with us.”

How My Muslim Journey Led Me to Study Jews

I never envisaged that my life journey would take me to study the Jews of my southern Moroccan oases and North Africa. Growing up as a practicing Muslim in a Moroccan village, I never could have imagined that I would, one day, do research with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Vichy and Nazi policies in North Africa, or that I would become affiliated with the UCLA Center of Jewish Studies, one of the oldest centers in the United States, and become a member of the Association for Jewish Studies.

How did this happen to a Muslim Moroccan boy?

One starting point is that I experienced discrimination in my youth. In southern Morocco, where I grew up, race is a factor in determining social and economic status. The Haratine, who have a darker skin color and are seen as socially inferior, farmed lands owned by the local Maraboutic families known as Shurfa (historically light-skinned). For decades, my father served these families as a day laborer. I grew up affected by this.

When I began my research on Jews, on a few occasions I was called a Falashi (Black Jew from Ethiopia), signaling that I was not only breaking rules by studying Jews but also highlighting my lower social status as a dark-skinned Muslim.

But the more I learned about Jews and the more opposition I received, the more I wanted to continue. Maybe subconsciously, I identified with the foibles of a minority. But there was something else: I also was moved by the deep attachment that Moroccan Jews have for their Moroccan heritage and the positive feelings toward Mohammed V as a righteous king for protecting Jews during World War II. This helped me persevere and overcome personal and professional obstacles.

Still, I have to say I got lucky. My parents, illiterate and with no comfortable income, raised a family of four sons and four daughters on subsistence farming and herding. Having a child who would end up earning a doctorate in socio-cultural anthropology in the United States was never part of their agenda. But I was always thirsty for knowledge, and my educational ambition got the attention of some prominent people in Morocco. Their support gave me my first break and my perseverance did the rest.

In my first year in graduate school at the University of Arizona, I struggled to come to terms with the option of specializing on the Jews of Morocco. I knew that going back home with a degree with a limited audience would be a big risk, especially in the context of a negative political environment over the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

What kept me going was becoming immersed in the amazing story of the Jews of Morocco. Moroccan Jews worldwide represent one of the largest Jewish communities of the Arab world. Despite the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of them remain deeply connected to their Moroccan homeland. While fewer than 4,000 Jews currently live in Morocco, Jewish shrines and cemeteries are protected and maintained by the local Arab population and the government.

In my studies, I wanted to tell a Muslim story about living with Jews as neighbors. My book, “Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco,” was an attempt to describe Jewish life in the southeastern Moroccan region based on Muslim generational memories. I tried to make the point that, in Morocco at least, you cannot study Jews without factoring in Muslim participation in Jewish life and Jewish-Muslim relations. 

The Moroccan Jewish tradition of Mimouna — in which Jews create a magical neighborhood feast on the last night of Passover — is a good example of the relationship of mutual respect and co-existence that existed, and continues to exist, between Muslims and Jews.

As a historical anthropologist, I was exposed over the years to strong cultural connections between Moroccan Jews and Muslims. Attending Shabbat dinners, I recognized Moroccan cuisine that I enjoyed at home. Visiting synagogues in Marrakech, France or Los Angeles, I heard sounds that reminded me of recitation of the Quran in the mosque. Researching a shrine such as Baba Sale in Netivot, Israel, I remembered the days when my village would travel to Muslim shrines.

I have come to recognize that in their language, food, music and rituals, many Moroccan Jews have preserved their Moroccan identity, no matter where they live. As I continue my research, it is this deep cultural connection, above all, that will nourish my journey. 


AOMAR BOUM is associate professor and vice chair of undergraduate studies in the anthropology department at UCLA.

Burma’s response and the world’s obligation

Rohingya refugee children gather on a truck in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Sept. 28. Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

More than 400,000 out of 1 million Rohingya Muslim minorities in western Burma had fled to Bangladesh within three weeks in late August and early September after the Burmese government army launched what is called “clearance operations” against Muslim militants.

On Aug. 25, the Muslim militants known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) — led by Attaullah Abu Ammar Jununi, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Saudi Arabia — launched a series of attacks against 30 police outposts in the Maungdaw region in Burma’s Rakhine state. In response, the Burmese army launched an operation that became an international issue that was discussed at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Rakhine, one of Burma’s poorest and most isolated states, now is known by the world. Bangladesh has to host 420,000 refugees from Rakhine while the U.N. provides aid to them. The United States announced it would provide $32 million for humanitarian aid for the refugees in Bangladesh and displaced people in Rakhine.

More than 70 years after the Holocaust, the United Nations and world leaders have accused Burma of ethnic cleansing and called on the government to stop the army from continuing its so-called clearance operations. The British government halted training with a group of Burmese military officials in England and sent them back to their country, and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Burma and said the attacks on the Rohingya people amounted to “genocide.”

Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bangladesh said the Burmese army and local Rakhine nationalists burned down their homes and killed the Muslims they found. They said members of the army raped Muslim women.

Despite criticism from world leaders and the international media, the Burmese government has a different perspective about the Rohingya and defends itself. On Sept. 19, Burma’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, addressed diplomats, representatives of international nongovernmental organizations, and foreign and domestic journalists in the capital city of Naypyidaw. She said she wants to find out why many Muslims have fled to Bangladesh even though there were no clashes or military operations since Sept. 5. 

However, journalists who visited the  conflict-torn Maungdaw region on Sept. 7 said they heard gunfire and witnessed arson being committed in the region.

Suu Kyi recognized that there has been much concern around the world with regard to the situation in Rakhine.

“It is not the intention of the Burmese government to apportion blame or to abdicate responsibility. We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” Suu Kyi said, without mentioning the Burmese army operation that killed about 400 people, mostly Rohingya Muslims.

Burmese government officials deny allegations made by world leaders, saying there has been no ethnic cleansing. They also blame the international media of taking the side of the Rohingya Muslims.

More than 70 years after the Holocaust, the United Nations and world leaders have accused Burma of ethnic cleansing and called on the government to stop the army from continuing its so-called clearance operations.

The government’s information committee even released a statement warning some media organizations that don’t use the term “terrorists” as it has instructed. Media that use “Rohingya,” the unwanted terminology among government and nationalists, were verbally attacked. The committee even has warned that legal action will be taken against media outlets that don’t follow the instruction. 

Talking with a wide range of Burmese people, from ordinary citizens to government officials and generals, it is apparent that anti-Muslim sentiment is an open secret in Burma. And the Rohingya people, who are seen by a majority of Burmese as immigrants from Bangladesh, are unwanted. They have been denied citizenship and basic rights — such as freedom of movement, education and health care — for decades. 

The ARSA attacks succeeded in getting the Rohingya issue on the agenda at the U.N. General Assembly. But the image of Burma has been damaged as its government, army and Rakhine nationalists responded emotionally and unwisely, targeting not only ARSA militants but also driving out 420,000 unarmed Muslim civilians, 40 percent of the entire Rohingya population in the state. The persecution of Rohingya Muslims is alarming, and Burma’s issue has become one to which the world has an obligation to respond.

The world should act urgently to stop the Burmese from driving the Rohingya Muslims from their country. The U.N. also should take punitive actions, such as its Responsibility to Protect provision, and influential nations around the world should consider imposing sanctions against Burma.

Nations that sell weapons to Burma should suspend further arms deals. International human rights bodies also should investigate allegations of mass killings and gang rape allegedly committed by Burmese security forces during military operations.


ROGERS PEN is a pseudonym of an experienced Burmese journalist based in Yangon who fears retribution for expressing these views. 

Why some Jews still support Trump

Illustration by Steve Greenberg

Watching President Donald Trump equivocate during his criticism of the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., many liberal Jews saw a new low for an administration they felt never occupied high moral ground in the first place.

But many of Trump’s most ardent Jewish supporters had an entirely different reaction, responding to his freewheeling commentary with little more than a shrug, as if to say, “What’s the big deal?” To them, criticizing Trump for a lack of moral clarity because he failed to single out neo-Nazis for condemnation was just another example of the liberal media and the Democratic establishment blowing his comments out of proportion.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis,” said Warren Scheinin, a retired engineer in Redondo Beach. “He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

For right-leaning Jews in the Southland like Scheinin, who have stood by the president so far, the media rather than Trump or even neo-Nazis pose the greatest threat to American democracy. To many Trump supporters, if Charlottesville mattered at all, it mattered far less than his promises to reverse the course of the previous administration at home and abroad, especially on difficult issues involving Israel, North Korea and immigration.

While it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of Jews who still support the president, it’s likely small. More than two-thirds didn’t vote for him in the 2016 election.

Among all Americans who cast ballots for Trump, however, many apparently continue to stand by him. A CBS News poll found that 67 percent of Republicans approved of his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a separate poll this month by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., 41 percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the president. Of those, 61 percent said nothing he could do or fail to do would cause them to change their minds about him.

Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles who researches Jewish political sentiment, said it is difficult to measure how many Jews continue to enthusiastically support Trump rather than merely accept his leadership.

“For those who are in bed and comfortable with him, and even with his quirks and his inconsistencies, there’s little that will push them away from him,” Windmueller said. “But for those who are troubled by at least some of his statements and actions, I think they’re simply hoping for some way out of this nightmare.”

Windmueller pointed to a “credibility gap” between those who put their faith in Trump and those who trust mainstream media outlets.

“Whatever he said, the media would twist it,” said Alexandra Joans, 66, a property manager in Tarzana who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries but shifted her support to Trump once he became the nominee. “If he said today was Friday, they would say, ‘You’re a damned liar, you should be impeached.’ ”

President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

 

Benjamin Nissanoff, 45, the founder of a line of body-care products who lives in West Los Angeles, said the media are quick to label Trump a Jew hater, but they didn’t criticize President Barack Obama when, in an interview with Vox, he did not denounce a 2015 attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris as anti-Semitic. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Obama said: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community.” However, he did not refer to anti-Semitism in the Vox interview.) 

“The media not only didn’t challenge [Obama] on it, they defended him against it,” Nisanoff said. “To me, that is almost an equivalent, analogous situation. Where this president, in my opinion, made a gaffe and — instead of defending him like they did for Obama — they went on offense and they attacked him for a poorly worded and phrased condemnation.”

For some Jewish voices that have defended Trump in the past or stayed silent while others attacked, the president’s comments on Charlottesville seemed to cross a line. But that put them out of lockstep with his base among conservative Jews.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January, said he wished that Trump had been a more effective communicator at a time of crisis.

“If he was concerned there not be any violence at the demonstrations, he could have said, ‘I appeal to all Americans to obey the police and not violate any of the rules,’ ” Hier said. “But instead, he seemed to draw a moral equivalency between perpetrators and victims.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which praised the president when he appointed a diplomatic amateur, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel, and withheld criticism when he failed to mention Jews in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, spoke out against his Charlottesville comments.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis. He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

Responding to Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests, the group’s national chairman, Norm Coleman, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Matt Brooks, its executive director, contradicted him in an Aug. 16 statement, saying, “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the [Ku Klux] Klan.

“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” they wrote.

But other Jewish Republicans saw nothing objectionable in the president’s comments, only the backlash that ensued. After the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, a group of 16 lawmakers in Sacramento, rebuked Trump for his comments, the only Republican member, State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County, resigned from the caucus.

In an Aug. 17 statement, the caucus said Trump “gives voice to organizations steeped in an ideology of bigotry, hate and violence.” Stone fired back hours later with a statement of his own, saying the caucus “receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.”

Carol Greenwald of Maryland, co-founder of the grassroots group Jews Choose Trump, who supported him throughout the 2016 campaign, dismissed the criticism from organizations like the RJC.

“They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” she said. “They didn’t support Trump for a minute during the campaign.”

She sees the fallout from Trump’s Charlottesville remarks as part of a crusade by the media aimed at damaging the president.

“They ran out of the Russian collusion [story], that Trump is a traitor, because there’s obviously no evidence for it, and so they’re now trying to destroy his presidency by saying Trump’s a racist,” she said.

Scheinin also believes Democrats are running with the Charlottesville story to damage Trump.

“The only reason he’s being harassed about it is because the left loves to harass the president,” he said.

Counterdemonstrators attack a white supremacist during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 

The former Northrop Grumman engineer agreed with the president that both sides in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence.

“I don’t know why people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the media coverage. “If the counterprotesters hadn’t showed up, nobody would have been killed. It would have blown over.”

Like Joans, Greenwald and others interviewed for this story, Scheinin said he sees far-left groups such as antifa, known for its use of violence to intimidate conservative speakers and protesters, and Black Lives Matter, which has equated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with genocide, as more of a threat to democracy and Jewish life in America than the far right.

“The skinheads don’t really bother me,” Joans said. “They’re useless to me. I worry about the left more because they’re the true fascists.”

For Trump stalwarts, the perception that violence and hatred are rampant on the left makes it easier to sympathize with the president’s suggestion that both sides of the Charlottesville rallies should be targeted for condemnation.

Estella Sneider

Estella Sneider, a celebrity psychologist who campaigned for Trump and appeared frequently on television to support him, disputed allegations that Trump is a racist or a xenophobe, pointing to his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law, foreign-born wife and Blacks he appointed to positions in his administration, such as White House communications aide Omarosa Manigault. “Why are people not seeing this?” Sneider said.

Sneider’s family on her father’s side was almost entirely annihilated by the Holocaust. She said she was nauseated by the Nazi symbols and chants at the torchlight march in Charlottesville. After watching Trump’s remarks, however, she was satisfied that he had unequivocally condemned the white supremacists.

“It would be unfair to lump every single Trump supporter into being white supremacists and white nationalists and neo-Nazis, in the same way it would be unfair to lump all liberal Democrats into being antifa,” she said. “Trump was right in saying that not everybody there was a neo-Nazi.”

Nissanoff, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he was offended by comparisons between Charlottesville protestors who chanted “Jews will not replace us” and Nazis.

“The word ‘Nazi’ is such a powerful idea that to dilute it and start to equivocate with a bunch of losers who run around with tiki torches I think diminishes what a Nazi and Nazism really was,” he said.

In Los Angeles, members of the Israeli community continue to provide a source of Jewish support for Trump.

Ari Bussel, 51, who runs a liquor distributorship in Beverly Hills, was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Israel. He described himself as a proud Republican and said he felt Trump has not been given a chance to lead the country. He said Trump has been “vilified as the greatest Satan, the actual fulfillment of imaginary fears and baseless accusations.”

“As for the latest accusations,” Bussel added, “whatever the president would have said would not have satisfied some people and the American-Jewish leadership — exactly those who vocally and fiercely fought against his being elected.”

For Adi Levin, 47, a homemaker in Woodland Hills who emigrated from Israel in 2000, Trump’s support for Israel is more important than his record on race relations. She said the coverage of Charlottesville has been biased against the president.

“They like to criticize Trump and will continue doing so no matter what he’ll say or do,” she said. “I never heard them criticize Obama the same way, even though he never criticized or said anything about Muslim extremists.”

However, Levin said she wishes Trump would pick his words more carefully.

Cheston Mizel

“It’s obvious that the media doesn’t like him,” she said, “but I don’t think it will hurt to try and be more politically correct.”

The Orthodox community has been another source of pro-Trump sentiment in Los Angeles and beyond. For some of his observant supporters, Trump’s record on religious liberties and Israel far outweigh his handling of race relations.

Cheston Mizel, president of Mizel Financial Holdings and a congregant of Pico Shul, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, said the attention to Charlottesville and to other presidential controversies has distracted from Trump’s successes, including appointing the pro-Israel Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and nominating Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“While there are obviously things that are problematic about this presidency, Nikki Haley and Neil Gorsuch are two clear bright spots,” he said.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft, 58, owns the Mitzvah Store on Beverly Boulevard and goes to synagogue nearby at Congregation Kehilas Yaakov. He grew up in a liberal Democratic family in Kansas City, Mo., but in the 1980s, after meeting Ronald Reagan at a Kansas City Jewish country club where he was a lifeguard, he changed his party affiliation to Republican.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft

Although he originally supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries, once Trump made it to the general election, Kraft’s choice was clear, he said: He voted to make America great again.

Asked whether he feels Trump has adequately denounced white supremacists, Kraft pulled out his iPhone and played a YouTube video of clips edited together to show Trump repeatedly denouncing white supremacist David Duke in various interviews with reporters.

“It was sufficient,” Kraft said of Trump’s response to Charlottesville. “Those who hate Trump could not accept his condemnation of the violent left.”

Ayala Or-El contributed to this article.

Vandalized St. Louis Jewish cemetery rededicated with help from Muslim donors

Workers placing headstones back on their bases at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in the St. Louis area. Photo by James Griesedieck.

A St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery was rededicated nearly six months after more than 150 headstones were toppled and damaged by vandals.

Dozens of members of the St. Louis Jewish community and its supporters gathered Sunday at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri, to acknowledge the community support while honoring those who are buried there, the local media reported.

“While God could not guard this sacred place from harm, God did send so many to repair, reclaim and rededicate,” Rabbi Roxane Shapiro of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association said at the ceremony. “Our help had no barriers and no hate, simply care, compassion and hope.”

Among those in attendance at the rededication was Tarek El-Messidi, founder of the Muslim organization Celebrate Mercy. The group, with the support of other Muslim leaders, including pro-Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, set up a crowdfunding campaign that raised $162,000 from nearly 5,000 donors, exceeding its $20,000 goal in the first few hours.

In the wake of the attack, hundreds of community volunteers came to the cemetery to help with the cleanup and repairs, including Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish and had invited Pence.

No suspects have been identified in the vandalism. The Anti-Defamation has offered a $10,000 reward for tips that lead to an arrest.

In first, Senegal and Guinea send ambassadors to Israel

President Macky Sall of Senegal meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Monrovia, Liberia, on June 4. Photo by Kobi Gideon/Israeli Government Press Office

Senegal and Guinea are sending ambassadors to Israel for the first time.

The two predominantly Muslim countries in West Africa are to present their credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday, The Times of Israel reported.

The two will serve as non-resident ambassadors. Senegal’s Talla Fall, who also represents the country in Egypt, will work from Cairo, while Guinea’s Amara Camara will be based in Paris, according to The Times of Israel.

Amid increasing criticism of Israel’s right-wing government from Europe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made improving ties with African countries a priority, visiting the continent twice in the past 14 months.

Israel’s diplomatic ties with Senegal and Guinea have not been without bumps in the road.

In June, Israel and Senegal announced “an end to the crisis between their two countries.” Three months earlier, the Jewish state permanently downgraded ties with Senegal when it co-sponsored an anti-settlement resolution in the United Nations that passed.

Last year, Israel and Guinea re-established diplomatic ties after 49 years. Guinea had broken off relations following the Six-Day War in 1967.

Faux apologies don’t make amends for big lies from the Davis Imam and Islamic Center

Imam Ammar Shahin

Readers of Jewish newspapers and also conservative media outlets—though not the mainstream national press with the belated exception of the Washington Post— have learned something about deplorable story of anti-Semitism by Muslim preachers in the university towns of UC Davis and UC Riverside.

In the pages of the Jewish Journal, Wiesenthal Center Rabbis Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein have urged the Department of Homeland Security to act against the perpetrators of genocidal libels. At Islamic Center in Davis this July, Imam Ammar Shahin delivered two sermons, one of which (translated into English by the Middle East Research Institute MEMRI) reads: “Oh, Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews. . . . Oh, Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. . . . Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this. Oh Allah, let us support them in words and in deeds.”

For a week, we witnessed stonewalling, doubling down, slander of MEMRI as “an extremist driven organization,” hemming and hawing, apologetics, and obfuscation from Imam Shahin and the Davis Islamic Center about whether one Arabic word should be translated as “destroy” rather than “annihilate,” and another Arabic phrase as “defilement of the Jews” rather than “filth of the Jews.”

Syrian-born Sheikh Mahmoud Harmoush of the Riverside Islamic Center remains defiant and unrepentant for propagating the libels that world Jewry is plotting to take over Mecca and Medina and that “a naked woman walking into the holy mosque under the occupation forces, just to insult more and more the psyche, honor, and dignity of the Muslims.” But after a week came an apology of sorts from Imam Shahin (who still hasn’t been fired) and the Davis’ Islamic Center.” It’s very sad to hear that people are taking your words and they are twisting it around, but I know there are people who are out there just waiting for that to make the news. . . . I do understand how my words were hurtful, and I am sorry. . . . I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts, for this, I truly apologize,” stated the 31 year-old Egyptian-born, partly American-educated Ammar Shahin who added that “as a young religious leader, this has humbled me.”

Ammar Shahin was born in Cairo, and educated at theAl-Forqan Institute. He came to the U.S.  where he received a B.S. in Computer Engineering before returning to Egypt for advanced study at  Al-Azhar University. Then he began his permanent career at mosques near American college campuses.

Should we take Imam Shahin’s apology and that from the Davis Islamic Center as “case closed” and politely move on? Credulous souls among pro-BDS Jewish activists at UC Davis may accept at face value Imam Shahin apology and decry that “the edited publication of Imam Shahin’s sermon was done with islamophobic intent.” I disagree.

From The Sayings of the Fathers as well as the sayings of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we are told that “justice delayed is justice denied.” I would say the same of apologies, reluctantly and ungraciously given. We can learn a lot more by unpacking this faux apology emanating from Davis’ influential Muslim voices.

Another venerable Jewish parable—about how hard it is retract malicious gossip—relates how a rabbi tells the repentant gossiper to take a pillow, cut it open, disperse the feathers from a rooftop into the wind, and then try to collect every feather in order to repair the damage. This parable (popularized in a Hollywood film) may have originated as a cautionary tale about neighborhood gossip, but lying—especially theologically-freighted, politically-fraught publically-disseminated lying—is much more pernicious and prolific than feathers of malice spread from a rooftop.

Here is what Imam Shahin claimed, and the Davis’ Islamic Center embraced before disavowing, in polar opposition to tolerance and truth:

  • Imam Shahin and the Davis Center ignored the murder of two Jewish policemen on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount that ignited the current crisis.
  • Imam Shahin not only called for the annihilation or destruction of Israelis allegedly responsible the Temple Mount crisis, but invoked a genocidal hadith or “Saying of the Prophet” which reads in part: “The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah’ . . . The Prophet Muhammad says that their time will come, the Last Hour will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews.” This same hadith was quoted as gospel in Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda distributed throughout the Muslim world during World War II by Hitler ally, Jerusalem Grand Mufti (and Yasser Arafat cousin) Mohammed Amin al-Husseini. It also forms a central plank of Hamas’ Founding 1988 Charter.
  • The Davis’ Islamic Center initially issued a highly tendentious statement offering a bowdlerized translation of Imam Shahin’s inflammatory statements. It also misleadingly explaining away Muhammed’s hadith as if it related, not to Jews, but to the final apocalyptic battle of Jesus (Isa in Arabic) against the forces of the Antichrist (Dajjal in Arabic). Conveniently elided over in this apologetic version is the truth that, in anti-Semitic Muslim apocalyptic theology (both Sunni and Shia) the Antichrist-Dajjal leads an army of 70,000 Jews!

In addition to falsely accusing MEMRI of mistranslating Imam Shahin’s sermons, the Davis’ Islamic Center faulted MEMRI for failing to “contextualize” them. Context does indeed matter, but it is precisely the alarming context that the Islamic Center left out. Imam Shahin’s genocidal sermons—far from being isolated aberrations or impromptu emotional outbursts—are entirely consistent with incendiary incitement by Muslim preachers across North America:

  • With a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and the head of the Fatwa (Islamic opinion) Unit of IslamOnline.net (English website) and the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) consultant of the Shari’ah department of Onislam.net., Dr. Wael Shihab, of the mosque Masjid Toronto declared on YouTube in June, 2016: “O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them.”
  • In Montreal in 2016, Jordanian Sheikh Muhammad bin Musa Al-Nasr was served with an arrest warrant for willfully promoting the murder of Jews. The Canadian authorities deemed Al-Nasr’s threats “imminent” enough to warrant immediate action.
  • As far back as the 1990s, Fawaz Damra, former Imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland (in 2007 he was deported to the West Bank) posed as a promoter of interfaith dialogue even after evidence that he participated in fundraising events for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and a videotape surfacing of the Imam telling Muslims that they should aim “a rifle at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation, and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews.”

These North American rhetorical hate bombs parallel the murderous prayer delivered in 2007 by Acting Speaker of the Palestinian Authority’s Legislative Council Ahmed Bahr, in a packed Palestinian Authority mosque and broadcast on an official PA-controlled television station. Bahr called Jews “the cancerous lump . . .in the heart of the Arab nation,” and predicted that “America is on its way to disappear. America is wallowing [in blood] today in Iraq and Afghanistan. America is defeated and Israel is defeated, and was defeated, in Lebanon and Palestine.” Adopting the open-palmed gesture of Islamic prayer, as did his audience, the PA official intoned: “Allah, take hold of the Jews and their allies, Allah, take hold of the Americans and their allies…. Allah, count them and kill them to the last one and don’t leave even one.” The popular prayer, from Riverside and Davis to Montreal and Toronto to Palestine, that Allah “count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one” derives from a popular du’a or supplementary Muslim prayer of supplication.

At American university campuses like UC Riverside and UC Davis, there is a troubling nexus between what adjacent though unaffiliated Islamic Centers preach and teach and the often intimidating anti-Israel activism of Muslim students.

This past March, the UC Davis Middle East/South Asian Studies and Jewish Studies programs co-hosted a student panel titled “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Anatomy of Twin Hatreds” in the Student Community Center Multi-Purpose Room. What an admirable event. Unfortunately, just a few months later Imam Shahin delivered his anti-Semitic diatribes next door to the University campus.

We should all join the Los Angeles Times in condemning the woman, caught on CCTV, draping strips of bacon were draped over the Davis’ mosque’s door handles and smashing six windows. But much less attention has been paid to the recent experience of Rabbi Shmary Cohen and his wife, Mendy Cohen, of Chabad in Sacramento who have been subjected to “cars driving by screaming ‘eff you!’.” Rabbi Cohen laments: “This is what we suffered throughout the years. We’re not going to let Davis become like the neighborhoods in Paris where police can’t go.”

In 2014 at UC Davis, a student who expressed concern about the anti-Semitic banners displayed at a pro-BDS rally was assaulted by a protestor who screamed in his face, “You are racist and you should die in hell.” In 2015, a resolution was sponsored by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which seeks to blackball Jewish students who visit Israel from participating in campus politics, called for the University of California at Davis to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories, violating both international humanitarian law and international human rights.” The resolution was passed by the Student Senate by a vote of 8-2-2. Protesting that the divestment resolution and how it was ramrodded through was “toxic” and “damaged lives,” Jewish students and their allies staged a walkout. Muslim students shouted “Allahu Akbar” at Jewish students holding Israeli flags and leaving the meeting. The walkout received less attention than UC Davis student senate, Azka Fayyaz, exulting with a Facebook that “Hamas & Sharia law have taken over UC Davis.” At UC Davis, swastikas were found painted on the walls of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house.

In 2016, The University of California Board of Regents unanimously approved a report condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism, making UC the first public university system to condemn anti-Semitism since the emergence of the boycott, divest and sanction movement on college campuses. UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and other administrators have condemned BDS resolutions as well as denounced Imam Shahin’s hate-filled sermons. Yet not enough progress has been made on UC campuses and elsewhere curbing what was becoming a tsunami of campus anti-Semitism.

Genocidal incitement by Muslim preachers at Islamic Centers adjoining UC Riverside and UC Davis are not only dangerous in themselves, but feed a toxic campus nexus promoting anti-Semitism usually in the guise of “anti-Zionism.”

Pro forma apologies are not enough. Responsible Muslim leaders, on and off campus, must do more to repudiate those who seek to incite religious war between two of the world’s great faiths. I vote with Congressman Brad Sherman who is demanding that Imam Shahin’s employment be terminated, and that UC Davis bar him and any representative of the Islamic Center of Davis from its campus.


Historian Harold Brackman is a Consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.

This Israeli lawmaker almost had a fistfight with a Jordanian Parliament member

Israeli lawmaker Oren Hazan laughing at a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem on Oct. 26, 2015. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

Badboy Israeli lawmaker Oren Hazan was ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office to call off a fistfight with a Jordanian lawmaker.

Hazan had agreed to the fight with Yehiya al-Saud, also known for his temper, at the border between the two countries on Wednesday morning.

“The shoe of any Palestinian child is more honorable than this villain and his entity (meaning country) and the shoe of any Arab and Muslim is better than him and his rogue entity, which has no origin and religion,” al-Saud said, according to Jordanian reports.

In a tweet Tuesday evening, Hazan said he accepted the call by al-Saud to meet on the Allenby Bridge at 10 a.m. the following day.

“I’ve got an offer he can’t refuse,” he also tweeted.

Subsequent tweets showed photos of Hazan having his hair trimmed at the barber in preparation for the fight, and in his car on the way to the Allenby Bridge. He said in a tweet he was coming “in peace.”

Less than an hour before the scheduled fight, however, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that chief of staff Yoav Horovitz had ordered Hazan to stay away from the Allenby Bridge. Hazan later said he canceled the face-to-face meeting, or brawl, with Saud at the prime minister’s request.

Hazan said he would ask the Foreign Ministry to organize a formal meeting with Saud.

The challenge comes on the heels of tensions between Jordan and Israel, including both the Temple Mount crisis and the shooting of two Jordanian civilians by an Israeli Embassy security guard after he was stabbed. Jordan objected to the hero’s welcome for the guard, Ziv Moyal, after arriving back in Israel along with the rest of the embassy staff, and has said it will not allow the diplomats to return to Jordan until there is an investigation of the guard and he is put on trial.

Saud reportedly has pulled a knife on a fellow lawmaker and cursed female lawmakers.

Hazan has been accused of sexually assaulting female employees at a bar he owned in Tel Aviv, doing drugs with and procuring prostitutes for guests at a casino he managed in Bulgaria, physically assaulting an official in his West Bank hometown, and making fun of a fellow Knesset member for being disabled — twice. He was admonished last week by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee for insults against female lawmakers.

During President Donald Trump’s May visit to Israel, Hazan was reprimanded for taking a selfie with Trump in the receiving line during the welcome ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport for the president and first lady.

Mind Blowing Sex – Muslim Style?

Sex is wonderful, and when you’re old enough to not only know what you like but empower yourself to be bold, it can be a great thing. When we are inexperienced we don’t know what good sex is. Considering how long I have been single, I have not had a large number partners. I got a relatively late start as I was 20 when I lost my virginity, but at 51 I now know what is good, what I like, and what I do well. Jewish men are my preference. They are known for girth, amen, but also known for their inability to tell the difference between 5 inches and 8 inches. Bless them.

I never had a heart to heart talk with my mother about sex. I watch porn and don’t read books on how to have good sex. I have spoken with my girlfriends about sex, but it more about how our partners are at it, then how we are. In our 50’s, my group of friends understand the importance of sex, the power it wields, and that most anything can be made better with a blow job. It’s not scientific, it is just one of those things we all know. Men like to receive oral pleasure, probably more than women, but only because women are better at it than men. Know it gentlemen.

I’m not writing about my own sex life right now, although I think you would find it both inspiring and depressing. Instead I am writing about a book that was sent my way called The Muslimah Sex Manual: A Halal Guide to Mind Blowing Sex. It struck me as interesting for a couple of reasons. 1) I was curious as I never really thought of Muslims as being particularly sexual, which I suppose is a stereotype, but still my truth. 2) What was most interesting about the book was not that it can guide me to mind blowing sex, but that it can do it in just 65 pages. Mazel Tov!

This book was written for Muslim women who are looking to have good sex lives with their husbands. It speaks of foreplay, which is a lost art to be sure. It covers kissing, which can immediately tell you whether you want to have sex with someone. It even discusses sexy texting, which is a sign of the times. There are chapters about positions and doing it in the shower. Bravo to author Umm Muladhat for putting it out there. Not only for Muslim women, but for all women. Umm is an American born Muslim woman who wants Muslim women be sexually satisfied.

Amen sister. Sex is nothing to be ashamed of. It should be enjoyed by all women and I applaud Umm for sharing the message that it does not have to be looked down upon. Muslim or not, sex can and should be enjoyed without fear or shame. I’m guessing many Muslin women are rocking it between the sheets. I think Jewish chicks are known to like sex. By like of course I mean as long as it doesn’t ruin our hair and there’s nothing good on TV. Again, stereotypes. Sorry. Not sorry. If you have great sex, and can help other women have the same, then you should.

I think there are a lot of women in the world who believe they are having great sex, but aren’t. Women who want to expand their horizons and get a little wild, but are too afraid of what their partners will think. That is not a Muslim thing, that is a chick thing. Umm is brave and I love her. From describing positions from Cowgirl to Amazon, she goes there. She also doesn’t shame anyone for sticking to the missionary position. There is nothing held back. She simply has a real desire to help the women of her culture with sex, but all women should be reading this book.

She does draw a line of course, because it is based on her faith. No anal, no porn, no period sex, and no sex outside of a marriage. Since writing and self-publishing her book, she has had a little push back from within her faith, which she knew was coming, and therefore why she made up a name to publish under. Her husband knows about the book of course, and even helped her with it, but nobody knows who the real writer is. To this woman, I say you did a lot of good for a lot of people. Her next book will be geared towards men, but I’ll be reading that one too.

I actually have a sex list. Things I’ve done, want to do, hope to do, and will never do. It was fun to make the list and I have been checking things off and adding new things for years. I recently took something off the list because having it there implied it could happen, and it is never happening, ever, so it’s gone. I might add couple new Muslim items to my list now. Inshallah they happen. Women must think outside the box we build for ourselves to make our sex lives better. We are glorious and sexual creatures, no matter how we are keeping the faith.

 

Muslim rioters, Israeli police clash after government lifts security measures

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians outside Jerusalem's old City on July 28. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Muslim rioters threw rocks at police officers near Jerusalem’s Lions’ Gate, breaking the relative calm of a day that followed 10 days of unrest over security at the Temple Mount.

Police fired stun grenades into the hostile crowds, Ynet reported Friday, as Israel deployed a huge security force to keep the peace and thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered for Friday prayers.

Israeli authorities restricted entrance to the Old City and Temple Mount to men over 50 years old and women only.

Israel this week removed various security measures — including metal detectors and surveillance cameras — that had been installed following the July 14 slaying of two police officers by three Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Palestinian Authority encouraged followers to protest the security measures.

On Thursday, a Trump administration official praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for removing the security devices, saying he “acted with a clear sense of responsibility not just for Israel’s security, but also for regional stability,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett, a Cabinet minister and member of the right-wing Jewish Home party, described the decision as a “surrender” by Israel to Palestinian rioters.

American Muslims intermarry way less and are far more religious than American Jews

Muslims at a prayer service celebrating Eid-al-Fitr in Stamford, Conn., on June 25. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Since it came out in 2013, the “Pew study” — a landmark survey of American Jewish demographics, beliefs and practices — has been at the center of American Jewish scrutiny and handwringing.

Now it’s American Muslims’ turn.

On Wednesday, the Pew Research Center released a survey of American Muslims focusing not only on numbers and their way of life, but also on how the community has responded to the election of President Donald Trump.

Comparing the two studies shows a Muslim sector in America that is more religious, growing faster and feels more embattled than American Jews. But both groups voted for Hillary Clinton.

Here’s how the Jews and Muslims of the United States stack up.

There are more Jews than Muslims in America, but the Muslim population is growing faster.

Pew found that there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, a little more than 1 percent of the population. U.S. Jews, by contrast, stand at 6.3 million — around 2 percent of all Americans.

But Muslims, Pew found, skew younger and have higher birth rates. More than a third of U.S. Muslims are under 30, only 14 percent are over 55 and their birth rate is 2.4, slightly higher than the national average. Most American Jews are over 50 and their birth rate is 1.9. While the median age of U.S. Muslims is 35, the median age of U.S. Jews is 50. Americans in general have a median age of 47.

These numbers explain why a 2015 Pew study found that by 2050, American Muslims will outnumber American Jews. While the Jewish population is expected to stagnate at about 5.4 million, Pew predicts that in a little more than three decades, there will be 8 million Muslims in America.

The respective studies also included some data unique to each religion. While there are sharp internal divides between Shia and Sunni Muslims, Pew did not address the question of “who is a Muslim” as it did with Jewish Americans.

The study reported demographic data that may contradict popular American stereotypes of Muslims. Only 14 percent of Muslim immigrants are from the Middle East, while one-fifth are from South Asia. And the plurality of American Muslims — four in 10 — are white.

Only 13 percent of American Muslims are intermarried.

When Pew released its study of the Jews in 2013, American Jewish leaders began fretting about an intermarriage rate of 58 percent since 2000 — and they haven’t stopped. By that measure, American Muslim leaders can rest easy.

Unlike the majority of American Jews, only 13 percent of American Muslims are intermarried. And the number has declined in recent years: In 2011, the number was 16 percent. The numbers are so low that the word “intermarriage” doesn’t even appear in the survey.

But another statistic shows that American Muslims may be following their Jewish neighbors. Among Muslims born in the U.S., the intermarriage rate is nearly 20 percent.

Most Jews say they don’t face discrimination. Most Muslims say they do.

Another reason for the difference in intermarriage rates could be the discrimination that Jews and Muslims each face in America. Jews, who are more likely to marry outside their group, are also more accepted in America than Muslims.

In an age when Trump the candidate called for a ban on Muslim immigration, the Muslim study focused heavily on Muslim feelings of discrimination and belonging in America. Questions were asked about Islamophobia, anti-Muslim violence, the president, terrorism, extremism and how Muslims feel about being Muslim and American.

In brief, the study found that nearly half of Muslims have faced discrimination in the past year, and 75 percent feel Muslims face a great deal discrimination in America. But nine in 10 feel proud to be American. Three-quarters of American Muslims say violence against civilians can never be justified, as opposed to 59 percent of Americans in general.

In 2013, most Jews said that Jews do not face a lot of discrimination in America, and only 15 percent personally faced discrimination in the year before the survey.

But Pew’s Jewish study was published three years before the spike in anti-Semitism that accompanied the 2016 election. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League published in April revealed starkly different numbers, showing that most Americans were concerned about violence against Jews.

Jews graduate college at higher rates than Muslims and earn more.

The graduation rates and household incomes of American Muslims track with the rest of the country. Like Americans in general, 31 percent of Muslim Americans have graduated college. And a quarter of Muslim Americans earn more than $100,000, similar to the national average. But 40 percent of Muslim households earn less than $30,000 — eight points higher than Americans in general.

Nearly six in 10 American Jews, meanwhile, have graduated college. And 42 percent have household incomes higher than $100,000, while only 20 percent earn less than $30,000.

Muslims are far more religious than Jews, but both say social justice is central.

American Jews and Muslims are particularly different when it comes to religion. While nearly two-thirds of American Muslims say religion is very important to them, only a quarter of Jews do. A third of Jews believe in God, compared to 85 percent of Muslims who said belief in God is essential to being a Muslim. Nearly six in 10 American Muslims say following the Quran is essential to being a Muslim, compared to less than a quarter of American Jews who say the same about Jewish law.

Four in 10 American Muslims attend mosque at least once a week and eight in 10 observe the monthlong fast of Ramadan. By contrast, two-thirds of American Jews attend synagogue less than once a month and only about half fasted on Yom Kippur.

But there are some commonalities, too. Nearly all American Jews and Muslims say they are proud to be Jewish and Muslim, respectively. And both groups prioritize social justice. Solid majorities of Jews (60 percent) and Muslims (69 percent) see “working for justice and equality” as an essential part of their religious identity.

Jews are more liberal than Muslims, but a higher percentage voted for Trump.

American Muslims responded to Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail by voting for Clinton. Nearly 80 percent of American Muslims voted for the Democrat, while only 8 percent backed Trump. By contrast, Clinton earned 70 percent of the Jewish vote, with Trump garnering 25 percent.

But proportionally more American Jews identify as liberal than do American Muslims. While nearly half of American Jews call themselves liberal, only 30 percent of American Muslims do — close to the national average.

But Muslims are trending liberal on at least one issue: A majority believe homosexuality should be accepted in society, compared to just 27 percent who felt that way a decade ago. Four-fifths of American Jews agree.

Jewish groups criticize Supreme Court decision to allow parts of Trump’s travel ban

Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images

The Jewish resettlement agency HIAS and the Anti-Defamation League decried the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to be enforced.

On Monday, the court said it would hear the appeals of two cases that had resulted from the travel ban, which aimed to keep  the citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days.

The high court agreed to stay parts of rulings that had blocked the ban from being enforced. The partial stay means that foreigners with no U.S. ties could be prohibited from entering the country, but those with ties such as through business or personal relationship would remain unaffected, The New York Times reported. Those who had been to the country previously also could enter.

HIAS — formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — is among the plaintiffs suing Trump in one of the cases the Supreme Court agreed to take on. It called the announcement “mixed news” in a statement, praising it for limiting some of the executive order’s reach but criticizing the court for partially allowing the executive order to be enforced.

“HIAS welcomes the ruling as an affirmation that the president does not have unfettered unchecked authority to bar refugees from the United States without evidence to justify such action,” said the group’s CEO and president, Mark Hetfield. “We also welcome the ruling as confirmation that there are limits to the president’s ability to bar non-citizens from the United States based on unsubstantiated presumptions relating only to their nation of birth.”

Hetfield criticized the fact that those without such ties could now be barred from entering the United States.

“We are very disappointed, however, that others will be arbitrarily excluded,” Hetfield said. “Certainly in the case of refugees, this order will have a tragic toll on those who have fled for their lives and played by our rules to find refuge in the United States.”

HIAS was founded in the 1880s as a resource for newly arrived Jewish immigrants.

The Anti-Defamation League, along with its criticism, also praised the court for limiting the scope of the order.

“We were pleased that the court appropriately recognized that there are limitations on the president’s authority when it comes to immigration generally,” its national director and CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement. “But the court’s failure to recognize the plight of the world’s most endangered refugees – those fleeing countries where their lives are in imminent danger – is profoundly disappointing,”

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action sharply criticized the stay that would allow parts of the ban to be enforced, calling it “a deeply harmful decision.”

“At a minimum, because of the court’s decision today, we will be betraying a fundamental American and Jewish value by turning away countless individuals who are seeking a better life in our nation, some of them fleeing life-threatening violence,” the group’s CEO, Stosh Cotler, said in a statement.

DC Jewish community to hold vigil for Muslim teen killed in attack

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington will hold a vigil in memory of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl killed after leaving her mosque with friends in northern Virginia.

“Now it is time for us to express our deepest sympathy and stand with our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community as we all come to terms with this tragic event,” the JCRC said in a statement Monday.

The vigil will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Virginia.

The JCRC “has enjoyed a decades-long relationship with the ADAMS Center, working hand-in-hand to promote interfaith understanding and combat bigotry against any faith or ethnicity,” the release said.

ADAMS is the acronym for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the mosque that Hassanen had worshipped at in suburban Washington, D.C., in the pre-dawn hours Sunday before heading to a restaurant with friends for breakfast. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan.

Police in Fairfax County do not believe bias was involved in the killing, describing it instead as a road rage incident. Police allege that Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, got into an argument with a teen in the group as the friends returned to the mosque, drove his car over a curb, chased the group and used a baseball bat to hit Hassanen in a parking lot nearby. Torres has been charged with one count of second-degree murder.

The Washington Post quoted family members as saying they remain convinced it was a hate crime against Muslims.

The attack has garnered international attention because of a proliferation in recent weeks of reports of attacks targeting Muslims. The Anti-Defamation League called on police to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

The stakes in the UK for Democracy and decency

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, leaves his home on the morning after Britain's election in London, Britain, on June 9. Photo by Neil Hall/Reuters

As British voters went to the polls in a fateful Thursday election, the results were a nail biter that left Tory Prime Minister’s House of Commons majority and prime ministership hanging in the balance.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen a few days earlier came out in an opinion piece (“A Case for Jeremy Corbyn, June 5) outright endorsing not only the Labour Party but radical Labour Party leader PM Jeremy Corbyn.

He’s against incumbent May not only for trying to preserve the U.K.-U.S. “special relationship” during the turbulent times of the Trump Administration, but for doing so in a way that Cohen deems, let’s be frank, unseemly sucking up to President Donald Trump.

Cohen, an important columnist, has a right to his opinion. But he was sucking up to Jeremy Corbyn and this is deplorable and, indeed, despicable and a threat to democracy in troubled times.

The UK election campaign occurred in an election atmosphere not only permeated by anxieties over renewed terrorism but in a miasma of anti-Semitism.

At the Bear Pit, an outdoor popular venue in Bristol, a giant campaign banner showed Prime Minister May in Star of David-shaped earrings, which some Jewish observers called “anti-Semitic.” The banner listed positive statements about Labour Party leader Corbyn and negative ones about May. One Jewish Bristol citizen asked, “I can’t believe stuff I haven’t heard of, or seen since I was a child is now happening again. It makes me sick.”

In Surrey, Alex Goldberg, the Jewish Chaplain at the University of Surrey and Chaplain to Surrey Police, said in a post on Facebook Sunday that he is proud of his daughter, Hannah, “for standing up to sexism, racism and religious abuse,” but was “Less proud of the police service that I have worked with for over two decades in failing to respond to three girls being attacked and racially abused.” Hannah Goldberg and her two friends, who her father said were identifiable as religious Jews due to their long skirts, were in a London-area park on May 27 when they were attacked by teens playing basketball. A bystander call the police, which did not show up for two hours, pleading a communications mix up.

According to London’s Jewish Chronicle, in Manchester, where the terrible terror attack of a few weeks ago claimed 22 lives, police reported that arson attacks on two kosher restaurants that are “anti-Semitic hate crimes” occurred within five days of each other.

The Labour campaign was also embarrassed by revelations that in 2002 Corbyn addressed a rally attended by 300 members of extremist group Al Muhajiroun where audience members shouted slogans calling for Israelis to be gassed. Khuram Butt, one of the three London Bridge/Borough Market murderers, was a supporter of and an associate Al Muhajiroun leader and jailed hate preacher Anjem Choudary.

Corbyn’s left-wing views are not the problem. It is his beyond-the-bounds apologetics for Mideast terrorism in many forms both during and after his campaign. It is fine that he is sympathetic to the Palestinians, but not that he embraces Hamas as well as Fatah, and celebrates Palestinian terrorists as martyrs. Ditto his admiration for the Tehran Mullahs. And his coddling up with U.K. Muslim incendiary preachers like those who helped inspire the recent London Bridge attack. He vilely has attacked Israel. He has impugned reporters who ask him tough questions as Jewish and suggests somehow having relatives who died in the Holocaust disqualifies them from doing so. He has equated Zionism with the Nazis and Hitler.

That such a man should become U.K. PM is unthinkable. The only historical analogy to Cohen’s endorsement we can think of comes from the 1930s when French rightists rejected Socialist Leon Blum under the slogan “Better Hitler than Blum.” Corbyn is not Hitler, but he is bad enough. Cohen’s endorsement of him is pure political nihilism.

Even those of us who usually do not take partisan positions in elections, here and abroad, sometimes do have to take a moral position.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat, also in the New York Times (“A Very British Radical, June 7), pointed out that the mainstream international press was understandably outraged by France’s right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen insufficient attempts to distance herself from the anti-Semitic history of her party, France’s National Front, and her father Jean Marie Le Pen. But at the same time they treated Corbyn’s refusal to even attempt to distance himself from his anti-Semitic past I an entirely different manner: “Le Pen was cast as the madwoman in the attic, poised to set fire to the mansion. But outside Britain’s right-wing newspapers, Corbyn is portrayed more as the balmy uncle in the conservatory, puttering around with tulips and murmuring about the class struggle. Nobody exactly thinks he would be a good prime minister, but there isn’t a palpable fear that his election would be an emergency for liberal democracy.”

Roger Cohen is wrong. For the sake of democracy and decency, let us hope that Jeremy Corbyn does not squeak out an upset victory become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.


Historian Harold Brackman is a long-time consultant  for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The views expressed here are not the official position of either the Center or the Museum.

Miriam Waghalter: A hope for peace in the Middle East

Photo by Paul Takizawa

AGE: 17
HIGH SCHOOL: YULA Girls High School
GOING TO: Rutgers University

In the summer of 2015, Miriam Waghalter and three girls from her Arabic language class at YULA Girls High School went to Israel to meet and travel with four Muslim girls.

“It was very eye-opening in terms of coexistence between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs,” Waghalter said. Before the trip, she was apprehensive about going to Arab villages, “but I realized the Muslim girls were just as scared as we were because of all the stereotypes they have about Jews. We overcame those together and we became really good friends.”

That experience gave her hope for the future and solidified her determination to work toward mitigating conflicts in the Middle East.

“When I was there, I saw we could push past our barriers. Talking to adults who say there’s no chance, the high from the trip faded,” she admitted.

“But I always try to remember how I felt when I was there, and I don’t want to lose that hope for peace. I think a big part of what has to change is education in schools and communities; there’s a lot of false perceptions. There needs to be more participation in coexistence programs, like Arabs and Israelis playing on the same baseball team. When you’re friends with somebody, you’re much less likely to want to fight with them.”

Waghalter first became interested in international affairs as a Hillel Hebrew Academy student, when she participated in a Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer global studies program. But she never thought of it as a career until YULA began offering an Arabic course, which she’s taken for three years. Knowing Hebrew helped, she said. “A lot of the letters and words are similar.”

This year, Waghalter began participating in the high school leadership program MAJIC — Muslims and Jews Inspiring Change. “We’re in the second semester now and we already have relationships, so it’s much easier to talk about conflict and be honest with each other,” she said.

A straight-A student and YULA Girls’ valedictorian, Waghalter received a double college scholarship at Rutgers University in New Jersey. As of now, she plans to major in political science and get a master’s degree in international studies.

“I want to do some sort of advocacy, specifically for issues in the Middle East,” she said. “It could entail working for an NGO (nongovernmental organization) or a lobbyist or government at some level, probably at first in America but eventually, Israel.”

She has visited Israel four times, including twice on family trips and once last summer with Helen Diller Teen Fellows, a leadership development program for Jewish teens. She also enjoys participating in Model U.N. and attending lectures on Israel.

But she has many interests outside of her primary focus and course of study.

Waghalter is a section editor of The Panther, YULA Girls’ newspaper. She takes part in Moot Beit Din, Jewish mock trials that decide modern cases — who is at fault in a driverless car accident, for example — based on halachic sources.

From eighth to 11th grade, she competed in the national Bible contest Chidon Hatanach, and she volunteers with Chai Lifeline’s Big Siblings program, which assists families dealing with illnesses. (She cares for the children of an Israeli family new to the U.S.) Interested in fashion design, she’s president of the YULA Fashion Club and served as a Nordstrom Fashion Ambassador.

After graduation, she’ll be just as busy, though her summer plans are still solidifying. She has a part-time job at Karen Michelle Boutique and she applied for a fellowship with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

“I really like to push myself to my limits,” Waghalter said. “I have more stress when I’m not working as hard as I could be. I don’t want to settle for less.”

— Gerri Miller, Contributing Writer

Can you change the mind of a jihadist?

Of all the things I’ve read about the latest jihadist terror attack from London, one line in particular from Prime Minister Theresa May stood out.

Terrorism will only be defeated, she said, when we make young people “understand that our values, pluralistic British values, are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.”

But at the same time, May spoke about the need to crack down harder on those “young people” and the extremism that feeds them.

So, on the one hand, May wants to get tougher with the killers, while, on the other, convince them that British values are superior.

Maybe that represents, in a nutshell, the dilemma of fighting jihadist terrorism. To really win the war, you have to fight them physically and psychologically, but when you’re so busy with the physical, who’s got time for the psychological?

The focus in England right now clearly is on security, on preventing the next attack. Is there anyone on May’s team working on her goal of influencing values? I doubt it. The mood in the country is to stop the bad guys from killing — not to change their values.

But let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that, simultaneous to the crackdown, May would hire a marketing agency to create a campaign that might positively influence the bad guys. What would that look like?

One of the first things you learn in the advertising business is never to use the word “impossible.” There’s always the “best possible” answer to a problem, however unlikely it is that you can solve it. It’s about moving things forward — will the campaign make things a little better? Will it improve the odds of success?

Something else advertising teaches is to boil everything down to its essence — a few words, an image, a single thought. The goal is to light sparks, plant seeds, break the ice.

In our case, a key question is: How would you plant seeds of doubt in the mind of a jihadist who believes he’s doing God’s work when he slices the neck of a woman enjoying a beer in a British bar, or runs over pedestrians strolling happily on a Saturday night?

The easy thing to do would be to throw our hands up and give up. If someone thinks killing is holy, how do you counter that? But, like I said, this is a thought experiment. If the prime minister of England wants an ad campaign to influence the minds of religious extremists, what do you recommend?

In my mind, I see only one thing: We must fight holy with holy. They say killing is holy? We say life is holy.

The idea would be to rally leaders across all cultures and religions — especially Muslim leaders and preachers — to launch a “Life is Holy” campaign. The advertising would provide the sparks, but community leaders would preach the message on the ground.

A pervasive “Life is Holy” movement will, at the very least, put killers on notice that they no longer own holiness.

The campaign would reclaim holiness on behalf of life. We would promote the holiness of life with the same passion religious killers promote the holiness of killing. Instead of playing defense, life would play offense.

A “Life is Holy” message has some clear benefits: It’s true, believable, simple and passionate.

Of course, no marketing campaign can solve the problem of jihadist terrorism. There are too many jihadists who are moved by verses in the Quran that speak of killing the infidels, and too many preachers who feed this violence.

What marketing can do, however, is provide an aspirational vision. It can tell future generations of potential jihadists that real holiness lies in life, not killing. If enough Muslim preachers throughout the world reinforce this message in their sermons, we might begin to make a dent.

In her remarks, Prime Minister May spoke of cracking down on “safe spaces” online and in self-segregated Muslim communities that can harbor extremism.

If she is serious about doing this, she must infiltrate these extremist “safe spaces” with messages that promote the holiness of life — with billboards and memes, for example, that show the faces of people of all colors and religions as being worthy of holiness. Most critically, she must enlist local Muslim preachers to lead the way.

In sum, a “Life is Holy” campaign, if done right, can ignite an in-your-face pushback to the culture of death that infects the minds of jihadist killers. The “Life is Holy” message must be ubiquitous — it must be on T-shirts, street corners and social media. It must be loud enough to marginalize anyone who doesn’t support it.

In combination with a serious security crackdown, a pervasive “Life is Holy” movement will, at the very least, put killers on notice that they no longer own holiness.


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