December 15, 2018

Chess Tournament Moved From Saudi Arabia to Russia After Concerns Over Israeli Team Entry

Photo from Pexels.

Saudi Arabia has been barred from the Fédération lnternationale des Échecs (FIDE) from hosting an international chess tournament in December after a couple of Israelis expressed concerns that they couldn’t be guaranteed entry into the country to participate.

FIDE announced in a Nov. 30 tweet that the tournament would take place in Russia instead of Saudi Arabia on Dec. 25-31. FIDE director general Emil Sutovsky told the Times of Israel that the reason for the move was that “officials in Riyadh could not guarantee an entry to representatives of all the national federations who had a right to participate in the event.”

In November, two Israeli chess players, with help from The Lawfare Project, wrote to the FIDE that they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to participate in the tournament, citing the fact they were among the seven Israelis that Saudi Arabia prevented from entering the tournament.

We couldn’t just sit and wait for FIDE to do the right thing – we are proud to have supported this action which ensures that no chess player will be banned from a tournament because of their nationality,” Lawfare Project executive director Brooke Goldstein said in a statement. “It is hard to believe that in 2018, a country could be allowed to host an international event while practicing such blatant discrimination, but I welcome FIDE’s decision to make sure that last year’s scandal will not be repeated.”

Iran Engaged in Fake News Campaign on Facebook

Photo from Max Pixel.

Facebook has announced that they have removed several pages, accounts and groups connected to Iran that they say promulgated disinformation of United States politics leading up to the upcoming midterm elections.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, stated that Facebook has taken down 82 pages, accounts and groups that engaged in “inauthentic behavior,” which included posts “about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the President, and immigration.”

Examples of such posts included a fake Time magazine cover of President Trump that stated, “The worst, most hated president in American history!” as well as a photo of UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn attributing the following quote to him: “The idea that somehow or other you can deal with all the problems in the world by banning a religious group from entering the U.S.A. is offensive and absurd.”

While Gleicher said they could tie some of the removed accounts, groups and pages to Iran’s state media, they could not establish a concrete connection between them and the Iranian government.

“Free and fair elections are the heart of every democracy and we’re committed to doing everything we can to prevent misuse of Facebook at this critical time for our country,” Gleicher said.

Ben Nimmo of The Atlantic Research Council’s Digital Lab said that the propaganda disseminated from the Iranian accounts resembled “left-leaning Americans to amplify divisions over politically charged issues in the U.S.” and they followed a similar playbook that the Russians used in the 2016 elections, according to USA Today.

Facebook also removed accounts for spreading Iranian disinformation in August. There was some overlap between those accounts and the ones removed in October.

Why Trump Is Bad for Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum after announcing his intent to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

There are few policy arenas in which President Donald Trump has been more successful in his misdirection of the nation’s attention than the Middle East. For many in the Jewish community — including many in its leadership — there is a reticence to speak up about the outrages of the Trump administration, in large measure because of the president’s perceived “support” for Israel.

After all, he recognized Jerusalem as the nation’s capital, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he has been a staunch advocate for Israel in international bodies, and he embraces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while making virtually no demands on him. It looks so appealing.

But the reality is that much of what Trump has done vis-a-vis Israel is, in fact, a superficial performance — rhetorically, diplomatically and symbolically — that is at odds with the very policies that will help the Jewish state in the long term. In fact, his policies put the nation, and what exists of an international order striving for calm, in greater peril than it has been in many years.

Community Advocates, in partnership with Jews United for Democracy and Justice (“JUDJ”), four major synagogues (Valley Beth Shalom, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Stephen Wise Temple, Leo Baeck Temple), and the Jewish Center for Justice recently hosted an event at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino featuring Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and special adviser for Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia in several administrations.

Ross is among the most knowledgeable experts in the world on the diplomacy of the Middle East. He has served as the point man in negotiations between the Arab states, Israel and the United States in every administration since President George H.W. Bush (under Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama). He facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty; he brokered the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 1997 Hebron accord, and intensively worked to bring together Israel and Syria in a peace deal. He is also the author of several authoritative books on the region and the peace process.

If one wants a thoughtful, fact-based, nonpartisan analysis of what is transpiring in the Middle East, what the future portends and what the real-world implications of policy decisions are, there is no one who knows more and has more experience in the region than Dennis Ross. He is the best of the Middle East mavens.

In describing Trump administration policies toward the region’s issues, Ross spoke of a “crisis of values” and “a real Russia problem.” Trump has made the situation far worse than it has been in decades.

“Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — in its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts is dangerous to everyone involved. “

For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to provide Syria with S300 surface-to-air missiles as well as sophisticated electronic counter measures, which the Trump administration has not objected to. Those moves, combined with “malign Iranian activities,” has put Israel in a nearly impossible, precarious and potentially existentially dangerous position. Ross observed that until now, “the Russians have given the Israelis a free hand to carry out operations (in Syria) and they (the Israelis) have carried out more than 200 operations in Syria against Iranian and Shia militia targets. They no longer have a free hand and the Iranians have been given a free hand. … The Israelis won’t allow themselves to be put in a position where they are threatened in almost an existential way by what the Iranians are introducing into Lebanon and Syria. … so far, they have had to manage the Russians entirely on their own. Do you think it’s an accident that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made nine visits to Moscow to see Putin?” (emphasis added)

Ross made clear how the Trump response to Russia’s actions in Syria, to essentially absent himself from the conflict, differs from his predecessors and places Israel in peril. “Historically, there was a relationship that we had where we kind of said to the Israelis ‘OK, you are responsible for dealing with the threats in the region, we will provide the material support, but when it comes to the Soviets and others outside the region that might threaten or inhibit you, that’s on us.’ That was the historic posture of Republican and Democratic presidents alike — and I know that since I served in most of those administrations. That has not been the case now.” (emphasis added)

Ross laid out the steps that the administration should take to counter Russia, Iran and the Shia militias — none of which is happening. Rather, Trump has offered a vague pledge, “‘I’ll call Putin at some point.’” Ross sarcastically observed, “well, that’s reassuring.” The way to deal with Putin, Ross advised, is not to follow the Trump playbook. “He (Putin) is a transactionalist … you have to speak his language, you don’t tout him with incredible offers.”

Trump’s missteps aren’t just related to Russia and the Middle East:

We have walked away from a ‘rules-based international order. … [Trump sees] no value in multilateral institutions. … the essence of what Trump said to the U.N. is that national sovereignty trumps everything else. Well, we’ve seen what that means — that means that governments can do whatever they want to their own people and national sovereignty precludes anyone from the outside being able to intervene and do anything about it.

The whole import of ‘Never Again’ was that it wasn’t supposed to be a slogan, it was supposed to be a principle. But when the principle is national sovereignty, you can forget ‘Never Again.’ ”

Ross couldn’t have been clearer. He sees Trump as a huge threat to whatever equilibrium might exist in the Middle East by his inexplicable inaction vis-a-vis Russia. That failure of will increases the likelihood of escalation as the Israelis defend their interests against the Iranians, the Shia militias and the Syrians; all without the United States neutralizing the Russians.

In its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts, Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — is dangerous to everyone involved. As Ross observed, “what we are contending with now is really an assault on our values; by the way, it’s not just an assault on our democratic values, it’s an assault on our Jewish values.”

Last week saw further confirmation of the Trump administration’s denigration of the values that are intrinsic to the survival of the Jewish state: American moral leadership.

In his dismissal of taking action against the Saudis in the Oct. 2 disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump betrayed a disdain for America’s leadership role in the world if it might exact a price on our economy — “they’re [the Saudis] are spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment … that doesn’t help us” — he responded when asked about Khashoggi.

A far cry from President Harry Truman recognizing Israel in 1948 despite threats of retaliation from the Arab states, or President Richard Nixon sending arms to Israel in 1973 notwithstanding the Saudis’ imposing a painful and costly oil embargo on us. 

President John Kennedy once urged Americans “to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Trump is brazenly rewriting our 60-year-old American creed.

Symbolic gestures, such as moving the embassy to Jerusalem, might bring momentary satisfaction, but too much is at stake to think in such short-sighted terms. Looking at the big picture, as Ross so eloquently stated, leads to the inevitable conclusion that Trump’s failure of will with the Russians isn’t good for Israel, for the international order, or for the prospects for a moderately peaceful world.

READ MORE: “WHY TRUMP IS GOOD FOR ISRAEL”


David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. Janice Kamenir-Reznik is a longtime community leader in Los Angeles.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Files Brief for Russia to Release Schneerson Library to Chabad

Screenshot from Facebook.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center announced in a July 25 press release that they have filed an amicus curiae brief to a Washington, D.C. court calling on Russia to release the historic Schneerson Library to Chabad.

The library was initially seized from Chabad by the Soviet Union shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution; the library’s archives were then stolen by the Nazis before being reclaimed by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.

Chabad first filed a lawsuit to reclaim the library in 2004. In 2009, Russia backed out of the lawsuit, alleging that Chabad didn’t have any right to the library. All 100 senators and the Department of Justice have sided with Chabad, although the State Department in 2016 filed a “Statement of Interest” that Chabad’s claim to the library goes against international law. That State Department has yet to nix that statement.

“The Schneerson Library, made of thousands of books and archives, is a source of inspiration to hundreds of thousands of followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, and to millions of others deserves more respect than to be lying in a basement or warehouse somewhere in Moscow for 73 years,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and legal counsel Martin Mendelsohn said in a statement.

The Schneerson Library was named after Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson, who collected 12,000 books and 25,000 religious documents that contain the thoughts and teachings of various rabbis.

Trump Walks Back Russian Meddling Remarks

REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Trump sparked controversy on July 16 by proclaiming in a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 United States election. Trump walked back those comments on July 17.

When asked during the July 16 press conference if he believed Putin or the intelligence community on Russia meddling, Trump responded, “My people came to me; [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

A day later, Trump told reporters, “I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies, always have.”

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

The president added that he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it WOULDN’T be Russia” in the July 16 press conference.

Trump also told reporters that he and Putin discussed North Korea and denuclearization.

For Now, Trump Won’t Impose Russian Sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a roundtable on tax cuts for Florida small businesses in Hialeah, Florida, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced on April 15 that the U.S. would be implementing a new batch of sanctions against Russia for propping up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as he uses chemical weapons against his own people. However, The Washington Post is reporting that President Trump has not approved of such sanctions.

The Post report states that the sanctions are under “serious consideration” but Trump is reluctant to sign off on them unless Russia gives him “another triggering event” to do so. The White House is officially calling Haley’s statement on sanctions a mistake, however although others said it was strange that Haley would make such a mistake given that how “disciplined” she is in ensuring that her statements are in line with Trump’s thinking.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.”

According to CNN, the targets of such Russian sanctions would include “banks and equipment suppliers” as well as “Russian companies that sell helicopters and helicopter parts to Syria.”

Haley had said on CBS’ Face the Nation, “You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already.”

The sanctions matter comes after the U.S. led a coalition that launched airstrikes against Syria, targeting three chemical weapons facilities. Trump reportedly followed Defense Secretary James Mattis’ advice and made the strikes smaller than they potentially could have been in order to show restraint.

Haley Announces New Sanctions on Russia, Warns That More Airstrikes Against Syria Could Come

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the rounds on the Sunday morning show circuit and announced two pieces of news: the U.S. will be imposing new sanctions on Russia and more airstrikes could be coming Syria’s way.

On Fox News Sunday, Haley stated that the Russian sanctions would occur on Monday.

“If you look at what Russia is doing, they continue to be involved with all the wrong actors, whether their involvement in Ukraine, whether you look at how they are supporting Venezuela, whether you look in Syria and their way of propping up Assad and working with Iran, that continues to be a problem,” Haley said.

Haley was also asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on what the Trump administration would do if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continued to use chemical weapons, noting that President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis gave seemingly contradictory statements on the matter.

“What I can tell you is the president has made it very clear that when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, we have no tolerance for it,” Haley said. “We are going to watch out for the best interests of the American people. He made a point and hopefully Assad gets it. If Assad doesn’t get it, it’s going to hurt.”

Haley declined to say if military action in Syria is a possibility.

On Friday, a U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes against Syria in response to Assad using chemical weapons against his own people. Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria were struck, although other chemical weapon facilities were left untouched. Trump has hailed the strikes as a blow against Assad, but the Syrian dictator is reportedly in “positive spirits” after the strikes because he doesn’t think his grip on power is being threatened.

Israel Allegedly Launched Airstrikes Against Syria After Assad Launches Chemical Attack Against His Own People

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. To match Special Report RUSSIA-FLIGHTS/ Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/ via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

UPDATE: Iran is claiming that seven Iranian military personnel died in the airstrikes. Israel is now reportedly bracing itself for a counterattack by Iran’s proxy terror group Hezbollah.

ORIGINAL:

Israel allegedly launched airstrikes in Syria after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people over the weekend.

Russia and Syria claimed the strikes came from two Israeli F-15 planes, which resulted in 14 dead, including four Iranian military advisers in addition to multiple officers in the Syrian Army. Israel has not directly confirmed that they were the ones who launched the strikes, but their foreign ministry issued a statement condemning Assad for his chemical weapons attack.

“The attack shows clearly that Syria continues to possess lethal chemical weapons capabilities and even to manufacture new ones,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. “In so doing Syria is grossly violating its obligations and the decisions of the international community in this matter.”

Assad’s chemical weapons attack in Douma, a town that is close to Damascus and was held by the Syrian rebels, resulted in at least 40 people dead. According to The Times of Israel, “victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth” and there was also the scent of chlorine in the air.

Additionally, the Syrian American Medical Society has claimed that over “500 cases — the majority of whom are women and children — were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.”

A local activist told NBC News, “Whole families, mothers and little children and babies, they were all dead. They tried to escape death, but here in Douma, there is death is everywhere.”

Assad and the Russian government have denied the attack, but President Trump isn’t buying their denial.

“To me there’s not much of a doubt,” Trump told reporters on April 9. “If they’re innocent why aren’t they allowing people to go in and prove [it].”

Trump is expected to announce if the U.S. is going to take any retaliatory measures against Syria for the chemical attack. Defense Secretary James Mattis wouldn’t rule out airstrikes against Syria.

According to Syrian media, Syrian and Iranian forces are already on the move out of fear of possible U.S. airstrikes.

Israel has launched numerous airstrikes against Syria over the years, mainly against Hezbollah. There is evidence to suggest that Israel’s alleged airstrikes were in part aimed at curbing Iran’s grip in Syria in addition to being a retaliation against Assad’s chemical attack.

We Need a New U.N.

Photo from Flickr.

Another week, another Israel bashing session at the United Nations.

Following the Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday that resulted in at least 16 dead, the U.N. Security Council responded by drafting a resolution calling for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to be investigated for the various Palestinian deaths. The resolution was vetoed by the United States, but the fact that the U.N. yet again put the blame on Israel instead of on the terror group Hamas, who are using civilians as human shields in an attempt to wage a war with Israel, is disgraceful.

This is par for the course for the Israel-hating U.N. On March 23, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Israel due to the Jewish state’s so-called “occupation” of East Jerusalem. The UNHRC has a bad habit of denouncing Israel at least once a week, the same UNHRC that consists of countries like Venezuela, China and Cuba, which aren’t exactly halcyons of human rights.

Then there are the reported anti-Semitic Facebook posts from United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) teachers, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron as belonging to the Palestinians… the list goes on and on.

The statistics prove it too: CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out in December that the U.N. General Assembly adopted 97 resolutions that singled out a specific country from 2012-15. The number that singled out Israel: 83.

“Considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?” Tapper said.

I would go a bit further: what does the U.N. do well, exactly?

It certainly doesn’t do well addressing actual human rights abuses, like the ones Tapper cited. Former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has admitted that the international body “could have done much more” to stop the Rwanda genocide.

What about Russian and Chinese aggression? The U.N. tribunal’s 2016 ruling that China has no sovereign claim over the entirety of the South China sea has done nothing to stop Beijing from ramping up military exercises in the area. Similarly, the U.N. has done little to curb Vladimir Putin’s intervention into the Crimea.

Reminder: Russia and China wield veto power on the U.N. Security Council, preventing any real action to be taken on Syria, North Korea and Iran.

What about global poverty? A 2012 study conducted by New York University’s William Easterly and Mississippi State University’s Claudia Williamson concluded that the U.N.’s aid practices are toward the bottom among aid agencies worldwide. And as Chelsea Follett of HumanProgress noted, the U.N. is touting top-down, centralized government programs as the source for the decline in global poverty when in actuality it is economic freedom that has caused the dramatic decline in poverty.

The environment? A 2017 New York Times article detailed how the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund was established to help impoverished countries deal with climate changes, yet the money raised by the fund have gone toward questionable private sector projects instead of those countries. And the U.N.’s prized Paris Climate Accords’ impact on the climate would be negligible while harming the U.S. economy.

Peacekeeping? How can the U.N. be trusted in this area when their peacekeepers have been accused of sexually abusing women and girls in various countries and have been cited as the cause of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti?

With all this mind, is the U.N. really worth the nearly $8 billion that the U.S. allocates toward the international body?

The unfortunate truth is that the U.N. is a far cry from the bastion of freedom that the Allied powers intended when they first formed the international body in 1942 to fight the Axis powers. Freedom-loving countries like the U.S. and Israel are the minority in the U.N.; so long as that is the case, no reforms will solve the structurally flawed nature of the incompetent and immoral U.N.

 

This is what I’d love to see on the Global to-do list: Creating a new world body that will do justice to the ideals of the United Nations, an organization that has dishonored its very mission.

Trump Names John Bolton As His New National Security Adviser

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S. February 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

President Trump announced on Twitter on Mar. 22 that former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton would be his new national security adviser.

Trump tweeted that Bolton would be instated on April 9:

 

 

The New York Times originally broke the news, reporting that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Trump had been discussing him leaving the job for awhile now but the timing was accelerated to end the speculation and to ensure that Trump had the security team he wanted before he meets with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

McMaster and Trump have been clashing for quite some time.

“General McMaster’s serious, somber style and preference for order made him an uncomfortable fit with a president whose style is looser, and who has little patience for the detail and nuance of complex national security issues,” the Times reported. “They had differed on policy, with General McMaster cautioning against ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran without a strategy for what would come next, and tangling with Mr. Trump over the strategy for American forces in Afghanistan.”

McMaster also seemed to be less of a friend to Israel and softer on radical Islam than Trump, as McMaster had reportedly viewed Israel as “an occupying power” and screamed at the Israelis for their concerns over Hezbollah.

Bolton, on the other hand, is as pro-Israel as it gets. In November, he wrote an op-ed for Fox News calling for the American embassy to be moved to Jerusalem as soon as possible and in May, Bolton told the Jerusalem Post, “I don’t think the two-state solution is viable anymore.” Bolton argued that Judea and Samaria should be divided between Israel and Jordan and the Gaza Strip should be given to Egypt. When Bolton was assistant secretary of state from 1989-1993, “he coordinated the effort to rescind the United Nations resolution from the 1970s that equated Zionism with racism,” according to Hank Berrien of the Daily Wire.

The former U.N. ambassador has also detailed a lengthy exit strategy for leaving the Iran nuclear deal, suggesting that there is an increased likelihood that Trump will pull out from the deal altogether. Bolton has also been a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in February titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”

Haley Issues Warning to Russia, Iran and Syria: ‘The United States Remains Prepared to Act If We Must’

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the U.N. Security Council on Syria during a meeting of the Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a stark warning to Russia, Iran and Syria on Mar. 12 over the recent bombings in Syria: the United States is ready to take action if need be.

At the United Nations Security Council, Haley explained that Russia had been constantly blocking efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria stopping Bashar al-Assad’s forces from striking the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus. Russia eventually relented and agreed to a ceasefire, but only because they had a heavy say in each syllable of the agreement.

Haley proceeded to accuse the Russians of violating the agreement by taking advantage of a provision that allows for military strikes to take out terrorists.

“In the eyes of Russia, Iran and Assad, the neighborhoods of Eastern Ghouta are full of terrorists,” Haley said. “The hospitals are full of terrorists. The schools are full of terrorists. The Syrian and Russian regimes insist that they are targeting terrorists, but their bombs and artillery continue to fall on hospitals and schools and on innocent civilians.”

Haley then stated that the U.S. is producing a new ironclad ceasefire agreement that doesn’t feature any loopholes for the Assad regime to use against their own people. If the Security Council is unable to adopt the resolution, then the U.S. is ready to take matters into their own hands.

“Any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering – most especially the outlaw Syrian regime – the United States remains prepared to act if we must,” Haley said. “It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again.”

Russia is standing by its defense that they’re simply weeding out terrorism in the area and is claiming that they are attempting to implement the current ceasefire agreement.

Israeli Forum for Regional Thinking Research Fellow Elizabeth Tsurkov explained in a Twitter thread how “horrific” the situation is in Eastern Ghouta:

The Assad regime is essentially a client-state of Russia and Iran. Russia has been controlling the Syrian civil war since 2015 in the absence of a serious U.S. presence in the region, although there are issues surfacing for the Kremlin as their forces seemed to be bogged down in Syria for the foreseeable future. Syria is a key ally for Tehran, as the country serves as a route for Iran to arm their terror proxy Hezbollah.

In April 2017, the Trump administration launched airstrikes against the Assad regime for its barbaric use of chemical weapons against its own people.

H/T: Daily Caller

The Future of Jewish Life in Russia

When considering the “Free Soviet Jewry” movement that peaked in the 1980s, it’s easy to focus on the romantic notion of liberation. After all, over a million Jews left the Soviet Union for Israel and the United States, making the movement a crown jewel of communal activist success.

But such success is hardly the complete story.

What’s missing from the narrative of liberation is the complexity of cultural nostalgia — the visceral pull of a homeland, even when that homeland has betrayed you.

In Maxim D. Shrayer’s study “With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia,” the complicated nature of what it means to live as a Jew in Russia is delicately addressed. Shrayer was born in Moscow in 1967 and, with his family, spent nine years as a refusenik before emigrating to the U.S. in 1987. Having written and translated numerous books, including two memoirs, Shrayer has become an expert in Russian-Jewish literature and culture.

This newest study details his trip to Russia in 2016 with his fifth-grade daughter, Mira. Like most good Jewish works, Shrayer’s begins with a question that compels us to ask further questions. In the prologue, Shrayer asks Oleg Dorman, a Jewish filmmaker living in Russia, a complicated question: “Why do you stay here?”

What’s missing from the narrative of liberation is the complexity of cultural nostalgia — the visceral pull of a homeland, even when that homeland has betrayed you.

Dorman says poignantly, “G-d gave me as a Jew such a place in life — to live in Russia.” It’s a startling answer to a seemingly simple question. And the idea that God chooses where people will live (and die) is a distressing notion. But it is in this fashion that Shrayer begins his book.

In Moscow, there is a Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, founded in 2012. It is a miracle that such a place should exist, given the long history of Russian anti-Semitism and the plight of Jews in Russia only decades ago, namely the Soviet Union’s efforts to “annihilate Judaism and traditional Jewish life.” Yet even the remarkable presence of such a place in Russia is unsurprisingly fraught.

Dorman tells Shrayer that when a tram stops at the museum, it is announced only as the “Museum and Center of Tolerance,” all references to Jewishness glaringly omitted. It’s hard to believe, and so Shrayer decides to see for himself, and takes the tram to the museum to discover that the announcement for the stop has indeed been cleansed of all Jewish references. It is a tram stop “already loaded with the baggage of Soviet antisemitism” in a society where the word “Jew” is “somehow indecent,” not something said out loud.

The narrative of Shrayer’s journey through Moscow is interspersed with memories of his own childhood in Russia, and the omission of the word “Jewish” from the tram stop announcement reminds him of his sixth-grade peers laughing hysterically at the mention of the word “Jew” in relation to a composer’s score known in Russia as “Two Jews: Rich and Poor.” Shrayer recounts how the word “Jew” itself was worthy of derision, and so to them the idea of two Jews was especially dirty and hilarious.

A question addressed, however, is whether the omission of the word amounts to real anti-Semitism or whether it is simply a vestige of Soviet discrimination that has lost its meaning and impact. Recent surveys of Moscow residents suggest that Jews are in ninth place as “targets of antipathy,” falling below Roma and Tajiks, as well as Americans, Ukrainians and Armenians. Shrayer agrees that overtly anti-Semitic behavior in Russia has declined considerably in the post-Soviet era, although he is not as optimistic as the study’s authors, who claim that “the dominant attitude toward Jews is that of moderate respect,” and that “negative connotations are largely gone.”

But if anti-Semitism has truly declined in Russia, where have all the anti-Semites gone? History suggests that anti-Semitism never really disappears, but only shrinks beneath the surface to bubble up in new ways. Shrayer draws an important distinction between Russia’s “professional Jew-haters” — politicians and extremists publicly espousing anti-Semitic rhetoric — and average citizens. While public denunciations of Jews are fewer, anti-Semitism’s “putrid flowers continue to bloom” particularly on social media. And so it is that “unprejudiced average Russian citizens by day” are transformed into “outspoken anti-Semites by night.”

It would seem that Russian anti-Semitism has simply put on a new face. It is surprising then that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement is so popular in Russia. Strikingly, most Chabad activists of Russia are ex-Soviets who have become ba’alei t’shuva, and are “Pushkin-quoting men and women in Hasidic attire.” In Shrayer’s words, Chabad-Lubavitch is the “guardian of Russia’s Jews” — a  complex identity indeed.

Shrayer admits that for him, a map of Moscow does not simply reflect his childhood and first love, but is also a “map of antisemitism” revealing the texture of a place that is simultaneously “more tolerant and more foreign” to him. “I’m conflicted about which of the two maps to unfold,” he writes, “which memories to suppress.”

The question of why Jews remain in Russia persists, and in search of an answer, Shrayer interviews seven people. Are they, as columnist Aleksandr Minkin suggests, “living on top of a volcano” whose eruption is imminent or is this an overreaction?

Writer Afanasy Mamedov tells Shrayer that Jewish life in Russia “depends on direct philanthropy,” lamenting that contemporary Russian Jews have no patrons of the arts, no philanthropists in the way they existed for Russian Jews in the late 1800s. “The birth of the next Kafka is unlikely here,” he says. “Everything is still rising from the old yeast.” Indeed, the mass exodus of Jews from Russia has come at a tremendous cost for the literary world.

One of the greatest 20th-century writers, Isaac Babel, left the Soviet Union in 1935. But his identity as a Russian-Jewish writer was tied intricately to living in the Soviet Union: He returned in 1939 and was executed. “If I did not live with Russian people, I would cease being a writer. I would be like a fish out of water,” he once said.

While Russian-Jewish writing flourishes outside of Russia, it often manifests as immigrant literature that is as much a product of a new and foreign home as it is of the writer’s homeland. And although it is quickly becoming its own remarkable literary genre, one can’t help but lament the limited potential for new Jewish literary greats to rise in contemporary Russia.

What, then, is the future of Jews in Russia?

Yakov Ratner, a member of the Chabad community who runs a Jewish publishing house, claims that the future of Jewish life in Russia depends on the extent to which parents are interested in a distinctly Jewish identity. Otherwise, it is only “chance [that] could carry such a child” toward Jewishness.

The interviewees all share, despite their optimism, a sense of foreboding. The Jewish population that remains in Russia is an aging one, its birthrate the lowest of any ethnic group. There are more Russian-speaking Jews living outside of Russia than within its borders. So why do they stay? It’s a question that both is and is not answered in this important study. But it also raises the question: How important is it to Diasporic Jews that Russian Jewish life continue to flourish, and what are we going to do about it?


Monica Osborne is scholar of Jewish literature and culture. She is the author of “The Midrashic Impulse and the Contemporary Literary Response to Trauma.”

Haley: We ‘Need to Take Action on our Own’ on Iran

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after arriving to watch a training of the COBRAS, Honduras National Police Special Forces, at their base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called out Russia for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Iran for arming the Houthi rebels in Yemen and suggested that the U.S. could put matters into its own hands.

“If Russia is going to continue to cover for Iran then the US and our partners need to take action on our own,” Haley said. “If we’re not going to get action on the council then we have to take our own actions.”

According to Reuters and Algemeiner, the drafted resolution first stated that Iran violated an embargo on supplying weapons to the Houthis based on a report from U.N. experts but was later watered down to only express “particular concern” about Iran’s violations to appease Russia. And yet, Russia still vetoed the condemnation, as they were reportedly skeptical of the experts’ conclusions.

Haley’s statement comes as the Trump administration is considering nixing the Iran nuclear deal unless substantial changes are made, and Haley said that the Security Council “doesn’t help” proponents of the deal.

“That just validated a lot of what we already thought, which is Iran gets a pass for its dangerous and illegal behavior,” Haley said.

Iran claimed that the U.S. and Britain were simply scapegoating them for the carnage in Yemen. Tehran has denied accusations that they are arming the Houthis, although their denials are belied by various reports to the contrary. It’s unsurprising that Russia would provide cover to Iran given the two countries have been allies for years due to their shared hatred toward the West.

As the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) points out, Iran and the Houthis share differing beliefs in Shia Islam but they are aligned by geopolitics since “Iran seeks to challenge Saudi and U.S. dominance of the region, and the Houthis are the primary opposition to [interim President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-] Hadi’s Saudi- and U.S.-backed government in Sana’a.”

The Houthis ignited the three-year civil war in Yemen when they wrestled power from Hadi, prompting Saudi Arabia to intervene in the conflict and fight the Houthis in an attempt to curb Iran’s influence in the region and reinstate Hadi’s power. The U.S. is backing the Saudis in the conflict.

The civil war has been devastating on the civilians, as thousands have been killed and millions more are in dire need of aid.

Trump Attacks ‘Little Adam Schiff’ in Tweet. Here Are 5 Things to Know About Schiff.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

President Trump took to Twitter on Monday to launch an attack against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) as the House Democrats are preparing to release a memo in response to the Nunes memo:

Here was Schiff’s response:

Here are five things to know about Schiff.

1. Schiff’s district encompasses part of the Los Angeles area. According to a Journal cover story on Schiff in April 2017, Schiff’s district “extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest.” Schiff has served in Congress since 2001 and used to be a member of Glendale’s Temple Sinai.

2. Schiff is considered to be a moderate by some, others view him as a deeply partisan congressman. A 2006 profile of Schiff in The Hill described the congressman as “a moderate, a compromiser, a man who chose law school over med school because he thought it would give him greater opportunities to serve the public.” However, National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “I don’t think people appreciate Adam Schiff’s incredible talent to sound above the fray, non partisan and more in sorrow than in anger, while being hyper partisan. He’s better than Harry Reid was and is almost as good as Tom Daschle.”

Conservative Review has concluded that Schiff has voted with conservatives only 12% of the time during his House tenure.

3. Schiff has constantly hyped the narrative of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. For instance, Schiff told CNN in December, “The Russians offered help, the campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help and the president made full use of that help, and that is pretty damning, whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.”

Schiff’s hyping of Trump-Russia collusion combined with his status as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee has caused him to become a frequent guest on cable news networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC, but his critics argue that Schiff has been unable to provide sufficient evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

4. Schiff has constantly railed against the Nunes memo. Schiff argued vociferously against the memo being released, arguing that it would harm national security, although there is nothing in the memo to suggest that. Over the weekend, Schiff argued that the memo being released could result in more Oklahoma City bombings.

5. Schiff’s critics have accused him of leaking false information to the media and being a partisan hypocrite. Mollie Hemingway listed numerous examples of this at The Federalist, including an anonymously sourced Daily Beast story falsely claiming that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) snuck into the White House in the dead of night to obtain documents showing evidence of surveillance by the Obama administration – the same way Schiff had described it. Schiff has denied accusations of being a leaker.

Additionally, in 2013 Schiff argued for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reforms on Russian television, causing some to accuse him of hypocrisy for repeating a Kremlin talking point then, yet is now quick to hype Trump-Russia collusion. Others have noted that Schiff doesn’t appear to be interested in verifying the Steele dossier that is alleged to have been the basis of a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page.

Five Key Facts About the Newly Released Nunes Memo

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

For the past couple of weeks, there has been all sorts of hype around a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, alleging abuse by the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) in the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. The memo has finally been released; here are five things to know about it.

1. A dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign seems to be a key part in surveillance against Carter Page, who worked for the Trump campaign. Per the memo, the dossier was compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele who was being paid by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the research firm Fusion GPS and law firm Perkins Cole to find dirt on Trump. The DOJ and FBI both knew of Steele’s connections, yet the application to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant did not mention that Steele was working at the behest  of the Clinton campaign and DNC. The memo also notes that outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified in December that they wouldn’t have attempted to obtain a FISA warrant against Page if not for the Steele dossier.

Additionally, the memo highlights the fact that the FBI had barely started their corroboration of the Steele dossier when the FISA application was submitted and that in June then-FBI Director James Comey described the dossier as “salacious” and “unverified” allegations, although this characterization of Comey’s comments on the dossier doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate. Others have noted that there has yet to be anything to corroborate the main allegations in the dossier.

However, USA Today points out that Page had first appeared on the FBI’s radar in 2013 for possible Russia connections. It’s unclear how much of a role that played in obtaining the FISA warrant against Page, but the memo seems to suggest that the Steele dossier played a significant role in obtaining the warrant.

The Democrats are disputing that the dossier played a major role in obtaining the warrant:

2.  Steele really, really did not want Trump to be president. According to the memo, Steele told then-Associate DOJ official Bruce Ohr in September 2016 he “was desperate” and “passionate” about ensuring that Trump would never be elected to the presidency. Ohr was recently demoted for not disclosing his meeting with people behind the Steele dossier; his wife also worked for Fusion GPS in 2016 but it is not known if she had any involvement with the dossier. The FISA application against Page, which was sought a month after Steele made his alleged comments to Ohr, did not mention Steele’s stated feelings about Trump nor did it mention any possible conflict of interest with the Ohrs and Fusion GPS.

The memo also points out that Ohr worked closely with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate possible Trump-Russia collusion.

3. Steele leaked his dossier to members of the media in order to pressure the FISA court to approve the application to spy on Page. The memo alleges that Steele leaked contents from the dossier to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News and other media outlets in September; he also provided information about the dossier to David Corn of Mother Jones the following month. The information that Steele provided to Isikoff in his Yahoo article was used in the FISA application against Page to justify a warrant, but did not disclose that Steele had provided the information used in Isikoff’s article. Steele was eventually dismissed as an FBI source for failing to disclose his leaking to the media to the bureau.

4. The memo claims that certain members of the FBI were biased against Trump. The memo specifically singles out FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who was one of the key figures in opening the FBI investigation on Trump-Russia collusion, and his paramour, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, for sending text messages stating their desire to see Clinton elected president over Trump and that they discussed an “insurance policy” against Trump’s election with McCabe. This has all been reported elsewhere.

5. However, the Steele dossier did not trigger the investigation against Trump; George Papadopoulos was the trigger. The memo points to the FBI investigation starting in July 2016 due to Papadopoulos, who used to work for the Trump campaign, bragging about the Russians having opposition research on Clinton to an Australian diplomat.

There has been a wide variety of reactions to the Nunes memo:

The full memo can be read below:

 

The Other Russia Mystery

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Syria is a front in need of attention. It is a front where Israel might risk war.

Two weeks ago, Israel reportedly — it did not officially comment — attacked south of Damascus. A week and a half ago, Israel (reportedly) attacked again. In both cases, there was an aura of vagueness surrounding the targets. An “Iranian base,” it was said. A “Syrian military facility.” Why were these specific targets attacked? What is it that bothers Israel about them — assuming it really was Israel that attacked?

Then, on Dec. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly landed in Syria and declared victory over ISIS and announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria. “Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you,” Putin told his troops. “You are coming back home with victory!”

Why now and not two weeks ago or two weeks from now? Only Putin knows. In recent weeks, Russia backed the Syrian narrative, according to which the regime is close to winning the war, while the U.S. argued that these declarations of an impending victory are premature. So maybe Putin was just making the point by putting his money — or military forces —  where his mouth is.

Russia seems to be pleased enough with such victory. Putin is rightly satisfied.

In many ways, this debate is about semantics. Define “victory”; define “Syrian victory.”

The Donald Trump administration believes that a vast majority of the forces fighting in support of the Syrian government — the regime still under the control of the ever-doomed-to-departure President Bashar Assad — is made up of foreign forces. A victory? Maybe. But this will not be a victory of Syrian forces under Assad. It will be a victory of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, of Iraqi militias and, most of all, of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Russia seems to be pleased enough with such victory. When its leader decided to jump into the Syria swamp, his goal was to fill a vacuum created by American inaction, save his ally Assad and keep Russian interests in the country unharmed. Looking at these three objectives, Putin is rightly satisfied. He was able to demonstrate to Middle Eastern and other world regimes that Russia is an ally no less — or maybe more — reliable than the United States. He was able to guard Russia’s interests in the country (among them, military bases). He was able to save Assad, for now. In the summer of 2011, President Barack Obama first called for the Syrian president to step down. The Russians said no. The Russians had their way.

Israel was disturbed by many of these developments. Having Russia, rather than the U.S., as the main power broker in the region does not seem appealing. Having Assad becoming an Iranian proxy does not seem appealing. Having Assad win the war as an Iranian proxy does not seem appealing.

Israel warily watches as payback looms. Iran won the war for Assad, and is now expecting a reward: military presence in Syria, not too far from the Israeli border.

Israel declared such development a red line. Speaking in a video message to the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clear: “We will not allow a regime hellbent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.”

So, after the attacks (allegedly by Israel) in Syria, one has to assume that the goal is in line with this message. Sabotage all the Iranians’ attempts to entrench themselves in Syria. Destroy their facilities and disrupt their plans, sending them a message of warning.

This message is aimed at Iran and its allies, but no less at Russia and the U.S. The superpowers can let the situation deteriorate by letting Israel and Iran conduct a war in Syria’s territory. They also can choose to prevent it by taking a side. The potential problem for Israel is obvious: What happens in case Russia takes Iran’s side — that is, insist that Israel cease from attacking in Syria — while the U.S. remains on the sidelines?

Israel can do what’s necessary to stop Iran from entrenching in Syria. But opposing the Russians is a lot riskier. Thus, the reduction of Russian presence on Syrian soil puts Israel in a position more convenient for free action.

On the other hand, the Russians are leaving and an even larger vacuum must be filled. Iran seems ready to try to fill it. Israel seems ready to not allow it. So, a proxy war becomes even more likely today than it did a few weeks ago.


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

Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI About Discussions With Russian Ambassador

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Retired Lt. General Mike Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, is pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and is willing to testify against Trump in the Russia investigation.

Flynn faced charges of lying to the FBI that he didn’t tell Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to vote against a United Nations resolution in December declaring all Israeli settlements in Jerusalem to be illegal. He also faced charges of lying about telling Kislyak to hold off any retaliation against sanctions and that he didn’t remember Kislyak telling him that Russia would indeed “moderate its response.”

Flynn refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller at first due to his loyalty to Trump, but eventually acquiesced due to increasing legal bills and the feeling that Trump was leaving him out to dry.

The former national security adviser issued a statement that read, “It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

The charges Flynn plead guilty to have a maximum sentence of five years in prison, however given Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller it’s unlikely that he’ll receive significant jail time.

Flynn is expected to testify that Trump told him to talk to the Russians about cooperation between the two countries on Syria and ISIS. It is also being reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was the one who ordered Flynn to contact every foreign representative and lobby against the anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

Ty Cobb, Trump’s lawyer, claimed that Flynn’s plea is of no significance.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” said Cobb. “The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

However, the White House was reportedly “caught off guard” at the news of Flynn’s guilty plea.

“What they’re freaked out about is that there are no leaks,” a source told Politico. “[George] Papadopoulos didn’t leak. Flynn didn’t leak. They feel like they can’t trust anyone. Their own counsel didn’t know.”

In West Hollywood, Serving Up a Little Bit of Russia

Alexander and Victoria Urevich in their Kovcheg Russian bookstore. Photo by Olga Grigoryants

For more than 10 years, Alexander Urevich and his wife, Victoria, have run Kovcheg Russian Books, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gardner Street, selling books, magazines and newspapers to Russian-speaking immigrants.

Kovcheg, which means “ark” in Russian, carries more than 50,000 books and sells a wide range of decorative items, including Russian nesting dolls, wooden platters and toys. For years, the store has been a go-to place for film studios looking for unique posters and medals from the Soviet era.

“We know our customers by name,” said Alexander, 63. “Not just our customers but their families, children and grandchildren.”

Over the years, the store has become a popular hangout for senior citizens, who drop by to read books and talk politics. American-born children of Russian-speaking immigrants bring their offspring to practice Russian with Alexander, whom they call Uncle Sasha, using the Russian diminutive for his name.

The store has remained open despite changes in the neighborhood. West Hollywood’s Russian-speaking population shrank about 30 percent to 3,872 people from 2000 to 2010, a city study found. Although the shop is located outside West Hollywood proper, most of its customers live there, Alexander said.

The Ureviches, both Jewish natives of Russia, made aliyah, living in Petah Tikva for two years before moving to California with their three children in 2002.

The couple learned about the bookstore, which has operated at its current location for more than 35 years, from an advertisement in a Russian-language newspaper. They sold an apartment in their native Ekaterinburg, Russia, and got a $15,000 loan from Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles to buy the business.

“I didn’t care what I would do — sell sausages, furniture or books,” said Victoria, 60. “I just wanted to start our own business.”

The store became an instant success, with customers of all ages visiting from as far away as the San Fernando Valley and Marina del Rey. Some would linger for hours, reading books and chatting with the owners.

“People would come and sit here for hours, talking about their kids and grandkids,” said Alexander, who eventually eliminated seating to stop customers from staying too long. “We have no chairs now, and people still come and sit here for hours.”

“We have no chairs now, and people still come and sit here for hours.” – Alexander Urevich

But despite a steady influx of customers, sales have declined in the last four years.  Since 2007, when the couple took over the store, average book prices have soared from $5 or $7 to $10 or $15 — prices many find prohibitive.

“Our rent is high and business is slow and books are hard to sell,” said Victoria, who partly blamed the popularity of e-books. “It’s getting tough because nobody wants to buy books anymore.”

Sandwiched between a beauty salon and a caviar shop, the store greets customers with a wooden box of $1 books. Inside the store, a Soviet flag hangs on the wall next to a wooden cuckoo clock and icons of St. Maria. A glass case displays wooden jewelry, wooden kitchenware and paintings. On the shelves, Sholem Aleichem novels sit next to books about UFOs.

On a recent afternoon, Larisa Gamburg stopped by the store with her three children. Her daughter brought a handmade greeting card to Victoria and Uncle Sasha.

“Victoria and Uncle are very friendly and are always ready to help find a good book,” the 11-year-old said.

Her mother said the family visits the store at least once a month and buys books that she read growing up in her native Ukraine, including “One Thousand and One Nights” and “The Children of Captain Grant” by Jules Verne.

Gamburg said she and her children enjoy spending time with Victoria and Alexander, who help her children practice Russian.

“It’s one of a few places in the area where we can find Russian books,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Robert Mueller indicts three former Trump campaign staffers as part of Russia investigation

FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Robert Mueller, the independent special counsel in the investigation on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, has handed down indictments to three former staffers in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The three men who have been indicted are Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates as well former foreign policy campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Manafort and Gates are facing charges of money laundering from a Ukrainian political party that has ties to the Russian government as well as failure to report that they were foreign agents. Both have currently been placed on home confinement; they are both pleading not guilty.

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s attorney, issued the following statement:

Papadopoulos plead guilty for lying to the FBI about his correspondences with the Russians. Emails show that Papadopoulos was in contact with the Russians about possibly securing a meeting with Trump to receive some opposition research on Hillary Clinton; the indictment alleges that Papadopoulos lied about those correspondences.

Papadopoulos’ attorneys issued a statement that they wouldn’t comment on the matter until the case reaches court:

Trump tweeted that the indictments didn’t reveal any evidence of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed the indictments.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the President, has nothing to do with the President’s campaign or campaign activity,” said Sanders. “The real collusion scandal, as we have said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, and Russia.”

The White House has also stated that they expect Mueller’s investigation to wrap up soon.

WSJ: Mueller Should Step Down from Russia Investigation

Screenshot from YouTube.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has called on former FBI director Robert Mueller to step down from his role as special counsel in the Russia investigation.

The editorial recapped the news that broke earlier in the week that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) paid Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm, to unearth information against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. The firm produced a dossier comprising allegations against the president, including the claim that the Russians were blackmailing Trump with videos of him with Russian prostitutes. The editorial noted that the dossier was “based on largely anonymous, Kremlin-based sources.”

The editorial then pivoted to the FBI, pointing out that they were paying Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the dossier, “to continue his work in the run-up to the election.”

“Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?” the editors asked.

The FBI’s role in regards to Fusion GPS and the Russian investigation needs to be investigated, which is why the Journal’s editors believe Mueller should step aside.

“Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey,” the editors wrote. “It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.”

Mueller was appointed as an independent special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Others who have called on Mueller to step aside include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ).

D.C Judge to Request Israel’s Assistance In Dispute with Russia Over Chabad Books

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

Judge Royce Lamberth, a federal judge of the District of Columbia, will request Israel for their assistance in a dispute with Russia over religious texts.

The dispute involves the Chabad-Lubavitch movement demanding that Russia relinquish a collection of texts that are invaluable to the movement. So far, Russia has refused to hand them over.

According to The National Law Journal, Chabad told Judge Lamberth on Tuesday that Kedem Auction House in Israel was able to a get hold of one of the texts, so they requested that Lamber ask an Israeli court to mandate Kedem to explain how they obtained the book. Lamberth approved their request and issued a legal letter to an Israeli court.

“Chabad has brought to this court’s attention the apparent intention of the Witness, Kedem Auction House Limited of Jerusalem, Israel, to auction a volume that has been identified as part of the Chabad library in Russia’s possession,” the letter reads. “Based on information presented to this Court and found to be credible, the volume is subject to this Court’s previous judgment and order.”

Lamberth also reportedly ruled that the book obtained Kedem shouldn’t be sold.

The texts in question involve a collection of 12,000 books and 25,000 handwritten documents that were stored by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn during World War I, which is why they are known as “the Schneerson collection.” Rabbi Chaim Cunin told Deseret News that these documents feature “notes from rabbis” and “personal thoughts and teachings.”

“The documents include the stories and struggles of people who, in some cases, only exist on these pages,” said Cunin.

The Russians seized half of the Schneerson collection in 1918; the rest were seized years later by the Nazis. In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union got their hands on them.

Chabad first filed a lawsuit against Russia to return the texts in 2004. Russia withdrew from the case in 2009 and has refused to hand them over, claiming that Chabad has no legal claim to it. However, Tablet’s Avital Chizik has written that the Russians are simply afraid of “setting a legal precedent for returning nationalized Soviet property at large.”

Russia’s refusal to hand over texts prompted Lamberth to sanction them $50,000 per day in 2013, which has accumulated to $83.5 million. Chabad argued on Tuesday that the sanctions should be increased to $100,000 per day.

All 100 U.S. senators have called for Russia to release the texts. The Department of Justice has also sided with Chabad, although they are wary of further sanctions that may result in Russia taking retaliatory measures.

Jewish pianist Mikhail Klein collapses, dies on stage

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

(JTA) — The celebrated pianist Mikhail Klein collapsed and died on stage at the age of 72 while performing his own composition in his hometown of Irkutsk.

Klein, who in 1987 was awarded the prestigious title of Honored Artist of Russia, died at the foot of a grand piano of the Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday before hundreds of people who had come to hear him play, said the municipality of the Siberian city, situated near Russia’s border with Mongolia.

“I was sitting in the front row and, seeing that Mikhail Leonidovich was ill, ran up to him,” the head of the city department of culture, Vitaly Baryshnikov, told RIA Novosti.

Two of the city’s most prominent physicians were in attendance but their attempts to reanimate him with a cardiac massage did not succeed. He died, reportedly of heart failure, just before 8:30 p.m. He had lived in Irkutsk for the past 45 years and has worked for the Irkutsk Philharmonic for all that time, the orchestra wrote in an obituary mourning his death.

With his “fanatic devotion to the arts,” the obituary said, he “brilliantly represented Russian musical art in many cultural and educational activities” locally and abroad. “His other passion was sports, loyalty to his friends — colleagues in the volleyball team, which he carried through all his creative life,” the statement also said.

Known in Russia and beyond for his renditions and interpretations of works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and other great composers, Klein, who was Jewish, was also a prolific jazz composer and enthusiast.

He was playing “This is all Russia,” a jazz composition that he wrote featuring fragments of several famous Russian songs, before he collapsed.

Ukraine arrests three alleged terrorists accused of targeting Jews in Uman

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrim blows a shofar, near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year, in Uman, Ukraine, Sept. 21, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

(JTA) — Ukrainian police arrested three men they said were terrorists who, in their efforts to pit ethnic groups against one another, also targeted Jews in the central city of Uman.

The men were arrested earlier this month at a border crossing while carrying explosives, according to the KP news site. Citing unnamed officials from the regional prosecutor’s office, the news site reported that the suspects were planning to blow up a monument for Hungarians in a bid to escalate tensions over legislation in Ukraine that outlaws the use of Hungarian at elementary schools.

The three suspects were also behind a string of anti-Semitic incidents, according to the report, including the hurling on Sept. 21 of a grenade at Jewish pilgrims in Uman, where 30,000 Jews convene each year on Rosh Hashanah to celebrate the Jewish holiday near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

They are also accused of dousing a synagogue in Uman with red paint in 2016 and leaving a pig’s head there – an incident that many people attributed to hatred of Jews and locals’ growing dissatisfaction with problems associated with the pilgrimage.

They are further accused of spraying the words “death to Jews” on the synagogue in Chernivtsi in November and trying to set fire to the synagogue in Lviv in July. The suspects denied these and other allegations.

Though prosecutors have not said this, the arrests prompted theories that the three suspects were working for Russia to exacerbate social tensions in Ukraine and give the country a bad image abroad.

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged allegations of sabotage after 2014, when a revolution led by nationalists in Ukraine toppled the rule of former president Viktor Yanukovych, whom some critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backs separatists in Ukraine’s east.

The two countries have also exchanged accusations of anti-Semitism in an apparent attempt to discredit each other in the West.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg defends targeted ads in face of ‘Jew hater’ controversy

Sheryl Sandberg speaking at Advertising Week in New York on Sept. 27, 2016. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

Allowing hateful terms as options was “a fail on our part,” Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg said in a post in which she also defended targeted advertising.

Sandberg also announced in the message posted on Facebook last week that the company is strengthening its policies and tools on targeted ads.

ProPublica, an investigative website, reported earlier this month that a news website was able to target ads at Facebook users who expressed interest in “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews.” Facebook removed the categories after being alerted to their existence and said it would seek to prevent such categories from popping up for potential advertisers.

Sandberg wrote in her post: “Seeing those words made me disgusted and disappointed – disgusted by these sentiments and disappointed that our systems allowed this. Hate has no place on Facebook – and as a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate. The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part. We removed them and when that was not totally effective, we disabled that targeting section in our ad systems.”

She defended targeted advertising, which allows companies to place ads based on demographics on the buying history of consumers, or on behavior and self-identification. Facebook relies heavily on algorithms to find and highlight content.

“Targeted advertising is how Facebook has helped millions of business grow, find customers, and hire people,” Sandberg wrote. “Our systems match organizations with potential customers who may be interested in their products or services. The systems have been particularly powerful for small businesses, who can use tools that previously were only available to advertisers with large budgets or sophisticated marketing teams.

Sandberg said Facebook would clarify its advertising policies and tighten enforcement processes to ensure that content that goes against Facebook’s community standards cannot be used to target ads; by adding more human review and oversight to the automated processes; and by creating a program to encourage users to report potential abuses directly to the company.

“We hope these changes will prevent abuses like this going forward,” Sandberg note, adding that Facebook has had “a firm policy against hate.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Facebook sent out Happy New Year messages to users it believed to be Jewish. But many who received the message are not Jewish and may have received the greetings because they followed a group with a Jewish theme or posted a message on the Facebook page of a Jewish friend, Mashable reported.

“We send messages about religious moments to people in countries where a large proportion of the population observes the religion, or where the religious date is a public holiday,” firm policy against hate. “We may also show the message to people who’ve expressed interest in the holiday.”

5777: Coping with a year of rage

White supremacists, foreground, face off against counterprotesters, top, at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

We hear the word “high” a lot during the High Holy Days — and it’s not just because we live in pot-friendly California.

This time of year is supposed to elevate us, lift us up. It’s so integral to the mission of the holidays, and it’s embedded into the choreography of the service: The ark is opened and we rise; the shofar calls us to stand and wake up; the fast on Yom Kippur alters the chemistry of our brains. Prayer itself promises to bring us “higher and higher,” inching us closer to the profound mystery at the heart of the universe we call God.

Everything about this 10-day annual ritual titillates us with the promise of spiritual intoxication: If we take the holidays seriously enough — if we repent, return, forgive — Jewish tradition tells us we can change our lives; that everything we thought lost is still possible. Begin again, we’re told. It’s a new year. 

But for so many of us, the task of getting high this year seems especially hard because this last year was so full of personal and global anguish. How do we reclaim a space for the spirit when life can be so profoundly dispiriting?

Most of the major events of 5777 have given us reason to worry, rage and fear. We lived through the most polarizing election in our lifetimes, followed by the installation of an equally polarizing administration. We learned about Russian subversion of our democratic process. We endured nuclear threats from North Korea and the rising threat of economic imperialism in China. We watched the Syrian civil war and genocide spread into its sixth tragic year. We divided ourselves over Israel, agonizing about the challenges it faces within and without. We witnessed terror in Europe.

And, most recently, we watched with utter helplessness as the wrath of nature devastated American cities and communities, and as DACA was rescinded, putting the futures of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in limbo. All of this courtesy of the constant churn of the 24-hour news cycle that knows no Shabbat. 

For these reasons and others, we feel drained. Can prayer and community have any impact on healing these wounds? And what if the very polarizing politics we wish to escape appear in our rabbi’s sermon?

For those of us who already are politically engaged, philanthropic and working with great devotion to fight injustice in this world, we hope the High Holy Days will pour some light onto the canvas of our aching souls.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, I asked Rabbi Mordecai Finley, the spiritual leader at Ohr Hatorah in Venice who teaches and counsels through the prism of psychology and philosophy, how we can move from a year of rage, grief or simply exhaustion to a period of spiritual elevation.

His answer was surprising — and kind of Buddhist.

“Every philosophical system that takes morality seriously detaches wisdom from emotions,” he said over warm apple pie at Sophos Café, the Italian-coffee hangout that serves as the lobby at his shul. (I had to put aside my extreme satisfaction with the pie to understand his point.)

But aren’t you angry about what you see happening in our country, or in the world, I asked?

“I don’t get that emotional [about it],” he said. “Anybody who is that upset [over politics], I’m wondering how efficacious their spiritual practice is to begin with. When people say to me, ‘It’s been the worst year ever,’ I say, ‘1862 was a bad year for our country [it was the Civil War and the Union was losing]. 1942 was a bad year for the world.’

“There are those who love divisiveness and get all emotional. It’s a choice you make. I’m among those who find [President Donald Trump] repugnant, but if I talk to somebody on the other side, I don’t bring that into the conversation. I say, let’s have rational conversation based on moral values. For people who say politics is personal, I think they like to be angry.”

Finley admitted that different people seek different things on the High Holy Days. Some people want and need to vent about politics.

“It can feel extremely satisfying when your leadership vents what you’re feeling,” Finley said. “But when people are venting, they don’t want to process. My congregation is populated by people who want an oasis during the High Holidays. I’ve asked, ‘Would you like me every week to rehash the new litany of Trump’s latest outrages?’ They say, ‘No, we get that from The New York Times.’ They’re after personal depth and transformation. They want leadership there.” 

Finley believes that for most of us, the way to a better world is through higher consciousness, by cultivating what he calls “the higher self,” or the soul. And the best way to test and exert the functioning of our higher self is through interpersonal relationships.

“There’s a moral framework in which we live that for most people, the first place they experience it is interpersonally,” he said. “You’ve been hurt by others; they’ve been hurt by you. That’s the first thing we have to deal with.”

It’s a lot harder to take on the problems of the world if we’re suffering at home. So for those of us who are grieving, heartbroken, angry or stuck, the holidays are a time to examine and refine our most sacred relationships.

Simple acts of being kinder, more generous and more compassionate can make our broken world a little brighter and bring us higher — indeed, closer — to God.


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

Some Trump lawyers reportedly recommended Kushner step down over Russia scandal

Jared Kushner speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House on June 19. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some lawyers for President Donald Trump recommended that Jared Kushner step down as senior White House adviser over the Russia scandal.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the president’s lawyers were not united in the opinion. The article also said that Trump believed Kushner had done nothing wrong, thus there was no reason he should quit.

Due to the concerns of some members of the president’s legal team, press aides to the team drafted a statement explaining Kushner’s departure, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Kushner reportedly had several meetings with Russian officials during and after the election campaign. He also failed to disclose on his application for a security clearance a meeting he had with a Russian official, along with his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr., to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president, during the 2016 campaign.

In July, Kushner appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the election. Afterward he released an 11-page statement denying collusion.

Some of Trump’s attorneys worried that keeping Kushner as an adviser could involve other White House officials in the Russia investigation, including his discussing the probe with the president without a lawyer present.

Lithuanian troops train at former concentration camp where 5,000 Jews are buried

A film crew preparing to record at the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania on July 12, 2016. Photo by JTA/Cnaan Liphshiz

Lithuanian soldiers training to fight Russian troops pitched tents on the grounds of a former concentration camp and burial ground for Jews in Kaunas.

A battalion of special forces troops camped Monday at Seventh Fort, the first of dozens of concentration camps established by Nazi Germany following its 1941 eastward invasion, the Kauno Diena news website reported Thursday. The deployment is part of a military drill.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to JTA questions about the exact nature of the deployment.

The remains of 5,000 murdered Jews are buried at the fort in mass graves that are marked by a few poles and rocks. Relatives sometimes visit the site to light candles in memory of the dead.

Privatized by the government in 2009, the Seventh Fort, a disused 18-acre bunker complex, is run by a nongovernmental organization headed by Vladimir Orlov, a 38-year-old amateur historian and military enthusiast.

His organization charges entrance fees to the grounds, where it operates summer camps for children and hosts private events. Revenues are used for the site’s preservation as an educational institution where the genocide is taught alongside Lithuanian military heritage, Orlov told JTA last year. He declined to say how much revenue the site generates and how much is spent on commemoration.

The Jewish Community of Lithuania last year said the privatization was a “huge mistake” that happened despite its stated opposition.

Like the other two Baltic states, the Lithuanian government’s concern about the expansionist policies of Russia has prompted it to update its own defense capabilities. This summer, thousands of troops trained with NATO contingents across the country.

Efraim Zuroff, a hunter of Nazis and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s point man on issues concerning Eastern Europe, condemned the deployment as showing “incredible lack of sensitivity” by the authorities at a site where Lithuanian militiamen led the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people within the space of two days in July 1941.

Zuroff, who has written extensively about Lithuania and the Seventh Fort, said the deployment raises concerns as to potential desecration of burial grounds, since the area where the bodies are buried “is not fenced off,” he added.

Between July 4-6 in 1941, local militiamen belonging to the pro-Fascist National Defence Battalion carried out the murder of 3,000 people at the Seventh Fort. That unit was a precursor of the collaborationist Security Police Battalions, which worked with the German Nazis in occupied Lithuania.

Daily Kickoff: Ahead of Kushner’s visit, Bibi goes to Moscow; “The Russians set the facts on the ground in Syria” | Abbas’ 45 day ultimatum for talks

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Aug. 9. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

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JI INTERVIEW — Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests in an interview with JI’s Aaron Magid: Fresh off a trip to Israel, Smucker slammed Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah for justifying payments to families of terrorists in a meeting with the Republican Congressional delegation. “It was absolutely amazing when asked about the payments to families of terrorists, that were either imprisoned or killed, [Hamdallah] tried to justify it. We were very disappointed in his approach and explanations with that particular issue,” Smucker said. He expressed strong backing for the Taylor Force Act. “It’s very clear that those payments are being made. For the PA to incentivize terrorism, essentially, is completely unacceptable.”

Smucker on Charlottesville: “What we saw in Charlottesville was particularly horrifying after just coming from Israel and visiting the Holocaust museum (Yad Vashem). We should be absolutely unequivocal in our denunciation of these groups: they are simply not acceptable. It is unbelievable that there are still groups in our country today that believe they are better than others based on the color of their skin or religion. The President will speak for himself. I obviously cannot tell you what he was thinking when he said [there were fine people on both sides], but I think it’s important for the American people to hear from its leaders that we will not stand for this type of activity.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider

DRIVING THE CONVO — President Trump used his primetime address to the nation last night to clean up his “both sides” comments in response to the Charlottesville protests: “Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we sent to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.” [CSPAN]

HEARD YESTERDAY — House Speaker Paul Ryan during a CNN Town Hall: “I do believe that [Trump] messed up in his comments on Tuesday, when it sounded like a moral equivocation, or at the very least moral ambiguity, when we need extreme moral clarity… And I’m pleased with the things he just said tonight to add clarity to the confusion that I think he gave us on Tuesday.”

CNN host Jake Tapper: “I think the issue.. is the reluctance to criticize President Trump for specifically saying things like ‘very fine people were marching in that rally’ that had swastikas and anti-Semitic signs and there were not any ‘very fine people’ in that rally… It wasn’t morally ambiguous. It was morally wrong.”

Ryan: “I have a hard time believing, if you’re standing in a crowd to protest something and you see, you know, all these anti-Semitic slogans… that you’re good with that and you’re a good person… You’re not a good person if you’re there… And that’s why I think it was not only morally ambiguous, it was equivocating. And that was wrong.  That’s why I think it was very, very important that he has since then cleared that up.” [CNN

“Ryan says Trump messed up but opposes censure” by Scott Bauer: “Ryan was asked at a town hall organized by CNN in his Wisconsin congressional district whether he would back the resolution that comes following Trump’s comments about the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally. The question came from Rabbi Dena Feingold, the sister of former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who grew up in the same city as Ryan. Ryan said censuring Trump would be “counterproductive.” “If we descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, bickering between one another … what good does that do to unify this country?” Ryan said, adding that it would be the “worst thing we could do.”” [AP

TRUMP EFFECT: “Donations to Anti-Defamation League surge in US” by AFP: “ADL spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said donations like the one from James Murdoch — head of Fox News, who last week announced a million-dollar donation — as well as those from corporations like Apple, Uber and MGM Resorts yielded a rise of “1,000%” last week, compared to the weekly average donations since the beginning of the year… On Monday, the big bank J.P. Morgan also joined the ranks of the donors, Alcantara said. The bank announced a million dollar-gift to be shared by the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center.” [Yahoo

Rep. Jerry Nadler on race and anti-Semitism in the age of Trump — Off Message with Edward-Isaac Dovere: “As for the Jewish aides to the administration who defend Trump, including his daughter and son-in-law Jared Kushner… Nadler says they need to get real. “I don’t care what Jared Kushner said about the fact that Donald Trump loves, loves him and Ivanka and other people,” Nadler said. “He was willing to traffic in anti-Semitism. He was willing to use anti-Semitic imagery. And then, when caught up in it, refused to repudiate it, and denied that it was what it clearly was.”” [Politico]

“President Trump Maintains Support in New York City’s Religious Communities” by Stephen Nessen: “Members of New York City’s Evangelical and Hasidic communities turned out to vote for Donald Trump for president, and they continue to support him, despite his tepid and mixed responses to white supremacists who rally in his name… In Borough Park, Brooklyn, which gave Trump 68 percent of the vote, many in the ultra-orthodox community also said the president had done enough to condemn hate groups. “He said KKK is not good, whatever, he did what he has to do,” Chaim Shmedra, 24, said. “He could criticize more, but he’s doing a great job.””[WNYC] • Orthodox Resistance to Trump Grows — In Secret Social Media Groups [Forward]

INSIDE THE ADMIN: “Is It Time for Trump Aides to Resign?” by Eliot A. Cohen: “Gary Cohn is a Jewish philanthropist: He paid a price, not in emotional discomfort but in his integrity, in staying silent while the president made excuses for anti-Semites shouting slogans that hark back to Hitler’s brown shirts. One’s country can ask those who volunteer to serve it in uniform to put their lives on the line… But the hazards of battle do not require surrendering your soul: just the reverse, risking it all can mean reaffirming your highest values. The country does not, however, have the right to ask you to sacrifice your moral core, what makes you who you are.” [TheAtlantic] • Gary Cohn, Trump Agoniste, Contemplates the End [VanityFair]

“Trump Official Once Praised a Defender of Holocaust Deniers; Now she’s in charge of family planning policy” by David Corn: “Earlier this year, President Donald Trump appointed Teresa Manning, a leading anti-abortion activist, to be a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services… But there was one item in her résumé that did not receive attention: She had once praised a defender of Holocaust deniers… In the preface to Back to the Drawing Board, Manning… called contributors to the book “statesmen, scholars, doctors, lawyers, judges, activists, and mothers.” And at [a 2003] conference, she remarked that they included “people that I have respected and admired my entire professional life.” Presumably, her accolades applied to [Joe] Sobran, whose controversial association with Holocaust deniers and whose “contextually anti-Semitic” writings were publicly known within conservative circles at the time.” [MotherJones]

“Why the White House Needs Another Bannon” by Tevi Troy: “Trump likes to think of himself as the whole show—his own strategist, his own communications guru, his own political whisperer… But this is one area in which Trump really does need the help: He doesn’t have the patience, the background, or the interest to be able to articulate a consistent conservative-friendly vision and to get other conservatives on board. Bannon’s absence means the White House lacks someone who can attempt to create a coherent narrative for the administration’s efforts… Not filling the role would be a self-inflicted wound, while filling the role with the wrong person would be a missed opportunity.” [PoliticoMag

DRIVING THE WEEK: “Kushner in Middle East for peace talks” by Annie Karni: “While everyone was busy gazing into the solar eclipse on Monday, White House adviser Jared Kushner had quietly snuck away to the Middle East… Accompanying Kushner on Tuesday in the Gulf states were deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt… A White House aide and an outside adviser familiar with the trip planning said Kushner departed on Sunday and is set to arrive in Israel Wednesday night for meetings on Thursday. The traveling American delegation was meeting with leaders from the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the days before. It was not clear why the White House would announce the trip but then keep the details of Kushner’s departure under wraps.” [Politico]

“PA to give Trump team ultimatum on peace plan” by Shlomi Eldar: “A senior Palestinian source… said a decision had been reached after lengthy negotiations at top PA levels… to present Kushner and Greenblatt with a clear ultimatum: Unless progress is made within 45 days on launching talks with the Israelis, the Palestinians will consider themselves no longer committed to the US channel and will turn to an alternative plan on which they have been working for the past two years… The Palestinians understand that the current occupant of the Oval Office tends to act impulsively, and such a move could prompt him to take out his anger on Abbas — but “we have no choice,” said the source.” [Al-Monitor

KAFE KNESSET — Dasvidaniya, Bibi — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Netanyahu is preparing for a day trip to Sochi, Russia. There, he will be meeting President Putin tomorrow for the sixth time in the past two years, and the second meeting in 2017. Iran, of course, will top the agenda for the meeting. President Putin will hear about Jerusalem’s concerns arising out of the diplomatic attempts to end the fighting in Syria. These diplomatic efforts are creating, according to Israeli officials, an Iranian territorial contiguity between Tehran and the Mediterranean.

The meeting with Putin comes against the backdrop of a clear disappointment in Jerusalem with the Trump administration and its level of attention to Israeli interests. “The Americans are sympathetic, but they are not willing to back words with deeds. We are not in the administration’s priorities. They are preoccupied with other issues, and there is a feeling that they have very limited attention span,” a senior Israeli Minister told Kafe Knesset. The Minister explained that the American vacuum over Syria – which was created in the Obama administration but has also been transformed into a Trump government policy – “has given increased importance to the strategic dialogue with the Kremlin, especially after Russia increased its military involvement in Syria. This has required close military coordination with the Russians to prevent friction. The Russians fill the American void and they are the ones who determine the facts on the ground. We want to make sure that the facts on the ground do not hurt us.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset — featuring Bibi’s privacy and the latest with the Kotel — here[JewishInsider]

“U.S. pushing to quash U.N. ‘blacklist’ of firms doing business in Israeli settlements” by Anne Gearan: “The Trump administration is urging the United Nations not to publish what it calls a “blacklist” of international firms that do business in Israeli settlements… “The United States has been adamantly opposed to this resolution from the start” and has fought against it before several U.N. bodies, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said… “We have made clear our opposition regarding the creation of a database of businesses operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and we have not participated and will not participate in its creation or contribute to its content,” she said. In a statement Monday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, called the [U.N. Human Rights Council] moves toward publication of the list “an expression of modern anti-Semitism.”” [WashPost

IRAN DEAL: “Iran Says Can Produce Highly Enriched Uranium in Days if U.S. Quits Deal” by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin: “Iran can resume production of highly enriched uranium within five days if the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015 is revoked, Iran’s atomic chief was quoted by state media as saying on Tuesday… “The president’s warning was not baseless,” Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi said…  “If we decide, we can reach 20 percent (uranium) enrichment within five days in Fordow (underground nuclear plant),” he added.” [Reuters]

2018 WATCH: Police Investigate Alleged Twitter Hack of Senate Candidate: “The Michigan State Police is investigating after Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lena Epstein said someone hacked her campaign’s Twitter account last week and “liked” posts from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Epstein, who is Jewish, has said any suggestion that she supports “this type of hateful ideology is extremely disturbing.”” [USNews

2020 WATCH: “How potential 2020 Democrats are honing their foreign policy chops” by Jeremy Herb: “[Cory] Booker’s seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is another path for senators harboring presidential ambitions — it’s the committee Obama served on ahead of his 2008 run. In the early months of the Trump administration, the panel gave Booker a seat at the table for some of the most contentious confirmation hearings, including those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson… and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman… When Friedman testified, Booker elicited an apology for the nominee’s comments suggesting Obama was anti-Semitic and that Kaine was an Israel basher.” [CNN

“Nikki Haley says she had ‘personal’ talk with Trump about Charlottesville” by Diamond Naga: “Well, I had a personal conversation with the president about Charlottesville, and I will leave it at that,” Haley said on CNN… But when asked afterward, she would not confirm or deny whether Trump understood he made a mistake with his racially charged comments. “The president clarified so that no one can question that he’s opposed to bigotry and hate in this country.” [Politico]

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

BUSINESS BRIEF: Jim Crown’s Aspen Skiing, KSL Capital venture adds Utah’s Deer Valley to growing resort portfolio [DenverPost] • Ghermezian’s Meadowlands ‘American Dream’ Project To Be Complete By 2019[CBS; NorthJersey] • Gary Barnett’s luxury condo tower rises on ‘gritty’ South Street [NYPost] • ASRR to buy out partner in Surfside condo project[TRD] • Israel’s TowerJazz to set up China chip plant with Tacoma Semi[Reuters] • Paul Singer’s Black Knight Unhorses Warren Buffett [DealBreaker]

“Billionaire Moguls Join Musk, Bezos in Race to Outer Space” by Tom Metcalf: “While technology tycoons dominate, the list also includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who’s backing SpaceIL — a lunar mission.”[Bloomberg]

STARTUP NATION: “After Imperva And Mobileye, Here’s What’s Next For Israeli Startups” by Peter Cohan: “What’s most interesting to me is that at least one company — run by Israel’s most prolific info sec company founder, Shlomo Kramer, is that Israel is beginning to develop enough talent in marketing and sales that his latest company is able to operate out of Israel instead of being run from Silicon Valley. Tel Aviv is the center of Israel’s startup scene even though its top talent is educated 52 miles away at Haifa’s Technion. As Edouard Cukierman, Managing Partner and Founder of Catalyst Funds, said in an August 10 interview, “When I was at the Technion, the joke was ‘What is the nicest place in Haifa? The highway to Tel Aviv.’ Entrepreneurs want to be in Tel Aviv — it’s a place of fun; whereas Haifa is a serious place for studying.””[Forbes]

MEDIA WATCH: “Digital media veteran Ross Levinsohn takes over the LA Times as it fires top editors” by Peter Kafka: “Ross Levinsohn has worked at all kinds of media companies, but he’s never managed a newspaper before. Now he’ll run a big one: He’s the new publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times. Levinsohn made his digital reputation by helping News Corp acquire Myspace way back in 2005, a move that kicked off a wave of digital M&A. And he tried to buy Hulu multiple times, while working for multiple organizations. In 2013, he went to work for Guggenheim Partners, which owned several media trade publications, and planned on writing big checks to bulk that group up.” [ReCode]

TOP TALKER: “Louise Linton’s Couture Draws Ire on Instagram, and She Lashes Back” by Maggie Haberman and Mikayla Bouchard: “The wife of the Treasury secretary on Monday night took a page from President Trump’s social media playbook for punching down. Louise Linton, the labels-loving wife of Steven Mnuchin, replied condescendingly to an Instagram poster about her lifestyle and belittled the woman, Jenni Miller, a mother of three from Portland, Ore., for having less money than she does. The brouhaha began when Ms. Linton posted a photograph of herself disembarking a military jet emblazoned with official government markings. She had joined her husband on a quick trip to Kentucky with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.” [NYTimes; NYPost]

TALK OF THE TOWN: Jewish congregation reflects on letter by George Washington: “An annual letter reading at the nation’s oldest synagogue in Newport took on new relevance in the aftermath of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The letter was written nearly 230 years ago by George Washington and addressed to Newport’s Jewish community. It promised that the country would give “bigotry no sanction, no persecution no assistance.” … Former Harvard University Dean Martha Minow asked members of the congregation to stand up for their beliefs.” [AP

“Asian American doctor: White nationalist patients refused my care over race” by Kristine Phillips: “John Henning Schumann, a Jewish doctor, said he’s had encounters with patients that sometimes result in awkward conversations. “I’ve been asked point-blank by patients if I’m Jewish,” Schumann wrote last week in a column published by NPR…  Sometimes, after saying that he is Jewish, patients surprise him with their response: “Good. I always like Jewish doctors, because they’re the smart ones.” Schumann said that “positive prejudice” is better than the alternative, and he often takes the compliment.” [WashPost

BIRTHDAYS: Philanthropist and hedge fund manager, specializing in acquiring distressed debt, Paul Elliott Singer turns 73… Chairwoman of Israel’s Strauss Group, a large dairy and food company, Ofra Strauss turns 57… Emmy Award winning television news journalist, formerly the weekend anchor of CBS Evening News, Morton Dean (born Morton Dubitsky) turns 82… Former Chief of Staff to the Vice President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libbyturns 67… Portland, Oregon’s Marque Lampert Scherer turns 67… Chairman of Israel Military Industries (now know as IMI Systems), he was a member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party (2006-2015) and served in multiple cabinet posts, Yitzhak Aharonovich turns 67… Encino, California’s Robin Elcott turns 61… Former MLB outfielder, then investment banker, fundraiser for both Obama presidential campaigns, more recently he was the US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa (2015-2017), Ambassador Mark Gilbert turns 61… Former investment banker who left his job to run a Los Angeles-based homeless service provider, he is now a professor at USC and a trustee of Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, Adlai W. Wertman turns 58…  Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Paul E. Singer Foundation, Deborah Hochberg… Deputy mayor of Lawrence, NY, political consultant and investor, Michael Fragin turns 44… Project coordinator for “The Conversation: Jewish In America,” an annual invitation-only gathering sponsored by The Jewish Week, Rachel Saifer Goldman… Associate Director in the Atlanta regional office of Christians United for Israel, Shari Dollinger Magnus turns 40… Joyce Fox… Margie Berkowitz

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

Russia’s Jews will get their etrog fruits from Italy despite sanctions, says rabbi

The Italian government said that the export of Italy-grown etrog fruits to Russia will not be affected by sanctions imposed by the European Union against Moscow, Russia’s chief rabbi said.

The agreement to exempt the export of the citrus fruit, which Jewish communities use as a religious artifact during the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, from any sanctions was reached last year and applies also to the June extension of those sanctions, Rabbi Berel Lazar told JTA based on statements from a local government in Italy.

Speaking to JTA from the region of Calabria in southern Italy on Friday, Lazar said: “The local government here said that because this is a religious product, they are going to make sure no sanctions are going to be applied on the etrogim.” He added that Russia imports the etrogim as a religious article exempt from taxation.

Lazar was born in Milan to a Chabad rabbi, Moshe Lazar, who for the past 50 years has been responsible for supervising the export of etrogim in Calabria to make sure the fruit, which is easily bruised and rendered non-kosher, meets the highest standards. Berel Lazar traveled to Calabria to help his 83-year-old father with the harvest.

Followers of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement share a strong preference for the etrog grown in Calabria, where tens of thousands of etrogim are picked annually for export in orchards owned by approximately 100 farmers. Etrogim also are grown in Israel and Morocco.

Chabad communities are major engines of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union and especially in Russia. The European Union in June extended a list of sanctions on Russia, including on exports and imports, in reaction to Russia’s annexation in 2014 of Crimea, an area that is internationally recognized as belonging to Ukraine.

The prospect of sanctions is not the only challenge facing the etrog industry in Calabria. An unexpected frost this winter severely damaged the sensitive etrog trees, destroying approximately 90 percent of the crop, Moshe Lazar told JTA. The shortage means that the fruit this year, which was deemed unfit for exportm will be picked and exported as long as it is kosher, Moshe Lazar said. Even so, he added, the frost means “there won’t be enough etrogim to go around this sukkot.” This applies to Russia, too, said Berel Lazar.

The shortage has hiked up prices, with a prime Calabria etrog going for approximately $500, according to Rabbi Avraham Wolff of Odessa, Ukraine.

“We’re worried that we may not have a Calabria etrog and we’re pulling all possible strings to get at least one,” Wolff said. In previous years, his community was able to purchase five individual Calabria etrogim ahead of the holiday.

“We decided to set up a small fund for buying that Calabria etrog, no matter the price,” he said.

Immediately after sukkot, the prices of Calabria etrogim drop to about $1 a pound, Berel Lazar noted. The local population uses the fruit to make jam.

The Russia probe: Let’s wait and see

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill. June 21, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

There hasn’t been this much talk about Russia in the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union. From May 17 to June 20, ABC, CBS and NBC spent 353 minutes of airtime talking about federal probes into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, according to the Media Research Center. CNN has spent an inordinate amount of time on coverage of the Russia investigation. The mainstream media seemingly break a piece a day based on leaks regarding the investigation. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from July found that 64 percent of Democrats believed that the Russians had attempted to influence the election, and that the Trump campaign had worked with the Russians to do so.

Meanwhile, President Trump travels the land calling the investigation a fraud, fulminating at special counsel Robert Mueller, and nagging his own attorney general for a perceived failure to protect him; Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity spend time nightly talking about the supposed “coup” against Trump in the press; and just 9 percent of Republicans polled say they believe the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to disrupt the election.

So, what’s driving the divide between left and right on the Russia investigation? After all, the evidence is mixed. There’s certainly evidence of an attempt to collude to impact the election from Donald Trump Jr. Last month, Trump Jr. released an email chain with publicist Rob Goldstone in which Goldstone proposed to set up a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” who would “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you say, I love it.” He then dragged in campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But an attempt to collude is not in and of itself evidence of collusion. No actual information apparently changed hands. And there’s no evidence of any follow-up. There’s also no evidence of coordination in weaponization of material acquired by Wikileaks, which has ties to Russia, from the Democratic National Committee. In fact, watching the campaign, it appeared that Wikileaks would simply dump large amounts of material and then members of the internet community would sift through it for damaging information — there didn’t seem to be any quick-response unit in the Trump campaign beating everyone else to the punch.

Furthermore, even collusion among members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government wouldn’t necessarily implicate Trump himself. Members of the Trump campaign could have been involved in bad action without telling Trump — and in fact, that’s highly likely given Trump’s penchant for uncontrollable outbursts on the national stage. If you were going to rig a complex conspiracy with the help of the Russians, would you tell the guy with the biggest mouth in the history of politics?

It’s also true that the Russian government apparently forged connections with Fusion GPS, a Democrat-linked opposition research group that came up with the infamous Trump dossier later exposed by BuzzFeed. According to Bill Browder, a financier targeted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, the Russian-connected lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, “hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS.” As Lee Smith wrote at Tablet, “Add Fusion GPS’s contracts with Russian and Russian-linked entities together with the company’s role in compiling and distributing a defamatory dossier sourced to the Kremlin, and the idea that the Trump Dossier was a Kremlin information operation becomes quite plausible.”

This scenario wouldn’t be particularly surprising.  While the CIA, NSA, FBI and the Director of National Intelligence universally agree that the Russian government attempted to meddle in the election, they differ regarding Russia’s intent: Some members of the intelligence community think Russia wanted Trump to win or simply wanted to cast doubt on election transparency.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally; there’s evidence of willingness to collude but no hard evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

But those reasonable conclusions are now being ignored by both sides. Democrats have been shrieking for months that the election was stolen. In return, Trump has seized on that wild overstatement, fixated on it, and produced his own overstatement: “The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about.” That overstatement reinforces Democratic determination to write off the Trump win as an act of thievery – he knows he cheated and now he’s lying about it!  Which, of course, prompts Republican voters to respond by stating that Democrats are exaggerating their claims, and that the current investigation is a politically motivated witch hunt.

This leads to a radical impasse: No matter what the evidence, many Democrats will now suggest that Trump must be impeached; no matter what the evidence, many Republicans will now suggest that he must not be, and that the investigation should actively be killed. No matter what happens from here, it won’t be good.

The only solution: Let’s wait for the facts to come out. Let’s make a call once we know them. Until then, let’s let President Trump do his job. 

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