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HuffPost Bannon headline ‘Goy, bye!’ creates backlash

Fri, 2017-08-18 20:35

HuffPost used the headline “Goy, bye!” on an article about Stephen Bannon leaving his position as White House chief strategist. (Screenshot from Twitter)

(JTA) — HuffPost chose a questionable headline for its article about White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon leaving his position.

“Goy, bye!” read the homepage of the news site. The unusual choice of words was a combination of the Yiddish word for a non-Jew and a lyric in Beyonce’s Lemonade song, in which the singer dismisses a lover with “boy, bye.”

GOY, BYE! pic.twitter.com/yYlxh1jkJw

— Lydia Polgreen (@lpolgreen) August 18, 2017

That combination struck a bad note with several prominent Jews who called out HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen on Twitter.

Glad you changed the headline.Not sure your intent, but strikes me as poor taste at best, very offensive at worst.

— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) August 18, 2017

ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said the headline was “poor taste at best, very offensive at worst,” while Julia Ioffe, a reporter at the Atlantic, told Polgreen she wished “you hadn’t gone with this headline.”

I love your work, but wish you hadn't gone with this headline.

— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) August 18, 2017

John Podhoretz, editor-in-chief of Commentary, called the headline “witless, stupid and offensive,” while Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief Michael Wilner asked “What is HuffPost thinking?”

Thanks for the feedback. I tweeted a response addressing our intent, and I hear the concerns.

— Lydia Polgreen (@lpolgreen) August 18, 2017

"'Goy, bye?'" What is @HuffPost thinking?

— Michael Wilner (@mawilner) August 18, 2017

In a series of tweets, Polgreen explained the headline “was intended to be a mashup tribute to Yiddish and Beyonce. Any other interpretation was completely unintended.”

The headline — which has since been changed to “White flight” —  likely struck many as particularly distasteful as it seemed to play off of conspiracy theories that Jews control the world. Last weekend, white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans, including “Jews will not replace us.”

Bannon is the former executive chair of Breitbart, a news site often associated with the “alt-right,” which is a loose far-right movement whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”

Was Stephen Bannon good for the Jews? A review

Fri, 2017-08-18 19:56

Stephen Bannon walking out of the White House, Feb. 24, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Stephen Bannon, whose advice to President Donald Trump was that “darkness is good,” was thrust out into the light of the sunshiny day enveloping Washington, D.C., on Friday: He is no longer Trump’s strategic adviser.

It’s not clear yet what led to Bannon’s departure. He alone among Trump’s senior advisers favored the president’s decision to blame “many sides” for the violence last weekend when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, a posture that has outraged Americans across the political spectrum. Bannon and Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, were always at odds.

Bannon conveys, perhaps unintentionally, the impression that he is manipulating Trump, an impression that Trump is known to hate. And Bannon told the American Prospect this week that there is no military solution to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, just as Trump and his national security team are ramping up claims that a military option is not off the table.

One thorny issue that kept coming up: Was Bannon, who made gutting the Iran nuclear deal a priority, the Jewish community’s best friend in the White House? Or was the man who embraced conspiracy theories about globalists the most Jewish-hostile White House presence since Richard Nixon stalked its halls?

Let’s review:


Bannon helmed Breitbart News, the right-wing news site, since the sudden death of founder Andrew Breitbart in 2012.

Breitbart plus: In 2015, under Bannon’s leadership, the site launched Breitbart Jerusalem because Bannon wanted to counter what he sees as media bias against Israel. Breitbart also aggressively covers anti-Semitism in Europe.

Breitbart minus: Bannon has described the news site as “the platform for the ‘alt-right,'” the loose coalition of anti-establishment conservatives who include among their ranks anti-Semites and racists.

The alt-right

Alt-right plus: Bannon, addressing a conference held at the Vatican in 2014, recognized the tendency of the alt-right to attract racists and anti-Semitism, but said he rejected those bigotries and predicted they would “wash away.”

Alt-right minus: Even absent specifying Jews or blacks or other races, the conspiratorial mind-set of the alt-right is uncomfortably redolent of the toxic myths that have led to violence. Bannon is believed to have written a speech by Trump on the eve of his election suggesting that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was part of an international banking conspiracy. It set Jewish hairs on end. Trump’s final campaign ad, excerpting parts of the speech against a backdrop that include a rogues gallery of “internationalists” who all happened to be Jews, didn’t help.

The Trump agenda

The agenda plus: Bannon has worked closely with the pro-Israel right, which says he has been particularly aggressive within the White House in advocating for scrapping the Obama administration deal they most revile, trading sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program. Undoing the Iran deal featured on Bannon’s famous whiteboard, where he checked off Trump’s “to-do” list. (The deal has yet to be undone, but not for lack of trying by Bannon.) Whatever one thinks of the Iran deal, Bannon’s opposition to it comported closely with the current Israeli government, whose officials appreciated his advocacy.

The agenda minus: Trump’s “America First” outlook, spurred by Bannon and his White House acolytes, has rejected “identity politics.” Bannon believes rejecting “politically correct” views on race helped Trump win the White House, which is why he cheered on Trump this week when the president insisted that “many sides” were responsible for the deadly violence in Charlottesville. This outlook is not new to the Jewish community: It was behind the bizarre Jan. 27 International Holocaust Day declaration that failed to mention that Jews were the victims of the Holocaust.

Shall we invite him to the seder? Bannon and Jewish staff

Watercooler chat plus
: Bannon brought into the White House a host of staffers, among them Jewish Breitbart alumni like Julia Hahn, who is a special assistant. He reportedly is close to Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was the National Security Council staffer responsible for coordination with the intelligence community. McMaster removed Cohen-Watnick from the NSC, reportedly in part because his views on Iran were too hawkish.

Watercooler chat minus
: Bannon clashed with Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and a senior adviser, reportedly calling him a “globalist” — seen in some quarters (see above) as coded language for Jews. Ditto Trump’s senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn. Breitbart, still believed to be influenced by Bannon, has recently taken to surrounding Cohn’s name with globes in its headlines.

Top spot on Breitbart devoted to pushing back on Gary Cohn's potential Fed chair nomination pic.twitter.com/IZNeyWJEZC

— Will Sommer (@willsommer) July 13, 2017

Some of his best friends

The human factor plus: Bannon’s former Jewish staffers at Breitbart swear by him as an understanding boss. Joel Pollak, a former editor in chief at the news site, told NPR that Bannon not only encouraged him to take off Jewish holidays, he would wish him a “Shabbat Shalom” on Friday afternoons.

The human factor minus: One of Bannon’s ex-wives said in a sworn declaration that he made anti-Semitic remarks while they were searching for a private school for their girls. Bannon has denied the claim, although at least one third party has corroborated part of her account.

American mayors’ group, ADL announce agreement to combat hate

Fri, 2017-08-18 19:51

The Anti-Defamation League has partnered with the mayors of several American cities. (Ari Perilstein/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The mayors of America’s largest cities are launching a partnership with the Anti-Defamation League to combat hate and bigotry.

Nearly 200 mayors have joined the agreement, which was announced Friday, since it was first circulated Tuesday night among the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The mayors are agreeing to explicitly condemn racism, white supremacy and bigotry, and to implement educational and public safety programs to safeguard vulnerable populations and discourage discrimination.

Signers include the mayors of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C, and Phoenix.

“For decades, America’s mayors have taken a strong position in support of civil rights and in opposition to racism and discrimination of all kinds,” the Mayors’ Compact reads. “We are now seeing efforts in our states and at the highest levels of our government to weaken existing civil rights policies and reduce their enforcement. We have seen an increase in hate violence, xenophobic rhetoric, and discriminatory actions that target Muslims, Jews, and other minorities.”

The compact sets out a 10-point program that includes publicly condemning bigotry; ensuring public safety while protecting free speech; training and funding law enforcement to enforce hate crime laws; working with community leaders to combat bigotry; and strengthening anti-bias education programs in schools.

Many of the points echo a plan of action that the ADL called on the White House to adopt earlier this week. The group proposed the plan following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and President Donald Trump’s response, which the ADL and many others have slammed.

“The events in Charlottesville once again showed us we have much work to do to bring Americans together,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director on a conference call with reporters. “We know that hate is on the rise. ADL can’t wait any longer for the president to act. ADL is ready to work with communities across the country to combat hate.”

The announcement of the compact comes during a high-profile week for the ADL, which combats anti-Semitism and bigotry. The group received $1 million donations from Apple and 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch, and announced a partnership with Bumble, a dating app, to block bigoted profiles.

Other mayors also portrayed the compact as a response in part to the president’s equivocation of white supremacists and those who oppose them. Steve Adler, the Jewish mayor of Austin, Texas, who has volunteered for the ADL in the past, said during the call that “mayors don’t need a teleprompter to say Nazis are bad.”

“There’s a clear lack of a moral compass,” Mayor Shane Bemis of Gresham, Oregon, a city of 100,000 east of Portland, said on the call. “This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, how he has continued to divide us since the election. It is clearly, in my view, an absence of any sort of moral leadership from the president.”

But mayors were divided on a couple of contentious issues, including the removal of Confederate monuments from cities and how to strike a balance between protecting civil liberties while guarding against incitement and threats to public safety. Tom Cochran, CEO of the mayors’ conference, said policy on how to deal with Confederate memorials should be left up to individual cities.

“This discussion is not about monuments,” he said in the call. “This conversation is about coming together to denigrate all acts of hate wherever they occur, and making sure we protect public safety while making sure that the right to free speech will always be protected.”

11 former White House Jewish liaisons: Trump doesn’t understand anti-Semitism

Fri, 2017-08-18 19:15

President Donald Trump shown before making a statement on the violence in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 14, 2017. (Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

(JTA) — As Jewish liaisons to four different presidents, we had the responsibility inside the White House to give voice to the perspectives and priorities of the American Jewish community. While our community may not be unified in matters of policy and politics, our spiritual practice, cultural traditions and history have instilled in American Jews a shared commitment to protecting those targeted by bigots, racists and others spewing hate and division.

The presidents we served repeatedly used their bully pulpit to condemn hatred and bigotry when it appeared, whether in America or overseas. A video of President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1981 NAACP Convention following the lynching of an African-American man in Alabama has gone viral in recent days. President Bill Clinton led the nation’s mourning following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and we all vividly recall President George W. Bush’s eloquent remarks standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and President Barack Obama’s eulogy and rendition of “Amazing Grace” following the murder of nine African-American worshippers at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

President Donald Trump, in his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and to other examples of anti-Semitism, shows that he neither understands his responsibilities nor the nature of the ancient hatred of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. His equivocation and unwillingness to speak clearly, without restraint, against blatant examples of racism, anti-Semitism and related manifestations of hate, as well as his refusal to lay blame for violence, are anathema to the best traditions of his office and to the examples set by the presidents we served. And in his failure, he exposes not just Jews but all Americans to greater danger.

If we were working in the White House today, we hope we would have had the courage, honesty and integrity to call upon President Trump to demonstrate moral leadership – and to resign in response to a failure to do so.

If we had a successor in the current White House — there is no liaison to the Jewish community in the Trump White House — we hope he or she would have done so, too.

We need that leadership more than ever. The reason is not just because we have witnessed violence in our streets.

We need moral leadership to respond to the rise of hatred we are witnessing in the nation we love – hatred motivated by the things we cannot change such as the color of our skin, the faith we practice, the land of our birth, the language we spoke as toddlers.

We former Jewish liaisons know that the Jews in America feel hate and reject it, whether it’s directed at them or someone else. We are commanded by our faith to welcome the stranger, to comfort the oppressed, to reach out to the weak and dispossessed. We Jews have always been targeted and called out because of our differences from the majority. And even when we’re not called out and targeted, we know that those who use hate as a political tool will eventually turn their sights on us.

We hear today the chants against the Jews or the “Zios.” We hear in an American city the “alt-right” protesters chant “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi marching trope of “blood and soil.”

We see in some academic and media circles the casual lumping together of Jews as enemies of the state, incapable of loyalty to America.

We see the use of the language and the imagery of anti-Semitism – the hooked noses and the bloody hands — resurrected in modern digital media to deny to Jews our humanity, our individuality and our agency. We see the rough language of Brownshirts casually tweeted by young Americans – “toss them in the ovens,” “throw rocks at the yahood [Jews].” We see the resuscitation of the blood libel.

And we know, the experience of Jews in America may be different from our historical experience as a religious minority elsewhere in the world, but this anti-Semitism is not different. We’ve see this hatred before.

So we say to the president:

“Mr. President, this nation has a problem. People think they can say and do hateful things with impunity. You have a responsibility. Not to weigh hatred against hatred. Not to divide blame equally among ‘both sides.’ Not to excuse those among you who hate by pointing out others who hate worse.

“There are among your supporters and your appointees people who are anti-Semitic. Do not treat them as a cost of doing your political business. Cast them out – not only from your political tent, but from the conversation about America’s future. They don’t have a place in either.

“You must stand on this nation’s strongest moral foundations and principled aspirations and against the violence and hatred. And you must recognize that whenever the Jew is attacked, there is a deeper hatred at work. Anti-Semitism serves as a gateway to other forms of group-based bigotry and hatred.

“The language of anti-Semitism is the language of national suicide – it is, sadly, a mother tongue to discredited and extinct ideologies known throughout human history. If anti-Semitism takes root in America, it will be America’s ruin. Because whoever gives voice to the ancient and tired tropes of anti-Semitism, his mouth goes dry with ashes.

“Mr. President, you must call out and stand against any creeping normalization of anti-Semitism —without obfuscation, hesitation or equivocation – not only because anti-Semitism is odious, but also because it will invariably lead to other forms of hatred and bigotry that divide and destroy our nation.”

Matt Nosanchuk (Barack Obama)
Noam Neusner (George W. Bush)
Jarrod Bernstein (Barack Obama)
Adam Goldman (George W. Bush)
Jay S. Zeidman (George W. Bush)
Scott Arogeti (George W. Bush)
Deborah Mohile Goldberg (Bill Clinton)
Jay K. Footlik (Bill Clinton)
Jeanne Ellinport (Bill Clinton)
Amy Zisook (Bill Clinton)
Marshall J. Breger (Ronald Reagan)

(The authors each served in the White House as the president’s liaison to the American Jewish community in Democratic or Republican administrations.)

Who are you calling a Nazi?

Fri, 2017-08-18 17:42

Sebastian Gorka, left, and Stephen Miller. (Getty Images)

(JTA) — President Donald Trump and his top aides have been accused of indulging the nationalist far right and its various hangers-on, including the rogue’s gallery of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched on Charlottesville last weekend.

But does that make them Nazis?

Jewish groups usually steer clear of Holocaust comparisons and direct accusations of Nazism except where absolutely and specifically warranted. But earlier this week the progressive group Bend the Arc Jewish Action called on Congress to demand the firing of three administration aides and demanded a “Nazi-Free White House.” The subject line on the email I was sent from their publicist read “Fire the Nazis.”

The petition, which had nearly 8,500 signatures by Friday afternoon, calls for the ouster of Stephen Miller, a senior advisor for policy; Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president; and, until Friday, Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.

All three, says Bend the Arc, “espouse white nationalism in words and policy.”

“These three men, all members of President Trump’s inner circle, have championed the antisemitic, racist, neo-Nazi movement that chanted ‘Jews will not replace us,’ gave the Nazi salute, and stoked the deadly violence in Charlottesville this past weekend,” the petition reads, referring to the far-right rally in Virginia in which a 32-year-old counterprotester was killed.

Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, defended the petition’s incendiary language.

“There are three things I would say,” Kimelman-Block said in an interview. “We have clear neo-Nazis in the streets saying Trump is their president. Sebastian Gorka is reportedly a lifelong member of the Hungarian fascist group Vitézi Rend that was aligned with the Nazis and he has pledged lifelong membership in that group. And just yesterday, Richard Spencer was asked and said that fellow travelers like Bannon and Miller are his people.”

The ideologies and biographies of all three men have been the subject of intense scrutiny, debate and speculation.

Kimelman-Block was referring to reports in the Forward that Gorka, a native of Britain who is the son of Hungarian immigrants, is a member of Historical Vitézi Rend, the namesake of a pro-Nazi order disbanded and outlawed following World War II. Gorka has denied being a fascist or anti-Semite, and said he never took an oath of loyalty to the Vitézi Rend.

In a news conference Tuesday, Spencer, a self-styled white nationalist and a leader of the “alt-right,” referred to Miller — who is Jewish — and Bannon as fellow travelers.

Miller, whose key issue in the White House has been tightening immigration, has strongly denied Spencer’s claims that he and Spencer were connected when they both attended Duke University. On Tuesday he told New York magazine, “As I have said on numerous occasions, I strongly condemn Spencer, his cohorts, and his views.”

Bannon, who describes himself as an “economic nationalist,” previously ran Breitbart News, which he once described as “the platform for the alt-right.” Bannon acknowledged this week that he welcomed Trump’s polarizing comments on the Charlottesville violence, saying that as long as the left is focused on race and identity, his side will “crush” the Democrats.

Bannon, however, also denies charges that he is racist or anti-Semitic, and on Wednesday said in the same interview with The American Prospect that he considered the far-right figures supporting Trump irrelevant.

“Ethno-nationalism — it’s losers. It’s a fringe element,” Bannon said. “I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.” He called the ethno-nationalists on the far right “clowns.”

Nevertheless, Kimelman-Block insisted the three White House advisers either espouse or promote white nationalism, and called them a “huge issue and problematic.”

But he said his group has been focused on Trump himself.

“We have been raising concerns that since launching his campaign, he has been playing the classic demagogue tool kit of scapegoating immigrants and minorities,” Kimelman-Block said. “What happened this past weekend was absolutely horrifying, and an outgrowth of the direction he has been taking the society with his rhetoric and actions.”

Still, Nazis? The deadly march in Charlottesville, with protesters chanting “Sieg Heil” and waving swastikas, showed that Hitler’s genocidal ideology still has eager adherents. Far-right groups in Europe seem more than happy to assume his mantle. And supporters of Trump peeled away this week over his failure to adequately denounce a march that was dominated not by, as he put it,  some “very fine people,” but by ghouls chanting “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!”

But there’s also a threat that “Nazi” will lose its meaning if too broadly or indiscriminately applied — just as conservatives overdid it this week in referring to “terrorists” in the antifa and Black Lives Matter movements, or critics of the pro-Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour aren’t content to quote her harsh criticism of Israel, but rather label her a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas.

The inflation of political language, on all sides, might rally the troops, but it does little to clarify the situation it describes.

New York’s Orthodox Jews are expanding into these towns, and some residents aren’t happy

Fri, 2017-08-18 17:26

A synagogue in Airmont, N.Y., a town that has seen its haredi Orthodox population boom in recent months as families seek larger houses at a more affordable price. (Ben Sales)

AIRMONT, N.Y. (JTA) — When Moshe Pinkasovits walks with his kids down the street on Saturdays in his new town, he has to watch out for drivers shouting anti-Semitic slurs.

The Pinkasovits family didn’t face this problem in the neighboring town of Monsey, a heavily haredi Orthodox enclave in New York state, near the New Jersey border. But since the family moved six months ago to Airmont, a pastoral town next door, some residents have made it clear they don’t want religious Jews around.

Pinkasovits’ neighbor, another haredi newcomer, has had eggs thrown in his yard and found his mailbox bashed in. People have leaned out of car windows and shouted “f***ing Jew” at Pinkasovits or just shrieked.

“What did we do wrong by being here?” his children ask him.

But Pinkasovits, a 33-year-old building contractor with four kids, isn’t leaving. Despite the abuse, he loves living in Airmont, “in my own house with my own backyard.” He hopes his non-Jewish neighbors will come to accept the new religious Jews in town.

And if they don’t? It’s only a matter of time before the Jews become a critical mass, Pinkasovits says.

“It’s going to die out,” Pinkasovits said of the anti-Semitism. “People are moving here because this is how we want to live. Everyone, they’re all going to move out. Wherever you look down the street, you see ‘for sale’ signs hanging. I don’t mind living between them, but I also don’t mind if they leave and I get more Jewish neighbors.”

Pinkasovits is part of a wave of haredi Orthodox Jews who have spread out from Monsey to the surrounding towns. The towns — green, quiet and spread out — offer the large families spacious homes at an affordable price. Like Pinkasovits, haredi Jews who moved to the towns say they just want to live their lives in a nice place, just like their non-Jewish neighbors.

But the haredi influx has led to friction with longtime residents.

The battle has coalesced around the construction of an eruv — the artificial boundary that, according to Jewish law, allows Jews to push and carry objects outside their homes on the Sabbath and holy days. The eruv crosses into New Jersey towns adjacent to Airmont in order to accommodate the growing religious community and, while extending only a couple blocks over the border, has led to raucous debates, vandalism and a lawsuit.

Residents of Mahwah, a New Jersey town southwest of Airmont, have complained that the eruv breaks town ordinances because supports that mark the boundary are attached to public utility polls. Others have worried that a growing haredi population will mean a large group of residents who don’t support services like the public school system.

“I think people are reacting out of the unknown,” said Vince Crandon, a Mahwah resident who claims the eruv was erected illegally. “People will always say the worst when they are left without information.”

The Vaad HaEruv, or Eruv Association, expanded an eruv in the Monsey area around the beginning of July. Much of the eruv consists of existing telephone wires, but to make it kosher, the association had to install PVC pipes that reach from the bottom of the wire to the ground and are affixed to telephone poles. The pipes, called “lechis,” act as posts for the eruv. The Eruv Association pays for their upkeep.

The Eruv Association says it obtained the necessary permits from the utility company that owns the telephone poles and installed the eruv under local police supervision. But the Township of Mahwah claims the poles violate an ordinance that prohibits placing signs on the poles, and has threatened to issue summonses and demand that the poles be taken down. On Aug. 11, the Eruv Association filed a lawsuit against Mahwah, with Pinkasovits as a plaintiff, claiming that the demand to take down the lechis violates residents’ civil rights.

The battle isn’t just legal. Mahwah residents, in addition to residents from the neighboring town of Upper Saddle River, have mobilized in opposition to the eruv and what — or who — it represents. A petition opposing the eruv to “Protect the Quality of Our Community in Mahwah” has garnered 1,200 signatures. In late July, 200 Mahwah residents gathered to protest the eruv. And a new organization called Mahwah Strong, also against the eruv, has grown to around 3,000 members.

Local officials aren’t speaking to the media in light of the legal proceedings. But activists say the problem is that the Eruv Asscoation bypassed the town while putting up the eruv and broke the signage ordinance. If the Eruv Association obeyed the law, they say, there would be no problem.

“If someone puts up a garage sale sign, it gets taken down,” said Deborah Kostroun, Mahwah Strong’s spokeswoman. “We’re very diverse, and very inclusive, and we want people to come to Mahwah. But if you come to Mahwah, you do have to abide by the ordinances of the town.”

Kostroun did acknowledge, however, that residents also were wary of how a growing haredi population might change the area’s character. She pointed to the example of the nearby New York town of East Ramapo, where members of a booming haredi community were elected to the local education board and passed deep cuts in funding for the public schools, which hardly any haredi children attend.

In 2015, after accusations of mismanagement, the Board of Education there was placed under state oversight.

“There is a concern because of what is happening one mile away, five miles away, six miles away,” Kostroun said, referring to Monsey and East Ramapo. “Mahwah has one of the 10 best schools in the state, and property values are tied to how good the schools are.”

Others have expressed their opposition in less savory ways.

Beyond the abuse that Pinkasovits and his neighbors have endured, the PVC pipes have been vandalized, left cracked and broken. The online petition to “Protect the Quality of Our Community in Mahwah” was closed after 1,200 signatures because of several anti-Semitic comments. One referred to the “satanic verses of the Talmud.”

But Crandon said he was skeptical that any comments left anonymously online were actually from Mahwah residents.

A PVC pipe affixed to a telephone pole in the town of Upper Saddle River, N.J. The pipe helps form an eruv for haredi residents of the area, but non-Jews in the town object to the way the pipes were installed. (Ben Sales)

“It’s very sad and I wish it wouldn’t have happened,” said Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, who oversees the eruv. “It’s going to be a long way to fix the relations with all these towns. We have to fight the legal [battle] to get permission to put it up, but we have to have a good relationship with all these towns.”

Airmont doesn’t seem the place to cause a pitched ideological battle. The town of 25,000 has sloping, winding, tree-lined streets — often without marked lanes, sidewalks or much traffic. Large houses are spaced out with yards between them.

It’s a stark contrast to Monsey, which has seen an increasing number of multifamily homes built as its population has grown more than 25 percent since 2000, according to census data.

In Airmont, Jewish infrastructure already is dotting the town. Pinkasovits’ neighborhood alone has three official synagogues, plus another three or four unofficial minyans, or prayer groups, that meet in residents homes. One synagogue, the Congregation of Ridnik, about a 15-minute walk from Pinkasovits’ house, was erecting a fence last week as it planned to expand its sanctuary. The synagogue, attached to the back of its rabbi’s home on a residential street, is awaiting official approval for its expansion.

“Nobody is here to take away their homes,” said Moishe Berger, the congregation’s rabbi, regarding the town’s residents. “Nobody is interested in big development. Everybody wants to keep the neighborhood quiet and nice, but we need places to live.”

“For sale” signs dot the blocks surrounding the synagogue; there are three on Pinkasovits’ cul-de-sac alone. They are a symbol of some haredi newcomers’ confidence that when all is said and done, demographics will overwhelm whatever fights are happening now.

“I’m not worried,” said Shalom Kass, the man whose house was egged. “They’ll be gone in a few months, I think. You know how many houses are for sale? Half my block is on the market. There won’t be that many people left to be upset.”

Trump has decided to remove Stephen Bannon

Fri, 2017-08-18 17:07

Stephen Bannon at the White House, June 1, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(JTA) — President Donald Trump has decided to remove White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

Two administration officials told The New York Times on Friday about Trump’s decision. However, they cautioned that the president might not act on his decision for “some time.”

A source close to Bannon told the Times that the decision was his idea and that he had submitted his resignation to Trump over a week ago. The source claims that the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, delayed the process.

Bannon’s position in the administration has been intensely scrutinized over the past week. At a news conference, Trump was ambivalent about Bannon’s status, saying “We’ll see” about his future in his strategist role.

On Thursday, the liberal American Prospect magazine published an interview with Bannon in which he mocked members of the administration and criticized Trump’s posturing with North Korea.

Bannon has also feuded for months with other members of the Trump administration, including senior adviser Jared Kushner and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Bannon, the former head of the right-wing site Breitbart News, has been under fire since he began working for the Trump campaign last year. He has been criticized for calling Breitbart a platform for the “alt-right,” a far-right and white nationalist movement that many believe is anti-Semitic.

I talked to the ‘anti-Semitic’ Swiss hotel owner. It’s more complicated than you think.

Fri, 2017-08-18 17:00

The Paradise Apartments hotel in Arosa, near Zurich, Switzerland. (Courtesy of Paradise Apartments hotel)

(JTA) — A chuckle tickled my throat as Ruth Thomann, a Swiss hotelier who posted signs urging her “Jewish guests” to shower before entering the pool, assured me that she has “nothing against Jews.”

To be clear, I don’t find racism particularly amusing, especially not these days.

But there was something comical about how her earnest voice – she was speaking in broken English with a thick Swiss-German accent – contrasted with the glaringly discriminatory character of the laminated signs that she posted last week in her Paradise Apartments hotel in Arosa, near Zurich, provoking outrage in Israel and beyond.

Besides, in over a decade of reporting about Europe, I have heard more variations of this weak defense than I can remember — including by people who immediately contradicted themselves. Last year alone I heard it from the professional anti-Semite Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and from a Belgian cartoonist who proudly accepted an award at Iran’s Holocaust denial and mockery festival.

The shower signs, which Israel’s Foreign Ministry escalated into a diplomatic incident with Switzerland, seemed to me an open-and-shut case.

But as I listened earlier this week to Thomann’s passionate explanations and apology — “the signs should have been addressed to all the guests instead of Jewish ones,” she said, near tears – I realized that despite the damning evidence and anger against her, she was probably a tolerant person who, for lack of tact, was being pilloried internationally with devastating consequences for her business.

And so what began as a clear-cut expression of Europe’s growing anti-Semitism problem turned, in my mind, into a reminder of how important it is precisely during these times to judge people innocent, even of hate crimes, until proven otherwise.

In addition to the sign about the pool, Thomann also posted one instructing “our Jewish guests” on when they could access a hotel refrigerator. Both signs circulated on social media, where Israeli journalists found them.

“You have to understand,” she pleaded with me, “the sign about the refrigerator goes to Jews because I kindly allowed only the Jews to keep their food in the staff’s refrigerator because I know they bring their own food,” she said. Her Orthodox Jewish guests needed to store their food there because of kosher issues, she explained.

“My God, if I had something against Jews, I wouldn’t take them as guests!” she said.

Technically, excluding Jews would be illegal in Switzerland. But an anti-Semitic hotelier could get around it, since Orthodox Jewish tourists typically book hotels in the Alpine country through specialized travel agencies. And so in principle, all a Swiss hotel needs to do to “lose” its Orthodox guests would be to inform their travel agent of some imaginary deal breaker — say a nocturnal pulled pork bake-off contest, or zero accommodations for storing kosher food.

So what about the shower signs, I asked.

“Well,” Thomann paused, searching for words. “I’m sorry to say but I know the hotel, and the only people who go in without taking a shower are the Jewish guests.”

And how exactly does she know that, I inquired, bracing for comments on body odor.

“They go in wearing their T-shirts!” Thomann said, adding that the behavior drew complaints from other guests, who found it unsanitary.

I have not verified the claim about T-shirts. But in my extensive travels across Europe, and especially to places that receive many Jewish visitors, I have seen culture clashes between secular Europeans and vacationing members of insular haredi communities from Israel and beyond.

In Uman, a Ukrainian city where each year 30,000 Jews convene for a pilgrimage, many apartment owners who used to rent rooms to the visitors have stopped because of damages and fires. Last year, the Uman City Plaza hotel also adopted this policy, citing the same reason.

Before filing my story on Thomann apologizing for the signs — it was shared nearly 3,000 times on Twitter — I said goodbye to the hotelier, adding that I found it regrettable that some of my colleagues didn’t bother to get her side of the story before reporting about the signs.

But that was only the beginning of the Swiss hotel saga.

Responding to calls by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the reservations service Booking.com dropped Thomann’s hotel – a painful financial blow to any business in the industry.

The Wiesenthal Center’s intervention is understandable on many levels.

Especially in Europe, signs singling out Jews inevitably evoke memories of the slogans that proliferated across the continent during the Nazi occupation of most of its territory, from the laconically demeaning (“No dogs and Jews allowed”) to the viciously “humorous.”

It didn’t help that in the same week as the Swiss hotel affair, news emerged that Switzerland’s federal parliament was about to vote on a bill that would make it the first country in Europe to ban the import of kosher meat. (Ritual slaughter of cows was outlawed in Switzerland in 1894 in legislation that the local Jewish community to this day views as essentially anti-Semitic.)

Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, escalated the matter even further in a move that may be connected to her government’s ongoing fight with European countries supportive of the Palestinian cause. (In June, Switzerland’s foreign minister, who in the past has refused to disclose funding for anti-Israel groups, reluctantly agreed to an audit following pressure by pro-Israel lawmakers.)

Hotovely demanded the Swiss government publicly condemn Thomann’s actions, which she said indicated the prevalence of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, a continent of some 750 million residents.

As is often the case when Jerusalem wades into the complicated debate about anti-Semitism in Europe, I felt that Hotovely’s claim was not only overblown and cynical, but also based on ignorance of the facts of the case at hand.

But almost immediately, I had to reconsider that judgment, too.

In the latest twist of a story that began with two laminated A4 sheets of paper, a Swiss lawmaker, the Socialist Roger Deneys, came along and proved Hotovely’s point. If anyone should apologize for the Swiss hotel incident, he wrote on Facebook, then it is Israel, “for its excessive tolerance of ultra-Orthodox Jews who prevent peace in Palestine.”

Following an outcry, Deneys deleted the remark and apologized.

After all, he said, he has nothing against Jews.

A century ago, Jewish Salonica burned. It was rebuilt, only to be destroyed anew.

Fri, 2017-08-18 15:25

Destruction after the great fire in Salonica, Greece, Sept. 4, 1917. (Photo 12/ UIG via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Exactly a century ago, on Aug. 18, 1917, a massive fire roared through the Mediterranean port city of Salonica, Greece, then home to the largest and most dynamic Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jewish community in the world.

According to local legend, the fire erupted one Sabbath afternoon amid World War I when the coals of a war refugee roasting eggplants overturned. A fierce wind catapulted the flames into a major conflagration that left two-thirds of the city in ashes and 70,000 residents homeless, 52,000 of whom were Jews. Thirty-two synagogues, 10 rabbinical libraries, eight Jewish schools, the communal archives, and numerous Jewish philanthropies, businesses and clubs were destroyed.

A local teacher bemoaned the fate of his city: “Of the brilliance and grandeur of this famous Jewish community, nothing remained but mountains of ashes. Everything was lost; everything disappeared.” A journalist further lamented: “The most important thing that the fire destroyed was the Jewishness of Salonica. It is a terrible story.”

Such devastation paled in comparison to what would befall Salonica’s Jews exactly 26 years later. In the spring and summer of 1943, the Nazi occupying forces deported nearly 50,000 Jews from Salonica to Auschwitz; 96 percent perished. The last of the 18 deportation transports arrived at Auschwitz precisely on Aug. 18, 1943.

If the fire of 1917 was the beginning of the end, deportations to Auschwitz signified the finale — or at least that’s how the story could be told.

But the reality was not straightforward. Remarkably, after the fire, Salonica’s Jews persevered and rebuilt their institutions — despite resistance from the Greek government — to such an extent that the Nazis encountered a robust Jewish communal presence upon their occupation of the city.

Recent discussions have highlighted the role of gentrification in dramatically reshaping urban demographics and the cityscape, especially in the wake of catastrophes, like the case of New Orleans. A recent New Republic article explains that gentrification is not only about people with disposable income moving into the neighborhood and displacing those who lived there before, but rather about “profit and power, racism and violence on a massive scale.” Similar dynamics were at play in Salonica.

“Study for 1917 Fire —Salonika” (2016) by Harry I. Naar (Courtesy of Naar)

Salonica had suffered from a series of fires in its history, but during the four centuries under the benign rule of the Ottoman Empire, the city’s residents were permitted to rebuild without much state interference. Not so after the Great Fire of 1917. The Greek government, which had only recently annexed Salonica during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), saw in the fire an opportunity to transform once and for all Jewish and Ottoman Salonica into Greek Thessaloniki.

With this nationalist goal in mind, the government expropriated the burnt terrain and prevented residents from rebuilding on their land. Instead, under the guise of promoting state interests and a modern, European urban plan that would transform the downtown into a middle- and upper-class Greek space, the government auctioned off the razed property: Those who could pay, rather than those who had lived in the area, became the new occupants of the city center. The National Bank of Greece outbid the Jewish community for the plot on which the Talmud Torah, the main Jewish communal school, had stood before the fire. Today, the upscale Electra Palace hotel sits in the heart of the city where another Jewish school, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, once stood.

The prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, encouraged British and French urban planners to view the city as a “blank slate” and ignore the centuries-long imprint left by Jews and Muslims. One of the urban planners described Venizelos as “particularly enthusiastic about the new Salonica, almost to the point of regarding the fire as providential” and conceded that the “fundamental purpose of the plan was to deprive the Jews of complete control of the city.” But the planner also noted, as if to offer consolation, “There was no desire to oust the Jews completely.”

Local Jewish leaders petitioned Jewish organizations abroad and the great powers to intervene with the Greek government, but they met with little success. Even The New York Times noted in 1919 that the Greek government never offered a “satisfactory explanation” for the cause of the fire — the burnt eggplant story was not convincing — and that “natural suspicions of the inhabitants were accentuated by the shouts of joy” coming from the main Athens newspapers, which celebrated “the disappearance of the ancient ‘ghetto of Macedonia.’”

Largely prevented from rebuilding in the city center, the Jewish community began to rebuild on the city outskirts, including new neighborhoods established in allied military barracks to house the mostly poor Jewish fire victims. Others opted to emigrate. A Jewish leader in Salonica explained that it was not so much the fire itself, as devastating as it was, but rather the “profoundly demoralizing” impact of the plan for the “new” and “modern” city that propelled many Jews to flee. One Ladino satirist quipped: “Doesn’t ‘modernism’ mean … ‘anti-Semitism’?”

But a sentiment of optimism coexisted with the sense of despair. The fire provoked the creation of an important daily Ladino newspaper, El Puevlo (The People), which aspired to “return our great community to its prior flourishing state” and to “assure the future of the Jewish people.” The same Jewish teacher who had lamented the destruction of the fire also expressed hope, saying “Little by little … our great community, so cruelly afflicted today, will be reborn from the ashes more brilliant than ever before!”

Devin Naar is the chair of the Sephardic studies program at the University of Washington. (Meryl Schenker Photography/The Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at Washington University)

Remarkably, the period after the 1917 fire witnessed the most vibrant Jewish cultural productivity in the city’s history, with more Jewish newspapers, magazines and books published in Ladino (and French, Greek and Hebrew) than ever before. Since so much literature had been destroyed — both religious and secular — there was a desperate need for new publications. The resulting Ladino-Hebrew edition of psalms even wound up in Sephardi libraries as far afield as Seattle, Washington.

Despite growing tensions between Salonican Jews and the Greek state and increased demands that Jews — like the cityscape itself — become more “Greek,” the Jewish community succeeded in building several dozen new synagogues and a new school system. It restarted the Jewish hospital and medical dispensary and established new institutions, including a tuberculosis clinic, girls’ orphanage and maternity ward. By 1938, there was talk of the Jewish communal offices being transferred back to the city center — but the outbreak of the war prevented the move.

As much as Salonica’s Jewish community rebounded from the fire of 1917, the destruction wrought by the German occupation was insurmountable. Beyond the dispossession, deportation and murder of almost all of Salonica’s Jews by the Nazis, the entire character of the city was irrevocably transformed. Several dozen synagogues, with the exception of one or two, were destroyed by the Nazis and their collaborators; visual traces of the Jewish presence in the built environment were gone.

Salonica’s vast Jewish cemetery — the largest in Europe, dating to 1492, with more than 300,000 graves over a terrain the size of 80 football fields — also became prey to the ostensible demands of modern urban planning. Due to the 1917 fire and the subsequent expansion of the city (compounded by the arrival of 100,000 Orthodox Christian refugees from Turkey following a forced population exchange), the Jewish cemetery became the new geographic center of what was supposed to be Greek Thessaloniki. For 20 years, the Jewish community succeeded in deflecting efforts made in the name of urban “progress” to expropriate the burial ground.

But the defense failed once the city came under Nazi occupation. The Greek authorities used the occupation as a pretext to demolish the Jewish cemetery. They utilized marble tombstones to erect much of the rebuilt, modern city — to refurbish churches damaged in the 1917 fire, to construct “modern” walkways and “modern” town squares, and to fashion the campus of the largest university in the Balkans, which now stands atop the former Jewish burial ground.

Pillaged relics of the Jewish dead became the literal building blocks of urban renewal — a systematic and violent process begun a century ago, in the wake of the fire of 1917, intensified during the German occupation and continued in its wake. The result can be seen today. A stroll through Salonica reveals many modern buildings and a vast university campus in a city still suffering from a financial crisis. But few will notice that many of those modern buildings were built on land expropriated from Jews in 1917 — or again in 1943.

Perhaps this Aug. 18, in commemoration of the Great Fire of 1917, the city will deepen its effort to come to terms with its past and acknowledge the dark legacies of modern urban planning. Such would be a prerequisite for the city to again become, as a Guardian writer phrased it, “a place of multicultural amnesty.”

(Devin E. Naar is the chair of the Sephardic studies program and an associate professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Washington.)

Hidden blueprint leads diggers to ancient ritual baths of Vilnius synagogue

Fri, 2017-08-18 14:26

(JTA) — A newly discovered blueprint of the destroyed great synagogue in Vilnius led a team of archaeologists to unearth the remains of two ritual baths that were used by congregants of one of Europe’s largest and most prominent Jewish communities before its annihilation.

The synagogue, which was at the heart of the large Jewish community in Vilnius for hundreds of years, was destroyed in the Holocaust. But the baths, or mikvahs, and underground spaces discovered in a study carried out last year led to the excavation of the site by Israeli, Lithuanian and American archaeologists and the exposure of the ritual baths, the Heritage Daily reported Thursday.

The excavation has followed an architectural plan from the end of the 19th century that was discovered in the municipal archive of Vilnius for the restoration of the ancient bathhouse by the community. According to the plan, the bathhouse consisted of two main floors, many rooms and a large service wing. The document allowed the diggers to identify the two mikvahs last month.

The Great Synagogue of Vilna, built in the 17th century in the Baroque-Renaissance style, was a large community center and a center of Torah study. It was at the heart of Lithuanian Jewry and included 12 synagogues and batei midrash, or study halls, ritual baths, the community council building and kosher meat stalls.

But the complex is best known for its serving as the base of operations for the Gaon of Vilna, an 18th-century rabbinical luminary whose name was Elijah ben Solomon Zalman.

After hundreds of years of existence, with the destruction of nearly the entire Jewish community of Vilna during the Holocaust, the most holy place of the Jews of Lithuania was looted and burned by the Germans, and the remains were destroyed by Soviet authorities, who built a modern school in its place in 1957.

Before the discovery, “We had found little information about the bathhouse and mikvah building of the Jewish community, a community that comprised almost half of the city’s population,” said Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who led the research team.

“These discoveries add a new dimension to the understanding of the daily lives of the Jews of Vilna, and will certainly provide a new focus for understanding the lost cultural heritage of the Jewish community of Vilna, the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania,'” the researchers wrote in a statement announcing the find.

Charlottesville says it provided protection to synagogue, refuting initial account

Fri, 2017-08-18 14:19

Police blocking off the street after a car rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Local officials said police provided protection to a synagogue during a far-right gathering last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., refuting a claim by a Jewish community leader that the it had refused to do so.

On Friday, Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones said it “is simply not the case that Congregation Beth Israel was left unguarded” during Saturday’s event, when neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered in the Virginia city. The synagogue’s senior rabbi also seemed to confirm the police statement.

“Police stationed an officer on the corner of the block where the synagogue is located plus another 32 officers about one block away in the other direction. In addition we had snipers on a rooftop in close proximity whose primary responsibility was to monitor a two block radius which included Beth Israel,” Jones said in a statement to JTA. “We also had a group of Virginia State Police officers who were walking a four block radius between two of our parks on a route that passed the synagogue on several occasions throughout the day’s events.”

The synagogue’s president, Alan Zimmerman, had written in a blog post earlier this week that “[t]he police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services.”

However, Congregation Beth Israel’s senior rabbi seemed to confirm the police account of the incident in a Thursday statement.

Rabbi Tom Gutherz said he and Zimmerman had met with the police on Wednesday and “officials reviewed with us the security provisions they made for the safety of our congregation during the protests. Based on our discussion, we are now confident that the steps they took were carefully considered to protect us and were effective. We note that we had also met with and spoken to the department prior to the rallies as part of our preparation.”

In his blog post, Zimmerman said the synagogue had hired security after police allegedly did not provide protection.

“On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped),” he wrote in the post on ReformJudaism.org, which was titled “In Charlottesville, the Local Jewish Community Presses On.”

The synagogue did hire security guards for the first time in its history ahead the far-right event, during which protesters chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans at Emancipation park, a short block from the synagogue.  A counterprotester was killed when a car driven by a suspected white supremacist plowed into pedestrians.

Zimmerman, like other eyewitnesses, described intimidation by participants or supporters of the far-right rally.

“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of Seig Heil and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols,” Zimmerman wrote.

In a separate interview, Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin, rabbi educator at the synagogue, noted that members of “antifa,” the anti-fascist street movement, also defended clergy and houses of worship during the rally.

“There was a group of antifa defending First United Methodist Church right outside in their parking lot, and at one point the white supremacists came by and antifa chased them off with sticks,” she told Slate.

Other members of the clergy gave similar accounts to Slate, praising left-wing counterprotesters for protecting them from far-right protesters.

“Based on what was happening all around, the looks on [the faces of the far-right marchers], the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps [of Emancipation Park] would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so,” Brandy Daniels, a postdoctoral fellow in religion and public policy at the University of Virginia, told Slate.

President Trump  blamed the violence at the rally on “many sides.”

Palestinian ex-terrorist deported from US for lying on citizenship application

Fri, 2017-08-18 13:46

(JTA) – A Palestinian who lied about her involvement in terrorist attacks was ordered to be deported for illegally obtaining her citizenship from the United States, where she has lived for 22 years.

On Thursday, a U.S. federal court in Detroit ordered Rasmea Odeh’s deportation, citing her admission to lying on her citizenship application, the news site Click on Detroit reported.

Odeh, a 70-year-old Chicago-area resident, was convicted overseas for participating in two terrorist bombings that killed two Israelis and being a member of a group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“In 1969, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine conducted two bombings in Jerusalem, Israel,” acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch said. “One was at a Supersol supermarket, in which two individuals were killed and many more wounded. The second bombing was at the British Consulate. Defendant Odeh was arrested and charged with participation in the bombings.”

Lemisch said that in interviews, other participants named Odeh as the person who chose the supermarket as a target, scouted the area and placed the bomb.

She was sentenced to life in prison in Israel, but was released in 1979 as part of a prisoner exchange.

Odeh will be deported to her home country of Jordan and be barred for life from re-entering the U.S.

U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain also fined Odeh for $1,000 to show her that there are consequences for lying on immigration paperwork.

Odeh obtained her U.S. immigrant visa in 1994 and her citizenship in 2004. In both applications, she failed to disclose her arrest and convictions in the bombings. She pleaded guilty to falsifying her immigration applications.

According to a plea agreement Odeh signed, she admitted that she lied about her criminal history.

In court, she told Drain, “Dreams were turned into a nightmare and Zionists killed women and children without consideration … and turned us into strangers in our own country.” She also said, “The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a crime.”

The judge interrupted her three times to tell her that the case is about false statements only. He threatened her that she was risking a conviction for contempt of the court.

When Odeh said her and her people are not terrorists, Drain told her, “This is not a political forum to fan the flames of the Palestinian and Israeli disputes.”

Drain sentenced her to time served and suspended her bond.

Police refused to protect Charlottesville synagogue during far-right gathering, communal leader reveals

Fri, 2017-08-18 13:09

John Aguilar, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, standing outside Charlottesville’s Congregation Beth Israel, Aug. 12, 2017, had volunteered to stand guard over the synagogue during that morning’s far-right rally nearby. (Ron Kampeas)

(JTA) —  A Charlottesville synagogue hired security guards after local police refused to post a detail at their building during a far-right rally last weekend, a communal leader said.

“The police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services,” Alan Zimmerman, president of  Congregation Beth Israel in the Virginia town, wrote in a blog post earlier this week.

Far-right activists gathered in a park one block from the synagoue that Saturday morning, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans and intimidating counterprotesters and passersby. After the rally was dispersed by police, a 32-year-old counterprotester was killed when a car driven by a suspected white supremacist plowed into a crowd of pedestrians.

“On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped),” he wrote in the post on ReformJudaism.org, which was titled “In Charlottesville, the Local Jewish Community Presses On.”

Zimmerman, like other eyewitnesses, described intimidation by participants or supporters of the far-right rally.

“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of Seig Heil and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols,” Zimmerman wrote.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the synagogue, he added.

“Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know,” Zimmerman wrote.

Zimmerman also wrote that John Aguilar, a 30-year Navy veteran, volunteered to stand watch through services Friday evening and Saturday morning, along with the armed guard.

A man in a white polo shirt, a uniform of some of the marchers, walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Zimmerman later noticed the man wore the same shirt as James Fields, the alleged killer of Heyer.

“Apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill,” Zimmerman wrote.

When services ended, “my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups,” Zimmerman also wrote. “This is 2017 in the United States of America.”

Charlottesville police did not respond to a request for comment.

In a separate interview, Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin, rabbi educator at the synagogue, noted that members of “antifa,” the anti-fascist street movement, also defended clergy and houses of worship during the rally.

“There was a group of antifa defending First United Methodist Church right outside in their parking lot, and at one point the white supremacists came by and antifa chased them off with sticks,” she told Slate.

Other members of the clergy gave similar accounts to Slate, praising left-wing counterprotesters for protecting them from far-right protesters.

“Based on what was happening all around, the looks on [the faces of the far-right marchers], the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps [of Emancipation Park] would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so,” Brandy Daniels, a postdoctoral fellow in religion and public policy at the University of Virginia, told Slate.

President Trump  blamed the violence at the rally on “many sides.”

Fox CEO James Murdoch rebukes Trump’s response to racism, pledges $1m to ADL

Fri, 2017-08-18 12:22

(JTA) — James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox media corporation, pledged to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League in an apparent rebuke of President Donald Trump’s statements after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

In an email on Thursday, the Fox scion gave a statement against the racist and neo-Nazi sentiment that swept through Virginia last weekend, The New York Times reported. It was also the most outspoken that a member of the Murdoch family has been in response to the week’s events.

“What we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people,” James Murdoch wrote.

“These events remind us all why vigilance against hate and bigotry is an eternal obligation — a necessary discipline for the preservation of our way of life and our ideals.

On Saturday, a suspected white supremacist killed a counterprotester in the city in Virginia, where hundreds of far-right activists had gathered for a march. Trump on Saturday condemned violence on “many sides.” Amid calls for him to denounce neo-Nazis and other racists specifically, he spoke out against the “Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and White supremacists” on Monday.

On Tuesday, however, the president reiterated that he believed both sides in Charlottesville share the blame for the violence, and said there were “very fine people” on both sides. Jewish and other human rights organizations, Republican lawmakers top military brass issued statements saying racism and anti-Semitism needs to be called out in more specific terms.

James Murdoch’s father, Rupert Murdoch, is a conservative media mogul who has become an informal adviser to Trump, recently dining with the president in the White House residence, according to The Times. The Murdoch has been less outspoken about his political views.

With a subject line reading, “Subject: Personal note from James Murdoch re: ADL,” Mr. Murdoch addressed the note to “friends.”

“The presence of hate in our society was appallingly laid bare as we watched swastikas brandished on the streets of Charlottesville and acts of brutal terrorism and violence perpetrated by a racist mob,” he wrote. “I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.”

James Murdoch said that he and his wife, Kathryn, plan to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League, urging others to follow suit.

“We hardly ever talk about our charitable giving, but in this case I wanted to tell you and encourage you to be generous too. Many of you are supporters of the Anti-Defamation League already — now is a great time to give more,” he wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League has been outspoken against Mr. Trump since early in his campaign, including tracking an uptick in white supremacists supporting him as he declined repeatedly to forcefully denounce them or disavow their support.

On Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged that his company will donate $1 million each to the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center in the wake of the rally in Charlottesville.

On Friday, the ADL and the U.S. Conference of Mayors will hold a news conference call to issue a bi-partisan announcement in response to the events in Charlottesville

Mayors across the country have condemned the bigotry and violence seen in Charlottesville.

Various critics on Twitter noted that the Fox News Channel has been a strong defender of the president and his policies. “Can the Murdochs expiate their guilt for helping to enable Trump’s election – with only $1 million? What’s democracy worth?” asked Rabbi Iris Richman, an activist in New York.

Windows smashed at Northern California synagogue

Fri, 2017-08-18 12:03

SAN FRANCISCO (J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — Police  are investigating what appears to be vandalism at Temple Israel in the Bay Area city of Alameda.

At about 6 p.m. on Aug. 17, congregational president Genevieve Pastor-Cohen sent an email to the congregation stating, “in the morning, it was discovered that two classroom windows had been smashed,” and noting that police and Harbor Bay Security had been notified.

“During our Weds. Aug 16th Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the possibility of our synagogue being a target in our small town of Alameda especially with the ongoing expression of bigotry and anti-Semitism,” the letter continued. “It breaks my heart and soul to be exposed to this type of mindless and senseless action especially aimed at the community I (we) love.”

Congregant Mel Waldorf went to the synagogue after he received the email, and told J. that one of the windows that had been smashed  “was where kids had painted Stars of David.”

He also said that another window that noted this was “the new Temple Israel” had been smashed. He said that police took away a rock the assailants had used to try and smash in the front door.

“There’s no question that the attacker knew this was a Jewish institution,” he told J.

In her email to the congregation, Pastor-Cohen noted that a security plan had been developed this year by a synagogue task force, and added that the plan will be reexamined after this incident  “to ensure our community is protected and safe from harm especially with our High Holy Days coming upon us.”

Police told J. that a report had been filed, and the case was being investigated. No further details were available at press time.

Following terrorist attack, Barcelona’s chief rabbi says his community is doomed

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:53

(JTA) — Commenting on deadly attacks in Catalonia, the chief rabbi of that region in Spain said that his community is doomed, partly because of radical Islam and authorities’ alleged reluctance to confront it.

Rabbi Meir Bar-Hen has been encouraging his congregants to leave Spain, which he called during an interview with JTA a “hub of Islamist terror for all of Europe,” for years before the attacks Thursday and Friday, he said. At least 13 victims and five suspected terrorists were killed in Barcelona and the resort town of Cambrils, 75 miles south of the city.

To Bar-Hen, whose community on Friday resumed activities that it had suspended briefly following the Barcelona attack, “Jews are not here permanently,” he said of the city and region. “I tell my congregants: Don’t think we’re here for good. And I encourage them to buy property in Israel. This place is lost. Don’t repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late.”

white van on Thursday careered into a crowds on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s feted thoroughfare, when the street was packed with locals and tourists. More than 100 were injured, including 13 fatalities. The driver of the van fled on foot and was believed to be still at large on Friday. Police shot dead another man at a checkpoint Thursday. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Hours later, police killed in a raid in Cambrils five men whom police said were terrorists planning an imminent attack.

Part of the problem exposed by the attacks, Bar-Hen said, is the presence of a large Muslim community with “radical fringes.” Once these people are “living among you,” he said of terrorists and their supporters, “it’s very difficult to get rid of them. They only get stronger.” He also said this applied to Europe as a whole. “Europe is lost,” he said.

Bar-Hen emphasized that he was speaking as a private person and not for all members of his community.

Displaying a defiant and more confidant attitude than Bar-Hen’s, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain issued a statement expressing “full confidence in security forces who work daily to prevent fanatics and radical Muslims from inflicting pain and chaos on our cities.”

But another part of Spain’s problem with Islamist terrorism, Bar-Hen added, is what he called a reluctance on the part of authorities and some politicians to confront it. He cited the hosting in April in Barcelona of Leila Khaled, a Palestinian terrorist who hijacked and airplane in 1969. This showed authorities “do not understand the nature of terrorism, if they treat it as an action by the disenfranchised,” Bar-Hen said.

Ignoring calls to ban the visit by Khaled — she attended a local book fair whose organizers hung posters of Khaled on main streets — Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau Ballano of the far-left Barcelona en Comú party successfully led the passing in April of a resolution at her city council condemning Israel’s “violations of international law,” as that resolution stated.

On Friday, Colau Ballano wrote on Facebook: “Barcelona is a city of peace. Terror will not make us stop being who we are: a brave city open to the world.” She urged readers to show up at a solidarity rally that day.

Angel Mas, founder of the ACOM pro-Israel group, which protested Khaled’s visit, said that it is “pure cynicism” of Colau Ballano to claim to oppose terrorism in light of her support for Khaled “and other individuals that support terrorist causes,” as he phrased it.

Bar-Hen said he may not attend the rally called by Colau Ballano as security officials instructed him to avoid public areas in the coming days because he is recognizably Jewish.

18 Jewish House Democrats call on Trump to ‘stand up to hate’

Thu, 2017-08-17 20:57

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Eighteen Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called on President Donald Trump to “consistently and unequivocally fight against racists and anti-Semites” in the aftermath of the deadly far-right rally in Charlottesville.

“We are deeply troubled by your statement blaming ‘both sides’ for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia,” said the letter sent Thursday and spearheaded by Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.

“Your statements show a deep misunderstanding of history and a fundamental lack of moral compass. As the leader of our nation, it is incumbent upon you to stand up to hate, not to provide legitimacy to those who violently perpetrate it.”

Trump in the wake of the car ramming Saturday by an alleged neo-Nazi that killed a Charlottesville resident condemned neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, but also said “many sides” were responsible for the violence and said there were “very fine people” on both sides.

Far-right groups converged on Charlottesville last weekend to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Some rally participants bore Nazi flags and shouted racist and anti-Jewish slogans, with no visible objections by fellow protesters. There were a number of skirmishes between protesters and counterprotesters.

“In the strongest possible terms, we urge you to consistently and unequivocally fight against racists and anti-Semites,” the letter said. “Anything less is beneath the dignity of your office and the ideals of our great nation.”

There are 21 Democrats in the House who identify as Jewish and two Republicans.

This Jewish pre-college program uses coding and cooking to build Jewish identity

Thu, 2017-08-17 20:26

Students in the visual arts track of the Genesis pre-college summer program at Brandeis take part in a drawing exercise on perspective. (Ty Ueda)

This story is sponsored by Brandeis University.

WALTHAM, Mass. — Mary Pridgen is an innovation-minded teenager who doesn’t like to waste time.

Volunteering in politics in Biloxi, Mississippi, Pridgen long had been vexed by a recurring problem: how to diplomatically extricate herself from meetings with long-winded people.

So when she arrived at the Brandeis campus this summer for the technology track of a pre-college summer program focused on experiential learning and Jewish community, Pridgen came up with a solution: She designed a pair of shoes that generates a call to your cellphone when you click the heels together, giving you an excuse to leave.

It was one of the things that Pridgen, 15, said she loved about the Genesis program, which draws high school students from around the world for two- or four-week mini-courses ranging from culinary art and anthropology to science and social entrepreneurship – all with a Jewish lens.

Another reason Pridgen enjoyed her time at Brandeis, she said, was because there are “not a lot of Jewish people in Mississippi, but there are a lot of Jewish people here.”

(I wanted to continue my conversation with Pridgen, but I was worried her phone was going to ring.)

Experts in the field teach the courses. The wearable technology laboratory track was led by Russel Neiss, a software engineer at the Jewish text website Sefaria. Many of the program participants arrived with no coding experience, he said, and in the space of two weeks learned the skills to complete projects like the shoes or a “fairy dress” that lights up when it moves.

“It’s sort of a magical thing,” Neiss said.

The wide range of participants — North Americans, Israelis and Russians, from a smattering of non-Jews to Orthodox Jews and everything in between — means that students are practically guaranteed to be living, eating and “figuring out how to work with people who are radically different,” said Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, the Genesis program’s director and one of Brandeis’ Jewish chaplains. With about 40 percent of participants from overseas, the conversations that the students have with each other often are radically different from what they are used to at home, he noted.

“Each course integrates Jewish content in some way,” Schwartz said. “On the theater track, participants studied a Jewish text through the lens of an artistic medium. This year it was the Book of Jonah. On our gender and sexuality track, participants talked with each about not just how gender is constructed in society, but also in Jewish tradition. We place a big emphasis on building pluralistic, dynamic communities.”

This summer, about 30 percent of the program’s participants were of Russian extraction, including students who came from Moscow, Kiev, North America and Israel. They collaborated with peers from Israel and North America in building and programming wearable technology – or, in the culinary art and anthropology track, debating whether latkes or hamentaschen are the quintessential Jewish food.

One student argued not just in favor of latkes, but a particular kind of potato pancake: “Belarussian draniki” of the sort her family eats with sour cream and milk every Sunday morning. Making her case, she and her teammates noted that latkes have more Google search results than hamentaschen and a longer entry in Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, and that Hanukkah is more widely celebrated than Purim. The latke, unlike hamentaschen, has even been mentioned in a U.S. Supreme Court case, County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union.

Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz, cookbook authors and co-founders of the popular Gefilteria, a trendy Brooklyn food company that serves up classic Jewish dishes with a modern twist, provided guidance. Alpern is herself a graduate of the Genesis program. In building their arguments, the students also consulted via email with Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna, the renowned expert in American Jewish history whose participation in a latke-hamentaschen debate a decade ago is fondly remembered on the Brandeis campus.

Students work on bench skills in the lab during the Genesis science course. (Ty Ueda)

Regardless of who prevailed in the debate, there was no arguing that the versions cooked and baked by the participants were uniformly and exceedingly tasty. The latkes came in two varieties — one traditional potato, another that incorporated parsnips and turnips. They were accompanied by fresh lox and homemade sour cream, cinnamon applesauce and pickled green beans. The hamentaschen were made with seven different fillings: raspberry, apricot, potato and herb, ricotta and honey, cheese and veggies, nutella and butterscotch.

In a different Brandeis campus building, another group of students was bent over wires, batteries and laptop computers with the same intensity and creative energy that the cooks had gathered around their frying pans. Benjamen Pinsky, a 15-year-old from Toronto who likes magic, designed and built a hat that when tilted asks if you’d like to see a magic trick.

For Brandeis, the pre-college programs — they include an app design boot camp, a global youth summit and other courses focused on Israel studies and arts — are a way to make the Brandeis experience available to younger students, many of whom eventually apply to the university.

The Genesis program was founded in 1997 with a grant from Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation. These days a big supporter is the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which focuses on building Jewish identity among Russian Jews and is known for the annual Genesis Prize, a $1 million award that has been won by Michael Bloomberg and Michael Douglas.

For Neiss, the technology teacher, this was his eighth year as an instructor. Neiss, a St. Louis resident, said he looks forward every year to the weeks he spends at Brandeis surrounded by wires and computers and, most of all, “a group of teens really interested in the subject matter who want to be here.”

(This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Brandeis University, a university founded by the American Jewish community, dedicated to academic excellence, critical thinking, openness to all and tikkun olam. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.)

Black-Jewish Goldman Sachs VP sues firm for racial, religious discrimination

Thu, 2017-08-17 20:23

Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York City, March 14, 2012. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — A black-Jewish woman has sued Goldman Sachs over alleged discrimination due to her racial and religious background.

Rebecca Allen, a vice president in the private wealth management division in New York, in a lawsuit filed Wednesday said the financial firm stopped her from landing an account, CNBC reported.

Allen claims in the suit that for three years she tried to bring in Brent Saunders, CEO of  the pharmaceutical giant Allergan, as a client, but “was abruptly removed from the Saunders relationship without explanation.”

The person who removed Allen from the Saunders bid — Christina Minnis, a partner in the investment banking division — implied to Allen’s supervisor that she made the decision because Allen is African-American and Jewish, according to the lawsuit.

A representative for Goldman Sachs denied the allegations.

“We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously contest it,” the representative said, according to CNBC. “Our success depends on our ability to maintain a diverse employee base and we are focused on recruiting, retaining and promoting diverse professionals at all levels.”

The lawsuit says Allen was faced with “discriminatory comments” due to “the fact that she is Jewish, including various inquiries clearly designed to determine ‘how Jewish’ Ms. Allen is, given that she is black.”

In addition, Allen alleges that she was given fewer and less valuable clients than her male counterparts, CNBC reported.

Bumble dating app joins forces with ADL to ‘ban all forms of hate’

Thu, 2017-08-17 20:00

Bumble has over 12 million users. (Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for Bumble)

(JTA) — The popular dating app Bumble will work with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Technology and Society for “guidance on identifying all hate symbols.”

The app, which as of February had over 12 million users, announced the partnership Thursday on its website. In a statement, the company called on users to report others who displayed “hate symbols” in their profiles.

Bumble will use the ADL’s “research and terminology” to identify and categorize hate symbols.

Its statement also said the company was harassed last week by messages and phone calls from a group of neo-Nazis angry about Bumble’s “stance towards promoting women’s empowerment.”

Tinder co-founder Tiffany Wolfe started Bumble in December 2014. On Bumble, after a heterosexual match is made between users, only the female user can initiate a conversation.

Also Thursday, the dating app OkCupid said it banned a user who was identified as a “white supremacist.”

We were alerted that white supremacist Chris Cantwell was on OkCupid. Within 10 minutes we banned him for life.

— OkCupid (@okcupid) August 17, 2017

There is no room for hate in a place where you're looking for love.

— OkCupid (@okcupid) August 17, 2017