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Germany vows to crack down on antisemitism at Israel protests

8 hours 45 min ago

BERLIN (JTA) — Following a spate of anti-Israel protests across Germany tied to the ongoing Israel-Gaza violence, political leaders here have vowed to crack down on demonstrators who have used antisemitic rhetoric and have attacked Jewish institutions.

“Anyone who spreads antisemitic hatred will feel the full force of the law,” German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in a statement.

He added in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag tabloid on Sunday: “We will not tolerate the burning of Israeli flags on German soil and attacks on Jewish facilities.”

Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble called for an increase in security for Jewish communities and institutions on the eve of the Shavuot holiday on Sunday. Due to measures aimed to stem the coronavirus pandemic, most synagogues still only allow reduced attendance or remote observances.

Though most demonstrators in recent days reportedly were peaceful, some tried to burn Israeli flags, shouted anti-Jewish epithets and cheered the bombing of Tel Aviv. The Deutsche Welle news agency reported that 180 people marched from the train station in the western city of Gelsenkirchen to a synagogue chanting antisemitic slogans. Several individuals were arrested after rocks were thrown through the windows of multiple synagogues in different cities.

Last year, Germany made it illegal to publicly destroy or damage the flag of a foreign state with which they have diplomatic relations. It is also illegal to incite hate or call for violence against a group or individuals in a manner that could disturb the peace; the law covers, for example, racism, antisemitism and homophobia.

Calling the incidents “disgusting,” Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany,  said in a statement to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper that “Anyone who attacks synagogues and Jews on the pretext of criticizing Israel has forfeited any right to solidarity.”

The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) appealed to Muslims to stay away from the demonstrations, Deutsche Welle reported.

It remains to be seen whether suspects arrested in recent days will be charged with inciting antisemitism.

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2 dead, over 210 injured in synagogue bleacher collapse In West Bank settlement

Mon, 2021-05-17 15:40

(JTA) — Israeli paramedics said that at least two worshipers had been killed and at least 213 were injured in a bleacher collapse incident at a synagogue in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev on Sunday.

The prayer gathering was held to mark the beginning of the Shavuot holiday. “Hundreds” of haredi Orthodox Jews were congregated at the synagogue in the Israeli settlement northwest of Jerusalem, which was still under construction, a Magen David Adom spokesperson told Israeli media. The two dead were reported as a 12-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man; the incident was deemed a “mass casualty event.”

A video from the synagogue, later broadcast on Israeli TV, shows the crowded bleachers collapsing and dozens of attendees falling to the ground. The building was still under construction, with visible exposed concrete and plastic sheeting used as windows, according to accounts of TV footage.

Israeli authorities, including the mayor of Givat Zeev, the police chief of Jerusalem and head of the Israel Fire and Rescue service, all said the building was dangerous and unfinished, and traded blame for the accident. Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that “my heart is with the victims” of the collapse.

For many Israelis, the disaster contained eerie echoes of the deadly Lag b’Omer stampede in Mount Meron only a few weeks prior that killed 45 haredi Orthodox Jews at another overcrowded holiday celebration.

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No sign of ceasefire on Shavuot: Israel destroys 7-mile stretch of Hamas tunnel bunkers as fighting continues

Mon, 2021-05-17 15:34

(JTA) — Israel stepped up its strikes in the Gaza Strip again on Monday, destroying a seven-mile stretch of Hamas tunnel bunkers, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

IDF aircraft launched dozens of strikes on an underground tunnel complex known as the “Hamas metro,” which runs along the border with Israel and can be used to move men and equipment without detection.

Hamas continued to fire rockets at southern Israeli cities on Monday as well, making the prospect of a ceasefire dim throughout the Shavuot holiday, which continues through Tuesday.

The 60 rockets fired into Israel is a relatively small number compared to previous days, suggesting a possible diminishing ammunition supply. Hamas, labeled a militant terrorist organization by the U.S., has been firing in large barrages – a technique necessary to overwhelm and penetrate Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interception system.

Three Palestinians were killed in Monday’s attacks, a day after a high of 42 died in Sunday’s barrage of air raids.

Officials from Hamas, labeled a militant terrorist organization by the U.S., told the BBC that the total hostilities in the round of fighting that has stretched into a second week is 197, with approximately 1,200 wounded. Ten Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets so far.

Here’s the rest of the latest on Monday:

-President Joe Biden on Sunday said the U.S. is working toward achieving “a sustained calm” in the region. American, Egyptian and European envoys are working to negotiate a ceasefire. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Monday that he will press on with attacks for as long as he feels necessary. “There are always pressures but overall, we’re being backed in a significant manner,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday in a statement.

-A growing number of Democrats have grown frustrated with Biden’s response to the conflict, which they see as too restrained. A group of 28 Democratic senators, led by Jon Ossoff, the Jewish freshman from Georgia, called for an “immediate ceasefire” in a statement on Sunday. Jewish Sen. Chuck Schumer did not sign the statement — he has maintained that Israel is rightfully carrying out the attacks as self defense. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Sunday that the U.S. is working “virtually non-stop” to negotiate a ceasefire.

-Violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem is flaring up. On Sunday, Israeli police officers shot dead a Palestinian man who rammed his car into a police car in east Jerusalem, injuring six officers, Border Police said. On Monday, troops near Nablus narrowly escaped another car ramming attempt, Kan reported. Over the weekend alone, 30 fires were started near Israeli settlements in the West Bank, according to Kan.

-Israel will reportedly share intelligence information with U.S. officials about its strike on a building Saturday that housed offices of several news organizations, including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Israel claimed Hamas operated in the building as well. The attack earned widespread international condemnation, including a rare rebuke from the U.S. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt in a statement said the AP is “seeking information from the Israeli government and the U.S. State Department” on the incident. “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” an AP statement said. The building was evacuated prior to being hit as per a warning issued by the IDF an hour before the strike.

-On his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” May 16, comedian John Oliver lashed out at Israel in a 10-minute segment lambasting what he described as a vastly unequal conflict and tepid U.S. response. Stating multiple times that Israel was committing “war crimes” in Gaza, Oliver also added that its governance over the Palestinians constituted “a form of apartheid,” referencing the existence of a recent report from Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem as proof. Oliver also criticized American politicians for their reliance on the phrase “Israel has a right to defend itself,” and harshly criticized the IDF for a social media post that turned its leveling of a Gaza apartment building into a meme format.

-Influential progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had called Israel an apartheid state on Twitter on Saturday as well.

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What’s a ‘Jew of no religion’? 3 American Jews open up about their non-religious identities

Sun, 2021-05-16 20:39

(JTA) — Jesse Wilks had a bar mitzvah — just not a religious one.

His parents raised him in a secular home in New York City but still instilled him with a strong sense of Jewish identity. His mother — who worked for the Workers Circle and is now on the editorial board of the left-wing Jewish Currents magazine — hosted holiday dinners, minus the religious prayers. Instead of attending Hebrew school at a synagogue, Wilks grew up going to a “shule,” or non-religious school that taught him Yiddish.

The pattern continued with his coming-of-age ceremony, which gathered family and friends at a synagogue he never attended.

“It did not involve a Torah reading but instead involved picking any topic related to Judaism that interested me, and then working with a tutor … doing research and basically reading the equivalent of a 13-year-old’s paper” during the ceremony, he said. He chose to explore social justice in Judaism and Jewish history, with a focus on labor movements.

Now a 34-year-old architect living in Philadelphia, Wilks does not believe in god and defines himself explicitly as atheist — but also Jewish. That makes him squarely a “Jew of no religion” according to the survey of U.S. Jews released last week by the Pew Research Center.

As it did in 2013, Pew researchers broke American Jews into two broad categories: “Jews of religion” and “Jews of no religion.” People in the second group, the researchers wrote, “describe themselves (religiously) as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, and who still consider themselves Jewish in any way (such as ethnically, culturally or because of their family background).”

Out of the survey’s 3,836 total respondents, 882 identified as Jews of no religion, suggesting that nearly a quarter of American Jews — 1.5 million people — fall into the category.

Becka Alper, a 2021 study co-author, said the term captures a large and diverse part of the Jewish community that can’t be summarized by other terms such as “cultural Jews” or “ethnic Jews.” 

“It really wouldn’t be sufficient to simply ask people about their religion and categorize [only] those who said Jewish as Jews,” she said. “We’d be missing a really big and important part of the Jewish community, those who are Jewish but not namely or at all as a matter of religion.”

This chart from the study shows the researchers’ thought process behind the categories and questions. (Pew Research Center)

Critics of the term say it draws a distinction where there should be none. “The fact that 24% of ‘Jews of no religion’ own a Hebrew-language prayer book should give us pause,” Rachel B. Gross, a professor of Jewish studies at San Francisco State University, wrote in an essay for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the study was released.

Gross argues that the study’s categories reflected a division that makes sense to Christians, but not in Judaism, where practice has always shifted over time.

“American Jews continue to find meaning in emotional connections to their families, communities, and histories, though the ways they do so continue to change,” she writes. “Expanding our definition of ‘religion’ can help us better recognize the ways in which they are doing so.”

That argument resonated with three “Jews of no religion” who told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about their Jewish identities. Here’s what they had to say.

“I feel Jewish every day”

Certain things trigger Wilks’ sense of Jewishness — for instance, watching the Netflix show “Unorthodox,” about a woman leaving her Hasidic community in Brooklyn. While most days Wilks’ knowledge of Jewish customs, rituals and history stays in the “background” of his mind, “Unorthodox” brought it to the “foreground.”

And when he traveled to Berlin during college, he felt his Jewishness turn to visceral vulnerability, in an uncomfortable way.

“I couldn’t walk around and get out of my head that, you know, if I had been there 70 years before, I would have been murdered. And that colored my entire visit there,” he said. “And that was surprising to me that, you know, that my Jewish identity rose and bubbled up there.”

That experience mapped to one finding in the Pew study: 75% of American Jews overall said that “remembering the Holocaust” was important to their Jewish identity, including two thirds of Jews of no religion.

On the other hand, Pew found that while 60% of American Jews say they are strongly or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel, only a third of Jews of no religion described such an attachment. Wilks said he never thinks about the country, where he is entitled to citizenship because of his Jewish lineage. 

“I feel zero connection to Israel. To me, it’s the same [as] any country that I haven’t visited,” he said.

Right now, he is still figuring out what kind of Jewish identity he wants in his life as an adult. Growing up, his mother projected a strong sense of non-religious Jewish identity built on her family history, as a descendant of secular Jewish socialist activists from Eastern Europe. 

“[I]t’s hard for me to articulate what role [Jewishness] plays in my life,” says Jesse Wilks.

But now living apart from her, and being married to a non-Jewish woman, Wilks feels more disconnected from Jewish culture. (Jews who are married to people who are not Jewish identify three times as often as Jews of no religion, according to Pew.)

Wilks admitted he would be forced to deal with the issue more head on if he had kids, but he and his wife aren’t planning on having any.

“There’s no question I feel Jewish every day and would always identify myself as that. But I don’t know, it’s hard for me to articulate what role that plays in my life,” he said.

Mandy Patinkin, bagels and a preteen existential crisis

In contrast, Sophie Vershbow knows exactly who she is: an atheist cultural Jew. 

The 31-year-old social media manager who works for Penguin Random House in New York has a deep connection to Jewish culture. She pointed to two things off the top of her head she feels a particular affinity for: actor Mandy Patinkin, and bagels.

Patinkin is an Emmy and Tony winner who became a minor icon this year for weaving Jewish and social justice themes together on social media. People like him in pop culture create a sense of community for other Jews, Vershbow said, and help familiarize non-Jews with Jewish culture. 

That’s something the born-and-bred New Yorker said she realized was needed after she left the city for Hamilton College in upstate New York. Jews make up close to 15% of the population of New York City, where she grew up in the Chelsea neighborhood. While Hamilton’s student body was still far more Jewish than the general U.S. population, both the college and the surrounding area felt decidedly non-Jewish to her.

“I called my mom and I was like, ‘What just happened?’ And she goes ‘Sophie, what percent of the country do you think is Jewish?’” Vershbow said. “I studied the Holocaust in college, and learning about our history and how much we’ve been persecuted certainly makes me feel more connected to [my Jewish side]. And makes me feel like it’s important to carry these things on.”

But when it comes to religion, she describes participating in holidays — she still does some of the big ones with her parents, such as Passover and Hanukkah — as “going through the motions,” because she doesn’t believe in god. She grew up attending a Reform synagogue but had an early existential crisis of sorts, just before her bat mitzvah — “a pre-teenage change of heart,” in her words.

“I realized that I didn’t believe in God, and was like, I’m not going to go ahead and do my bar mitzvah. This doesn’t feel right to me,” she said. “Sort of the same way that you figure out you don’t believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. It didn’t really work for me.”

Her love of Jewish food (she’s extremely excited to be living near Zabar’s on the Upper West Side these days) is straightforward. Bagels on Sundays, latkes on Hanukkah, kugel around Yom Kippur — that’s something she sees herself instilling in her kids, if she has any in the future.

“I don’t think you have to go to temple for it to be passing [Judaism] down to your kids,” she said. “But if one ever said, you know, ‘Mommy, I want to go check it out, I want to see, I will certainly take my kids to temple and show them.”

Vershbow said she sees no contradiction in her identity — and that being Jewish is at the center of it.

“My family is Polish, Russian, all of that, but … I don’t feel personal connection to any of that. I feel a connection to the American Jewish experience. And that is a huge part of my identity,” she said. “But I think that’s an amazing thing about Judaism is that, for so many people in my own life, it seems to be pretty acceptable in a lot of communities to say: ‘I don’t believe in God, but I am Jewish.’ And these can perfectly coexist within me. And they’re not conflicting.”

Dropping the deity, for decades

With decades of grassroots and congressional politics experience under her belt, 89-year-old June Fischer can rail off an endless list of accomplishments. She has been a delegate from New Jersey in every Democratic National Convention since 1972; she has worked on Joe Biden campaigns since 1974, including his successful presidential run (and became a close friend of his); she worked in the offices of former Sen. Jon Corzine and current Sen. Robert Menendez.

She’s also on the board of her local Jewish community center and in 1990 was a founding member of the National Jewish Democratic Council (now the Jewish Democratic Council of America).

But despite that portion of her resume, she’s not affiliated with a synagogue — showing that the “Jews of no religion” category is not a 21st-century invention.

Fischer grew up in Weequahic, the section of Newark that Philip Roth made famous in his many novels based there. In fact, she graduated from high school with Roth, after sitting next to him in homeroom class for four years.

When she was 15, she went to see Henry Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president, give a speech. She caught the politics bug because of his inspiring performance — not because of any sense of Jewish morality ingrained in her. “I was smitten,” she said.

Although the National Jewish Democratic Council, which she characterized as a liberal response to the AIPAC lobby, and many of the politicians she’s worked with dealt often with Israel-related issues — Biden and Menendez both specialize in foreign policy — Fischer is not a zealous follower of the news in Israel.

And holiday dinners were — and still are for her — more about sticking to tradition than observing religious ritual.

“I do the traditional things, without the deity, as I say,” she said on the phone from her home in Clark. “I’m an atheist, I guess. But I’m fiercely, fiercely traditionally Jewish.”

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Nets star Kyrie Irving says he’s more focused on the Israel-Gaza conflict than basketball right now

Sun, 2021-05-16 19:29

(JTA) — The Brooklyn Nets are about to embark on a playoff run that their fans hope can bring the team its first championship trophy in over 40 years.

But one of their key star players says his focus is elsewhere: the Israeli-Palestinian violence that is raging right now.

“I’m not going to lie to you guys, a lot of stuff is going on in this world, and basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now,” Kyrie Irving said at a postgame press conference on Saturday.

“I focus on this most of the time, 24/7, but it’s just too much going on in this world not to address. It’s just sad to see this s— going on. It’s not just in Palestine, not just in Israel. It’s all over the world, and I feel it. I’m very compassionate to it — to all races, all cultures and to see it, to see a lot of people being discriminated against, based on their religion, color of their skin, what they believe in. It’s just sad.”

The elite point guard, who is averaging over 27 points a game this season, revealed in April that he had recently committed to Islam. He has intensified his social media posting about political issues in recent months and fasted during the month of Ramadan this year.

“I don’t care which way you stand on — either side,” Irving added. “If you’re a human being, then you support the anti-war effort. There’s a lot of people losing their lives — children, a lot of babies, and that’s just what I’m focused on.”

The Nets have their highest championship hopes in decades, thanks to a trio of Irving and fellow star scorers Kevin Durant and James Harden.

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Rabbi hospitalized after being assaulted near London

Sun, 2021-05-16 19:04

(JTA) — A rabbi was assaulted near London in what members of his community say appears not to have been an antisemitic attack.

Two young men gave the rabbi, Rafi Goodwin, cuts on his head an around his eyes Sunday, according to members of his Orthodox synagogue in Chigwell, a town just northeast of London.

“From the description of how the incident started, it does not, at this point appear to be an antisemitic attack,” an email from Goodwin’s congregation said, according to a report by the Jewish News of London. The rabbi is in hospital, the report said, but it did not specify the severity of his injuries.

The incident comes at a time of high alert for many Jewish communities in Western Europe, as they brace for an increase in antisemitic assaults in connection with Israel’s exchange of fire with Hamas in Gaza.

Thousands of people participated in a protest rally Saturday in London, where many demonstrators chanted about a massacre of Jews. On Sunday, multiple cars displaying Palestinian flags drove through Golders Green, a heavily-Jewish part of London. A participant of the convoy shouted through a loudspeaker: “F–k the Jews, rape their daughters” among other chants.

Hostilities connected to Israel have led to surges in antisemitic assaults in Western Europe in recent years.

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Across Europe, mass protests against Israel; riots break out in Berlin, Paris and London

Sun, 2021-05-16 16:31

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Many thousands of people protested against Israel in major European cities over the weekend as the latest Israel-Gaza conflict reached new heights. Several events featuring antisemitic rhetoric and rioting.

In Brussels, London and Vienna dozens of men were filmed at rallies on Saturday shouting in Arabic: “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning.”

The chant relates to an event in the seventh century when Muslims massacred and expelled Jews from the town of Khaybar, located in modern-day Saudi Arabia. It is widely understood as a battle cry when attacking Jews.

The protests came as fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza intensified. More than 150 Palestinians have died since last week, when Israel began an offensive against Hamas; 10 Israelis have died when some of the thousands of rockets launched by Hamas have broken through Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and landed in residential neighborhoods.

At the London event, nine police officers were slightly injured when protesters hurled objects at them. The officers were preventing the protesters from reaching the city’s Israeli embassy, the end point for a march by thousands that began at Hyde Park. Organizers said 100,000 people attended that march.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is Muslim, told the Jewish News of London. “I am deeply concerned about reports of hateful, intimidating and racist language being used on marches and social media this weekend. It is unacceptable to incite anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim hatred. This must stop now.” On Twitter, he added that he had given London’s police “my full backing for their zero-tolerance approach.”

A motorcade of cars with Palestinian flags on Sunday drove through a heavily Jewish part of London with one person shouting through a loudspeaker: “F–k the Jews; rape their daughters.”

At the Hyde Park march, a giant inflatable puppet dressed like an Arab with horns and a hooked nose led to some confusion. Some interpreted it as an antisemitic reference to Jews, but others concluded it was a caricature of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, one of several Arab nations to establish diplomatic relations with Israel last year.

In Germany, many thousands protested Israel’s actions in Gaza. At the Berlin rally Saturday, police ordered the protesters to disperse citing COVID-19 measures. They were pelted with stones, bottles and rocks, resulting in multiple injuries, Tagesschau reported.

In Paris, thousands disobeyed a ban on protests that police said would endanger public order. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd Saturday.

And in Amsterdam, about 3,000 people protested against Israel on the Dam Square, a central square that is the country’s main monument for victims of World War II, including the Holocaust. They carried signs accusing Israel of genocide and promising that “from the river to the sea, Palestinian will be free,” a phrase that

About 50 people, mostly Jews and Christian supporters of Israel, staged a support rally for Israel about 500 yards away from the Dam Square event.

Israel has seen additional displays of support in Europe, where many Jews are on high alert because of a history of antisemitic violence during clashes between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The Austrian and the Czech presidential palaces flew the Israeli flag on Friday in solidarity with Israel. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in a tweet Friday blamed Hamas for “firing rockets indiscriminately on civilian populations” and said the Netherlands “supports Israel’s right to self defense within the border of international law and proportionality.”

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls Israel an apartheid state

Sun, 2021-05-16 16:18

(JTA) — Influential progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Israel an apartheid state in a tweet on Saturday that marked an inflection point in her increasing criticism of Israel.

“Apartheid states aren’t democracies,” she wrote in a tweet that garnered 275,000 likes.

Ocasio-Cortez has been unabashedly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies since joining Congress in 2018 but has stopped short of endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that her colleagues Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib champion.

Apartheid was a period of segregation and institutionalized racism in South Africa from the late 1940s through the 1990s. Many Israel critics argue the term applies to Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians.

Ocasio-Cortez has been outspoken about the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict and took part in a day of dueling sets of speeches on the House floor by Democratic lawmakers on Thursday on the subject. A group of nine Democrats — Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Josh Gottheimer, Elaine Luria, Brad Schneider, Brad Sherman, Kathy Manning, Jim Costa and Lois Frankel — each gave one-minute speeches about Israel’s right to defend itself, Jewish Insider reported.

Afterwards, a group of 11 fellow Democrats — Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar, Mark Pocan, Betty McCollum, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Jan Schakowsky, Jesús García, André Carson and Joaquín Castro — gave speeches that totaled an hour that were sharply critical of Israel.

.@AOC in a speech on House floor: "This is not about both sides. This is about an imbalance of power." AOC adds: "The president stated that Israel has a right to self-defense… But do Palestinians have a right to survive?" pic.twitter.com/ybIwzINUvk

— Jacob Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) May 13, 2021

Pressley criticized the “many [who] say that conditioning aid is not a phrase that I should utter here,” referencing the ongoing debate between progressive and moderate Democrats over conditioning the money that the U.S. gives to Israel on policy priorities. President Biden said on the campaign trail that he will not consider conditioning aid.

In her speech, the freshman congresswoman Bush, who defeated a longtime pro-Israel incumbent in her Missouri primary last summer, called the capital of Israel “Jerusalem, Palestine.”

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Israel’s deadliest barrage yet kills at least 42 in Gaza as Hamas continues its rocket attacks

Sun, 2021-05-16 15:59

(JTA) — Israeli airstrikes killed at least 42 people in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, making it the deadliest day yet in the week of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Despite the shelling, Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel throughout Sunday, even as overwhelmed medics pulled people out from the rubble of destroyed buildings throughout Gaza, according to reports.

International outcry — including from several leading pro-Israel American lawmakers — over Israel’s military response continues to grow. But the sides do not appear to be close to reaching a ceasefire.

Here’s the latest from this weekend:

-Gaza’s health ministry claims that 12 women and eight children were among those killed in the attacks Sunday. No Israelis were reported dead or injured. One attack on Saturday killed at least 10 Palestinians from one extended family in a refugee camp. In total, 188 people in Gaza and 10 in Israel have been killed in the week-long conflict.

-Israel’s military released video of what it claims to be a bombing of the senior-most Hamas leader’s home in Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza.

-Israel on Saturday also bombed a 12-story building in Gaza City known as a center for journalists covering the region, including some working for the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. The Israel Defense Forces claims that Hamas operated out of the tower, and there were no deaths in the attack. But the AP said it was not aware of any Hamas activity in the building, according to The New York Times. President Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday: “We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility.”

-Biden spoke with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, urging ceasefire talks.

-A number of leading pro-Israel Democrats — including Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a favorite of the AIPAC Israel lobby — made rare public statements criticizing Israel, urging the country to be more cautious with regards to civilians in its attacks. “I also believe there must be a full accounting of actions that have led to civilian deaths and destruction of media outlets,” Menendez said in a statement Saturday.

-A dozen Jewish House reps, including Jerry Nadler of New York, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and David Cicilline of Rhode Island, also signed a letter on Friday expressing deep concern about “Israeli police violence” and urged Israel to abandon its plan to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

-The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to meet to discuss the conflict for the first time on Sunday. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi bashed the U.S. on Saturday in a call with his Pakistani counterpart regarding the council’s inaction so far.

“Regrettably, the council has so far failed to reach an agreement, with the United States standing on the opposite side of international justice,” he was quoted as saying.

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To prevent violence, former Israeli intelligence officers are volunteering to spy on extremists online

Fri, 2021-05-14 22:47

As the deadly rockets fell and Israeli cities began their descent into chaos, a network of former Israeli army intelligence officers went to work. 

They had picked up their digital spying skills in the service while monitoring Palestinian society, years of duty spent scanning the web, lurking on social media and infiltrating messaging groups. 

Now, these former offers were training their civilian keyboards on a different target: Israeli extremists.

It was around noon on Wednesday when the picture began coming into focus. Members of various far-right movements were chatting on Telegram and WhatsApp. They were talking about the Jewish victims of the prior day’s riots and about exacting revenge by finding Arabs to terrorize. 

The online exchanges grew increasingly specific. Soon after 3 p.m., someone finally spelled out almost exactly what would happen a few hours later. 

Using formal language and no punctuation, a user named “Yossi” wrote out an invitation for Jews to join a “mass brawl” or “attack” against Arabs. Converge at 6 p.m. at the boardwalk in the coastal town of Bat Yam, he wrote.

“Please bring the proper equipment: brass knuckles, swords, knives, sticks, rocks, pistols,” Yossi wrote. He asked that people who come wear kippot and tallit — Jewish religious garb that, in this case, would become the uniform of an armed street gang. “Today, we bring Jewish honor back,” Yossi wrote. 

The former intelligence officers, who now belong to civilian watchdog groups like FakeReporter and Democratic Bloc, watched in horror. They collected the information and alerted the police. 

“It was written plain and simple in so many Telegram groups and we sent the info to police, and we talked to them and they did nothing,” said Ori Kol, an activist who’s not a former intelligence officer himself but acts as an organizer and spokesperson for the effort. The ones doing the online research, who learned habits of secrecy during their time in the army, are maintaining anonymity for reasons of personal safety.

Indeed the police were nowhere to be seen when an armed mob roamed the streets of Bat Yam Wednesday evening. In live footage broadcast on Israeli television, extremists could be seen dragging an Arab man out of a car and beating him. “We’re watching a lynching in real-time,” a reporter can be heard saying. “There are no police here.”

Kol and his group felt helpless at that moment. “It was just incredible last night to sit at home in front of the computer with these 30 Telegram groups open and watch Jewish nationalists armed posting videos of them walking around with weapons in our streets, and just beating people up,” Kol said. On Thursday, he added, citing press reports, that police did appear to dispatch at least some officers to spots his group had flagged. 

This online monitoring of Israeli extremists is being carried out by a new group called FakeReporter, which describes itself as “Israel’s Disinformation Watchdog,” and by the slightly more established left-wing group Democratic Bloc, which investigates extremist activities and funding sources. 

FakeReporter was launched at the start of this year and was shaped by the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. As the press revealed in the days that followed, the siege was organized by extremists in an online ecosystem where wildly false information spreads, helping recruit new people into the cause. 

“What we saw in January, we’re deathly afraid of — the Capitol riots basically gave us a taste of our worst nightmare, for Israeli democracy,” Kol said. “We might be experiencing something worse than that right now, but it’s still early to say.”

What Kol and the FakeReporter activists saw in recent days looked a lot like some of the pictures that emerged after the Capitol riot of participants posing with their preparations.

“This is nationalistic toxic masculinity that just feeds off itself online in these photos,” Kol said. “It’s like jihadist groups, basically. You take a weapon, you take a picture with a flag of Israel—with no face obviously in the picture—and you upload it to the group. And it’s like a sign of you being, you know, a real OG. And it’s crazy because later they go out and sometimes they use those.”

Mob violence driven by online hatred is in some ways only the latest manifestation of an increasingly broken information environment in Israel. While the country doesn’t suffer from the hallmark vaccine hesitancy of the United States, political lies spread rapidly and have played a role in the fracturing of Israel’s political system over the past few years.

Veterans of Israel’s intelligence agencies are known for starting tech companies and striking gold with multimillion-dollar investments from foreign venture capitalists. But among the technically savvy are many civically minded individuals as well. They usually hail from the well-heeled parts of Israel, especially the Tel Aviv area, and expect to live in a country that abides by liberal norms. 

With those norms not seen as a priority of the country’s leaders, some of those techie vets are turning indignant and brandishing military-grade digital skills. They know how to build web platforms for gathering and disseminating information, and they are masters of an increasingly important field known as OSINT, or open-source intelligence, which means cleverly combing the internet for information. 

“Sometimes it’s a Google trick like Google Advanced Search,” Kol said. “Sometimes it’s just like knowing where to look and knowing the context, and knowing who to ask. And sometimes it’s infiltrating — using covert identities to enter extreme far-right groups online.”

In addition to work by their affiliated experts, FakeReporter tries to tackle the problem by crowdsourcing reports of disinformation and incitement to violence. The solicit submissions on a website and through social media. 

Thousands of reports have come in from ordinary Israelis through this system, Kol said, and they use the information to generate press coverage while also contacting social media companies and government authorities directly to request action. On Friday, the FakeReporter reported on Twitter that an extremist Telegram group called “Army of Citizens” had been blocked following complaints. 

In the current internet era all over the world, ordinary civilians play an important role in tracking extremist activity, exposing dangerous individuals, and alerting the public, according to Oren Segal, the head of Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, which itself does this kind of work. 

Civilian sleuthing is quite common, he said, and there are good reasons why it should not be the sole purview of law enforcement. 

“It’s not necessarily something that law enforcement can always do,” Segal said. “The idea of private conversations being monitored by law enforcement—no matter how nefarious those conversations are—it’s gonna raise serious civil liberties concerns. There’s a tension between law enforcement overreaching and the need to be in online spaces to see where the threats are coming from.”

Segal also warned of risks, both due to accidents and foul play when trying to counter disinformation. This is particularly true when it comes to identifying individuals. 

“Somebody may get some information wrong—misidentify somebody or not have the full picture,” he said. “There should be some caution in those engaging in this to make sure that they get it right. Or it can be weaponized by those who don’t have pure intentions. Some people might intentionally miss identifying something, which ultimately results in, you know, doxing someone or making their life miserable.”

FakeReporter does not run this risk, because, at least for now, it’s not interested in the work of identifying extremists, according to Kol. The focus is on anticipating violence and intercepting false information. 

“I live in Tel Aviv and was raised in Tel Aviv so many people around me have served in the intelligence wing of the army and it’s not such a big deal,” Kol said. “These intelligence skills just come in handy and we can use them for a good cause, to fight for Israeli democracy.”

The post To prevent violence, former Israeli intelligence officers are volunteering to spy on extremists online appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

What is the Iron Dome? All about the missile defense system that changed how Israelis experience war

Fri, 2021-05-14 22:37

(JTA) — Overnight between Thursday and Friday, an arresting image appeared on social media: On the right, streaks of fire shot out into the night sky — rockets heading for a group of buildings illuminated in the darkness.

But on the other side of the photo, another cluster of lights, spread out like the tentacles of a jellyfish, was there to meet each of the rockets and knock it down before it could cause any damage.

The photo captured the Iron Dome, a missile defense system introduced in Israel a decade ago that has fundamentally changed how its wars are fought. The Iron Dome is a radar-guided tool that allows Israel to pinpoint and intercept missiles headed for its civilian areas, which enables ordinary Israelis to survive, and even live their lives, in the midst of an unending barrage of rocket fire from militant groups in Gaza.

As of Friday, eight Israeli civilians have died in this week’s fighting, and Israelis still need to run to bomb shelters when under fire. But the Iron Dome has intercepted 90% of Gaza rockets that were headed toward populated areas, rendering the vast majority of the more than 2,000 rockets fired by militant groups ineffective.

Here’s what the Iron Dome is, how it works — and why its success has sparked criticism of Israel.

Iron Dome uses radars to stop incoming missiles. 

On the ground, the Iron Dome looks like a set of beige columns arranged in a box, tilted onto their side and placed on wheels.

But the technology that makes it so valuable is a radar that is able to pick bombs out of the sky. The Iron Dome’s radar  technology, manufactured in the United States, works in four steps:

First, it identifies projectiles in the sky. Then, it determines whether the projectile is a bird, an airplane or a bomb. Then comes the most crucial part: It determines the arc of the missile, which allows it to find both the target and the missile launcher. Then, if the missile is headed toward a populated area, the system directs its own bomb to intercept the missile and explode it before it lands.

The entire process is automatic and takes a couple minutes, an Israeli weapons manufacturer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2013. The batteries can be moved around or stationed permanently in one location.

It isn’t foolproof. Hamas has sent barrages of more than 100 rockets in a short span of time at individual cities, which means that, even if Iron Dome is 90% effective, some bombs get through. And even when the system catches the rockets, shrapnel still falls to the ground.

That’s why Israelis still run to shelters every time sirens go off, warning of incoming missiles.

An Iron Dome battery at the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, on April 24, 2021. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

It was built and maintained with U.S. funding. 

The Iron Dome was built and has been maintained with billions of dollars in funding from the United States. It was first approved in 2007, and shot down its first missiles in 2011. Each Iron Dome interceptor costs an estimated $40,000, and in prolonged conflicts with Hamas, Israel uses it hundreds of times.

As of 2018, the U.S. spent more than $6 billion on missile defense aid to Israel, which covers Iron Dome and other, similar systems. In the middle of the Gaza War in 2014, the Obama administration provided $225 million in aid to fund the system’s continued operation. In 2018, the Trump administration provided another $705 billion.

It means Israelis can (kind of) continue to live their lives during a war. 

Before the Iron Dome, Israelis had to rely on warning sirens and bomb shelters to protect them, which gave them, in some cases, a matter of seconds to find shelter.

As Palestinian militants’ missiles became more precise and traveled farther distances, targeting not just Gaza border cities but Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Iron Dome played an increasingly essential role for a growing number of Israelis.

It was first deployed in 2011, and was used constantly in Israel’s conflicts with Gaza in 2012, 2014 and since.

While Israelis still run for cover every time a siren wails, and while civilians are still killed, the Iron Dome has allowed society to continue functioning at a lower risk. But as Hamas’ missile technology improves, it’s possible that the Iron Dome could become less effective.

As of now, though, Israelis are grateful. During the 2014 war, Israelis could buy a t-shirt in the “I love NY” style that replaced “NY” with a picture of an Iron Dome battery.

Smoke billows from Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 11, 2021. (Photo by Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images)

Gaza does not have an equivalent system for its population. 

While Israelis love the Iron Dome for protecting them from bombs, Palestinians and their advocates have said that the system creates a disparity in the fighting: Gaza residents have no such protection from Israeli airstrikes, such that Palestinian death tolls are consistently far higher in Gaza during conflicts.

During this conflict, more than 100 Palestinians and nine Israelis have died. In the 2014 conflict, more than 2,100 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis died.

But in the previous war in Gaza, fought in 2008-09, before the Iron Dome was developed, the death toll was similarly lopsided: nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Still, along with accusing Israel of targeting civilians in its strikes, critics of Israeli actions say that the lack of protections in Gaza leads to an unjust divide. Rep. Ilhan Omar called Israeli airstrikes “terrorism” and lamented on Twitter this week that Palestinians did not have Iron Dome.

“Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism,” she tweeted on Monday. “Palestinians deserve protection. Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians.”

Israeli officials say the fact that Israel has invested in alliances and technology that protect their citizenry should not be cause for blame.

“The fact that there aren’t more casualties in Israel does not mean that Hamas isn’t trying to kill Israeli civilians,” the Israel Defense Forces tweeted Friday morning. “It simply means that the IDF is preventing them from doing so at an incredible level.”

The post What is the Iron Dome? All about the missile defense system that changed how Israelis experience war appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The danger of that #nosejob trend on TikTok

Fri, 2021-05-14 20:28

This article originally appeared on Alma.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my “Jewish nose.”

But when more and more #nosejob and #nosejobcheck videos started popping up on my TikTok For You Page, it brought back those old unwanted feelings of hating my appearance I worked so hard to overcome. I wasn’t even interacting with the videos, yet for some reason I couldn’t get them off my feed.

On TikTok, the #nosejob hashtag has nearly 2.5 billion views, and #nosejobcheck has over a billion as well.

The videos are all pretty much the same: the first half consists of people showing their side profile in several pictures (truly a nightmare for those of us with nose insecurities!), a horrifying photo of their post-op bloody and bruised face, and then — finally — the new and improved nose, which is usually tiny, upturned and bump-free.

Watching them makes me think about all of the young teenage girls on the app who are no doubt seeing the same videos I am. If I had seen these “transformations” at 15, it would have destroyed my already fragile self-esteem. I can’t help but wonder how many young teenagers today — including Jewish girls — are taking in these videos in harmful ways.

First, let’s just take a minute to talk about the antisemitic history of the stereotypical “Jewish nose.” There is actually no proof that Jews tend to have larger noses, or any physical characteristics that group us together, for that matter. There are Jews of every size, shape and color, and the diversity of the Jewish experience is something to be celebrated. But …

The large, hooked nose stereotype dates back to the 1930s, when it was used in Nazi propaganda to stir disgust and hatred of Jewish communities. I remember learning in Hebrew school about Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher and what he wrote in a children’s book during World War II.

“One can most easily tell a Jew by his nose,” he wrote.” The Jewish nose is bent at its point. It looks like the number six. We call it the ‘Jewish six.’ Many Gentiles also have bent noses. But their noses bend upwards, not downwards. Such a nose is a hook nose or an eagle nose. It is not at all like a Jewish nose.”

While there is no proof that Jews inherently have big noses, this feature does in fact run in many Jewish families, including mine. Whenever people see a photo of my family, the first thing they do is laugh and point out that my older sister and I most definitely inherited my dad’s “Jew nose.”

And while we wear this feature as a badge of honor today, for me it hasn’t always been that way. As a teenager I would straighten my frizzy, wavy hair before school, shave my forearms and, God knows, avoid showing my side profile at all costs. I told myself I would get a nose job before college. Maybe then I would finally be pretty enough to escape the teasing comments and wear a ponytail with pride.

But when graduation rolled around, I thought more about it and realized that being Jewish was my favorite part of being me. And that meant I was finally ready to embrace any physical attribute that came along with it.

This didn’t happen right away, of course, and I still catch myself overthinking it at times. But at 22 years old, I no longer entertain the possibility of a nose job, and I found that learning to love my nose came with learning to love the other parts of myself I thought I needed to “work” on.

Which brings me back to TikTok. How many girls must be out there watching these videos and questioning if they should join in on the “trend”? I was shocked and horrified to find out that “Teenage Rhinoplasty” exists for kids 15 and older if they want it. Had I known this at 15, combined with the influx of viral TikTok videos, I would have found a way to make it happen. And I would have missed out on the self-love and acceptance that came with time as I got older.

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with getting plastic surgery. If changing a part of your body will make you more comfortable in your own skin, you should absolutely go for it. But I don’t think being bombarded with cute videos of a life-changing procedure as a child is the right way to go about making that kind of decision.

TikTok can be an incredibly fun outlet for Gen Z kids to express themselves, but it can also foster extreme insecurity and self-doubt. I hope teenage Jewish girls will scroll past these videos without a second thought, loving their amazing culture and the beautiful features that come with it.

The post The danger of that #nosejob trend on TikTok appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

This blintz recipe survived the Holocaust

Fri, 2021-05-14 20:19

This article originally appeared on The Nosher.

Blintzes are one of Shavuot’s most popular dishes. Long associated with Ashkenazi cooking, the light and airy hug of the blintz pancake envelops pillowy fillings such as whipped farmer’s cheese or fruit compote. To call it a crepe is like calling chicken soup consommé. It sounds more fancy, but it lacks the tradition and warmth.

For Florence Tabrys, a Holocaust survivor, blintzes were a lifeline to her former life near Radom, Poland. I spoke to Florence when writing my first book “Recipes Remembered, a Celebration of Survival,” a compendium of stories and recipes I gathered from Holocaust survivors. I learned that as a child, Florence and her sister were separated from their parents in 1942 and sent to work in a munitions factory. They were eventually moved to Bergen-Belsen, where they remained until liberated by the Russian army. Florence never saw her parents again, but the memories of her childhood’s favorite foods sustained her throughout the years. Her sweet and creamy cheese blintzes became a family tradition; she would prepare them in large batches and freeze them so they would always be at the ready.

Topping blintzes is always a game of chance. For those growing up in Poland, most likely it was whatever was on hand from yesterday’s breakfast or Sabbath lunch. Hanna Wechsler, a survivor of Auschwitz, described her mother’s “naleshniki” as a cross between a thin crepe and a traditional blintz. She remembers her mother filling them with strawberry preserves, chopped nuts and a touch of sugar, then topping them with a strawberry sauce.

Hanna described her experience in Auschwitz to me in the most poignant way. Her mother would sneak out of the barracks and bring back food that had been stolen from the camp’s kitchen to sustain Hanna. She said, “My mother gave birth to me every day we lived in Auschwitz because without her I would not have survived.”

As an homage to these remarkable women, I present Florence Tabrys’ creamy cheese blintzes topped with Hanna Wechsler’s strawberry sauce. Enjoy them on Shavuot and all year long. And remember, the thread that weaves Jewish food is vital but fragile, and needs to be lovingly maintained.

Note: The strawberry sauce will keep for 1-2 weeks in the fridge. You can also follow the same preparation using frozen blueberries or raspberries.


For the blintz batter:

6 large eggs

½ cup warm water

½ cup whole milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

For the blintz filling:

1 (4 ounce) package cream cheese, softened at room temperature

1 cup (7.5 ounce) package farmers’ cheese

1 tsp melted butter

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

½ cup sugar

1 egg, beaten butter for frying

For the strawberry sauce:

1 (16 ounce) bag frozen strawberries

3 Tbsp sugar

¼ cup water

1 tsp cornstarch juice and grated peel of half a lemon


To make the strawberry sauce, in a medium saucepan, cook the strawberries, sugar, water and cornstarch over medium-low heat, until the berries are very soft, about 15 minutes. Puree the berries and stir in the lemon juice and grated peel. Serve hot or cold over blintzes.

The post This blintz recipe survived the Holocaust appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Dozens of US rabbinical students sign letter calling for American Jews to hold Israel accountable for its human rights abuses

Fri, 2021-05-14 17:02

(JTA) — Dozens of American rabbinical students have issued a public letter accusing Israel of apartheid and calling on American Jewish communities to hold Israel accountable for the “violent suppression of human rights.”

The letter comes as Israel is engaged in an intense exchange of fire with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, in which nine Israelis and more than 100 Palestinians have died. Israel is facing fierce criticism from progressive politicians and activists for its airstrikes on Gaza in response to Hamas rockets. Alongside the bombing, Israel has been shaken by days of clashes between Arabs and Jews across the country. 

The letter is unusual for its stark criticism of Israel and the Jewish community — a community that the signatories will represent upon ordination. It is also a landmark collaboration across American seminaries: Nearly 90 rabbinical students had signed by Friday morning, representing a significant portion of students who are enrolled now in the country’s non-Orthodox rabbinical schools. No students in Orthodox seminaries have signed. 

“Our political advocacy too often puts forth a narrative of victimization, but supports violent suppression of human rights and enables apartheid in the Palestinian territories, and the threat of annexation,” the letter says. “How many Palestinians must lose their homes, their schools, their lives, for us to understand that today, in 2021, Israel’s choices come from a place of power and that Israel’s actions constitute an intentional removal of Palestinians?”

Frankie Sandmel, a rabbinical student at Hebrew College, a nondenominational school in suburban Boston, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the letter was intended as an act of caring, but also a call to change policy regarding Israel.

“We wanted it to be clear that we deeply care about all of the people who live in that region and that every single person is hurting and terrified,” Sandmel said. “And we’re able to hold that and also hold Israel accountable.”

The letter argues that while many American Jewish institutions have been engaged in reckoning with racism and injustice in the past year, many of them have been silent on issues of equity in Israel and between Israel and Palestinians. The situation represents a “spiritual crisis,” it concludes.

“Our institutions have been reflecting and asking, ‘How are we complicit with racial violence?’ the letter says. “And yet, so many of those same institutions are silent when abuse of power and racist violence erupts in Israel and Palestine.”

The letter calls for education in the Jewish community that teaches “the messy truth” about Israel, as well as changes to how Jewish institutions fund Israeli causes and advocate for Israel politically. 

“When we vote, we can vote for leaders who won’t continue paying lip service to peace while funding violence,” the letter says. “We can use our position as citizens of Israel’s biggest benefactor to push to regulate and redirect funds in equitable ways that promote a peaceful and just future.”

The letter does not mention Hamas or Israeli civilians. Sandmel said the students had decided to focus on Israel in the letter rather than address violence and death on both sides of the conflict because of American Jews’ unique stake in Israel.

“Why not call out Hamas?” Sandmel said. “I can’t speak for the group. For myself, as an American Jew who has never lived in Gaza or the West Bank, I don’t feel like I have ground to stand on to try to influence how Palestinians respond to oppression. I do have the ability to speak to the American Jewish community that I am hoping to lead, to look at the ways that we vote and the ways that we give tzedakah and the ways that we educate our communities.”

(Sandmel, who will be ordained next year, is a former intern at T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights group that has been calling for greater scrutiny on the ways that American philanthropic giving reaches right-wing Jewish extremists in Israel.)

For years, many rabbis have seen Israel as a potential third rail for advocacy from the pulpit. The recent Pew Research Center study on American Jews says “several rabbis said they choose their words carefully and try not to unintentionally or unnecessarily alienate people in their congregations, which they know contain both staunch supporters and persistent critics of the Israeli government.”

“One of the concerns we have — and we hear this over and over again from rabbis and community leaders — people are afraid to discuss Israel,” Ethan Felson, then vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish policy groups and Jewish community relations councils, told JTA back in 2011. “People fear for their jobs, their professional lives if they have these conversations.”

The letter offers one sign that the dynamic may be shifting, or at least that many people who are on the verge of entering the rabbinate are less concerned about professional repercussions than about speaking their mind.

“To me, that so many people signed on without this process says both that this is something that this next wave of rabbis feels passionate and clear about and, God willing, that the landscape is changing such that it feels like it’s not as risky,” Sandmel said.

You can see the complete letter and list of signatories here.

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Newsmax host who called Israel ‘home country’ of American Jews is temporarily off the air

Fri, 2021-05-14 16:26

(JTA) — Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield will not host his weeknight primetime show for the rest of the week after calling Israel the “home country” of American Jews, according to Business Insider.

Stinchfield made the comments in a segment Tuesday night about continuing violence in Israel and Gaza.

A spokesperson for Newsmax told Insider that Stinchfield was off the air due to a previously scheduled vacation.

“If you are Jewish and you are a Democrat and you are living in America today, how do you support an administration that turns its back on your home country?” Stinchfield said.

Newsmax host: "If you are Jewish and you are a Democrat and you are living in America today, how do you support an administration that turns its back on your home country?" pic.twitter.com/yc9RjpHxlU

— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) May 13, 2021

Stinchfield also criticized President Joe Biden for failing to speak out in support of Israel’s strikes on Gaza in retaliation for rockets launched by Hamas. Biden said Thursday that he had a “brief” conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday and said “there has not been a significant overreaction [by Israel],” according to The Times of Israel.

Jake Tapper, the “State of the Union” host on CNN, criticized Stinchfield’s comments in a tweet Thursday.

“I don’t belong to any political party but I am Jewish and newsflash: my home country is the United States. To suggest otherwise is bigotry,” Tapper wrote.

Stinchfield responded in a quote tweet: “Hey @jaketapper your home country appears to be Disneyland! It’s the only way to explain your delusion about @joebiden and his sympathies for the terror group Hamas. And FYI I’m half Italian and yes I refer to Italy fondly as ‘The Home Country’.”

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Anti-Israel protesters in Vienna chant about a massacre of Jews

Fri, 2021-05-14 15:10

(JTA) — Some 2,500 protesters in Austria against Israel’s actions in Gaza chanted about a massacre of Jews during a rally Thursday, Der Standard reported.

Meanwhile, in England, an antisemitic slogan about Palestine was painted on the door of a synagogue.

Eight people in Israel have died and at least 119 in Gaza since Hamas and Israeli troops began exchanging fire Sunday.

In Vienna, Austria’s capital, a man leading chants in Arabic with a loudspeaker shouted “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning.” Multiple demonstrators repeated the chant.

The cry relates to an event in the seventh century when Muslims massacred and expelled Jews from the town of Khaybar, located in modern-day Saudi Arabia.

In the city of Norwich, situated about 120 miles northeast of London, the words: “Kike-free Raleshne” — possibly an attempt to write Palestine — were spray-painted on the door of the local synagogue Thursday night, The Jewish Chronicle of London reported Friday.

Local police have stepped up patrols in the area following the incident, which they are classifying as criminal damage, the paper reported.

In Germany, police stopped about 200 people on Wednesday from approaching a synagogue in Gelsenkirchen, with many in the rally shouting “shitty Jews,” and Israeli flags were burned in front of two other synagogues this week.

The post Anti-Israel protesters in Vienna chant about a massacre of Jews appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israel said it sent ground troops into Gaza. It may have been a trick.

Fri, 2021-05-14 12:58

(JTA) — International media reported that Israeli troops have begun a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night.

It hadn’t.

According to at least two seasoned analysts in Israel, the reports were part of a misdirection by Israel to lure Hamas forces into defensive positions that Israel hoped would be easier to identify and target.

The fighting continued into Friday, with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, as well as Islamic Jihad militants, sending volleys of rockets into Israel. Israel has bombed Gaza heavily, including several strikes that Israel says have killed Hamas commanders. 

Hamas officials told the Ma’an news agency that Israeli unleashed “air and artillery strikes” early on Friday that brought up the number of casualties in the Gaza Strip to 119. It had been 83 on Thursday morning. Nine Israelis have died, including two women, 87 and 50, who were injured while running for cover.

Palestinians also clashed violently with Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Jenin, where Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian. In Jordan, hundreds of protesters rushed toward the Israeli border, overwhelming a police post along the way. 

The conflagration has triggered clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, leading to dozens of arrests. There have been widespread violent protests by Arab citizens of Israel that included dozens of assaults on Jews and the torching of a synagogue in Lod and another synagogue in Jaffa, both cities with mixed populations. Several assaults by Jews on Arabs also occurred, including in Bat Yam on Wednesday, where a crowd of protesters beat an Arab man, leading to his hospitalization with serious injuries.

Israel has deployed 16 companies of Border Police in Lod, where a curfew was declared

In the alleged military misdirection on the Gaza border, tanks revved their engines as they approached the border fence at around midnight.

The spokesperson’s unit  for the Israel Defense Forces on Twitter wrote: “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” prompting many media, including the New York Times, to issue reports that implied that a ground offensive had begun.

But the Israel Defense Forces later “clarified that no Israeli troops were actually in Gaza despite earlier reports to the contrary,” the Times reported. “Instead, the army had amassed troops along the Gazan border and was shelling the territory from Israel.”

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, earlier had confirmed to the Times that “There are ground troops attacking in Gaza, together with air forces as well.”

Ron Ben-Yishai, a senior military correspondent for the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot, is among multiple seasoned observers who believe the IDF had been deliberately unclear about this in a plan that used the media and other means to get Hamas fighters to reveal their positions and invite precision strikes, he wrote

Guy Bechor, a conservative commentator on the Middle East and a former lecturer at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, shared Ben-Yishai’s interpretation, calling the IDF move a “smart play of misdirection using the media.”

Some tanks deliberately passed briefly under the perimeter fence of Israeli towns near the border to reveal themselves to Hamas lookouts while moving westward toward the fence, but stopped just short of it, Ben-Yishai reported.

Palestinian militants ”came out of concealed positions to engage the approaching vehicles. Field intelligence units, anti-tank crews… and mortar teams,” Ben-Yishai wrote. The Israel Air Force carried out attacks against at least 150 targets in the two hours following the tanks’ movement, including on Hamas’ tunnel network, according to Ben-Yishai’s report.

As the fighting has continued, Israel has maintained a relatively high level of support from the United States and Europe.

“One of the things I’ve seen thus far is that there has not been a significant overreaction” by Israel, President Joe Biden said Thursday at a White House press conference where he was asked whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was doing enough to prevent an escalation. “The question is how they get to a point where there is a significant reduction in the attacks, particularly the rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centers.”

In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Twitter wrote that he had the Israeli flag raised on the roof of the Federal Chancellery on Friday as a “sign of solidarity” and added, “we stand by Israel’s side.”

Israel also received support from the governments of Czechia, Hungary and Germany. 

The United Kingdom condemned Hamas and urged de-escalation on both sides of the conflict. French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday tweeted in Hebrew and Arabic: “The vortex of violence must end in the Middle East. I firmly call for a ceasefire and dialog. I call for calm and peace.”

The fighting began on Sunday, when Hamas began firing rockets into Israel in what the terrorist organization said was a response to the eviction of Palestinians from homes in eastern Jerusalem that an Israeli court ruled they had been occupying illegally. The case has sparked mass protests among Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem, and is now pending before Israel’s Supreme Court. In recent weeks, Jerusalem has seen widespread Palestinian protests in which hundreds of protesters and dozens of police officers were injured. 

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Israel targets Gaza with airstrikes, artillery and tank fire, ushering in a new phase of growing conflict

Thu, 2021-05-13 22:36

(JTA) — Israel’s army unleashed a wider military attack on Gaza Thursday night, inaugurating a new phase in a conflict that has claimed dozens of lives in the last several days.

The war has already reached several milestones in a region accustomed to conflict. Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, has sent an unprecedented number of rockets into Israel, straining the country’s Iron Dome missile protection system. Civilian casualties on both sides have been significant and have included children. And tension between Arabs and Jews within Israel has also exploded into violence at times.

Some reports had indicated that Israeli leaders were leaning against escalating their campaign against Hamas because of the mounting tensions within Israel. But instead, on Thursday night, Israel’s army announced that it was bombarding the narrow Gaza territory using both aircraft and ground forces. This is not yet an invasion of troops into Gaza.

“I said that we would exact a very heavy price on Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “We are doing this and we will continue with great force.”

Anticipating a robust response from Hamas, Israel urged civilians living near the Gaza border to enter bomb shelters, where many Israelis have been taking refuge intermittently throughout the week.

The last time Israel executed a major ground operation in Gaza, in 2014, the death toll included 67 Israeli soldiers and more than 2,000 Palestinians, a significant portion of which were civilians.

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Rabbi Stephen Slater talks a lot about God. He credits his Baptist missionary parents.

Thu, 2021-05-13 20:53

(JTA) — Rabbi Stephen Slater’s rabbinate breaks the mold in all sorts of ways. 

Though he graduated from the unaffiliated Hebrew College Rabbinical School, he identifies with the Conservative movement and is the only one of the suburban Boston school’s graduates to join the movement’s rabbinic group.

Though Slater came to the rabbinate as the culmination of a decade of spiritual searching, he has thrown himself into interfaith and social justice work at the Alabama synagogue he has led for the past three years, spearheading the growth of a visitor’s center highlighting the Birmingham synagogue’s role in the civil rights struggle and developing close relationships with local Black pastors. 

He’s also likely the only Jewish clergyman in America whose Baptist missionary parents are fervently praying for his return to Jesus.

“I was a frum Christian before I was a frum Jew,” Slater said, using a Yiddish term that roughly means “observant.” “It really was a massive transitional moment when I committed to Judaism and dropped my commitment to Christianity.”

This summer, Slater will assume the pulpit of Agudas Achim in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, a 140-year-old synagogue that is the oldest in the region. He is not the only convert serving as a pulpit rabbi at an American synagogue. Nor is he the only rabbi raised in an observant Christian household. 

But Slater may be the only one born into a multigenerational family of missionaries who dedicated years of their lives to bringing people to Jesus — often at great personal sacrifice. 

He was raised in Ferkessedougou, a small city in the northern Ivory Coast where his physician father ran a Baptist missionary hospital that his own father had reestablished in the early 1960s. A bookish child more at home reading than on the sports field, Slater imbibed the intense religious devotion of his parents, even taking on a practice of constantly confessing his sins. 

But Slater was no more successful at ridding his mind of sinful thoughts than he was of persuading himself of the truth of Christian doctrine. At 17, he had a crisis of faith that led him to a deep exploration of Torah and ultimately to Judaism itself. 

“I never reinculcated anything quite as bad as young man evangelical guilt,” Slater said. “That is some toxic nastiness. The amount of guilt that we carried around as young evangelical men — like self loathing for, you know, natural sexual urges.”

The transition would take about a decade. There were years of study of early Jewish history, joining Jewish communities in England and Jerusalem, learning Hebrew and engaging deeply with ancient Jewish texts.

But it all began at a boarding school in West Africa with Slater’s horrifying realization that he had no idea what would become of his soul if he longer accepted the truth of the Christianity. 

“I stayed up all night, probably the closest thing to Kierkegaard’s dark night of the soul,” he said. “Just sort of terrified by realizing that I no longer thought that it was true that Jesus was Messiah and Jesus was God. And what did that mean, if I couldn’t be a Christian?”

At first, Slater tried to read himself out of the problem. He devoured his parents’ bookshelf. He went to other missionaries and read their books, too, trying to figure out how to restore his faith.

“It went miserably,” Slater said. “You have no idea.”

He was still wrestling with such questions when he arrived at Hillsdale College, a conservative school in Michigan, where he met Bethany Boyd, another child of a missionary family.

“He was dressed like a missionary kid,” Bethany said. “Like, the dude had tennis shoes that the soles were separated from the front of the top of the shoe so they would flop because he just didn’t spend money on stuff. And he had hand-me-down jeans. All of his clothes were too big because he had such long arms. His mom would just have to buy him like really big shirts to fit his long arms.”

In late-night hangouts, Slater would hammer Bethany and his friends about how God could have made an eternal promise to the Jewish people only to then anoint Christians as his chosen people. Or about how eating pork was somehow permissible when it was clearly prohibited in the Hebrew Bible. Or how Sunday could be the Sabbath when the Bible was unambiguous that it should be observed on Saturday. Did God change his mind?

“I was a nudnik,” Slater said. “I was annoyingly consistent about that. And that really drove me. I was bothering other people because it bothered me.”

Rabbi Stephen and Bethany Slater and their children. (Courtesy)

Slater had an intuition that the answer lay deep in the past, in understanding how Christianity emerged from Judaism. And that if he could square that circle, maybe he could restore his faith in Christianity. 

His relentless questioning eventually precipitated a crisis of faith for Bethany as well, who had gone to teach in Africa after graduation. Shorn of the supportive network of her faith community back home, her commitment to Christian dogma collapsed. 

“I feel like the best analogy is a breakup,” Bethany said. “You’ve been in a relationship for a while. And you think that you can just kind of count on that person in your life and that they’re just going to be there. And then all of a sudden, they’re gone. And you just don’t know how to think about your life without them in it.”

Like Slater had earlier, Bethany sought a path forward through intensive study. After graduating, she moved to England to pursue a master’s degree in Jewish studies at Oxford in the hope that understanding how the New Testament had emerged from Judaism might save her Christianity. Over Christmas, Slater came to visit and proposed. The couple made a pact that they would try to figure out their religious quandaries together. 

After Bethany finished her degree at Oxford, they moved to Jerusalem so Slater could pursue a master’s degree of his own, in Jewish civilization, at Hebrew University. In Israel, they joined a church and lived for a time in a Palestinian village outside Bethlehem. 

But they also immersed themselves in Jewish learning communities. Bethany split her time between working with various NGOs and an intensive course of Jewish study at the Conservative yeshiva. And Slater took a year off from his degree program to do a fellowship at the Shalom Hartman Institute, the intellectual center whose work focuses on the intersection of Judaism and modernity. 

As the Slaters began to get a handle on the spiritual questions that had tormented them for years, they found themselves falling in love with Jewish ritual life — especially the observance of Shabbat, which took Slater back to his family’s practice of taking a weekly Sabbath (though that one was on Thursdays). 

“We’d been to so many Shabbat tables,” Slater said. “We wanted that. We wanted the texture of Shabbat, a real day of stepping back with people.”

Stephen and Bethany Slater at their first Christian wedding, right, and their Jewish wedding. (Courtesy)

With their return to the United States drawing closer, the conversion question began to intensify. In Jerusalem, where Judaism is baked into the fabric of living, they had been able to live a kind of vicarious Judaism, spending Shabbat and holidays with friends without formally converting. Back home they would have to make an affirmative commitment to Judaism if they wanted the kind of spiritual and intellectual engagement they had known in Jerusalem. 

“So as Bethany and I are talking, it was another decision point,” Slater said. “And the question really was do we want to make a commitment and actually be obligated to do Shabbat, or just want to be people that occasionally crash someone else’s Shabbat? And that was pretty clear.”

In February 2010, the Slaters flew to New York City. Both were highly educated and already practicing Jewish rituals, making the actual conversion ceremony something of a formality. The morning after they landed, they appeared before a rabbinical court overseen by Rabbi Ethan Tucker, the president and rosh yeshiva at Hadar, a celebrated egalitarian Jewish learning institute, and then immersed in the mikvah ritual bath. After 20 minutes they were both Jewish. 

The change was difficult for both their families. Spreading Christianity is something of a family business for Slater’s family. In addition to his father and grandfather, who between them spent some 50 years overseas doing missionary work, his uncle is a senior pastor at a large Baptist church in Southfield, Michigan. 

“Our own devotion to God, and to knowing God through Christ, and believing Christ as our savior and offering his savior to all the world, including all the Jewish people, is still very fervent, and we’re committed to that,” Slater’s father, Dwight, said. “We don’t know when and if Stephen and Bethany would come back to that persuasion. But that is our prayer.”

After the conversion, the Slaters threw themselves into Jewish life. They moved to Los Angeles so Bethany could enroll in rabbinical school, though she dropped out after a year because she liked the intellectual aspect more than the pastoral one, transferring to a doctoral program in comparative theology at Boston College. 

Slater spent a year teaching at a Jewish high school in L.A. and was inclined to pursue a doctorate of his own. But concerned about the financial ramifications of two spouses seeking professorships in the humanities, he began considering other options. 

“I realized I wanted to work with people,” Slater said. “And I wanted to work primarily — like not in research necessarily — and that I wanted to work on spiritual stuff. And so the rabbinate suggested itself.”

Slater enrolled at Hebrew College, a nondenominational rabbinical school with a reputation for prioritizing the spiritual aspects of the rabbinate. Rabbi Ebn Leader, Slater’s mentor at Hebrew College, said his unique background was an asset rather than an obstacle. 

“He came in with more knowledge than most of our candidates, with a better capacity at reading Jewish classical text than most of our candidates,” Leader said. “He came in with a classical training, in classical philosophy and such, and a sophisticated way of thinking. He came in with the deep connection to Israel. Like, he did his homework. And there’s a kind of seriousness about that, which is amazing.” 

Leader said he has tried to convince Slater’s father that his son was following in his lineage by fusing his love of God and people as the bearer of a sacred message — thus far unsuccessfully.

“The sense that to be out there in the middle of nowhere, bringing the word of God to people as a way to serve God — I mean, he’s down in Alabama,” Leader said. “That may not be West Africa, but for a lot of our students, it might as well be.”

After his ordination in 2018, Slater headed to Birmingham, a 150-century-old community with about 6,300 Jews, according to a 2016 study by the Birmingham Jewish Federation. There he assumed the pulpit of Temple Beth-El, the only Conservative synagogue among the four synagogues in a city of 212,000 people. Like many Conservative shuls, Beth-El had long been in decline, its membership down to 400 from a high of 750. In recent years, the Beth-El has sought to highlight its role in the civil rights era with the development of a visitor’s center, a project Slater has championed. 

In his first year, Slater managed to increase membership by 8% and introduce a slate of new programming. Over the High Holidays, he developed a pandemic-friendly alternative to in-person services, crafting a spiritual walking trail at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens that invited worshippers to follow a path with stations for prayer and reflection. Bethany Slater oversees adult education and the religious school as the synagogue’s director of programming and Jewish education.

At Agudas Achim, where he will start this summer, Slater said he repeatedly told his conversion story as part of the interview process and detected no reservations about hiring a rabbi who was not born Jewish. On the contrary, he sensed there was something appealing to the community in having a rabbi who came to Judaism as the result of spiritual searching. 

“It’s kind of an amazing thing that American Judaism — it’s there,” Slater said. “It’s ready for a rabbi who’s a convert, which is no small feat.”

Synagogue leaders involved in bringing Slater to Birmingham say the same thing.

Steve Green, who co-chaired the search committee, said the issue was largely irrelevant. Though some older members of the community expressed concern, he said, the vast majority were enthused by Slater’s candidacy. 

“When I see them on the pulpit, it doesn’t even occur to me that they converted because their knowledge of Judaism and of the Torah and the rituals and everything Jewish is deeper than most of the congregants,” Green said of the Slaters. “I don’t see it as a factor at all. And I don’t think that they daven nor do they teach any differently because they converted to Judaism.”

For his part, Slater sees the matter somewhat differently. And it can be summed up in one word: God. 

Surveys consistently show American Jews are among the most secular religious groups in America. According to the Pew Research Center, other than Buddhist Americans, Jews have the lowest rate of belief in God among American religious groups. Leader said he believes the phenomenon is a product of Jews seeing the abandonment of God as a pathway out of oppression.

“There’s a deep subconscious rumbling there,” Leader said. “You know, you start talking about God, there’s the Jewish thing that says, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re gonna put me back in the ghetto. It was getting rid of God that saved me from the ghetto.’ It’s such a deep thing inside of 21st-century Jews.”

Slater doesn’t carry that cultural baggage: He talks about God a lot, with no detectable sense of irony or self-consciousness — and it’s noticeable. Some years ago a friend told him he has “that thing that Protestant ministers have, but it’s Jewish.” Slater isn’t totally sure what the friend was talking about, but he suspects it’s connected to faith.

“This basic sense that it’s not about me, or you, it’s about God,” Slater said. “We’re seeking something together. Spiritual seeker, among those paradigms, that would be the right thing to identify. I do a lot of day-to-day stuff, and managerial stuff or whatever, but at bottom that’s what drives it.”

And Slater is unambiguous that this sensibility isn’t something he picked up in rabbinical school but goes back to the lessons he imbibed at the feet of his parents and grandparents, the selflessness they displayed in spending large chunks of their lives overseas in developing nations, often at great personal risk. 

“That kind of faith is just solid,” Slater said. “On some level, there’s no questioning that faith. It does things in the world. It makes things happen that just wouldn’t happen. It actually saves people’s lives. It structures everything. That was a given.

“So interacting with that, I now know that faith changes everything in terms of how you live your life. The only question for me was how to kind of build out the structure.”

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This Israeli mom says it is exactly the right time to talk about an end to endless conflict

Thu, 2021-05-13 20:00

For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still. – Isaiah 62:1

(JTA) — For the past three nights, as the rocket sirens blaring through Jerusalem forced my children and me to rush to shelter — and heralded what we now know would be a massive onslaught of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel — I have been unable to sleep. 

My heart is with my friends and family across Israel, who are running back and forth from shelters or have simply given up and started putting their children to sleep in safe rooms. And my heart is with parents and children in Gaza who have no shelters to run to and can only sit in their homes in unsubsiding fear.

My heart is sick at the senseless deaths of far too many innocent Israelis and Palestinians, including many children. And my heart is broken by the lynchings and mob attacks by both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews and the fracturing of society throughout this land.

We can never allow ourselves to accept as inevitable the utter terror that Israelis are experiencing as they flee from hundreds of rockets, that Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing as 14-story apartment buildings are bombed into smithereens, or that Jewish and Arab citizens across Israel are experiencing as nationalist mobs torch cars, burn down buildings and lynch innocent passersby. The primary short-term goal for every Israeli and Palestinian leader at this moment must be to achieve an absolute and immediate cessation of all violence.

But lack of violence is not peace, and lack of violence does not on its own advance justice, rights or long-term security for either side. The reality for Palestinians has been awful for decades and has only worsened. Israeli control over nearly every aspect of their lives, focused solely on ensuring Israeli security and expanding Jewish settlement and hegemony — while almost entirely abdicating responsibility for Palestinian security, well-being and rights — has created an utterly untenable situation. 

While violent resistance is absolutely condemnable, it is sadly unsurprising after decades of discriminatory policies, separate and unequal systems of law, and tremendous suffering. Nor is it surprising that the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are inextricably part of the Palestinian people, have joined in the fray. 

And we, the Israeli side, have most of the power. Had our elected officials chosen over the past seven years of relative calm to strive toward a better future, there were countless ways to have improved the situation for all. And had we — Israeli citizens and Jewish supporters of Israel — taken advantage of the relative peace to place this issue at the center of our national and peoplehood agenda, our leaders would have been forced to listen and work toward a durable and just resolution of the conflict. 

Tragically, however, it seems that the only time we pay attention and feel goaded to act is when violence and war explode — precisely the time when true and deep work toward lasting security, dignity, justice and true peace is nearly impossible. 

Palestinians, of course, have a parallel responsibility to work toward peace, justice and security for all. They must do everything in their power to remove the murderous Hamas regime in Gaza, to demand elections and new, visionary leadership in Ramallah, and to build a broad-based nonviolent movement that will work for a better future for all in this land. And I am profoundly grateful to know many extraordinary Palestinians working tirelessly every day toward those goals. But just as they must hold their leaders and society accountable, so, too, must we.

It is not disloyal, antisemitic, anti-Zionist, self-hating or traitorous to demand that the Israeli government work proactively toward security, justice, equality and dignity for all human beings in this land. On the contrary, it is the responsibility of every loyal and patriotic Israeli. And according to the Pew study released this week, American Jews largely agree: Nearly 60% feel emotionally attached to Israel, while only one-third said Israel is making a sincere effort for peace with the Palestinians.

I speak out despite painful backlash and even attacks from fellow Israelis and Jews because I know that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are going anywhere. Our stories are intertwined, our futures inextricably linked. Neither of us can possibly win until we find a way for all of us to win. I am raising three beautiful and innocent Israeli boys who will be drafted into the Israeli army in a few short years. I cannot stand by and allow violence, hatred and war to be their future. 

One sentiment being widely expressed in Israel and among pro-Israel Jewish Americans is that now is the time for thoughts, prayers and solidarity — and not for calling for policy change. “Politics” should come only after the immediate threat subsides, the argument goes. I reject this idea. Now, when everyone is listening, is the time to declare that we are not destined for endless conflict, and there is enough abundance here for all of us. 

It is precisely because I and countless friends and colleagues care so deeply about Israel and the Jewish people that we do everything we can to create a better future here for all. Anything less would mean abandoning our children and future generations to endless conflict. It would also mean neglecting our obligations to uphold our deepest values: both a profound commitment to the Jewish people and our future in this land, and also a profound commitment to the infinite value, dignity and right to freedom, security and justice of every human being. 

I pray for a quick cease-fire and halt to all violence. And then I call on every Jew who cares about the future of the Jewish people in the land of Israel to hold tightly to the sense of urgency we feel right now, and to work not just for a lack of violence but for a future of justice, security, equality, freedom and flourishing for all. For the sake of Zion and Jerusalem we cannot allow ourselves to be silent. Not ever — and certainly not now.

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