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The appointment of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has left some Jewish Democrats worried about their party’s future positions on Israel. Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez defeated Ellison for the party chairmanship Saturday in a 235-200 vote. In his first act as chairman, Perez named Ellison as deputy chairman. During the months leading up to the vote, Ellison faced criticism for organizing congressional letters urging pressure on Israel and accusing the Jewish state of controlling U.S. foreign policy. “I’m just happy that Perez defeated Ellison, but concerned that it was close,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, a prominent Jewish supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist in the anti-Israel BDS movement, helped raised more than $100,000 to repair the desecrated Chesed Shel Emet cemetery in St. Louis, earning plaudits from nearly every mainstream media outlet. But can the enemies of Israel be, at the same time, the friends of Jewish communities outside the Jewish state? Conversely, do friends of Israel get a pass when they play down or outright deny the presence of anti-Semites among their political allies? Why should Sarsour be acceptable to the Jewish community, but not Richard Spencer, the pudgy racist at the helm of the so-called National Policy Institute? Are we that easily taken in? JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen fears the answer is yes.
Amid a sea change in U.S. politics and an ever-changing Middle East, Israel has counted on a constant source of support for nearly half a century: the engagement of America’s most influential Jewish organizations. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week convened its annual mission to Israel with a delegation of more than 110 leaders from the umbrella body’s 53 member groups. Conference of Presidents CEO Malcolm Hoenlein told JNS.org that “the diversity of participation” is what distinguishes the group from any other that visits the Jewish state.
A Palestinian terrorist who murdered two Hebrew University of Jerusalem students has found a new ally, the far-left Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) group. How mainstream Jewish liberal groups respond to JVP’s hosting of Rasmea Odeh at its national conference in March will be telling, writes JNS.org columnist Stephen M. Flatow.
The chances of a formal peace agreement between Israel and the wider Arab world in the near future are slim, contrary to media reports and the posturing of Israeli opposition politicians, experts say. Citing unidentified former senior Obama administration officials, the Haaretz newspaper reported Sunday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had met with Egyptian and Jordanian heads of state in a secret meeting last year in Jordan, in order to promote a regional peace agreement. The talks led nowhere, and Haaretz’s report blamed Netanyahu for the negotiations’ failure because he backed out over opposition from within his governing coalition. “This was a one-sided leak by Obama officials, suggesting there is no reason to believe there was any real prospect of negotiations on serious terms,” said Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law and an expert on international law.
In an ever-polarizing age in America, nonprofits often need to decide how to make their organization’s voice or constituency’s voice heard on policy issues without making overtly political statements. Such was the delicate balancing act navigated by the BBYO Jewish teen movement and the thousands of attendees at its recent International Convention. President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on the entry of non-citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations continues to dominate the national discourse, and BBYO’s convention was no exception, with the travel ban and the refugee issue frequently finding their way into speeches and discussions. “We’re very sensitive to this concept of everyone being at odds about how they feel we should be handling the global refugee situation,” said Aaron Cooper, the top youth leader in BBYO’s men’s order, AZA. “With that in consideration, we found success in not framing it as a conversation on whether we are we letting refugees into one country or another. Rather, it’s about, ‘What are we going to do so that we are helping them in some capacity?’”
An interview with Aaron Mantell and Danielle Wadler, two teens from New York, is drowned out by chanting students passing by. Welcome to the BBYO International Convention. “It’s a little overwhelming, but it always ends up being really really fun. Like you get past the overwhelming, and you get used to a thousand people screaming at you all day,” says Wadler, 17. The enthused BBYO delegates who interrupt the interview, en route to the convention’s opening ceremony Feb. 16, are just the tip of the iceberg. The energetic opening ceremony is nothing short of the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games. The pluralistic Jewish youth movement’s convention drew 5,000 people from 48 U.S. states and 30 countries. “The global nature of what we offer is a differentiator in their lives. There’s nowhere else, or very few places, where a teen from Dallas, Texas, can find a best friend from Slovakia,” says Matt Grossman, BBYO’s CEO.
What if you got fired for observing Passover? “Not possible in 21st-century America,” you confidently reply. What if you sued, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as well as the local Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) kept a studied silence during your entire legal fight? “Again, not possible,” you insist. Guess again. Because that’s exactly what happened to Susan Abeles. The ADL and JCRC can move quickly when they want to, even on major issues. But at least in this instance, they have refused to advocate for the rights of a Jewish victim of discrimination, writes columnist Joshua Sharf.
American Jewish leaders are enthusiastically applauding President Donald Trump’s call on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to remove anti-Jewish hate material from its school books. At his press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Feb. 15, Trump said “the Palestinians have to get rid of” the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish material that appears in PA school texts. “They're taught tremendous hate,” he said. “I’ve seen what they’re taught…it starts at a very young age and it starts in the school room.” Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.org, “The U.S. government should use all leverage at its disposal to do something about changing the Palestinian school books, especially when the U.S. provides the Palestinians with over $350 million in aid each year.”
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held their first joint press conference Wednesday at the White House, ahead of a private meeting that was expected to herald warmer ties between the Israeli and American administrations. Yet the leaders’ public comments highlighted some of their disagreements, with Trump calling on Israel to “hold back” on settlement building and to show more “flexibility” in negotiations with the Palestinians.
David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel, has managed to anger Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and the Union for Reform Judaism. It’s a safe bet that every Jewish leftist who ever cut a check to the New Israel Fund is enduring sleepless nights. The response to Friedman’s nomination is indicative of a growing chasm in the American Jewish community between liberal Jews who are incapable of separating their Jewishness from allegiance to the Democratic Party, and the growing number who are rejecting the party of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, write columnists Abraham H. Miller and Paul Miller.
Israel’s critics are all abuzz over the news that the U.S. ambassador-designate to Israel is connected to the financing of a handful of apartments in a Jewish settlement. Yet many of those same critics are fully aware of the fact that a previous U.S. ambassador apparently was directly involved in giving money to a settlement. Nobody ever said a word out loud about the previous ambassador’s action—either at the time, or since then. Columnist Stephen M. Flatow asks: Why the double standard?
Israel’s standing as a global cybersecurity powerhouse advanced in recent weeks, with the U.S. House of Representatives passing new legislation that would improve American-Israeli cooperation in that sector. The United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017, which passed in the House Jan. 31, creates a cybersecurity grant program for joint research and development projects. The legislation’s advancement comes as cybersecurity is one of the world’s fastest-growing security fields—not just for governments, but also for terrorist groups. “Israel and the U.S. share the same enemies in the cyber realm, consisting of both jihad groups as well as hacktivist groups associated with the likes of [the international hacker network] Anonymous, who also target the Jewish community worldwide online,” said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.
The Jewish-run refugee aid agency HIAS is suing the Trump administration over its travel ban. But it’s time for HIAS—formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, before it dropped the “Hebrew”—to rediscover its roots. If HIAS is concerned about rescuing the most victimized of people, it should begin with the Jews of Europe who are eager to escape the anti-Semitism of Islam and for whom there is no help in the West, since those Jews will not qualify for refugee status as the U.S. currently defines it. When that is done, HIAS is more than welcome to lecture the public about American and Jewish values, writes columnist Abraham H. Miller.
"For through cognition of the truth," wrote the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, "enmity and hatred are removed and the inflicting of harm by people on one another is abolished." While we might embrace some policies of the Trump administration, such as its tougher line on Iran and its warmth toward Israel, we shouldn't be under illusions about the worldview underlying it—namely, no longer distinguishing between democracies and tyrannies. In an anarchic world, casually tossing aside your most precious values in full view of those who already disdain them is a sign of weakness, not strength, writes JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen.
President Donald Trump recently stated that persecuted Christians in the Middle East would be given priority as refugees. If Iraqi Kurdistan were to aid in the rebuilding of the Assyrian national homeland, it would represent a goodwill gesture that would reverberate to Washington and send a powerful message that the genocide of Middle East Christians will not be tolerated. A new U.S.-backed alliance between Kurdistan, Assyria and Israel that enshrines Western principles of freedom and democracy would create an oasis of peace and prosperity in an area of the world that desperately needs it, writes columnist Bradley Martin.
To say the implementation of President Donald Trump’s travel ban was clumsy would be an understatement. To say, however, that the principles involved were totally without constitutional justification would be unwarranted. There is abundant legal precedent for both religious and nationality discrimination, because immigration is about absorbing people from other nations about whom we make judgments, writes columnist Abraham H. Miller.
The reason given for the U.S. refusal to rescue Jewish refugees during the Holocaust was to protect the country. The expressed fear was that the Germans could turn Jewish refugees into spies, by holding their families hostage back in Germany. Yet not one case of such espionage was ever documented. Holocaust historian Prof. Deborah Lipstadt concluded that the Jews were denied entry due to the State Department’s wartime paranoia and outright bigotry. Sound familiar? The State Department stated that the Jewish immigrants presented a national security risk. Sound familiar? These are the exact reasons why the U.S. has now decided to refuse entry of any of the 1 million Syrian refugees who have fled their country seeking safety from the devastating ravages of a civil war, and in effect, like the Jews, are now told to seek asylum elsewhere. Then and now, a flawed rationale has been used to turn refugees, writes columnist Albert L. Kramer, the former presiding judge of the Quincy District Court in Massachusetts.
President Donald Trump’s administration issued new sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program Friday, marking a major step toward realigning U.S. policy in the Middle East away from the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the Iranian-Shi’a axis and back toward supporting the interests of America’s traditional Sunni regional allies as well as Israel. Former President Barack Obama had pursued warmer U.S. ties with Iran by making concessions to reach the 2015 nuclear deal and by not responding to aggressive Iranian actions. Trump’s shift in approach comes as Iran’s regional ambitions continue to spread deeper into Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. “What we see with Trump is simply a return to the normal bipartisan position that ties U.S. relations with Iran to its regional behavior,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and an expert on Iran.
With $221 million in U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) possibly hanging in the balance, American Jewish leaders and organizations across the political spectrum are denouncing the PA’s reported use of torture against prisoners. Israeli Arab journalist Khalid Abu Toameh charged last week that the PA’s Jericho Central Prison has become a “fort of torture.” Writing for the Gatestone Institute think tank, Toameh cited a new report by the Arab Organization for Human Rights that the PA’s security forces committed more than 3,000 human rights violations in 2016. Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress for North America, said “it is outrageous that American tax dollars intended to help build peace with the Palestinians by supporting basic services such as education and health care, are instead used to enable the abusers of human rights.” Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, said, “We are definitely concerned by such practices, and believe that they should stop, even if they are done in the course of the PA’s close security cooperation with Israel to fight terrorism.”