A few hours before the “Celebrate Israel Parade” began on Sunday, about 350 people gathered for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty’s annual legislative breakfast at the Yale Club in Midtown Manhattan.
The theme of the event was “Feeding New York.”
Mark Levine, the Manhattan borough president who spoke at the June 4 breakfast, told JNS that it is a source of pride that most of the 325,000 New Yorkers that the Jewish nonprofit supports are not Jewish.
“They are African-American and Latino, and Asian-American and Muslim, and people of all backgrounds,” Levine, who is Jewish, told JNS. “It makes me really proud. I want more people to know about this.”
Levine, who told JNS that he looks forward to the event every year, thinks it represents “the best of the Jewish community.”
“In a time where our community is often mischaracterized in very negative terms, I want people to know that this community has stood up to support an anti-poverty nonprofit, Met Council, which is helping New Yorkers of every background,” he said. “It supports many Jewish New Yorkers in need, but, in fact, a majority of the people served here are not Jewish.”
The council, which works with 262 kosher and 36 halal food pantries, is the world’s largest free kosher-food distributor, according to materials it distributed at the event and its website. It provided more than 20 million pounds of food to more than 325,000 needy New Yorkers in 2022, per a release.
It also supports Holocaust survivors, victims of domestic violence and those who need affordable housing. It is largely funded by federal and state grants, as well as by private donations.
‘We are here in support of Israel’
David Greenfield, CEO of the Met Council, told JNS that the nonprofit is “extremely thankful” for elected and appointed officials who have helped it support so many people.
“None of what we do would be possible without our partners in government, and we are truly blessed to have so many committed public officials who support our critical mission,” he said.
Speakers at the event included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.); New York Gov. Kathy Hochul; New York City Mayor Eric Adams; and Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.).
Israel Nitzan, the Israeli acting consul general, and Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, also spoke at the event, during which several awards were bestowed. Nir Barkat, Israeli minister of economy and industry, also attended.
In his remarks, Jeffries—the House minority leader—said it was important to help all those in need, regardless of their background. And a week-and-a-half after the White House unveiled its national strategy to combat antisemitism, Jeffries also addressed Jew-hatred.
“We will stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters until we stamp out antisemitism wherever it is found,” he told attendees.
Hochul referred specifically to “heartbreaking” comments that a City University of New York School of Law student made during commencement on May 12. The student verbally attacked the NYPD and repeatedly denounced Israel in her remarks. Hochul is working to counter both hateful actions from public institutions and hate crimes generally, she said.
Many of the speakers cited the strong relationship between Israel and the United States. “All of us stand in support of Israel—and we need to say it loud, and we need to say it clear,” said James, the state attorney general. “We are here in support of Israel.”
Schumer thanked the Met Council for doing “a great job uniting people—Jewish and non-Jewish”—and for its leadership.
“Todah rabah and continued success,” he said.
An Israel Defense Forces soldier was lightly injured on Monday night when a car struck him in Palestinian-controlled Huwara, near Nablus in Samaria.
The driver of the vehicle reportedly fled the scene.
The military did not immediately classify the incident as a car-ramming attack, saying only that it was investigating the incident.
The victim was evacuated to the Rabin Medical Center’s Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah in stable condition.
On May 21, an Israeli soldier was moderately injured in a car-ramming attack in Huwara, a hotbed of Palestinian terrorism.
The IDF recently upgraded the road infrastructure in the village to increase security for Israelis driving on Route 60.
This followed a series of Palestinian terrorist attacks taking advantage of the congestion that slows down vehicles entering the area, including the murder of brothers Hallel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19—Israelis shot by a Palestinian terrorist as they sat in traffic on Feb. 26.
Dual Israeli-U.S. citizen David Stern, 41, narrowly survived a shooting on March 19 while he was driving through Huwara with his wife on their way to Jerusalem.
In response, the number of lanes on Route 60 at Einabus Square in Huwara was doubled, from two to four. The IDF also removed a traffic circle at Yitzhar Junction that had been built as a traffic safety measure. Both projects are aimed at increasing speeds through the terror-stronghold village until the completion of a bypass road.
Also, a large number of IDF personnel have been deployed to the area and 13 new defensive positions were built to discourage attacks and to reduce response times in the event they take place.
The IDF’s Samaria Brigade has also bolstered security inspections, including the deployment of additional checkpoint barriers.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken addressed the 2023 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Summit (AIPAC) at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., saying, “the depth and breadth” of the alliance between the U.S. and Israeli governments “is matched only by the strength of the ties between our peoples.”
Speaking on Monday, Blinken pointed out that when President Harry S. Truman was considering recognizing the establishment of modern-day Israel in 1948, many government leaders, including Secretary of State George C. Marshall, opposed doing so, believing that the nascent state could not survive. Blinken then noted that his grandfather, Maurice Blinken, who founded the American Palestine Institute after World War II, wrote a report countering this view, persuading many skeptics.
Blinken described what the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden was doing to strengthen the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. First, he said the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security was “non-negotiable” and “iron-clad.” Blinken laid out the levels of financial support that the United States provides, including $3.3 billion in military financing; $500 million for missile defense; $1 billion for replenishing the Iron Dome; and “tens of millions more for new counter-drone and anti-tunneling technologies.”
He emphasized that the Biden administration also worked to defend Israel in the battle of ideas, insisting that antisemitism “needs to be defeated everywhere in the world.”
“We continue to reject the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for unfairly singling out Israel,” said Blinken.
The Secretary of State named Iran as the gravest threat Israel faces. “That regime routinely threatens to wipe Israel off the map. It continues to provide weapons to terrorists and proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas, who reject Israel’s right to exist,” he said. “Iran cannot and will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Blinken warned that “all options are on the table” for preventing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
He also said that the administration aimed to “achieve significant historic progress to deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords,” pointing out that it’s in America’s national security interests to promote Saudi-Israeli normalization.
At the same time, Blinken reiterated the administration’s support for the two-state solution and opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.
The 64-year-old founded the National Jewish Assembly, a “grassroots” community leadership body, last year after resigning as a senior vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He said at the time that the latter, which dates back to 1760, was leaning too far to the political left.
In a phone interview on May 28 from his home in London, Mond told JNS that he is only alive today because his father failed a chemistry test.
Ferdinand Mond was shipped off in 1938 from his Krakow home to a boarding school in Brighton, England. The following summer, he had to return to the school to retake chemistry class, which he failed. Days later, the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. The rest of his family, except for his father David, who later immigrated to Israel, was murdered.
Ferdinand’s son, Gary Mond, certainly had a more conventional path to life in the United Kingdom. He studied economics at the University of Cambridge and trained as an accountant. He worked in corporate finance in the 1980s and 1990s, and is now trying to sell an advanced financial-training business, which he owns, to retire.
But there is room for doubt that his retirement will be quiet, as he talked candidly with JNS about his political past and future aspirations.
“I’m a fiercely Zionist individual, and I am strongly anti-woke,” he said.
He founded the National Jewish Assembly (NJA), knowing other Jewish community members were on the same page, he said.
Mond was a local Conservative councilor in Kensington from 1996 to 2002. In 2007, he joined the advisory board of the Conservative Friends of Israel, a role he continues to hold.
Mond has been a stalwart in community leadership roles and served as a Jewish National Fund UK trustee for 12 years until this April.
“This is how I came to be involved with the Board of Deputies, for which I represented JNF as a deputy,” he said.
The board is the leading UK Jewish representative body with 203 member organizations and 300 elected deputies.
‘A major part in splitting the Jewish community’
From the start, Mond felt out of place at the board, he told JNS.
“I was disappointed at the left-leaning tendencies I encountered straightaway,” he said. “In my first meeting, I was utterly taken aback when a senior deputy, whom I won’t name, accused Israelis of poisoning wells in the region to harm Palestinian children.” (The board declined to comment on this and several other items, about which JNS asked.)
Also early in his tenure on the board, the body sought to partner with Oxfam. He and others who opposed were ignored, he said.
“This is despite Oxfam’s history of anti-Israel rhetoric and allegations of their support for terror groups, alongside other concerns,” he said.
Mond faced opposition but still was elected senior vice president of the board in 2021. He said rather than being “part of the establishment,” he rose in position due to a ranked (“single transferable”) voting system.
Since he left the board and founded the rival group, Mond has grown increasingly frustrated with the leading British representative Jewish body.
“The honorary officers of the board are all good people and, as they give their time voluntarily to the Jewish community, should be respected as such,” Mond told JNS. “Where they should be severely criticized, however, is on their political actions. Their approach has been, and continues to be, to split the Jewish community.”
The board could focus on areas like combating antisemitism, which 99% of British Jews support, according to Mond. However, he claims that the board refuses to speak to some communal groups it disagrees with politically and otherwise.
“Instead, the board selects issues where substantial proportions, possibly even a majority, of UK Jews disagree,” Mond said. “For example, it has chosen to issue statements which critique the government’s immigration policies—a topic many regard as irrelevant to the Jewish community.”
The board also focuses too heavily on social justice, according to Mond. More than that, when Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich visited the country, the board told the Israeli minister to leave immediately.
“That was a disgraceful thing to do,” Mond said.
Mond allows that Smotrich “might be controversial,” but he notes more than half a million Israelis voted for him and nearly another 2 million voted for parties that were glad to work with him. “The board has succeeded in severely damaging its reputation in Israel,” and Israeli President Isaac Herzog criticized it publicly, pointed out Mond.
“I don’t think it is too strong to say that the board’s actions play a major part in splitting the Jewish community and causing resentment among a very large number of British Jews,” he said.
The man who confidently slams the group he formerly helped lead also told JNS bluntly about his own controversies.
He said he created a deep rift with two senior board honorary officers in 2020 when he penned a Jewish Chronicle op-ed titled “The Holocaust Was Unique and Incomparable.” In the piece, he wrote that it is inaccurate to compare the Holocaust to the Chinese genocidal killing of Uyghur Muslims.
“It is important to speak out against the plight of the Uyghurs, but the Holocaust was unique and incomparable,” he told JNS. “I was surprised that so many board honorary officers were upset about this piece, though I cannot say for certain that this is because they disagreed with my points.”
‘Giving ordinary community members a voice’
But it was his social-media posts about November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that caused a backlash after they were unearthed—and led to his departure from the board in January 2022, he said.
“I tweeted that this terror attack put all civilization at war with Islam,” he told JNS. “What I should have said is ‘fundamentalist Islam’ or ‘Islamism,’ but those terms were not used as much then as they are now.”
After the posts were publicized, Marie van der Zyl, president of the board, called Mond and told him that the board’s officers and senior staff no longer had confidence in working with him, Mond told JNS.
“After speaking to my family, we decided life was too short, and I resigned,” Mond told JNS. “This cemented my impression that the board is a fundamentally intolerant body.”
Not only does Mond think the board is intolerant, but he also questions whether it ought to be perceived as speaking for all British Jews.
Members of the board are leaders of synagogues, and Mond noted that synagogue membership has declined in the country.
“Less than a third of the UK’s 450 or so synagogues have deputies elected to the board at all, and other groups represented include left-wing groups, such as the Jewish Labour Movement and Yachad,” he said.
More than half (56.3%) of British households with at least a Jewish member were shul members in 2016, which represented a drop of 20.2% from 1990, according to data that the Institute for Jewish Policy Research released in 2017.
“As the board’s membership is fundamentally derived from shuls, and shuls as a whole have a smaller percentage of members of the Jewish community, the board’s representational nature is obviously in decline,” Mond said.
He thinks the NJA, which he founded, plays a vital role in “filling this gap and giving ordinary community members a voice.”
In just a year, the group’s membership has grown to 350 and the NJA has an annual budget of £150,000 (about $185,000), according to Mond.
And he’s convinced his fledgling body is on the rise.
“A year from now,” he predicted, “our membership will have increased substantially, and we will be the ‘go to’ organization for Jews interested in political debate and action.”
Some 30 Jews and Christians gathered across the street from a Target store in Midtown Miami on June 1 to protest the retail corporation’s LGBTQ Pride merchandise for children.
There were also counterprotesters and a police presence outside the Target store in southern Florida. Among the protesters’ signs were those that read “Stop Grooming Our Children” and “Save the Children.”
“A lot of people think that this whole thing is people protesting against the gay community, which is not the case,” Jimmy Levy, an Israeli-American musician and an organizer of the rally, told JNS.
Levy said he wanted to bring Christians and Jews together for the rally, and hopes to inspire more people around the world to protest Target’s Pride merchandise for children.
The musician collaborated with Kurt Jantz—the rapper known as Forgiato Blow—on the song “Boycott Target,” which the two released on May 25 and which includes other rappers. The iTunes-topping song, and the June 1 protest, respond to Pride-themed children’s clothing that Target sells.
‘It’s about the children’
Michelle Terris, founder and president of JEXIT, which stands for Jews Exiting the Democratic Party, told JNS the rally was about protecting children.
“I love people of all walks of life,” she said. “You’re free to practice whatever your religion or culture is. This is about the children. They don’t need to know about sexual orientation. They need to be children. They need to be protected.”
JEXIT’s participation in the rally draws on its Jewish values, Terris told JNS.
“That’s all our religion is about. It’s about our children,” she said. “I have obligations as a strong leader in my faith and in God that the children come first.”
“My children are very proud that their mother stands for all children, not just her own,” Terris, a mother of two, added. “If we all did that, the world would be a better place.”
Her organization educates Jews “on the dangerous shift that the Democrat Party has taken.”
“It’s not that Jews have abandoned the Democratic Party. It’s that the Democrat Party has abandoned Jews, and we can see this today,” she said. “We are uniting with our Christian brothers and sisters for the Judeo-Christian principles that this country was founded by, which are rooted in the Torah. If we were following those principles, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Terris praised Levy for his song’s success on iTunes.
“The song, without a record label, beat Taylor Swift,” she said. “That should give you an idea of the climate and the temperature of what people want and where they stand. It’s not against any affiliation, orientation or religion. It’s about the children.”
“As a Jewish mom, I believe every Jewish family has an obligation to their children,” she added.
Target has offered products that celebrate Pride Month, held in June, for more than a decade. The retail giant removed some LGBTQ items from its stores recently, following a backlash from conservatives.
Target stated on May 24 that the company has received threats impacting its employees’ safety and well-being at work since introducing this year’s Pride collection.
“Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior,” it stated. “Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”
Bethany Mandel, a conservative writer, told JNS that Target is prioritizing its corporate equality index score, which the Human Rights Campaign Foundation issues, “and their public perception of being pro-LGBT, rather than their bottom line.”
Target’s stock has been dropping, recently snapping its largest losing streak in 23 years, MarketWatch reported.
“They’re feeling the heat,” Mandell said. “It seems like they’re making a really bad business decision that their shareholders may not be happy with in the long term.”
Mandel thinks that the protests against Target and Bud Light, which came under fire from conservatives for a transgender spokesperson, won’t be short-lived.
“American consumers are going to hold on to this memory and make their shopping decisions accordingly,” she said.
When Theodor Herzl began to advocate for the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, many Jews agreed with his ideology but considered his idea impractical. The Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine, which was a desolate wasteland, and Jews were dispersed across many nations. Moreover, a large part of world Jewry opposed Herzl’s Zionism for fear that non-Jews would suspect them of dual loyalty.
Yet Zionism prevailed, because it is based on principles that are more than 3,000 years old. Abraham was told by God to leave the land of his birth and travel to the land that God would give to him and his descendants. The Jewish people entered the Land of Israel as one nation thousands of years ago after being emancipated from 200 years of slavery. They ruled the land for over a thousand years as a theocratic monarchy.
Exiled over 2,000 years ago, the Jews spread around the world, but never forgot their homeland in the Land of Israel. Although foreign Christian and then Muslim conquerors exiled almost all remaining Jews from the land, the Jews always sought to return.
For the duration of the Jewish exile, there was always a strong, albeit small, Jewish community in the Land of Israel. These Jews ensured a continuous Jewish presence in the land. Most Jews, however, never thought there was a chance of returning to the Land of Israel without a messiah to bring them home.
It wasn’t until a few forward thinkers, with Theodor Herzl in the lead, began envisioning a modern Jewish state that Jews began to believe that a return to Israel was possible.
Herzl’s Zionism injected a healthy dose of practical strategy into the idea of a mass Jewish return to the Land of Israel. Using a combination of emigration to Palestine; the establishment of Jewish cities, farms and towns; and the founding of a shadow government, modern Zionists began to lay the foundations of a Jewish state.
As Zionist leaders travelled the world seeking support for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, the Zionists in Israel carried out the hard work of making the land inhabitable for the millions of Jews who would come to Israel once a Jewish state was founded.
While Herzl was initially rejected by the majority of world Jewry, as time went on, Jews began to see Zionism as a more pragmatic than ideological project. Zionist leaders doing the political work and Zionists on the ground constructing a national home demonstrated that a Jewish state was a real possibility.
Slowly, world Jewry began to come around. After the Holocaust exposed the dangers of not having a Jewish state, over 90% of American Jewry became dues-paying members of different Zionist organizations.
The Zionists who labored to create a Jewish state served as a model for the future leaders of the State of Israel. They demonstrated that ideology does not have to be replaced by practical strategy and that practical strategy should always be grounded in the Jewish people’s traditional ideology. Zionists never lost sight of the Land of Israel as the Jewish people’s historic homeland and never allowed ideology to interfere with their practical labor.
One example of the proper balance of ideology and pragmatism was the Zionist movement’s decision to accept the U.N. partition plan in 1947. The plan gave the Jewish people only a small portion of the land they claimed as their homeland. There were many reasons for the Zionist leadership to reject it, including a real fear for Jewish safety in such a small country and the forfeiture of most of the Jewish homeland—including its heartland and capital of Jerusalem.
But Zionist leaders decided to be pragmatic. They recognized that they were not going to be able to meet their maximalist ideological goals, so they accepted the first realistic opportunity to found a Jewish state in close to 2,000 years.
It is easy for leaders to avoid difficult decisions by standing behind a shield of ideology, but as David Ben-Gurion and the other founders of Israel showed, leadership requires practical compromises. Moving towards either extreme will destroy the balance that has led to Israel’s success.
Jews are likelier than Catholics and Protestants both to attend religious services in-person only and to attend no services (neither online nor in-person), according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Of 11,377 respondents surveyed in mid- to late-November last year, 26% of Jews attended in-person services only—compared to 24% of Catholics and 21% of protestants—and 55% of Jews attended no services, compared to 53% of Catholics and 36% of Protestants.
Overall, Pew found that many U.S. adults use technology for religious purposes. Some 30% search for information about religion online; 21% read the Bible or other scripture on websites or apps; 15% listen to religion podcasts; and 14% use websites or apps for praying assistance or reminders.
And 67% of those who watch virtual services or those on television report being “extremely or very satisfied,” according to the survey, with 68% and 54%, respectively, expressing significant satisfaction with online sermons and worship music.
“At the same time, Americans tend to give higher marks to worshiping together in person. While majorities express satisfaction with virtual services, even bigger shares of physical attenders say they feel extremely or very satisfied with the sermons (74%) and music (69%) at the services they attend in person,” according to Pew.
While 10% of adults—and 15% of Protestants and 9% of Catholics—only participate in online worship, only 6% of Jews only participate in prayer online. (Orthodox Jews, a growing minority of all Jews, do not use technologies necessary for online streaming on holidays and Shabbat.)
The survey also examined tendencies of different groups to limit or block seeing religious posts from others on social media. Jews (20%) were likelier to do so than Catholics (12%) and Protestants (13%), but less likely than atheists (36%). Those who are Republicans or who lean Republican were less likely (12%) than were those who are Democrat or lean Democrat (22%).
Much has taken place since Yael Eckstein became president and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 2019 after the passing of her father Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who founded and headed the organization in 1983 with the mission to promote understanding between Christians and Jews.
A native of Evanston, Ill., Eckstein divides her time between the fellowship’s offices in Jerusalem, where she lives with her husband and four children, and in downtown Chicago, where the fellowship has been headquartered stateside since its 1983 founding.
In March 2022, the Fellowship moved its U.S. headquarters from 30 N. LaSalle St. in Chicago to its current location on 303 East Wacker Drive overlooking the Chicago River.
“These past four years have been a wild ride,” Eckstein said. (She last spoke at length with JNS in late 2019, shortly after taking over the reins of the organization her father built.)
Eckstein recounted how her father’s sudden passing at age 67 from cardiac arrest was a particularly tumultuous time. Following a unanimous vote of the IFCJ board to elect her CEO, she faced an unforeseen challenge.
“I was immediately elected right before the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Since that time, we have helped over 2 million people in Israel,” she said.
With careful adherence to Israeli laws, the fellowship is guided by its founding principle to help less fortunate people in Israel, whether they are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze or any other religion.
The fellowship devotes 70% of its resources to food aid, according to Eckstein. During the pandemic, the Israeli government was able to purchase much-needed supplies and emergency food packages to provide to thousands of elderly people in Israel, but it couldn’t easily distribute those items to needy people.
“The Israeli government was able to distribute funds but not transport the food to those people who needed it. This is when the fellowship was summoned,” Eckstein said. She added that Israel allocated 50 million shekels (about $13.4 million) to IFCJ for that purpose.
IFCJ’s donors are largely Christian, according to Eckstein. The fellowship’s donor base grew up 35% during the pandemic, she reported.
‘Our work is done in accordance with Israeli law’
The agency has also met pressing needs due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including helping rescue Ukrainian Jews.
“We helped bring over 5,000 olim from Ukraine to Israel since the war began,” said Eckstein, using the Hebrew term for new immigrants. “Our last aliyah flight from Ukraine began just before the war, and we have organized our flights from Moldova since then.”
In accordance with Israel’s Law of Return, which recognizes an individual with a single Jewish grandparent as eligible for citizenship, the fellowship helps Jews irrespective of whether many Orthodox rabbinic authorities would recognize them as halachically Jewish.
“We are a non-political organization, and our work is done in accordance with Israeli law. Whether they are from Ethiopia or the Bnei Menashe from India, we work to bring Jews home to Israel,” Eckstein said.
In recent years, IFCJ has focused more on the conflict in the Gaza Strip, from where Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists have launched more than 1,000 rockets in recent years at Israel.
After the 2021 conflict in Gaza, the fellowship coordinated closely with the Israel Defense Force’s Homefront Command to secure vulnerable Israeli civilian areas by purchasing ambulances and funding the construction of bomb shelters, according to Eckstein.
“We built a bomb shelter over the NICU [neonatal intensive-care unit] at Barzilai Medical Center. Prior to that, the delivery unit at the hospital needed to move the babies to a secure area whenever a siren would go off,” she said. “There was even one instance where a woman in labor needed to be moved to a tiny bomb shelter the size of a broom closet in order to give birth to her baby.”
As the fellowship celebrates its 40th anniversary, Eckstein seeks new opportunities where her organization can help more people in Israel.
“Jews have friends among the Christian community. It is very exciting to see how Christian support for Israel has been developing ever since my father founded the fellowship 40 years ago,” she said. “Looking towards the future, we are constantly looking to work with as many partners as possible to provide humanitarian aid to those who need it.”
I understand why universities boast about their most famous graduates. But should a university boast about a graduate who has claimed that members of U.S. Congress are “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby?”
Brandeis University, where my daughter Alisa was a student when she was murdered in a suicide bombing in Israel in 1995 and where another one of my daughters graduated a few years later, recently took out a two-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times headlined “University Quotas Were a Polite Way of Telling Jews Where They Could Go.” The ad recalled the rise of antisemitism in the United States in the 1940s—which led to the founding of Brandeis—as well as “the dramatic rise in antisemitism” in recent years.
It then proceeded to list a handful of its most famous graduates—and one, ironically, is a newspaper columnist whose writings have, on occasion, echoed some of the most notorious themes in contemporary antisemitism.
I am referring to longtime New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
To be clear, I am not referring to Friedman’s incessant criticism of Israeli government policies, going back to the 1970s (when he was a student at Brandeis), and which he aimed at Labor and Likud governments alike. Yitzhak Rabin was the first prime minister of Israel whom Friedman publicly chastised, back in 1974. But that was perfectly legitimate.
And I am not referring to times when Friedman resorted to simple pettiness or ugly name-calling. For example, in his 1989 book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, he derided Israel as “Yad Vashem with an Air Force.” (That was during the years of a Labor-Likud coalition government, by the way.)
Rather, I am referring to the times when Friedman’s legitimate criticism took a dark turn and crossed the line into something else entirely.
In 2004, he wrote in The New York Times that Israel “had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office.” (Feb. 5, 2004)
In 2011, Friedman wrote that the standing ovations Israel’s prime minister received in Congress were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” (Dec. 13, 2011)
And in 2013, Friedman asserted in his column that “many American lawmakers [will] do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.” (Nov. 19, 2013)
The idea of the “Israel lobby” and the Israeli government paying and controlling Congress has been condemned by Jewish groups across the board as antisemitism.
When Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) made her infamous “all about the Benjamins” statement—something extremely similar to Friedman’s “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” statement—Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded:
“Words matter. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the U.S. and abroad, Rep. Omar is promoting the ugly, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have an outsized influence over politics. The notion that wealthy Jews are controlling the government is a longstanding anti-Semitic trope and one of the pillars of modern anti-Semitism, a retread of ideas spread by bigots from David Duke to Louis Farrakhan.”
And when Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) claimed that Jewish members of Congress and other congressional friends of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, called Tlaib’s statement “antisemitic.”
What the ADL said about Omar’s statement and what the Conference of Presidents said about Tlaib’s statement apply precisely to what Friedman has written—repeatedly—about “the Israel lobby.”
I understand why Brandeis boasts about its best-known alumni. That makes sense. It makes the university look good. But when an alum is known for raving about Jews controlling Congress—well, that is not the kind of person about whom you want to be boasting.
It doesn’t make the university look good at all.
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