Like many families, my parents are over 65, and were eligible for their COVID-19 vaccine in January. The day my folks were eligible, around five o’clock, my mom called exasperated that she couldn’t get an appointment through the telephone and the website was difficult to navigate. Consequently, I kept calling the hotline and refreshing the website for an hour. Eventually, I got through to an operator and my parents signed up. My parents are fairly tech savvy people, so it naturally begged the question, how are we going to get older adults vaccinated, especially ones who are not comfortable with computers? But more broadly, how has the pandemic changed seniors’ relationship with the internet?
According to the Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), 22 million seniors lack broadband internet at home. Just take a second and let that number sink in. Even before the pandemic, try and think about your home life without access to broadband. Now, throw in the pandemic, and it really makes you wonder how these seniors were able to take care of life’s necessities. This statistic might help explain why 25% of seniors are “socially isolated,” with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeling social isolation a “serious public health risk.”
It’s not just social interactions which have been disrupted because of the pandemic. Life’s daily routines like shopping and going to the doctor have moved online. The market research firm NPD Group’s Checkout Tracking reports that seniors in 2020 spent 60% more money online than they did in the previous year.
Obviously, getting seniors registered online for the vaccine brings its own set of challenges, even for those with easy internet access. Becky Preve from New York’s Association on Aging reports that seniors often lack email addresses, printers and are resistant to sharing personal health information over the web. All of this makes registering older Americans through the internet problematic. Regarding the phone, many seniors are hearing impaired, making phone calls difficult.
Fortunately, there has been both a government and nonprofit response. Last year New York City distributed 10,000 tablets to seniors with complimentary training, and the State of Georgia’s Division of Aging Services used money appropriated in the CARES Act to get older adults connected to the internet. Nonprofit organizations like OATS trained 48,000 older Americans on navigating the internet throughout the pandemic. Recently, local Area Agencies on Aging assisted with signing up for vaccines. Also, New York’s Rockland County arranged a call center, allowing older adults to speak with an operator that places them on a vaccine waiting list and arranges transportation to the appointment. “Most of my seniors, especially my older, older adults, are very scared, anxious and frustrated with the inability to register unless they had a computer,” said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo, the county’s aging office director. She indicated the office was, “getting inundated with calls from seniors who really didn’t know what to do and where to turn.”
Recently, OATS and the Humana Foundation released a report, “Aging Connected: Exposing the Hidden Connectivity Crisis for Older Adults,” that examines why millions of older adults still remain without the internet. Factors like disability, education level, geography, health status, immigration, income and race are important factors in determining connectivity for seniors. The report states:
“We found, using the most comprehensive data sets available and the most experienced researchers conducting analysis, that lack of home broadband correlated strongly with virtually all major categories of socioeconomic inequality. If you are over 65 and lack a high school diploma, live in poverty, are non-White or foreign-born, live alone, suffer from poor health or physical disability, are female, or live in a rural area, then digital privation is likely added to any burdens you endure. In a nation committed to promoting equal opportunity for our citizens and seeking to redress past and continuing injustices, the technology gap stands out as a force that divides us, leaving millions of vulnerable older adults without many of the benefits of the digital age.”
The report outlines four ways to bridge the digital divide with seniors. They suggest 1) Increasing awareness about the internet’s value 2) Prioritizing social equity and inclusion 3) Expanding affordable internet and 4) Producing programing tailored for older adults.
At the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services we advocate on behalf of our senior housing community on Capitol Hill. During our recent meetings we have been promoting internet expansion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) affordable senior housing community. Specifically, we are requesting $100 million dollars to expand senior internet connectivity in 3,300 communities. We believe this funding will help residents better connect with medical providers, family, friends and building staff. Fortunately, some of B’nai B’rith’s sponsored properties have already been able to get internet throughout the buildings. For example, in Allentown, Pennsylvania and Tucson, Arizona, our properties have building-wide Wi-Fi, enabling residents to connect their phones, tablets, computers and televisions to the internet. In Tucson, residents are able to check out laptops from the office and use them from the comfort of their own apartments.
Everyone should have access to broadband internet. The web has become a necessity and not a nicety. The pandemic has spotlighted the digital divide for seniors regarding internet connectivity. Hopefully, as we emerge from the pandemic, seniors will be afforded more opportunities for better internet access.
With Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting the Middle East this week, it’s time to do some real-time stock-taking before plunging into initiatives or prescriptives that could lead quickly to yet another round of fighting.
Unfortunately, the series of battles between Israel and Hamas invite the worst kind of conventional wisdom, which has been disproved time and again over the past 20 years: the moral equivalency, the rote professions of “Israel has a right to defend itself,” followed a week later from the same quarters by statements that the Jewish state must demonstrate restraint and that its response to Hamas must not be “disproportionate.” This is followed by the media’s near total ignoring of the lengths to which the Israelis go to protect civilians during warfare, and then facile calls for a two-state solution as the remedy for all this.
This horrible cycle of events suggests that few lessons have been learned over time.
Now, let’s take a look at some of these steps in greater detail.
Moral equivalency: it beggars the imagination that after all we know about Hamas — its charter (which calls for the destruction of Israel and is filled with antisemitic language), that it cynically uses human shields to protect its missile launchers and leadership hierarchy, and the fact that the organization is on the terrorism lists of many countries — why it is not held to account in the court of international public opinion?
The United Nations Security Council statement calling for an immediate ceasefire could not even bring itself to mention the word “Hamas” in its text.
When some members of Congress, in their Twitter hemorrhaging, can’t find a few characters to unequivocally condemn the indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians by 4,000 Hamas rockets, what should we expect from those in the media who react similarly in their coverage — or from the pro-Palestinian mobs that have begun attacking Jews in New York, Los Angeles, and in cites large and small around the world?
Rote professions: With the exception of countries like Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, which flew Israeli flags from government buildings in solidarity with the Jewish State, and Germany, which issued a strong statement in support of Israel, most democracies uttered only feeble confirmations of “Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Of course Israel has a right to defend itself; but this has become an obligatory and hollow statement, especially when followed only days later by calls to stop the fighting, interrupting Israel’s attempt to fully degrade Hamas’ ability to strike again.
If Hamas is on so many state terrorism lists, why not demand that Israel finish the job?
And this leads in to another glossed over aspect of the fighting: the extraordinary attention Israel pays to avoid civilian casualties.
The media plays, ad infinitum, video clips of imploding and bombed out buildings in Gaza. Notwithstanding Israel’s detailed explanation of how it deploys the “door knock” method of warning building inhabitants of imminent strikes, accompanied by drone surveillance to make sure civilians are not in the area; phone calls and text messages that are also sent as warnings; and Israel’s pinpoint identification of hundreds of military targets spread amongst Gaza’s civilian population, it seems that such care is dismissed — or, perhaps more to the point, gets in the way of the story the media wishes to tell, which is that Israel is callous (and often worse) when it comes to protecting civilians on the ground.
The rush to a two-state solution: in a perfect world, this would be the answer to resolving such an intractable conflict. But since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, we’ve learned a lot about Palestinian resistance — not reluctance — to concluding an agreement. The prospective partner in this case, the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected numerous attempts brokered by the United States and others to resolve the conflict. Not at Camp David in 2000, nor after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, not at the 2008 Annapolis Conference, nor after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conciliatory speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, nor during the Kerry Initiative of 2013-2014, did Abbas show serious interest in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and getting down to the business of concluding an end of conflict and renunciation of claims.
Just weeks before the disturbances on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the White House announced that it would resume funding to the PA, as well as resuming its substantial contributions to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which serves Palestinians in the region. The aid to UNRWA will resume, despite its innate corruption and its incitement of hate toward Israel and Jews in its network of schools and other organizations.
But despite the renewal of American aid, Abbas failed to send any signals to calm the situation. Instead, knowing his Fatah faction would be badly beaten in elections slated for March 22, he called off the vote, blaming Israel and, to boot, inciting and exhorting the mobs on the Temple Mount as a means of deflecting an outcry over his electoral decision.
A two-state solution, in the context of the current crisis, now seems more than unrealistic. Given the crisis of the past few weeks, we might one day be looking at Hamas rule not only to Israel’s south, but also to its east, in the West Bank. Why would any Israeli government, having lived through decades of terror and rocket attacks, look to make itself even more vulnerable?
And there’s one other abashedly glossed over and ignored piece of this puzzle: Hamas is in the thrall of Iran, which is seeking to completely surround Israel by well-armed proxies, all the time genocidally calling for “Zionism’s excision” from the Middle East.
All this, while the United States and its P5+1 partners (the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) eagerly pursue negotiations with Iran and a return to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement), which would remove sanctions imposed on Tehran for its nuclear program and its blatant attempts to advance it.
Many Hamas rockets and missiles are surely stamped “designed in or made in Iran.” Did the P5+1 condition future discussions with Iran on a cessation of its military relationship with Hamas and its other Gaza proxy, Islamic Jihad?
Hamas has thanked Iran for its help, and the Iranian leadership has congratulated Hamas on its “victory.” Need we better proof of what is going on here?
Simple formulations like “restoring calm,” reviving negotiations with rejectionist partners, and refusing to call out Iran’s role in the fighting will only bring about another round of battles, unless they are accompanied by tough and unequivocal demands. Hamas must be disarmed, the Iranian missile pipeline to Gaza must end, and the Palestinian Authority must get out of the business of speaking one way to Washington and European capitals, and another way to the people it says it represents.
This means recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, ending its call for a “right of return” for millions of refugees (now numbering over 5 million, according to a biased and hypocritical count by UNRWA), and an end to glorifying terrorists and riots, and paying salaries to terrorists who kill and attack Jews.
And one reminder to US policymakers this week — Israel is our ally and friend. Take a look at the correlation of voting at the United Nations; Israel votes more with the United States than our European allies. It shares our values, including the premium placed on human life. It is the only democracy in a Middle East filled with autocracies and worse. It has made tremendous contributions to improving the lives of all through medicine, science, technology, and more. And it is a country, ancient in time, but re-established in the last century on the ashes of a 12-year attempt to eliminate the Jewish people in its entirety.
It’s time to discard the “conventional wisdom” on Israel.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
As Palestinians and Israelis are again locked in conflict, innumerable citizen advocates aim to promote the side with which they identify. Supporters of Israel face structural disadvantages in a fight for hearts and minds that can have real-world implications. Here’s why.
Going back nearly a century, the Zionist position was not against the creation of a Palestinian Arab state, simply in favor of reviving the Jewish state alongside it.
By now, a pragmatist element of Palestinian leaders has technically accepted Israel’s existence but failed to abandon domestic messaging that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel. Moreover, jihadist groups like Hamas—which seized control of the Gaza Strip—remain openly committed to Israel’s destruction.
While this extremism might be expected to bolster the standing of Israel’s defenders, it deprives them of stridency that can resonate: Typically these defenders do remain on the defensive, while Palestinian activists go on the offense. Mainstream Israel-advocates appeal for coexistence, for calm. Often, however, pro-Palestinian voices demand “justice.” That can be impactful.
Justice can imply the existence of one victim and one villain, a convenient narrative in an era of zero-sum populism and social media platforms that favor easy-to-rouse hashtags. Anti-intellectual, “anti-elite” sentiment on the far-right is increasingly matched by disdain for moderation and nuance on the far-left.
And so, a tendency has hardened among some to see power as confirmation of unjust privilege—and also to recognize only certain forms of power. Palestinians are seen to be stateless and weaker than Israel militarily. But too many do not ask whether Palestinians have had opportunities for statehood, as they have, or whether Palestinians “offset” military inferiority, as their combatants do, through asymmetric warfare that exploits limitations on a uniformed military.
Too many see a blockade on Gaza, but not the violence and explicit threats that precipitated it. Too many see Israel’s relative strength, but not its longtime vulnerability in the midst of a vast Arab world, let alone nearly 60 Muslim-majority states at the United Nations.
The UN condemns Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, more than all other countries combined. UN bodies tend to dedicate extraordinary attention to Israel only after it responds to attacks—not before.
But the realities are even more daunting outside such halls of power. Not all Muslims or Jews are animated by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the fact that the world is home to some 1.5 billion Muslims and only around 15 million Jews affects what goes viral on social media, the size of solidarity rallies, and that which politicians and news outlets hear.
After a year of the pandemic, audiences are eager to change focus. Among Palestinians, the realization that more Arab governments have recently shifted toward accepting Israel has sparked a determination to regain visibility.
Progressives also perceive conservatives as generally supportive of Israel—and react by emphasizing Palestinian goals over regional peacemaking. Palestinian activists’ campaign to tie their nationalism to the Black Lives Matter movement—while stigmatizing Jews’ nationalism as “racist”—is giving their efforts yet another edge.
An under-appreciated reality is that there is little cost or risk to excoriating Israel, something that isn’t true of major world powers or authoritarian regimes.
Israel is one of the world’s smallest countries and it long lacked natural resources, in contrast with its oil-rich neighbors. With fewer than 10 million citizens, it does not wield a tremendous consumer market. Additionally, Israel remains isolated and boycotted by adversaries. Its assets are strained by the need for defense against relentless, recurrently existential, threats.
Despite this, political debate is always robust in Israel—which can do little to silence critics abroad.
The fact that many vilify the Jewish state does not confer guilt; it shows that detractors face few consequences for doing so.
Journalists are fallible. From story placement to selective data, and from editorializing in reportage to objective errors, providing true context to complex subjects is a tall order.
These hazards especially apply to Israel—the focus, quantitatively and qualitatively, of unsurpassed scrutiny. No other nation is so critiqued for counterterrorism efforts, let alone equated with terrorist aggressors. Why are terrorists described as such elsewhere but often called “militants” when their targets are Israelis? Why are Israeli leaders labeled “hard-line” but Palestinian nationalists, Lebanese or Iranians rarely are? Why are the terms “occupation” and “settler” applied to Israeli Jews but few others? Why does endemic Palestinian incitement go unreported?
More people have been killed in numerous countries than in Israeli operations against Hamas. Unequal reporting devalues the lives of those deemed unworthy of attention and advocacy.
Finally, at a time when new technology is available to document facts, imagery can also be manipulated—or tell just part of a story.
Are observers aware that Israel acts to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks (however successfully) to maximize them? Have readers been reminded that Palestinian violence spiked after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005? Do viewers know that Israel has maintained Muslim administration of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—Judaism’s holiest site?
Too often Palestinians are treated as powerless people, but Israel as a faceless state.
In reality, there is real suffering among both peoples—and each side holds critical responsibilities.
But this is likely too nuanced a message for the moment. Israel contends with asymmetric warfare not only on the battlefield but also in the battle for public opinion.
Read David's expert analysis in InsideSources.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
Today, May 14, marks one month since the judgment by the French Cour de Cassation, the country’s supreme court, in the case of the murder of Sarah Halimi. The court’s decision has caused international outrage and has deepened angst amongst France’s Jewish community.
It came in the context of persisting anti-Semitic assaults and vandalism undiminished by the COVID-19 lockdowns. From 2012 onward, high profile anti-Semitic crimes, terrorist attacks, murders, vandalism of Jewish places of worship, cemeteries and stores have plagued Europe’s largest Jewish community. Jews have moved out of certain areas of France, considered too unsafe to live, in what was coined the “internal Aliyah.” Despite this, and a large wave of actual Aliyah in 2015, French Jews by and large remain vocally committed to La Republique. The latest ruling in the Halimi case inevitably challenges this unwavering commitment, tested by much hardship over the past decade.
In the judgment, the Cour de Cassation ruled that Kobili Traoré would not stand trial for the murder of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish 65-year-old teacher and physician.
Traoré, a Mali-born French man with a long list of criminal convictions, broke into Sarah Halmi’s apartment on April 4, 2017, clubbed her in the head with a blunt object and threw her out of her window to her death.
The two were neighbours in the six-story building in the working-class neighborhood of Belleville in Paris. When they crossed paths in the hall, Traoré would sometimes call her and her daughter “dirty Jewesses.”
On the night of the murder, Traoré was heard by witnesses shouting: “Allahu Akbar, I killed the demon!”
When the case got to deposition, he stated for the record that he had felt “oppressed” by the sight of a Torah and a Menorah in Sarah Halimi’s home, which sparked the attack.
In the face of such blatant anti-Semitism, it had been already a cause of great concern that the court had taken nearly a year to at last confirm, in 2018, that anti-Semitism had been a motive in the case, something the prosecution had failed to establish well into the investigation. You can read more about persisting challenges to recognize anti-Semitic motives in France here.
As this initial challenge was finally overcome, four years after the murder and following several proceedings, the main question at issue was whether Traoré, who had a history of mental illness, had completely “abolished” judgment on the night of the attack or merely “altered” judgment.
Three expert panels were consulted by the court to determine this. The first expert psychiatrist concluded that the deterioration of Traoré’s mental state resulted from his massive consumption of cannabis and that he could therefore be referred to criminal court.
The second one, however, contradicted the first and held that he could not be held responsible because his drug abuse had only aggravated a pre-existing disorder.
More ambiguously, the third panel of experts argued instead that Traoré could not be held responsible because he had been in the middle of a bouffée délirante, a “sharp delusional puff,” a common diagnostic term used in France.
The court, which was not required to follow any of the experts, ultimately followed the latter. This means that Kobili Traoré will not stand trial for the brutal anti-Semitic murder of Sarah Halimi and will remain in the psychiatric institution where he has been kept ever since the attack.
Condemnations swiftly poured in. Across France, Europe and the world, tens of thousands of demonstrators went out on the streets to express their outrage.
B'nai B'rith France mobilized en masse, as they have all throughout this bitter process, from Paris to Marseille, from Nice to Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lille and across the entire country in support of the Halimi family.
“Should we legalise anti-Semitism?” the satirical Charlie Hebdo chimed in with a poignant and characteristically blunt cartoon.
Indeed, as many others have noted, the ruling has the perverse effect that the intentional use of drugs can be regarded as an exonerating factor in a hate crime.
Answering to public sentiment, the French government’s response was swift. “Deciding to take narcotics and then become 'crazed' should not in my eyes remove criminal responsibility," declared President Emmanuel Macron.
This was followed by an announcement by Justice Minister Eric Dupond Moretti that a new law would be presented in May that would do away with invoking this type of defense for anyone who voluntarily used drugs and alcohol before committing a crime.
Amending the law
Amending the law is essential in order to restore the trust of the French Jewish community, many of whom suffer the daily kind of harassment that Sarah Halimi encountered prior to her murder and who feel that this judgment does too little to protect them.
I should note that the fact that the law is unclear does not mean that French courts do not hold anyone under the influence of drugs accountable for their actions.
In another 2017 case, a man in Marseille under the influence of alcohol and drugs who broke into his neighbor's apartment and killed a dog by throwing it out of a 4th floor window was deemed criminally responsible and sentenced to two years imprisonment.
In contrast, in the Sarah Halimi case, the court, astonishingly, found that there could be no criminal responsibility because the law “itself does not make a distinction with regard to the origin of the mental disorder.”
The court missed the point: the indisputable self-confessed anti-Semitism of the killer
Of course, the question of Traoré’s responsibility is far from clear-cut. But what the experts, and eventually the court, have all failed to see is that the center of gravity in the case is not Traoré’s drug abuse or erratic behavior, but the indisputable self-confessed anti-Semitism that motivated him to commit a heinous crime.
It was anti-Semitism which led Kobili Traoré to target Sarah Halimi specifically, not “delusional mystical elements,” as one of the experts had claimed. And in doing so, he showed sufficient discernment. Not grasping this fundamental fact is probably the court’s biggest failure.
It could have weighed in on how the law fails to distinguish between a drug-addled delusional puff and outright insanity.
It could also have sought to clarify the question of legal responsibility. Instead, by doing neither it created an unacceptable state of impunity.
The lawyers of the Halimi family have vowed to seek justice both at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and in the Israeli court system. The latter is possible due to Sarah Halimi’s Israeli nationality. This is not unusual. For instance, in terrorism cases, France regularly claims jurisdiction when the victims are French citizens. A ruling on this anti-Semitic hate crime in Israeli courts would perhaps provide a modicum of justice for the Halimi family.
In the aftermath of the verdict, Jewish communities in France and across Europe are outraged at this denial of justice. They fear for their safety and that of their loved ones and feel that the justice system may no longer be on their side.
In dealing with this case, Europeans would do well not to dismiss this outpour of emotion as “hysteria.”
As we have seen, there are several legitimate grounds why the court’s decision is deeply flawed and the proposed amendment to the law must remedy this unjust state of affairs and ensure that the tragic fate of Sarah Halimi never befalls anyone else.
As the Passover seder begins, we read in the Haggadah that it is a mitzvah to talk about the miracles that happened when the Jews left Egypt. The more someone tells about it, the more they deserve to be praised. It is perhaps one reason that seders run long into the night—because there is so much to tell. The promise of praise is a good incentive to dive into the text and commentary.
Educators tell us that children need to be motivated to learn and praise has been shown to work best as that motivator. Recognition of achievement is good for personal growth and the development of character. We know that words matter. Words of encouragement and praise help, shaming and negative comments hurt. Coaches know that praise works. So do good employers, even when it must be accompanied with a suggestion or need to adjust or change.
On Friday night, as Shabbat is ushered into our homes, a tribute to the Jewish woman is said. The Eishes Chayil (Woman of Valor) blessing acknowledges how much a woman does to care for her household and the Jewish world. The last words tell us that she should be praised. Prayers are said, with many references of praise for God. There are also special prayers said on Shabbat that praise the individuals who provide for the needs of a community.
The praise of men and women at the time of their death is a tribute to them. The eulogies delivered by their children and family, friends or co-workers, are offerings of praise for their life and contribution to the world. We honor loved ones by speaking of their good deeds and commitment to their family. These words of praise are words of comfort for the mourners as it often evokes wonderful memories with the deceased.
The greeting card industry has mastered the praise of mothers, fathers, grandparents, couples and birthday celebrants. Most everything we use we buy as a consumer, often the result of an ad or a recommendation or praise by someone who has used it before us. We will see a movie or television show because we have heard it praised by reviewers.
Organizations such as B’nai B’rith are praised for the work they do on many levels in a community. This is often done via community proclamations in honor of a special anniversary year. Good wishes also come from a variety of government officials, citing the many good things that B’nai B’rith makes possible around the globe. The work it does benefits Jews and communities around the world.
I hope you are reading the media releases or articles shared by B’nai B’rith describing projects or programs taking place. Perhaps you see the news item that is picked up appearing in your local newspaper or on social media. It is the praise it deserves, often including praise of the people who make it possible. These posts often receive “likes” when they appear on Facebook. Help this praise go further by sharing the story. Forward it to someone you know and let them know how you feel about B’nai B’rith. If you have something to share with us, please do, as we do not always hear about activities that are done in the name of B’nai B’rith. Sometimes the planners are modest or they have been too busy doing the program to provide this last but important piece of publicity after the event.
If you want to support any of the work B’nai B’rith does, donations are examples of praise. If you want to bring a program to your community or learn more about B’nai B’rith programs, you can go to the B’nai B’rith website. Remember, there will be praise for your efforts!
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: