The outbreak of fires in Israel is already being termed “pyro-terrorism,” as at least 24 persons have been arrested over the past several days in connection to the blazes. With hundreds of homes destroyed ( by some estimates, half a billion shekels in damage in Haifa alone) and tens of thousands displaced, the total acreage burned now exceeds that which was destroyed in the Mt. Carmel fires six years ago.
Aiding and abetting those who may have started these fires have been messages carried by social media, praising the outbreak: according to Ynet News, one Tweet said “All of Israel’s neighbors must aid it — I suggest they send planes filled with gasoline and rain it down on the burning areas. I want to inhale the smell of barbecue from the Zionists.”
According to Haaretz, the hashtag #israelisburning included, among the thousands being sent, one from Fatma Alqu (“What a good day”), and another from Kamil (“Israel burns and I love it! What will you do VS Allah’s power you zionist (sic) dirt-bags…”). The Israeli media has published many others, from the Palestinians territories and the Arab world.
While the messages celebrate the wildfires, they also serve to exhort others who might want to join the party. But while this social media campaign is tied to the rash of blazes, the language used is from the same canon that has fueled incitement against Israel and Israelis for decades.
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the one constant on the Palestinian side has been incitement. Called upon to end it when the agreement was signed, it has remained a daily weapon deployed by Palestinian political and religious figures, the media and in schools. By now, the incitement roster is well known, including most recently, charges that Israel is poisoning Palestinian water supplies; has no connection (Israel and the Jewish people) to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; and denies medical care to Palestinian in the territories, a libelous charge if ever there was, given the hundreds of Palestinians treated in Israeli hospitals daily.
Indeed, a Palestinian baby born on the day the Oslo Accords were signed is now a 23-year-old adult raised on daily doses of hatred. So it should come as no surprise that this new (and surely there are others to follow) hashtag campaign is punctuated by the language of hate and a desire to see Israel’s end.
To be fair, the Palestinian Authority sent 50 firefighters to Israel to help extinguish the fires, a gesture which produced many Tweets from Israelis and others expressing appreciation (they joined more than 300 foreign firefighters from many countries, including Russia, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called PA President Mahmoud Abbas, to express thanks for the assistance, which the latter described as “humanitarian.” The Prime Minister’s office also noted that both Jews and Arabs opened their homes to victims of the blazes.
Perhaps the deployment of the firefighters is the gesture that breaks the ice over the stalled peace process. Whether it is, or is simply an aberration, time will soon tell. A new presidential administration will surely have its own assessment about the “process” and more broadly, the chaos and strategic wildfires burning out of control in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and by Iran’s unabashed support for terrorism and creeping hegemonism in the region.
The social media incitement and the #israelisburning campaign may not have originated in the PA’s Ramallah offices. But the years of incitement emanating from there, spewing out over so many years, provided the tinder for the matches of hatred thrown out on Twitter and Facebook during the course of the wildfires in Israel.
The PA and its leadership, if they were ever serious about a negotiated peace with Israel, have frittered away the past 20 years by, on the one hand, inciting its own people against Israel, and on the other, by counting on international support for the Palestinian narrative. The current hashtag campaign, and its incessant use of the United Nations and its agencies to further the Palestinian narrative, are the fruits of their labor. In the process, increasing numbers of Israelis ask if there is a serious partner for an accommodation — of any kind. Perhaps the fires in Israel and the language of the hashtag campaign are a wake-up call for those who have looked the other way at incitement against Israel. It is not a winning strategy. But past history would not be a cause for optimism on this point.
The social media revolution has given us the ability to immediately reach out to the public, to government officials and to colleagues, family and friends in unprecedented ways. It has also given those who hate the unimpeded opportunity to injure and maim in 140 characters or less, and to exhort others to join the fray, oftentimes, as we have now seen, with violent and dangerous consequences.
The social media campaign connected to the pyro-terrorism that has played out in Israel in recent days is a new strain of a growing virus.
Until now, the Palestinian leadership has seen no need to “educate for peace.” It should look at the content of the fire-related Tweets, and contemplate what that nihilistic policy has wrought.
The Times of Israel published a blog by loyal B'nai B'rith International member Jason Langsner, explaining why this giving season he’s donating to organizations that support the Jewish state, especially in the wake of the devastating fires in Israel.
As American Jewish families sat around our dinner tables to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Jewish Democratic State of Israel burned. We ate turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce as 75,000 Israelis evacuated their homes. We sliced pie while hundreds of Israelis and volunteers from friendly nations – and the Palestinian Authority – put their lives at risk to fight hundreds of fires that have displaced tens of thousands. It was certainly a challenging year to give thanks around our Thanksgiving tables as Israelis suffered half way across the world.
Yet, all of this heartache from the horror of the fires – allegedly and potentially caused by acts of arson – provides all in the Jewish diaspora a reason to be partially thankful.
We are thankful that not one life has been reportedly lost due to these fires, unlike the 40 lives lost due to the Carmel fires of 2010. Innocent people, regardless of their religion and race, were injured. Homes were destroyed. The environment was harmed. Government sources have announced that several of the alleged arsonists have been arrested and that they may be charged with acts of terror.
The damage to property and our Jewish homeland is immeasurable.
We can condemn those who allegedly started or incited the fires. And we can condemn the thousands that celebrated the disaster across social media. One man’s misery should never be another man’s joy. But we can remain partially thankful because we know that Israel will endure. Am y’israel chai.
Our spirit cannot be threatened with acts of arson. Our love for Israel will not be lost and fear will not consume us.
We will be thankful that we have a State of Israel. The only Jewish majority nation in the world. The only nation in the world that was created and sustains itself through Jewish values.
At the conclusion of the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City, every year, is a float with Santa Claus. This provides a transition for Americans from Thanksgiving to begin to think about the holidays – namely Christmas. Although most Jewish-Americans do not celebrate this holiday, except for those from intermarriage families, our first night of Hanukkah this year will be on the same day as Christmas Eve. And therefore, across America, we saw many Jewish-Americans embarking on Black Friday shopping after Thanksgiving.
I had no plans for my Black Friday shopping this year. I didn’t need to run out and buy a laptop, big screen TV, or this year’s hottest toy for my wonderful niece. I didn’t need nor did I leave my family Thanksgiving dinner to wait in line in the cold before the stores opened. But on Friday morning, I drove by a big box retail store, and decided to just stop in and walk around. As I pushed a cart around the aisles, I noticed that the retailer had SodaStream machines on sale.
I don’t drink soda, but I decided to buy one as a small gesture to support Israel while Israelis needed support as their country burned. I then drove home and went on the website of the Jewish National Fund where I purchased and donated trees to be planted in Israel. We have many that need to be replaced there now since the country burned. I then went on the website of Israel Bonds and purchased two – donating one to the Friends of the IDF and the second to the American Friends of Magen David Adom – to thank the fearless men and women fighting the fires that burned the country by supporting the organizations that support them. And then I went on Amazon Smile, ahead of Cyber Monday, where I made additional purchases for myself and for holiday gifts while selecting B’nai B’rith International (America’s first Jewish communal organization whose first lodge opened in Jerusalem in 1888) as the recipient of a charitable gift as a percentage of my purchases.
Tikkun olam tells me that the world is inherently broken and it is up to each of us to do our small part to try to repair it. These are small gestures to try to repair the world. You all can do the same.
I am saddened that the Jewish Democratic State of Israel remains a target for individuals who want to wish it harm. Setting a country ablaze does not bring peace. It does not bring understanding. It does not bring compassion.
I remain thankful that Israel will endure. And I want to thank all who actively or passively took steps to support Israel in her time of need. From those volunteering to fight the fires, to those sharing Facebook posts and tweets about stories about the fire response efforts – since most American media were not reporting on it – I thank you.
Since American media was not widely reporting on the story of Israel burning, I thank Israeli media and social media for providing regular updates to concerned Jewish citizens around the world.
I thank the Cyprus and Greek governments for being two of the first nations to send assistance to Israel:
I recall a heartfelt statement by one of the Greek pilots who left his family to volunteer to fight the fires in Israel. In describing the Greek people, the pilot said, “we are your friends, and we are always here for you.”
In the week prior to the fires starting in Israel and the Greek pilot sharing a message of friendship, I sat on a panel in the shadows of Newark-Liberty International Airport in New Jersey at a conference held by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation on the “Future of Hellenism in America.” As a guest panelist, I was asked to speak about the Jewish diaspora experience and how it relates to the Hellenic diaspora experience in America. I was joined on the panel by the previous Greek ambassador to the United States, Greek-American academics, and Greek-American business/civic leaders.
The statement of the Greek pilot was not made in a vacuum. The Greek and Cyprus communities are the friends of Israel and the friends of the Jewish people. And that is mutual. The Jewish community in America and the Israeli community are friends of Greece and Cyprus too. It was evident in the conference and it is evident a week later with the Greek and Cypriot response to Israel’s fires.
Therefore, on this upcoming #GivingTuesday, I encourage you to make gifts to the Jewish, Israeli, or Greek organizations – like the American Hellenic Institute – that are meaningful to you since the world is inherently broken. And we must all do our small parts to repair it one mitzvah, or good deed, at a time. Whether that be rebuilding Israel from these fires one tree and brick at a time or for thanking our friends who helped us in our time of need.
Jerusalem Post: Analysis – What can be done about Europe’s listless pursuit of Hezbollah terrorists?
The Jerusalem Post posted an article about the slow pace and "lethargy" surrounding the search for and prosecution of terrorists who strike Europe. In the story, B'nai B'rith Bulgaria leader Solomon Bali is quoted extensively.
After murdering five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver in 2012, two Hezbollah operatives who were put on trial in absentia on Thursday at a Sofia court remain secure in Lebanon. The lethargy surrounding the efforts to capture the two mirrors the glacial-like pace of the trial.
Procedural difficulties in serving legal notification to all of the Israeli victims, including 32 wounded in the terrorist attack in Burgas, caused a second postponement until December 12.
“Iran and Hezbollah were behind the Burgas bombing, just as they were responsible for the atrocities in Argentina. But in Europe, the fear of confronting both are daunting, as they have been for many years,” Prof. Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor and lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The former head of Bulgaria’s counter-terrorism unit and the US government believe both suspects – Lebanese-Canadian Hassan el-Hajj Hassan and Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah – are in Lebanon. In a sign of waning enthusiasm, there has been no significant action to compel the Lebanese government to extradite the Hezbollah operatives.
Bulgaria asked the Lebanese to cooperate in 2013, but was swiftly rebuffed. Bulgarian officials have been tight-lipped about their plan to arrest the men.
Bulgaria has not publicly summoned the Iranian and Lebanese ambassadors to demand that their countries aggressively pursue the capture of the terrorists. Bulgaria has not replicated diplomatic action like that of the Netherlands in 2011, following the execution of Zahra Bahrami, a dual Iranian-Dutch national.
She was most likely executed for her participation in the pro-democracy Green movement in 2009 against Iran’s clerical regime.
As a result of the execution, the Netherlands suspended diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Netherlands labels Hezbollah’s entire organization as a terrorist militia.
Why hasn’t Bulgaria cut diplomatic relations with Lebanon over the harboring of suspects who murdered Mustafa Kyosev, a 36-year-old Bulgarian Muslim whose widow and daughter are struggling to survive.
In sharp contrast to the vigorous pursuit of jihadists who executed scores of people in Paris and Bremen, political inertia, wittingly or unwittingly, has taken over Europe’s desire to capture the Hezbollah operatives believed to be responsible for Burgas.
Solomon Bali, who serves as a mentor for the B’nai B’rith lodge in Sofia, told the Post, “Unfortunately, when it comes to terrorist acts in poor countries, these attacks are easily forgotten.
The international attention to them is limited. The case in Burgas had a very important impact on the international treatment of Hezbollah.” He cited the EU’s decision to designate Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization in 2013.
“They [Bulgaria and EU authorities] should do more, but I am skeptical of their willingness and their capacity to do so,” said Bali, adding they can “use the decision [2013 EU terrorist listing] as a reason to act. If someone wants to make the life of terrorists difficult, they can.”
Bali said the distinction of Hezbollah into political and military wings is bogus. Steinberg, on a similar note, said, “Instead of isolating Hezbollah, the EU maintains the fiction of a ‘military wing,’ which is classified as a terrorist organization, and a separate ‘political wing,’ which continues to raise funds and build terrorist infrastructure. This is absurd.
“And regarding the Iranian regime, European hopes for lucrative business contracts take precedence over the ‘moral principles’ that ostensibly guide foreign policy. Until these fictions are confronted, the victims of terrorism and their families, including from the Burgas attack, will not see justice done,” added Steinberg.
The US Senate and Congress have passed resolutions this year calling on Europe to outlaw all of Hezbollah. In a March speech at AIPA C’s policy conference, Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton said, “And we must work closely with Israel and other partners to cut off the flow of money and arms from Iran to Hezbollah. If the Arab League can designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, surely it is time for our friends in Europe and the rest of the international community to do so as well and to do that now.”
US President-elect Donald Trump recognized the role of the troika of Islamic terrorism: Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran. In an early November statement from Jason Dov Greenblatt and David Friedman, co-chairmen of the Israel Advisory Committee to Donald J. Trump, wrote: “Despite the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, the US State Department recently designated Iran, yet again, as the leading state sponsor of terrorism, putting the Middle East particularly, but the whole world at risk by financing, arming, and training terrorist groups operating around the world, including Hamas, Hezbollah.”
To judge by the 2013 classification of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist entity – and the role of the US government in twisting the EU’s arm – the Trump administration will be the decisive factor in pushing the EU to outlaw all of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Lebanese militia within its territory.
Algemeiner: Leading American Jewish Groups Congratulate Trump on Poll-Defying Victory, Call for Post-Election Unity
B’nai B’rith International’s letter of congratulations to President-elect Donald Trump was quoted in an Algemeiner story covering the Jewish community’s reaction to the election results.
American Jewish groups were among those congratulating President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday after his poll-defying victory over Democratic Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s election.
In a statement, Stephen M. Greenberg — chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — and Malcolm Hoenlein — the group’s executive vice chairman — said they welcomed Trump’s “clear commitment to be a president for all Americans and to ‘bind the wounds of division’ after a long and bruising campaign…The Conference stands ready to contribute to the hard work of healing the divides in our country which were revealed at times in stark terms during the campaign.”
Furthermore, Greenberg and Hoenlein said, “we look forward to working with President-elect Trump and his advisors in the transition before his inauguration and in the years to come during his presidency on the issues facing our country, as well as of specific concern to the American Jewish community including strengthening the special US-Israel relationship, the rise of antisemitism and the security of the Jewish people at home and abroad.”
Greenberg and Hoenlein also commended Clinton “on her hard fought campaign” and extended “our deepest gratitude for her lifelong accomplishments in public service on behalf of the American people.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris also extended well-wishes to Trump and expressed hope his administration would “take early steps to reach out to every American, including concerned minority communities across the land; reaffirm our links to our friends across the globe; and, in the months and years to come, advance peace, security and prosperity for our nation and the world.”
Speaking with The Algemeiner on Wednesday, Rabbi Abraham Cooper — associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles — said, “It’s clear Trump will be a great supporter of the State of Israel and of the commitment to recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal unified capital of the Jewish people.”
“The Simon Wiesenthal Center looks forward to working with Trump on a wide range of issues — first and foremost Israel, as well as Iran, human rights, antisemitism and also the climate on US campuses for Jewish students,” Cooper continued. “It’s going to be a full menu.”
“In his victory speech,” Cooper said, “Trump made a commitment to be the president of and for all the people, including those who didn’t vote for him and the many who are worried and fearful about the future course of the country. I think that this commitment to begin a healing process for what is a very fractured society is extraordinarily important.”
In a letter sent to Trump on Wednesday, Gary P. Saltzman — B’nai B’rith International’s president — and Daniel S. Mariaschin — the group’s executive vice president — wrote, “Among the pressing issues we know you will face in the coming months are domestic concerns such as the economy, health care, our immigration system, and the needs of America’s seniors. The challenges abroad are no less imposing, as an unsettled Middle East, the threat of terrorism, and an aggressively hostile Iran will surely command the concerted attention of your administration.”
“B’nai B’rith,” they continued, “applauds your stated commitment to Israel’s security and your pledge to do everything in your power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. We recognize that American leadership — and America’s crucial partnership with its democratic ally Israel — are essential to our shared goal of a peaceful and stable Middle East. It greatly reassures us, therefore, to know that Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy and a country that has battled terror and aggression since its independence, will have a staunch ally in the president of the United States.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said in statement, “AIPAC congratulates President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on their election victory. We also congratulate the elected and re-elected senators and representatives who will be part of the most pro-Israel Congress ever, and look forward to working with them and the new administration to further strengthen the US-Israel relationship… Despite their deep differences on a range of issues, both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates notably shared a common commitment to the US-Israel alliance. Strong bipartisan support for the Jewish state is also reflected overwhelmingly in the incoming Congress. We look forward to working with the new Congress on key legislative initiatives to strengthen the relationship between our two democracies. This election once again demonstrates that support for Israel transcends partisan differences. The shared values and common interests between the United States and Israel are great constants that endure.”
Matt Brooks — the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) — said in a statement, “The RJC could not be happier with the election of Donald Trump and our Senate and House majorities…[Tuesday’s] historic victory for Republicans up and down the ticket is a sound rejection of the failed policies of the Obama administration. Whether it’s the Iran nuclear deal, or the erosion of support for Israel in the Democrat Party, it’s clear the American people are ready to turn the page on the past eight years.”
However, Brooks went on to say, “after a long, grueling campaign, it’s time for the nation to come together. While there are bound to be bruises on both sides of the aisle — Republicans, Democrats, and independents must move forward and heal our differences, for the good of the country.”
In a statement, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Chair Marvin D. Nathan and ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said, “We welcome Mr. Trump’s pledge that he will be president for all Americans, and that he will seek the common ground and reconciliation that has been the hallmark of American elections and the transitions that follow. Democracy is more than simply what occurs at the ballot box or during a particular election. Democracy encompasses the full collection of our laws, our norms and institutions that enshrine and protect our freedoms. That work begins today to reinvigorate the idealism of ‘E pluribus unum’ and to ensure that America remains a land of economic opportunity and personal freedom for all people regardless of their gender, race, class, faith, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political preference.”
The Reform Jewish Movement said in a statement, “The people have voted and American democracy is strong. We respect that vote and we extend our hand to President-elect Trump…[Trump] has the opportunity to use his office to bring Americans together, and to move us toward a brighter future. If he does so, we will be ready to work with him for the common good. If he does not, we also stand ready to be fierce advocates for the values that guide us: inclusivity, justice and compassion.”
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein said in a statement, “The [ZOA] happily congratulates President-elect Donald J. Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, their beautiful families, their national advisers, their Israel advisory co-chairs Jason Dov Greenblatt and David Friedman, and the entire Trump/Pence campaign team on their historic victory last night…We look forward to a Trump/Pence administration that will rebuild America, heal America’s internal divisions, inspire all Americans and people throughout the world, and be a great friend to the State of Israel.”
This story appeared in the latest edition of The Jerusalem Post Magazine and was written by Cuban Jewish Relief Project alumnus Jill Wagner.
From afar these fresh faced teenagers look like they could be cast on a billboard – advertising the good life. They are diverse: dark, tanned skin topped with shiny brown hair; Blonde tresses framing sparkling blue eyes; these teens are slender and stylish. They’re waist-deep in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean, splashing and teasing each other, laughing and gossiping. In so many ways they are just like typical teens. Except, they are not.
These dozen or so teens make up a large portion of Havana’s young Jewish community. If they decide to leave Cuba – to start a new life with more opportunity in Israel, the United States or Panama – they’ll take what’s left of Cuba’s once-thriving Jewish community with them.
In other words, the future of Cuban Jewry rests on their shoulders.
At its height, Cuba was home to roughly 20,000 Jews. Now that number teeters around 1,000, depending on whom you ask. Most of the community is elderly. By most estimates, only about 75-100 Jewish teens and 20-somethings currently live in Cuba.
We met this group during a B’nai B’rith mission to Havana in the spring.
The program’s goal is to provide support to the Jews living there, and learn about Jewish culture and identity in Cuba.
Our group consisted of seven young Jewish professionals from the US.
Admittedly, when I signed up for the trip a few months prior I saw it as a vehicle to visit – legally – the isolated island nation. At the time, I was more interested in smoking a Cuban cigar and cruising around Havana in a 1950s Chevy than exploring Cuba’s Jewish roots. That changed before we even left for the airport.
Our group met at a hotel in Miami.
Trip organizers told us to bring an extra carry-on bag and fill it with 15 pounds of supplies; everything from notebooks and crayons for the kids to walkers and adult diapers for the senior citizens. It wasn’t until our group met in a hotel conference room to sort through our bags that it really sunk in: If we don’t physically bring these items with us, there’s a pretty good chance the community there will never have them.
Sienna Girgenti, the assistant director for the International Center for Human rights and Public Policy at B’Nai B’rith, says the organization is in constant communication with the local leaders on the ground, who relay the needs of the community. Many medicines and other supplies are simply not produced or accessible in Cuba. And if and when they are, they’re sold at a premium, often on the black market.
We arrived in Cuba the next morning.
It’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped out of a time machine. Everything, from the cars to the plumbing system, seems like it’s still in the 1950s.
We take in the sites: Revolution Square with its massive statues of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara; the Malecon, Old Havana. We’re just about 300 miles (483 km.) from Miami but it feels like a different world.
Our Jewish tour begins the next day.
First stop: Temple Beth Shalom, the Conservative Synagogue in Havana.
It’s here that we first meet the dozen or so Jewish teenagers. Many of their grandparents and great grandparents fled Europe during the Holocaust. Some hoped to take refuge in America but found safe haven in Cuba instead. Others have Cuban roots that go back before that; great grandparents who left Turkey after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
REGARDLESS OF why they came – or when – Jewish-Cuban life before the Revolution was pretty good. Anti-Semitism was mostly non-existent, and the Jewish community could practice their religion, open businesses and live freely.
Things changed in 1959 when Fidel Castro led the Communist Revolution and overthrew the government.
Roughly 95 percent of the Jewish Cubans left, mostly for the US, Argentina and Israel. What happened to the other five percent? They either didn’t have the resources – or the will – to pick up and start over once again. And six decades later, what’s left is a small but resilient Cuban-Jewish community.
Adela Dworin runs the Conservative Synagogue and is somewhat of a de jure ambassador to Cuba, welcoming Jews from around the world when they visit.
She’s in her 80s; her parents came here from Eastern Europe and stayed during and after the Revolution.
Dworin paints a rosy picture of life under communism. She says she once invited Fidel Castro to a Hanukka party. He didn’t know what Hanukka was so she explained it in a way he would understand: it’s “a revolution of the Jews.” Adela says Castro liked what he heard and showed up. It feels like she’s told that story a hundred times before – as evidence of some type of coexistence (real or fabricated) of Jewish life and Communism – and will likely tell it a hundred times more, but it elicited the expected chuckle.
She gave us a tour of the synagogue and Jewish center, which includes a library and computer area, where the teens checked Facebook and Instagram.
There’s even a pharmacy with shelves filled with medicine. It’s paid for and maintained mostly with donations.
The money doesn’t just go to the Jewish community. The Creating Horizons Tikun Olam Project works with the Cuban population, offering dance classes and English lessons.
We served the kids there some snacks and gave them some of the books we brought from the US. The only real sign of Jewish identity is a memorial that traces the history of Nazism, the Holocaust, and the role that Cuba played in welcoming Jews who were fleeing Eastern Europe.
Another stop during our visit: one of Havana’s century-old Jewish cemeteries.
It’s run down, with weeds growing over grave stones, signs of vandalism and an overall feeling of abandonment.
William Miller, whose grandfather was a pillar in the Jewish community and is buried in the cemetery, explained the problem: The Cuban Jewish community relies on donations from abroad, and it’s hard to ask people to give money for the dead when there is so much need amongst the living.
However, the highlight of the trip was getting to know the group of Jewish teens and 20-somethings.
We met the group at the beach for Shabbatan, or a celebration held on Shabbat. Technically, Americans are still not allowed to visit Cuba for tourism purposes, so had it not been for the religious component of our day, our group wouldn’t have been able to spend time at the beach. (And considering the crystal clear water and white sand that would have been a great shame.) Most of the young people we’ve met have been to Israel through programs like Birthright or by participating in the Maccabi games. Some had recently returned from the Pan American games in Chile.
Our group leader, Sienna, explained that up until just two years ago it was extremely difficult for Cubans to get out of the country. Not only were they required to get a visa for their destination country – no easy feat in and of itself – but were also required to receive authorization from the Cuban government for their travels.
Today, the government has eliminated the need to receive Cuban authorization, although travelers still need to get a visa for travel.
Over lunch, a conversation in “Spanglish” and facilitated by a member of our group who speaks Spanish, revealed the complex relationship the young people have with Cuba. We sat with two sisters and their friend. They told us they feel a connection to this country, but it’s not an easy life. And future opportunities are limited.
Most of them said they would want to move to the US but that they are not really optimistic about the thawing of US/Cuban relations.
AT THE END of 2014, the Obama administration announced it would work to normalize relations between the US and Cuba. The new rules make it easier for US companies to establish a presence in Cuba, and ease trade and travel restrictions.
Since then, a handful of American airlines have been given permission to fly commercial flights between the US and Cuba. Starwood Hotels & Resorts said it would pump millions of dollars into revitalizing three Cuban hotels. Even tech companies like Google said they’d work to bring high-speed Internet to the island.
The girls told us they don’t believe much, if any, of the economic opportunities will trickle down to the people who need them most. We asked them what would happen if the US opened its border to let Cubans in. They said, without hesitation, everyone would leave.
Most Cubans are employed by the government. Up until recently, they were all employed by the government. School is free. But once you graduate, salaries are set, and everyone from doctors to waiters bring home a similar paycheck.
Even on the higher end of the scale, it’s not always enough to make ends meet.
In the past few years, the government has allowed private businesses to open, but it’s still a relatively small percentage of the population who own them.
If their relationship to Cuba is conflicted, the members of the Jewish community’s relationship to Judaism is not. For the most part, they’re the product of mixed marriages or conversions. Still, they have a strong Jewish identity, have been bar/bat mitzva-ed and either by necessity or desire, seem to spend a big portion of their time at the Jewish Center. After lunch they lead a prayer service that puts most of our group to shame.
In some ways, watching the young members of the community on the beach is like watching the last of the dinosaurs.
Most of them – like young people of every religion in Cuba – want to leave.
There’s a long, rich history of Jewish life in the country. Cuban Jews have made contributions in many sectors, from the sugar to the clothing industries. And for many, Cuba saved them from Hitler’s reach. Still, it’s easy to understand why young Cuban Jews feel they’d have a better life elsewhere.
David Cheni, 25, is moving as soon as he finishes college. He tells me he’s torn about the prospect. He doesn’t want to leave friends and family, and is ultimately aware that if all of his friends follow his lead, in a couple of decades there will be no more Jews left in Cuba.
The Jerusalem Post ran a story on a group of BDS teachers in Germany and quoted Charlotte Knobloch, head of Munich’s Jewish community and a Holocaust survivor, who slammed BDS activist and teacher Christoph Glanz and the entire movement BDS movement in a speech titled “Antisemitism is again respectable” that she gave on in November at a B’nai B’rith event in Frankfurt held in her honor.
A group teachers from the German city of Oldenburg recently launched a boycott campaign against Israel.
Trade-union leaders in Israel and the US urged the federal German teachers’ labor organization this week to take action, including legal measures, against educators in the city of Oldenburg for their call to impose a full boycott on the Jewish state.
“The long-lasting connections and relationship between ITU [Israel Teachers Union] and the GEW [Education and Science Workers’ Union] are based on both genuine support and deep friendship,” ITU general secretary Joseph Wasserman told The Jerusalem Post. “ITU trusts GEW’s leadership to take the appropriate, legal measures against anyone endorsing antisemitism or BDS against Israel. These acts are in deep contradiction with the basic perception and beliefs of the GEW in particular and the German state today in general.”
A group of Oldenburg teachers, including members from the GEW leadership in Lower Saxony, recently launched a boycott campaign against Israel. The union published a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions article by public-school teacher Christoph Glanz in the September issue of their group’s magazine.
“We know that the GEW and the ITU have always had and continue to have a deep and positive relationship,” wrote Stuart Appelbaum, the US president of the Jewish Labor Committee. “The statements of the one GEW local in Oldenburg is an aberration, and we are confident that the GEW will take necessary and appropriate steps to counter anyone making antisemitic statements or endorsing BDS.”
The Jewish Labor Committee was founded in 1934 by leaders of major US unions in response to the rise of Nazism in Europe.
The head of the GEW’s national union, Marlis Tepe, did not respond to media queries.
The local GEW doubled down on its opposition to Israel. Heinz Bührmann, chairman of the local, scrubbed the union’s website of an anti-BDS statement and replaced it with an article slamming Israel titled “Palestinian schools under occupation.” The article was posted twice, each time as one of the lead articles on the site.
The local union’s treasurer Sabine Nier defended the boycott in a letter to the editor of the regional NWZ newspaper. Nier declined to respond to press queries.
The first boycott call against Jews by a mass German organization since the Holocaust has sparked an intense public row.
After the Hitler-era National Socialist Teachers League was disbanded, the GEW was formed as its successor. The Nazi teachers’ union paper Reich Journal of the German Educators stressed the necessity of the destruction of the “Jewish race” in Europe.
Critics accuse Glanz of promoting antisemitism, encouraging Palestinian violence against Israelis, playing down the Holocaust, and seeking the elimination of Israel.
Glanz said it would not be absurd to eradicate the Jewish state and relocate it to Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany. On his Facebook page, Glanz posted a picture of himself standing next to a mural that depicts a Palestinian wearing a keffiyeh aiming a slingshot.
He wrote above the photograph, “feeling definitely not neutral.”
Glanz refused to respond to queries from the Post.
Charlotte Knobloch, head of Munich’s Jewish community and a Holocaust survivor, slammed Glanz and the BDS movement in a speech titled “Antisemitism is again respectable” that she gave on Monday at a B’nai B’rith event in Frankfurt held in her honor.
“The debate in Oldenburg over the BDS activist and teacher Christoph Glanz is only one example that stands for an exemplary ludicrous and devastating development,” she said, adding that there is “fertile soil” for BDS in Germany.
“Most of the critics of Israel are not interested in human rights in other places,” said Knobloch.
“They are indifferent to Syria, Somalia, Iran, Saudi Arabia.”
In response to a pro-BDS talk by Glanz in Munich last year, Knobloch told the Post at the time: “The BDS campaign disguises the socially unacceptable ‘Don’t buy from Jews!’ as a modernized form of Nazi jargon by demanding ‘Don’t buy from the Jewish State.’” In Monday’s speech, she said that “antisemites must be demasked and ostracized” in connection with hatred of Israel.
the Algemeiner: 500th Anniversary of Reformation Would be ‘Perfect Time’ for Protestants to Apologize for Luther’s Antisemitism, US Jewish Official Says
B'nai B'rith International Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels was quoted in an Algemeiner article on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Michaels discussed Protestant founder Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. Luther, known for posting the 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, openly expressed his hatred toward the Jewish people.
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation would be the “perfect time” for Protestant leaders to recognize and apologize for the “horrific antisemitism” of their movement’s founder Martin Luther, an official with a leading US-based Jewish human rights organization told The Algemeiner on Monday.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper — associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles — spoke with The Algemeiner the same day Pope Francis visited a Lutheran cathedral in Sweden in a show of inter-Christian unity at the start of year-long festivities marking the anniversary of when Luther famously posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.
“It would be appropriate, especially when antisemitism is so rife in Europe for Protestant leaders and groups, like the World Council of Churches, to directly address the issue [of Luther’s antisemitism] in the overall context of what they’re celebrating in terms of this anniversary,” Cooper said.
Luther’s loathing of Jews, Cooper went on to say, “is a theological hatred that still reverberates among some people today.”
In an interview with The Algemeiner on Monday, David Michaels — B’nai B’rith International’s director of UN and Intercommunal Affairs — said, “A number of individual Lutheran church bodies and figures have taken steps over the years to acknowledge, grapple with and repudiate the antisemitism that Luther ultimately promoted. This vile and violent antisemitism — targeting both Jews and Judaism — was both an outgrowth of and a significant contribution to Christian anti-Jewish animus, especially in Europe, where its influence was still felt in the implementation of the Holocaust. However, its motifs, like a virus, have spread even beyond — they can be found in much of the Middle East today, in 2016, directed against Israel but also Jews generally. This reality requires committed Lutherans and other Christians to ensure that there is fitting recognition and rejection of Luther’s hateful beliefs about Jews, wherever these persist.”
Many Lutherans, Michaels noted, “are entirely unaware of the dark side to Luther’s theology, and of the need to vigilantly confront it.”
“It is so important, then, that all Lutheran bodies and figures of influence shine a light on the sin of antisemitism, both historic and contemporary — whether by educating clergy about its incompatibility with genuine faith, sermonizing against it or recognizing it even during events surrounding the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation,” he continued.
The biggest modern-day challenge, Michaels said, is identifying antisemitism “when this form of bigotry has taken new shapes — primarily the demonizing and delegitimizing of ‘Zionists’ and the world’s only Jewish state. While the Arab-Israeli conflict is complex and tragic, sadly even the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has made positive past contributions to healing relations with Jews, adopted this year a simplistically condemnatory assessment of Israel and showed disinterest in Israeli Jews’ need and right to protect themselves against those driven by a viciously extremist ideology.”
Regarding the pope’s visit to Sweden on Monday, Michaels, said, “Engagement between Catholics and Lutherans is for those communities to manage. What is important is that all Christians, and all people of decency, never assume that antisemitism is merely a thing of the past — and always ensure that they have no part in tolerating it today.”
Cooper took the opportunity to call on the pope to condemn the recent UNESCO votes that “not only were an outrage against Jewish history, but also erased Christian history. We are very disappointed by his silence and we hope he will weigh in when it still counts.”
Last month, Christianity Today reported on calls that were being made to remove an antisemitic sculpture from the façade of a church in Wittenberg where Luther preached.
In its November newsletter, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies wrote about the conference it held in February in partnership with B'nai B'rith International on Mediterranean security and, specifically, on the Eastern Mediterranean as a strategic environment. The conference was the first of its kind. Read the excerpt from the newsletter below.
JTA News ran a story on where Jewish groups stand when it comes to a number of issues being voted on this election day through ballot measures and quoted B'nai B'rith International.
Marijuana? Greater availability. Cigarettes? Less availability. Justice reform? We’re there. Guns? Fewer, please. Charter schools? Also fewer.
Beneath the cacophony of calls in the presidential campaign to build walls, end sexual assault, stop race baiting and “lock her up” are a host of ballot measures of compelling Jewish interest.
Jewish officials, naturally, are preoccupied with the top of the ticket, although with some notable exceptions have refrained from pronouncing on the record because of tax rules governing nonprofits and partisanship.
But ballot measures are not partisan, at least formally, so Jewish groups are less reticent in promoting and opposing measures that would fund new initiatives or change constitutions.
Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan professional clearinghouse for campaign information, lists 162 statewide ballot measures in 35 states, potentially affecting 205 million people.
Jewish groups are watching a number of these closely, and in some cases have taken on advocacy roles. The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, an umbrella for 52 groups, has rounded up affiliates’ activities in the states ahead of Nov. 8.
Here’s a review of some ballot measures:
California’s Proposition 57 may be attracting more Jewish support than any other state ballot, with advocates of its passage including the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, the National Council of Jewish Women and Bend the Arc.
Should it be approved by a majority of voters, the proposition would increase opportunities for nonviolent offenders to obtain parole, as well as transfer to judges from prosecutors the discretion to try minors as adults.
The Religious Action Center has made Prop 57’s passage a hallmark of its Tikkun Tikvah campaign, “a statewide campaign of California Reform congregations to reform the state’s criminal justice system.”
“For this measure to win on the November ballot, we must educate the Jewish community about sentencing reform and partner with congregations of color to make sure those most affected by the measure turn out to vote,” the center said in a fact sheet on the measure.
Bend the Arc, the liberal Jewish social justice advocacy group, has published a 13-page guide on California’s ballot initiatives, and its emphasis is on justice reform. It endorses Prop 57 as well as Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty in the state. (National Council of Jewish Women is also advocating for Prop 62 and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights backs it, although the group is not directly involved in advocacy.)
Bend the Arc argues that Prop 57 would redress imbalances that lead to disproportionate sentencing of African-American and Latino minors by transferring discretion to judges on whether they should be tried as adults. It quotes Maimonides: “The release of prisoners takes priority over the maintenance of the poor.”
There are nine states with initiatives related to marijuana legalization, more than any other issue.
Bend the Arc backs Proposition 64, which would add California to the four states and the District of Columbia where marijuana has been approved for recreational use. Medical marijuana is already legal in California.
“The strong case to support marijuana legalization on the basis of Jewish values stems from the deeply harmful impacts of the war on drugs marked by discrimination, mass incarceration, and gross misdiagnosis of the solution to addiction,” the group’s California ballot guide argues. “Jewish texts drive us to take responsibility for those around us. The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) states: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.’”
B’nai B’rith International, a leader in the Jewish community in health care advocacy, is also tracking marijuana ballots.
“Because so many of the serious and chronic conditions for which marijuana is prescribed (or used) are more common among older adults, we are interested in developments in this area,” said its spokeswoman, Sharon Bender. ” We are aware that state laws loosening restrictions are often in conflict with federal policy and that there are no simple answers from a policy perspective.”
California’s Proposition 56 would add a tax increasing the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $2. The money would go to public education on the dangers of smoking.
Bend the Arc also favors this proposition, arguing that “inequities in smoking and tobacco-related disease persist across the country by race, ethnicity, education level, and socioeconomic status.”
Four states have gun control initiatives in four states. California, Maine and Nevada would increase background checks for gun and ammunition purchases. In Washington, Initiative 1491 would allow police, family and roommates to petition courts for “extreme risk protection orders” that would separate an at-risk person from his gun for up to a year.
Groups favoring the measures in some or all of the states include the National Council of Jewish Women, Bend the Arc, B’nai B’rith and T’ruah.
“These kinds of state measures are an end run around federal gridlock,” said Bender of B’nai B’rith.
NCJW backs gun controls, said Cheryl Berenson, the group’s Washington state policy advocate, in part because of the lead role the group takes in combating domestic violence.
“Women are the ones who are the most highly likely to be injured or killed” by guns, she said.
In the case of Washington’s Jewish community, there is a special resonance because of the 2006 shooting at the Jewish federation, which killed one and injured five.
“It had a huge impact on the Jewish community,” Berenson said, recalling that before the gunman, Naveed Afzal Haq, attacked the federation, NCJW was pretty much alone in advocating for gun controls. “That really brought people in.”
The community has taken a lead in the alliance in lobbying for passage of Initiative 1491.
Berenson noted that Haq’s parents have said they noticed his extreme behavior, and had a protection order been available to them as it is in other states, a tragedy that still haunts the community may have been averted.
Massachusetts has an initiative, Question 2, which would allow the state to add up to 12 charter schools per year.
The argument has played out across the United States. Charter supporters note that there are tens of thousands of students on waiting lists for the schools. Opponents say the schools perpetuate discrimination, taking away funding and resources from public schools that serve inner cities.
The Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, a Boston-based group, is working with opponents, posting on its website a letter from an alliance of parents who say that if Question 2 passes, “the opportunity gap between the suburban and urban schools will grow into a chasm.”
No word from Orthodox groups as to whether they back the initiative, but generally Orthodox advocacy groups back greater choice for parents when it comes to schools.
There are countless ballot initiatives at the local level as well.
Detroit Jews for Justice is advocating for a $1.2 million tax measure that would fund a master plan to improve public transit in the down-on-its-luck city.
The moniker for its advocacy? “Schlep for Transit.”
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