JNS and the Cleveland Jewish News covered the opening of a permanent exhibit on the historic Entebbe raid at the Jewish Museum of Oporto, which was inspired by a B'nai B'rith Portugal Jewish young adults conference in Oporto in June that B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and President Charles O. Kaufman attended.
The Jewish Museum of Oporto in Portugal on July 19 opened a permanent exhibit dedicated to “Operation Thunderbolt,” Israel’s historic 1976 hostage-rescue raid in Entebbe, B’nai B’rith International announced.
“The [exhibit] is aimed at educating young Jews who lack awareness of the many counter-terrorism actions that the Israel Defense Forces and Mossad have undertaken in the past and are prepared to undertake in the future,” said B’nai B’rith Portugal president Gabriela Cantergi.
“The idea of building a room dedicated to the Entebbe operation arose out of an event on June 21 in Oporto that brought together young Jewish leaders of various nationalities, and their main concern was whether Israel could stop a new Holocaust in any country in the world,” she explained.
Israeli Ambassador to Portugal Raphael Gamzou said that the exhibit teaches “that neither distance, logistics nor any other challenge would ever prevent Israel from doing the utmost to save the lives of its citizens.”
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin concurred.
“The hostage-rescue operation in Entebbe exemplified Israel’s strength and resolve,” he said, adding, “Dedicating an exhibit to that historic moment enables all visitors to the museum to know that Israel protects its people, wherever they may be.”
B’nai B’rith International President Charles Kaufman said the raid was not only the greatest hostage-rescue operation in Israel’s history, but also represents Judaism’s “commitment to the value of preserving life.”
“’Operation Thunderbolt’ in Entebbe ushered in a new high watermark of recognition and admiration for the Jewish state throughout the world,” said Kaufman.
“Operation Thunderbolt” was carried out on July 4, 1976, by an elite unit of Israeli commandos, led by Yonatan Netanyahu, at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Netanyahu, the brother of Benjamin Netanyahu—who would become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister—was killed during the operation.
The Jewish Museum of Oporto says that its mission “is to inform about the historic and cultural importance of the Jews in Portugal and of Portuguese Jews worldwide, with particular emphasis on the Diaspora of Sephardic Portuguese Jews and the history of the Jewish community in Oporto that is older than the foundation of Portugal.”
Diplomats From 10 Countries Visit Start-Up Nation Central to Hear What Makes Israel's Innovation Ecosystem Tick
Yahoo Finance noted a visit to Israel by a delegation of ambassadors to the United Nations and the United States, led by Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. and U.N., that was co-sponsored by B'nai B'rith International.
Tel Aviv, Israel, July 25, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- High-ranking diplomats from 10 countries paid a visit to Start-Up Nation Central headquarters to learn about the Israeli innovation ecosystem and gain insights into how Israel became the Startup Nation.
The delegation that included ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations from Kenya, Hungary, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Bhutan, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Tonga, Guatemala, and Australia — as well as their spouses — were part of a week-long tour hosted by Israel's Ambassador to the UN and the US Gilad Erdan and sponsored by the American Zionist Movement, B'nai B'rith and International March of the Living.
During their visit to Start-Up Nation Central, the diplomats received an in-depth review of the Israeli technological innovation ecosystem by Start-Up Nation Central's Executive Director Wendy Singer. They also received an explanation about the organization's flagship Finder Innovation Business Platform that helps connect international investors, multinational corporations, and governments to Israeli companies and innovation hubs.
The envoys also took part in a live video conference with Dan Senor, the co-author of the bestselling book Start-Up Nation and a member of Start-Up Nation Central's board of directors. They concluded their visit with a tour of the Asif Israel Culinary Institute and a lecture by Israeli serial entrepreneur and business executive Inbal Arieli, the author of the 2019 hit book Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Read more on Yahoo Finance.
The Jewish Journal noted B'nai B'rith International's appreciation for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis calling for sanctions against Ben & Jerry's anti-Semitic boycott of Israel.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, sent a letter to the State Board of Administration (SBA) on July 22 requesting that they take action against Ben & Jerry’s and their parent company Unilever.
“It has come to my attention that Ben & Jerry’s has announced plans to remove its products and prohibit the sale of ice cream in Judea and Samaria,” DeSantis wrote, arguing that doing so puts Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever “within the prohibited activities” under Florida state law. DeSantis asked that the SBA put Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever on “the Continued Examination Companies that Boycott Israel List” and the “Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.”
If Ben & Jerry’s continues to not sell their products in the West Bank after being put on these lists, then “the Board must refrain from acquiring any and all Unilever assets consistent with the law,” DeSantis wrote. “These actions affirm the State of Florida’s relationship with the State of Israel and our commitment to a swift response to those who discriminate against the Israeli people.”
A spokesperson from the DeSantis administration told Fox Business that if the SBA follows through on DeSantis’ request, they “would prevent the board from buying stock in Unilever … and its corporate entities. The state would also be unable to contract with these companies unless they ended their boycott.”
B’nai Brith International tweeted “kudos” to DeSantis. “The ice cream maker must be held accountable for its #antisemitic boycott of #Israel.”
Other states appear to be taking similar actions. The New York State Comptroller’s Office sent a letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope on July 23 stating that they are “troubled and concerned” that Ben & Jerry’s “is involved in BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] activities.” Unilever has 90 days to prove that Ben & Jerry’s is not partaking in BDS activities; otherwise, the state may withdraw their pension funds from Unilever under New York’s anti-BDS law.
Pennsylvania State Representative Aaron Kaufer, a Republican, requested that state government officials enforce Pennsylvania’s anti-BDS law against Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever. He received replies stating that officials would ensure that their anti-BDS laws are being upheld.
“Unilever is feeling the heat,” journalist and author Gary Weiss tweeted. “The question is whether it believes it benefits more from standing with Jews or antisemites. Its long tradition, going back to the 1930s, is not encouraging.”
B’nai B’rith International is honored to have co-sponsored a visit to Israel by ambassadors to the United Nations and the United States, led by Ambassador Gilad Erdan, along with the American Zionist Movement and March of the Living.
See how media outlets covered the visit:
Enlace Judio (Spanish)
Erdan Guía a Embajadores Internacionales en Gira Por Israel
i24 News (French)
L'ambassadeur d'Israël à l'ONU Organise un Voyage Pour Ses Homologues du Monde Entier en Terre Sainte
Ambassadors Tour Israel to Better Comprehend Its Multifaceted Security Challenges
(Also in Israel Hayom)
The Jerusalem Post (English)
Erdan: We’ll Defend our Right to Jerusalem Against Hamas Lies
The Jerusalem Post (English)
Ambassadors to U.S. and U.N. Meeting with Herzog
The Jerusalem Post (English)
Texas Looking Into Divestment From Unilever Over Ben & Jerry’s Boycott
The Jerusalem Post (English)
Bennett on Ben & Jerry’s: Boycotting Israel Will Be Bad Business Decision
The Times of Israel (English)
Erdan leads international ambassadors to US and UN on tour of Israel
The Times of Israel (English)
Lapid Meets with Delegation of International Ambassadors to U.S. and U.N.
The Times of Israel (French)
Gilad Erdan Accompagne 26 Ambassadeurs en Israël
JBS covered our condemnation of Ben & Jerry's anti-Israel boycott of what the company calls the "occupied Palestinian territories," as well as the ice cream maker's noted silence when Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel. View coverage here (beginning at 2:13) or below.
JNS noted B'nai B'rith International's support of the Oporto, Portugal Jewish community and the Holocaust Museum of Oporto in its coverage of the Holocaust Museum donating its guestbooks to Yad Vashem in Israel.
(July 19, 2021 / JNS) The Holocaust Museum of Oporto is donating its guestbooks to Israel’s Yad Vashem via the Israeli embassy in Portugal, according to a museum representative.
“Two reasons led the museum to donate the guestbooks to Yad Vashem,” said Gabriela Cantergi. “The first is that there are many people who say they will defend Jews throughout their lives; the second is that there is great popular support for Israel [in Portugal].”
Opened to the public in April, the Holocaust Museum in Oporto has already welcomed 22,000 people, most of them young, according to Cantergi. In the first month, it was the most visited museum in Portugal. Seventy percent of visitors are young people, for whom the museum is free.
“Of [those] 22,000 people, and guestbooks with thousands of comments from the visitors, there isn’t a single criticism of Israel,” said Cantergi. “On the contrary, there is a lot of praise for the small state.”
A video released by the museum features some of these comments, such as: “A great nation has grown, after being nearly decimated by enemies in 1948”; “Let not a single day go past that we do not remember Israel”; “I feel pain for the suffering inflicted then and now on the Jews”; “Those who still today silence the Holocaust perpetuate it.”
In the same video, which also includes statements by leaders of the Portuguese-Jewish communities, the chief rabbi of Oporto’s Jewish community says that 80 percent of the families in the community were expelled from Arab or Muslim countries in the 20th century, while the rest of the families suffered the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand. Some were victims of infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s experiments, and others were forced to dig their own graves before being shot, he says.
Under the auspices of members of the Oporto Jewish community whose parents, grandparents and relatives were victims of the Holocaust, the Oporto Holocaust Museum has cooperation partnerships with Holocaust museums in Washington, Moscow, Hong Kong and Europe.
The Jewish community of Oporto includes about 500 Jews originally from more than 30 countries and has a beit din, synagogues, mikvahs (ritual baths), kosher restaurants, a Holocaust museum, the Oporto Jewish Museum and cooperation protocols with the Israeli embassy in Portugal, Keren Hayesod, B’nai B’rith International and the Anti-Defamation League.
The Algemeiner noted our commemoration of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Jewish organizations on Sunday marked the 27th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
The 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) was orchestrated by Iran and carried out by the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Despite decades of efforts by the Jewish community, the terrorists involved have never been brought to justice.
The six Iranian and Hezbollah operatives behind the attack have escaped arrest and prosecution, while investigating prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found murdered in 2015, before he was to unveil accusations of collusion between the governments of Argentina and Iran to cover up the attack.
B’nai Brith International marked the anniversary, and emphasized, “No perpetrators have been held accountable.”
Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC concentrated on those perpetrators, noting that the bombing was committed by Hezbollah “at the instruction of Iran’s top leadership.”
“Iran continues to fund and promote terrorism around the world,” they said.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris asked, “26 yrs later, who’s been caught, tried & imprisoned? No one.”
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.
Michael Dickson, Executive Director of StandWithUs Israel, also noted the lack of accountability for the terrorists, and said the AMIA victims have been “struggling for justice ever since” the bombing.
The World Jewish Congress said that it and the Congreso Judío Latinoamericano, an umbrella organization for Latin American Jews, “are still leading efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
On Friday, the head of Argentina’s umbrella Jewish group lambasted the timing of a court hearing that was held as victims commemorated the anniversary of the attack.
The hearing was scheduled for Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to appear in an inquiry into a 2013 agreement her then-government had negotiated with Iran.
Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA) head Jorge Knoblovits said the timing was “unnecessarily confrontational and goes against the memory” of the victims.
“If the feelings of the victims of the greatest terrorist attack of the 20th century are disrespected, it is very difficult to reach justice and end impunity,” he said. “We are very ashamed and very embarrassed that you cannot wait two, three weeks or a month to exercise the right of defense, which you can do so legitimately and constitutionally. But to do so today is offensive.”
The Jerusalem Post covered B'nai B'rith International CEO Dan Mariaschin's remarks at the 7th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Israel.
WASHINGTON – The interparliamentary task force to combat online antisemitism released its interim report on Wednesday, calling on social media companies to act with transparency and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition for antisemitism. The interim report is based on the task force’s work between the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, and the full report is expected to be released in the upcoming month.
Members of the task force included lawmakers from Israel, the US, UK, Australia and Canada. Former Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh represented Israel, and representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), Ted Deutch (D-Florida), Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) and Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Florida) represented the US.
The task force provided four key preliminary recommendations. First, it called on social media platforms to enhance transparency regarding algorithms, including “how content is removed, what content is removed, and what tools are used to direct users to certain sites or redirect users away from hate or harm and provide regular quarterly reports on these issues.”
“It is important that social media actually be a marketplace of ideas,” they added.
Second, they called on legislators to consider ways to make the online space safer for all “that respects their respective national laws, including through an independent oversight body or regulatory process where appropriate.”
The task force also urged legislators and social media platforms to “recognize the danger of disinformation online, and that antisemitism is an example of other forms of disinformation online, and should therefore both be considered within the wider conversation of online extremism.”
“National, state [and] local governments, as well as social media providers, should adopt a clear definition of antisemitism, for without first defining a problem, we cannot combat it,” the report reads. “As the international consensus definition, established after 20 years of democratic processes and adopted by nearly 30 countries, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition is recommended.”
“Over the last several years, there has been an alarming increase in antisemitic incidents across the globe, with many originating online,” the report reads. “As social media posts do not stop at international borders, members of the national legislatures of Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States have come together across party lines to launch the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.”
They noted that the report outlines the activities of the Task Force, “including meetings with technology experts and civil society groups.”
“Establishing consistent messaging and policy from parliaments and legislatures around the world in order to hold social media platforms, including Twitter, TikTok, Facebook and Google, accountable” is the main objective, they added.
“We created this inter-parliamentary task force because online antisemitism is a global problem that demands global attention and action,” Deutch said in a statement. “We’ve wasted no time trying to better understand the breadth and complexity of online hatred and extremism and what should be done by countries and companies to respond. This report offers a summary of our work to fight antisemitism and raises many of the questions that we intend to address in the future.”
Meanwhile, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder addressed the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism on Thursday, and said that, “today’s fight against antisemitism is a war, no less consequential than the Six Day War or the Yom Kippur War.”
The forum, held in Jerusalem from July 13-15, was organized by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “Israel has become the new excuse for the old antisemitism. And our enemies have free rein because there has been no commensurate response from Israel,” he added.
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin addressed the forum as well, suggesting five approaches to fight antisemitism, including encouraging the endorsement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
More American Jews are calling Israel an ‘apartheid’ state, and big organizations are struggling to fight the trend
JTA quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of the recent No Fear Rally in Washington, D.C. and the narrative around the state of Israel.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sharon Nazarian has a theory about why a recent Washington, D.C., rally against antisemitism struggled to reach as large an audience as organizers had intended.
The Anti-Defamation League, for which Nazarian is senior vice president of international affairs, co-sponsored “No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity with the Jewish People,” along with several other of the largest American Jewish organizations. But it drew just 2,000 people on Sunday. By comparison, a rally in 2002 at the height of the second intifada drew more than 100,000 participants.
Nazarian says the traditional mainstream organizational focus on, and lionization of, Israel is becoming a liability and turning people away.
“This narrative about Israel needs to be a more realistic one, one that [brings] attention to the strengths of the state, and to its weaknesses,” said Nazarian, a philanthropist who is president of a family foundation that funds research into education. She added that the rally was put together on short notice in the heat of the summer, at a time that the coronavirus pandemic is still a factor.
Two days after the rally, a poll of U.S. Jews was published with some surprising findings: 25% agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state,” 34% agreed that “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the United States” and 22% agreed that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.” The numbers only climb among younger Jews: More than a third of those under 40 gave Israel the “apartheid state” label.
The numbers are striking given American Jewry’s longstanding and steadfast support of Israel, even throughout times of right-wing governments, such as the ones led for years by recent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that have pushed policies that clash with the majority of their individual beliefs. But American criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza over multiple military conflicts in the last decade — most notably in 2014 and May of this year — has steadily grown harsher, and this year saw an unprecedented public outcry, accentuated by several influential celebrities. Many feel more comfortable agreeing with influencers and others who label Israel’s military response to rockets fired from Gaza as “genocidal” — even if human rights experts caution that the term is an exaggeration in this case.
“What we’re missing, even the centrist organizations, is that for years now we’ve been hearing these sensationalist labels, and the reason we didn’t engage with it was because it was on the fringe, it was taboo, and we thought it would stay there,” Nazarian said. “What has happened now as a result of the May conflict is the real mainstreaming of this language.”
Another factor over the last year, since the murder of George Floyd, is the burgeoning awareness of racial disparities among Americans. Many of Israel’s critics have increasingly framed Israel’s conflict as one of racial injustice.
“We have to understand the building blocks, the framing,” Nazarian said. “And really the conflation of a lot of what we saw in the post-George Floyd kind of anti-racism activism that we as a Jewish community of America participated in.”
Many “No Fear” rally speakers explicitly conflated some of the harsher criticisms of Israel with antisemitism, and that disinclined some groups from accepting the invitation to participate, including the liberal pro-Israel lobby J Street.
“Rather than engage with young people and try to put the reality of the situation in context, and admit problems that are going on, they’ve chosen to deny that there are problems, and to attack those who raised them,” said J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. “That has resulted in polarization. Rather than engaging people who have questions and criticism, they push them away.”
Those who did participate in the rally and responded to a request for comment on the Jewish Electorate Institute National Survey of Jewish Voters doubled down on their assertions and emphasized education, arguing that the Jewish community needed to do more to educate younger Jews about Israel — and to push back against characterizations that they said originated with its enemies.
“A main source of disconnect between segments of American Jews and the reality of Israel is deficient education,” David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, one of the rally’s sponsors, said in an email.
Harris pointed to an AJC poll last month that showed only 37% of respondents described their Israel education growing up as “strong,” and to separate data showing that young people increasingly are getting their news from social media “where untruths are rampant,” he said.
“Clearly, greater efforts at educating American Jews, especially younger cohorts, about all aspects of Israeli society, and connecting them with their counterparts in Israel, are critical for ensuring nuanced understanding about Israel and strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations,” he said.
Harris pointed to AJC programs aimed at reaching Jews under 40. So did Adam Teitelbaum, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of North America’s Israel Action Network. JFNA was also a sponsor of the rally.
“The best way to combat this phenomenon is to meaningfully and authentically engage young Jews with questions such as ‘what do you think apartheid means?’; ‘what is the best path forward?’; and ‘how can Israel address real security concerns while still fighting for peace?’,” Teitelbaum said. “Young people recognize that the situation in Israel is complicated. We at JFNA and through the Israel Action Network know that when Jewish Federations and Israel educators approach young people’s questions with compassion and authenticity, they engage meaningfully and elect to become changemakers themselves.”
The removal of subtlety from the discourse is what kept Americans for Peace Now away from the rally, said its president, Hadar Susskind, even though his group was approached to participate.
“Organizations look at many members of the Jewish community, including particularly younger ones, and disregard them, or, you know, answer them in ways that are at best dismissive and at worse, call them antisemites,” Susskind said in an interview.
Susskind said his group rejected terms like “apartheid” and “genocide,” but said that energy dedicated to countering those terms would be better spent by the Jewish community grappling with Israel’s status as an occupier of Palestinian areas and people.
“The answer to this isn’t another college fellowship to show people the sandy white beaches in Tel Aviv, it’s ending the occupation,” he said.
Some of the “No Fear” Jewish organizations reflexively say that they accommodate criticism.
“The No Fear antisemitism rally included a number of voices and was meant to be a broad tent,” Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement. “Our movement is firmly and proudly Zionist and supportive of the State of Israel and its people. Our movement is also a big tent and includes many different voices on Israel, all coming from a place of love and support for Israel, even when critical.”
Daniel Mariaschin, the CEO of B’nai B’rith, another of the rally’s sponsoring organizations, called for the classic strategy of playing up Israel’s strengths.
“We must restore pride by re-doubling our efforts at Jewish education: formal and informal, biblical to contemporary, in classrooms and at the dining room table, at summer camps and on excursions to Israel,” Mariaschin said in an email. “Are we celebrating, enough, Israel’s many contributions to contemporary civilization in innovation, medicine, and agriculture, and its wide open, but sometimes fractious democracy?”
Crosstabs of the recent survey shared with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by the pollster, GBAO Strategies, show that among those who described themselves as emotionally attached to the country, a substantial minority buy into the harsh criticisms. Among those with strong ties to Israel, 19% agreed that Israel was an apartheid state.
Halie Soifer, the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, one of the sponsoring organizations, said she was frustrated attending the rally to hear most of the speakers condemn antisemitism of the left. The survey showed most respondents, 61%, perceived the antisemitic threat to come from the right.
Soifer, whose JDCA is affiliated with the group that commissioned the poll, the Jewish Electorate Institute, said the emphasis on anti-Israel rhetoric from the left at the rally was emblematic of why the establishment was failing in its outreach to younger Jews.
“To the extent that those at the rally focused on antisemitism emanating from anywhere other than the right, it demonstrates a disconnect between the focus of some Jewish organizations and the priorities of American Jews,” Soifer said.
On Capitol Hill, rally-goers agree that antisemitism is un-American. But when Israel is involved, it gets complicated.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Several thousand people spent a sweltering afternoon in front of the U.S. Capitol at a rally on Sunday that denounced antisemitism as un-American and made the case that Jewish identity and support for Israel are inextricable.
Those were the unifying messages of the “No Fear” rally on Sunday, which drew about 2,000 people, but there were differences among the speakers and in the crowd on how precisely Israel figures in the fight against antisemitism.
Some of the most searing messages came from people who have suffered antisemitic attacks in recent years. A recurring theme among these speakers was that they never expected to suffer such attacks in the United States. Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shlomo Noginski, who sustained stab wounds in a July 1 attack in Boston, appeared with his arm still in a sling, and in evident pain.
“I was born in the Soviet Union in the city of St. Petersburg,” Noginski said in Hebrew, having explained that he was still too pained to speak fluently in English. “I remember how even as a young child, I experienced terrible antisemitism. Never in my darkest dreams did I imagine that I would feel the same way here in the United States, the land of freedom and endless possibilities.”
The crowd shouted “hero!” as Noginski spoke. He had held the attacker at bay outside a Chabad facility where about a hundred children were in summer camp.
Another speaker hailed as a hero was Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who described saying the viduy, the Jewish prayer before death, as a gunman shot 11 worshipers dead in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October of 2018. Myers was the first to alert the police of the attack.
“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are all endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Myers said, quoting the Declaration of Independence. “To be an antisemite means you do not accept that pact of being an American.”
The rally drew a broad array of sponsor organizations, covering the religious spectrum and many right-wing and central pro-Israel mainstream Jewish organizations.
Notably absent were representatives of more left-wing groups that were asked to join but opted out of attending because some of the sponsoring groups adhere to a definition of antisemitism that encompasses harsh criticism of Israel, including the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. Groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now oppose BDS, but object to defining it as antisemitic.
Melissa Landa, who leads the Alliance for Israel, a relatively new group that has as a central tenet that BDS is antisemitic, set the tone at the outset of the event. She had launched plans for the rally after antisemitism spiked during the Israel-Gaza conflict in May.
She spoke of the “shared promise for our children, that they will be free to live as proud Jews, and exercise their religious liberties granted by the United States Constitution, free to wear their yarmulkes and Magen Davids and free to speak their love of Israel without being attacked in the streets of New York or Los Angeles.”
Landa, like other speakers, named lawmakers on the left or the right that have in recent months incurred accusations of antisemitism. Mentions of Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat whose criticism of Israel has been seen by Jewish groups as crossing into antisemitism, notably garnered much louder boos than those of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who has drawn fire for peddling antisemitic conspiracy theories and for likening coronavirus restrictions to Nazi laws.
Noa Tishby, an Israeli actor, appeared with conservative pundit Meghan McCain and Alma Hernandez, a Democratic state lawmaker in Arizona. Each suggested that anti-Zionism was equivalent to antisemitism.
“So much of the antisemitism of today simply attributes all the evil tropes, lies and libels that have been used for centuries to justify the worst horrors against Jewish people to the Jewish state,” said Tishby, who is well known in Israel and recently published a book titled “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth.” “As you will hear today, this hatred is being used to attack our Jewish communities. It is being used to impose a heavy cost on anyone who identifies as Jewish or even God forbid, Zionist.”
McCain has become an outspoken defender of Israel on the talk show “The View” — which she announced earlier this month that she is leaving — and elsewhere.
“I’m Meghan McCain and I’m a Zionist because, apparently, this is now something that is controversial to say,” she said at the rally.
Elisha Wiesel, the son of the late Holocaust diarist and Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, had joined the planning of the rally to bring in mainstream and liberal-leaning groups after Landa hit a wall in bringing them in.
Major mainstream groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International, as well as the Orthodox Union and Reform and Conservative movements, signed on as sponsors, but few of their representatives spoke.
Wiesel said he feared division but was soothed by the unity he saw.
“The sages teach that it was our own hatred for each other that caused the destruction of the first and second temples,” he said. “And in the weeks leading up to this rally, it was this fear that dominated my field of vision, the fear that our community was divided beyond repair. That fear is our enemy’s dream. But looking out at all of you today if it comes clear that instead of dividing us, the enemies of the Jewish people, whether from the right or the left at home or abroad, they have instead united us.”
Wiesel appeared to nod to the concerns that some liberal groups had — that criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians would be conflated with antisemitism at the rally.
“We can disagree even passionately, without being divided. We can even disagree on Israel,” he said. “ We must not tolerate calls for an end to the Jewish state of Israel, through a one-state solution that once again leaves the Jews defenseless. We must also not tolerate denigration or hatred towards the aspiration for dignity and self-determination of our Palestinian cousins. If we hate, we will not win.”
Just minutes after his own speech, Wiesel jumped in to intervene and help out a fellow speaker — Erika Moritsugu, a deputy assistant to President Biden, who was representing the White House, and was booed. A cluster of supporters of former President Donald Trump shouted during her speech, particularly when she mentioned that President Joe Biden decided to run after the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. Trump equivocated in condemning the marchers, which has become a sore point among his followers.
“Stolen election!” one man shouted. “You pay money to terrorists!” said another. One held up a placard saying “Screw Kristen Clarke.” Clarke, who leads the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, came under fire during her confirmation hearings for having hosted an antisemitic speaker when at an event when she was a student at Harvard decades ago.
Moritsugu appeared flustered and others in the crowd shushed the booers. After she finished speaking, Wiesel stepped in and said, to applause, “I’d like everybody to thank President Biden for the way that the White House stood with Israel during the Gaza war.”
Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the director of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness — the public advocacy wing of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church — invoked the black Jewish alliance of the civil rights era, to cheers.
“I am here today to express my support for the Jewish community in the face of antisemitism, in the face of the shooting deaths and attempted murders in synagogues, stores and homes,” he said. “Now is a time of solidarity. Now there’s a time of unity.”
A couple from Kensington, Maryland, Bruce and Malka Kutnick, were unnerved by the presence of the far Jewish right at the rally. Malka Kutnick said she had been reassured by Wiesel’s claim before the rally that both people who don’t care about Israel’s existence and Kahanists — followers of the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane — would not be welcome. She held a placard that read “No to occupation, No to antisemitism.”
“I was just accosted by someone in a Kahane shirt,” she said. “He said I should stand with the Netorei Karta.” A small cluster of that fringe group, which is both haredi Orthodox and anti-Zionist, gathered on a green across the street.
Marie Berlin-Fischler, a 28-year-old Washington, D.C. preschool teacher, stood with a poster reading, “My fellow progressives, you missed a spot: Stop antisemitism.”
She said she felt untethered from the progressive movement, which she otherwise supports.
“The issue is that in this country as of late, I don’t feel as though anyone like me can exist in a progressive space anymore without checking my intersectionality at the door,” she said. “When I am asked to be part of myself as I show up to these spaces, the gap is closing. There’s nowhere for people who want to be American, the way I do.”
In the News
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