The Algemeiner noted our criticism of Disney Channel's Passover PSA that replaced the traditional Jewish phrase “Next year in Jerusalem” with “Next year in the Holy Land," a clear negation of Jerusalem as the eternal Jewish capital.
Disney Channel last week ran a Passover public service announcement (PSA) that replaced the traditional Jewish phrase “Next year in Jerusalem” with “Next year in the Holy Land.”
The original phrase is often sung at the end of the Passover seder. In a clip of the segment viewed by The Algemeiner, the PSA featured young teens talking about Passover before they all said in unison, “Next year in the Holy Land.”
Some have found the change to the Jewish phrase offensive. B’nai B’rith International shared a screenshot of the segment on Twitter and said, “This is a deliberate negation of Jerusalem as the eternal Jewish capital. We call for the #disneychannel PSA to accurately depict this sacred Jewish custom related to our holiest city.”
The Zioness Movement called the change “utterly outrageous,” while Todd Richman, co-chair of Democratic Majority for Israel, said on Twitter, “@DisneyChannel for 2,000 years Jews at the Passover Seder have said ‘next year in Jerusalem!’ And now you decide to change it after a couple of thousand years? You sure about that?”
Other Twitter users also criticized the network for editing the original saying. One father tweeted, “I saw this while my daughter was watching @DisneyChannel and even though I’m not Jewish myself I knew this wasn’t right.” Another social media user said that the change was “sad because this means Disney considers erasure of Jewish history as a way of being inclusive,” adding that “this is disgusting and Disney should fix it immediately.”
Disney Channel did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.
The Jewish Link quoted B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of Jewish organizations that called out NBC for airing anti-Semitic programming on two recent occasions.
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin called it “a cheap shot at Jewish customs” that plays into “blood libel” stereotypes, while the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s (SWC) associate dean and director of global social action Rabbi Abraham Cooper expressed outrage and frustration that in the media “no one else is fair game except our community.”
Their anger was directed at NBC, which has received significant backlash in the Jewish community for airing programming on two recent occasions that has been labeled by many as promoting “classic anti-Semitic tropes.”
One of the two offending incidents occurred on Feb. 9 airing of the drama, “Nurses,” which featured a young hasidic or Orthodox boy named Israel who injured his leg and is warned by his father not to accept a bone graft because it might come from a woman or Arab donor; and the Feb. 20 airing of the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL) where host and chief writer Michael Che quipped, “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population. I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”
In the “Nurses” episode Israel asks, “You want to put a dead leg inside me?” and the father responds, “A dead goyim leg from anyone—an Arab, a woman” and tells his son that the “Creator” will heal him. The son ultimately refuses the graft. There are no prohibitions in Judaism against receiving a bone graft from a cadaver.
In response to the controversy, NBC has pulled the “Nurses” episode from all its digital platforms but has not commented on either show.
“Nurses” is a Canadian series that was picked up by NBC in late 2020 to fill holes in its original programming schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two incidents engendered swift and strong response from both national and local Jewish organizations that accused the network of spreading lies about Jews and Judaism, particularly Orthodoxy and Israel.
“There needs to be recognition and sensitivity in media outlets to the Jewish community and community practices,” Mariaschin told The Jewish Link in a phone interview from his Washington office. “It’s not humor and it’s not even good drama.”
He said NBC pulling the “Nurses” episode was insufficient and the network needed to apologize for its portrayal of the Orthodox community and its failure to research Jewish practices, although he said there is an industry-wide problem of insensitivity to the concerns and practices of the Jewish community.
“This is a blood libel and what Michael Che was able to do was what has been done since the Middle Ages about blood libels, that what we want to do is harm others,” said Mariaschin of the SNL piece. “There are millions of people in those audiences. What they heard was not only wrong, but outrageously wrong and we don’t want them learning about our community through off-handed comments.”
However, he expressed optimism the negative publicity resulting from these incidents might serve as a wake-up call to the industry.
Read the full article here.
B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin penned an op-ed for Algemeiner analyzing the dangers of mainstreaming anti-Semitism in the media.
Hardly a day passes without reading of someone, somewhere uttering an antisemitic trope. That part is not new; for millennia, this has been the norm. In the pre-Internet era, one could read, primarily in the Jewish media, about an antisemitic public official, a neo-Nazi, or a desk clerk at a restricted hotel uttering hateful comments or spinning conspiracies about Jews.
What is new, or relatively so, is that today we’re learning of Jew-hatred in real time, within hours of it being spouted. It comes from expected, and from unexpected, quarters. And sometimes it’s simply the portrayal of Jews that sends an antisemitic message.
Take the recent Canadian-produced NBC series “Nurses,” whose premise centers around five nurses and the lives and people they interact with. The most recent episode involved a young Hasidic accident victim named Israel and his father, whom we meet in a hospital room, where they’re engaged in conversation with one of the nurses.
The young Hasid needs a bone graft, he is told, and that will require using the bone of a cadaver. Israel expresses shock at the idea of having a “dead leg” inserted into his body, to which his father — dressed in a Hasidic black hat and coat, and wearing payot — says disgustedly: “A dead goyim leg — from anyone. An Arab, a woman.” The nurse, belittling both the father and son, responds: “Or, God forbid, an Arab woman.”
Never mind that Orthodox practice would allow for this graft, much more important, is that the picture presented to the viewer is classic antisemitism. Dressed in black and closed-minded (with one of them literally named Israel), the message is that these Jews are both peculiar and bigoted.
Any stereotyping is dangerous. But the Orthodox community often gets the brunt of this kind of instant presumptuousness. They are portrayed as an oddity or as an easy foil. The show made no attempt to give any kind of context to Orthodox Jewry or its medical worldview. The writers of this episode needed highly identifiable Jews to make the story work — and who cares about who might be hurt as long as it fits neatly into the one-hour timeframe.
But murderous attacks on Jews in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Poway, California, or Monsey, New York, are just a few examples of how antisemitic rhetoric can turn violent.
My guess is that most viewers of this program are not Jewish. Those who know us only at a distance would understandably not know about how diverse we are. We have a communal spectrum that runs from left to right, and everything in between, and includes the religious and the secular. Is the viewer’s education about the Jewish people to be gleaned from the likes of “Nurses” and other highly watched programs that traffic in biased presentations about sectors of our community?
I’m old enough to remember episodes of “Dr. Kildare,” “Gunsmoke,” and other TV dramas, that treated Jewish subjects with compassion and a seriousness of intent. That those programs aired at a time when Jews were subjected to admissions quotas, restricted neighborhoods, corporate glass ceilings, and other forms of discrimination made this treatment of Jews all-the-more important in fostering mutual respect.
Today though, in the broader world around us, there seems to be a growing tolerance toward anyone saying anything about whomever they wish, without any filter or fear of opprobrium. And increasingly, Jews have become the target.
“Saturday Night Live’s” Michael Che delivering a blood libel about Israel and the COVID vaccine masked as a “joke”; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)’s assertion that a Jewish space laser and the Rothschild family were responsible for California’s wildfires; and Lowell, Massachusetts, School Committee board member Robert Hoey’s referring to a former city employee as a “kike” on live public access TV are just a few very recent examples of what is becoming a frightening trend.
The Canadian producer of “Nurses” has apologized for the offensive episode, and NBC has pulled this episode and others from the air.
“Contrition tours,” where networks, politicians, comedians, and others offer a quick, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry,” or give apology interviews with friendly journalists, is one way of getting these kinds of controversies quickly out of the way. But that is not enough.
The media can play a large role in sensitivity training for the public at large, but first it needs to take a course or two itself. Playing off Jewish stereotypes for shock value, or for a few laughs, is both irresponsible and reckless.
We need to see more positive programming about the Jewish community and its many contributions — in so many fields — to this country. School systems need to utilize textbooks that teach about our story as an immigrant people who came to America from dozens of countries to find a land of opportunity denied to them in the darker corners of Europe and elsewhere. And while people may know a bit about the Jewish religion, more attention needs to be paid to its history, customs, and traditions. Doing that might prevent a repeat of the “Nurses” debacle.
In May, we will observe the 15th anniversary of Jewish American Heritage Month. While positive programming about our community should be a 12-month-a-year endeavor, this special designation on the national calendar offers many opportunities for educators, government officials, media operatives, and others to spotlight our community in a positive way.
The danger we face is the mainstreaming of antisemitism. Where once these expressions of hatred were confined to the margins or were never discovered because there simply was no Internet megaphone, today they are seemingly everywhere, including network television.
As is often said, it may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. It’s not just about us: just follow what is written or said on social media, TV and talk radio, statements from political figures, and off-handed comments by celebrities; they are everywhere. It is one long parade of insults, put-downs, threats, loose talk, and worse.
Is the “Nurses” episode a wake-up call, or just another statistic in a week or month of egregious incidents? Our task is to speak up each time this happens, and as important, to ensure that our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others beyond our community do not become inured to the threats before us.
The Algemeiner noted our criticism – along with other American Jewish organizations – of anti-Semitic comments made by SNL's Michael Che regarding Israel's vaccine rollout.
Jewish leaders, groups, and educators on Sunday condemned as “antisemitic” a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which a cast member joked about Israel’s vaccine campaign.
In the regular news parody segment “Weekend Update,” broadcast on Feb. 20, cast member Michael Che said, “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half their population, and I’m gonna guess it’s the Jewish half.”
Israel has not discriminated against religious groups as part of its vaccination drive, and large segments of the country’s non-Jewish population has already been vaccinated.
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, tweeted, “This 8-second segment by Michael Che on ‘Saturday Night Live’ is totally outrageous.”
“He accuses Israel of vaccinating only Jews. Not true. Every Israeli — Jew, Muslim, Christian, etc. — is eligible for the COVID jab,” Harris observed.
“He should apologize ASAP for spreading an antisemitic lie,” Harris asserted.
Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said that the “ill conceived ‘joke’ adds to the heap of lies and conspiratorial allegations surrounding the Jewish people and COVID-19 that recalls medieval accusations of Jews being responsible for disease and plagues.”
“NBC should know better, and must not only stop spreading harmful misinformation, but take action to undo this damage caused by propagating Jew-hatred under the guise of comedy,” continued Chairman Arthur Stark, CEO William Daroff, and Vice Chair Malcolm Hoenlein in a statement.
Avi Mayer, the AJC’s managing director of global communications and a former IDF spokesman, also commented, saying, “It’s all fun and games until you start promoting antisemitic myths, @NBCSNL.”
“Every Israeli citizen — Jewish and Arab, Muslim, Christian, of any or no faith — is eligible to be vaccinated; 2/3 of Israel’s Arab citizens over 60 already have been,” he pointed out.
“Apologize,” Mayer urged.
“#antisemitic blood libels against Israel and Jews are not funny,” said B’nai B’rith International. “Che should issue an immediate apology. This gratuitous swipe at Israel is unacceptable.”
Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said in a statement that “this lie has been perpetuated by antisemitic groups, eager to poison public discourse with misinformation about Israel’s rapid vaccinations drive.”
Zionist Organization of America President Morton A. Klein and ZOA Chair Mark Levenson called for “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels to “apologize for and terminate the writer of a ‘joke’ which was not funny and in reality was a dangerous Jew-hating, Israel-bashing blood libel. In addition, this blood libel should be removed from NBC’s website and other fora where it may appear.”
The media watchdog group HonestReporting said, “Promoting antisemitic myths isn’t remotely funny … Shameful.”
Joel M. Petlin, the superintendent of the heavily Orthodox Kiryas Joel School District in New York State, commented, “I’m old enough to remember when Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live @nbcsnl was actually funny & didn’t resort to Antisemitic stereotypes about Jews not caring for anyone but themselves.”
“The fact that Israel is actually vaccinating ALL of its citizens makes the joke even worse,” he said.
JBS Coverage of B'nai B'rith Awards Ceremony Honoring Winners of the Students Speak Out Against Anti-Semitism Contest
JBS covered our joint virtual awards ceremony with the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement (CAM) where we honored winners of the “Students Speak Out Against Anti-Semitism. A Creative Video Production Contest." This unique public awareness campaign was created to strengthen the fight against anti-Semitism, hatred and discrimination. View coverage here (beginning at 3:03) or below.
JBS Coverage of B’nai B’rith Supporting EU Council Declaration on Mainstreaming the Fight Against Anti-Semitism
JBS covered our statement welcoming the EU Council Declaration on mainstreaming the fight against anti-Semitism across policy areas that was issued through unanimous agreement by EU member states. View coverage here (beginning at 3:42) or below.
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in its coverage of the QAnon conspiracy theory, its deep anti-Semitic roots and its growing popularity in far-right circles.
(August 26, 2020 / JNS) The word QAnon—and the conspiracy theories behind it—keep making headlines of late.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congressional candidate who touts the ideology, won her run-off in Georgia on Aug. 11 and recently got a shout-out by none other than U.S. President Donald Trump, who congratulated her, even calling her a “future Republican star.”
QAnon began in October 2017 with an anonymous user named “Q” on the imageboard website 4chan who claimed to have classified information surrounding the Trump administration and its critics. It is described as a conspiratorial movement that purports that the so-called liberal elite, including Democratic politicians and Jewish billionaire George Soros, are part of a secret political faction to overthrow Trump.
“QAnon conspiracies are centered around the idea of a powerful elite secretly manipulating current events,” Counter Extremism Project senior research analyst Josh Lipowsky told JNS. “QAnon subscribers have politicized the conspiracies around an imagined Democrat-led ‘deep state’ conspiring against Donald Trump, who is heralded as the only one who can defeat this menace.”
Lipowsky labeled QAnon “a modern-day version” of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which QAnon echoes in its conspiracy theories, in that “the primary goal is to shift blame.”
“At the center of these conspiracies is a secretive cabal with vast political and financial power,” he explained. “Certain people want to believe that there is really an all-powerful group controlling things because it removes the onus of personal responsibility for one’s own circumstances and creates a scapegoat for larger catastrophes. The economy is crashing? A virus is spreading throughout the world? It must be because of X. And historically, X has usually meant the Jews.”
Protocols, an infamous and classic anti-Semitic text that was shown to be plagiarized from several earlier sources, was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century.
Although QAnon conspiracy theories “don’t all target Jews,” said Lipowsky, “they use the same strategy that anti-Semites have used for centuries.”
Lipowsky cited “the conspiracies QAnon is peddling with the coronavirus, blaming Bill Gates for creating the virus or seeking to implant microchips into vaccines,” in that “it’s all reminiscent of the baseless accusations the Jewish community has faced—from responsibility for the black plague by poisoning the wells of Europe to the Rothschilds’ manipulation of World War I and the Great Depression for financial gain. Like those historic anti-Semitic conspiracies, some of the QAnon conspiracies target the Rothschilds or other wealthy and powerful Jewish individuals.”
QAnon followers have also been connected to acts of violence, kidnapping, murder and public misconduct, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The suspect behind the April 2019 shooting on the last day of Passover at Chabad of Poway near San Diego, where one person was killed and three others injured, posted his intentions on the imageboard website 8kun, which is used by QAnon adherents.
‘Given us good reason to be alarmed’
As with most, if not all, conspiracy theories, the Jewish community is not immune from QAnon and must be vigilant and combat it, according to Jewish groups.
“Any group that traffics in conspiracy theories about world domination, or control of banks and the media, is a group we need to be deeply concerned about,” B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin told JNS. “Our community’s experience in combating these tropes has given us good reason to be alarmed.”
“QAnon is a Jew-hating conspiracy theorists group claiming the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, plans to kill non-Jews, start a world war and undermine the Trump administration,” Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told JNS. “In an era of rising unbridled hatred of Jews and the Jewish state, such insane theories are gaining adherents and must be exposed and fought.”
That said, some find it troubling that the president has declined to condemn the movement.
“Conspiracy theories with tenuous ties to reality very often include Jews in some sinister capacity,” Yaakov Menken of the Coalition of Jewish Values told JNS. “When you know what to look for; you see supporters of both QAnon and [Black Lives Matter] saying the same things, and that should require our attention.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told JNS that “QAnon is all conspiracies, all the time. Since its inception, the Internet has provided life support for debunked conspiracies, breathing life back into some nefarious stereotypes.”
He added that it echoes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its scapegoating of the iconic Jewish philanthropic Rothschild family in what Cooper summarized as the “powerful, manipulative banker.”
Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said of QAnon that “it is clear that many of its members harbor dangerous conspiratorial fantasies drawn from the pages of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The notion that a small number of wealthy Jews manipulate governments and control the course of world events has in the past served as a warrant for genocide.”
‘All rooted in the same anti-Semitic archetype’
Mary Ann Mendoza, a speaker who was scheduled to give an address on Aug. 25 at the Republican National Convention, was taken off the program on Tuesday night after sharing to her more than 40,000 Twitter followers earlier in the day a QAnon thread from an unverified account that included a post that read: “‘The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion’ Is Not A Fabrication. And, It Certainly Is Not Anti-Semetic [sic] To Point Out This Fact.”
Rabbi Yechezkel Moskowitz, a prominent Trump supporter in the Jewish community, told JNS that QAnon echoing anti-Semitic tropes is no coincidence.
“From my experience, I’ve observed that when it comes to anti-Semitism, you won’t be hard-pressed to find it and, in our case, you will definitely find anti-Semitism within the QAnon movement,” he told JNS.
“Anti-Semitism is an ancient as the Jews themselves, and there will always be those who utilize it for political gain,” he continued. “As far as the QAnon movement, it was most likely started as a joke. People will always cling to something that explains the logic behind the strange reality which we live in.”
However, Moskowitz cautioned that QAnon is “probably not” inherently anti-Semitic, though he said he wasn’t “one of those guys who looks for anti-Semitism under every pebble.”
“With that said,” he emphasized, “we must remain vigilant and defer to organizations that have the capacity to track these things and hope that they continue to do so.”
Regarding Greene, who called Soros a Nazi, the Republican Jewish Coalition instead endorsed her opponent in the run-off, neurosurgeon John Cowan, and fundraised for him.
At least two organizations that combat anti-Semitism told JNS they are currently assessing the movement.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs president and CEO David Bernstein said that his organization “been asking ourselves the same questions, but really haven’t done the research yet,” while StopAntiSemitism.org executive director Liora Rez said, “We honestly do not know enough the movement, who’s behind it, etc. .. to comment on it.”
Nonetheless, “the fight against anti-Semitism must include fighting against misinformation and these types of conspiracies,” said Lipowsky. “While not all of these conspiracies paint Jews as the shadowy villain, they are all rooted in the same anti-Semitic archetype and history has shown that eventually these sorts of things usually refocus on the Jewish community.”
Jewish, Pro-Israel Groups Protest Bernie Sanders’ Hiring of Adviser Who Once Denounced Zionism as ‘Racist, Exclusionary Ideology’
The Algemeiner quoted B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin and President Charles O. Kaufman in its coverage of the hiring of an advisor with a history of anti-Semitic comments to the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Jewish and pro-Israel groups on Tuesday condemned Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ decision to hire a radical activist with a long history of vitriolic anti-Israel statements as a senior adviser.
Phillip Agnew, a co-founder of the Dream Defenders group, was hired as a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign last Saturday, with Sanders saying, “He is a gifted organizer and one of his generation’s most critical voices on issues of race and inequity.”
B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin took a different view, saying in a statement on Tuesday, “We call on presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to terminate his campaign’s relationship with Phillip Agnew.”
“Agnew’s activist organization, Dream Defenders, has promoted to children the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has been a US-designated terrorist organization since 1997,” they noted, “and is a proponent of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
“Agnew’s so-called ‘rebellion curriculum,’ which is aimed at children in 6th to 11th grade, refers to Israel as ‘occupied Palestine’ and speaks approvingly of the goals of creating a communist party and liberating ‘Palestine,’” they pointed out.
“It is unacceptable that someone with this history of antisemitic and pro-terrorism statements was given a role on any presidential campaign,” they asserted.
The Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) also weighed in, asking, “How can @BernieSanders unify the country when he appoints officials to his campaign who spew hateful, misogynist, and bigoted views? And why does Sanders refuse to disassociate himself even from their hateful statements?”
Agnew’s defamatory attitude toward the Jewish state is not new. In a June 2015 article in Ebony, Agnew described a trip to what he called “Palestine,” saying, “What I saw there was cold, calculating racism and ethnic privilege masquerading as a Jewish State.”
Referring to then-President Barack Obama’s comparison of Zionism to the US civil rights movement, Agnew claimed Zionism was a “racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology; its eagerness to attack and silence detractors is only matched by its eagerness to co-opt the struggles of Blacks in this country (by a Black in this country) for its own survival.”
In a 2012 tweet, he stated, “America continues to support the murderous occupation of Palestine. Today’s ‘Zion’ is Hell on Earth for millions.”
Agnew has also shown an intense anti-Americanism in his statements, tweeting in 2016, “America is hate-founded, hate-legislated, hate-sponsored, hate-endorsed, hate-filled.”
Referring to a radical Islamist’s homophobia-motivated shooting attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, Agnew said, “Just clarifying who to blame. It isn’t radical Islam and it wasn’t those people in the club. It is us. We spread this hate.”
He also appears to be a believer in 9/11 conspiracy theories, saying on Sept. 10, 2010, “Tomorrow America remembers the day that she turned on herself, dismantled her constitution, and killed her own citizens in the name of money.”
Agnew also caused controversy for sexist tweets against former First Lady Michelle Obama, tweeting in 2009, “Michel [sic] Obama is an odd looking woman… I’d call her ugly but I don’t want the backlash.”
He subsequently tweeted, “Michelle Obama is just not pretty… I’ve tried to look at her from every angle possible.”
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the Bernie Sanders campaign's recent hiring of a senior adviser who has made anti-Semitic statements.
(March 10, 2020 / JNS) The Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has named Phillip Agnew, who has called Zionism “racist,” and co-founded a group that supports the anti-Israel BDS movement and a U.S.-designated terrorist group, a senior adviser.
“I am excited to welcome Phillip to our team,” said Sanders in a statement on Saturday. “He is a gifted organizer and one of his generation’s most critical voices on issues of race and inequity. He has and will continue to push me and this movement to deliver on what is owed to black people who have yet to experience reciprocity in this country.”
Agnew previously served as a surrogate for the campaign and is a co-founder of Dream Defenders, which has ties to Ahmad Abuznaid, a supporter of the U.S.-designated terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Founded in 2012, Dream Defenders exemplifies the trend of black anti-Semitism in the United States.
The organization has labeled Israel as a “continued settler colonial project” whose treatment of the Palestinians is similar to an “apartheid” nation. Without acknowledging Hamas launching rockets from schools and other civilian centers from Gaza into Israel, while using women and children as human shields, Dream Defenders has accused Israel of developing “its latest military weaponry by attacking the civilian population of Gaza.”
Agnew, who now goes by the name Umi Selah, has participated in multiple trips to the disputed territories over the past few years, led by Abuznaid, who claimed that these delegations are to “build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation.”
During a January 2015 trip, Dream Defenders met with Omar Barghouti, founder of the BDS movement, and Diana Buttu, who served in the Palestine Liberation Organization during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, when the PLO perpetrated attacks against Israelis on buses, and in restaurants and other public places. The delegation also met with artist Ayed Arafah in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, which is recognized as a PFLP camp.
In a 2015 article in Ebony, Agnew wrote, “There is no direct line from Zionism to the Black Freedom struggle. No rhetorical imagination-acrobatics can conjure one, and no amount of intimidation can chart one. It is a racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology.”
Although Agnew apologized on Sunday for tweeting in 2009 what he called “stupid comments” about former first lady Michelle Obama, though he did not address his anti-Israel past.
Agnew is part of what critics have said is a group of Sanders surrogates who use anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), former Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, and comedian and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Professor Amer Zahr.
The Zionist Organization of America has called for Sanders to fire Agnew.
The Republican Jewish Coalition stated that Agnew’s new role exemplifies a trend in the Sanders campaign and that the senator’s main rival, while he may not need them to get the Democratic presidential nomination, will need supporters like Agnew in order to defeat the incumbent president.
“Every step of the way, Bernie Sanders has embraced anti-Israel, anti-Semitic surrogates because that is the support he needs to win the Democrats’ left wing base,” RJC spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS. “Joe Biden might not need these supporters to win the nomination, but Sanders is proving that Biden will need this racist crowd’s support in order to drive the vote up in his base if he wants any shot at beating the most pro-Israel president in history, Donald Trump.”
B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin said “it is unacceptable that Phillip Agnew, with his long history of anti-Semitic and pro-terrorism statements, should be given a role within any presidential campaign.”
“In his statement naming Agnew as an adviser, Sanders called Agnew an expert on race and inequity,” he continued. “It is possible to address social inequity in this country without espousing anti-Israel vitriol. We’ve called on the campaign to terminate its relationship with Agnew.”
“Sadly, Senator Sanders has a bad, but very steady habit of giving senior positions in his campaign to people with long records of expressing anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic views,” Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman told JNS.
Similar to British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, he added, “I think he is going to find out that it’s not only immoral, but it’s also bad politics.”
B'nai B'rith Director of EU Affairs Alina Bricman published an op-ed in The EU Observer on the anti-Semitism on display at Belgium's Aalst Carnival.
This weekend (Sunday, 23 February), was the day of the yearly carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst.
For the Jewish community, this day approached with a lot of anxiety. In the 2019 edition, a float depicting exaggerated images of Orthodox Jews, with enlarged hooked noses, bags of money and surrounded by rats caused international outrage, and resulted in the delisting of the Aalst festival from Unesco's intangible heritage list – a first in the international body's history.
The whole protracted episode left Jewish advocacy and community organisations on one side and officials in Aalst on the other in an antagonist relationship, where regrettably public authorities in Aalst failed to understand the charges brought and to take responsibility accordingly and Jewish organisations were left warning of the dangers of the 2020 edition.
And the 2020 edition came and went: Jews portrayed as insects, people wearing fake ultra-Orthodox costumes, crass comments about circumcision and the Wailing Wall, uniforms resembling Nazi attire labelled Unestapo - a play on the word 'Gestapo', the secret police of the Nazis, and the mayor of Aalst, Christophe D'Haese, of the right-wing New Flemish Alliance, essentially insisting: Nothing wrong here.
And here in lies the problem: more disturbing – I think – than the displays themselves is the clear sense that locals don't understand what the issue is.
Following the backlash over last year's edition, the festival made it a nearly explicit purpose to poke the Jewish community, to exhibit its discontent for any international reactions and to instigate even more vehement responses from the Jewish community which it deemed oversensitive and unwilling to take a joke.
This approach found support among politicians as well: much like D'Haese, minister-president of Flanders Jan Jambon claimed that while people abroad may not understand it, the Aalst festival did not include anti-semitic manifestations.
Rather, it makes fun of everything and everyone.
Grain of salt
You may want to take that with a grain of salt: Jambon has a history of association with the far-right, be it through support of former Flemish Nazi collaborators, or affinity to members of the forbidden extreme right-wing paramilitary organisation Vlaamse Militanten Orde, and the Vlaams Blok extreme-right political party.
Jewish organisations – as well as many allies, be they public authorities, anti-discrimination bodies or civil society – have started to react and will continue to do so.
From calls for the EU to sanction Belgium to bans on the festival itself, the proposed remedies come in many forms and degrees of severity.
They may be warranted, and in search for a quick fix, they may do the surface trick, but unfortunately there's no easy solution to do away with the underlying problem in Aalst.
Prejudices are deeply-rooted; the lack of knowledge about the Jewish community; the lack of empathy and understanding for the other; the inability to see one's own biases; the missing opportunities for exchange - they have no easy fix. The problem in Aalst requires that we look well beyond Aalst.
As reactions mount in the coming days, I hope that they not only address the immediate need to prevent such displays in the future, but bring solutions to tackle their root causes. In its thoughtful and reserved approach in the past days, the organised Jewish community of Belgium has been a goodwill partner, open to be part of a constructive solution and to work with authorities both local and national to ensure a public space free of hatred and bigotry, where the Jewish community, like all communities, can leave in a welcoming and inclusive society.
Hopefully it will have others at the table.
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