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6 Jewish things to know about Vivek Ramaswamy, the GOP candidate who has suggested ending aid to Israel

(JTA) – Ahead of the first Republican presidential debate, the candidate with the least political experience is making some of the biggest headlines — in part due to his views on Israel.

Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur who has never held elected office, is seeing growing support for his long-shot candidacy. A recent poll placed him neck-and-neck in second place with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the crowded GOP field, and the RealClearPolitics polling average places him in third

Both candidates still lag far behind former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner. But Ramaswamy’s rising numbers mean he will share the center of Wednesday night’s debate stage on Fox News, and a recent memo from a pro-DeSantis Super PAC called on the governor to “take a sledgehammer” to Ramaswamy at the debate. DeSantis and the other hopefuls are expected to attack Ramaswamy’s many unconventional views, including a call to eventually end United States aid to Israel. 

The Ohio-born businessman, whose net worth is estimated at more than $600 million, has based his campaign largely around tackling “wokeness,” a term that has become shorthand for conservative criticism of progressive values. But he’s also made headlines for more outré proposals, such as a pledge to eliminate the FBI and Department of Education, a call to require civics tests for young voters and a desire to learn “the truth about 9/11.”

Among his policies is a call to phase out U.S. aid to Israel by 2028, which separates him from the largely pro-Israel Republican establishment. Ramaswamy has also drawn attention for criticizing a bill signed by DeSantis that penalizes antisemitic harassment and has called to repeal a law banning religious discrimination in employment. 

Before he became a presidential candidate, he was involved in a Jewish society at Yale University and benefited from a fellowship named after the brother of George Soros, the progressive Jewish megadonor. 

Here’s what to know about Vivek Ramaswamy and the Jews.

He has floated ending U.S. aid to Israel.

In June, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Ramaswamy suggested that he would be open to ending aid to Israel as “part of a broader disengagement with the Middle East.” He later walked back those comments. But last week, he told actor and podcaster Russell Brand that he does, in fact, want to end U.S. aid to Israel in 2028, the year when the current U.S. commitment to provide $3.8 billion annually to Israel expires. 

Ramaswamy said that decision would come as Israel receives recognition from more countries in the Middle East. Israel has signed normalization deals with several states in the region in recent years, a framework called the Abraham Accords, and is now pursuing a treaty with Saudi Arabia. Ramaswamy told the Jewish News Syndicate that he’d also like to spearhead Israeli accords with Indonesia and Oman.

“Come 2028, that additional aid won’t be necessary in order to still have the kind of stability that we’d actually have in the Middle East by having Israel more integrated in with its partners,” he said on a show Brand hosts on the video platform Rumble.

In advocating an end to the aid package, Ramaswamy has perhaps unintentionally aligned himself with the progressive left, whose members have increasingly supported conditioning or halting aid to Israel due to its treatment of Palestinians. Recently, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof argued that the aid dollars would be better spent helping poorer countries. And some voices on the right have also called for ending aid to Israel, arguing that it makes Israel beholden to the United States

But those views are not shared by Ramaswamy’s most prominent Republican rivals. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has criticized his position on aid to Israel, while DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence have made support for Israel a cornerstone of their campaigns

The Republican Jewish Coalition has also implored Ramaswamy to change course. Matt Brooks, the group’s CEO, wrote in an open letter that “it makes much more sense to keep Israel in the family of countries with an interest in buying and using American capabilities” — which the aid package requires.

On other Israel-related policies, Ramaswamy is more in line with his party’s mainstream. Alongside supporting the Abraham Accords, he praised Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has attacked U.S. funding for programs benefiting Palestinians.

He says ‘donors’ are behind legislation combating antisemitism.

While Ramaswamy has called antisemitism “a symptom of something that is broken in our society,” he has spoken harshly about a law DeSantis enacted that penalizes antisemitic acts in Florida.

In June, he tweeted that DeSantis’ signing of the law, which criminalizes the distribution of antisemitic flyers on private property, was done “at his donors’ request.” After blowback from the conservative commentariat over his characterization of the law, he tweeted again about it — this time taking aim at “the censorship czars at Twitter” for appending a note to the tweet, which he partially blamed on “DeSantis megadonor David Sacks,” who is Jewish.

In a subsequent interview with Jewish Insider, Ramaswamy said the DeSantis bill didn’t pass his own “litmus test” because he saw it as “a viewpoint discrimination law.” He added that “bad speech” has to be countered with “free speech and open debate.” He pointed to a famous Supreme Court case permitting neo-Nazis to march in the heavily Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois, as an example of a bigotry-related issue that was “decided correctly.”

“I stand fiercely against bigotry and hatred and harassing speech,” he added.

He was in a Jewish leadership society at Yale.

Ramaswamy told JNS that he was one of the “key members” of Shabtai, a Jewish alternative to the “secret societies” at Yale University, where he attended law school. He said the society’s co-founder and rabbinical adviser, Rabbi Shmully Hecht, is a mentor of his. 

Shabtai was founded at Yale in 1996 and receives extensive financial support from Israeli-American tech mogul Benny Shabtai, a major backer of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Though founded on Jewish values, the society has a diverse membership. It also counts Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who himself ran for president in 2020, among its alumni. 

Ramaswamy describes his time with Shabtai as formative, and the group has touted him as an alum. Hecht did not respond to a request for comment. 

Volodymyr Zelensky is pictured at a welcoming ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 26, 2022. (Philip Reynaers / Pool / Photonews via Getty Images)

He claims Ukraine’s Jewish president is mistreating Jews.

While Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has earned admirers across the Western world for his conduct in his country’s war against Russia, Ramaswamy isn’t impressed.

The candidate told Jewish Insider that Zelensky — whose Jewish identity has been targeted by Russian propaganda — has himself mistreated Jews in Ukraine. Ramaswamy did not offer evidence to support that claim, which echoes claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin made to justify his invasion of Ukraine last year.

“I would just say that there are open questions about his treatment of religious minorities, including but not limited to Jews in Ukraine, that I think should be among the reasons we should stop short of holding him out as some sort of hero,” the candidate said. He did not provide examples when asked, though he said that Zelensky’s merging of all Ukrainian TV channels into a single station last year and his dissolution of political parties with ties to Russia would “create the risk for” antisemitism.

Ramaswamy is not the only Republican to criticize U.S. support for Ukraine, a stance that Trump and DeSantis have also questioned. He told Jewish Insider that he sees “protecting Israel” as one of the United States’ “far higher priorities.”

He wants to repeal a civil rights-era law forbidding religious discrimination in employment.

“Reverse racism is racism,” Ramaswamy recently stated in a list of “truths” he said were fundamental to his campaign. To that end, he has promised to repeal Executive Order 11246, a more-than-50-year-old law forbidding federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin. “Time to restore colorblind meritocracy once and for all,” Ramaswamy wrote in the New York Post

Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 as part of his flurry of civil rights legislation, the order has long been associated with affirmative action, a longtime bugbear of the right. But the order has also been drawn on by Jewish groups to protest employer discrimination against Jews. In 1966, the American Jewish Committee cited it to protest commercial banks that it said were virtually excluding all qualified Jews from working for them

He reportedly paid a Wikipedia editor to remove a Soros family connection.

In 2011, Ramaswamy, the son of Indian immigrants, received a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans — funding to help immigrants and first-generation Americans earn college degrees. The fellowship is named for the brother of progressive Jewish megadonor George Soros, a frequent target of leading Republicans who features in a range of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Shortly before he announced his presidential campaign, Ramaswamy reportedly paid a Wikipedia editor to scrub his fellowship from his entry on the site. He has since gone on to criticize Soros and his family from the campaign trail.

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Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Israel is at a crucial juncture after Iran fired more than 350 ballistic and cruise missiles at the Jewish state overnight on April 13, according to Israel’s ambassador to Canada. “We are facing one of the most critical moments in the history of the State of Israel when a country like Iran starts an attack […]

The post Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgThe solemnly named International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has become an arena for the world’s despots and authoritarians to strut and grandstand, projecting their own abuses—torture, censorship, genocide—onto the world’s democracies.

The anti-democratic crusade waged in the name of human rights has impacted Israel more than any other state. The Jewish state is subjected to insulting and, frankly, frivolous lawsuits every time it tries to discharge its basic duty of protecting its citizens—whether that was the security fence constructed along the West Bank border more than a decade ago or the war against Hamas in Gaza right now.

Since the onset of the latest war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the monstrous Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Israel has been the focus of a baseless charge of genocide brought about by South Africa, which largely failed in its bid to make the accusation stick. Many observers pointed out that South Africa’s worsening domestic record—marked by corruption, horrific xenophobia towards migrants from other countries in southern Africa and an inability to deliver basic services like electricity and clean water to those who need them most—hardly qualifies its African National Congress (ANC)-led government to sit in judgment over Israel. Yet Pretoria has continued undeterred, at the same time that it welcomes Hamas leaders for state visits and treats its Jewish community—and anyone else who dares utter understanding for Israel—with unvarnished antisemitism.

Now the baton has passed to Nicaragua, which last week sent its lawyers to the ICJ to charge Germany with aiding and abetting Israel’s supposed “genocide.” The bitter irony is that it is Nicaragua’s far-left leadership, aligned with the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, that should be in the dock.

Daniel Ortega has been in power in Nicaragua since 2007, and he’s not going anywhere—at least, not voluntarily. Some readers will remember Ortega’s name from the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the Iran-Contra scandal that followed during the subsequent decade. But you don’t have to dig deep into that history to get a sense of the kind of regime that he runs. As Freedom House—an NGO that monitors the state of liberty around the world—explains it, the latest period of Ortega’s rule has been “a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms and unchecked corruption in government.”

In the last year alone, the Nicaraguan regime has expelled more than 200 opposition leaders into exile in the United States. It has passed new legislation to strip those deemed “traitors to the homeland” of their citizenship. It has turned the police into an arm of the executive, trampling over the separation of powers that democracies hold so dear. In many ways, this new wave of repression is an outgrowth of the regime’s brutal clampdown on anti-government protests in 2018. Abroad, meanwhile, its authoritarian domestic policy is matched by unflinching support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and a close bond with the Iranian regime, North Korea and other rogue states.

This, in short, is the character of the regime that has brought charges of “genocide” against Israel by targeting Germany’s supply of arms to the Jewish state—as if a serial sex offender was to opportunistically cry out, “rape!”

Why is Nicaragua embarking on this path at the ICJ? Some insight was provided by a German journalist who specializes in Latin American affairs, Toni Keppeler, during an interview last week with Swiss radio. Noting that Nicaragua is quite isolated among the world’s states, Keppeler suggested that the ICJ lawsuit was seen by Ortega as a means of boosting his international image. And Germany, he added, was a much safer bet than the United States, which supplies far more weapons to Israel, because America can punish Nicaragua in ways that Germany couldn’t or wouldn’t. He also noted that Ortega wants to be embraced by left-wing groups around the world. And so the Nicaraguan caudillo figures, not unreasonably, that bandwagoning on the Palestinian cause they are obsessed with is the way he will achieve that.

But there is another, more sinister reason behind Nicaragua’s action. Ultimately, these cases against Israel at the ICJ are aimed at shifting public perceptions of Israel and its history, and in particular, the influence of the Holocaust upon support for Israel in the democratic world. One of the reasons why Germany supports Israel is simply because it was the country that initiated the mass slaughter of Jews during World War II. Since 1945, democratic Germany has been guided by entirely different principles, elevating its backing for Israel into a staatsrason—“reason of state.” Indeed, as I noted recently, one of the several questions about Jews and Israel on the newly reformulated naturalization test for prospective immigrants to Germany asks, “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” with the correct answer being “The crimes of national socialism.”

That is how it should be, but for the international left, such a stance is intolerable. In their jaundiced eyes, Germany has atoned for the Holocaust by backing the nakba—the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by many Palestinians to describe the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948. Germany’s position irritatingly reminds the world that Jews were once victims of nightmarish genocide themselves—hardly the sort of fact you’d want to highlight if your purpose is to turn them into victims once again. And so, Nicaragua’s lawyers (including, disgracefully, a German citizen named Daniel Muller) have trooped into the ICJ to argue that supporting the Jewish state is the wrong way to express solidarity with Jews.

The goal here, make no mistake, is to separate the Holocaust from Israel and to argue that the one entity in the world capable of preventing another Holocaust is actually sowing its seeds! It’s topsy-turvy logic, but if it works effectively as propaganda, generating meme after meme on social media, why worry about that?

Hence we arrive at a situation where the 15 ICJ judges debate a phantom genocide while turning a blind eye to genuine examples of this phenomenon, along with other related crimes. “The government of Nicaragua is perpetrating widespread violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity,” the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect Project noted in a briefing back in February, but you won’t hear a peep about that in the ICJ’s corridors. Ditto for Turkey’s racist treatment of its Kurdish minority, and indeed, for the myriad other examples of government-sponsored cruelty on every continent.

This is yet another demonstration of antisemitism, insofar as antisemitism applies to standards for Jews that no other nation has to contend with. That is the ugly reality behind these fanciful appeals to “international law” that plague Israel. Germany is now receiving a glimpse of what that feels like but only because of its relationship with Israel—otherwise, this case would never have been brought to court.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history. … Steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.” — John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies, West Point, Feb. 17, 2024

“[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children.” — Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2016

In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes … in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured … with little accountability.” — Amnesty International at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022

The recent accidental deaths of seven foreign aid workers with World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip have sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol that highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all and any tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in recent history in which the gulf between good and evil, wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage has been a lamentable aspect of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system and perhaps even before that.

Rarely if ever has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians as Israel. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces … does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscores, “Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting ‘gold standard’ for avoiding civilian casualties

The chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral damage as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions in Gaza above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1:1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare in general is 1:9—six times higher.

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison to non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. In World War II, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities that were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen in March 1945, when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city. It inadvertently hit a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians, including 87 schoolchildren.

Then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100,000 to 200,000 were incinerated and irradiated by the U.S. atomic bombings in early August 1945.

“There is always a cost to defeat an evil.”

Half a century later, after hundreds of thousands were killed by American bombing in the Vietnam War, NATO launched a war against Serbia. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far from accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets. These targets included residential neighborhoods, old-age homes, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, trains on bridges and even a foreign embassy.

When then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, he responded, “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” This is exactly how Israelis feel about the war against Hamas.

These were not the only post-World War II instances of pervasive human suffering caused by large-scale U.S.-led military operations.

More babies died in Iraq than in Hiroshima

After Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Iraq and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. Even after Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, sanctions and military operations continued. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering for the civilian population. The scale of it can be gauged by a 1996 60 Minutes interview with the late Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer Leslie Stahl about the ravages the U.S.-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked,We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-Oct. 7 response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the U.S. homeland nor any U.S. resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime.

‘A tremendous human toll … ’

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in which almost 3,000 people died, a U.S.-led military coalition (in which the U.K. played a prominent role) invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot Al-Qaeda. The Oct. 7 massacre was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the toll of the 9/11 atrocity; the equivalent of almost 50,000 U.S. fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars … have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries.” It presents a 2021 assessment that almost 47,000 Afghani civilians were killed, but adds a proviso that “several times … more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars,” including through “water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease.”

Thousands of civilians hit ‘with little accountability’

U.S. strikes in which indisputably civilian targets were hit are a matter of record. During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, several weddings, parties and processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the U.S. strikes, Amnesty International USA stated: “In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft) with little accountability.”

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition—launched on the dubious or at least unsubstantiated allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction—wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and a death toll upwards of 300,000 non-combatants.

Closing caveat

The current vogue of berating Israel is both unfounded and unfair. Lending this abuse support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering embers of hatred that will eventually engulf those who propagate it.

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