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A Florida JCC canceled a slavery-focused talk with a Jewish author, citing ‘the current political climate’

(JTA) – A South Florida Jewish community center has landed in the middle of the state’s culture wars after canceling a talk by an author whose novel focuses on race in America.

The Mandel JCC in West Palm Beach had booked Jewish author Rachel Beanland to headline a $100-a-plate luncheon in January 2024. The plan was for Beanland to discuss her latest novel, “The House Is On Fire,” a work of historical fiction concerning a deadly Richmond, Virginia, fire in the early 1800s that the city tried to blame on its enslaved population.

But in August, Beanland received an email from the JCC’s arts and culture coordinator asking for more details about her planned presentation and seeming to imply that it would be best to steer clear of some topics.

“Of course, this is Florida and our politics around the Black community, the history of the Civil War, and education in general are… complicated,” the employee wrote. The ellipsis was present in the original message.

For Beanland, the language was shocking. “I don’t think I was wrong to interpret it in this way: It was asking me not to talk about Black people,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Beanland wrote back with her publicist copied on the email to say that “any presentation I give is likely to address slavery and the rights of women.” A few weeks later, the JCC employee wrote back.

“After much discussion and debate, we have decided that this book is not the right choice” for the scheduled event, the employee wrote, adding, “Also, our decision is very much affected by the current political climate here in Florida.”

Last week, Beanland made the email exchange public by posting it to Instagram. The JCC issued a public apology on Monday. On Tuesday, the Jewish Book Council, a major organization for Jewish author,s issued a statement criticizing limits on free expression and calling for Beanland to be reinvited.

The episode highlights the new ways in which Jewish authors and even institutions have become embroiled in a broad effort, driven by conservatives, to constrain how race and racism are discussed in public. Florida has been an epicenter of that effort, with Gov. Ron DeSantis urging his state education department to deemphasize race in school instruction and inviting parents to challenge books in school libraries. DeSantis barred public schools from using the national Advanced Placement African-American history curriculum, prompting it to be revised, and the state recently approved new guidelines that historians and activists say whitewash topics such as slavery and racism. DeSantis ignited a firestorm in July when he defended the guidelines and said slavery afforded benefits to some people who experienced it.

The state’s guidelines do not apply to non-public schools and institutions, but the emails from the West Palm Beach JCC employee add to a growing body of evidence that a chilling effect can be felt beyond the letter of the law.

“Obviously, we were dismayed to see this happen,” Naomi Firestone-Teeter, executive director of the Jewish Book Council, told JTA.

The council promotes Jewish books and authors and facilitates a virtual author marketplace to give JCCs and other Jewish institutions the chance to book authors for events. The Mandel JCC had booked Beanland through this network, which, Firestone-Teeter said, made the cancellation particularly disappointing to the council and led to its decision to issue a statement criticizing the JCC.

“When our sites make commitments, it’s our hope that they would honor the commitments that they’re making to our authors,” Firestone-Teeter said.

After Beanland posted the exchange with the JCC employee, who has not been named publicly, the center’s CEO Jesse Rosen spoke to her by phone. Beanland insisted that Rosen issue a public apology, which he did Monday, on the JCC’s Instagram page.

“We are deeply sorry for what our JCC communicated with Rachel, as it does not reflect the values we stand for,” Rosen and board chair Joel Yudenfreund wrote.

They added, “We are deeply committed to promoting diverse voices, opinions, and perspectives,” and said that the opinions about Beanland’s talk came from two members of their volunteer-run book committee, whose views “are completely counter to our values.”

Speaking to JTA, Rosen said the employee in question had been terminated, but for a separate issue. He condemned the employee’s emails and said they did not reflect the JCC’s views.

“The wording that she used is just not who we are, and doesn’t represent the work we do,” he said. “We hope that you look at the 40 years of work we’ve done, including many [on] slavery and civil rights and LGBTQ and other topics — that we’ve never been afraid to have hard conversations. That’s what we do.”

He also said that the email’s wording, in addition to being inappropriate, wasn’t reflective of “the actual reasons” why the center canceled the talk. Instead, he said, the committee had determined that the event would be too “topically similar” to one the previous year that had also focused on slavery — evidence he also cited for why he believes the JCC has “a long history of taking on hard topics, and we have every intention of continuing to.”

Both Beanland and the Jewish Book Council say it should have been clear from the outset that her book discusses slavery. For Beanland, the bigger issue is that the center’s actions are in line with the state’s larger culture war over Black history — and an abdication of a Jewish responsibility.

“I feel like if there’s any community in the United States outside of the African-American community that should understand how essential it is for us not to erase or obscure history, it should be the Jewish community,” she said. “And in light of everything that’s happening in Florida, and the fact that DeSantis has kind of ushered in this wave of legislation that is really trying to make African-American history, Black history, just disappear — it felt really concerning.”

Beanland’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, supported her in a statement.

“Difficult subjects will not go away by pretending the books that address them don’t exist,” the publisher told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We stand against book banning in all its forms, including preemptive self-censorship.”

Rosen insists, despite the employee’s email, that the JCC’s staff never discussed the political climate when determining their bookings.

“There was just never any conversation that, based on whatever’s happening in the state or the country, that we need to adjust what we do or how we do it,” he said. “It never, ever even entered into the conversation.”

Rosen further insisted that Beanland hadn’t been entirely disinvited from the center, only asked to headline a smaller event instead. But Beanland told JTA she had no interest in doing so. “I was obviously pretty offended” at seeing the event downgraded, she said.

Rosen said he was hoping to have discussions with the Jewish Book Council to determine “her willingness to come to our community still.” He added, “We certainly know we need to apologize, and we’re never trying to not have the conversation.”

In its own statement, the Jewish Book Council criticized the JCC’s initial decision but said it was “heartened by this apology.” It added that it hoped the invitation would be returned. (Jewish Book Council president Elisa Spun­gen Bildner, who co-signed the statement with Firestone-Teeter and co-president Joy Greenberg, is a board member of JTA parent company 70 Faces Media.)

The prospect of Beanland accepting such an invitation seems unlikely. She told JTA she’s “not interested in ever talking to them again.”


The post A Florida JCC canceled a slavery-focused talk with a Jewish author, citing ‘the current political climate’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

The post Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org“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.

The post Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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