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A Jewish Democrat gave up his political career to pass New York’s abortion rights law. A new film tells his story.

(New York Jewish Week) — In 1970, New York State passed one of the most expansive abortion rights laws in the country, its legislation putting into motion the eventual adoption of Roe v. Wade in 1973.

But the legislation almost didn’t pass. It was only thanks to George Michaels, a Jewish Democrat in the New York State Assembly, who changed his vote in the 11th hour to allow for the legislation to move forward with an absolute majority and to be signed into law the next day by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. 

“Deciding Vote,” a new documentary released by The New Yorker, brings renewed attention to that decisive yet little-remembered moment in American history, one that ultimately cost Michaels his career. 

Co-directors Jeremy Workman and Rob Lyons began working on the 20-minute documentary in 2019, nearly three years before the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. While the film does not explicitly address the current moment, Workman said that “the viewer understands that it’s about now even though this happened 50 years ago.”

They see how one person really can make a difference,” he told the New York Jewish Week about the film, which was released on Nov. 29. “It shows us how, in all our decisions, we can look inward and also to the big picture of the world and see what makes the most sense and not just retreat into our own political corner.”

Michaels, a lawyer, was a State Assembly member from 1961 to 1966 and again from 1969 and 1970. He represented Auburn in New York’s Finger Lakes  region — a Jewish Democrat in a heavily Catholic and conservative area. 

For much of his tenure, the film relates, Michaels was steadfast in serving his constituency, which overwhelmingly opposed abortion. Even the Jews who lived in his district, Workman said, generally opposed abortion. Although Michaels personally supported a woman’s right to choose, he had twice voted against efforts to expand abortion rights because he knew that his constituents did not. 

So, on April 9, 1970, when a bill that had already passed in the Senate arrived in the House that allowed for access to abortions up until 24 weeks of pregnancy, or at any time to protect the life of the mother, Michaels initially voted against it as well. 

However, at the end of the session, after he saw that it was deadlocked at 74 in favor and 74 opposed, he stood up to change his vote, knowing that the bill needed an absolute majority of 76 in favor to pass. With the count 75-73, the Speaker of the Assembly, Perry Duryea, who only voted in cases when his vote would make a difference, would be able to cast the deciding vote. 

“Many people in my district may not only condemn me for what I’m about to do, but Mr. Speaker, I say to you in all candor, and I say this very feelingly to all of you, what’s the use of getting elected or re-elected if you don’t stand for something?” he said in a speech before he changes his vote.

Michaels knew that this decision would end his time in the State Assembly. “I fully appreciate that this is the termination of my political career,” he said in the same speech. “But I cannot in good conscience stay here and thwart the obvious majority of this house, the members of whom I dearly love, and for whom I have a great deal of affection. I’ll probably never come back here again to share these things with you. I therefore request you, Mr. Speaker, to change my negative vote to an affirmative vote.”

Duryea then voted for the affirmative, and the bill was sent to the governor to sign. As women poured into New York for the procedure, it set the stage for the Roe v. Wade decision in the Supreme Court three years later. 

And even though Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, its legacy carries on. Furthermore, New York’s law remains intact, making it one of the safest and easiest states to get an abortion, even allowing for minors from any state to travel to New York to receive abortions without parental consent.

As Michaels’ son James describes it in the film, “Suddenly, all hell broke loose.” Michaels did not receive the Democratic endorsement in the next election, and never won another election after. The Queens, New York native practiced law until his retirement in 1985, and died in 1992 at age 82

As the story goes, it was his children, who, as young adults in the 1960s were involved in anti-war, civil rights and reproductive rights movements, who convinced him to vote for the bill. 

That Michaels listened to his sons and his daughter-in-law is, for Workman, what really stands out about this story — and what makes it Jewish. “For me, his Judaism really comes through with his children,” Workman said. “Jews at that time were very active in all kinds of social justice, reproductive rights, civil rights and voting rights movements.”

In the movie, Michaels’ son James, who is now a rabbi in Maryland, remembers telling his father, “You’re the only hope we have.” He says that the first time he discussed the issue with his father, the elder Michaels told him that he couldn’t vote for the bill. 

“I said, ‘I understand, just as long as your vote isn’t the one to defeat it,’” the younger Michaels recalls. “I never dreamed that it would come to the point where that would be where his vote would be the one that was so critical.”

George Michaels’ sons, Lee and Rabbi James Michaels, visit their father’s grave at the Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.  (Jeremy Workman)

Michaels references his conversation with his son in the speech he gave on Capitol floor to change his vote, which is shown in full in the film. 

“Just before I left for Albany this week, my son Jim, who, as you recall Mr. Speaker, gave the invocation to this assembly on February 4th, and he said ‘Dad, for God’s sake. Don’t let your vote be the vote that defeats this bill,’” he says in his speech.

Workman said that while Michaels story isn’t completely unknown, “It just kind of got lost a little to the history books. No one had really pointed George Michaels out and what impact he had.”

The documentary interviews Jewish activist and former Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger, who has been one of the sole upholders of Michaels’ legacy. She teaches a course on the late lawmaker called “George Michaels and Moral Courage” as part of a leadership course she teaches with the American Jewish World Service and as an adjunct professor at Hunter College.  

“Very often, the most organized groups that do the most lobbying, that make the most noise, are groups that actually don’t represent a majority,” she says in the film. “So very often you have to take a quiet conversation with yourself: I know where people stand, but I have to do what I think is right.” 

Messinger will speak on a panel about the film at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan on Dec. 12 with co-director Rob Lyons. The film can be seen at the New Yorker website.

“My concern is that too many of the people who exercise moral courage don’t have a legacy because we don’t talk about them,” Messenger adds. “If you’re looking for a model for doing that — for sticking your neck out, for taking a position of moral courage — Assemblyman George Michaels is right at the top of my list.”


The post A Jewish Democrat gave up his political career to pass New York’s abortion rights law. A new film tells his story. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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University of California Student Government Passes BDS Legislation

Graphic posted on a social media account administered by University of California-Davis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine on February 17, 2024. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Davis (UC Davis) student government passed on Friday legislation adopting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions, (BDS) movement and falsely accusing Israel of genocide.

“This bill prohibits the purchase of products from corporations identified as profiting from the genocide and occupation of the Palestinian people by the BDS National Committee,” says the measure, titled Senate Bill (SB) #52. “This bill seeks to address the human rights violations of the nation-state and government of Israel and establish a guideline of ethical spending.”

Puma, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Airbnb, Disney, and Sabra are all named on SJP’s “BDS List.”

Powers enumerated in the bill include veto power over all vendor contracts, which SJP specifically applied to “purchase orders for custom t-shirts,” a provision that may affect pro-Israel groups on campus. Such policies will be guided by a “BDS List” of targeted companies curated by SJP. The language of the legislation gives ASUCD the right to add more.

“No ASUCD funds shall be committed to the purchases of products or services of any corporation identified by the BDS List as being complicit in the violation of the human rights guaranteed to Palestinian civilians,” the bill adds.

A notable provision of the bill regards the charter for the Special Committee on Ethical Standing. It says the committee must be “dissolved” in a year and its”responsibilities” absorbed by UC Davis’ Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, a division of the student government that which describes itself as a special advocacy group for non-white students. The requirement makes BDS a permanent policy of the school and links it to the issue of racial justice, which, on a college campus, serves as a safeguard against any future attempt to pass legislation proscribing the adoption of BDS.

SJP praised the bill’s passing and signing by ASUCD’s president, Francisco Javier Ojeda.

“The bill that was passed prevents any of the $20 million in the ASUCD budget from being spent on companies complicit in the occupation and genocide of Palestinians, as specified by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement,” the group said on social media. “From McDonald’s to Sabra to Chevron, none of our student feeds that fund ASUCD operations will be used to financially support 30+ companies that are complicit in Zionist violence.”

Students for Justice in Palestine at University of California-Davis is one of many SJP chapters that justified Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7. In a chilling statement posted after the world became aware of the terrorist group’s atrocities on that day, which included hundreds of civilian murders and sexual assaults, the group said “the responsibility for the current escalation of violence is entirely on the Israeli occupation.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters — which have said in their communications that Israeli civilians deserve to be murdered for being “settlers” — lead the way in promoting a campus environment hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel voices. Their aim, the civil rights group explained in an open letter published in December, is to “exclude and marginalize Jewish students,” whom they describe as “oppressors,” and encourage “confrontation” with them.

The ADL has urged colleges and universities to protect Jewish students from the group’s behavior, which, in many cases, has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post University of California Student Government Passes BDS Legislation first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘Horrifying and Heart Wrenching’: IDF Releases New Footage of Shiri Bibas and Her Young Sons in Gaza 

Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother Yarden (34) was taken hostage with his wife Shiri (32) and 2 children Kfir (10 months) and Ariel (4), holds with her friend Tal Ulus pictures of them during an interview with Reuters, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas continues, in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 13, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The IDF released “horrifying” new footage on Monday showing Israeli hostage Shiri Bibas and her two children flanked by gunmen in the Gaza Strip, filmed shortly after their abduction during the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. 

Captured by surveillance cameras in Khan Younis, the footage shows Bibas wrapped in a sheet and clutching her red-haired sons, Ariel, aged 4, and Kfir, who was only 9 months old at the time of their abduction, and is the first proof of life since October 7. The children’s father, Yarden Bibas, was separately abducted and his condition remains unknown.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari expressed the military’s deep concerns over Shiri and her children’s fate. 

“Seeing this young mother clutching her babies surrounded by a group of armed terrorists is horrifying and heart wrenching,” he said at a press conference on Monday. 

“Those who have the audacity to question our need to operate in Gaza, but don’t have the basic decency and humanity to demand that Hamas release our hostages first of all, they all should take a good look at this terrified mother, Shiri, clutching her babies,” he said, adding that the IDF would “leave no stone unturned” in returning the hostages. 

The IDF, according to Hagari, lacks sufficient information to ascertain whether they are alive or dead but is “making every effort to obtain more information about their fate.” The footage was obtained from a Khan Younis military post belonging to the Mujahideen Brigades, a small armed group who are holding Bibas and her children. 

The Bibas family said in a statement that the videos “tore our hearts out.”

“Witnessing Shiri, Yarden, Ariel and Kfir, ripped away from their home in Nir Oz into this hellscape, feels unbearable and inhumane,” the family said.  “We’re issuing a desperate call to all the decision-makers in Israel and the world who are involved in the negotiations: Bring them home now. Make it clear to Hamas that kidnapping children is out of bounds.”

The family also called for Shiri and her children to be prioritized in any future hostage release deal with Hamas. 

Hamas had claimed in November that Shiri, Ariel, and Kfir were casualties of an IDF strike, a claim the IDF has contested as unverified and said at the time that the claim was part of the terror group’s “cruel and inhuman” psychological warfare. Hamas also released a video of a visibly distressed Yarden Bibas after he had been informed by his captors that his wife and children were killed by the IDF. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the footage as “heartbreaking” and said it “reminds us who we are dealing with — brutal baby kidnappers.”

“We will bring these kidnappers of babies and mothers to justice. They won’t get away with it,” Netanyahu said.

Irit Lahav, spokeswoman for the embattled community of Nir Oz, said that the video “reminds us that we are all held hostage until the return of all the hostages.”

A quarter of Nir Oz’s residents were either kidnapped or murdered on October 7. 

The post ‘Horrifying and Heart Wrenching’: IDF Releases New Footage of Shiri Bibas and Her Young Sons in Gaza  first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Antisemitism Accusations Lodged Against Middlebury College

Illustrative: Pro-Hamas demonstrators are detained by police officers in New York during a protest at the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Accusations of institutional antisemitism against Middlebury College in Vermont have been lodged in a civil rights complaint filed by StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel.

The complaint, filed with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) argues that high level Middlebury College officials, by refusing to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally, have fostered a “pervasively hostile climate,” which prevents Jewish students from enjoying the full benefits of being a college student at a higher education receiving federal funds, according to the complaint.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering. In an email to one Jewish group that planned a vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

A month later, the administration uncomplainingly accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official, a request which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

StandWithUs also noted that Middlebury allegedly ignored numerous complaints of antisemitic harassment committed by anti-Zionist groups. After a local Chabad rabbi  wrote to school officials reporting acts of “intimidation,” including preventing Jews from entering the cafeteria, during a “Day of Resistance” event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the school’s associate vice president of safety warned him not to report the incidents to outside law enforcement, saying that doing so would be a “risk to individuals and to our community.” The official also denied being aware of any antisemitic incidents.

“The hostile environment at Middlebury College and the administration’s failure to act to correct it are unacceptable,” Carly Gammill, Director of Legal Strategy at SWU Center for Legal Justice, in a press release issued on Friday. “Too often, when Jewish students raise concerns about antisemitism, they are subjected to administrators who deflect the bigotry at play”

“Jewish students deserve the same level of respect, consideration and lawful response as all minority groups when they report cases of bigotry and discrimination,” Gammill added.

Middlebury also allegedly refused to punish anti-Zionist students for using their social media accounts to publish hate speech. Social media posts that cheered Hamas’ atrocities as “decolonization,” called Jews “colonizers” deserving of being victims of violence, and said “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” proliferated in the days and weeks after Oct. 7, but this day, Middlebury has never issued a statement condemning antisemitism.

The Algemeiner has asked Middlebury College to comment on SWU’s allegations.

“Middlebury college has failed egregiously to provide adequate protecting for Jewish students seeking to remedy persistent antisemitic bigotry on campus,” Yael Lerman, SWU director of the Center for Legal Justice said in Friday’s press release. “Middlebury administrators disregarded student allegations, attempted to silence them, neglected to enforce its own rules, and at times were complicit in discriminating against Jewish students. In doing so, the college has violated its obligations under Title VI and must be held accountable.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Antisemitism Accusations Lodged Against Middlebury College first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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