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A rabbi and an imam called a meeting of Jewish and Muslim students at Queens College. It yielded little common ground.

(New York Jewish Week) – Students crammed into a meeting room on the leafy Queens College campus, some wearing keffiyehs, others kippahs. Kosher and halal food were served on a table at the back of the room, while late arrivals gathered at the door, listening to the rabbi and imam holding court at the center of the gathering.

“There are no two faith communities that have more in common than Islam and Judaism,” Rabbi Marc Schneier said, sitting next to his longtime partner in interfaith work, Imam Shamsi Ali. “We can agree to disagree, without being disagreeable.”

The meeting between the Muslim and Jewish students was meant to build bridges between the two groups amid fallout from the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that began with Hamas’ massacre of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. But, in actuality, the gathering further exposed the deep chasms between their two communities, which did disagree — and were often disagreeable.

As the conversation on Thursday descended into shouting, a Jewish student fired across the room, “Oct. 7 is resistance?”

A Muslim student said, “Yes, Oct. 7 is resistance, according to the Geneva Convention.”

“At least someone said it,” the Jewish student said.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has riven campuses in New York City and elsewhere, sparking heated clashes between student groups, as well as between students and administrators. An Israeli student was assaulted and a swastika was drawn on a bathroom wall at Columbia University, which later suspended two prominent pro-Palestinian groups. At Manhattan’s Cooper Union, Jewish students sheltered in a library as pro-Palestinian activists pounded on the doors and shouted slogans. Campuses across the city, including in the CUNY system, have seen tensions soar between rival pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups.

The Queens College gathering was similarly tense. At times, it devolved into shouting and mutual recriminations, although some individual students did appear to forge ties with classmates from the other side.

The New York Jewish Week was invited to cover the meeting on the condition that its student attendees not be identified by name so they could speak freely.

“Israelis are doing, in my opinion, what the Nazis did to them,” said the opening speaker, a Muslim. “This is how you create Hamas. If you want to know how to create Hamas, just keep bombing Gaza.”

“In my eyes as a Muslim, Palestinian and Israeli life – equal,” he said. “We have to be direct with each other.”

A Jewish student said, “A lot of our pain and suffering has been invalidated since Oct. 7. Right away, there was not a second to mourn. Automatically we had to defend ourselves.”

Citing student organizations on social media that had denied the atrocities, she said, “People were slaughtered. The world doesn’t care.”

She added, “I want to see my pain acknowledged.”

Queens College is part of the sprawling City University of New York system, which has been grappling with allegations of antisemitism for years. Jewish students and faculty have said Israel criticism often spills over into outright antisemitism, while Palestinians and their supporters have decried alleged attacks on free speech.

Around 50 students attended the hourlong meeting, perhaps the first formal gathering between Jewish and Muslim students on a New York City campus since Oct. 7, according to its organizers. Schneier and Ali previously held two meetings for students from several CUNY schools, one with only Muslims, and another with just Jewish students. They plan to hold several more gatherings.

“We are not here to convince you, whatever you have in mind, but we’re here to listen with the hope that we can build a sense of sympathy or empathy for one another,” Ali said.

Schneier is a prominent rabbi involved with outreach between Jews and Gulf countries; his Foundation for Ethnic Understanding focuses on Jewish-Muslim relations. He is also a member of CUNY’s Jewish advisory council. Ali is the leader of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, one of the largest mosques in New York, with 20,000 members.

The students present included members of the campus Hillel and the Muslim Student Association. Muslim students outnumbered Jewish students at the meeting and held the floor for more of the discussion, using the forum to air historical grievances and complaints against the college administration. Jewish students said their pain after the Hamas attack had been dismissed, or even exacerbated, as some student groups denied or endorsed the atrocities.

One Jewish student read out a threat posted online to the group, her hands shaking, saying, “We were terrified.” Both groups also felt that their voices had been stifled.

A Jewish student said that graffiti threatening Jews had been etched around campus and that she hadn’t seen similar hate directed toward pro-Palestinian students. The Muslim students in attendance forcefully disagreed, with one woman saying, “It’s absolutely appalling to disregard all the hate that the Muslims on this campus have been receiving.”

The Jewish speaker said she understood and had not been aware of anti-Muslim incidents.

The rabbi and imam made repeated efforts to guide the conversation toward interfaith relations and the atmosphere on campus, and the students all unequivocally condemned discrimination against Muslims and Jews as well as civilian casualties. At one point, Ali said, “Both communities are victims, but it looks like we are opponents to each other, and that’s what we need — to find a way to make sure that actually we are not enemies to one another.”

Still, the discussion repeatedly turned to the war, with the students unable to agree on its basic facts. Muslim students disputed that Hamas was using civilians as human shields, frustrating the Jews in attendance, or that Hamas had targeted Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, citing a conspiracy theory that the Israeli military was responsible for most civilian casualties.

The Muslim students repeatedly objected to the pro-Israel position, bringing up the Palestinian death toll of 12,000, a figure provided by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry that has not been externally verified and does not make a distinction between civilians and combatants.

In one heated exchange, a Muslim student said she had asked Israel supporters around campus if they condemned Israel. “I have not received a single yes,” she said. Pro-Israel students asked if she condemned Hamas, and she said she condemned the killing of innocent civilians on any side. Both groups said they were not “spokespeople” for the conflict’s combatants.

“What they accuse Hamas of doing today, they did — they’ve been doing for 75 years,” a Muslim student said. “The start date for you guys is Oct. 7,” another student said.

“A people who are occupied have a right to armed resistance. I know you don’t like hearing it but those are the facts,” a Muslim student said.

“People like you think they should lay back and let Israel slaughter them. No, we don’t want two states, we want one solution under pre-1948 borders,” he said, to applause, while one student held up a sign that said, “Bombing hospitals is not self defense.”

“We are trying to move forward as a community. We cannot fix the issues that present themselves in the Middle East,” a Jewish student said.

“It tears my heart hearing his pain, his family’s pain, it’s just awful,” a Jewish student said about the Palestinian speaker. “I think it would be great for us all to understand that there are bad people on both sides and there are great people on both sides.”

Later in the discussion, several Muslim students berated Ali, appearing to oppose his partnership with Schneier.

“Who told you to come here? Which Muslim? How much did they pay you?” one student said. “Say you’re a Zionist. You’re not welcome. Nobody wants you here.” He then led the room in several chants of “Allahu akbar,” an Arabic phrase meaning “God is the greatest.”

The Muslim students also repeatedly criticized the Queens College administration, saying the college had been overly supportive of Israel and that they had not been given a forum to express their grievances. The college president, Frank Wu, opened an investigation earlier this week into the Muslim Student Association after the group posted online that there was no evidence Palestinians had killed women and children, and justified Hamas taking civilians hostage.

The Oct. 7 attack by the terror group killed 1,200 Israelis and other nationals, mostly civilians, and took more than 200 others captive. Wu’s investigation sparked furious protests against the administration. Slogans attacking Wu and Israel were chalked on the sidewalk around campus.

“We’re not here representing CUNY. What do you want from us?” Schneier said.

After the meeting let out, the arguing continued outside the room, although some students seemed to forge connections in individual discussions.

A Muslim student spoke with a Jewish student, saying he had grown up in an environment that was not welcoming to Jews, but that his closest friend, whom he met in school, was Jewish. The two students bonded over the religions’ shared traditions, including fasting on holidays and eschewing pork.

“This is turning into a very Israel and Palestine thing, which it shouldn’t have, because it was an interfaith thing,” the Muslim student said. “It really hurts me a lot hearing terrible things being said about you guys because I for one don’t align with that.”

“I’m really happy that you came here,” the Jewish student said. “Jews, our religion, our values, it’s about a good world, good people, not doing violence. Everyone’s rights matter.”

Nearby, two students engaged in a heated but measured argument about the war, while two others showed each other information on their phones.

“I thought it was a good beginning,” Schneier told the New York Jewish Week after the meeting, pointing out that the complaints surrounding discrimination and stifled voices were mirrored on both sides. He said that an overflow room had been set up in case the two groups needed to be separated, which didn’t happen. “You’re planting a seed here,” he said.

“For some of the students, they grow in terms of their sense of empathy for the other side. It’s important for people to see it’s everyone’s pain,” Schneier said. “These kinds of discussions need to take place.”

The post A rabbi and an imam called a meeting of Jewish and Muslim students at Queens College. It yielded little common ground. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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