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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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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”


For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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