(New York Jewish Week) – The El Al desk at JFK Airport’s Terminal 4 was brimming with quiet anxiety on Monday as dozens of travelers waited to be checked in holding two documents: their passport, and their emergency summons from the Israel Defense Forces.
The military reservists were preparing to board at least two specially chartered flights to Israel, where they will join a burgeoning war effort. Since Saturday’s invasion of southern Israel by Hamas, which killed at least 900 Israelis, the country has called up an unprecedented 300,000 reservists for what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “massive attack” on the terror group.
That callup brought Israelis from New York City and beyond to the JFK terminal, where the check-in operation of Israel’s national carrier felt less chaotic than usual: Airline attendants were helping the men move through the process quickly, while hordes of volunteers had appeared to drop off food and equipment as well as make sure everyone knew where they needed to go.
“I’m just thinking about my team back in Israel,” said Noam, an Israeli man who lives in New York. “They’re already been called up together so I’m just waiting to join them.”
Noam, who served in a special forces unit in the IDF, found out he was called up for reserve duty on Monday morning. By 1 p.m., he was checking for a 4 p.m. flight to Israel.
Another Israeli man from the city said he was “just so tired.” Like several of those waiting in line, he was hesitant to speak to press for security reasons.
A third man had flown in from his home in Kansas that morning.
“They just told us to get here, and they would take care of it,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we are here.”
Not everyone trying to get to Israel on Monday was a soldier heading to war — some were just visiting the US and hoping to get back home. Delta Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines have all suspended flights to Israel amid travel advisories from the U.S. State Department. Around the world, airlines from Europe and Asia, including Air France and Lufthansa, are temporarily suspending their flights to Tel Aviv as well.
“We’re feeling anxious to get back,” said Shira, who immigrated to Israel with her husband three years ago. The couple, who were visiting family in the New York area for the fall Jewish holiday season, originally had flights to Israel scheduled for Thursday that were canceled by Delta. Shira’s husband hoped to leave Monday afternoon; she had found a ticket to leave next week.
El Al is still operating its flights, and several WhatsApp groups have emerged to help reservists outside of Israel find their way back to the country. The groups help the reservists both find flights and pay for them, as the cost of a one-way El Al ticket has spiked to more than $2,000.
On Monday, another Israeli man had come to the airport just to get reimbursed by the airline for his ticket — he had given up his seat on a flight that day because “there are soldiers that need to go today.” It was unclear what he needed to do next, he said, in order to get back home.
Still others came to the airport to help those who were traveling. Boxes and boxes of food intended for the travelers were stacked in the terminal.
“We’re all looking to help in some way. People don’t know who to turn to,” said Elan Kornblum, the New York-based administrator of “Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies,” a Facebook group that has 91,000 members and which was helping organize and deliver food to JFK. It has previously organized food drives responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I wish I could help answer all the questions, but we’re not set up for that,” Kornblum said. “But when it comes to food, when it comes to delivering things and getting people to do it, that’s what we’re best at and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Currently, the group has solicited donations of hamburgers, pies, cookies, sandwiches, energy bars and coffee — all from kosher eateries and grocery stores in the New York area. The food will go toward soldiers heading to Israel and Israelis stuck in New York. Kornblum hopes to direct some of the donations to families in which one parent had to fly to Israel for reserve duty.
“There’s a lot of information on social media, it can get overwhelming,” he said. “You’re inundated with so much going on. I’m trying to just filter it all, to put it out there how people can help, to get them involved, hopefully to inspire and educate.”
One Israeli man showed up to volunteer at the terminal after being alerted to an opportunity to help on a WhatsApp group. He currently lives in New York and said he is likely too old to be called from the reserves.
“It’s really hard to hear this news and feel like you can’t do anything. My wife and family are here in New York,” he said. “This is really something small, but I still came to help.”
Under fire, Harvard and UPenn presidents condemn calling for genocide of Jews
Penn’s president, Liz Magill, promised to launch a process to clarify and evaluate the school’s policies regarding speech on campus. She said calls for genocide of Jews are “evil, plain and simple.”
The statements by Magill and Harvard President Claudine Gay follow a congressional hearing on Tuesday in which Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, asked them whether calling for the genocide of Jews would constitute harassment under their school’s code of conduct. Gay and Magill, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth, all responded under oath that the answer depends on “context.”
In a statement Wednesday, Gay said students would face consequences if they called for genocide.
“There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students,” Gay said. “Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”
Video of the exchange at the congressional hearing has gone viral and has prompted criticism of the three leaders from Jewish groups, students, donors and elected officials, including the Biden administration. White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that calls for the genocide of Jews are “dangerous and revolting.”
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Opposing calls for genocide against Jews shouldn’t be difficult or controversial.”
Kornbluth, who is Jewish, does not appear to have publicly addressed the exchange.
Magill has taken flak for her statement from the board chair of Penn’s business school as well as Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, who called on the university’s board to discuss her remarks and come to a “serious decision.” As governor, Shapiro is a non-voting trustee of the university, which is private.
Following Shapiro’s remarks, Magill released a video statement in which she said that she had answered Stefanik’s question based on the broad free speech protections laid out by the U.S. Constitution. She said, however, that she should have answered differently and, invoking the long history of antisemitism, said that she personally viewed a call for the genocide of Jews as “harassment or intimidation.”
She stopped short of saying such a call would violate university policy, but said that Penn’s leadership would begin a process to conduct “a serious and careful look at our policies.”
“I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate,” she said. “It’s evil, plain and simple. I want to be clear: A call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening, deeply so. It is intentionally meant to terrify a people who have been subjected to pogroms and hatred for centuries and were the victims of mass genocide in the Holocaust.”
She concluded, “As president I’m committed to a safe, secure and supportive environment so all members of our community can thrive. We can and we will get this right.”
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Young voters, Democrats in New York City disapprove of Israel’s war effort in Gaza, poll finds
(New York Jewish Week) — A majority of young people and self-identified Democrats in New York City disapprove of Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, according to a poll released on Wednesday, which also found that New Yorkers view antisemitic prejudice in the city as a serious problem.
A majority of Democrats, 55%, disapprove of Israel’s handling of the war, while 28% approve. Among respondents aged 18-34, 56% disapprove of Israel’s conduct while 24% approve, according to the poll from Quinniapac University. Republicans were more supportive, with 73% approving of Israel’s war effort.
Only 37% of New Yorkers overall approved of Israel’s war against Hamas, while 45% disapproved. The remainder did not have an opinion.
The survey queried 1,297 self-identified registered voters in New York City between Nov. 30 and Dec. 4. It had a margin of error of 2.7%.
Views of the conflict were also split along racial lines, with 55% of white New Yorkers approving of Israel, while 59% of Black respondents, 44% of Hispanic respondents and 62% of Asians disapproved. Among Jews, 72% approved of Israel’s response.
Respondents were also divided regarding sending more military aid to Israel, with 45% in support and 46% opposed. Eighty-one percent of Jews were in favor of further aid to Israel.
The survey found that 72% of New Yorkers are concerned about prejudice against Jews, with 43% calling it a “very serious problem.” Close to a quarter said antisemitism was not so serious, and eight percent said it was not an issue at all.
Among Jews, 90% viewed antisemitism as a concern, with 63% seeing the prejudice as very serious, and 27% as somewhat serious. Eight percent rated it as not so serious.
Data from the New York Police Department and Jewish security groups has indicated a surge in antisemitic hate crimes since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, with 62 anti-Jewish incidents reported to police last month.
A majority of New Yorkers — 63% — also said that anti-Muslim prejudice was a problem, including 53% of Jews (the survey did not include data for Muslims as a separate category). There are consistently fewer hate crimes against Muslims than against Jews in New York City, according to NYPD data, although there has also been an uptick in Islamophobic incidents since the outbreak of the war.
The poll found that New Yorkers broadly disapproved of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who had a 28% job approval rating. The figure represented the lowest job approval rating for a New York City mayor since Quinnipiac began polling the city’s voters in 1996. Most other New York City officials received similarly low ratings.
The poll showed that voters disapprove of Adams’ handling of a range of issues, from crime to the arrival of migrants to homelessness, and also do not find him trustworthy or a strong leader. The poll did not ask voters’ opinion of Adams’ vocal support for Israel during the war.
Affordable housing and crime were ranked as the most urgent issues facing the city.
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Harvard University President Condemns Genocide Against Jews After Backlash for Equivocating on Issue
Harvard University president Claudine Gay on Wednesday issued a statement walking back and clarifying remarks she made the prior day in which she suggested that calling for the genocide of Jews did not necessarily constitute bullying and harassment on campus.
“There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students,” Gay said in a statement posted to X/Twitter by Harvard. “Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”
Gay’s statement came after she received a wave of criticism for her testimony before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding campus antisemitism, which has been surging since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. For three hours, Gay and the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology evaded questions about their plans to combat an alarming spike in antisemitic incidents, including demonstrations calling for Israel’s destruction and the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students at college campuses across the US.
In one tense exchange during the hearing, all three presidents gave indirect answers when asked by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a Harvard alumnus, whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted bullying and harassment. Stefanik referenced the chanting of slogans such as “globalize the intifada,” “there is only one solution, intifada revolution,” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”— all widely interpreted as calls for violence against Jews and the destruction of Israel.
“We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful — it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, and intimidation,” Gay said, refusing to provide a definitive answer.
“Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel?” Stefanik asked, visibly disturbed by Gay’s answer.
“We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression even of views that are objectionable, outrageous, and offensive,” Gay responded. She also said that calls implying the genocide of Jews and Israelis “can be [considered bullying or harassment] depending on the context.”
Gay’s equivocating sparked outrage across social media, with Jewish leaders and non-Jewish allies calling for her to resign from her position.
“You refused to state that calling for the genocide of the Jewish people would violate Harvard policies,” Harvard Law School alumnus Ben Badejo wrote in a letter to Gay that was posted on X. “In so doing, you betrayed the most fundamental values of our country and of all decent people.”
StopAntisemitism, a watchdog that documents antisemitic incidents across the world, said Gay’s more recent statement from Wednesday should have been stated during her testimony to Congress.
“Then why didn’t you say this during your congressional hearing yesterday!?” the group said. “Step down. You are a failure.”
Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, added, “Why was Claudine Gay unable to say this at the hearing and it took universal outrage and condemnation for you to issue this clarification?”
Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, Gay’s tenure has been beset by accusations that she is not sympathetic to the Jewish community’s concerns about rising antisemitism and has provided refuge to Harvard students who cheered Hamas’ violence.
For several days, Gay waited to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. When 31 Harvard student groups, led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, issued a statement blaming Israel for Hamas’ brutality, Gay defended their right to free speech and said they should not be punished or barred from being hired at prestigious businesses and firms after completing their education.
Following weeks of criticism, Gay eventually denounced Harvard students’ chanting of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” last month and announced a campus initiative for fighting antisemitism.
“Harvard was founded to advance human dignity through education,” Gay said. “We inherited a faith in reason to overcome ignorance, in truth to surmount hate. Antisemitism is destructive to our mission. We will not solve every disagreement, bridge every divide, heal every wound. But if we shrink from this struggle, we betray our ideals.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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