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After pivotal judicial reform vote, US Jewish groups unleash their newfound voices on Israeli domestic policy

WASHINGTON (JTA) — For months earlier this year, mainstream American Jewish groups waffled on how much to weigh in on Israel’s internal political debates, something many had studiously avoided in the past.

But that felt like a distant memory on Monday after Israel’s parliament approved a law that its authors and critics — including many of those American Jewish groups — alike said would reshape the country.

Reactions poured in immediately, many of them deeply critical of what Israel’s right-wing government had just done in signing off on a law that diminishes the power of the Supreme Court to review government decisions.

The American Jewish Committee had a statement ready to go as soon as the law passed expressing “profound disappointment” over the passage of the law which removes from the courts the right to judge laws against a standard of reasonableness.

“The new law was pushed through unilaterally by the governing coalition amid deepening divisions in Israeli society as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets,” the AJC said.

The Anti-Defamation League soon followed. “This initiative and other judicial overhaul proposals could weaken Israeli democracy and harm Israel’s founding principles as laid out in the Declaration of Independence,” its statement said.

The Jewish Federations of North America said it was “extremely disappointed that the leaders of the coalition moved ahead with a major element of the reforms without a process of consensus, despite the serious disagreements across Israeli society and the efforts of President [Isaac] Herzog to arrive at a compromise.”

The ADL, the AJC and the JFNA, like President Joe Biden did in a statement, urged the Israeli government and its opposition to continue to seek a compromise even in the wake of the passage of the momentous law. Groups to their left, including the Reform movement, urged American Jews to step up the pressure on Israel to make changes, and J Street said the Biden administration had a role in leveraging that pressure. The Conservative movement said that the passage of the law “represents a clear and present danger to the country’s independent judiciary, which may still come under further assault.”

The force of the pronouncements shows how much has changed since as recently as March when some of the same legacy organizations were struggling with how far to go in objecting as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared ready to ram a package of judicial legislation through with alacrity. A bid to come up with a statement uniting all the legacy Jewish groups nearly collapsed amidst last minute changes.

Speaking out forcefully against an Israeli government has never been a happy place for the legacy groups. For decades, their doctrine had been to let Israelis decide what’s best for them unless it directly impacted Diaspora Jewish communities. The years-long battle over organized non-Orthodox worship at the Western Wall was one of the exceptions that proved the rule.

But in recent months, the reluctance to speak out changed, and not just because weakening the courts undermines the branch of Israeli government that has protected the non-Orthodox. American Jews, rattled by perceived antidemocratic tendencies at home, seem more attuned to the threat the same tendencies pose in Israel, according to a poll last month by the Jewish Electorate Institute. It showed pluralities of U.S. Jewish voters concerned about erosions of democracy in both countries.

“This is our fight too – and the vast majority of American Jews believe in a Jewish, democratic Israel that lives up to its founding values of equality, freedom, and justice for all,” said Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national public policy group, in a statement on Monday.

The Israel Policy Forum, a group with deep roots in the American Jewish establishment that advocates for a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said the changes in the law risk alienating the Diaspora.

“This move is particularly dismaying to many American Jews, who support Israeli democracy and will now have a more difficult time identifying with Israel and defending it from those who seek to demonize it, leaving Israel today more of a state exclusively for Israeli Jews and less of a state for Jews around the world,” it said.

Liberal American Jews, who have taken the lead in the past in protecting the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, have raised alarms about pledges by some of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to diminish the rights of both sectors.

“The Israeli LGBTQ community has been protesting these proposals for months because it is the Supreme Court that has helped to safeguard the civil rights of all Israelis, including the LGBTQ community,” said a fundraising appeal emailed after the vote from A Wider Bridge, a group that has advocated for Israel in the American LGBTQ community.

Not all U.S. Jewish groups expressed dismay. Some groups on the right praised the enactment into law of the “reasonableness” bill, the piece of the legislation approved on Monday.

“What’s unreasonable to one is reasonable to another,” said Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization America, in a statement praising the new law. “This is an absurd basis and power the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself, which is nothing short of judicial tyranny and judicial dictatorship.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations maintains under its umbrella groups as diverse as ZOA and the Reform movement. It sounded alarm without weighing in on the specifics of the legislation.

“We must remember the dangers that discord and division can pose to the Jewish people,” the group said in a statement. “We call on Israel’s leaders to seek compromise and unity. Responsible political actors must ease tensions that have run dangerously high.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee declined to comment on the legislation. Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel advocacy group within the Democratic Party that often reflects policies close to those of AIPAC, took a cautious approach.

“While we believe it was a serious mistake for this government to ignore the pleading of the majority of its citizens, as well as its president, and pass this bill without significant compromise, it was done democratically,” it said in a statement. “As in any democracy, including the United States, governments are empowered to make decisions however disappointing or unwise we may believe them to be.”

Nathan Diament, who directs the Washington office of the Orthodox Union, told the New York Times that his community generally favored the legislation, but feared the repercussions of its passage.

“There are many people in the American Orthodox community whose view on the substance is sympathetic or supportive to the reforms,” he said, “but nonetheless are worried about the divisiveness that the process has caused.”

The post After pivotal judicial reform vote, US Jewish groups unleash their newfound voices on Israeli domestic policy appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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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‘Encampment Has Crossed a Line’: California State LA President Condemns Pro-Hamas Rioters

Protesters at California State University, Los Angeles, attempted to take over a second spot on the CSULA campus in Los Angeles, United States, on June 12, 2024. Photo: Shay Horse/Reuters Connect

The president of California State University, Los Angeles has issued a searing condemnation of a pro-Hamas riot that broke out on campus on Wednesday night and resulted in her being trapped inside her office for hours after activists led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) illegally occupied an administrative building.

“Last night, those involved with the encampment chose violence and destruction,” Berenecea Johnson Eanes wrote on Thursday in a note to the campus community. “The significant damage to [the Student Services Building] will affect student-facing services: including admissions, records, accessible technology, basic needs, new student and family engagement, Dreamer resources and educational opportunity programs. It will take time to restore all those spaces and divert significant resources that would otherwise go to academics.”

Eanes added, “I am saddened, and I am angry … I cannot and would not protect anyone who is directly identified as having participated in last night’s illegal activities from being held accountable. The encampment has crossed a line. Those in the encampment must leave.”

According to Eanes, as well as various local media outlets, a night of destruction unlike any in the school’s history began on Wednesday when a mob of students stormed the campus, overturning cars, vandalizing school property, and assaulting students and staff. They proceeded to take over the Students Services Building (SSB), which they barricaded with numerous objects they amassed from across campus, including — according to The Los Angeles Times — bikes, tables, umbrellas, and rope. They even used their own bodies, “chaining” themselves to various access points.

The mob’s takeover of SSB was sudden and swift, forcing the school to issue a “shelter in place” order which trapped Eanes and dozens of other administrative staff in their office. Four people, including one student, were assaulted during the attack on the building. When it cleared, police essentially quarantined the area, reportedly declaring it a crime scene.

Footage of the riot shows scenes unlike any that have taken place on US college campuses since earlier this year when pro-Hamas rioters began commandeering sections of school property and refusing to leave unless administrators agree to adopt the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel — an initiative aimed at isolating Israel from the international community as the first step towards its eventual elimination. Broken glass carpeted the building’s floor, the result of the students smashing through door glazings with blunt objects. Meanwhile, red paint stained its tiles, and graffiti displaying anarchist symbols and saying “Free Palestine” covered its interior walls.

“Campus community: Know that we will recover from this, but also know that I am committed to doing everything we can to ensure this will never be allowed to repeat,” Eanes said in Thursday’s statement. “A trust we had in the encampment to practice non-violence has been violated. Trust is a hard thing to restore, but we will do the work together.”

Meanwhile, Students for Justice in Palestine has hinted that more destruction is forthcoming, and the latest local reporting indicates that no one has been arrested.

“We will not back down!” the group said in a social media post. “We will remain steadfast for Palestine!”

Students for Justice in Palestine, which has resorted to intimidation, harassment, and even physical violence to pressure universities into severing ties with Israel, defended their actions in a press release issued on Wednesday. Noting that its members had camped on campus for 40 days, the group said that Eanes, whom they summoned to a meeting after blocking all of SSB’s exits, ran out of time to accede to their demands.

“This direct action is in response to the failure of President Eanes to continue to negotiate in good faith with the Popular University for Gaza Solidarity Encampment on campus,” SJP said. “She has refused to continue negotiations or make meaningful progress toward meeting the demands of the student body. Delaying negotiations past the end of spring semester at a commuter campus shows clear bad faith and an attempt to wait out students instead of actively working to reach an agreement.”

In a chilling statement which acknowledged the intentionality of their behavior, SJP said administrators who had been trapped inside SSB could only exit with “escorts.”

“We will not back down and we will rise again just like our comrades in Palestine,” SJP said after law enforcement reclaimed the campus, suggesting there will be violence next time rather than peaceful protests. “We will remain steadfast in our mission for disclosure, divestment, boycott, and for our university to call for the end of the occupation and bombardment of Gaza.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Judge Allows ‘Mandalorian’ Actress to Proceed With Disney Lawsuit After Being Fired for Nazi Germany Comments

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in “The Mandalorian” season two, exclusively on Disney+. Photo: Disney+

A US federal judge ruled on Wednesday that actress Gina Carano can proceed with her lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm, which fired her from the Disney+ television series “The Mandalorian” because of a social media post that compared political differences in the US to what Jews experienced in Nazi Germany.

“I look forward to this case moving forward and proving Disney’s blatant discriminatory actions,” Carano said after leaving court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“Disney should not have carte blanch authority to fire any actor just because Disney disagrees with something they say outside of work,” she added. “No actor would be free to have a voice if that were true.”

US District Judge Sherilyn Peace Garnett in Los Angeles ignored efforts by Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli to dismiss the lawsuit. Petrocelli claimed Disney has the “right not to associate with a high-profile performer on a high-profile show who’s imbuing” the Star Wars-based series with “views it disagrees with,” which could result in fans turning away from the show. He argued that Disney has the First Amendment right to sever ties with an employee who does not share the company’s values, even if the move violates state anti-discrimination laws. Disney purchased Lucasfilm, started by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, in 2012.

“I’m not convinced there are no disputed facts,” Judge Garnett said in response to Petrocelli’s argument. The judge referred to allegations made by Carano that she was fired in 2021 to draw attention away from some of the controversies Disney was involved in at the time, including its contract dispute with actress Scarlett Johansson and critique of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act.

Carano starred as bounty hunter Cara Dune in the first two seasons of “The Mandalorian.” She was not under contract to appear in the third season of the show, according to court records.The actress claims in her lawsuit, which has received funding from X/Twitter and Tesla owner Elon Musk, that she was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against when she was fired from “The Mandalorian” in 2021 for expressing personal views on social media that Disney did not support.

Lucasfilms, which co-produces “The Mandalorian,” announced Carano’s firing after the former mixed martial arts fighter shared a post on social media that said: “Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors … even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

Disney argued that the state cannot force employers engaged in “expressive activity,” like Disney and LucasFilms, to work with someone who allegedly hinders its ability to properly express its values. Petrocelli claimed that the First Amendment entitles Disney to take action to make sure “The Mandalorian” is not associated with views that it and many viewers might find offensive and contrary to the company’s message.

“The messenger is part of the message,” Petrocelli said. “Imagine she made comments that she hates Jews or that there was no Holocaust.”

A final ruling in the lawsuit has not been made yet. Disney has not publicly commented on Garnett’s decision on Wednesday not to dismiss the lawsuit.

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