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After synagogue gunman’s death sentence, Pittsburgh’s Jews feel relief, resilience — and gratitude

PITTSBURGH (JTA) — The overriding feeling in this city now that the gunman convicted of murdering 11 Jews here in 2018 has been sentenced to death is gratitude.

Not for the penalty itself, which was the preference of some but not all of the victims’ families and which some local Jews openly opposed, and not even for the end of a trial whose long delay protracted communal trauma.

Instead, the gratitude is for people — those who made the trial happen, those who supported the victims’ family members as they sat through weeks of painful testimony, and those who kept the singular Jewish community thriving even when so much had been lost.

Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of the Tree of Life congregation, which was housed in the synagogue the gunman attacked, opened a press conference at the Jewish community center in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood with a prayer of thanks.

Dozens of family members and survivors of the attack joined him as he recited the Shehecheyanu prayer in Hebrew, then translated it for the media. The prayer, he said, thanks God, “who has kept us alive, sustained us and enabled us to reach this stage.”

There was palpable relief. “The only thing positive about the sentencing of a criminal is that this long slog is over,” said Audrey Glickman, who hid in the synagogue on the day of the attack.

Myers, who during the trial recalled praying as he waited for the gunman to kill him, thanked the Pittsburgh community, the prosecution, the first responders for what he said was the “embrace” they conferred on the Jewish community since the attack on Oct. 27, 2018.

Wednesday, he noted, was Tu B’Av, the Jewish calendar day marking rituals of courtship and love.

“I don’t believe in coincidences. It was meant to be today,” he said of the end of the trial. “Why today? Because today we received an immense embrace from the halls of justice around all of us, to say that our government does not condone antisemitism in the vile form that we witnessed, and that we were embraced by a system that supported and nurtured us and upheld us.”

Survivors and family members stepped up to the microphone, some with notes, some not, and expressed thanks to law enforcement, to the prosecutors, to others who rushed to their assistance after the attack and who nurtured them in the years since.

“I want to take the time to thank all of those people that were part of the jury, the court system, our local community here, the massive support structure and staff and police taking care of us,” said Howard Fienberg, whose mother Joyce was one of the 11 murdered. “And I especially want to thank the prosecution team for their steadfast focus on this capital crime as an antisemitic act as a frontal assault on the constitutional freedom of religion, and the freedom to be Jewish and practice Judaism in the United States.”

In the hall, the JCC maintained its suburban rhythms: Parents picked toddlers up from daycare, and members headed to the gym. Outside the building, one of the most consequential trials in Jewish history barely resonated; the main topic of conversation in a diner nearby was the summer blockbuster “Barbie,” showing in the cinema across the street.

The Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, Aug. 2, 2023. (Ron Kampeas)

But inside at the press conference, survivor after survivor, family member after family member, expressed thanks in great detail: to the police, the FBI, prosecutors, the social workers, the restaurants that had fed the stunned and traumatized in the weeks after the killing and throughout the trial.

They also emphasized the importance of keeping the victims at the center of the story about what happened in Pittsburgh. In addition to Joyce Fienberg, the people who were killed were Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger.

It was a showing typical of a Jewish community that had always been tight-knit and became more so in the wake of the attack. Squirrel Hill, in the eastern part of Pittsburgh, has been the center of the city’s Jewish life since the turn of the 20th century, when wealthy Jewish families began settling there. While Jewish communities in other cities moved neighborhoods or migrated to the suburbs in the ensuing century, Squirrel Hill remained the home of Pittsburgh’s Jews. The neighborhood is home to multiple Jewish day schools, kosher restaurants and a Holocaust museum — as well as about 15,000 Jews from all denominations.

Members of the three congregations housed in the synagogue building — Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash — spoke to the press only after clearing it first with a public relations firm the community hired. Volunteers and staffers for the 10.27 Healing Partnership, an organization launched in the wake of the massacre, sat with the survivors and family members in interviews, ready to intervene, they explained to reporters, if a question was too triggering.

Howard Fienberg, whose mother was a Tree of Life member, said the three congregations were friendly but not deeply involved with one another before the attack. Now that they had been brought together by tragedy and its aftermath, he found meaning in their closeness.

“I didn’t understand what Reconstructionism was like,” Fienberg said about the Jewish movement with which Dor Hadash is affiliated. “They were those guys down the hall for years.”

Now he said, he was more inclined to see what brings Jews together, and not what divides them. “There’s a reason that they were all in the same space,” he said. “And it wasn’t just happenstance. They’re all Jewish, right?”

The comments at the press conference were reflected in countless statements from community members and local organizations that expressed thanks, memorialized the victims and committed to sustaining Jewish community.

“As this chapter comes to a close, we reflect on the strength and resilience of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and the entire community,” the local Jewish federation said in its statement. “In the wake of the horrors of the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history, our community neither retreated from participating in Jewish life nor suppressed our Jewishness. Instead, our community embraced our Jewish values — strengthening Jewish life, supporting those in need, and building a safer, more inclusive world.”

The divisions that do exist simmered beneath the surface on Wednesday. There had been differences among the families and the congregations about whether the death penalty was appropriate; a small contingent of local Jews who cited Jewish laws saying that the death penalty should be rare in the extreme organized. Of the nine families, the family of at least one of the victims, Jerry Rabinowitz, objected to the death penalty; seven other families were in favor of it.

Speakers at the press conference who did address the ultimate penalty were in favor of it.

“Even if he sits alive on death row for decades, he is separated from others,” said Glickman.

“Had he been sentenced to life in prison … he would have been afforded an increasing ability to communicate and play with others and the chance of working his way out of any high-security situation,” she added. “This has been a step in the right direction.”

The New Light congregation said in a statement that it “accepts the jury’s decision and believes that, as a society, we need to take a stand that this act requires the ultimate penalty under the law.” Notably, its rabbi, Jonathan Perlman, wrote to the U.S. attorney general to say he opposed the death penalty.

David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh law school, said differences about the death penalty persist but have not had an effect on the sense of mutual solidarity.

“There’s still a lot of really active conversations up to and including today that I’m having with people about, well, ‘I think he should get this,’ the death penalty or a life sentence,” Harris, who has walked members of the community through the trial’s legal thicket as a service of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, said in an interview earlier this week.

“But even though the community is not is not of one mind, we don’t have one universal opinion, we are united in supporting each other,” he said. “We are united in wanting this horrible thing to go right and be over and to say we did our best to support those who have been injured.”


The post After synagogue gunman’s death sentence, Pittsburgh’s Jews feel relief, resilience — and gratitude appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Israel is at a crucial juncture after Iran fired more than 350 ballistic and cruise missiles at the Jewish state overnight on April 13, according to Israel’s ambassador to Canada. “We are facing one of the most critical moments in the history of the State of Israel when a country like Iran starts an attack […]

The post Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgThe solemnly named International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has become an arena for the world’s despots and authoritarians to strut and grandstand, projecting their own abuses—torture, censorship, genocide—onto the world’s democracies.

The anti-democratic crusade waged in the name of human rights has impacted Israel more than any other state. The Jewish state is subjected to insulting and, frankly, frivolous lawsuits every time it tries to discharge its basic duty of protecting its citizens—whether that was the security fence constructed along the West Bank border more than a decade ago or the war against Hamas in Gaza right now.

Since the onset of the latest war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the monstrous Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Israel has been the focus of a baseless charge of genocide brought about by South Africa, which largely failed in its bid to make the accusation stick. Many observers pointed out that South Africa’s worsening domestic record—marked by corruption, horrific xenophobia towards migrants from other countries in southern Africa and an inability to deliver basic services like electricity and clean water to those who need them most—hardly qualifies its African National Congress (ANC)-led government to sit in judgment over Israel. Yet Pretoria has continued undeterred, at the same time that it welcomes Hamas leaders for state visits and treats its Jewish community—and anyone else who dares utter understanding for Israel—with unvarnished antisemitism.

Now the baton has passed to Nicaragua, which last week sent its lawyers to the ICJ to charge Germany with aiding and abetting Israel’s supposed “genocide.” The bitter irony is that it is Nicaragua’s far-left leadership, aligned with the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, that should be in the dock.

Daniel Ortega has been in power in Nicaragua since 2007, and he’s not going anywhere—at least, not voluntarily. Some readers will remember Ortega’s name from the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the Iran-Contra scandal that followed during the subsequent decade. But you don’t have to dig deep into that history to get a sense of the kind of regime that he runs. As Freedom House—an NGO that monitors the state of liberty around the world—explains it, the latest period of Ortega’s rule has been “a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms and unchecked corruption in government.”

In the last year alone, the Nicaraguan regime has expelled more than 200 opposition leaders into exile in the United States. It has passed new legislation to strip those deemed “traitors to the homeland” of their citizenship. It has turned the police into an arm of the executive, trampling over the separation of powers that democracies hold so dear. In many ways, this new wave of repression is an outgrowth of the regime’s brutal clampdown on anti-government protests in 2018. Abroad, meanwhile, its authoritarian domestic policy is matched by unflinching support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and a close bond with the Iranian regime, North Korea and other rogue states.

This, in short, is the character of the regime that has brought charges of “genocide” against Israel by targeting Germany’s supply of arms to the Jewish state—as if a serial sex offender was to opportunistically cry out, “rape!”

Why is Nicaragua embarking on this path at the ICJ? Some insight was provided by a German journalist who specializes in Latin American affairs, Toni Keppeler, during an interview last week with Swiss radio. Noting that Nicaragua is quite isolated among the world’s states, Keppeler suggested that the ICJ lawsuit was seen by Ortega as a means of boosting his international image. And Germany, he added, was a much safer bet than the United States, which supplies far more weapons to Israel, because America can punish Nicaragua in ways that Germany couldn’t or wouldn’t. He also noted that Ortega wants to be embraced by left-wing groups around the world. And so the Nicaraguan caudillo figures, not unreasonably, that bandwagoning on the Palestinian cause they are obsessed with is the way he will achieve that.

But there is another, more sinister reason behind Nicaragua’s action. Ultimately, these cases against Israel at the ICJ are aimed at shifting public perceptions of Israel and its history, and in particular, the influence of the Holocaust upon support for Israel in the democratic world. One of the reasons why Germany supports Israel is simply because it was the country that initiated the mass slaughter of Jews during World War II. Since 1945, democratic Germany has been guided by entirely different principles, elevating its backing for Israel into a staatsrason—“reason of state.” Indeed, as I noted recently, one of the several questions about Jews and Israel on the newly reformulated naturalization test for prospective immigrants to Germany asks, “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” with the correct answer being “The crimes of national socialism.”

That is how it should be, but for the international left, such a stance is intolerable. In their jaundiced eyes, Germany has atoned for the Holocaust by backing the nakba—the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by many Palestinians to describe the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948. Germany’s position irritatingly reminds the world that Jews were once victims of nightmarish genocide themselves—hardly the sort of fact you’d want to highlight if your purpose is to turn them into victims once again. And so, Nicaragua’s lawyers (including, disgracefully, a German citizen named Daniel Muller) have trooped into the ICJ to argue that supporting the Jewish state is the wrong way to express solidarity with Jews.

The goal here, make no mistake, is to separate the Holocaust from Israel and to argue that the one entity in the world capable of preventing another Holocaust is actually sowing its seeds! It’s topsy-turvy logic, but if it works effectively as propaganda, generating meme after meme on social media, why worry about that?

Hence we arrive at a situation where the 15 ICJ judges debate a phantom genocide while turning a blind eye to genuine examples of this phenomenon, along with other related crimes. “The government of Nicaragua is perpetrating widespread violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity,” the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect Project noted in a briefing back in February, but you won’t hear a peep about that in the ICJ’s corridors. Ditto for Turkey’s racist treatment of its Kurdish minority, and indeed, for the myriad other examples of government-sponsored cruelty on every continent.

This is yet another demonstration of antisemitism, insofar as antisemitism applies to standards for Jews that no other nation has to contend with. That is the ugly reality behind these fanciful appeals to “international law” that plague Israel. Germany is now receiving a glimpse of what that feels like but only because of its relationship with Israel—otherwise, this case would never have been brought to court.

The post Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history. … Steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.” — John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies, West Point, Feb. 17, 2024

“[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children.” — Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2016

In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes … in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured … with little accountability.” — Amnesty International at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022

The recent accidental deaths of seven foreign aid workers with World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip have sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol that highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all and any tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in recent history in which the gulf between good and evil, wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage has been a lamentable aspect of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system and perhaps even before that.

Rarely if ever has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians as Israel. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces … does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscores, “Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting ‘gold standard’ for avoiding civilian casualties

The chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral damage as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions in Gaza above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1:1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare in general is 1:9—six times higher.

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison to non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. In World War II, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities that were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen in March 1945, when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city. It inadvertently hit a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians, including 87 schoolchildren.

Then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100,000 to 200,000 were incinerated and irradiated by the U.S. atomic bombings in early August 1945.

“There is always a cost to defeat an evil.”

Half a century later, after hundreds of thousands were killed by American bombing in the Vietnam War, NATO launched a war against Serbia. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far from accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets. These targets included residential neighborhoods, old-age homes, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, trains on bridges and even a foreign embassy.

When then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, he responded, “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” This is exactly how Israelis feel about the war against Hamas.

These were not the only post-World War II instances of pervasive human suffering caused by large-scale U.S.-led military operations.

More babies died in Iraq than in Hiroshima

After Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Iraq and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. Even after Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, sanctions and military operations continued. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering for the civilian population. The scale of it can be gauged by a 1996 60 Minutes interview with the late Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer Leslie Stahl about the ravages the U.S.-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked,We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-Oct. 7 response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the U.S. homeland nor any U.S. resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime.

‘A tremendous human toll … ’

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in which almost 3,000 people died, a U.S.-led military coalition (in which the U.K. played a prominent role) invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot Al-Qaeda. The Oct. 7 massacre was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the toll of the 9/11 atrocity; the equivalent of almost 50,000 U.S. fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars … have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries.” It presents a 2021 assessment that almost 47,000 Afghani civilians were killed, but adds a proviso that “several times … more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars,” including through “water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease.”

Thousands of civilians hit ‘with little accountability’

U.S. strikes in which indisputably civilian targets were hit are a matter of record. During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, several weddings, parties and processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the U.S. strikes, Amnesty International USA stated: “In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft) with little accountability.”

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition—launched on the dubious or at least unsubstantiated allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction—wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and a death toll upwards of 300,000 non-combatants.

Closing caveat

The current vogue of berating Israel is both unfounded and unfair. Lending this abuse support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering embers of hatred that will eventually engulf those who propagate it.

The post Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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