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Alleged bus driver boycott snarls 900 Detroit Jews’ trek to DC Israel rally

(JTA) — Four hours after Tuesday’s historic pro-Israel march in Washington, D.C. ended, Jennie Levy had expected to be touching down back in Detroit, after a long but fulfilling day standing shoulder to shoulder with Jews from around the country in support of Israel.

Instead, her delegation of 900, organized by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, was hungry, disappointed and nowhere close to home. Many members had missed most if not all of the rally because of what the federation said was a “malicious walk-off of drivers” hired to ferry them between the airport and National Mall. Now, their return flight was delayed as a result, too.

“The buses that were hired to take over 900 participants from Dulles International Airport to the site of the march failed to appear, delaying the arrival of many in our group,” read a statement from the Detroit federation that was circulated by the Jewish Federations of North America. “We have learned that this was caused by a deliberate and malicious walk-off of drivers.”

The incident was a rare blemish on an otherwise successful day for the march and its attendees. Organizers estimate 290,000 people turned out, making the march one of the biggest Jewish gatherings in U.S. history, and people successfully made the trip from all over the country .

The snafu stood out so notably that it was mentioned during the rally itself, called in part to counter the anti-Israel demonstrations that have taken place in many places since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel and elicited a military response. William Daroff, the executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and one of the organizers of the event, said on stage that “antisemitic bus drivers refused to drive participants to the rally.” Daroff added that the federation told him the bus company had promised to take action against the drivers.

Levy, who works at a hospital and whose husband is Israeli, woke up at 6 a.m. Tuesday for a flight chartered by the Detroit federation. She traveled with a friend for the rally because she thought it was important for the Detroit Jewish community to “be there in full force,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The three planes chartered by the federation landed at Dulles International Airport at around 11 a.m., leaving plenty of time for the delegation to board buses and make the 26-mile drive to the National Mall by the rally’s start time of 1 p.m.

But around a third of the buses never showed.

Mark Miller, the senior rabbi at Temple Beth El in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, told JTA that “all that we knew at the time was something about the buses,” possibly a security issue.

Two hours went by, with the three planes stranded on the Dulles tarmac. Because the flights were privately chartered and the passengers did not pass through a TSA checkpoint before boarding, they were not permitted inside the airport.

Then the news started to trickle out from federation staff, who told the people on board that drivers from the bus company the federation had hired were staging a sickout, where workers call out sick as a form of protest — or as Levy put it, they “refused to drive Jews to the rally.” Miller said he thought it was just a rumor at first, but then the federation confirmed it with its statement.

The statement said the federation was “deeply dismayed by this disgraceful action” but noted that not all Detroit attendees were affected. “Fortunately, many were able to travel to the march and we are grateful to the drivers of those buses that arrived,” it said.

Dennis Bernard, a former head of the Detroit federation and the chair of JFNA’s security and antisemitism committee, was aboard one of the planes and read the statement aloud to the other passengers. In a video shared with JTA, Bernard, speaking into the plane’s public address system, said “unfortunately this falls right in my lap,” before presenting the statement as “official talking points.” The video cuts off before Bernard shares additional information that he had said was confidential.

David Kurzmann, the senior director of community affairs at the Detroit federation, told reporters at a late-night press conference that the private bus company, whose name he said he did not know, informed them that some of the drivers called in sick once they became aware of the assignment.

Kurzmann said he considered the incident to be “an act targeting the Jewish community” that prevented people from exercising their right to protest but, when pressed by a reporter, stopped short of calling it antisemitic.

Levy said the mood on the planes on the way to Washington had been one of excitement and pride, with passengers singing the Israeli national anthem and “Am Yisrael Chai” and chanting the Jewish travelers’ prayer. But once things were delayed, the vibe shifted as organizers were noticeably stressed and scrambling to devise a backup plan, Levy said.

After around two hours, the delegation’s organizers had arranged for makeshift shuttles, which allowed many of the 900 people to make it to the rally, though one full plane’s worth of people didn’t get to the event at all.

Miller said he arrived at the rally around 2:30 p.m., and Levy said she got there at 3 p.m. That was when the event was scheduled to end, though it ran until closer to 4 p.m.

Then because of the unexpected delay in the morning, Levy said the plane’s crew had “timed out,” or exceeded federally mandated work limits, and was not allowed to begin the route back to Detroit until 2:30 a.m. — leaving the delegation waiting for several hours outside the airport. Some in the group hadn’t eaten all day, Levy said on Tuesday evening.

Miller said the incident was not only an inconvenience for rally-goers from his area but possibly “an indication of a much larger problem, which could lead to worse consequences,” including violence.

“We can’t pretend it’s not real, this antisemitism,” Miller said. He added, “On a day like today, where we had a large and enthusiastic group who was proud to be there … for this to be the reason we couldn’t get there just speaks to the reality of what is happening all around us, that antisemitism is real.”

Miller said that while the main focus of the day should still be still the rally and its enormous turnout, “we would be remiss not to have this [incident with the buses] as part of the story of today, too.”

For Levy, the incident offered a stark reminder of why she had decided to travel to Washington in the first place.

“The Jewish community in the United States already feels very helpless and sad about everything going on,” Levy told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I’m scared too, to know that antisemitism is so close to me.”

The post Alleged bus driver boycott snarls 900 Detroit Jews’ trek to DC Israel rally appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

We’ve produced a collection of feature articles four times a year since 2022. A special edition of this magazine will appear in mid-September—with reflections on the Jewish year that was. And in December, look out for a reimagined publication with a name of its own. Get future copies delivered to your door as a thank-you […]

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Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl

Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a meeting with people at a hall on the seashore in Gaza City. Photo: Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/Sipa via Reuters Connect

A senior US official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is the Palestinian terrorist group’s ultimate decision maker and has little interest in reaching a ceasefire deal with Israel, in testimony before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, there’s one guy 10 stories below the ground: a psychopath, messianic in his own belief that he has established himself in history, and [he believes that] there’s a sunk cost of having lost thousands of fighters and carnage in Gaza,” said Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

Sinwar, the top Hamas official in Gaza and the mastermind behind the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has reportedly been hiding in Hamas’ extensive network of underground tunnels during Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the coastal enclave.

Leaf’s comments echo others made by Biden administration officials.

In April, a US official told reporters that Sinwar is single-handedly holding up any progress on a potential hostage deal.

The senior Biden administration official said that while Hamas’ political bureau has shown some willingness to compromise on the terrorist group’s most hardline positions, Sinwar’s maximalist demands continuously win out.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7] than secure a ceasefire, and that’s just the truth of the situation,” the official said.

Leaf, in her testimony on Tuesday, said that Qatar — where many top Hamas political officials are based — has been “squeezing” the group — though to little effect, according to a report from Axios.

“There’s a cadre of political officials of Hamas in Doha, and boy do they squeeze them, I can assure you they squeeze them,” Leaf said.

Israel has described Hamas’ response to the new US ceasefire proposal as total rejection. But efforts to secure an agreement are still continuing, according to mediators in Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

The Axios report added that Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani met on Tuesday in Doha — Qatar’s capital — with senior Hamas officials in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the talks about the hostage and ceasefire deal.

Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.

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Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed the US was still withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Washington to remove restrictions on arms deliveries to the Jewish state and asserted that the top American diplomat had assured him the Biden administration was working to lift any halts on weapons.

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

However, he added, the administration is committed to making sure “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Netanyahu posted a video online earlier in the day in which he lamented that the US recently paused a weapons shipment to Israel and threatened to block more but said Blinken told him that Washington was seeking to end any halts on arms deliveries.

“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciated the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

“But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he continued. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

The Israeli premier then asserted that Blinken told him the issue would be addressed.

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” Netanyahu said. “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case. During World War II, Churchill told the US: ‘Give us the tools; we’ll do the job.’ And I say, ‘Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job much faster.’”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, both the White House and the US State Department refuted his apparent claim that Washington was withholding more than a single shipment of bombs.

“Everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

The White House echoed Blinken’s comments, saying that only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs had been withheld and nothing else.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We just don’t.”

Jean-Pierre added that the US and Israel have been having discussions about the release of the shipment but that there was no update at this time.

“There are no other pauses, none,” Jean-Pierre said. “No other pauses or holds in place.”

On Monday, unconfirmed reports in both Israeli and German media said that during Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken in Jerusalem last week, the Israeli premier urged the US to return the frequency of its arms shipments to the level immediately after Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched the war in Gaza with its massacre across southern Israel. According to the reports, Blinken said that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

Netanyahu also reportedly warned Blinken that the slowing of aid and the perception of America’s weakened support for Israel benefits Iran and its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including Hamas, emboldening them to intensify attacks against Israel and potentially resulting in a broader regional war.

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure from Democrats, especially those on the progressive left, to condition if not outright withhold US military support for Israel. Critics of Israel have argued the Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed too many civilians and led to a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. Israel has said Hamas is to blame for starting the war, stealing aid, and intentionally placing its operation centers inside or underneath civilian sites.

Hamas started the war with its surprise invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others as hostages. Israel responded with its ongoing campaign aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas, which rules Gaza.

In recent months, the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s operations both in public and private, pressuring Jerusalem to change its military strategy and seek a ceasefire.

The issue came to a head last month, when Biden announced that it would cease a bomb shipment to Israel and threatened to halt more weapons deliveries if the Israeli army launched an offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza and Hamas’ last major military stronghold.

I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN.

Israeli officials and experts have said operating in Rafah is essential to eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions. Netanyahu said the Jewish state appreciates US support but “will stand alone” if necessary.

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