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Amid war, this Israeli educator is finding new ways to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence

TEL AVIV — It only took a few minutes from the time the rocket fire from Gaza began on the morning of Oct. 7 for Karen Tal to field her first of many phone calls and messages with terrible news.

The CEO of Amal, a secular educational network whose mission is to serve Israelis of all religions, Tal heard first from the principal of an Amal school in Ofakim, a Jewish city near Gaza. The principal said she could see Hamas terrorists shooting people in the street from her apartment balcony. 

“We saw the pictures on TV, but we were getting real information from the field,” recalled Tal, whose best friend’s mother and her Filipino caregiver were among those killed at Kibbutz Kfar Aza.

In the ensuing days, Tal would learn that at least 42 alumni of Amal schools were killed on Oct. 7, and several others had been taken hostage to Gaza.

As this grim picture became clearer, Tal’s first order of priorities was to figure out what she could do to support students and faculty, and to ensure that the war did not tear apart the delicate spirit of coexistence at the core of Amal’s work. About 40% of Amal’s 81 high schools and colleges are located in Arab or Druze communities. In all, over 30,000 students and 2,500 teachers are part of Amal schools.

“We’re family, and we all share the same pain. It doesn’t matter if you’re Arab or Jewish,” said Tal, 59, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco as a young child and grew up in Jerusalem. “Right now, this question of coexistence is so relevant to each one of us.”

Tal’s background and experience puts her in a unique position to deal with the monumental challenge of helping Israeli children of all ethnic backgrounds heal from this national trauma.

More than a decade ago, Tal gained international renown for transforming the Bialik-Rogozin School in impoverished south Tel Aviv into one of Israel’s most successful educational models. The school had roughly 800 students from 48 countries, including violence-plagued African nations such as Eritrea, Nigeria and Sudan, as well as Israeli Jews and Arabs. 

Students were performing abysmally, and the Tel Aviv municipality wanted to close the school. But after Tal took over as principal in 2005, she combined the elementary and high schools into one entity, transformed the school into a model of coexistence, and reversed its academic decline. 

In 2011, Tal won Israel’s National Education Prize for her achievements, HBO made a film about the school called Strangers No More, which won an Oscar for best short documentary, and Tal received The Charles Bronfman Prize. The $100,000 prize was established in 2004 by the children of Canadian philanthropist Charles Bronfman — Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman together with their spouses Andrew Hauptman and Claudia Blondin Bronfman — and is given to a Jewish humanitarian under age 50 whose work is grounded in Jewish values but benefits humanity universally.

“After winning the Charles Bronfman Prize I decided it was time to search for a new challenge,” Tal said. 

She used the prize money to create a nonprofit called Tovanot B’Hinuch (Educational Insights) and spent the next decade implementing her educational model — which employs long school days, volunteer private tutors and extracurricular courses — in at least 40 other schools in Israel.

“One of the main things I emphasized was coexistence between Jews and Arabs,” Tal said. “We believe that each one of these students can achieve whatever they want. But they need resources because there’s a socioeconomic gap. We know how to do it. That’s my job.” 

Just over a year ago, Tal became the CEO of Amal, which was established in 1928 by the Histadrut labor federation as a nationwide secular educational network for Israelis from Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze backgrounds. Today Amal schools are known for their focus on science, technology and entrepreneurship — and coexistence.

As at many schools in Israel, Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and the ensuing war have been severely disruptive. Some Amal schools are located in cities that have been evacuated due to the conflict, many students are mourning family members killed in the war, and there are staffers who have been called away as reservists for military duty. Schools in Tiberias and Hadera have taken in students evacuated from their homes near the Lebanon-Israel border.

Tal is also concerned about students falling behind academically — especially after time lost due to the pandemic. A lot of Tal’s work over the last three months has been raising money for Amal educators to deal with the current moment.

“We need more resources to help deal with the trauma,” Tal said. “We understand that we cannot give each of our students a private meeting with a psychologist. So we want to train the trainers. If our educators will be stronger, so will the students.”

Karen Tal, the CEO of Amal, a secular educational network whose mission is to serve Israelis of all religions, has been working on Arab-Jewish coexistence for most of her career. (Larry Luxner)

Twice a week, Tal visits a different high school or college in Amal’s network. During a visit to one Bedouin school in Al-Said, a village east of Beersheva, the principal recounted how he drove to the Nova trance party the morning of Oct. 7, rescued several young Jewish students and brought them back to his village for safety.

Students and faculty at Arab schools are having a particularly difficult time dealing with mixed emotions amidst the war, according to Tal. She recounted a teacher who related how sad and confusing it is to be targeted on the one hand by Hamas terrorists, who murdered both Jews and Arabs in their rampage, and on the other hand to hear from relatives in Gaza enduring airstrikes by Israel.

Tal described how she’s trying to promote coexistence among Amal’s Arab-Israeli students.

“I have three goals: for our students to develop self-confidence, then develop and identify with the village or community they live in, and finally to develop an Israeli identity,” Tal said. “My basic premise is we are not going anywhere, and the Palestinians are not going anywhere. We must live together. But this is about defining what we can and cannot do. And we should both agree that terrorism is outside the rules of the game.”

Every Israeli student regardless of religion, Tal says, should learn a core body of knowledge that includes the basics for a modern Israeli society: Hebrew, Arabic, English, math, science, and the humanities. That includes not just music, art and literature, but also the study of both the Torah and the Quran, she said. 

“What I want to do in Amal is not just talk about theory, but to practice values,” Tal said. “My dream is that every Arab student will be able to speak Hebrew fluently, and that all Jewish students will learn Arabic — because language is a bridge to collaboration.”

Despite these dark times, Tal says she has hope for the future.

“There is always a solution. Even though we are in darkness, we must find that little candle of light,” she said. “It’s a question of leadership and responsibility. We don’t have the privilege of giving up.”

The post Amid war, this Israeli educator is finding new ways to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Want to Talk to Your Friends About Jew Hatred? Read This Book

Noa Tishby. Photo: Courtesy

Considering the surge of Jew hatred in America today, two questions challenge the Jewish community: how did we get here, and where do we go next?

No single answer suffices, but a recently published book — Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew by Noa Tishby and Emmanuel Acho — does an admirable job answering both questions. Their book is a chronicle of conversations between the two friends, one a white Jew, Noa, and the other a Black Christian, Emmanuel. In their dialogues, they explore the origins of the current surge of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and antisemitic sentiments in America today.

Noa explains that for millennia, the world shunned or exiled Jews wherever they landed, which forced them to adapt to diverse environments — physically, culturally, and spiritually. That’s how different Jewish ethnic communities evolved.

Although Jews are ethnically diverse, their detractors claim they gain an advantage because of their “whiteness.”

But Noa points out that this supposed whiteness has not protected them from antisemitic attacks in the past or in the present. Jews are a meager two percent of the American population, yet according to the FBI they are victims of more than 60 percent of all religion-based crimes.

Right-wing extremists do not consider Jews white; left-wing extremists consider Jews as privileged and white. The truth is Jews come in all colors and hues. There are white Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, and there are Jews of color from a variety of countries: Sephardic Jews from Spain, Beta Jews from Ethiopia, Cochin Jews from India, Kaifeng Jews from China, and Mizrachi Jews from the Levant and North Africa. Neither color nor DNA is a litmus test for Jewishness.

Noa deftly deflates the all-too-common canards about Jews: they are money hoarders, powerful, disloyal, cheats, bent on world domination, or greedy, dirty, evil, and race polluters.

She explains that when the dominant society holds those mistaken beliefs, regrettably it filters down to the targeted minority who begin to believe those falsehoods, and that leads to self-hatred. Although Jews have been champions for minority causes and supporters of the oppressed groups for decades, there is an absence of reciprocal support for Jews. In fact, the same groups that received help from Jewish allies have become antagonistic to the only Jewish State in the world, as well as to those who support her.

Noa and Emmanuel agree that the recent outrageous and disingenuous responses of university presidents, when asked if students and faculty calling for the genocide of the Jews is hate-speech, speaks volumes about their lack of moral clarity. The same lack of ethical values applies to the morally confused students and professors who justify and support the atrocities Hamas committed on Oct 7, while endorsing the terrorists’ call for the eradication of Israel.

Emmanuel was most curious to learn about the term Zionist, because it seemed to him to be the root of the tension between Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

Noa gave this succinct definition: “Zionism is the Jewish people’s right to have self-governance on parts of their ancestral land.” She added, “That’s it. It’s Israel’s right to exist.” And “anti-Zionism is the rejection of Jewish nationhood,” and that is a hallmark of antisemitism.

Emmanuel countered Noa’s explanation by saying that the Black community draws parallels between what they believe Jews did to the Palestinians, and what Americans did to Native Americans. Noa said that is not analogous, because indisputable archaeological evidence shows that the Land of Israel dates to antiquity and “the Jewish people are indigenous to the land.”  In short, the Jewish people reclaimed their ancestral land.

On the other hand, when the first Europeans landed on the shores of America, they found Native Americans, but not a trace of English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French artifacts, language, or culture.

Noa asserts that today, the very countries who expelled the Jews over the centuries, are now trying to deny them the land of their ancestors. And the United Nations, which helped found the modern State of Israel, is determined to destroy its own creation.

As for for the effort to boycott Israel, Noa says that it is entirely antisemitic, because it started before the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948. In 1945, the Arab League called for a boycott of all Jewish products, not just Jewish products made in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Haifa — but all products made by Jews anywhere in the world. The boycott has never been about the land; it has always been about the Jews.

The battle against systemic antisemitism and systemic racism forged a natural bond joining Noa and Emmanuel. Emmanuel quipped, “Your career is what you are paid for, and your calling is what you were made for.”

In that sense Noa and Emmanuel “were made” to co-author this book, which is not for the faint of heart. But it delves into issues that polite company prefers to ignore, because it is easier to ignore this hatred of Jews than face the truth of the situation.

Since retiring from IBM Steve Wenick has served as a freelance book reviewer for HarperCollins Publishing and Simon & Schuster. His reviews and articles have appeared in The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Jewish Voice of Southern New Jersey. Steve and his wife are residents of Voorhees, New Jersey.

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As Threat of Hezbollah War Rises, Here’s What You Should Know About Israeli-Lebanese Relations

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

Israel’s relations with Lebanon have historically  been less hostile than with some of its other neighbors — despite having no formal diplomatic ties.  Today, however, the Israeli-Lebanese border is an extremely dangerous place, with widespread concerns about a major war breaking out in the near future.

So, how did we get here?

Israel’s War of Independence began in 1947 as a civil war between Palestinian Arabs, supported by irregular Arab forces from across the region, and Jews. After David Ben-Gurion declared the Jewish state on May 14, 1948, the armies of five neighboring states, including Lebanon, attacked Israel. The pretext was to  “protect Palestine” — but they had their own agendas, which was to destroy Israel and grab as much land as they could.

After the war, Israel reached an armistice agreement with Lebanon on March 23, 1949. Israel’s armistice agreements with Arab states were not final peace treaties, because Arab leaders still refused to accept the Jewish State’s existence.

For decades, Israel heard little from Lebanon, the only neighbor that did not attack Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.  One reason Lebanon was the least antagonistic was its significant Christian population, which made the Lebanese leadership less susceptible to the anti-Israel hostility in other parts of the region.

The 1970s were a terrible era for Lebanon, for a myriad of reasons. The country effectively lost its independence and became dominated by Syria, a Soviet client state. Making matters worse, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) settled in Lebanon after being expelled from Jordan.

The PLO wreaked havoc in various ways, including targeting Israeli communities near the border with rocket fire and other attacks. This provoked the devastating 1982 Lebanon War between Israel and the PLO, which was fought on Lebanese territory.

While the IDF was successful in compelling Arafat and the PLO to leave Lebanon for Tunisia, a new force filled the vacuum in southern Lebanon: Hezbollah, a terrorist group and proxy of Iran’s extremist regime.

Hezbollah wasted no time creating terror locally and internationally. On October 23, 1983, just a year after the conclusion of Israel’s war with the PLO, a Hezbollah suicide bombing at an American Marine barracks in Beirut murdered 241 American service members. The attack is just one of several  devastating suicide bombings that have been carried out by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s suicide bombing murdered 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994. That Argentina has never successfully prosecuted anyone for the crime is indicative of the depth of Hezbollah’s penetration in South America.

As the culmination of meetings beginning with the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 and the Oslo Accords, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat met at the Camp David Summit in July 2000, to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arafat ultimately rejected a proposed two-state solution that would have established an independent Palestinian state in all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank — a decision President Clinton called a “colossal historical blunder.”

Two months earlier, the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon, after spending nearly two decades keeping terrorist threats away from Israel’s northern border. Some analysts believe Israel’s unilateral disengagement played a role in stiffening Arafat’s resolve to reject a final peace agreement. Wait long enough, his thinking went, and the Israelis will simply abandon territory. The upside of Israel’s withdrawal was that withdrawal fulfilled UN Security Council Resolution 425.

The next major flashpoint in Israeli-Lebanese relations was in 2006, when Hezbollah kidnapped and killed three Israeli soldiers while simultaneously launching rockets into Israeli communities as a diversion. This aggression sparked a 34-day conflict between Hezbollah and Israel that was also fought in Lebanon, and constituted the most recent major escalation in the area, until October 7.

Lebanon hasn’t been a fully independent state since the 1970s due to Syrian and Iranian (Hezbollah) interference. In their effort to destroy Israel, outside forces largely destroyed Lebanon.

To this day, more than 60,000 Israelis are internally displaced from their homes in the north due to over countless thousands of rocket, missile, and drone attacks in northern Israel, the vast majority of which were fired by Hezbollah, since October 7.

This is the picture that the American public should familiarize itself with as all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah looms.

The lack of historical context, media bias, and disinformation on social media has created mass confusion during this escalation, just as it has during the October 7th war. With a 24/7 news cycle bringing content without context, understanding this history is necessary to properly understand what Israel is up against in the region.

Rabbi Matthew Abelson is executive director of RabbisUNITED, a non-denominational Rabbinic division of StandWithUs, with hundreds of members dedicated to fighting antisemitism and supporting a safe and secure State of Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.

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Despite Vast Evidence to the Contrary, Media Is Still Pushing Lies About Food Availability in Gaza

Aerial view shows a World Central Kitchen (WCK) barge loaded with food arriving off Gaza, where there is risk of famine after five months of Israel’s military campaign, in this handout image released March 15, 2024. Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS

We’ve been through this before.

In June, the IPC Famine Review Committee said there is no famine in the Gaza Strip as of yet. The UN subsequently acknowledged the IPC’s latest report. HonestReporting has also done its due diligence to understand what is really happening in Gaza.

But now, UN special “experts” are still claiming there’s “no doubt” that there is a famine:

With the death of these children from starvation despite medical treatment in central Gaza, there is no doubt that famine has spread from northern Gaza into central and southern Gaza.

They also despicably repeated the lie that Israel is committing a genocide, even after though the biased International Court of Justice (IJC) decided that Israel’s fight against Hamas in Gaza is not considered a genocide.

To begin with, UN officials or those claiming to be UN experts cannot just declare an accusation of this nature in an unofficial capacity. Second, it’s all just opinion.

That’s all it took, however, for the media take the lead. They apparently think that it’s impossible to understand the inference that there must be a famine if bodies like the IPC put out real data reports every few months over whether or not there is evidence of a famine in Gaza.

But who cares about logic, right?

Journalists understand very well how the public consumes information, and they know how it views bodies like the UN — that people take their word as an official authority. Yet, the media continue to publish articles, irresponsibly portraying the statement of these UN “experts” as if it is an official UN one.

Or take this CNN piece, which makes it seem like the claim of a famine is an official UN statement:

The recent deaths of more Palestinian children due to hunger and malnutrition in the Gaza Strip indicates that famine has spread across the entire enclave, according to a United Nations statement, citing independent experts.

These “experts” are part of UN Special Procedures, and they are volunteers, not official UN staff.

Therefore, many of these people are public about their own personal opinions, like one UN special rapporteur, antisemite Francesca Albanese.

Francesca Albanese has previously apologized after antisemitic posts on her personal social media profile were uncovered and has likened the Jewish state to Nazism.

More on Albanese’s deeply compromised background from @UNWatch‘s @HillelNeuer.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 10, 2024

One of Albanese’s most recent offenses was being caught lying about Gaza casualty figures via her X account (formerly Twitter) by making false claims about the contents of a letter in The Lancet, which made a careless estimation that 186,000 deaths could be “attributed” to the Gaza toll — even though this hasn’t happened or been proven by any body.

Another “expert,” Michael Fakhri, has a history of allowing his bias to cloud his judgment.

Michael Fakhri. As @SimonPlosker noted in 2021 in @Jerusalem_Post, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food spent his time promoting the boycott campaign against Israel while ignoring human rights abuser states that let their people starve.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 10, 2024

Some of the UN special rapporteurs signed off at the bottom of the letter seem to even have little relevance outside their volunteer work at the UN. Nonetheless, when one sees “UN experts” in the headline, they don’t realize that these people don’t represent the UN in an official capacity.

The public also doesn’t know that some, like Albanese and Fakhri, have an anti-Israel agenda. The biggest question then remains: when will the media take caution before spreading the propaganda of agenda-driven “UN experts?”

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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