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Ann Arbor school board endorses call for ceasefire in Israel and Gaza

ANN ARBOR, Michigan (JTA) – The school board in this city endorsed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war early Thursday morning, more than five hours after convening for a meeting was expected to be contentious.

The vote made Ann Arbor Public Schools one of the only school districts in the United States to adopt such a stance,  three months after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel ignited a war in Gaza and fierce debates in public bodies across the United States.

Several last-minute amendments tweaked the resolution’s language to note that the board has a “limited role in international affairs” and call for the “release of all hostages and unrestricted humanitarian aid at the levels recommended by the United Nations for the Palestinian people.” Another tweak condemned “discrimination against any individual based on personal background whether Israeli or Palestinian.”

The final version, after prodding from Jewish community members, also condemns both antisemitism and “anti-Jewish racism.”

The changes were enough to tilt the board to favor the resolution, which only three of the seven members had said before the meeting that they were committed to support. Four members backed the resolution, while one person voted against it, down from two who had said they planned to.

Two others abstained — a move that one board member said was not encouraged, but which another said was essential because the board was taking a stand on something outside its purview. Applause and cries of “Thank you” broke out in the high school auditorium after the motion passed.

“I’m very disappointed,” Eileen Freed, head of the Ann Arbor Jewish federation, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the vote. “At the crux of it, it’s a political play. … The people who were pushing for this wanted to see the words ‘ceasefire.’ They were not focused on the needs of the students.”

Ceasefire calls have been a frontier of tensions across the United States since the early days of the war. Proponents say calling for a ceasefire represents a powerful symbolic stand against Israel’s conduct in Gaza. Critics of the calls — including Israeli leaders and many Jewish leaders in the United States — say they effectively deny Israel the right to defend itself.

Eileen Freed, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, delivers public comments opposing a ceasefire resolution at a local school board meeting, Jan. 17, 2023. (Andrew Lapin)

At least one other school district has officially called for a ceasefire, the New Haven Unified School District in California’s Bay Area, as has Randi Weingarten, the progressive Jewish leader of the American Federation of Teachers union who also sits on the board of the liberal Zionist group J Street. Weingarten tweeted earlier this month that she believed it was “well past time for a ceasefire agreement.”

The vote capped a contentious period for Ann Arbor, a progressive Michigan community with sizable Jewish and Arab populations. The Ann Arbor City Council passed its own ceasefire resolution last week. The local Council on American Islamic Relations has filed a federal civil rights complaint with the Department of Education against the district, alleging that a middle school counselor called a student a “terrorist.”

And at the University of Michigan, the president halted two planned student government votes about Gaza, saying that they had stoked fear in the community. Meanwhile, dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested after storming an administration building, causing the Board of Regents this week to pass new free-speech rules.

For the local school board, the ceasefire vote followed a month of debate that occupied members even as they conducted a superintendent search and contended with longstanding equity issues. Both topics were raised briefly but not tackled at the board meeting; one member, making an unsuccessful case to table the resolution, said the tensions over Israel and Gaza were scaring away high-quality superintendent candidates.

“Where else have I heard people told, ‘Stay in your place’?” Jeff Gaynor, a Jewish board member who supported the resolution, told JTA before the meeting. He then quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Gaynor and Rima Mohammad, a Palestinian board member whose term as president coincidentally ended during the meeting, were the most vocal advocates of a ceasefire. The two issued a joint statement in the days after the Oct. 7 attacks reading, “We stand together, as a Jew and a Palestinian, in the interest of our common humanity.”

During the meeting, Gaynor said his Jewish background led him to call for an end to Israel’s war in Gaza.

“During my five years of Hebrew School leading up to my bar mitzvah, I donated money to plant trees in Israel.  Much of my moral compass is based on what I learned during sermons in synagogue every Saturday morning,” he said, adding, “I will not defend Hamas; it is not an agent for peace. Neither is Netanyahu’s government.” (During the public comment period, one Jewish speaker called Gaynor a “shonda,” the Yiddish word meaning shame.)

“I hope we continue the dialogue,” Gaynor told JTA after the motion passed. “There’s a lot of repairing to do, a lot of empathy to be had.” Asked what he thought of the resolution’s final wording after the amendments, he said, “It was fine.”

Mohammad argued sharply against the resolution to table the resolution, saying that doing so would harm families like hers and communicate to those who argued for the resolution in public comments that their voices do not matter.

In total, 122 people signed up to speak at the meeting, including the head of the local Jewish federation, which opposed the ceasefire call and said it had “created a hostile atmosphere” in the district; several Jewish parents who said they felt hurt by the resolution; and representatives of the Detroit chapter of the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace.

Jewish opponents of the resolution carried signs reading “Focus on Education” and “Slippery Slope,” while pro-Palestinian supporters held placards reading “Stop Funding Genocide” and “We Are Against U.S. Military Aid to Israel.”

“We feel marginalized, we feel scared,” Josh Rubin, a Jewish parent in Ann Arbor, said during his public comment period, adding that he and his family were planning to move away because they no longer felt safe sending their children to school.

Several times, two longtime local pro-Palestinian activists were reprimanded but not removed for interrupting speakers, insulting board members, and attempting to start chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”; others cheered or booed speakers on both ends of the debate.

Voices opposing the resolution were outnumbered by the pro-Palestinian speakers and supporters, including several district teachers who signed a petition supporting the resolution; some Palestinian-American students; a Palestinian district parent who said many of his relatives had been killed in Gaza; and a speaker who played an audio clip of what they said were children inside a hospital in Gaza being bombed.

“This is not helpful to anyone,” Marla Linderman Richelew, a Jewish local civil rights attorney and past president of the parent-teacher association of one of the high schools, told JTA before rising to speak against the resolution. Her daughter, she said, had been the victim of antisemitic bullying in the district when students filmed themselves telling her the Holocaust never happened, and she says the school district told her they didn’t have enough resources to address it.

“I think we are just confused. I think we’re all trying to figure out what to do and how to deal with this conflict that we did not even know we had,” she said about Jews in Ann Arbor. She added, “I think it’s going to be a learning experience for all of us.”

The post Ann Arbor school board endorses call for ceasefire in Israel and Gaza appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Russia Extends Invitation to Palestinian Factions for Talks in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

i24 NewsRussia has extended invitations to various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, for discussions on the Israel-Hamas conflict and broader issues in the Middle East.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov announced the initiative on Friday, highlighting Moscow’s desire to engage with all major players in the region amid heightened tensions.

The invitation included a dozen Palestinian groups and is slated for “inter-Palestinian” talks scheduled to commence on February 29.

Bogdanov, serving as President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East, emphasized the inclusivity of the invitation, stating, “We invited all Palestinian representatives — all political forces that have their positions in different countries, including Syria, Lebanon, and other countries in the region.”

Among the invitees are Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, alongside representatives of Fatah and the broader Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The invitation comes at a critical juncture as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to escalate, drawing international attention and concern. Russia’s proactive stance in convening discussions reflects its growing criticism of Israel and its Western allies, underscoring Moscow’s efforts to assert its influence in the region.

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Netanyahu: Those Who Want us to Desist from Rafah Op Are Telling Us to Lose

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 28, 2023. Photo: ABIR SULTAN POOL/Pool via REUTERS

i24 NewsHamas drops its “delusional” demands, productive hostage talks could begin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday, stressing Israel would not agree to the terror group’s current demands.

WATCH: PM Netanyahu delivers a statement after Hamas suspended negotiations

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) February 17, 2024

“I insist that Hamas should abandon its delusional demands – and when it does, we will be able to move forward,” Netanyahu said in a statement live on TV.

“Those who want us to desist from the Rafah operation,” the leader said in an apparent reference to the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden, “are telling us we should lose. We won’t be dictated to.”

The post Netanyahu: Those Who Want us to Desist from Rafah Op Are Telling Us to Lose first appeared on

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Iran Unveils New Air Defense Weaponry

Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani speaks at a press conference during the unveiling of a new surface-to-surface 4th generation Khorramshahr ballistic missile. Photo: Reuters/West Asia News Agency

i24 NewsIran demonstrated new weaponry on Saturday, including what it said was the locally made Arman anti-ballistic missile system and the Azarakhsh low-altitude air defense system, said the official IRNA news agency. Saturday’s unveiling ceremony of the two vehicle-mounted systems was held in the presence of Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani.

“With the entry of new systems into the country’s defense network, the air defense capability of the Islamic Republic of Iran will increase significantly,” said IRNA.

Video of the new Azarakhsh SHORAD engaging a target drone

It’s radar has a detection range of 50km, with 25km for it’s EO/IR suite

— Iran Defense|نیروهای مسلح جمهوری اسلامی ایران (@IranDefense) February 17, 2024

The Arman missile system is said to be able to “simultaneously confront six targets at a distance of 120 to 180 km,” while the Azarakhsh missile system “can identify and destroy targets up to a range of 50 km with four ready-to-fire missiles.”

The announcement comes amid tensions across the Middle East, with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis attacking vessels linked to the United States, UK and Israel in the Red Sea in a show of solidarity with the Gaza Strip.

Iran unveils domestically-manufactured Arman anti-ballistic missile and Azarakhsh low-altitude air defense system

— Press TV (@PressTV) February 17, 2024

The U.S. and its allies in the Middle East are concerned with Iran’s growing role at the international global arms market, The Wall Street Journal said on Friday. The transformation of the industry, boosted by Russia’s “purchase of thousands of drones that altered the battlefield in Ukraine, has helped Tehran scale up its support of militia allies in Middle East conflicts,” read the report.

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