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As antisemitism spikes across Europe, more fingers are pointing at Russia

(JTA) — When Stars of David began appearing on Jewish homes and institutions in Paris’ 10th arrondissement late last month, as well as on a Jewish woman’s home in Berlin, many were quick to bring up comparisons to the Nazi era.

But French authorities pointed to a surprising culprit: Russia.

According to French authorities, the pictures of the Stars of David first began to spread via a Russian-run news site called Recent Reliable News (RRN) before being found by others online. Shortly after the incident went viral, VIGINUM, France’s intelligence unit devoted to tracking foreign digital interference, recorded more than 1,000 bots making over 2,500 posts related to the incident on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter.

RRN, seemingly a news aggregator, was revealed in June to be part of a network of web domains used by Russian hackers for a disinformation operation targeted at Western Europe known as “Doppelganger.” RRN and sites like it were used to mimic major news outlets and even government sites, sharing information with a clearly pro-Russia slant.

“VIGINUM has a high degree of confidence that these bots are affiliated to the RRN network, given that one of their main activities consists in redirecting people to RRN websites,” France’s foreign ministry said in a press release earlier this month. “France strongly condemns the involvement of the Russian network Recent Reliable News (RRN/Doppelgänger) in the artificial spreading and initial distribution on social media of photos of graffiti representing Stars of David in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.”

As antisemitism has spiked in Europe in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, multiple investigations have pointed to Russian involvement in stoking an already tense situation. While motives remain unclear, experts have noted that fomenting already brewing divisions and chaos in the West has been a tradition of Russia’s security services since the Cold War.

French investigators noted that their probe is ongoing, and they still have yet to confirm if the vandalism was the work of Russian state-backed actors. But they revealed that two suspects arrested in connection with the graffiti were Moldovan nationals who allegedly painted the stars on the orders of an unknown individual whom they communicated with by phone in Russian. (While Moldova’s national language is Romanian, like many other former Soviet republics, Russian has remained a first language for many of its citizens.)

As more details about the vandalism emerged, more questions were raised. For one, not all of the stars were sprayed on Jewish buildings. Second, the style of the stars — from an elegant stencil, in a deep blue color reminiscent of the Israeli flag — seemed out of place for an antisemitic incident.

While the details remain murky, Nina Jankowicz, the U.S vice president of the Centre for Information Resilience and an expert on disinformation, said the episode tracks with Russia’s modus operandi.

“This definitely seems like it could fit the bill of the types of provocation that Russia has been known to be behind in the past,” Jankowicz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Russia uses these pre-existing fissures in society to drive further polarization or drive issues that are hot button issues in society, generally, without regard for, for the context.”

Such moves have been part and parcel of Russia’s foreign policy for decades and a key feature of its so-called “hybrid war” since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“Driving polarization in Western societies is really an easy way to have wins for Russia,” Jankowicz said.

That hasn’t been restricted to amplifying divisive topics in the digital sphere. During the 2016 U.S. elections, dueling protests unfolded on the streets of Houston, Texas, both for and against a local Islamic center. What neither side fully knew at the time was that both protests were spawned by Facebook groups made by operatives in Moscow.

“I think we’d like to think that at this point, Russia is just doing stuff on the internet and then poisoning dissidents every so often. But these sorts of on the ground operations — which sometimes aren’t carried out in the most perfect way — are 100% the sort of thing that they’ve done in the past, and that they continue to do even after the U.S. election in 2016,” Jankowicz said.

Jankowicz noted that Russia is an equal opportunity inciter, switching from causes on the right to left at will, and the country is no stranger to using antisemitism as a weapon. In fact, it’s a trick cribbed straight from the Soviet Union playbook.

“During the Soviet period, especially in places like Germany, Russia, would very deliberately deface memorials and use antisemitic attacks, as late as the 80s, in order to stoke the specter of antisemitism,” she said.

In the late 1980s, before German reunification, Rainer Sonntag, the leader of West Germany’s most influential Neo-Nazi group, was doing double duty as a spy for both the East German Stasi and Soviet KGB. During the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, the Stasi forged hundreds of letters of support from “veterans of the Waffen-SS” in an attempt to embarrass West Germany.

“They have been on both sides of issues like civil and human rights issues related to the Black population in the United States, LGBT rights, and all sorts of things. So it’s not beyond them to play both sides,” Jankowicz said.

Russia has leveled the same charges at the West, most commonly at Ukraine and the United States. Last month, Moscow claimed U.S.-backed forces instigated the mob which stormed Makhachkala airport looking for Jews in Dagestan, Russia

“The events in Makhachkala last night were inspired also through social networks, not least from the territory of Ukraine, by the hands of agents of Western special services,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time.

“This is something we’ve noted previously in a variety of online influence campaigns – more of a ‘muddying of the waters’ than a clear ‘trying to do X’ type operation,” said Justin Crow, a researcher at the University of Sussex who focuses on Russia and open source intelligence. “Almost always around highly sensitive contemporaneous cultural issues – i.e. exploiting circumstantial events to sow discord, without that discord needing to be specifically targeted at one group or another.”

Russia isn’t the only country deploying the strategy and involving Jewish institutions. Two weeks ago, a fire was set outside of a synagogue in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. The building was only lightly damaged, but Armenian authorities were quick to open an investigation, claiming that the arson was committed by a foreign national who was only in the country for a few hours.

Like the situation in France, news of the attack was most widely spread by media connected to an opposing nation: Azerbaijan, which has been at war with Armenia over the disputed region known as Nagorno-Karabakh to Azeris and Artsakh to Armenians.

Azerbaijani media has reported that the attack, as well as a vandalism of the same synagogue in early October — just before the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7 — had been claimed by ASALA, an Armenian Marxist-Leninist group that had fought with Turkey in the 1970s and 80s but has largely been considered inactive since 1991.

“We didn’t know what had happened yet, and Azerbaijani channels were already circulating photos of the building,” said Rima Varzhapetyan, the head of Armenia’s Jewish community, according to the Times of Israel. “Obviously, there are some forces that work not against us Jews, but against Armenia. This is outrageous.”

The post As antisemitism spikes across Europe, more fingers are pointing at Russia appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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‘American Leadership Will Not Waver’: Senate Passes $95.3 Billion Aid Package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan

US President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the Hamas onslaught against Israel. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

After months of negotiations, the Senate passed a $95.3 billion aid package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan on Tuesday by a vote of 70-29. 

The bill, if signed by President Biden, would provide $14 billion in military assistance to Israel to help it replenish the Iron Dome and weapons that can help it defeat Hamas. While US President Joe Biden supports the bill, it is not certain to pass the House of Representatives.

The aid package gives $9.2 billion for humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, along with people in Ukraine and other war zones. However, it is well documented that much of the aid to Gaza does not reach Palestinian civilians but instead goes to Hamas.

The bill also provides about $5 billion toward countering Chinese aggression and $2.5 billion for fighting the Houthis as they continue to terrorize civilian ships in the Red Sea, disrupting global trade.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the bill’s passage showed “that American leadership will not waver, not falter, not fail.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) said, in a statement, that “Our adversaries want America to decide that reinforcing allies and partners is not in our interest, and that investing in strategic competition is not worth it. They want us to take hard-earned credibility and light it on fire.”

“But today,” he wrote, “the Senate responded by reaffirming a commitment to rebuild and modernize our military, restore our credibility, and give the current Commander-in-Chief, as well as the next, more tools to secure our interests.”

More progressive members of the Senate objected to funding Israel in its war against Hamas. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), called the idea of voting for Israel funding “unconscionable.” He wrote, “This bill provides Netanyahu $10 billion more in unrestricted military aid for his horrific war against the Palestinian people. That is unconscionable. I will vote NO on final passage.”

Some conservatives also voted against the bill because it did not include provisions to secure the U.S.’s southern border. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), released a statement making clear that while “It is important that Israel eradicates Hamas, that Taiwan remains resilient against China’s threats, and that Ukraine defeats Russia,” he would vote for the bill “only after America’s border is secured.”

The bill faces an uphill battle to pass in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has suggested provisions will have to be added to secure the southern border for him to bring it to the floor for a vote.

He said, “House Republicans were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border.“ 

Johnson continued, “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters.”

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Police are investigating after a group of anti-Israel protesters targeted Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital

Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, a century-old Canadian medical institution originally built for Jewish doctors and patients who faced discrimination but which now treats all the city’s residents, became the latest target of anti-Israel protests on Feb.12. Protesters took over portions of southbound University Avenue with one individual climbing a scaffold and waving the Palestinian flag […]

The post Police are investigating after a group of anti-Israel protesters targeted Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Yeshiva Loses its Ninth Student in War in Gaza

Fallen Israeli soldier Maj. Gen. Ziv Chen. Source: Twitter/X

Israelis on Monday woke up to bittersweet news: the good was the successful rescue of two hostages from the Gaza Strip. The bad, that three soldiers, Maj. Gen. Ziv Chen, Lt. Col. Nathaniel Elkoubi, and Maj. Yair Cohen were killed in separate fighting in the Strip.

Chen, 27, from Kfar Saba, was a graduate of a religious Zionist yeshiva in southern Israel which has now lost nine students in the war against Hamas in Gaza.

“We wanted to believe that we had finished paying the heavy price,” the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Wolfson, told Hebrew media.

The yeshiva, Yeruham Hesder, is a program for observant Israelis who wish to combine regular military service with Torah study. A longer program than regular enlistments – five years total – there are thousands of students every year participating.

“We have lost a mainstay of the Beit Midrash (study hall). Ziv, as his name is, was all light,” Rabbi Wolfson added. “A loving and beloved man, I will bless you, everything he did was with infinite love. He loved people, loved the Torah, and everything he was involved in was done wholeheartedly.”

Chen was set to celebrate his wedding anniversary this upcoming Sunday with his wife Hillel, his family said.

At the funeral, held on Tuesday in his hometown, accompanied by hundreds of Israelis paying their respects, his uncle, Danny Chen, said about the fallen soldier: “He was a salt of the earth, a brilliant yeshiva student who loved the Land of Israel. He was a walking encyclopedia, very knowledgeable. Saturday night, two weeks ago, I saw him for the last time, always hugging and kissing. An exemplary child, a great loss. We are all shocked and hurt.”

The organization overseeing the Hesder yeshivot, the Hesder Yeshiva Association, released a statement that said, “We bitterly mourn the death of the soldier Maj. Gen. Ziv Chen, a fighter in the Givati ​​Brigade, student of the Hesder Yeshiva Yeruham, who fell in the war. On behalf of the leaders of the Hesder Yeshivas and all the rabbis and students, we embrace the family, the the rabbis of the yeshiva, its students and graduates, and pray for an overwhelming victory of our heroic soldiers over our vile and cruel enemies. May his soul be wrapped in the bundle of life.”

The three soldiers who perished on Monday were the victims of an IED explosion in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where the IDF has been concentrating its fighting for the last few weeks.

As mentioned, Chen is the ninth soldier to fall during the war from the Yeroham Yeshiva. The other eight are: Sergeant Ariel Eliyahu, 19, Staff Sergeant Yanon Fleishman, 31, First Sergeant Eitan Dov Rosenzweig, 21, Captain Eitan Fish, 23, Sergeant Yakir Yedidia Shankolevsky, 21, Advanced Sergeant Gideon Ilani, 35, First Sergeant Elisha Levinstern, 38, and First Sergeant Ephraim Yachman, 21.


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