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As Certain as Death and Taxes: The Unyielding Persistence of Antisemitism

The University of California-Los Angeles campus. Photo: Photo: Pixabay.

In November 1789, as he neared the end of his life, Benjamin Franklin penned a letter to the French scientist Jean-Baptiste Le Roy; Franklin was concerned after not hearing from him since the start of the French Revolution just a few months earlier.

Le Roy, known for his work in physics and as a pioneer in the field of electricity, was an esteemed member of the French Academy of Sciences, and a significant Enlightenment-era figure.

Franklin, writing in French, inquired about Le Roy’s health and the situation in Paris over the previous year. He then provided a brief update on the major developments in the United States, mentioning the recent ratification of the US Constitution and the formation of a new government. “Our new Constitution is now established,” he wrote, “[and] everything seems to promise it will be durable.” Although, as he noted wryly, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

As was often the case with Franklin’s pithy one-liners later attributed exclusively to him — his “death and taxes” observation was not original. It first appeared in The Cobbler of Preston, a 1716 comedy play by English playwright Christopher Bullock, with the main character, Toby Guzzle, uttering the immortal line: “’tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.”

In any event, it is Franklin’s adaptation of Bullock’s quote that stood the test of time, and the quote has become synonymous with his name. Nevertheless, it has often struck me that what is missing in both Bullock’s original and Franklin’s reiteration is the one other certainty in the world — no less persistent and undoubtedly as permanent as death and taxes — namely, antisemitism.

Antisemitism has permeated societies for centuries. It has transcended geographical boundaries and historical epochs. From medieval Europe to the modern world, from the dusty provinces of the Ottoman Empire to the incendiary pages of Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent periodical, from the evil rhetoric of Adolf Hitler to the paranoid theories of Josef Stalin, antisemitism has proven incredibly resilient and pervasive, and it has cast a long shadow evident to this day.

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote and spoke frequently about antisemitism. As he explained: “Antisemitism is not a unitary phenomenon, a coherent belief or ideology. Jews have been hated because they were rich and because they were poor; because they were capitalists and because they were communists; because they believed in tradition and because they were rootless cosmopolitans; because they kept to themselves and because they penetrated everywhere. Antisemitism is not a belief but a virus. The human body has an immensely sophisticated immune system which develops defenses against viruses. It is penetrated, however, because viruses mutate. Antisemitism mutates.”

But as Rabbi Sacks observed, antisemitism has adapted and evolved over time, morphing into many different forms, even as it always retained its destructive core.

In its latest mutation, the cause of antisemitism is the Jewish people’s unshakeable love for and devotion to Israel, the sovereign country of the Jews, established after almost two millennia of bitter exile in their ancestral homeland — the land cited in the hallowed pages of the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s bequest to the Jewish people.

Today, criticism of Israel has become the primary vehicle for antisemitism. And while the right to critique any nation’s policies is fundamental to democratic principles, it has become clear that anti-Israel sentiment and activism has veered, or more likely been deliberately directed, into the dangerous territory of bigoted, unbridled Jew-hatred. In polite company, no one will ever admit to hating Jews; instead, antisemites freely admit to hating Israel and Zionists, and indeed anyone who refuses to condemn Israel and call for its downfall (in other words, the vast majority of the world’s Jews).

Over the past few days, this façade was fully exposed for what it is in Los Angeles, at UCLA. After an illegal pro-Palestinian encampment was set up on the campus last Thursday, Eli Tsives, a 19-year-old theater and film major, attempted to attend a class. He was immediately obstructed by several students wearing keffiyehs and face masks. Despite showing his student ID and requesting access, Tsives, who was wearing a Star of David necklace, found his path firmly blocked by the group. Tsives is not Israeli, nor is the Star of David an exclusively Israeli symbol. Rather, it is a universally recognized Jewish symbol. This was enough for Tsives to be denied access to his class.

Jewish UCLA students have told me that they are frightened to walk around with yarmulkes and with their tzitzit visible. Last Sunday, in a big show of support for UCLA students, the LA community came out in force to show solidarity with Israel on the UCLA campus. The pro-Palestinian rabble — all of them cloaked in the keffiyehs that have become the mark of this latest manifestation of Jew-hatred — looked uncomfortable with the Jewish community’s unashamed, unadulterated love for Israel. And over the past couple of days, after confrontations between the illegal protesters and pro-Israel counter-protesters predictably descended into violence, the Los Angeles police finally came on campus to dismantle the unlawful encampment and to arrest the agitators who set it up and refused to leave.

The challenge ahead for American Jews is formidable, particularly in the post-October 7th landscape. The response to this crisis will not only shape the future of Jewish community life in America, but it will also reflect the moral integrity of our nation. The fight against antisemitism is a fight for the soul of America. All Americans must stand in solidarity with Jews against hate, and champion the values of understanding and tolerance.

This Shabbat, Jews across the world will read the Torah portion of Acharei Mot, which includes the detailed rituals for the Yom Kippur service. The Day of Atonement is a profound opportunity for introspection and self-reflection, calling upon individuals and communities to recognize their shortcomings and seek forgiveness. In the spirit of Yom Kippur, American Jews must reflect on the complacency that has allowed us to believe antisemitism was no longer a significant threat. Recent events have shattered that illusion, revealing a disturbing resurgence of bigotry that demands a collective response.

Yet, we are not alone. Many of our fellow Americans are horrified by recent developments and will stand with us. As Rabbi Sacks so tellingly declared: “Jews cannot fight antisemitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime, and the hated cannot cure the hate.” He added: “Antisemitism begins with Jews, but it never ends with them. A world without room for Jews is one that has no room for difference. And a world that lacks space for difference lacks space for humanity itself.”

And while the scourge of antisemitism may be as certain as death and taxes, this doesn’t excuse us from fighting back. We stave off death by staying healthy, and our accountants work hard to ensure we only pay the taxes we owe, and no more. It is time for us to stand up to antisemitism, to call it out for what it is, and to fight it with all our might.

The United States was the first country in human history to treat Jews as equals, allowing them to practice their faith without hindrance. It is time for our country to reclaim this glorious legacy, and to ensure that the tendrils of hate do not overwhelm the very essence of what made this country the greatest nation on earth.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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Hate crimes in Toronto are predominantly antisemitic—and the numbers continue to rise: TPS security and intelligence commander

Antisemitic hate crimes continue to account for more than any other category of reported hate crimes in Toronto, according to the head of Toronto police intelligence. Superintendent Katherine Stephenson of Toronto Police Service (TPS) confirmed the ongoing spike in hate occurrences during a presentation at Holy Blossom Temple on May 29, where she addressed 350 […]

The post Hate crimes in Toronto are predominantly antisemitic—and the numbers continue to rise: TPS security and intelligence commander appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Israel Is Not Jewish People,’ New York Times ‘Daily’ Guest Really Wants You to Know

Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

When producers from the New York Times podcast “The Daily” posted on social media looking for “Jewish students who represent a range of feelings and experiences, from being enthusiastically pro Palestinian to enthusiastically pro Israel, and everything in between,” I replied, “This is a trap! They’ll use the ‘pro-Palestinian’ (the polite term they use for the ones who want to wipe Israel off the map) ones to make it sound like the Jewish community is divided and give listeners the illusion that the anti-Israel protests aren’t antisemitic.”

Sure enough, the Times podcast episode that finally aired, headlined, “The Campus Protesters Explain Themselves,” included three students.

Mustafa Yowell, of Irving, Texas, said his mother was from “Nablus, Palestine” and described himself as a Palestinian Arab. He’s a student at the University of Texas, Austin who complained to the Times that “two IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers had infiltrated the campus.” By “IDF soldiers” he meant Israeli students at the university who had, like many Israelis, served in the army before college.

The second student interviewed, Elisha Baker, a student at Columbia University, described himself as a proud Zionist and a graduate of Jewish day school.

And the third student, Jasmine Jolly, a student at Cal Poly Humboldt, described herself as the daughter of a Catholic father and “of Ashkenazi descent on my mom’s side.” Jolly showed up at protests with a sign that said “in honor of my Jewish ancestors, I stand with Palestine.” Jolly also chanted “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

“There’s nothing that has come across to me as antisemitic if you are able to pause and remember that Israel is not Jewish people and Zionism is not Jewish people,” Jolly explained to the Times audience.

Jolly read an email from her Jewish grandfather claiming, “Israel is an increasingly apartheid state.”

This is just such a misleading view of reality on campus and in American Jewish life. Even polls like Pew that use an expansive definition of who is Jewish find overwhelming Jewish support for Israel and negligible support for Hamas, including among younger Jews 18 to 34.

In reality, a lot of the anti-Israel protesters aren’t even Palestinians; they are European or Asian students or white or black Americans who either have been brainwashed by their professors or who have underlying, pre-existing antisemitic attitudes. Few of them have been to the Middle East and many of them are ignorant about basic facts about it — remember the Wall Street Journal piece, “From Which River to Which Sea?

“The Daily” episode made it crisply concrete, with the Times representing Jews as being split 50-50, with one normative Jew and one Jew chanting “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.” That’s ridiculous, yet a similar approach contaminates other Times coverage of the Jewish community, misleadlingly portraying American Jewry as deeply divided rather than unified around the goals of getting the hostages back, eliminating the threat of Hamas, and making American college campuses safe for Jewish students.

The Times was at this game well before Oct. 7, 2023, proclaiming “the unraveling of American Zionism” and trotting out old chestnuts such as the Reform movement’s Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 and the New York Times‘ favorite Jew, Peter Beinart.

I find myself rolling my eyes at such depictions, but there is clearly some audience for them among the Times readership and top editorial ranks. The Times executive editor, Joe Kahn, told Semafor’s Ben Smith in a May interview, “I’m not an active Jew.” Maybe the New York Times can sell sweatshirts: “Inactive Jew.” Who, exactly, is supposed to find that distinction between “active” and “inactive” Jews reassuring? Maybe they can put it on top of the front page in place of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”: “Edited by someone who wants the public to know he’s not an active Jew.”

Of all the moments to choose to distance oneself publicly from the Jewish people, this is sure quite one to choose.

This “Daily” episode seems calculated to appeal to the inactive Jews, and to others who want justification to believe it’s not antisemitic to set up on Passover and falsely accuse Israel of genocide. It’s nice for the Times to include a Zionist voice on the program, but he wound up sandwiched in between a Palestinian and an “only one solution, intifada revolution” person. It’s fairly typical for the New York Times these days, but it isn’t pretty.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. He also writes at

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases Second Video of Israeli Hostage Sasha Troufanov

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in an undated propaganda video released by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group on May 30, 2024. Photo: Screenshot

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Thursday released a second propaganda video this week featuring Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov, 28, who was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

In the video, Trufanov says he is doing well and criticizes Israel’s prime minister and government in remarks that were likely scripted by his captors.

There was no information about when the video was filmed. However, Trufanov refers to Israel’s decision on May 5 to order the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, indicating he may have been filmed in the last few weeks.

The latest video came just two days after Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist group in Gaza, released its first video featuring Trufanov.

The 30-second undated video shows Trufanov, an Amazon employee, identifying himself and saying that he will soon discuss what has happened to him and other hostages in Gaza.

Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare meant to torture the Israeli public, especially the families of the hostages being held in Gaza.

Trufanov’s mother said after the first video was released that she was happy to see her son after all this time, but it was “heartbreaking” that he had been a hostage for so long.

“Seeing my Sasha on my TV was very cheering, but it also breaks my heart that he’s still been in captivity for so long,” she said in a video released by the family. “I ask everyone, all the decision-makers: Please do everything, absolutely everything, to bring my son and all the hostages home now.”

Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists abducted over 250 people during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Sasha was kidnapped alongside his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend. All three women were released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement negotiated in November. His father, Vitaly Trufanov, was one of the 1,200 people killed during the Hamas massacre.

“The proof of life from Alexsander (Sasha) Trufanov is additional evidence that the Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team,” the Hostages Families Forum, which represents the families of the hostages, said in a statement.

More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

Trufanov was an engineer at the Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs, which Amazon owns.

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