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Black Israelis mobilized for their country — as soldiers, volunteers and social media warriors

(JTA) — Kalkidan Tegin wanted to get a few things straight in a recent TikTok video.

Yes, there are Black people who support Israel, the 20-year-old Ethiopian Israeli says emphatically to the camera. Yes, Black Jews like her exist. No, she’s not a convert or an adoptee.

She then responds to critics who claim that Israel mistreats its Black citizens.

“When my grandparents lived all the way in Ethiopia, they were literally hunted and chased and hated just because they were Jews, just because of their religion,” she says. “I lived here in Israel my whole life and I never felt hated. I never felt hunted just because I’m Black.”

In a mock American accent she adds, “It’s insane, right?”

Tegin, who has more than 25,000 TikTok followers, is part of a group of Black Israelis in their 20s and early 30s who have been vigorously defending Israel online — and in English — since its war with Hamas began on Oct. 7. They are an informal but increasingly visible part of Israel’s public diplomacy, known as hasbara, which seeks to defend Israel from criticism and burnish the country’s image overseas, and kicks into high gear during wartime. (TikTok, especially, has become a major online battleground, with  a recent analysis showing that pro-Palestinian hashtags are massively outperforming pro-Israel hashtags on the platform.)


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In social media posts and TV appearances, they have shared stories about how they and other Black Israelis have been affected by the war. They have called out African-American critics of Israel, including those aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement. They have also pushed back against race-based, anti-Israel narratives spread by pro-Palestinian activists, such as that Israelis are white, European colonizers of land belonging to indigenous Palestinians.

In addition to Tegin, the most prominent Black content creators include Titi Aynaw, an Ethiopian Israeli model and former Miss Israel; Noah Shufutinsky, better known as the rapper Westside Gravy, an African-American Jew who immigrated to Israel last year; Ashriel Moore, a former contestant on Israel’s version of the reality show “The Amazing Race” and a Hebrew Israelite activist; Yirmiyahu Danzig, a Caribbean-American Israeli educator; and Lilaq Logan, an IDF commander with both Jewish and Hebrew Israelite heritage.

While they each have their own politics and communication styles, these creators said in interviews that they are motivated by a desire to raise awareness about Israel’s diverse population. All of them except Aynaw, who did not respond to requests for comment, said they are creating Israel-related content on their own initiative, and that the government is not paying them to do hasbara on its behalf. (Like all soldiers, Tegin and Logan receive wages from the IDF to perform their regular military duties.)

“I was looking to show the world that as strange as it may sound, there are also quite a few Black people in Israel, and we live good lives, so there is no need to use my skin color as an excuse” to criticize the country, Tegin, who lives in Haifa, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

There are more than 200,000 people of African descent who call Israel home, including about 170,000 Ethiopian Jews, 30,000 asylum seekers (primarily from Eritrea and Sudan), 3,000 Hebrew Israelites (Black people who identify as descendants of the ancient Israelites but are not recognized as Jews according to Jewish law), and an unknown number of Black Jewish immigrants from the United States and African countries. There are also people who identify as Afro-Palestinian who live inside Israel’s borders.

Besides the asylum seekers, all of these people trace their genealogical or spiritual roots to the Holy Land. “Most of us see our return to the land of Israel as prophetic,” Moore, who was raised in the African Hebrew Israelite community in Dimona, said in an interview. (The community, which considers Israel to be located in northeastern Africa, is not connected to the radical “Black Hebrew Israelite” groups in the United States whose members denigrate Jews and Israel.)

“Most people view Israel as a European white state, but they don’t realize that we are here as well, we are affected as well,” Moore, 32, said. “The rockets don’t discriminate between people, and those who seek to harm civilians don’t discriminate between us, either.”

Ben Ammi Ben Israel celebrating New World Passover with his followers in Dimona, Israel, May 2013. (Andrew Esensten)

Among the 1,200 Israeli civilians and soldiers slaughtered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 were several Ethiopian Israelis, including Israel Chana, a security guard who was killed while defending the southern town of Ofakim. Soldiers and reservists from the Black Jewish and Hebrew Israelite communities are currently serving in the IDF, and some have been deployed to Gaza. Two Ethiopian soldiers, Aschalwu Sama and paratrooper Yehonatan Yitzhak Semo, have died after being injured in combat.

The war has affected Black communities in other ways. Dozens of African-American Jews who live together in the southern city of Ashkelon were forced to evacuate due to incessant rocket fire from Gaza.

“We came from America seeking to fully express our Judaism,” Monica Terry, who immigrated from Kansas City in 2011 and works as a pharmacist, says in a video Moore posted Oct. 17 to Instagram, where he has more than 80,000 followers. “We’re in Ashkelon, right by Gaza, so we’re used to the occasional missiles and firing. But this time it was different.”

According to Moore, members of Terry’s community were temporarily housed at a school in Herzliya and then hosted by Israeli families. Terry never considered returning to the United States. “This is home to me,” she says in another video. “I’m staying here, regardless of what’s going on, regardless of how close [the war] gets.”

The Hamas assault sent shockwaves through the entire Israeli population. For Black Israelis, the psychological pain has been compounded by seeing rising Palestinian solidarity among Black Americans, including in some cases seemingly pro-Hamas responses shared online by those aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement.

A few days after the Oct. 7 assault, an independent BLM chapter in Chicago posted a meme on X (formerly Twitter) with an image of a figure wearing a parachute above the words “I Stand with Palestine.” It was widely interpreted as glorifying the terrorists who infiltrated Israel on hang gliders. Other BLM-affiliated social media accounts posted messages framing Hamas’ assault as a justifiable act of resistance.

In response to the BLM Chicago post, which the group deleted, Aynaw, the first Black Miss Israel, shared an emotional response on Instagram, where she has 113,000 followers. “I remember you screaming in the streets, ‘I can’t breathe,’” she says in the video, echoing the slogan chanted at racial justice protests, including those in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. She concludes by saying, “Pray for Israel, because we can’t breathe.”

The video led to an invitation to appear on Fox News, where Aynaw, 31, called Black Lives Matter supporters who refused to condemn Hamas “hypocrites.” “They say they care about Black people, they say they care about human rights,” she said. “What about my rights as a Black woman in Israel?”

Many Israelis have viewed the decentralized BLM movement with skepticism since at least 2016, when the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of 60 Black-led organizations, released a platform accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians and being an apartheid state. Israel was the only country mentioned in the foreign policy section of the platform, and Jewish groups across the political spectrum condemned it.

Shufuntinsky, the rapper who grew up in San Diego and now lives in the central coastal city of Hadera, said he supports the principles behind BLM but not any particular organization. Since Oct. 7, he has been angered by the “false equivalency” some activists have drawn between the racial justice movement in the U.S. and the Palestinian national struggle.

“You can’t say Black Lives Matter and then look at the two sides of this conflict and support the side who is killing Black people,” he said in a WhatsApp message.

In a new song he released on Dec. 7, the two-month anniversary of the attack, Shufuntinsky, 24, calls out BLM supporters who are “supposed to be my allies” but who ignore the plight of Israelis like him. “Black Lives Matter sometimes, is what you telling me,” he raps. “My Black life could’ve ended and you’d never mention me / Why? Cause I’m the wrong type of Black / This ain’t got nothing to do with no Republican and Democrat.”

Instead, he raps, it has to do with the perception that “Jews are white.”

The second verse flips the narrative about Jewish colonization of Israel by referencing the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the seventh century. The song, he told JTA, is meant to “expose this myth of settler colonialism” and “shine a light on the Black Jewish community,” which he called resilient and “overwhelmingly Zionist.” (Shufutinsky works as the education and outreach manager at the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, but he records and releases music independently.)

Danzig, another American-raised Black Israeli, is a multilingual content creator with more than 46,000 Instagram followers. He educates about Jewish history and Zionism in English and Arabic, and he has called out American celebrities, including rapper Kid Cudi, for describing Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as a “genocide” in an Instagram post.

“Kid Cudi doesn’t care about justice,” he says in a Nov. 6 video. “He’s a pawn in Hamas’ explicit attempt to have an actual genocide [of Jews] between the river and the sea.”

Danzig, 28, also posts people-on-the-street interviews with Palestinians, whom he refers to as his cousins. In one exchange, a Palestinian man calls him an “occupier” in Arabic. He responds, “My great-grandfather was born in the Old City [of Jerusalem]. I’m here since way back!”

The son of an Israeli father and a Guyanese mother, Danzig made aliyah in 2014 and founded an organization last year for Caribbean, West African and African American Israelis called Shachar (“Dawn”). One of the goals of the organization, he said, is to amplify the voices of members of those groups in the media.

Yirmiyahu Danzig, front right, with members of Shachar, a group he founded last year for Caribbean, West African and African American Israelis. (Courtesy)

“When people discuss Israelis, our triumphs and our tragedies, they’re talking about Israelis of color, even if they don’t realize it,” he told JTA.

Critics of Israel have left comments on recent videos by Danzig and other Black creators questioning why they would defend a “racist” country. It is a sensitive issue for these creators, who belong to communities that, for different reasons, have faced discrimination and struggled to be fully accepted.

In a poignant contrast, Sama, one of the soldiers killed in Gaza, had previously appeared in an Israeli newspaper — back in 2009, when Israeli schools balked at admitting a recent Ethiopian immigrant first-grader.

Ethiopian Israelis have taken to the streets in recent years to protest racism and police brutality. In July 2019, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Israelis protested for several days following the death of 18-year-old Solomon Tekah, who was shot by an off-duty police officer in Haifa. Some held “I can’t breathe” signs at the protests. This past August, Ethiopian Israelis blocked a highway in Tel Aviv to demand justice in the death of Raphael Adana, a 4-year-old Ethiopian Israeli boy who was struck and killed by an elderly driver in Netanya. Moreover, economic disparities persist between Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian Israelis, with Ethiopian households earning less than the average household.

Israeli protesters compare police violence against African Americans to the killing of Ethiopian Jews, June 2, 2020. (Sam Sokol)

Meanwhile, the African Hebrew Israelites have been battling the Israeli government for more than two years to prevent the deportation of dozens of community members who do not have legal status in the country. Since they are not recognized as Jews, the African Hebrew Israelites are not eligible to receive citizenship under the Law of Return. In 2021, the government threatened to deport those who had entered the country as tourists and stayed illegally. Some received temporary residency last summer, while others are still in limbo. (Most community members hold permanent residency, and the youth are required to enlist in the IDF; the government has extended citizenship to soldiers and their relatives.)

As for the African asylum seekers, the government has held thousands of them in detention centers and sought to deport them en masse. Since Israel considers them to be economic migrants, very few have received refugee status and the rights that come with it. In a rare move last month, Israel’s Interior Minister rewarded Molugata Tsagai, a native of Eritrea, with residency for helping to save the life of an IDF officer who was shot in Sderot during the Hamas invasion.

Prior to Oct. 7, many Black Israeli creators were posting videos about their grievances. Now they are striking a different tone.

“We recognize and speak openly about Israeli society’s flaws,” Danzig said. “None of that justifies the genocidal and racist call to destroy Israel. We will defend our home, because it’s the only home that the Jewish people have.”

Offline, Israel’s Black communities have rallied to support emergency efforts across the country. Asylum seekers have volunteered to harvest food and sort donated goods for those displaced by the war.

The African Hebrew Israelites, who are renowned for their healthy lifestyle, have hosted sound healing sessions in Dimona for Israelis who fled homes near Gaza. Yair Israel, a community member who runs a vegan food manufacturing company, Otentivee, has been delivering free meals to IDF bases for vegan and vegetarian soldiers.

Yair Israel, who runs a vegan food manufacturing company, has been delivering free meals to vegan and vegetarian IDF soldiers. (Courtesy)

“You can’t have a good soldier fighting for you if you don’t feed him right,” Israel said. “I’ve been all over this country taking the people food.” He estimated he has delivered more than 2,000 meals and is raising money to keep the program running.

Logan, the IDF commander who was born to a Jewish father and Hebrew Israelite mother, said she has felt a strong sense of unity in Israel since Oct. 7. But it’s a different story on Instagram, where she has more than 27,000 followers. The 24-year-old said that responding to some pro-Palestinian commenters is “like arguing with a wall.”

Nevertheless, she has been regularly recording reflections on the war in her IDF uniform and red braids. On Dec. 18, she denounced Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, who has accused Israel of committing genocide and claimed to have helped free two Americans held hostage by Hamas. (The family of the hostages disputes his account of his involvement.) “Are you really for Black Lives Matter? Are you really for human rights? Or are you on the next trend?” Logan asks in a video.

In one of her most viewed videos, she talks about being dismissed by social media users over her identity. “I didn’t really want to get personal with it, but I got a lot of comments talking about, ‘You’re Black, sis, you don’t even belong [in Israel], sit this one out,” she says.

She told JTA she refuses to be quiet. “People are commenting without knowing what it feels like to be attacked in your own home,” she said. “I’m fighting for a greater cause.”

The post Black Israelis mobilized for their country — as soldiers, volunteers and social media warriors appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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