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Churches in Israel and the West Bank are canceling Christmas celebrations due to the war

(JTA) — Ordinarily at this time of year, Nabil Totry would be gearing up for one of the biggest productions in Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood home and one of several cities across Israel and the West Bank to go all-out for Christmas.

But this year, as the holiday approached, Totry wondered whether his hometown would be able to celebrate. As president of the city’s Christmas Parade, he knew that the war between Israel and Hamas would require some changes.

The parade is a rollicking annual march that begins at Mary’s Well in Nazareth — next to a bustling Christmas market — and continues down Paul VI Street, which boasts the Church of the Annunciation and a Christmas tree rising more than 50 feet in the air. The city generally mounts a fireworks display early in the evening, followed by a midnight Mass Christian prayer service.

“We were ready to begin calling the annual march a ‘March of Peace’ for fraternity, since we see that all people from all religious backgrounds march together side by side,” Totry said. “We thought about how to establish the Christmas march under the present conditions without canceling it.”

But in the end, Totry did call off the parade, and he is not alone. Against the backdrop of the bloodshed in Gaza and Israel, churches in Nazareth and in cities across Israel and the West Bank have canceled their public celebrations of Christmas.

People gathering at Nazareth’s Christmas tree ahead of the holiday in 2021.(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

The decisions follow the lead of a consortium of Christian leaders in Jerusalem, who last month asked Christians “to stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities.” In addition to Nazareth, the call affects celebrations in Jerusalem as well as Bethlehem, revered as Jesus’ birthplace.

“We gathered for several weeks with all the involved organizations to negotiate and decide what was possible in light of the current crisis,” Totry said. “Naturally, there were different opinions because Nazareth in the Christmas season is full of activities as the main address for Arab and Jewish citizens from many areas, and Christmas is considered an important economic source for the city.”

Now, Bethlehem — which is usually a bustling attraction this time of year, with Christmas decorations lining the streets leading to Manger Square, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was born — is bare and empty. But the spirit of the city, located in the West Bank, is less somber than it is heated.

The Nativity scene shows baby Jesus wrapped in a keffiyeh and placed in a pile of rubble to show solidarity with the people of Gaza in the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, West Bank, Dec. 18, 2023. (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Many West Bank Palestinians abhor the war in Gaza, and face increased limits on their freedom of movement coupled with a depressed economy and spiking violence. In a, evocative display that has gained global attention, the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem replaced its traditional nativity manger this year with a depiction of baby Jesus wearing a black-and-white keffiyeh, buried in rubble.

Exacerbating tensions between Israel and the land’s Christians were reports on Saturday of an alleged deadly Israeli attack on a sole Roman Catholic Church in Gaza that has served as a refuge for displaced Christians since the start of the war. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 Christians in Gaza, a drop from a reported figure of 3,000 when Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007.

On Saturday, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Catholic Church’s representative in Israel’s capital, accused Israel of killing a mother and daughter housed at a Catholic church in Gaza. The statement also accused Israel of firing at a convent housing 54 people with disabilities and knocking out its generator. The patriarchate later shared what it said were photos of the attack.

The Israeli army strongly denied the allegations, saying that there were “no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed.” The IDF added that it “takes claims regarding harm to sensitive sites with the utmost seriousness — especially churches — considering that Christian communities are a minority group in the Middle East.”

So far, the allegations have not been independently verified, and there were no images or video of a funeral for Nahida Anton and her daughter Samar Anton as of Monday.

A Christmas display at the entrance to the Tel Aviv flagship store of Tiv Ta’am, an Israeli supermarket chain known for selling food that doesn’t meet kosher dietary rules. (Asaf Shalev)

But in his Sunday sermon, Pope Francis accepted the initial Palestinian reports and condemned any attack on Gaza churches “where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, and nuns.” Francis has called for a ceasefire in the conflict.

Meanwhile, as the fighting continues, Christians across the region are preparing for a subdued holiday. Church leaders and city councils in Haifa and Jaffa have also decided not to decorate public spaces with large Christmas trees this year, and to commemorate Christmas in a more ritual fashion. Non-religious Christmas displays, on the rise in recent years among some secular Jews who see them as akin to Halloween decorations, have also been tamped down.

Amir Badran, a member of the Tel-Aviv Jaffa City Council, said, “There is no holiday spirit in the air, in light of the war in Gaza.”

The post Churches in Israel and the West Bank are canceling Christmas celebrations due to the war 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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