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Don’t Apologize for Being Jewish; Fight for It

Supporters of Israel gather in solidarity with Israel and protest against antisemitism, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, during a rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, Nov. 14, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

This week, the anti-Israel show trial in The Hague exploded onto the public consciousness. Israel scrambled to get a judge onto the panel, and has sent representatives to advocate Israel’s position.

As I watched the spectacle unfold, I was reminded of the prescient words of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, which were published in 1912 during the blood-libel trial of Mendel Beilis in Kiev. Jabotinsky was a proud Jewish patriot fed up with the cowering apologetics of the “Galut” (exile) Jew. As a Zionist activist, he spearheaded a Jewish identity reformation that was unapologetically unapologetic.

“Who are we, that we must make excuses to them?” Jabotinsky thundered, in an essay appropriately titled “No Apologies.” “And who are they, to interrogate us? What is the purpose of this mock trial over the entire people where the sentence is known in advance? Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. The situation that has been created as a result, tragically confirms the well-known saying: ‘he who apologizes — condemns himself.’”

“Once again, we have taken on the role of prisoners on trial — we press our hands to our hearts, and with quivering fingers, we leaf through old stacks of supporting documents that no one is interested in … How much longer will this go on? Tell me, my friends, are you not already tired of this charade? Isn’t it high time, in response to all these accusations, rebukes, suspicions, smears, and denunciations — both present and future — to fold our arms over our chests and loudly, clearly, coldly, and calmly put forth the only argument that this public can understand: why don’t you all go to hell?”

Jabotinsky could well have written these words in January 2024, about the genocide case against Israel being brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). As the week progressed, I found the circus developing in The Hague so disturbing that I decided to visit the Auschwitz Exhibition at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, just to remind myself what happens to Jews when they don’t take the threats against them seriously.

The exhibition — which features 700 original artifacts along with a curated account of the role of Auschwitz in the Final Solution — has been open for months but is winding up its run at the end of January.

I’d heard it was terrific — well put together and very evocative — but until this week, I didn’t feel the need to visit, having read countless books and seen countless documentaries on the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, in what would later become known as the Holocaust.

In addition to which, having personally been acquainted with dozens of Auschwitz survivors, some years ago I visited the original site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. So, I thought to myself: “Been there, done that.”

But events over the past few weeks, and particularly this week, have been a seismic shock to the system. As Ronald Reagan once put it, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

At no time that I can recall have these words been more relevant — and not just for the United States, but for the entire free world.

Clearly, the need to challenge vicious tyrants and to protect ourselves against terrorists has not been passed from the previous generation into the bloodstream of the emerging generation. And the results are evident for all to see — Gen Z is utterly besotted with freedom-hating thugs, and is seemingly intent on painting anyone who challenges these thugs as the enemy.

Mix into that equation the oldest hatred — antisemitism — and you have a perfect storm. The popular mantra among the younger generation is as simple as it is pernicious: Israel is evil, Palestinians can do no evil, and if you dare call us antisemites for saying so, that proves you are the oppressor.

In broad terms, I didn’t learn very much that I didn’t already know at the Auschwitz exhibition. Of the 1.1 million Jews who entered Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944, 900,000 were murdered almost immediately — first they were gassed to death, and then their bodies were incinerated.

The victims represented a broad cross-section of Jewish society — young, old, men, women, boys, girls, rich, poor, religious, secular, educated, uneducated. There was literally nothing that could save you from getting killed, although if you were in your teens or twenties, you might get a short reprieve.

Young men and women were separated out from the vast majority of those who arrived, to be used as slave laborers, and some of them did manage to survive Auschwitz’s brutal conditions until they were liberated by Russian forces in January 1945.

But the exhibition did offer me some glimpses into the personal tragedies of individual Holocaust victims and their families. There was a section about the prewar Jewish community of Oswiecim — the Polish name for Auschwitz. Oswiecim Jewry had thrived during the interwar years. One story, about the Haberfeld family of Oswiecim, was especially tragic.

In August 1939, Alfons Haberfeld and his wife Felicja, who had a business producing alcoholic beverages, traveled to New York to showcase their products at the World Fair. While on their way home, Germany invaded Poland, and the return journey was abruptly halted as their ship rerouted to Scotland, preventing their return to Poland, which was now under German occupation.

The Haberfelds’ five-year-old daughter, Franciszka, was not with them — she had been left in her grandmother’s care while her parents were on their business trip. The Haberfelds never saw Franciska again. In 1942, both she and her grandmother were murdered by the Nazis in the Bełżec death camp. Alfons and Felicja eventually made their way to the United States, and in 1952, they were instrumental in establishing a community organization in Los Angeles for Holocaust survivors called Club 1939. Alfons died in 1970, and Felicja died in 2010.

The Haberfelds were no doubt conscious of the threat from Hitler, and of the likelihood of a German invasion, when they left for New York. The Nazi hatred for Jews had already wrought havoc on the German, Austrian, and Czech Jewish communities, as evidenced by the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, which had resulted in dozens of state-sanctioned killings of Jews.

And yet, life went on, and the threat was dismissed or minimized, or willfully ignored. By the time European Jewry woke up, it was far too late — and the result was Auschwitz. Just like today, those who hated Jews used legal means and formal institutions to present Jews as evil, clearing the way for an outcome that remains the most significant attempt to wipe out a nation in human history.

Currently, at every synagogue around the world, we are reading through the Torah portions in Exodus that recall the story of the first attempt to delegitimize, enslave, and wipe out the Jews. Pharaoh, the world’s most powerful leader, became convinced that Jews represented a grave threat to Egyptian civilization.

Demoralized and dispirited, the Jews of that era were almost annihilated. But Moses came, and he stood up to the tyranny of Pharaoh, who no doubt represented the feelings of the majority. Moses didn’t care — he was unapologetically proud of his people and of his heritage, and he refused to be cowed, even when Pharaoh stubbornly persisted with his cruelty.

Just like Pharaoh, the world has hardened its heart against Israel. From The Hague, to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Israel is vilified — and as a result, Jews are in existential danger yet again.

But we have nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, we can be proud of who we are and what we represent. The end of all this will be a triumph of truth over lies, and the Jewish people will prevail — as they have throughout history. Until then, we must stay strong, and we must certainly never apologize.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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Brown University Investigating Threats of Violence Sent to Hillel Officials

More than 200 Brown University students gathered outside University Hall where roughly 40 students sat inside demanding the school divest from weapons manufacturers amid the Israel-Hamas war. Photo: Amy Russo / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

Two officials of Brown-RISD Hillel, a Jewish life  center serving both Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, were sent “violent threats” early Sunday morning, according to a report by The Brown Daily Herald.

After being alerted of threats, which were sent via email, the university’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) conducted a search of Brown-RISD Hillel and determined there is “no evidence of any one-site threat.” DPS vice president Rodney Chatman told The Brown Daily Herald that “local, state, and federal authorities” are investigating the incident.

“This comes at an especially difficult time of distress on our campuses,” Brown University president Christina H. Paxson said in a statement addressing the incident. “Our students, faculty, and staff continue to grapple with the deaths of Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the wake of the October 7 attacks, as well as a despicable act of violence against a member of the Brown community here in the United States last November, and increases in reports of antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate.”

In Sunday’s statement President Paxson said that “robust” security measures will be implemented to protect Brown-RISD Hillel, as well as the officials who were threatened, from harm.

The incident is not the first antisemitic act of hatred since Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

In December, the university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity opened an investigation into an incident in which someone slipped a threatening note underneath the door of an off-campus apartment rented by Jewish students.

“Those who live for death will die by their own hand,” said the note, which, according to the Brown Daily Herald, matches lyrics from a song by an early 1980s punk band. The paper added that the note was found by an electrician, who brought it inside.

A similar incident occurred last November at a Brown-RISD Hillel. Additionally, in 2020, a swastika was graffitied in Brown’s Hegeman Hall. In 2017, another was found in a gender-neutral bathroom at RISD. It was drawn using human feces, according to the Brown Daily Herald.

Last week, President Paxson rejected the demands of anti-Zionist students who were participating in a hunger strike in an effort to force the Brown Corporation to vote on a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel and make other concessions.

The university has twice ordered the arrests of extremist anti-Zionists student protesters, who have held unauthorized demonstrations in administration buildings, sometimes occupying them for hours after being asked to leave. Over 40 were arrested in December while onlookers shouted “Shame on Brown, Shame on Brown!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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‘Free Palestine:’ Texas Church Shooter Suspected of Having Pro-Hamas Ideology

Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36, shot a man at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, on February 12, 2024. Photo: Twitter

A woman who stormed a church in Houston, Texas, on Sunday with an AR-15 rifle and shot one person before being killed by police was apparently a Hamas supporter, according to details on the incident reported by CNN.

On Monday, the outlet reported that “Free Palestine” was written on the shooter’s rifle.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the shooter has since been identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36. The woman has an extensive criminal history which includes arrests for marijuana possession, assault, theft, and forgery.

On Sunday afternoon, Moreno walked into the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas — an institution famous for being the church of charismatic Christian preacher Joel Osteen — with a child and a gun. Wearing a trench coat and a knapsack, she threatened to have explosives, according to multiple reports. Most of the worshipers in attendance were Hispanic and attending a Spanish language service.

Moreno shot one man, leaving him critically injured, and was shot and killed by Houston Police. A child was also shot during the incident, but police are still unsure of whether they or Moreno are responsible for doing it.

“I want to commend those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse,”  Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said during a press conference later in the day.

An investigation of Moreno’s motives is ongoing.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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London Theater Facing Legal Action After Comedy Show Turns Into ‘Antisemitic Rally’

British comedian Paul Currie. Photo: Instagram

A London theater is facing legal action after an Israeli man was hounded out of a comedy show on Saturday night by a comedian performing a one-man show that turned into what some audience members compared to an “antisemitic rally.”

A spokesperson for the UK’s Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) said the group was in touch with the Israeli man and other members of the audience who fled from the theater.

“What the Jewish audience members have recounted is atrocious, and we are working with them and our lawyers to ensure that those who instigated and enabled it are held to account,” the CAA spokesperson told London’s Evening Standard news outlet. “These allegations are of deeply disturbing discriminatory abuse against Jews. Comedians are rightly given broad latitude, but hounding Jews out of theaters is reminiscent of humanity’s darkest days, and must have no place in central London in 2024.”

The comedian, Paul Currie, had been performing a one-man show entitled “Shtoom” at London’s Soho Theater. Towards the end of his performance, he retrieved a Ukrainian and Palestinian flag and invited members to stand and applaud.

After the round of applause was over, Currie pointed to a man in the second row of the theater and quizzed him over why he had not stood up.

The unnamed man, an Israeli, replied, “I enjoyed your show until you brought out the Palestinian flag.” An infuriated Currie began screaming, “Leave my show now! Get out of my f—-ing show!” in response.

As the man and his partner rose to leave, accompanied by a handful of other shocked audience members, the assembled crowd began chanting “Get out” and “Free Palestine.”

In a written complaint to the theater over his treatment, the man wrote: ” Shaken and feeling threatened by the growing antagonism, we exited and tried to complain/ get some support from the front-of-house team at the theatre, who were not very sympathetic but did give us an email address to make a complaint. By this time, the show had ended and the audience started exiting, a number of whom were glaring at us aggressively and in a very threatening way. We all left the scene.”

He added: “Our friends later received a message from someone they knew who had also been at the show, saying that after we left, the situation became even more inflamed. What had been intended to be an evening of comedy turned out to be what felt like an antisemitic rally.”

The theater eventually apologized, issuing a statement expressing regret an “an incident that took place at our venue at the end of a performance of Paul Currie: Shtoom on Saturday 10 February, which has caused upset and hurt to members of audience attending and others.” It added: “We take this very seriously and are looking into the detail of what happened as thoroughly, as sensitively, and as quickly as we can. It is important to us that Soho theatre is a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”

Currie has remained largely silent since the incident, save for a post on Instagram which quoted Mexican poet Cesar A. Cruz saying: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”  He then added: “If you were at my show last night… you’ll know.”

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