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For Israeli protesters in NYC, Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit is a chance to ‘constantly be in his face’

(New York Jewish Week) — Steven Lax awoke at 3 a.m. on Tuesday to greet Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrived in New York City — enough time for Lax to brew coffee and await the Israeli prime minister at the Loews Regency Hotel in East Midtown with about 100 others. 

Lax is the board chair and owner of Naot Worldwide, the Israeli sandal company that has become a recognizable brand across Israel and among American tourists. But before sunrise on Tuesday, Lax wasn’t waiting to talk business or branding with Netanyahu. He and his fellow protesters were there to jeer the prime minister and his ongoing effort to weaken the Israeli judiciary — a legislative package Lax likened to the darkest chapters of Jewish history.  

“I’m the son of a Holocaust survivor,” Lax told the New York Jewish Week. “And during the Holocaust, American Jews knew what was going on and stayed silent. We can’t anymore.” 

Netanyahu arrived at the hotel a bit before 5 a.m., escorted by a caravan of nearly 30 vehicles, as the crowd of protesters chanted “busha” — the Hebrew word for “shame” that has become a mainstay of the anti-judicial overhaul protests in Israel and abroad. 

Those protests have occurred weekly in Israel, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to oppose the legislative package, which in its original form would have stripped the Israeli Supreme Court of much of its power and independence — and, in the view of many protesters, would pave the way for entrenching the polices of the current government, which includes far-right partners. Protests in solidarity with the Israeli demonstrations have occurred in New York City and elsewhere for months as well. 

During Netanyahu’s visit this week, the demonstrations have occurred daily in locations ranging from Times Square to the United Nations to his hotel. Netanyahu met with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. on Wednesday, and will address the U.N. General Assembly on Friday before meeting with American Jewish leaders. 

But while the demonstrations have been happening week after week, and have dogged government officials as they’ve come to town, Lax and others say that they’re not experiencing protest fatigue. 

Rather, they view this week as the culmination of months of organizing and as a way to unite an expanding coalition of Israeli expatriates and American Jews in opposition to Netanyahu and his policies. Lax said that the first protests he attended drew about 50 people. Now, he said, they’re attracting hundreds to oppose Netanyahu. 

“We are determined to constantly be in his face,” said Smadar Harush, an Israeli psychoanalyst who has lived in Brooklyn for 24 years, and who has been attending the New York protests since February despite being diagnosed with cancer in March. “We will never stop reminding him that we are not going to give up. We are not going to back off until he backs off.” 

The protest movement suffered a blow in July when Netanyahu’s coalition passed the first piece of overhaul legislation, limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down government decisions. But far from deflating the overhaul’s critics, protest organizers say, that moment was a turning point that led to American Jewish leaders taking a more active role in the demonstrations. 

“This was a moment of change and people started to reach out to me from the American Jewish community, and not just from me to them,” said Shany Granot-Lubaton, a leader of UnXeptable, an Israeli expatriate group organizing many of the protests. “And I feel like there is a new step in this bridge that we are building towards each other, both communities, because they have been really amazing allies for the fight for Israeli democracy in the past month since the law passed.” 

Granot-Lubaton noted that American rabbis in particular have gotten more involved in the protests. Rabbis from across the city have been or are scheduled to be at different events throughout the week, including Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah, the liberal rabbinic human rights group; Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue, a Conservative congregation; Rabbi Michelle Dardashti of Kane Street Synagogue, a Reform congregation; Rabbi Josh Weinberg, the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president for Israel and Reform Zionism; and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ’s president.

“I feel like I got to know a whole new side of my people that I’ve never known,” Granot-Lubaton said. “I never had rabbis on my side. I never quoted from the Bible when I talked about democracy, or women’s rights, or LGBTQ rights, and now I have these amazing partners in this fight…” 

Weinberg spoke on Tuesday during a rally in Times Square, and alluded to a famous passage from Pirkei Avot, a rabbinic ethics text: “On three things the world stands: on judgment, on truth and on peace,” he said.  

“I couldn’t be more proud of those who have neither slept or slumbered in showing up for 37 weeks to fight for our values — the same values laid out by Israel’s founders and enshrined in its Declaration of Independence… the values of freedom, justice, and peace,” he said. 

Jill Jacobs, who is slated to speak at a rally on Thursday evening, also plans to allude to Jewish text — and particularly to the fact that Netanyahu’s visit is occurring during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a period associated with repentance. In her prepared remarks, Jacobs calls it “a time when Jews reflect on our past wrongs and resolve to do better.”

“This moment reminds us that all is possible, that the past need not determine the future,” Jacobs plans to say. “It is not too late for Israel to recommit to the principles in its declaration of independence, and to commit to democracy and human rights for all.”

Anti-occupation activists protest outside of the Loews Regency Hotel in East Midtown on September 19, 2023. (Tori Luecking)

Jacobs is one of a contingent of protesters who are demonstrating against both the judicial overhaul and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, issues she sees as linked. Harush, the psychoanalyst, agrees.

“How can we be democratic while occupying another people? We can’t. It’s a contradiction,” said Harush, who attended a rally on Tuesday outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that was dubbed an “Artistic Protest,” hosted by UnXeptable and Brothers and Sisters in Arms, a protest group made up of Israeli combat veterans. She carried a poster depicting Netanyahu as the subject of a painting that looked similar to Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” 

Decades ago, Harush worked for the International Center for Peace in the Middle East in Israel, but feels that hope for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict largely faded after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. She sees the current protest movement as a potential way to raise the subject again in mainstream Jewish Israeli society. 

“It’s a topic that now, finally, in the last eight months, moved from the left margin to a little bit in the center,” she said. “A lot of my friends didn’t even want to talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and now more and more understand.” 

Before the protest at the Met, a group of about 50 anti-occupation activists held their own protest outside Netanyahu’s hotel, denouncing what they describe as his government’s “Jewish supremacist” policies. 

Emily Miller, an MFA student who attended the protest, and who immigrated to Israel in 2018, said she didn’t “feel aligned” with the anti-overhaul protest movement, but added, “I am very proud of the liberal Zionist people coming to the streets, and they are close to realizing the obvious elephant in the room, which is that the root cause of all these issues is the occupation.”

Anti-overhaul protesters are now gearing up to rally ahead of Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations on Thursday night and Friday morning. 

Thursday will also see right-wing groups, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition and Zionist Organization of America, gather to rally in support of Netanyahu and Israel. Although some right-wing American Jewish leaders, such as ZOA President Mort Klein, have vocally supported the overhaul, a flier for the rally says the legislation will not come up in speeches. 

“Thousands will attend this rally as we support Israel and its right to defend itself against Palestinian terror,” said the flier, which also banned Palestinian flags from the rally. “Speakers will not speak in favor or against judicial reform.”

Netanyahu is not expected to focus on the judicial overhaul in his U.N. address, but his coalition may return it to the agenda when Israeli lawmakers come back from a recess this fall. Batell Blaish-Sultanik, a leader in Brothers and Sisters in Arms and one of the first female cadets to graduate from the Israeli Naval Academy, wants to make sure that her fellow demonstrators don’t lose focus while the fate of their cause remains uncertain.

“Speaking as a naval officer, we’re taught that the most dangerous moment is when land comes into sight,” said Blaish-Sultanik. “At that moment when land comes into sight you can relax, you can take a step back, you can become indifferent. But this is exactly the moment when we must redouble our efforts and go the extra mile to stay vigilant.”


The post For Israeli protesters in NYC, Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit is a chance to ‘constantly be in his face’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

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

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

The post Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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