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Here’s how Jewish life changed (for now) after Oct. 7

(JTA) — “Everything changed after Oct. 7.” It’s an axiom being heard around Shabbat tables, in rabbis’ sermons and in countless opinion pieces after the Hamas massacre in southern Israel plunged the country into war. At an emotional level, it refers to the despair and shock felt among people in mourning – for the 1,200 victims of the initial attack, for the soldiers lost in battle and perhaps for a vision of Israel as a country that could at least “manage” its conflict with the Palestinians and continue to flourish.

But for many observers, it refers to a series of ruptures in Jewish life whose effects are only just beginning to be felt. They include seismic shifts in their relationship to Israel, how they form political alliances and their way of being Jewish in a world that feels scarier, lonelier and, in some surprising ways, more Jewish than ever. 

Below are some of the major themes of change, culled from the writings of analysts, activists, rabbis and pundits. Because it has only been two months since the war began, some of their insights and predictions are provisional and perhaps premature. Some contradict each other. But together they capture a moment when old assumptions appeared to have died in the kibbutzim, villages and fields of the “Gaza envelope,” and new ones are taking their place. 

“We are alone”

In the days immediately after the Hamas attacks, President Joe Biden pledged America’s support for Israel and its right to defend itself and root out Hamas. That promise has mostly held, even as the deaths of as many as 15,000 Palestinians has caused growing unease among some in his administration, and within factions of the Democratic Party.

Yet the backing of superpower didn’t alleviate a sense of betrayal for many Israelis and their supporters in the west.

“In my conversations with college students, rabbis, business leaders, Jewish professionals, and others, the sentence that everyone seems to circle around, spoken or unspoken, is ‘We are alone,’” wrote Bret Stephens, the conservative New York Times columnist, in an Oct. 10 column for Sapir, the Jewish thought journal he edits. “That’s despite clarion statements of solidarity from President Biden, Republican leaders in Congress, prominent TV anchors, and millions of ordinary Americans. Because beneath that, we sense that something is badly amiss,” including inadequate statements from university leaders and the support for Hamas among college students and the left.

The historian Sara Yael Hirschhorn also predicted that by the time the war ends, “Israel will have lost the war for world opinion. What happens on college campuses, media desks, or street protests won’t stay there — it has already eroded support for Israel within the Democratic Party, the US State Department is in revolt, the military brass are frightened of a regional war, while the chattering class [is] demanding absolute condemnation of Israel. Most Western governments are watching restive populations marching through their streets (occasionally stopping to smash glass and beat Jews on the street in a 21st century Kristallnacht) while its legislators choose their jobs over moral clarity and their representatives can’t even pass UN resolutions that use the words ‘Hamas,’ ‘Israel’ or ‘hostages.’”

Betrayal by the left

Numerous liberal Jewish activists have written about being “abandoned” by social justice allies who embraced the Hamas narrative or saw Israel as solely responsible for the attacks and criminally culpable for its response. As Gal Beckerman wrote in The Atlantic, “many of those on the left who I thought shared these values with me could see what had happened only through established categories of colonized and colonizer, evil Israeli and righteous Palestinian — templates made of concrete.” 

Haviva Ner-David, an Israeli-American peace living in northern Israel, wrote in a JTA essay that “the hailing of that massacre by much of the world, including the progressive (even Jewish) left … triggered a deep fear for our survival as Jews.” Watching pro-Palestinian protests by progressives, she saw “activists crossing a line from struggling for peace and Palestinian rights into promoting a hateful, terrifying, dangerous anti-Jewish agenda.”

Orthodox Jewish feminist Daphne Lazar Price wrote in JTA that she was shocked by putative feminist allies who refused to show outrage over Hamas’ sexual crimes against Israeli women on Oct. 7. 

“I can’t continue to work with those who don’t see me in the same light, as someone deserving of love and respect, no matter how they feel about my Judaism or Israel,” she writes. “My attempts to engage former colleagues have been hurtful and fruitless because of their unwillingness derived from ideological differences or a defensiveness of long-held views. Those groups’ attempted mind games to decide who is worthy of care and who is entitled to protections need to end — or they will become irrelevant.”

A realignment among liberals

This fracture in the left has also led to predictions that the liberal American Jewish majority will modify its embrace of aspects of the social justice agenda it has traditionally supported. 

Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, writes that for some liberal Jews, a re-engagement with their Jewish selves “may reflect a real existential transformation away from those exact liberal values and commitments they held dear for a long time. It is something of a replay of the prior generation’s anti-Communist turn in the 1960s and 1970s, a journey inward from the universal to the particular.”

Stephens had his doubts: “My guess is that a few will make a clean break, like the brave ex-Communists of ‘The God That Failed,’ who made public their disillusionment with the Soviet Union in the famous 1949 book of that name,” he writes in the same Sapir essay. “Most others will use the pretext of Israel’s retaliation to return to their delusional sleep. People who adopt the politics of the extreme tend to double down: Rationalizations and moral equivalences come easy, and notoriety is easier than contrition.”

An embrace of the right

While some Jewish liberals complained of abandonment, others worried about Jews and Israelis embracing a hawkish, militaristic response to the Hamas attacks that makes no room for disagreement, dissent or eventual compromise. “This is leaving those of us who are committed to shared spaces, shared resistance, and a shared future grounded in equality very much alone,” writes Haggai Matar, in the leftist Israeli magazine +972. “It is, in many ways, a condensed microcosm of the rifts that have emerged within the left globally over the past month as well.”

In an essay for The Cut, a left-leaning American Orthodox Jew identified as “R.B.” writes that in their community, “Everyone is a haunted mess, and jingoism appears to be the defense mechanism of choice.”

“It is painful to watch people around me whom I have known for their inquiring minds and strong sense of morality become uncritical flag-wavers, watch them dismiss massacres as disinformation, watch them advocate more and more violence. They treat cease-fire as a dirty word,” writes R.B.

In Jewish Currents, the left-wing journal, Raz Segal criticized fellow Holocaust and genocide scholars in Israel, North America and beyond for signing a statement condemning Hamas terror and denouncing the rise of global antisemitism that he said “completely dehumanized Palestinians and made no mention whatsoever of any form of Israeli mass violence.”

The (further) poisoning of the discourse

Social media has become a toxic battleground in the war of ideas — “Antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech has surged across the internet since the conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out,” the New York Times reported on Nov. 15. Rarely a safe space for enlightened discourse, the vitriol on X and Instagram since Oct. 7 has forced many longtime users to weigh the necessity of engaging on social media against their mental wellbeing. 

Lior Zaltzman, the deputy managing editor of Kveller, has worked in Jewish social media since 2014, and writes that “I’ve also never seen it this awful, this polarizing, this … honestly, unhinged.”

She adds: “People are so stuck in their ‘side’ and binary that they’re willing to share anything — without fact-checking, without making sure they’re not getting in bed with people whose worldview is dangerous, without asking themselves for a small second, wait, is this Islamophobic? Antisemitic? Completely detached from reality? Wondering if they sound like a conspiracy theorist, or if they’re just being cruel for cruelty’s sake?” 

Reengaging as Jews

Kurtzer and others also see Jews reclaiming a sense of Jewish belonging — or having that sense of belonging forced upon them. Prior to Oct. 7, the perennial concern among the Jewish mainstream was that the politically and religiously liberal majority of American Jews “was at risk of exiting from the Jewish community,” he writes. “Now I see signs of reengagement, reflected in higher turnout at synagogue, Hillel and Chabad events, and expressed on social media as a response to a sense of alienation from a gentile world that does not take Jewish pain and trauma seriously. This is happening at all ages.”

Boutique store owner Susan Korn and jewelry designer Stephanie Gottlieb both told the New York Times that sales of Star of David necklaces spiked after Oct. 7. In November,  a Chabad poll found that the vast majority of of its U.S. emissaries were reporting increased attendance at their events.

Steven Windmueller, who researches Jewish communal trends, sees signs of both retreat and engagement. “[W]e wonder about our status, even our safety,” he wrote in the Jewish Exponent. “Some of us are withdrawing from public Jewish places, uncomfortable being in those spaces where Jews gather. Others are removing the physical symbols of Jewishness, both personal and communal.

“At the same time, for instance, at the grade-school level, we are seeing a transformational moment. Now we have reports of parents moving kids from public educational settings into Jewish parochial schools.”

Solidarity around an Israel at war

In the year leading up to the war, Israel was torn apart over the government’s plan to overhaul its judicial system and, its critics said, undermine its democracy. The weekly mass protests were taken up by Jews in New York and beyond. The era of street protests ended on Oct. 7. “The judicial reform and protests of the past year had led many Israelis to start asking whether the country even had a future,” David Hazony, the Israeli-American writer and editor wrote on Nov. 1. “In the last three weeks, however, Israelis have come together with a strength and focus far beyond what anyone thought possible. When a true crisis came, politics fell away and the nation united.” One of the groups organizing the North American protests, UnXeptable, changed its motto from “Saving Israeli Democracy” to “Saving Israel.”

That solidarity is also being seen in the Diaspora, perhaps most notably at a pro-Israel rally in Washington that drew an estimated 290,000 people. Federations are seeing a surge in donations, groups are planning solidarity trips to Israel both to volunteer where needed and to bear witness, and even the North American haredi Orthodox sector — many of whose leaders and followers keep an arm’s distance from the secular Jewish state as a matter of theology — are demonstrating what JTA called an “outpouring of support for Israel and its military at a level not seen in decades.”

Rabba Sarah Hurwitz, president of the feminist Orthodox yeshivah Maharat, says that kind of solidarity offers a glimmer of a brighter future.

“This is what we do. In times of tragedy, we rally,” she writes. We find ways to support one another with comfort, food and supplies. These acts of chesed, kindness, cannot undo the tragic loss of life. They cannot bring home the hundreds who are held hostage. They cannot heal the thousands of wounded. But digging into our humanity reminds us that there is light in darkness….

“Then, because we don’t have a choice, we will get back to the work of learning, teaching, and serving. It’s the Jewish way.”

The post Here’s how Jewish life changed (for now) after Oct. 7 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Rashida Tlaib Votes ‘Present’ on US House Condemnation of Hamas’ Use of Sexual Violence

Wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) addresses a Congressional debate on Palestinian violence against Israel, 2021 Photo:

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday condemning Hamas’ use of sexual assault as a weapon of war during its October 7 terrorist attack — in which it killed 1,200 Israelis and took almost 250 more hostage — in a near-unanimous vote, with a single exception.

The one “present” vote came from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who argued that she could not vote in favor of the resolution because it does not also accuse the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of using sexual assault as a weapon of war.

By a vote of 418-0-1, the House passed a resolution that “condemns all rape and forms of sexual violence as weapons of war, including those acts committed by Hamas terrorists on and since October 7th.” It also “calls on all international bodies to unequivocally condemn” Hamas’ actions.

Tlaib has emerged as the most outspoken anti-Israel member of the House in recent months. She has accused Israel of committing genocide and has appeared at events with people who celebrated Hamas’ October 7 attack.

Michael Dickson, Executive Director of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, reacted to her vote, saying, “Rashida Tlaib is so racist she cannot bring herself to condemn the brutal rape of women used by Hamas as a weapon of war… because the women that were raped were Jewish Israelis. A new low. Most American women – and men – will recoil in horror at her vote.”

The former US Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism, Ellie Cohanim, wrote that Tlaib “is the ONLY member of Congress who refuses to condemn Hamas’ rape. What an absolute sicko.”

However, in a speech on the floor of the House, Tlaib said, “While the resolution on the floor rightfully denounces any sexual violence by Hamas, I am disturbed that it completely ignores and erases any sexual violence and abuse committed by the Israeli forces, against Palestinians, especially children.”

She cited an article from Haaretz about an incident in October where settlers and soldiers detained three Palestinian men in the West Bank, had them strip to their underwear, and beat them. The piece notes that there was even “an attempt to penetrate one of them with an object.” 

The article notes that, in response, the IDF dismissed the force commander and opened an investigation into the incident. Later, five additional soldiers were dismissed for their role in the abuse.

Since October 7, numerous independent investigations have found that Hamas engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against Israelis, including rape.

After the resolution passed, Rep. Louis Frankel (D-FL), who introduced the bill, wrote, “Our resolution makes it clear: Rape & sexual assault are not acceptable tools of war.”

CEO of the American Jewish Committee, Ted Deutch, applauded the passage of the resolution but added that “The international community’s utter failure to adequately condemn and address Hamas’ use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war on and since October 7 is not merely disappointing – it is a dereliction of duty for all who claim to stand for human rights and humanity.”

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‘No Reward for The Murderers’: Israeli Officials Bash US Plan To Recognize Palestinian State

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attends an inauguration event for Israel’s new light rail line for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, in Petah Tikva, Israel, Aug. 17, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A chorus of Israeli officials spoke out against a reported peace plan being pushed by the United States and several Arab states that would include the recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday.

The proposed plan, as detailed in The Washington Post, calls for “the withdrawal of many, if not all, settler communities on the West Bank; a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem; the reconstruction of Gaza; and security and governance arrangements for a combined West Bank and Gaza.”

In order to attempt to force Israel’s hand, the report says, “U.S. officials said the menu of actions under consideration include early U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state — even as elements of political reform, security guarantees for both Israel and the Palestinians, normalization and reconstruction are being implemented.”

“In my speech yesterday in Berlin, I warned against the dangerous plan that is taking shape for unilateral international recognition of a Palestinian state,” said MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is not part of the government coalition – but part of the war cabinet coalition – National Unity. “This plan will not only not resolve the conflict but will make it intractable. The Palestinians will receive state recognition without paying the the price of compromise and they will continue the conflict from an upgraded position that will harm Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been clear that he is opposed to a Palestinian state, and that Israel will maintain security control over the Gaza Strip once the war ends.

“1,400 murdered and the world wants to give them a state. It won’t happen,” tweeted National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. He added in an interview with Israeli media “The intention of the US, together with the Arab states, to establish a terror state alongside the State of Israel is delusional and part of the misguided conception that there is a partner for peace on the other side… While we are in the government, no Palestinian state will be established.”

Education Minister Yoav Kisch added “We are only concerned with winning in Gaza. There will simply be no reward for the murderers.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also tweeted against the plan, saying “We will in no way agree to this plan, which actually says that the Palestinians deserve a reward for the terrible massacre they did to us: a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The message is that it pays very well to massacre Israeli citizens. A Palestinian state is an existential threat to the State of Israel as was proven on October 7, Kfar Saba will not be Kfar Aza!”

He further called on the cabinet to issue “a clear and unequivocal decision stating that Israel opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and the imposition of sanctions on over half a million settlers. I expect clear support from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and all the ministers.”

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‘Explosion of Hate’ Antisemitism in United Kingdom Reached Unprecedented Level in 2023, New Report Says

People march in a protest, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in London, Britain, November 11, 2023. Photo: Alishia Abodunde via Reuters Connect

More antisemitic incidents occurred in the United Kingdom in 2023 than any year in the history of recording such data, according to a new report issued on Thursday by Community Security Trust (CST), a nonprofit that offers security services and training to the country’s Jewish community.

The report, titled Antisemitic Incidents Report 2023, said that 4,103 antisemitic incidents happened in the country in 2023, an increase of 147 percent from 2022. They included physical assaults, hate speech, threats, and cases of what the nonprofit described as “damage and desecration” of Jewish religious symbols and houses of worship. CST noted that over 2,000 other incidents reported to its offices were not included in its official statistics, noting that some “were not deemed to be antisemitic” while others involved “suspicious activity” and other potential threats to physical safety.

“British Jews are strong and resilient, but the explosion in hatred against our community is an absolute disgrace,” CST chief executive Mark Gardner said in a statement. “It occurs in schools, universities, workplaces, on the streets, and all over social media. Our community is being harassed, intimidated, threatened, and attacked by extremists who also oppose society as a whole. We thank the government and police for their support, but this is a challenge for everyone and we condemn the stony silence from those sections of society that eagerly call out racism in every other case, except when it comes to Jew hate.”

CST’s data shows a massive uptick of antisemitic incidents immediately after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in hundreds of murders of civilians, abductions of the young and elderly, and numerous sexual assaults of Israeli women. Between January and September, there were fewer than 200 incidents but 1,303 in October alone, over 1,200 in November and December. From Oct. 7 until the end of the year, CST added, its offices received an average of 31 reports per day.

In that span of time, CST recorded its highest single-day and single-week totals of antisemitic incidents, indicating “that it was celebration of Hamas’ attack, rather than anger towards Israel’s military response in Gaza, that prompted the unprecedented levels of antisemitism across the country.” Additionally, the report added, perpetrators signposted their anti-Zionist hatred in 43 percent of incidents, saying Zionist, Zionism, or “Free Palestine!” while committing an offense. In 955 others, they alluded to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, both of which they often connected to Hamas and anti-Zionism.

“Perpetrators either glorified Hamas’ act of terror as a repeat of the Nazis extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust, or lamented Hitler’s failure to eliminate world Jewry entirely,” CST explained, adding that others expressed being motivated by Islamic-antisemitism, viewing the conflict between Israelis and Hamas as part of a larger conflagration between Jews and Muslims.

Antisemitism on social media also proliferated after Oct. 7, appearing the most on X/Twitter, where CST found 704 examples of it, an increase of 249 percent. X users often based their antisemitism on conspiracies and other extreme political ideologies.

“The figures noted in CST’s Antisemitic Report 2023 should be a reminder to British civil society of the serious nature of antisemitism and the impact that it has on the Jewish community,” Lord Mann, His Majesty’s Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism, said in a statement on the report’s findings. “As we have seen over the years, when tensions rise in the Middle East there is an increase in antisemitism around the world. However, this scale is unprecedented and is, for the first time ever, widespread across every police region in the United Kingdom.”

Mann continued, “This country will not tolerate the abuse or intimidation of any of its citizens and I will continue to make sure that it remains a safe place for our Jewish community.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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