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How to be a liberal Zionist when Israel is at war

(JTA) — How to be a liberal Zionist at war?

For 10 months (much of it from Jerusalem itself) I watched Israel’s most ultra-nationalist and religious government in history tear the country apart with a controversial package of judicial reform, increased subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox, and expansion of settlements and Jewish sovereignty in the West Bank.

The West Bank smoldered following settler terrorist rampages at Huwara, attacks on Israeli civilians on West Bank roads and towns and repeated incursions by the IDF to root out Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist cells. Palestinian statehood was increasingly sidelined by Israelis and Arabs alike in the pursuit of normalization agreements. Diaspora Jews agonized, condemned or just became more apathetic about Israel, and Western world opinion shifted against the state of Israel and her government. 

Everything changed on Saturday morning. News reports poured in about an unprecedented barrage of 4,000-plus missiles into Israel from Gaza and, most significantly, the infiltration of hundreds (if not more) Hamas terrorists into Southern residential communities. Some of them surrounded a crowd of festival-goers at a desert rave within Israel, killing, raping and taking men, women and children captives back to Gaza. I stared at my screens and feeds in disbelief.

I stayed up far too late on Saturday night trying to absorb the shock of the day’s events — the colossal intelligence failure, the unprecedented breach of Israel’s security barriers protecting civilian settlement, the fears for regional war. But by the time I awoke on Sunday morning, the horror had magnified beyond what I could have imagined: A professor with whom I was recently on a panel was killed in the South, my postdoctoral supervisor’s daughter and son-in-law were murdered on a kibbutz as they saved their child, a friend of a friend’s son and recent PhD in my field was kidnapped and is now confirmed dead. 

Many others posted about loved ones missing or killed, or tales of near escapes from terrible fates. Friends — my own age or older — submitted selfies in uniforms, having been called up as reservists. Parents posted about their panic over children in the army being sent to the front or returning to duty. Others expressed general fears from bomb shelters or safe rooms, wondering what happens next.

As modeled by friends who joined the pro-democracy camp week after week at demonstrations across Israel this summer but have now dutifully donned the uniform, volunteered to give blood and generally have come together to support a grieving nation, to be a liberal Zionist at a time of war means putting the love of Zion and loyalty to the people of Israel (as well as to a future peace with Palestinians) ahead of a loathing for Netanyahu and some of his partners and policies.

Liberal Zionists can acknowledge that both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered at the hands of corrupt and callous leaders who have not sought peace. A liberal Zionist can hold two ideas in their head at the same time in this historical moment: both that Israel can and must do what is necessary to defend herself and that a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian issue is the only way to avoid permanent war. Liberal Zionists can see merit in the Palestinian cause but full-throatedly declare that liberation cannot come by raining rockets over coastal Israel, murdering families in their homes or taking grandmothers and babies captive.

While liberal Zionists like me believe in free speech and the Palestinian cause for statehood, I can’t find any place in my heart for those — like the pro-Palestinian protesters who gathered in New York, San Francisco and so many other places on Sunday — who celebrated over Israeli corpses. This is neither justice nor peace and a disgrace to the democratic public square.

Yet just as liberal Zionists must agree that Hamas is the aggressor to an unprecedented escalation perhaps only comparable to the surprise attack of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, they can admit that this emerges from a cycle of violence that goes back decades, ultimately to the unresolved existential arguments of 1948. As Gaza is no democracy, one can hardly know how average Palestinians there feel about or whether they support Hamas’ attack (even as we know that successive generations of Israeli young people are more hawkish). By the time this is all over, fingers will be pointed, leaders will lose their positions, hearts will be hardened and societies scarred. So many more on both sides will be dead and the dream of a two-state solution buried for another generation.

While Israel’s harshest critics claim this is a tragedy for the Palestinian people, perhaps even the beginning of a second Nakba, it is no less a calamity for Israelis, who have not only seen their national security threatened, but the promise of a peace for both sides living side-by-side once again put on hold.

Alas, there is likely worse to come for Israelis and Palestinians in the next days and weeks. It seems almost inevitable that if the Israeli civilian captives are to be freed and Hamas leadership decapitated once and for all, an IDF ground invasion will be necessary to secure the Strip, even without the alarming calls by ultranationalist, rabble-rousing coalition partners to reduce Gaza to rubble. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who one hopes will only be forced to account for this failure on his watch) vowed no shelter for terrorists and called upon Gazans to leave — to where? Will a humanitarian corridor be opened to Egypt? — aerial bombing of Gaza’s densely populated neighborhoods commenced and Palestinian civilian casualties will surely mount.

Should IDF troops follow, I fear the images of flag-draped coffins coming home. Meanwhile, the IDF responded to rockets from Hezbollah territory into Sheba Farms on the Israel-Lebanon border, raising the specter of the worst-case scenario: a two-front war, or even regional conflict, with Iran’s proxies.

Liberal Zionists at war will have anguished debates about the future — especially one that may well include the reoccupation of Gaza. Yet, these must be seen as arguments for the sake of heaven at this historical moment, born out of love, rather than hatred, of the people, land and state of Israel.

For the past month, Jews have gathered in synagogues to pray for life and peace — we can only hope now for the alleviation of the harshest decree in this holy and heartless land.

The post How to be a liberal Zionist when Israel is at war appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Menorahs in Brooklyn Stolen and Vandalized, NYPD Investigating as Hate Crime

A man seen on CCTV vandalizing a menorah in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Source: X/Twitter

Multiple public menorahs in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York were stolen and vandalized, according to a spokesman for the Chabad Jewish movement.

The stolen menorah was seen on Sunset Park Center lawn on Wednesday evening, according to Yaacov Behrman, a spokesperson for Chabad. On Thursday, it was found broken.

In a separate incident captured on video, a man is seen riding up to a menorah in Sunset Park on a bicycle and pushing it over.

“The holiday hasn’t begun, and the vandalism has already started,” Behrman said on X/Twitter.

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is investigating the incidents as hate crimes.

The post Menorahs in Brooklyn Stolen and Vandalized, NYPD Investigating as Hate Crime first appeared on

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More than 500 staffers of Jewish groups, most of them progressive, appeal to Biden to press for ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Hundreds of staffers for 140 Jewish organizations, most of them progressive, signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Congress urging them to press Israel to agree to a ceasefire in its war with Hamas, citing their work “building thriving Jewish communities.”

The letter, which does not necessarily reflect the views of the signatories’ employers, is the latest sign that differences among American Jews regarding Israel’s response to Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 invasion are becoming more public and pronounced. A number of Jewish Congress members now back a ceasefire, after having initially presented a unanimous voice in support of Biden’s backing for Israel.

“We are individuals who work for a wide array of Jewish organizations across the United States, coming together across the broad range of beliefs, practices, backgrounds and identities that make up the rich fabric of the American Jewish community,” said the letter, first reported Thursday by NBC.

“We are uniting together in this moment to call for a ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and a commitment towards a long-term political solution that ensures the freedom and collective safety of Israelis and Palestinians,” the letter said.

The letter comes just weeks after a mass pro-Israel rally on the National Mall, during which speakers enthusiastically endorsed Israel’s refusal to halt its military campaign until Hamas is dismantled and all the hostages it abducted on Oct. 7 are returned home. Hamas released more than 100 hostages in exchange for hundreds of security prisoners during a seven-day ceasefire that ended last week

The letter suggests to the president that the vocal Jewish groups that have opposed the war are also representative of a wide swath of American Jews. Biden prides himself on being attuned to Jewish sensibilities; he has cited his decades of closeness to Israel and to the American Jewish community in resisting calls from the left to press Israel into a ceasefire.

“As a group of professionals from a wide spectrum of Jewish organizations, many of us have devoted our life’s work to building thriving Jewish communities,” said the letter. “Our organizations may or may not join the call for a ceasefire themselves, but we feel moved to speak as individuals to demonstrate broad support within the Jewish community for a ceasefire.”

Most of the organizations listed as affiliates of the signatories are on the left of the political spectrum, among them Bend the Arc, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, and Workers Circle and its affiliates, all of them social justice advocacy groups. Some of the social justice groups themselves have not endorsed a ceasefire, in part because their focus is on domestic issues. (A Boston spinoff of Workers Circle is an exception, and so is JFREJ.)

There are also staffers from the two leading groups that have mobilized Jewish opposition to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and backed a ceasefire: IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, which is anti-Zionist. Left-wing activists point to Tthe visible presence of activists for these groups at antiwar protests to assert that there is Jewish backing for a ceasefire.

But some of the signatories come from groups focused on Israel that have opposed a ceasefire, including J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. But in another sign of shifting sentiments, J Street said in a press release Thursday that it was reconsidering its position on the war.

There are also staffers for synagogues, some but not all known for their liberal outlook, that have not taken a position on a ceasefire.

More than 80 of the staffers signing asked for anonymity but listed their employers, which include mainstream groups that have backed Israel’s war effort, among them the Reform and Conservative movements. The list includes three anonymous staffers for UJA-Federation of New York, which has raised millions for Israel during the war.

“I signed this letter because all decisions at this fragile moment must be made with lasting peace and safety in mind for all people in the region,” the group’s press release quoted one of the unnamed UJA staffers as saying. “I call on President Biden to take immediate action for a permanent ceasefire, release of all hostages, and a just resolution to this brutal war.”

Heather Booth, a consultant for Jewish groups who did not sign the letter, urged the mainstream Jewish groups employing some of the signatories not to retaliate.

“Those who have signed the letter are responding to their values,” Booth told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We may or may not agree with what they’re signing and saying and I didn’t sign this myself for many reasons. But I support their right to share their passionate commitment to their values.And it’s a sign of these times at some on the list fear retribution for signing.”

In a press release, a Boston-area rabbi said her support for a ceasefire stemmed in part from her revulsion from Hamas.

“For the sake of defeating the insidious ideology of Hamas, for the sake of returning all of the hostages to their homes, for the sake of the wellbeing of all of the Israelis and Palestinians caught up in this war, I urge the Biden administration to do all it can to bring about a ceasefire as a first step to a lasting, political solution to the conflict,” said Rabbi Tovah Spitzer of Dorsey Tzedek, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Newton.

The letter comes as a number of Jewish Democrats in Congress have in recent days called for a ceasefire, or have called for restrictions on emergency aid Biden has requested for Israel that has yet to be approved. One of the Democrats, Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont, made a statement in support of the letter.

“Thousands of Palestinians, including thousands of children, have been killed. Many more have been displaced, without water, food, medical supplies, and fuel,” she said. “This is inhumane. What is needed is a negotiated bilateral ceasefire that ensures the release of all hostages and paves a path toward peace, security and safety for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Hamas killed more than 1,200 people and wounded thousands on Oct. 7, most of them civilians. Since Israel launched counterstrikes and a ground invasion of Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry has reported that some 17,000 people have been killed, including thousands of children. What portion of that number are combatants, and what portion were killed by misfired rockets aimed at Israel, is not known. Israel has estimated that twice as many civilians as militants have died in its counteroffensive.

The post More than 500 staffers of Jewish groups, most of them progressive, appeal to Biden to press for ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Shots fired fired at Albany synagogue with preschool, suspect in custody

(New York Jewish Week) — Shots were fired at Temple Israel in Albany on Thursday, the first night of Hanukkah, as U.S. Jews grapple with a surge in antisemitism following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the Israeli military’s military campaign in Gaza.

There were no injuries in the shooting on the premises of the Conservative synagogue in New York’s capital, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement, adding that she had spoken with the congregation’s rabbi. She said in a press briefing, however, that the synagogue has an on-site early learning center, “with at least two dozen children, preschoolers, who were on the premises.” She added that the facility went into lockdown but that all children have been released safely to their parents. 

A 28-year-old male is in custody, said Hochul’s press secretary, Avi Small.

The suspect shouted “Free Palestine” during the incident, Albany’s Times Union reported, citing police and another source.

Hochul said she had directed the New York State Police and the state’s national guard to be on high alert and step up patrols of at-risk sites for Hanukkah, such as synagogues, yeshivas and community centers throughout the state — including New York City, which is home to the largest Jewish population in the United States. 

“Any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining public safety at a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah is even more deplorable,” Hochul said. “We reject hate, antisemitism and violence in all forms.”

Hochul visited the synagogue on Oct. 7 in a show of solidarity amid Hamas’ attack. 

The governor said that, following Thursday’s incident, she contacted Temple Israel’s Rabbi Wendy Love Anderson, and “assured her that the state of New York will do everything possible to restore the sense of security her congregation needs at this time,” adding that she plans to attend Shabbat services there this Friday evening. 

In the briefing, Hochul noted that the synagogue had been one of several targeted with bomb threats in September. 

There was no immediate public comment on the incident from the synagogue or the Albany police department.

Law enforcement and Jewish community security groups have reported a surge in antisemitism since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

In New York City, the NYPD reported 62 antisemitic hate crimes last month and 69 attacks in October, a steep increase. Anti-Jewish incidents made up 65% of all hate crimes reported to police last month. There is no comparable data available for antisemitic hate crimes in upstate New York.

Synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been targeted in the wave of hate crimes. On Friday, bomb threats were made against 15 synagogues in New York State, including five in upstate areas. 

The threats were made as part of a campaign intended to interrupt synagogue operations by forcing law enforcement to go to a location, and there did not appear to be any actual danger to the targets, said the director of the Jewish security group the Community Security Initiative, Mitch Silber. 

“The bottom line is this: The safety of Jewish New Yorkers is non-negotiable,” Hochul said in the briefing. “Every act, whether it’s verbal or physical, any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining the public safety at our synagogue, on the first night of Hanukkah, is even more deplorable.” 

“I remind everyone: As New Yorkers, this is not who we are. This must stop, ” she added. “We reject hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia. All hate crimes must stop, and all violence in every form must cease. We have no tolerance for these acts of evil that have now permeated our society.”

Ahead of questions, the briefing concluded with the lighting of Hanukkah candles, led by Eva Wyner, the state’s deputy director of Jewish affairs.

The post Shots fired fired at Albany synagogue with preschool, suspect in custody appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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