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In Jerusalem, defiance and despair among protesters on fateful day for Israeli judicial reform

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Standing next to a patch of sidewalk filled with the names of fallen Israeli soldiers, Ayelet Bargur embraced a friend and, pointing to a stack of poster paper, asked her if she’d like to add the name of a relative who was killed in service.

The rectangular posters bearing the soldiers’ names were arranged on the pavement in rows, weighted down by stones that evoked those found atop monuments in Jewish cemeteries. In addition to the names, all the posters featured the same phase: “In vain.”

A nearby sculpture, made of medals given out by the Israeli Defense Ministry, spelled out the same term.

“It expresses our protest that the sacred covenant between the bereaved families and the government of Israel, and the army, has been breached,” said Bargur, who identified herself as an organizer of the initiative. “We feel that the deaths of our loved ones, if the dictatorship laws pass, will have been in vain. Our loved ones died for the values of the Declaration of Independence. We are a minute before the destruction of the Third Temple.”

Bargur is one of thousands of Israelis who have crowded a park in this city in recent days, part of a last-ditch effort by protesters to stop Israel’s right-wing government from passing a law weakening Israel’s judiciary.

Hours after Bargur spoke, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted the measure through — the first piece of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul to be enacted into law.

Facing that reality, Bargur and her compatriots displayed a mix of defiance, resignation and determination. They are using increasingly dire language — predicting the end of Israel’s democracy, or as Bargur did, a catastrophe akin to the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Holy Temple nearly 2,000 years ago, which will be commemorated on the fast day of Tisha B’Av later this week.

Protesters have vowed to boycott their reserve military duty or, like Bargur, structured their protest around Israel’s revered battle casualties. This morning, a crowd of protesters around the Knesset faced water cannons and mounted police, while others marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then pitched tents and created a small campsite in the middle of a park.

But despite the disappointment they would face later in the day, the protesters’ mood was not one of lamentation. They carried the same Israeli flags, wore the same T-shirts and screamed the same blaring chants that have come to define the weekly mass anti-government demonstrations in Tel Aviv. A couple of protesters told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they were considering leaving the country; most said they planned to stay.

“I will need to fight for my state,” said Roi Lupo, a tech worker who ran into a couple of his colleagues while taking a breather from the protests in the park. “This is my country. My parents are here, my family is here, my kids are here.”

He added, “What am I going to do? I live here and I’m going to fight for my freedom and my rights.”

As Lupo spoke, the Knesset was about to pass a law that bars the Supreme Court from striking down laws it deems “unreasonable.” The measure is one of several pieces of the judicial overhaul effort, which has caused turmoil in Israel and was shelved for several months amid unprecedented protests.

The locus of those protests has been central Tel Aviv, and a Monday morning train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was packed, with many of the passengers wearing protest T-shirts (“Free in our land,” “Democracy is in my soul”) or carrying large Israeli flags. Protest chants began on the endless escalators from the train tracks to the station entrance, and the walk from the station to the outskirts of the Knesset building was lined with tents advertising protest-adjacent causes, handing out more shirts or, in the case of one structure, providing food, water and first aid to demonstrators.

Outside the tent, a vocal opponent of the protests who gave his name as Meir stood verbally sparring with marchers. Like many of the protesters, he invoked his military service (during the Yom Kippur War, in the Sinai Peninsula) to bolster his point. But unlike them he thought the protest, and the public disruption it caused, was a travesty. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk, claiming (inaccurately) that he was unable to pass because a T-shirt distribution tent was blocking his path.

“People come here, say the government can’t rule,” he said. “There were elections, that isn’t democracy?”

The medical tent was staffed by the Israeli Medical Association, which opposes the overhaul effort. Dr. Yifat Weiss, an OB-Gyn who was managing the tent in the late morning, said that so far, she and her fellow volunteer medical professionals had sent a dozen injured protesters to the hospital.

“I’m worried the government will say it’s OK to treat people differently according to their race, their color, their gender, their sexual preferences,” she said. “I don’t know, I’m fighting until the end. I don’t want my children to grow up in a dictatorship or any other form that is not a democracy with equality. I don’t know what I will do if the laws will pass.”

Down the street, near a tent belonging to the organization Women Wage Peace, Yael Admi sounded more optimistic. She felt the protest was an opportunity to open people up to the necessity of an Israeli-Palestinian accord — a goal of her group but something that has not been a priority of Israeli governments for nearly a decade.

“There’s more and more understanding of the connections between these things — the burning of Huwara didn’t come from nowhere,” she said, referring to a recent settler riot in a West Bank Palestinian village. “When you don’t see the rights of the other, when you think we have rights that others don’t have, it develops this mechanism that doesn’t see the others.”

Bargur, standing just feet away, next to the “In vain” memorial, said that if the reform passes, it isn’t just living Israelis who may seek to leave.

Her father, she said, has expressed a desire, regarding her fallen brother, to “take the grave and leave the country.”

She added, “I hope we don’t get there.”

The post In Jerusalem, defiance and despair among protesters on fateful day for Israeli judicial reform appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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‘Encampment Has Crossed a Line’: California State LA President Condemns Pro-Hamas Rioters

Protesters at California State University, Los Angeles, attempted to take over a second spot on the CSULA campus in Los Angeles, United States, on June 12, 2024. Photo: Shay Horse/Reuters Connect

The president of California State University, Los Angeles has issued a searing condemnation of a pro-Hamas riot that broke out on campus on Wednesday night and resulted in her being trapped inside her office for hours after activists led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) illegally occupied an administrative building.

“Last night, those involved with the encampment chose violence and destruction,” Berenecea Johnson Eanes wrote on Thursday in a note to the campus community. “The significant damage to [the Student Services Building] will affect student-facing services: including admissions, records, accessible technology, basic needs, new student and family engagement, Dreamer resources and educational opportunity programs. It will take time to restore all those spaces and divert significant resources that would otherwise go to academics.”

Eanes added, “I am saddened, and I am angry … I cannot and would not protect anyone who is directly identified as having participated in last night’s illegal activities from being held accountable. The encampment has crossed a line. Those in the encampment must leave.”

According to Eanes, as well as various local media outlets, a night of destruction unlike any in the school’s history began on Wednesday when a mob of students stormed the campus, overturning cars, vandalizing school property, and assaulting students and staff. They proceeded to take over the Students Services Building (SSB), which they barricaded with numerous objects they amassed from across campus, including — according to The Los Angeles Times — bikes, tables, umbrellas, and rope. They even used their own bodies, “chaining” themselves to various access points.

The mob’s takeover of SSB was sudden and swift, forcing the school to issue a “shelter in place” order which trapped Eanes and dozens of other administrative staff in their office. Four people, including one student, were assaulted during the attack on the building. When it cleared, police essentially quarantined the area, reportedly declaring it a crime scene.

Footage of the riot shows scenes unlike any that have taken place on US college campuses since earlier this year when pro-Hamas rioters began commandeering sections of school property and refusing to leave unless administrators agree to adopt the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel — an initiative aimed at isolating Israel from the international community as the first step towards its eventual elimination. Broken glass carpeted the building’s floor, the result of the students smashing through door glazings with blunt objects. Meanwhile, red paint stained its tiles, and graffiti displaying anarchist symbols and saying “Free Palestine” covered its interior walls.

“Campus community: Know that we will recover from this, but also know that I am committed to doing everything we can to ensure this will never be allowed to repeat,” Eanes said in Thursday’s statement. “A trust we had in the encampment to practice non-violence has been violated. Trust is a hard thing to restore, but we will do the work together.”

Meanwhile, Students for Justice in Palestine has hinted that more destruction is forthcoming, and the latest local reporting indicates that no one has been arrested.

“We will not back down!” the group said in a social media post. “We will remain steadfast for Palestine!”

Students for Justice in Palestine, which has resorted to intimidation, harassment, and even physical violence to pressure universities into severing ties with Israel, defended their actions in a press release issued on Wednesday. Noting that its members had camped on campus for 40 days, the group said that Eanes, whom they summoned to a meeting after blocking all of SSB’s exits, ran out of time to accede to their demands.

“This direct action is in response to the failure of President Eanes to continue to negotiate in good faith with the Popular University for Gaza Solidarity Encampment on campus,” SJP said. “She has refused to continue negotiations or make meaningful progress toward meeting the demands of the student body. Delaying negotiations past the end of spring semester at a commuter campus shows clear bad faith and an attempt to wait out students instead of actively working to reach an agreement.”

In a chilling statement which acknowledged the intentionality of their behavior, SJP said administrators who had been trapped inside SSB could only exit with “escorts.”

“We will not back down and we will rise again just like our comrades in Palestine,” SJP said after law enforcement reclaimed the campus, suggesting there will be violence next time rather than peaceful protests. “We will remain steadfast in our mission for disclosure, divestment, boycott, and for our university to call for the end of the occupation and bombardment of Gaza.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Judge Allows ‘Mandalorian’ Actress to Proceed With Disney Lawsuit After Being Fired for Nazi Germany Comments

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in “The Mandalorian” season two, exclusively on Disney+. Photo: Disney+

A US federal judge ruled on Wednesday that actress Gina Carano can proceed with her lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm, which fired her from the Disney+ television series “The Mandalorian” because of a social media post that compared political differences in the US to what Jews experienced in Nazi Germany.

“I look forward to this case moving forward and proving Disney’s blatant discriminatory actions,” Carano said after leaving court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“Disney should not have carte blanch authority to fire any actor just because Disney disagrees with something they say outside of work,” she added. “No actor would be free to have a voice if that were true.”

US District Judge Sherilyn Peace Garnett in Los Angeles ignored efforts by Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli to dismiss the lawsuit. Petrocelli claimed Disney has the “right not to associate with a high-profile performer on a high-profile show who’s imbuing” the Star Wars-based series with “views it disagrees with,” which could result in fans turning away from the show. He argued that Disney has the First Amendment right to sever ties with an employee who does not share the company’s values, even if the move violates state anti-discrimination laws. Disney purchased Lucasfilm, started by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, in 2012.

“I’m not convinced there are no disputed facts,” Judge Garnett said in response to Petrocelli’s argument. The judge referred to allegations made by Carano that she was fired in 2021 to draw attention away from some of the controversies Disney was involved in at the time, including its contract dispute with actress Scarlett Johansson and critique of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act.

Carano starred as bounty hunter Cara Dune in the first two seasons of “The Mandalorian.” She was not under contract to appear in the third season of the show, according to court records.The actress claims in her lawsuit, which has received funding from X/Twitter and Tesla owner Elon Musk, that she was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against when she was fired from “The Mandalorian” in 2021 for expressing personal views on social media that Disney did not support.

Lucasfilms, which co-produces “The Mandalorian,” announced Carano’s firing after the former mixed martial arts fighter shared a post on social media that said: “Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors … even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

Disney argued that the state cannot force employers engaged in “expressive activity,” like Disney and LucasFilms, to work with someone who allegedly hinders its ability to properly express its values. Petrocelli claimed that the First Amendment entitles Disney to take action to make sure “The Mandalorian” is not associated with views that it and many viewers might find offensive and contrary to the company’s message.

“The messenger is part of the message,” Petrocelli said. “Imagine she made comments that she hates Jews or that there was no Holocaust.”

A final ruling in the lawsuit has not been made yet. Disney has not publicly commented on Garnett’s decision on Wednesday not to dismiss the lawsuit.

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