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In Memoriam: The Man Who Fostered my Love of Israel

Edward Cohen. Credit: Courtesy.

JNS.orgI’ve been writing this column for more than a decade, but this week will, sadly, be very different for a few dozen of my readers.

I’m referring to a group of people—friends, family members, Israel advocates—who received my column every week courtesy of an email from my father, Edward Cohen, but who won’t be getting it from him this week. A fortnight ago, my Dad, who was 83, suffered from an overwhelming stroke at his apartment in Tel Aviv. Despite the best efforts of the doctors at Ichilov Hospital to revive him, he passed away about 12 hours later.

I traveled to Israel for his funeral—not an easy feat, given that most international airlines are not flying into Tel Aviv thanks to the war launched by Hamas with its pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7. If I’d flown directly from New York, I would likely have missed the funeral because of the lack of seat availability, so instead, I spent one night on a plane from JFK to London, where I met up with my brother, and the next night on an El Al flight from Heathrow Airport to Ben-Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv, where we landed, quickly showered and made our way to Jerusalem to bury our father at the cemetery in Givat Shaul. Then it was straight back to Tel Aviv for the shiva at the home he shared with his Israeli wife and their two daughters.

In truth, much of my trip is remembered as a blur. The combination of the awful news and the jet lag left me physically exhausted and not very communicative. But I do recall quite clearly several people coming up to me at the funeral, shaking my hand, wishing me a long life and then telling me, “You know, your Dad was very proud of you; he used to email me your JNS column every week.”

The point I want to emphasize, however, is that my Dad didn’t just passively shep nachas—admittedly, a very Ashkenazi phrase to use in remembering my proudly Sephardi father!—from my writings. He was an inspiration, and I learned an enormous amount from him, especially my Zionism, over the years.

As my brother memorably put it at the funeral, Dad loved Israel as if it were a person. His was an intense, joyous love, in which he garnered profound satisfaction from the mere act of waking up in a Jewish homeland, driving or walking along streets with Hebrew names, or buying nuts, baklava and other treats at the shuk. In both spiritual and material terms, he served our ancient homeland admirably, donating to numerous charities, sitting on the board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) from its inception under the tutelage of his late, dear friend, Dr. Dan Elazar, as well as spending two very busy years as the chairman of the Israel Free Loan Association (IFLA). He was, in Jewish parlance, a macher. It was a fact I gleaned during my teenage years when I spent summers with him in Israel, where he’d moved after his divorce from my mother, often accompanying him to meetings and social events where he would invariably receive an enthusiastic welcome.

As sons and fathers tend to do, we argued a lot. There were times, I know, when he was desperately worried about me; I think, in particular, of my flirtation with revolutionary Marxism during my university years and the anti-Zionism that came with it. But equally, I think my Dad knew how supremely uncomfortable I was, deep down, with having to be an enemy of the Jewish state, so when I recovered my senses, he was pleased but not really surprised.

He knew, I think, that I would come back, and he was one of the reasons that I did so. Not to ingratiate myself back into my Dad’s good books, but because I couldn’t cast aside all the things I learned before I started reading Leon Trotsky, Isaac Deutscher, Ralph Miliband and other Marxist revolutionaries and scholars, most of whom happened to be Jews. Nor could I ignore my own family history; my mother’s family in Bosnia, all of whom were youthful Zionists, was decimated during the Holocaust, while my father fled with his family from Iraq, where he was born, in 1941. Along with so many other immigrants, my relatives came to the teeming city of London, where they lived happy and productive lives, my father included. But unlike many other Jews there, my Dad was never truly at home in England. He yearned to be in Israel, and as soon as he got the opportunity to live there, he seized it.

The last few weeks of my Dad’s life were, as was the case for the rest of us, overshadowed by the Hamas pogrom. During the 1980s and 1990s, he’d engaged with members of the Israeli peace camp, particularly a small group of Israeli Sephardic intellectuals who hoped that they could forge a common cultural bond with the Palestinians, but those efforts, well-intentioned as they were, didn’t get anywhere, and eventually, he became disillusioned. Following the failure of the Oslo process and the outbreak of the 2001 Palestinian intifada, he reverted to being a security hawk. He was never a hater—never someone to lump all Palestinians into the same basket—but neither did he trust their integrity. When the Hamas terrorists penetrated the border on Oct. 7, he was grimly vindicated.

I miss my Dad, and every day that passes drives home his absence from my life. I miss the phone calls, the WhatsApp chats, even the annoying questions he’d email my way at the height of a busy day. I will miss landing in Israel and going straight to his apartment—a ritual that is as old as I am. But most of all, I feel a deep sadness at the fact that he left us in the middle of this ghastly trauma and won’t be here to see how it resolves.

My Dad, you see, was confident that Israel would triumph in this latest installment of its battle to simply exist. I want to believe that he is right, and I think he is. And when victory does come, it will be a victory for him, too, as the Israel he loved so passionately will continue to flourish.

I have said my last farewell to my Dad, but his presence is with me. Every time I check the news from Israel, I think of him and am tempted to reach for my phone, call him and ask what he thinks … before remembering that I can’t. All that remains is his legacy, and it is one that I will treasure.

So, goodbye Dad, and thank you for shaping me into the proud Jew that I became. Thank you for being the person who introduced me to Israel, its land, its cultures, its food, its politics, its joie de vivre. Thank you for loving me, and know that I loved you.

May you rest in peace. And may your memory be a blessing.

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Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas

[Illustrative] Harvard University students displaying a pro-Palestinian sign at their May 2022 graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment. 

Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.

“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”

The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.

The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.

Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom. 

The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.” 

“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.

Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”

“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said. 

Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus. 

Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7. 

She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”

She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing. 

“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes.  The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.

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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7

Eden Alene, winner of the reality show “The Next Star to Eurovision,” during finals in Neve Ilan studio near Jerusalem on Feb. 4, 2020. Photo: Shlomi Cohen/Flash90.

Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”

“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.

Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”

“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”

Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”

Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”

Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”

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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese, October 27, 2022 (Photo: Screenshot)

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.

Francesca Albanese responded to a long post by Alon Mizrahi, a far-left activist, arguing that the reason many Western nations support Israel is that they are colonial projects. 

She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”

” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..”

— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024

The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”

Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”

The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.

David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”

An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”

The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.

It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”

Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”

Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.” 

When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”

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