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Internal Jewish Divisions Pose the Greatest Threat of All

Thousands of Jews gather for a mass prayer for the hostages in Gaza at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Jan. 10, 2024. Photo: Yaacov Cohen

On June 28, 1863, Samuel Goodwin Stout wrote a letter to his mother from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He was 20-years old and bursting with the optimism and adrenaline of a young Confederate soldier.

“Dear Mother,” he began, “I can inform you that I am well at this time, and I hope those lines will find you all well. We have been through Maryland, and we are now going through Pennsylvania. But we don’t think that we shall get far into Pennsylvania before we shall get into a fight. But we are all in good spirit. We have got a strong army with us — we have got 122,000 now across the Potomac.”

Days later, Samuel was on the battlefield at Gettysburg. It was one of the bloodiest days of the Civil War, often cited as the turning point of the conflict. There were approximately 51,000 casualties (killed, wounded, captured, or missing), with 23,000 from the Union Army and 28,000 from the Confederate Army.

Samuel survived that dreadful day, and — against the odds — survived the Civil War, dying in 1919 at the age of 75. But the positive spirit he displayed during the early part of the conflict, evident in his letter home, quickly disappeared, and by the time the war was over, he was damaged goods. Indeed, Samuel’s early letters were filled with zeal and a sincere belief in the cause he was fighting for, but as the war dragged on, the tone of his letters shifted dramatically. The eager participant was transformed into a war-weary young man, deeply affected by the brutal realities of conflict.

On February 10, 1864, he wrote a letter brimming with dejection: “I see no cessation of it. Now only to look to the all-wise and merciful God for peace, and that is the only way we are to have peace anyway. We have to give in to a higher power than Jefferson Davis or General Lee to end this horrible conflict in which we are struggling.” The idealism had faded, replaced by a longing for the war’s end and a divinely inspired return to peace.

The American Civil War is often referred to as the “War of Brothers.” This evocative phrase captures what was undoubtedly the most devastating aspect of this horrific conflict: that the war pitted family members and close friends against each other. It was truly a Milchemet Achim — the Hebrew phrase for civil war.

Stories abound of brothers fighting on opposite sides, like the Terrill brothers, James Barbour Terrill, a brigadier general for the Confederate army, and William Rufus Terrill, a brigadier general for the Union Army. Both were killed in battle. Another Terrill brother, Philip Mallory of the Confederate 12th Virginia Cavalry, was also killed in battle.

Every American family was somehow affected. The eager letter writer Samuel Goodwin Stout’s great-great-grandson is Mike Wise, the award-winning Washington Post sportswriter. While researching his family, Wise discovered that another ancestor, his great-great-great-grandfather Tilman Settles, was a Union Army corporal, killed by Confederates while walking back to his Missouri home in December 1861.

The impact of such a deeply personal conflict cannot be overstated. Families were torn apart, friendships shattered, and communities divided. The war forced individuals to confront loved ones as enemies, challenging their loyalties and convictions. This internal division was more devastating than any external threat could have been.

The emotional and psychological toll was immense, leaving scars that would last for generations. The Civil War’s legacy of bitterness and animosity lingered long after the last shot was fired, evidence of the profound damage caused by internecine strife. Unlike other conflicts that are fought against foreign adversaries, this war was fought within the national family, making the violence and suffering all the more personal and tragic.

In every epoch of human history, division and discord within societies and national groups have often paved the way for the most harmful consequences. The American Civil War may have been triggered by disagreements on states’ rights and slavery, but it was the tearing apart of a nation not yet a century old that left the deepest scars.

The memory of the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg and Antietam act as grim reminders of what happens when a society turns against itself. But beyond the battlefield, it underscores a critical point: countries and societies are much more vulnerable to collapse because of internal strife than they are from external enemies. It wasn’t an invading force that brought the United States to the brink of destruction; it was its own internal divisions.

The theme of internal division resonates profoundly in the Torah portion of Korach. The story of Korach’s rebellion is one of the most distressing narratives in the entire Torah. Korach, a Levite, led a coup against his first cousins Moshe and Aaron, challenging their leadership and looking to overthrow them with the help of a group of malcontents, all of whom were part of the Jewish nation. As such, Korach’s challenge was more than just a power struggle — it was an insidious attack on the unity of the Israelite people.

In his writings, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks often reflects on the grave danger posed by fraternal strife, drawing from various episodes in the Book of Genesis, such as the conflicts between Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. Sacks notes that these narratives highlight how sibling rivalry and internal discord lead to devastating consequences, which he says is the reason the Torah gives these stories so much attention.

As Rabbi Sacks puts it, “The greatest challenge to humankind is not the stranger, but the brother. Peace in the world begins with peace at home.”

Korach’s rebellion is a stark reminder from the dawn of Jewish history of the dangers of internal division, illustrating how internal discord can threaten our stability in ways that no other threat can. The rebellion against Moshe and Aaron by their cousin was more dangerous than any external threat the Israelites faced in the wilderness, as it came from within and sought to destabilize the core of their society.

The narrative of Korach’s rebellion concludes with a dramatic and divine resolution: the earth opens up and swallows Korach and his immediate family, and a fire consumes his 250 princely followers as they offer up incense (Num. 16:31-35). This powerful and terrifying punishment is intended to indicate the severity of the sin of causing and perpetuating division within the community.

We are living through a critical time in our history, when the threat of “Milchemet Achim” is very real, and probably poses the greatest danger we have faced as Jews for millennia.

The intensifying split between Jews in the Diaspora who have taken to using Israel as a punching bag, and the Jewish community in Israel, is deeply worrying. The factionalization of Israeli society, with the rifts that exist between right and left, religious and secular, haredim and non-haredim, are far more worrying than the threats from our enemies.

Divided we fall, but united — we not only stand, but we thrive beyond our dreams. Let us take on board the lessons of Parshat Korach, and learn from the devastation caused by the American Civil War. Rather than focus our energies on fanning the flames of division, we must use all our resources to find the common ground that can give us the foundation for a future full of light and hope.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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Netanyahu Heads to DC After Biden Quits 2024 Race, Says Israel Will Remain ‘Strong’ US Ally Whoever Is in White House

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, Feb. 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday departed for a highly anticipated trip to Washington, DC, where he will meet with US President Joe and Biden and deliver a speech before Congress this week as America grapples with the aftermath of Biden’s unprecedented decision to end his 2024 reelection campaign.

During his first trip to the US capital in almost four years, Netanyahu plans to visit the White House and also address US lawmakers on Wednesday. Netanyahu was originally expected to meet with Biden on Tuesday; however, several Hebrew media outlets reported that the meeting will likely be delayed due to Biden still being sick with COVID-19.

It is unclear how Biden’s shock decision on Sunday to drop out of the US presidential race will impact Netanyahu’s address to the US Congress. According to Israel’s Channel 13, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, a close confidant of Netanyahu, assured US officials that the speech will not include criticism of or against Biden following repeated requests by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for information about what the Israeli premier will say.

Netanyahu issued a statement following Biden’s announcement indicating the Israeli premier will underline the importance of bipartisanship in maintaining a close US-Israel relationship.

“I will seek to anchor the bipartisan support that is so important for Israel. And I will tell my friends on both sides of the aisle [in Congress] that regardless of who the American people choose as their next president, Israel remains America’s indispensable and strong ally in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said while leaving Israel for Washington, DC. “In this time of war and uncertainty it’s important that Israel’s enemies know that America and Israel stand together today, tomorrow, and always.”

The Israeli premier also expressed gratitude to Biden, stating that he will thank the US president for helping the Jewish state as he prepares to exit the White House.

“I plan to see President Biden, whom I’ve known for over 40 years. This will be an opportunity to thank him for the things he did for Israel in the war and during his long and distinguished career in public service, as senator, as vice president, and as president,” Netanyahu said.

Amid declining support for Israel among US liberal Democratic lawmakers, Netanyahu hopes to use his congressional address and White House visit to mend relations with Democrats, who have become increasingly uneasy over Israel’s war effort against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.

Biden has come under heavy fire from Republicans as well as pro-Israel Democrats for what they’ve described as him turning against Israel amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

The US president expressed strong support for Israel following Hamas’ brutal invasion of southern Israel on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped about 250 hostages during their onslaught. In recent months, however, Biden has paused some weapons shipments to Israel and accused the US ally of “indiscriminate bombing” — a charge rejected by Israeli officials.

The Biden administration also discouraged Israel from launching a military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to target some of the last remaining Hamas battalions, arguing such an operation would put too many civilians at risk. Experts told The Algemeiner at the time that Israeli forces needed to operate in Rafah in order to dismantle Hamas’ military capabilities.

More broadly, the relationship between the Democratic Party and Israel has deteriorated in the months following Oct. 7. Several high-profile Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), have suggested that Israel’s military operations in Gaza are tantamount to a “genocide.” Democratic lawmakers have also called on Biden to halt arms transfers to Israel, citing concern over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza.

While Israeli officials have expressed frustration about the Biden administration pressuring them to halt their military campaign, Netanyahu is expected to use his visit as a way to repair some of the damage. The trip could also serve as a way to make Israel’s case directly to the American public, which overall remains pro-Israel despite declining support among younger demographics.

The percentage of Americans that express “little or no confidence” in Netanyahu has increased by 11 points since 2023, according to an April poll by Pew Research Center. Among Democrats, a staggering 71 percent express “little or no confidence” in the Israeli leader. 

Anti-Israel groups have also organized protests in advance of Netanyahu’s congressional address. Far-left organizations such as Party for Socialism and Liberation and Palestinian Youth Movement are urging their supporters to “surround the Capitol” during Netanyahu’s address. Leaders of these groups have branded Netanyahu as a “war criminal” and have called for his arrest. 

The people charge Benjamin Netanyahu with genocide. When war criminal Netanyahu comes to Washington DC,” Palestinian Youth Movement wrote on Instagram, “the people of the world stand with Palestine and against the genocide committed by Israel with full support of the United States and impunity.”

In addition to meeting with Biden, Netanyahu may also speak with Republican presidential nominee and former US President Donald Trump. Netanyahu has requested an in-person meeting with Trump while in the US this week, according to Politico.

The Algemeiner could not immediately verify the report.

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Pro-Hamas Demonstrators Avoid Punishment Following Wave of Dropped Charges, Reports Say

Law enforcement officers detain a demonstrator, as they clear out a pro-Hamas protest encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Los Angeles, California, US, May 2, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/David Swanson

The State Attorney’s Office of Cook County, Illinois has dropped criminal charges filed against three Northwestern University faculty and one graduate student who allegedly obstructed law enforcement’s efforts to clear an unlawful demonstration at the Deering Meadow section of campus.

According to a local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate, the office said its decision is based on its “policy not to prosecute peaceful protesters.”

Charges against the four individuals were pursued by the Northwestern University Police Department, which said that they allegedly engaged in “obstructing a police officer during the protests,” a crime for which they could, if convicted, spend a year in jail and pay a $2,500 fine, The Daily Northwestern reported last week. They had already appeared before a judge and were scheduled to do so again in August.

The university had defended the recommendation of its police department and rejected the notion that the individuals acted peaceably, saying in a statement issued earlier this month that it “does not permit activity that disrupts university operations, violates the law, or includes the intimidation or harassment of members of the community.”

Many more protesters have similarly avoided punishment for the actions they took during a burst of pro-Hamas demonstrations at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year, according to a new report by The New York Times. Prosecutors in Travis County, Texas, for example, have dropped over 100 charges of criminal trespassing filed against University of Texas at Austin protesters, the paper said, and 60 other Northwestern University protesters saw their charges dismissed, with prosecutors calling them “constitutionally dubious.” The Times added, however, that some charges will stick, including those filed against someone who bit a police officer, and many students are still awaiting the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.

Per the report, “At the University of Virginia on May 4, as students were preparing for final exams, administrators called in police to break up an encampment. Police officers in riot gear used chemical irritants to get protesters to disperse and eventually arrested 27 people. The local prosecutor dropped the charges facing seven people after he determined there wasn’t enough evidence. He offered the rest an agreement: their charges would be dismissed in August if they didn’t have any outstanding criminal charges at the time.”

Prosecutors in other states have not been as forbearing. According to Fresh Take Florida, prosecutors in Alachua County, Florida charged seven University of Florida students, as well as two non-students, with trespassing and resisting arrest. The defendants have resolved to take their chances at trial, the news service added, noting that all nine have rejected “deferred prosecution,” an agreement that would require them to plead guilty, or no contest, in exchange for the state’s expunging the convictions from their records in the future so long as they abstain from committing more criminal acts.

One of the nine, computer science student Parker Stanley Hovis, 26, — who was suspended for three years — proclaimed earlier this month that they will contest the state’s cases.

“We did not resist arrest, and we are prepared to fight our charges,” Hovis said in a statement. “We’re standing in solidarity with each other, and collectively demanding that the state drop the charges against us.”

Jewish civil rights group have described the anti-Israel protesters across the US as posing an imminent threat to Jewish students and faculty while noting that many avert being identified by concealing their faces with masks and keffiyehs, a traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians which has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

On Thursday, one such civil rights group, StandWithUs (SWU), implored the US Department of Justice to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing numerous antisemitic incidents of harassment and assault on its campus and the difficulty of punishing the perpetrators.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

“We hope the Department of Justice will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said in a statement.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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France Says Israeli Athletes ‘Welcome’ at Olympics Amid Mounting Threats, Added Security Measures

The Olympic Village prepared for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Photo: Paris 2024 / Raphael Vriet

French leaders said on Monday that the Israeli delegation to the 2024 Paris Olympics is welcome in France, despite what critics described as “antisemitic” comments to the contrary made by a French politician two days earlier

At an anti-Israel rally on Saturday, far-left French lawmaker Thomas Portes said, “I am here to say that, no, the Israeli delegation is not welcome in Paris. Israeli athletes are not welcome at the Olympic Games in Paris.”

Portes called for Israelis to be excluded from the Paris Olympics because of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel.

Portes later also told the newspaper Le Parisien that “France’s diplomats should pressure the International Olympic Committee to bar the Israeli flag and anthem, as is done for Russia” due to its invasion of Ukraine.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Portes’ comments had “obvious antisemitic overtones” and “placed a target on the backs of the Israeli athletes.” He added, “I want to express my disgust at that. I want to assure the Israeli athletes of our full protection, like all athletes, but particularly them, also welcoming them.”

Darmanin also announced that Israel’s Olympic delegation, which includes 88 athletes representing the Jewish state, will have increased security and will receive 24-hour security from French police. He said the decision was made after taking into consideration the 1972 Munich Olympics — where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September — and how Israeli athletes are a target for attacks, especially since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

France has experienced a record surge in antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7, when Hamas launched the war with its massacre across southern Israel.

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné reiterated that the Israeli delegation “is welcome in France” for the Paris Olympics during his visit to Brussels on Monday, the French-language newspaper Le Monde reported. He called Portes’ remarks “irresponsible and dangerous,” and added that France “will ensure the security of the [Israeli] delegation.”

Paris Police Chief Laurent Nuñez said 30,000 to 45,000 police personnel will be working daily to ensure safety at Olympic sites and fan zones in Paris.

It was previously reported that Israel doubled its security budget for this year’s Games, which will be Israel’s 18th appearance in the Olympics. Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar told The Telegraph that the Israeli Olympic delegation this year, which is the second-largest Israeli delegation in Olympics history, has received threats but he did not go into detail. He added that delegation members will receive security details from Israel’s Shin Bet security agency but not everyone will have their own bodyguards.

“We try our best to make sure the athletes feel free but also safe and not afraid. We don’t want them to notice the security guards too much. We want them to feel confident so they can do their job,” he explained to the publication.

There have been calls to ban Israel from the Paris Olympics because of the Israel-Hamas war, but Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said in March there is no doubt that Israel will participate in the Paris Olympics.

The 2024 Olympic Games will take place from July 26-Aug. 11.

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