(New York Jewish Week) – In mid-September, a group of Israeli activists projected a message in all capital letters onto the headquarters of the United Nations reading, “Don’t believe crime minister Netanyahu.”
About a month later, the same activist group projected another all-caps message onto the same building. But instead of targeting Israel’s leader, it displayed the photos of some of the country’s youngest and oldest citizens.
“3 year-old Avigail,” read one message, above the photo of a smiling girl. Similar messages followed, depicting the photos, names and ages of Ariel, age 4; Carmela, age 80; and Yaffa, 85. Beneath every photo was the caption “Kidnapped by Hamas.”
Both projections were the work of expatriate Israeli protesters who have organized and gained national attention over the past year. But as of two weeks ago, their cause has changed.
Originally, the activists gathered to protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his effort to weaken Israel’s judiciary, organizing protests and heckling Israeli officials when they visited the city. But after Hamas’ devastating Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which terrorists killed and injured thousands, and took more than 200 captive, the activists quickly pivoted — repurposing their tools and connections to support Israel’s war effort, aid its vulnerable populations and advocate for the release of the hostages.
“We’re all just thinking about our families and we have sleepless nights and we’re doing whatever we can,” said Shany Granot-Lubaton, a prominent Israeli activist in New York who previously worked in progressive political organizing in Israel. The protest group she helps organize, UnXeptable, has changed its motto from “Saving Israeli Democracy” to “Saving Israel.”
“We know many people who were slaughtered and kidnapped and raped and it’s in our closest circles. We have kids, we used to be their guides at scouts, who were kidnapped and killed,” she said. “As Israelis, being far away from home right now is devastating and we all just want to do something to help.”
For Granot-Lubaton’s family, as for many Israelis, the devastation is personal. Her husband, Omer Lubaton-Granot, found out last Wednesday that four of his relatives are among the captives; two more were murdered in the massacre. He is running an advocacy campaign for the hostages in New York — part of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a larger coordinated effort with activity in Israel and around the world. Israelis have taken an active role in the grassroots “Kidnapped in Israel” project that pastes flyers of hostages on city streets.
“It’s a whole family, and we thought that all six of them are gone, then the family realized that four of them are hostages and held by Hamas, and two of them, the bodies were identified a couple days ago,” he said regarding his captive relatives, adding that despite the initial shock and horror of captivity, it was a small relief to find out some had survived. “It’s not good, but it’s better.”
So far, the activists say they have raised around $1.2 million, in addition to sending supplies to soldiers and civilians, staging rallies, providing services and community to Israelis in the U.S. and organizing efforts aimed at freeing hostages held by Hamas.
The protesters’ mobilization in New York and other international cities parallels the approach of the protest movement in Israel, which brought hundreds of thousands to the streets earlier this year to protest the judicial overhaul. Since Oct. 7, the movement has set aside that fight to focus on relief work — delivering services and supplies to those in need. Granot-Lubaton said her NYC-based group and others in the United States, which coordinate with the Israeli groups, is a “sidekick” to their efforts. American Jewish organizations have also been crucial partners, she said.
Israeli expatriates established branches of the protest movement in dozens of cities in North America and have learned to navigate the intricate landscape of American Jewish organizations and formed ties with many of those groups — connections that proved crucial in rapidly launching a major relief effort in the United States.
“It was very easy to transform because we know how to mobilize people, we know how to reach people,” Lubaton-Granot said. “We know how to organize events, we know how to raise funds.”
In one aid operation that began at the war’s outset, the U.S.-based protesters sent four tons of supplies to Israeli soldiers who found that they lacked essential equipment as the military called up 300,000 reservists.
Tali Reiner Brodetzki, an Israeli activist in Philadelphia, was inspired by seeing supporters of Ukraine’s war effort organize Amazon “wish lists” after Russia invaded last year. She asked colleagues from an Israeli combat veterans’ protest group, Brothers and Sisters in Arms, to tell her what the soldiers needed, and began spreading the word about a wish list of her own.
Volunteers responded by buying 80,000 flashlights, 100,000 olive green T-shirts, socks, ceramic body armor, tourniquets and dressing for trauma wounds. The equipment was sent to a volunteer’s house on Long Island near John F. Kennedy Airport, packed into duffel bags and sent as overweight baggage on El Al flights. Activists from Brothers and Sisters in Arms collected the supplies at Ben Gurion Airport and distributed them to troops.
“We got a call from a mother crying her heart out” after her son was shot, said Granot-Lubaton, who assisted with that initiative. “He’s in the hospital and he got a bullet, but the vest we sent saved his life.”
Many Israelis who live in New York and across the United States have flown to Israel to fight in the reserves, and some of those reservists — in addition to medics — arrived on flights organized by an UnXeptable chapter in the Bay Area, led by activist Offir Gutelzon. And some Israeli families who were in the United States on vacation have opted to stay for the meantime. The activists are helping to organize programs for children of the reservists and those here temporarily, assisting new arrivals in gaining admission to Jewish day schools and enlisting kosher restaurants to help out with food deliveries for families.
One of the main ways the protest groups have communicated with and mobilized followers is via Whatsapp groups, and those groups have proven crucial for crowdsourcing support during the past two weeks. One woman was eight months pregnant when her husband went to the reserves, leaving her alone in the city. She was able to access health insurance and find other support through the activist network. A recent request for Hebrew-speaking psychologists in New York who could treat trauma also elicited a long list of recommendations. Some Israelis who were stranded in the city have been able to find temporary free lodging.
Some of the activist programs aim to bring Israelis, including children and their parents, together on the weekends. An event on Oct. 14 at the Manhattan JCC drew more than 300 people, and a David Broza concert on Sunday drew hundreds to B’nai Jeshurun, an Upper West Side synagogue. Many Israelis feel out of place in New York, where life continues as usual, despite the trauma and hardship back home. The Israeli and American Jewish communities have also responded differently to the war, Granot-Lubaton said.
“American Jews, they speak about the war in this very frightening way,” she said. “They’re doing ceremonies, lighting candles, but the Israeli kids in the schools are getting freaked out about it because their fathers are out there and it makes them afraid, so the way we talk about it is very different.”
Now that the immediate needs of troops have been mostly met, the activists hope to aid the communities in Israel’s south that were hardest-hit by Hamas’ atrocities, including by helping fund mental health services. Organizers also hope to support Israel’s economy, which is also battered by the war, by buying aid supplies from local stores rather than U.S. suppliers. That aid effort comes alongside an American Jewish fundraising drive that has directed hundreds of millions to Israel since Oct. 7.
The war has also led to new ties between the Israeli activists and American Jews who opposed their previous anti-government demonstrations. Reiner Brodetzki, the Philadelphia activist, said a group of religious Jews opposed to the protest movement had dropped by her house to borrow her Israeli flags and megaphones to use in their own pro-Israel demonstration.
“It’s amazing to see how people who would not talk to us previously, and had a lot of criticism about us protesting outside of Israel against the Israeli government, how they want to work with us now,” Reiner Brodetzki said. “They understand that we love Israel and we’re supporting Israel and now we’re in this fight together.”
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Javier Milei cites Hanukkah story, gives menorah to Zelensky during inauguration as Argentina’s president
(JTA) — Javier Milei invoked the story of the Maccabees in his inaugural address as Argentina’s president on Sunday, extending the right-wing populist’s prominent fascination with Judaism as he celebrated his own improbable victory.
“It is not by chance that this assumption takes place in the holiday of Hanukkah, the festival of light, and that the same celebrates the true essence of freedom,” Milei said during his speech on the steps of the parliament building in Buenos Aires. “The war of the Maccabees is the symbol of the victory of the weak over the powerful, of the few over the many, of the light over darkness and overall of the truth over untruth.”
Milei, 53, defied expectations when he was elected last month. A self-declared “anarcho-capitalist” who was the most right-wing of the five candidates, he ascended rapidly over the last year as he assailed the outgoing government, saying that its policies had fueled unemployment and inflation.
He delivered his speech with his back to the country’s lawmakers, in a break with tradition allowing him to face a large rally outside the parliament building.
Toward the tail of his speech warning Argentineans to prepare for a difficult economic reforms, he said he recalled how he and his now-vice president, Victoria Villaruel, had initially been told that their two-year-old political party, Freedom Advances, would have little influence.
“We were told we couldn’t do anything because we were only two in 257 congressmen,” he said. “And I also remember that my answer that day was a quote from the Book of Maccabees, 3:19, that goes: It is not the size of the army that victory in battle depends on, but strength comes from heaven.”
The speech was in keeping with Milei’s unusual relationship with Judaism. The non-Jewish economist has been studying with an Argentinean rabbi and has said he is interested in converting, though he says he does not see the role of president as compatible with Jewish observance. He visited the grave of the Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in New York City in his first trip abroad after being elected and has vowed to make Israel — where he promised to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — his first foreign destination as president.
At campaign rallies, Milei has often walked on stage to the sound of a shofar, and in one of his final public appearances before the election, Milei was seen waving an Israeli flag among a large crowd in Rosario.
One Israeli flag was visible amid the sea of Argentinean flags at his speech in footage of the inaugural event broadcast to Argentineans.
Milei, whose term will last four years, was flanked by world leaders, including the king of Spain; Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a left-wing critic of Israel; Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist who cruised to a fourth term last year; and Ukraine’s president, Volodymr Zelensky, who was making his first trip to Latin America since Russia attacked his country in February 2022. Jair Bolsonaro, the populist leader recently unseated in Brazil, also attended.
Milei handed a menorah to Zelensky, who is Jewish, after the two leaders greeted each other warmly outside Casa Rosada, the country’s government headquarters, in a handoff captured on the live TV broadcast of the ceremony. Zelensky has embraced Milei as he has sought to build support for Ukraine in Latin America.
On Saturday night, on the eve of his inauguration, Milei met with a group of relatives of Israeli hostages kidnapped in Gaza since Oct. 7, lighting the Hanukkah candles with them and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who was in the country for the inauguration.
Moroccans Demand Halt to Ties with Israel
Moroccans waving Palestinian flags took to the streets of the capital Rabat on Sunday calling on the government to cut ties with Israel in protest against Israel‘s military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Protests against Israel‘s war in Gaza have repeatedly drawn thousands of people in Morocco since the conflict began two months ago, mostly led by pan-Arab and Islamist groups.
Sunday’s march by about 3,000 protesters was the first to have been led by the PJD — Morocco’s biggest Islamist party which led the elected government from 2011 until 2021 — a sign the movement is growing more vocal in opposition.
Protesters chanted “Palestine is not for sale,” “Resistance go ahead to victory and liberation” and “the people want an end to normalization,” referring to the policy of Morocco and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel.
Israel vowed to annihilate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, after Hamas terrorists burst across the fence on Oct. 7 and went on a rampage through Israeli towns, gunning down families in their homes, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages.
Since then, Hamas-controlled health authorities in Gaza say thousands of people have been killed during Israel’s military campaign, although experts have cast doubt on the reliability of casualty figures coming out of Gaza.
Morocco agreed to strengthen ties with Israel in 2020, under a deal brokered by the US administration under then President Donald Trump that also included Washington recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Despite their policy of normalizing ties with Israel, Moroccan authorities have said they continue to back the creation of a Palestinian state and have urged a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the protection of all civilians there.
Islamist and leftist parties and groups in Morocco have increasingly spoken out against the normalization policy since the start of the war in Gaza on Oct. 7.
Protesters on Sunday also called for a boycott of brands they accuse of supporting Israel.
“We call on Morocco to end diplomatic relations with Israel,” said Ahmed El Yandouzi, as he was queuing to sign a petition with a Palestinian scarf around his neck.
Although Morocco and Israel have not yet completed the process of setting up full embassies in each other’s countries as they agreed to do, they have moved closer together, signing a defense cooperation pact.
The PJD was in office when Morocco agreed the normalization deal with Israel, with its then leader Saad Dine El Otmani signing it as prime minister, but the policy was ultimately set by King Mohammed, who sets overall strategy.
The new PJD leader, Abdelilah Benkirane, has said signing the agreement was a mistake.
The royal court has previously asked the PJD to stop criticizing Morocco’s ties with Israel.
Violence Escalates Between Israel, Lebanon’s Hezbollah
Violence escalated at Lebanon’s border with Israel on Sunday as the terrorist group Hezbollah launched explosive drones and powerful missiles at Israeli positions and Israeli air strikes rocked several towns and villages in south Lebanon.
Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have been trading fire since the war in Gaza erupted two months ago, in their worst hostilities since a 2006 conflict. The violence has largely been contained to the border area.
Israeli attacks in south Lebanon included air strikes on the town of Aitaroun which destroyed and damaged numerous houses, Lebanon’s National News Agency said. It did not say if there were any casualties.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senior Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah, in a statement sent to Reuters, said Israeli air strikes were a “new escalation” to which the group was responding with new types of attacks, be it “in the nature of the weapons (used) or the targeted sites.”
The Israeli army earlier said “suspicious aerial targets” had crossed from Lebanon and two were intercepted. Two Israeli soldiers were moderately wounded and a number of others lightly injured from shrapnel and smoke inhalation, it said.
Israeli fighter jets carried out “an extensive series of strikes on Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanese territory,” it said. Sirens sounded in Israel at several locations at the border.
In Beirut, residents saw what appeared to be two warplanes streaking across a clear blue sky, leaving vapor trails behind them.
Hezbollah statements say its attacks aim to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Ali Damoush said in a speech on Sunday the group would continue in its effort to “exhaust the enemy, and will not stop unless the aggression against Gaza and Lebanon stops.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Beirut would be turned “into Gaza” if Hezbollah started an all-out war.
In one of several attacks announced by Hezbollah on Sunday, the group said it had launched the explosive drones at an Israeli command position near Ya’ara. In another, Hezbollah said it had fired Burkan (Volcano) missiles, which carry hundreds of kilograms of explosives.
Israeli air strikes were also reported on the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Yaroun, not far from the location of another of the Israeli positions Hezbollah said it had targeted on Sunday.
Those air strikes broke windows of houses, shops and a school in the nearby village of Rmeich, Toni Elias, a priest in Rmeich, told Reuters by phone.
Violence at the border has killed more than 120 people in Lebanon, including 85 Hezbollah fighters and 16 civilians. In Israel, the hostilities have killed seven soldiers and four civilians.
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