(JTA) — When Solomon and his family were forced to flee their home in Sderot after the Hamas attack on Oct.7, they were directed by the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, known as ASSAF, to a shelter in Tel Aviv for people whose lives had been upended by the violence. But when they arrived, they were abruptly denied entry. Unbeknownst to ASSAF, the shelter owners wished to serve only Jewish Israelis, not asylum-seekers like Solomon who hailed from Sudan or Eritrea and have been living in Israel sometimes for decades.
Solomon (not his real name) is among the estimated 30,000 or so asylum-seekers in Israel from Africa, who fled genocide, slavery or political unrest in their countries of origin. According to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 1,200-1,500 of these African asylum seekers have been forced to leave their homes in southern Israel as a result of the Hamas attack.
Because asylum seekers cannot obtain Israeli ID cards, many of those displaced following Oct. 7 had previously lived in apartments without having signed formal contracts recognized by the state. They were, therefore, not officially evacuated by Israeli municipalities nor were they guaranteed shelter. When they have found temporary homes on their own, the apartments often lack a “safe room” and are 10 minutes or more away from the closest bomb shelter, not nearly enough time to reach safety before the rockets begin to rain down.
The discrimination Solomon and countless others experience as they seek new homes in the aftermath of Oct. 7 reinforces a dismal reality: Those who are already on the margins of Israeli society experience additional hardships during a time of war. This is not only the case for refugees and asylum-seekers, but also for tens of thousands of migrant workers, primarily in agriculture, construction and home healthcare. While the legal status of these workers is different from that of asylum-seekers, they too experience discrimination and injustice.
Shelter is just one of many challenges these populations are currently facing. Many are struggling with food insecurity, job losses, language barriers that prevent them from receiving essential services, and a near-total absence of economic and social safety nets. There has also been an extreme deterioration in mental health within these communities, especially among refugees, who report that they are reliving past traumas triggered by the current violence.
Indeed, between Oct. 7 and Nov. 15, the NGOs ASSAF and HIAS saw a significant rise in requests for assistance from refugees, compared to the previous year, with ASSAF reporting a 153% increase in calls.
Although no Israeli politician has publicly stated that these populations should be excluded from government aid, official evacuation plans and the wartime economic plan do not explicitly reference them, despite calls from NGOs for clear recognition.
While so many refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers are often made to feel like outsiders, a vast number of them proudly see themselves as a core part of Israeli society. And while they are neither Jewish nor Israeli citizens, their lives are deeply intertwined with ours. They work in our fields, hotels and restaurants; they are caregivers for our elderly and people with disabilities; and, tragically, some 100 of them were among those injured, killed and kidnapped during Hamas’ deadly attack. Since then, like so many Israelis, they have demonstrated solidarity and resilience that represent the best of our society.
We, Israeli leaders of organizations working with vulnerable populations in Israel and around the world, have witnessed a remarkable spirit of volunteerism and collective responsibility in these communities over the past few weeks. In the wake of the Hamas attack, dozens of people have contacted many of our organizations to ask how they could support emergency efforts.
When a Nepalese man who was severely injured on Oct. 7 was transferred to a Jerusalem hospital, a micro-community of local Nepalese caregivers and Israelis rallied by his bedside to ensure he received the emotional and cultural support he needed. He had arrived in Israel only 21 days prior to the so-called “black Sabbath,” and was completely alone in a strange land. It is largely due to the kindness of this micro-community that he can now see a future for himself, despite his new reality.
But the kindness of migrant workers and refugees is not limited to caring for their own. Hundreds of African refugees have volunteered regularly at the Civilian Command Center at the Expo Complex in Tel Aviv, organizing and packaging meals and donations for evacuees from southern Israel and Israeli soldiers. Another group of Eritrean refugees, who were themselves evacuated from Ashkelon as a result of the war, have joined the tens of thousands of Israelis who are volunteering to harvest food and support Israeli farmers suffering a shortage of workers.
As Israel continues to recover and chart a new path forward, we urge Jewish leaders abroad to join Israelis who are calling for asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers to receive the care and support they deserve. This means both advocating that the Israeli government distribute aid equitably, so that they too receive the assistance they need, as well as keeping these communities in mind when collecting and allocating philanthropic dollars for those impacted by the massacre. This includes not only those who were killed, kidnapped, or injured, but also those who lost homes, jobs, and are suffering from trauma.
As Hillel famously wrote, we must be for ourselves, but not only for ourselves. Now, more than ever, we must show empathy for the strangers among us — refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers — as we, in Israel and the global Jewish community, recover from a shared trauma. When we honor our shared humanity, our entire society will be stronger.
This essay is co-signed by Sivan Carmel, Country Director, HIAS Israel; Tali Ehrenthal, Executive Director, ASSAF-Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel; Anat Herrmann-Aharoni, Executive Director, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, and Or Mor-Yosef, CEO, African Refugee Development Center.
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US Announces New Sanctions Against Iran-Backed Entities Including Hamas
The United States on Monday announced new sanctions against a range of individuals and entities associated with Hamas, Iran and other Iran-backed terrorist groups around the region.
The sanctioned entities include an Iraqi airline and Hamas fundraising and financial networks in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“Hamas has sought to leverage a variety of financial transfer mechanisms, including the exploitation of cryptocurrency, to channel funds to support the group’s terrorist activities,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson, in a statement announcing the fifth round of sanctions imposed by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) since the Hamas pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7 last year.
“Treasury, in close coordination with our allies and partners, will continue to leverage our authorities to target Hamas, its financiers, and its international financial infrastructure,” Nelson added.
One of the sanctioned networks is known as the Shamlakh Network, run by the Gaza-based Shamlakh family.
According to OFAC, “members of the Shamlakh family have become the main end point for funds transferred from [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza.” It explained that “Gaza-based financial facilitator Zuhair Shamlakh is a Gaza-based moneychanger who facilitates funds transfers in the tens of millions of dollars from Iran to Hamas. Zuhair has used his companies Al-Markaziya Li-Siarafa (Al-Markaziya) and Arab China Trading Company to channel funds for the Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades (al-Qassam Brigades), the military wing of Hamas.”
The second network is known as the Herzallah Network, which has been engaged in the illicit transfer of Hamas funds from Gaza to the West Bank through the Gaza-based Herzallah Exchange and General Trading Company LLC. The network was being targeted “for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to Hamas,” OFAC noted.
Separately, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller announced sanctions against the Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad and its CEO for supporting the IRGC-QF and Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
“The IRGC-QF and Iran-aligned militia groups pose a significant threat to the Middle East region,” Miller said. “Kata’ib Hezbollah has been responsible for a series of drone and missile attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria since Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel on October 7.”
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Norman Jewison, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ director and lifelong friend of the Jews, dies at 97
(JTA) – In a 2022 documentary on the making of the 1971 film “Fiddler on the Roof,” Norman Jewison relayed a by-now familiar anecdote: When producers of the Broadway musical approached him for the directing job, he had to sheepishly inform them that he wasn’t actually Jewish.
He got the job anyway, leading generations of Jewish families watching “Fiddler” to associate that big title card displaying the “Jewison” name with a fellow member of the tribe.
Bringing Anatevka to vivid, pulsating life was one of many career highlights for the Canadian filmmaker, who died Saturday at age 97. Jewison, a Toronto native, helmed several other iconic films in his long, distinguished career, including “Moonstruck,” “In The Heat of the Night,” “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “The Hurricane” — many of them shining light on pressing social matters like racism and other forms of bigotry. He was nominated for seven Oscars, two of them for “Fiddler” (best picture and best director). He directed a lot of musicals, including “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and returned to Jewish concerns for his swan song, the 2003 thriller “The Statement,” which takes place during the Holocaust.
But his work on “Fiddler” sealed Jewison’s reputation among Jewish viewers. He earned the job on the basis of his work on the Cold War satire “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” starring Carl Reiner and Alan Arkin, with producers reasoning that the director had what it took to convincingly depict Russian life to Westerners.
Holding the reins to Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein’s Broadway smash adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s classic folktales, Jewison went all-in on verisimilitude. He filmed “Fiddler” in the former Yugoslavia and got Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who starred as Tevye in the West End production, to reprise his role on screen (not without some controversy over bypassing better-known Broadway star Zero Mostel).
At three hours in length, with elaborate musical set pieces and additional scoring by John Williams, “Fiddler” was a classic Hollywood roadshow production that also was be a bittersweet depiction of a Jewish world wiped out by pogroms and the Holocaust — a formula not necessarily guaranteed to hook a general audience. But the gambit paid off, and “Fiddler” became the highest-grossing film of the year and a perennial staple in the homes of Ashkenazi Jews and others.
Over the years Jewison would deny rumors that he had considered converting to Judaism. But he took his connection to the Jewish story seriously. In that same 2022 documentary, he also shared that he had a Jewish wedding in 2010, to his second wife Lynne St. David Jewison. The wedding included a rabbi and a chuppah.
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Only One University Adopts Leading Antisemitism Definition 2023, New Report Says
Only one American higher education institution adopted the world’s leading definition of antisemitism in 2023, according to a new report by Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), a US antisemitism watchdog.
“Only Boston University’s student government has adopted the IHRA working definition in 2023,” CAM said on Monday in a statement. “These figures help put into context the atmosphere on college campuses that led to high-profile incidents of antisemitism on the campuses of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the George Washington University, Cooper Union College, and Cornell University, just to name a few.”
First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations and is supported by lawmakers across the political spectrum.
As previously reported by The Algemeiner, antisemitism on college campuses surged to record levels after Hamas massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, including demonstrations calling for Israel’s destruction and the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students. Elite universities have been among the biggest hubs of such activity, with students and faculty both demonizing Israel and rationalizing the Hamas atrocities. Incidents of harassment and even violence against Jewish students also increased. As a result, Jewish students have expressed feeling unsafe and unprotected on campuses. In some cases, Jewish communities on campuses have been forced to endure threats of rape and mass slaughter.
At Harvard University, anti-Zionism escalated to antisemitic harassment when a mob of anti-Israel activists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review whose alumni includes former US President Barack Obama — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student on campus, according to videos that went viral across social media. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.
At Cornell University, an individual posted on a social media forum that is popular with students messages calling for the murder and rape of Jews. In addition to threatening the lives of Cornell’s 3,500 Jewish students, who are around 22 percent of the school’s student population, the posts called for an attack on a campus kosher dining hall, which forced campus officials to shutter the property.
“American colleges need to be proactive in helping Jewish students feel safe and accepted on campus, when nearly three quarters of Jewish college students have experience antisemitism since the beginning of the school year. We must take action,” CAM CEO Sacha Roytman said. “The best path forward includes robust educational programs that raise awareness about antisemitism, including the incorporation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, so schools as well as local, state, and federal governments can properly identify, monitor, and act on antisemitic incidents.”
US higher education institutions are not the only ones declining to adopt the IHRA definition. Last August, UK based nonprofit Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) reported that it has yet to be embraced by 43 of Britain’s leading universities, including University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which has for years been the site of numerous antisemitic incidents. In 2016, for example, its Palestine Society hosted a lecture in which the featured speaker compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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