WASHINGTON (JTA) — On paper, the agenda must have seemed dry, an accounting of flights out of Israel, of military equipment going into Israel and of call centers.
But amid the niceties that routinely mark the opening of such meetings, Shelley Greenspan, the White House liaison to the Jewish community, couldn’t hold back on Tuesday. She looked at each of the officials flanking her on the desk in the White House’s West Wing: Jon Finer, the deputy national security advisor, on her left and Liz Sherwood-Randall, President Joe Biden’s homeland security advisor, on her right.
“I give a shoutout to my colleagues here at the White House who are doing everything imaginable to protect Americans at the direction of the president and to make sure that conflict really just subsides,” Greenspan said, choking back tears. “And truly, thank you, guys, for checking in on me the other day. Thank you for not getting any sleep and doing everything you can, Jon.”
Finer cast his eyes down. Sherwood-Randall rubbed Greenspan’s back.
It was a snapshot of how Jewish White House staffers are grappling with how the worst attack on civilians in Israel’s history is both a political crisis and, for them and all Jews, a personal tragedy. On Saturday morning, Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, se and air, killing over 1,200 people.
“We see you and stand with you,” Finer said to Greenspan. “Many of us — look at the three of us up here — are of this community. And. and it meant a lot to us to be here and to be able to speak with you today.”
The briefing took place just after Biden delivered one of the most impassioned speeches of his career, describing the attacks as a “pure, unadulterated evil.” Biden was flanked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is Jewish, and Vice President Kamala Harris, whose husband, Doug Emhoff, is Jewish.
The White House is staging an all-out engagement with the Jewish community. The online briefing Tuesday afternoon was to be followed by an in-person roundtable with Jewish leaders on Wednesday evening, which Biden will address. On Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray will address an online briefing by the Secure Community Network, the consultancy for the national Jewish community.
Finer went over the details of an emergency lift of military equipment to Israel. “The first shipment of military aid including munitions began moving yesterday,” he said. “We believe it is arriving today. And there will be more to come.”
In fact, the shipment arrived while the call was still on. “We are grateful for the U.S. backing and assistance to the IDF, and to the State of Israel in general, during this challenging period,” the Israeli army said just a few minutes after Finer spoke. “Our common enemies know that the cooperation between our militaries is stronger than ever, and is a key part in ensuring regional security and stability.”
Sherwood-Randall said there was no immediate domestic threat. “At this time none of our intelligence agencies have any specific intelligence indicating that there is a threat to the United States stemming from the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel,” she said. “But we remain vigilant because we know that foreign terrorist organizations and their supporters are committed to attacking the United States.”
She said Jewish communities would get up-to-date information on what should be done in case of an emergency. “We will provide you with resource guides that contains specific information on trainings, websites and phone numbers that are available to you from the federal government,” she said.
She also went over plans to add flights out of Israel for Americans who want to leave.
“We know that there are a lot of Americans who’ve traveled to Israel around the High Holy Days and may have stayed through into the Sukkot period, and by themselves not able to go home on the flights that they had previously scheduled because most American carriers have stopped flying in and out of Israel,” Sherwood Randall said.
“The leadership of the State Department and the Department of Transportation has been working with American airline carriers and asked them to increase the number of flights available leaving from Israel,” she said.
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Israeli and Jewish activists take campaign for greater concern about Oct. 7 sex crimes to UN
(JTA) — Less than a week after the United Nations secretary general urged an investigation into reported sexual violence by Hamas, the Israeli U.N. mission held a conference on the allegations and pressed the international community to speak out more forcefully against them.
“We have come so far in believing survivors of sexual assault in so many situations. That’s why the silence on these war crimes is dangerous,” said former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, the event’s keynote speaker. “The world has to decide who to believe. Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn’t have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last few minutes of their lives?”
A CNN op-ed by Sandberg, and an accompanying Instagram post, have been at the center of a growing protest by Israeli and Jewish women who charge that the U.N. and other international bodies have dismissed or downplayed reports of sexual violence during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The protest has spread via the hashtag #Me_Too_UNless_UR_a_Jew and found its real-life expression in Monday’s event, which drew 700 people to U.N. headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan took aim in particular at U.N. Women — the organization’s arm for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment — which caught flak for posting and then deleting a statement condemning the Hamas attack.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women show that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Erdan said in his opening remarks.
“U.N. Women ignored all of the proof and were blind to all the evidence, including video footage of testimonies of sexual crimes,” he said. “Instead of immediately supporting the victims, U.N. Women brazenly suggested that Hamas’ gender-based violence be investigated by a blatantly antisemitic U.N. body.”
The condemnation of the U.N. is the latest in a long line of complaints Israel has had about the body both before and during its ongoing war with Hamas. In late October, Erdan called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he said the Oct. 7 attack “did not happen in a vacuum.”
The United Nations General Assembly has yet to condemn Hamas and has called for a cessation of the conflict, which restarted last week after a seven-day pause in which Hamas released more than 100 hostages and Israel released hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners..
Last week, Guterres called for an investigation into sexual violence by Hamas. But speakers at Monday’s event pushed for more from world leaders. Sandberg called for “the entire U.N. to formally condemn, investigate, hold the terrorists accountable.” Erdan, to loud applause, called for an “investigation of U.N. Women’s indifference to the heinous crimes against Israeli women”
In the nearly two months since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli law enforcement, search and rescue groups, and the country’s recently formed Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children have collected evidence and testimony regarding Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported testimony from survivors of the Nova music festival recalling women being gang raped and beheaded.
Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which organized the event along with other women’s rights groups, drew a parallel between last week’s Torah portion, which includes the Biblical story of the rape of Dinah, and the experiences of the victims of Oct. 7. Katz noted that Dinah’s voice is notably missing from the Biblical narrative.
“For generations, survivors of sexual assaults have looked to Dina’s story because it speaks so powerfully to the secondary trauma of being unheard, ignored and reduced to mere objects for debate,” said Katz, who invited people to step out of the room if they felt the need, given the graphic nature of the event. “And we heard this with new significance this year, because Israeli women and girls were recently tortured, raped, and killed, forever silenced by Hamas.”
Several actors attended the event, including Tovah Feldshuh, Julianna Margulies, Emmy Rossum and Debra Messing, all of whom have spoken out against antisemitism or Hamas’ attack. (Margulies was also fresh off an apology after making disparaging comments about Black Americans who have not supported Jews after Oct. 7.)
The event also featured people who tended to victims of the event, including representatives from ZAKA, the Orthodox Israeli first-responder organization, and the Israeli police, who have been collecting and documenting evidence from victims of sexual violence and people who witnessed the violence. They recounted graphic stories, to which the crowd responded vocally with murmurs, gasps and tears. Some in the audience exchanged tissues, hugs and pats on the back for extra support.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, also came and discussed seeing a compilation of footage of the attack that a group of senators recently viewed.
“I’ve seen much of the raw footage. It takes your breath away,” she said. “You can’t unsee it.”
Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the event, Sandberg said silence surrounding sexual violence is connected to a dearth of female representation on the world stage.
“You look in that hall at those flags — those are countries run by men, very few are run by women. I really wanted that to change in my lifetime. It’s not going to happen, not going to be close,” she said. “But that means the progress we fought for to get women’s women’s rights and protection of our bodies, protection of who we are, protection against systematic, sexualized violence — can’t be lost. And that is why anyone can speak out. And when they speak out, we have to all unite together as quickly as possible.”
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Canada’s Rally for the Jewish People brought thousands to Ottawa calling for the return of the hostages in Gaza—while delivering a loud rebuke to the recent waves of antisemitism
A detailed report from a spirited snowy scene on Monday afternoon.
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Despite bus driver boycott, thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Ottawa
MONTREAL (JTA) — Despite a foot of snow in Montreal and chartered buses that never showed up in Toronto, thousands of Canadian Jews assembled on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday to voice solidarity with Israel and decry a rise in antisemitism.
Despite concerns over overall security in Canada’s capital city, which was tight, the rally’s speakers included several prominent Canadian politicians, Jewish leaders, college students who feel unsafe on campus and family members of Israelis taken hostage or killed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Local Jewish leaders called the event, organized by Jewish federations across Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a historic gathering. But just weeks after a similar incident in Detroit before a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, 17 of 70 chartered buses did not show up to pick up rally-goers in Toronto.
Organizers called the no-show bus company antisemitic.
“Despite charging in full in advance and confirming its participation, the [unidentified] company did not send a single bus and has declined all communications while refusing to provide any explanations,” said Adam Minsky, president and CEO of United Jewish Appeal Federations in Toronto.
“We are driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” he added. “What happened today is sickening and outrageous. We will respond aggressively with every legal and public affairs tool at our disposal.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed, Liberal Party member of parliament Anthony Housefather and deputy Conservative Party leader Melissa Lantsman all spoke on Monday.
“This is not 1943. I’m grateful that Israel exists and has an army to fight back against those who launched this pogrom,” said Housefather, who is Jewish and represents Montreal’s heavily Jewish Mount Royal district.
Raquel Look, whose son Alexandre was murdered at the music festival in southern Israel attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, called on Canadian politicians to take more action against antisemitism. Hate crimes against Jews — including multiple incidents that have involved Molotov cocktails thrown at Montreal-area synagogues — have spiked across Canada.
“Our sorrow is deep and immeasurable but today we want to channel this immense pain into a call for action,” Look said. “Please let us honour his memory by standing up against the forces that seek to destroy Jewish and Canadians values we hold so dear.”
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