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Joe Biden to rabbis facing security threats, on Rosh Hashanah call: ‘I have your back’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Speaking after dozens of synagogues were targeted by false bombs threats, President Joe Biden offered rabbis assurances ahead of the High Holidays that he is committed to Jewish security.

“This month, as you attend a shul for the High Holidays. I know you’re concerned about security,” Biden told 1,200 rabbis from all major denominations who signed on for a traditional pre-holiday phone call Thursday evening. “As your president. I want to make clear to you and to all your congregations I have your back. I am committed to the safety of the Jewish people.”

At least 50 synagogues have been targeted in recent months by fake bomb threats that unleash police response, often at times when the congregations are streaming services online. Security experts are concerned that calls on the holidays, when sanctuaries are packed, could trigger panic.

This pre-holiday call, a tradition dating to at least the George W. Bush administration, was organized by rabbinical umbrella groups representing Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist denominations. It tasted over an hour, although Biden did not stay for questions, of which four were asked, each by a rabbi of a different denomination.

For the first time on such a call, Biden and a top White House official, Neera Tanden, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, gave a progress report on the strategy to combat antisemitism Biden unveiled in May.

“My administration has already started aggressively implementing,” he said. “We published security guides for synagogues across the country. We launched a national campaign to combat antisemitism at school colleges and universities. We delivered trainings on religious workplace accommodations and so much more.”

Tanden, speaking later in the call, added detail. Agencies have a May 2024 deadline to complete their assigned tasks, she said. “More than two dozen agencies are producing deliverables,” she said.

She mentioned as examples:

A letter from Department of Housing and Urban Development “to 200 federally funded housing programs asking them to identify an antisemitism in housing.”
Research and projects on antisemitism solicited by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The resource guides for houses of worship, published by the Department of Justice and Homeland Security.
Letters from the Department of Education to schools and universities reminding them of their obligation under the 1964 civil rights act to address discrimination claims, with references to more recent enhancements under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump that extend the protections to Jews.

“There’s been a rising concern on campus [about] antisemitism and the strategy really propels passion on the part of the Department of Ed’s Office of Civil Rights to really be aggressive, as aggressive on antisemitism as we are when we look at and investigate other issues of discrimination,” she said.

Tanden appeared to be addressing concerns that the Biden administration would focus particularly on right-wing antisemitism; a number off Jewish organizations have said that the alleged harassment of Jewish students on campuses, which they say often comes from left wing and pro-Palestinian groups, should also be a priority.

Biden took no questions, but his remarks were redolent of a 2024 reelection campaign likely against his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Biden once again said he was prompted to run for president because of the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s failure to unequivocally condemn it. He also referred to controversies over the effort by conservative groups and parents to remove books from schools and libraries that they deem inappropriate, including some books about the Holocaust and racism.

“Books are being banned, if you can believe that in the United States of America, books are being banned in our schools and history is being erased,” he said.

He mentioned his nomination earlier this month of Jack Lew, a former Treasury secretary, to be ambassador to Israel. “I’m so proud to continue our support [of Israel] by nominating Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, to be ambassador,” he said.

Biden included a pledge of support for Israel in the call and did not mention his tense relationship with the current government over its efforts to overhaul Israel’s court system and over its expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“I want to reaffirm America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state,” he said. “My support for Israel’s security remains long standing and unwavering, including its right to defend itself against attacks.”

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Biden Highlights US Commitment to Israel, Ukraine, Indo-Pacific in West Point Speech

West Point graduating cadets congratulate each other at the conclusion of commencement ceremonies in West Point, New York, U.S., May 25, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

President Joe Biden emphasized the critical role of U.S. support to allies around the world including Israel, Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific in a speech on Saturday at the commencement for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

The speech before 1,036 graduating U.S. Army cadets is part of a push by Biden to highlight the administration’s efforts to support active and retired military personnel. These include a bipartisan law he signed two years ago to help veterans who have been exposed to burn pits or other poisons obtain easier access to healthcare.

Biden described American soldiers as “working around the clock” to support Ukraine in its effort to repel a two-year long Russian invasion, but repeated his commitment to keeping them off the front lines.

“We are standing strong with Ukraine and we will stand with them,” Biden told the crowd to a round of applause.

He also highlighted the U.S. role in repelling Iranian missile attacks against Israel and support for allies in the Indo-Pacific against increasing Chinese militarism in the region.

“Thanks to the U.S. Armed Forces, we’re doing what only America can do as the indispensable nation, the world’s only superpower,” Biden said.

The president is scheduled to participate in Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday. A week later, he will travel to Normandy, France, to participate in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Biden is expected to give a major speech about the heroism of Allied forces in World War Two and the continuing threats to democracy today.

As vice president, he twice addressed a graduating class of cadets at the academy about 40 miles (64 km) north of New York City, but this was the first time as president.

Donald Trump, Biden’s Republican challenger in the 2024 election, was the last president to speak at a West Point commencement, in 2020.

College campuses nationwide have erupted in sometimes-violent protests over Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas following the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack. Students have used commencement speeches at universities such as Harvard, Duke and Yale to protest Biden’s actions.

Earlier this month, the Democratic president gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college, where protests were sparse.

The military academy was founded in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson to train Army officers and has produced some of the United States’ greatest generals, including two who went on to become president.

Trump has seen some of his support from the military community erode.

In 2016, he won 60% of voters who said at the time that they served in the military, according to exit polls conducted by NBC News. That figure dropped to 54% in 2020, according to NBC News.

In 2020, Biden won 44% of voters who said they served in the military, according to the data.

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World Court’s Order on Rafah Does Not Rule Out Entire Offensive, Israel Says

Some rises after an Israeli strike as Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

Israel considers that an order by the World Court to halt its military offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza allows room for some military action there, Israeli officials said.

In an emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide, judges at the International Court of Justice ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its assault on Rafah, where Israel says it is rooting out Hamas fighters.

“What they are asking us, is not to commit genocide in Rafah. We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Israel’s N12 TV on Saturday.

Asked whether the Rafah offensive would continue, Hanegbi said: “According to international law, we have the right to defend ourselves and the evidence is that the court is not preventing us from continuing to defend ourselves.”

The ICJ, which is based in The Hague, did not immediately comment on Hanegbi’s remarks. Hamas also did not immediately comment.

Another Israeli official pointed to the phrasing of the ruling by the ICJ, or World Court, depicting it as conditional.

“The order in regard to the Rafah operation is not a general order,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Reading out the ruling, the ICJ’s president, Nawaf Salam, said the situation in Gaza had deteriorated since the court last ordered Israel to take steps to improve it, and conditions had been met for a new emergency order.

“The state of Israel shall (…) immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” Salam said.

That wording does not rule out all military action, the Israeli official said.

“We have never, and we will not, conduct any military action in Rafah or elsewhere which may inflict any conditions of life to bring about the destruction of the civilian population in Gaza, not in whole and not in part,” the official said.

The ICJ has no means to enforce its orders.

Israel began its offensive in Gaza to try to eliminate Hamas after Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7 last year, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 250 others as hostages. It has pressed on with its offensive since the ICJ ruling.

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ICC Chief Prosecutor Denies Equating Israel with Hamas

Defense Counsel for Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, Karim Khan attends a news conference before the trial of Ruto and Joshua arap Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague September 9, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Michael Kooren/File Photo

i24 NewsIn an interview with The Sunday Times, International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan has firmly dismissed accusations that he equates the actions of Israel with those of Hamas, labeling such claims as “nonsense.”

This marks Khan’s first major interview since announcing his intent to request arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders.

Khan clarified his stance, emphasizing that he does not consider Israel, with its democratic framework and supreme court, comparable to the terrorist group Hamas.

“I am not saying that Israel with its democracy and its supreme court is akin to Hamas, of course not. I couldn’t be clearer, Israel has every right to protect its population and to get the hostages back. But nobody has a license to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity. The means define us,” Khan stated.

In response to an Israeli official’s inquiry about locating hostages, Khan drew a parallel with the UK’s handling of the IRA.

He referenced various terrorist incidents involving the IRA, including assassination attempts and bombings, noting that despite these, the British did not resort to indiscriminate bombing in populated areas known for IRA activity. “You can’t do that,” Khan asserted.

Khan also shared his personal commitment to the issue of hostages, revealing that he wears a blue wristband with “Bring Them Home” inscribed on it and carries a dog tag dedicated to Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage at nine months old.

“This would break anyone’s heart,” he remarked. “There are Palestinian babies dying and we cannot have double standards.”

Addressing the potential issuance of arrest warrants, Khan stressed the global community’s responsibility to enforce them. “If states don’t step up, it has massive implications,” he warned.

“The ICC is their child — I am just the nanny or hired help. They have a choice to look after this child or be responsible for its abandonment.”

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