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Latest Attack on Jews in Beverly Hills Proves We Can’t Trust Others With Our Safety

A Torah scroll. Photo:

It has been a remarkable week — Beverly Hills was all over the news, in the US and across the world. But this time, not for celebrity shenanigans or movie gossip — but because of a violent hate crime. Truthfully, I’m still trying to get my head around it.

Last Saturday morning, two stalwart members of our community, Raphy and Rivka Nissel, were walking to shul for Shabbat services, when they were suddenly set upon by a violent stranger.

The attacker, Jarris Jay Silagi, yelled, “Jew, give me your jewelry!” He then used his belt buckle to hit Raphy over the head, causing a laceration that required several stitches.

Rather than yielding to their assailant, the Nissels yelled for help and gave chase. Shocked by their vigorous response, Silagi ran off, but he was soon arrested by the police. Silagi was later charged with various felonies — including assault with a deadly weapon, attempted robbery, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, and elder abuse. On Tuesday, Silagi pled not guilty to the charges, and he is currently being held on $1,310,000 bail.

Shockingly, this incident occurred just an hour after Silagi had been released without bail for a misdemeanor. Silagi also has an extensive rap sheet, and is obviously a career criminal. Despite all that, what makes this latest crime stand out even more is that it involved an antisemitic outburst. Clearly, the explosion of antisemitism that has erupted across the United States since the Hamas-perpetrated October 7 massacre in southern Israel and Israel’s military response in Gaza, has seeped into every level of society.

Jews wherever they live are now considered targets just for being Jews. It is open season against Jews, and no Jew is safe from attack.

To be fair, the support for the Nissels and the Jewish community since the attack has been noteworthy. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and California Governor Gavin Newsom both condemned the attack, and highlighted the antisemitic aspect of the assault, as did Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.

The Beverly Hills Police Department has also been eager to emphasize their increased efforts going forward to ensure community safety, particularly for religious institutions and Jews walking the streets, in light of the attack and the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

But somehow all this supportive froth seems hollow, at best. The recent paroxysm of antisemitism — marked by attacks against Jews and visible symbols of the Jewish faith — cannot be mitigated or prevented by sanctimonious virtue signaling and faux outrage.

On Tuesday, beleaguered Harvard president, Claudine Gay, attended a public menorah lighting hosted by Harvard’s Chabad representative, Rabbi Herschy Zarchi. The previous day, Gay told the Harvard Crimson that “threats to our Jewish students have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged.”

But Rabbi Zarchi’s heartfelt address at the menorah lighting told a different story.

Apparently, the powers-that-be at Harvard insisted that the public menorah had to be dismantled each night. “After everyone leaves the Yard, we’re going to pack it up,” Zarchi revealed. “We have to hide it somewhere,” he said, as Harvard won’t “allow us to leave the menorah here overnight, because there’s fear that it’ll be vandalized.” How exactly is that ‘threats against Jews never going unchallenged’, President Gay? It sounds more like ‘Harvard has capitulated to bigots.’”

And to be clear, for those who insist that anti-Zionism is not the same as antisemitism — how do you reconcile the fact that a Jewish religious symbol in Harvard is being targeted by vandals in the wake of the October 7 massacre, or that Jews walking in Beverly Hills are being targeted?

I am willing to accept that there are passionate anti-Israel activists who are not necessarily antisemites. But are there any anti-Israel activists willing to concede that Israel’s actions in Gaza are being used as a cover by antisemites to feast on what animates them most — unfiltered Jew-hatred and unfettered Jew-targeting? Because it would appear that there are a lot more of this kind of anti-Israel activist than of the other kind.

As we all grapple with the unsettling rise of antisemitism, from the streets of Beverly Hills to the halls of Harvard, and in multiple other places across the country and around the world, this sudden turn of events must become an urgent wake-up call. In the final analysis, despite our best efforts over so many years, and the social capital we have invested in our political leaders and into our national institutions, it is time to acknowledge that our ultimate security lies not in human efforts, but in God.

King David’s words in Psalm 146:3, “Do not put your trust in princes,” resonate as profoundly today as when they were first recorded over three millennia ago. It is also a lesson vividly illustrated in the Biblical story of Joseph, as expounded by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Notwithstanding Joseph’s exceptional acumen and strengths, his fate was not exclusively contingent on human actions, but rather on Divine will.

Rabbi Sacks writes about Joseph’s reliance on Pharaoh’s butler to get out of prison, a trust that was met with disappointment, as the Torah records at the end of Parshat Vayeishev (Gen. 40:23): “The butler did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” As a result of putting his faith in the butler to effect his release, Joseph languished in prison for a further two years, and only then did he experience his elevation to great power, as recorded at the beginning of Parshat Mikeitz.

As Rabbi Sacks puts it, “God answers our prayers, but often not when we thought or how we thought. Joseph sought to get out of prison, and he did get out of prison … but not immediately, and not because the butler kept his promise.”

Joseph’s experience mirrors our own experiences, where human promises and what we imagined were guaranteed protections have proven to be unreliable. Although we must always work tirelessly for safety and justice via human means, the outcome of our efforts often rests in Hands that are far more powerful than our own.

As we stand up against the current wave of antisemitism, we should remember that our strength lies not just in our communal resilience and external support from loyal gentile friends, but far more in our faith in God, which must be constant and unequivocal.

God’s message to Joseph was that expecting the butler to come through while losing sight of Divine help was not seeing the wood for the trees. Joseph’s journey from despair to triumph teaches us about the balance of effort and faith. We do our part, but we must recognize that the final deliverance, often unforeseen and unexpected, comes from a higher source.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities

An American flag waves outside the US Department of Justice Building in Washington, US, Dec. 2, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US federal authorities have charged, and a grand jury has indicted, a foreign national with planning a mass casualty attack against Jews and other minorities in New York on New Year’s Eve.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York reported that a grand jury indicted Georgian national Michail Chkhikvishvili with soliciting hate crimes and acts of mass violence.

Chkhikvishvili is reportedly the leader of a group called the “Maniac Murder Cult,” a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group.

Specifically, he was recruiting people to carry out arson and bombing attacks — as well as attacks aimed at Jewish and other minority children, according to US officials.

The US Attorney’s Office explained that the “planned New Year’s Eve attack involved Santa Claus handing out poisoned candy to racial minorities as well as distributing poisoned candy to Jewish children in Brooklyn.”

There were more than 450,000 Jews who lived in Brooklyn as of May 2024. Many neighborhoods are known to be predominantly Hasidic.

Authorities found out about the plot when Chkhikvishvili solicited an undercover law enforcement official to be involved in the attack.

He “sought to recruit others to commit violent attacks and killings in furtherance of his Neo-Nazi ideologies,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to find and prosecute those who threaten the safety and freedoms of all members of our community, including members of minority communities, no matter where in the world these criminals might be hiding.”

FBI New York Acting Assistant Director Christie Curtis lauded law enforcement for stopping the attack before it could ever take place.

“The swift disruption of this individual, accused of allegedly plotting violent attacks in New York, sends a clear message: we will use every resource in our power to ensure the safety of the American people,” she said. “The men and women who work on this task force day in and day out exemplify true service to our community, demonstrating unwavering commitment in thwarting those who seek to harm our citizens and our way of life.”

The plot comes amid a wave of antisemitic attacks that ramped up in America and around the world after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

Earlier this month, an observant Jew was sucker punched and beaten in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. The alleged attacker subsequently expressed his motive, saying “They’re [the Jews] the cause of all our wars,” and “We know who you are! We know the lies that you’ve told, that you have stolen the place of the true children of Israel.”

He was charged with assault and a hate crime.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then, in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US were directed against Jews.

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RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

US lawmakers are preparing to release later this year a trove of new “bombshell” information revealing the extent to which antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on university campuses across the country, according to a high-ranking Republican.

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke with political pundit and podcast host Megyn Kelly about the efforts of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate surging antisemitism, including anti-Jewish bias, on college campuses. While reminiscing over last December’s congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in which each campus leader proclaimed that calls for a genocide of Jews may not violate school rules depending on “the context” — Stefanik revealed that the committee has obtained new documents shedding light on anti-Jewish hate at elite universities.

“This is pervasive in higher-ed. We have worked on this investigation, and if you think the hearing was bad, Megyn, we’re going to have to talk about all the documents that have been turned over because of our subpoena,” Stefanik said. “We’ll put out a report later this year. That’s even more bombshell material in there. It’s a disgrace what’s happening at these universities.”

Antisemitism has exploded at universities since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, amid the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Over the past several months, the committee has rigorously investigated antisemitism at America’s most prestigious universities. The panel recently unearthed and exposed text message exchanges between Columbia University deans which revealed the campus leaders mocking Jewish students as “privileged.” The lawmakers also alleged, based on their investigation, that Harvard University has engaged in a “pattern of inaction” in response to campus antisemitism.

Stefanik spoke to Kelly at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans are gathering this week to nominate their 2024 presidential candidate. The issue of campus antisemitism has been a key issue highlighted at the RNC.

On Wednesday night, Shabbos Kestenbaum, a recent Harvard graduate suing his alma mater over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students, took the RNC main stage and delivered an impassioned speech on campus antisemitism. Kestenbaum said that the surge of unchecked antisemitism on Harvard’s campus in the months following Oct. 7 left him disillusioned with progressives, prompting his move to the political right. 

“After Oct. 7, the world finally saw what I and so many Jewish students across this country experienced almost every day,” he told the RNC crowd. 

“My problem with Harvard is not its liberalism, but its illiberalism. Too often, students at Harvard are taught not how to think, but what to think. I found myself immersed in a culture that is anti-Western, that is anti American, and that is antisemitic,” Kestenbaum said. 

Kestenbaum implored the crowd to support the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Sadly the far-left wing tide of antisemitism is rising,” Kestenbaum said. “But tonight, tonight we fight back. I am proud to support President Trump’s policies to expel foreign students who violate our laws, harass our Jewish classmates, and desecrate our freedoms … let’s elect a president who recognizes that although Harvard and the Ivy Leagues have long abandoned the United States of America, the Jewish people never will.”

Anti-Israel protests have ravaged college campuses across the United States in the months following Oct. 7. Students at prominent universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT have participated in demonstrations chanting slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” Progressive student organizations have also openly banned “Zionists,” forcing Jewish students to choose between supporting Israel and maintaining their social network. Campus demonstrators have also openly cheered Hamas and in some cases threatened or committed violence against Jewish students.

Jewish donors and alumni have condemned university administrators over their unwillingness to shut down demonstrations. As a result, many of them have pulled funding and vowed not to allow their children to enroll at their alma maters.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, has ceased donating to Columbia University, citing “virulent hate” against Jews on campus.  Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania. The MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance urged Jewish graduates and allies to protest campus antisemitism by lowering their annual donation amount to $1.

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Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations

Pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia University in New York City, US, April 29, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

StandWithUs (SWU), a Jewish civil rights group based in California, is imploring the US Justice Department to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing a hostile environment at the school in which pro-Hamas demonstrators who have harassed and assaulted Jewish students continuously evade justice by concealing their identities.

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.

The most obvious parallel between their conduct and the KKK’s, StandWithUs noted, is an inveterate shrouding of their members’ faces with masks and keffiyehs, the traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians that 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.

Additionally, the groups — which also include Within Our Lifetime (WOL), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid, Columbia School of Social Work 4 Palestine (CSSW4P), and Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FJP) — have proclaimed their intention to purge Columbia’s campus of Zionists, a category which includes an overwhelming majority of Jews in the US and around the world. Their rhetoric, StandWithUs added, is unlike any uttered in the US since demonstrations against school integration in the 1950s.

“We hope the Department of Justice (DOJ) 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 on Wednesday. “Columbia President Shafik’s concession that Columbia is a hostile environment for Jewish students in violation of Title VI reflects a critical need for the current administration to take decisive action at Columbia.”

Lerman added, “We urge the DOJ to investigate the school’s failure to prevent groups and individuals on its campus from joining forces and depriving Jewish students of their civil rights, a failure that runs afoul of the KKK laws.”

SWU’s letter — sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department on Wednesday — comes amid an ongoing lawsuit the organization’s Legal Center for Justice (SCLJ) filed against Columbia University in February over its alleged failure to prevent and respond to an explosion of anti-Jewish hate incidents which have occurred on the campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, an event the protesters cheered and defended as an act of decolonization inspired by the ideas of far-left political philosophers such as Frantz Fanon.

SWU amended its complaint against Columbia in June, adding 45 students as plaintiffs and over “230 pages of allegations.” Meanwhile, the accusations which surfaced following the group’s first filing have already stained Columbia’s reputation.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” Columbia protesters chanted on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct but never facing consequences for doing so, the complaint alleges. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

The protesters later reinforced their rhetoric with violence, the complaint adds. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another allegedly attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen. Following the incidents, pleas for help went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held its demonstrations.

The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were purportedly forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, who took office in July 2023, recently attempted to assuage concerns that Columbia has become a sanctuary for antisemites after it was revealed that five high-level administrators participated in a group-chat in which ideas that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” were exchanged. She fired none of the administrators, however, which has led to calls for her to resign from office.

“We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination [sic] training for faculty and staff this fall, with related training for students under the auspices of university life,” Shafik said in statement. “Columbia’s leadership team recognizes this as an important moment to implement changes that will build a stronger institution as a result. I know that you all share this commitment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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