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‘Maus’ evades a ban in Iowa after school district cites ‘ambiguity’ in new state law

(JTA) — A new Iowa state law forbidding instruction on sexual and gender identity prompted one school district this week to briefly order staff to remove Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and hundreds of other books from its shelves.

But days later following national outrage, the district reversed course, issuing a trimmed-down list of 65 books for removal that contained neither “Maus,” nor several other Jewish-themed books on the first list.

The quick about-face in Urbandale Schools, a suburb of Des Moines, was the latest example of the confusing and often contradictory landscape for Jewish texts amid the growing nationwide “parents’ rights” movement targeting what its proponents say are inappropriate books in schools. In Iowa and other states, that movement has fueled legislation targeting educators who distribute content that could be interpreted as sexual.

“We have determined that there is ambiguity regarding the extent to which books that contain topics related to gender identity and sexual orientation need to be removed from libraries,” the district’s superintendent, Rosalie Daca, wrote in a memo to staff Thursday that an Urbandale spokesperson shared with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

As such,” the memo continued with bolded emphasis, “we will pause removing books that reference gender identity and sexual orientation until we receive guidance from the Iowa Department of Education.” 

The memo followed one from earlier this week that, as reported in the Des Moines Register, instructed staff to comb their libraries for more than 300 books in potential violation of the law, including “Maus,” Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” the Holocaust novel “Sophie’s Choice” and Jewish author Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play for adults, “Angels in America.” That initial list prompted a passionate response from the literary free-expression advocacy group PEN America, which implored the district not to follow through with its removals.

In pointed language, administrators blamed the state’s education department for issuing vague and unclear guidance for how to comply with the new law, which Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, signed in May and is scheduled to take effect in January 2024. The law states that it is “prohibiting instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation in school districts” and also forbids “any material with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.”

It’s unclear how “Maus” wound up on the initial list of books flagged for removal, or how the district’s decision not to touch books related to “gender identity and sexual orientation” resulted in a stay of execution for Spiegelman’s book. “Maus” recounts the author’s parents’ traumatic experiences surviving the Holocaust, and doesn’t contain any discussion of gender or sexual identity. It does contain a single panel of a nude mouse representing Spiegelman’s mother after she dies by suicide. 

The same image previously provoked the ire of a Tennessee school board, which removed “Maus” from its district’s middle-school curriculum over the image last year and catapulted the book into the center of the nationwide book-ban debate. Districts in Missouri also previously removed or considered removing “Maus” over the wording of a new state law forbidding the distribution of explicit materials.

Daca’s memo noted that the Urbandale district compiled its initial list of books by culling “book lists from other states who had passed similar laws.” The district did not respond to follow-up questions about ”Maus.” 

Other Jewish books that have been rescued from district-wide book removals include “The Fixer” in South Carolina and “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” in Texas, though other districts in Florida have permanently removed the Anne Frank adaptation as well as a Holocaust novel by Jodi Picoult and a picture book about Purim featuring a same-sex couple.

One Jewish-themed book that remains on Urbandale’s removal list is Andre Aciman’s novel “Call Me by Your Name,” which details a Jewish LGBTQ youth’s coming of age and is decidedly more explicit in its description of sexual acts.


The post ‘Maus’ evades a ban in Iowa after school district cites ‘ambiguity’ in new state law appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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US House Passes $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package, Sends to Senate

House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks to members of the media at the Capitol building, April 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday with broad bipartisan support passed a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from Republican hardliners.

The legislation now proceeds to the Democratic-majority Senate, which passed a similar measure more than two months ago. U.S. leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell had been urging embattled Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure next week, sending it to Biden to sign into law.

The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish U.S. weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his thanks, saying U.S. lawmakers moved to keep “history on the right track.”

“The vital U.S. aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger,” Zelensky said on X.

It was unclear how quickly the new military funding for Ukraine will be depleted, likely causing calls for further action by Congress.

Biden, who had urged Congress since last year to approve the additional aid to Ukraine, said in a statement: “It comes at a moment of grave urgency, with Israel facing unprecedented attacks from Iran and Ukraine under continued bombardment from Russia.”

The vote on passage of the Ukraine funding was 311-112. But significantly, 112 Republicans opposed the legislation, with only 101 in support.

“Mike Johnson is a lame duck… he’s done,” far-right Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters afterward.

She has been a leading opponent of helping Ukraine in its war against Russia and has taken steps that threaten to remove Johnson from office over this issue. Greene stopped short of doing so on Saturday, however.

During the vote, several lawmakers waved small Ukrainian flags as it became clear that element of the package was headed to passage. Johnson warned lawmakers that was a “violation of decorum.”

Meanwhile, the House’s actions during a rare Saturday session put on display some cracks in what generally is solid support for Israel within Congress. Recent months have seen leftist Democrats express anger with Israel‘s government and its conduct of the war in Gaza.

But Saturday’s vote, in which the Israel aid was passed 366-58, had 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans in opposition.

Passage of the long-awaited legislation was closely watched by U.S. defense contractors, who could be in line for huge contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other U.S. partners.

Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hardline members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes Ukraine funding as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion.

The unusual four-bill package also includes a measure that includes a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.

Some hardline Republicans voicing strong opposition to further Ukraine aid argued the United States can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hardliners.

“It’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations.”

Representative Bob Good, chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a “slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and (Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don’t reflect the American people.”

But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine’s survival is important for the U.S.

The post US House Passes $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package, Sends to Senate first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Amid Increased Pressure, Hamas Leadership Reportedly Mulls Leaving Qatar

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani makes statements to the media with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 13, 2023. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

i24 NewsThe political leadership mulls moving its base of operations out of Qatar, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. It is understood the Gulf state is increasingly pressurizing the terror chiefs to accept a hostage-for-truce deal with Israel.

The report quoted an unnamed Middle Eastern official as saying the Hamas politburo chiefs were mulling a move to Oman.

“The talks have already stalled again with barely any signs or prospects for them to resume any time soon, and distrust is rising between Hamas and the negotiators,” the source was quoted as saying.

“The possibility of the talks being upended entirely is very real,” another Arab official told WSJ.

The post Amid Increased Pressure, Hamas Leadership Reportedly Mulls Leaving Qatar first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Abbas Threatens Ties with U.S. After UN Membership Bid Veto

PA President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank August 18, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/Pool

i24 NewsIn a recent interview with the official WAFA news agency, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a stern warning, indicating that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would reassess its bilateral relations with the United States following Washington’s veto of a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership.

While Abbas has made similar threats in the past without following through, his latest remarks underscore growing frustration within the Palestinian leadership over perceived U.S. support for Israel and the ongoing conflict in the region.

In the interview, conducted in Arabic and later translated, Abbas criticized the US for its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He accused the Biden administration of siding with the occupation and failing to uphold international law. Abbas emphasized that while the world supports Palestinian rights, the US continues to provide unwavering support to Israel, including military aid that “contributes to the suffering of Palestinians.”

Abbas’s remarks reflect a deepening rift between the Palestinian leadership and the US, particularly over issues such as Israel’s annexation policies and the status of Jerusalem.

He lamented the US’s abandonment of its promises and commitments, particularly regarding the two-state solution and achieving peace in the region.

The PA leader also highlighted the significance of Jerusalem, emphasizing its status as a red line that cannot be crossed. While underscoring the city’s Islamic and Christian sanctities, Abbas did not acknowledge Judaism’s historical ties to Jerusalem.

The post Abbas Threatens Ties with U.S. After UN Membership Bid Veto first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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