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Mother Against Campus Antisemitism, a new Facebook group and movement, has 42K members and counting

(JTA) — As Elizabeth Rand watched an unnerving number of incidents pile up this month at colleges where her son was considering applying, she felt she had to do something.

The longtime administrator of a Facebook group for people interested in discussing the Holocaust, Rand knew the power of online community. So the New York City lawyer, who has a son in his senior year of high school, created a new Facebook group for mothers like her.

Within days after its Oct. 26 launch, Mothers Against Campus Antisemitism was exploding with posts from across the country expressing alarm about what was happening at colleges and universities in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war in Gaza.

Mothers exhorted each other to share reports from their children’s schools. They uploaded pictures taken by their children of activities and posters they found distressing. Some make pitches for their own children’s schools where, they say, nothing but support for Israel has been expressed. Several have offered to make their own homes available as safe havens for local Jewish college students who feel unsafe on their campuses.

By Friday, the group had more than 42,000 members, all pouring out their own anxieties at a time when even the White House has decried a surge in “grotesque” antisemitic incidents and has vowed to make a plan to curb them.

“I’m just stunned by this, and I have no idea what to do,” Rand told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Wednesday. “I’m getting these messages all day, every day. I have a day job — it’s not like I can just drop what I’m doing and do this.”

Rand has begun taking steps to turn the group’s members into a movement. She recruited a communications manager, appointed a team of administrators and moderators, and scheduled a meeting with members who possess legal and nonprofit know-how. For now, everyone involved is unpaid. Her goal, she said, is to form a legal entity, potentially to represent students who have been harmed by antisemitism on their campuses.

Students from Hunter College in New York City chant and hold up signs during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the entrance of their campus on Oct. 12, 2023.(Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

If Mothers Against Campus Antisemitism enters the legal sphere, it will have company. The Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Lawfare Project each use litigation and federal complaints to pressure universities into responding more aggressively to antisemitism on their campuses. They have both announced their intention to sue over incidents that have taken place in the last month. Other pro-Israel advocacy groups have filed similar federal complaints.

“Do we join forces with a group that’s already doing it? Do we become sort of an add-on to them? I don’t know,” Rand said. “You know, I started this less than a week ago, so I don’t have all the answers.”

Multiple organizations already take responsibility for documenting and responding to antisemitism on college campuses. In addition to the legal advocacy groups, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International have partnered to catalog incidents, adopting a process that they say differentiates pro-Palestinian sentiment from anti-Zionist or antisemitic activity. On the ground, the Hillel chapters serving Jewish students on 850 campuses have been helping them cope with a challenging climate.

And Jewish on Campus, founded by a college student in the summer of 2020, harnesses student voices in the fight against campus antisemitism. That group bears certain similarities to Mothers Against Campus Antisemitism: It too was founded as a social media presence, was created to meet an anxious moment and did not enlist the backing or expertise of an established organization until later.

Julia Jassey, Jewish on Campus’ founder and CEO, said she understands the rapid emergence of Mothers Against Campus Antisemitism. She has seen the anxiety among parents even in her own family, as her younger sister applies to college this year.

“Parents are concerned for their kids, they’re concerned for their kids applying to college, they’re concerned for their kids in college,” she said. “People don’t know what to do. People want to help, and people feel helpless.”

Messages reading “Glory To Our Martyrs” and “Divestment From Zionist Genocide Now” are projected onto the side of a building on George Washington University’s campus in Washington, D.C., Oct. 24, 2023. (StopAntisemitism via X)

But Jassey cautioned that Jewish students, not their parents, are best equipped to raise awareness about antisemitism on their campuses. She also emphasized that parents making long-term decisions for their children about college enrollment based on what’s happening on a campus right now, as some in the group say they are doing, might not be helpful.

“The last thing that I would ever tell a parent or a student is not to go to a certain school because it’s antisemitic. All that will do is self-select ourselves out of spaces where we want to be able to offer our experience and perspective,” Jassey said. “It’s really more important that when students go to school, they’re educated about what antisemitism is, how to combat it and what to do when they experience it.”

The arrival onto the scene of Mothers Against Campus Antisemitism offers a window into how significantly the current moment, in which campus incidents are radiating into public view at a relentless pace, may have activated a new wave of warriors against antisemitism. While some group members are already affiliated with Jewish groups active on antisemitism issues, many others say they had never realized that antisemitism could be a challenge their college-aged children would encounter.

Rand is one of them. She said that before Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel and kicked off a war along with an international backlash against Israel, she had never been active in efforts to fight antisemitism — though as someone steeped in Holocaust conversations, she was well aware of its potential consequences.

A woman affixes a flier for Israeli hostages at Cooper Union college in New York City, a day after Jewish students there sheltered in a library during a pro-Palestinian protest, Oct. 26, 2023. (Luke Tress)

She said it was the pro-Palestinian messages projected onto the wall of a library at George Washington University, which included “Glory to the Martyrs,” that convinced her she had to do something. The pictures of student protesters carrying signs showing Israeli flags in trash cans that have pushed her to keep going.

“It just seems very simple that you don’t want your child going to a school and seeing the imagery of a Star of David in a garbage can,” Rand said. “And you certainly don’t want to pay for that. You don’t want to give somebody $60- or $80,000 a year and see that. It’s absolutely outrageous.”

For Rand, the whole experience has been dizzying and she says she’s “sort of been making this up as I go along.” She said she takes inspiration from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, formed in 1980 by a mother whose daughter was seriously injured by a drunk driver. (She would later die from her injuries.) The group was instrumental in getting the drinking age in the United States lifted from 18 to 21, and drunk driving deaths fell sharply in the wake of its activism.

“They were just a group of ordinary mothers and they really changed the world,” Rand said. “In addition to changing federal law, they made it completely and totally socially unacceptable to drink and drive. I’m old enough to remember when that was not the case. So I want to make it socially unacceptable to display Jew hatred on college campuses.”

Posts in the group offer a view into how members aim to press for action. Some are posting pictures of their responses to alumni donation requests where they say they won’t give to a school they see as supporting antisemitism — a lower-budget version of the boycotts some prominent donors have announced. Others are exhorting fellow group members to sign petitions and open letters to demand that colleges condemn Hamas and provide additional security for Jewish students. An inchoate effort is underway to create an antisemitism rating system for colleges based on what gets reported inside the group.

Debates among the group members also underscore how quickly longstanding fault lines are being recreated, particularly on the issue of whether peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrations or vocal criticism of Israel should be tolerated.

One illustrative exchange came on Thursday night. “Princeton had a huge rally calling for an intifada. Who can I contact?” one member wrote. Another answered: “Princeton also had a ProHamas teach-in. But from insiders on campus I’m being told students feel safe and cared for. Did something else happen?”

Emma Law-Oppman, an Indiana mother who trained as an attorney, is one of four administrators hand-picked by Rand to monitor and manage the flurry of activity.

Unlike Rand, Law-Oppman is a member of a synagogue and active in Jewish organizations, including the Indianapolis Jewish community relations council and the Hillel at her alma mater, Butler University. She said had long believed that antisemitism on college campuses was a problem, so she rushed to join the group even though her only child is just 4 years old.

Students from New York University hold an “NYU Funds Genocide in Gaza” sign while protesting the Israel-Hamas war during a rally as students call for a ceasefire in Gaza, on a day of student walkouts across the country. (Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“They will also be my son’s teachers. They’re building the world that my son is going to live in,” she said about students she has seen on social media calling for the destruction of Israel or rejecting criticism of Hamas. “And that scares me, frankly.”

The administrators have been hammering out rules for the group and trying to harness its energy, each day suggesting a specific action for members to take, such as signing an ADL petition and texting their representatives to support a congressional condemnation of campus antisemitism that passed on Wednesday night. “If 40,000 people call a state governor, or 40,000 people call a school administration, or 40,000 people read an email, or 40,000 people do anything, that’s hard to ignore,” Rand said.

The moderators have also been trying to root out posts that they believe would inappropriately divide group members. “The big thing right now is we’re focused on concrete, positive social action,” Law-Oppman said. “We’ve made it very clear that you don’t tolerate any hatred, bigotry or political infighting. Our sole focus is protecting and supporting our collective children from hatred and ignorance and violence.”

In addition to organizing parents, Law-Oppman said she thought Mothers Against Campus Antisemitism could be a useful complement to the activism that students are already engaged in.

“Kids in college are kind of figuring out their relationship with their parents as adults and where they fit into their adulthood, and sometimes that means that parents aren’t getting information from their kids directly,” she said. “So if this provides a space where parents can know what’s happening on campus without helicoptering that’s also a gift to parents.”

From left to right, Jewish students Eli Shmidman, Noa Fay, Yoni Kurtz and Jessie Brenner speak at a press conference at Columbia University in New York City, Oct. 30, 2023. (Courtesy)

Law-Oppman said she thought the group could ultimately end up connecting students with legal counsel, including through existing groups, or to be a resource for families trying to figure out how to respond with antisemitism at their children’s schools. But she said it’s already fulfilling an essential purpose.

“It’s a place for parents specifically to come and seek the emotional support and community that I think we all need right now,” she said. “I think how quickly it grew is a testament to that fact, right? We’re all seeking that community.”

To keep that community cohesive, Rand is determined that the group not pick a side in longstanding fights over whether antisemitism is a bigger problem on the right or the left, even as she sees them spill over into the posts.

“There’s a lot of politics and I kind of wish it would stop,” she said. “I don’t really want to be political at all. I’m pretty middle of the road. …  I don’t really want to go there. I want us to just stay focused on what’s important, which to me is just keeping your kids safe.”

Rand is aware that her group’s acronym bears an unmistakable resemblance to that of another movement that is decidedly political, including about Israel. “It’s been brought up time and again that people here feel the group acronym MACA bears too much resemblance to MAGA,” she wrote in a post late Thursday night.

But she said her group’s name had already caught on – and she hoped it would outlast the current political moment. “Twenty years from now there will be students who have never heard of MAGA,” she wrote. “But with any luck, they’ll hear about us and know that we are there for them always.”

The post Mother Against Campus Antisemitism, a new Facebook group and movement, has 42K members and counting appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

We’ve produced a collection of feature articles four times a year since 2022. A special edition of this magazine will appear in mid-September—with reflections on the Jewish year that was. And in December, look out for a reimagined publication with a name of its own. Get future copies delivered to your door as a thank-you […]

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Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl

Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a meeting with people at a hall on the seashore in Gaza City. Photo: Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/Sipa via Reuters Connect

A senior US official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is the Palestinian terrorist group’s ultimate decision maker and has little interest in reaching a ceasefire deal with Israel, in testimony before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, there’s one guy 10 stories below the ground: a psychopath, messianic in his own belief that he has established himself in history, and [he believes that] there’s a sunk cost of having lost thousands of fighters and carnage in Gaza,” said Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

Sinwar, the top Hamas official in Gaza and the mastermind behind the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has reportedly been hiding in Hamas’ extensive network of underground tunnels during Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the coastal enclave.

Leaf’s comments echo others made by Biden administration officials.

In April, a US official told reporters that Sinwar is single-handedly holding up any progress on a potential hostage deal.

The senior Biden administration official said that while Hamas’ political bureau has shown some willingness to compromise on the terrorist group’s most hardline positions, Sinwar’s maximalist demands continuously win out.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7] than secure a ceasefire, and that’s just the truth of the situation,” the official said.

Leaf, in her testimony on Tuesday, said that Qatar — where many top Hamas political officials are based — has been “squeezing” the group — though to little effect, according to a report from Axios.

“There’s a cadre of political officials of Hamas in Doha, and boy do they squeeze them, I can assure you they squeeze them,” Leaf said.

Israel has described Hamas’ response to the new US ceasefire proposal as total rejection. But efforts to secure an agreement are still continuing, according to mediators in Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

The Axios report added that Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani met on Tuesday in Doha — Qatar’s capital — with senior Hamas officials in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the talks about the hostage and ceasefire deal.

Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.

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Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed the US was still withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Washington to remove restrictions on arms deliveries to the Jewish state and asserted that the top American diplomat had assured him the Biden administration was working to lift any halts on weapons.

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

However, he added, the administration is committed to making sure “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Netanyahu posted a video online earlier in the day in which he lamented that the US recently paused a weapons shipment to Israel and threatened to block more but said Blinken told him that Washington was seeking to end any halts on arms deliveries.

“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciated the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

“But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he continued. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

The Israeli premier then asserted that Blinken told him the issue would be addressed.

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” Netanyahu said. “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case. During World War II, Churchill told the US: ‘Give us the tools; we’ll do the job.’ And I say, ‘Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job much faster.’”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, both the White House and the US State Department refuted his apparent claim that Washington was withholding more than a single shipment of bombs.

“Everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

The White House echoed Blinken’s comments, saying that only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs had been withheld and nothing else.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We just don’t.”

Jean-Pierre added that the US and Israel have been having discussions about the release of the shipment but that there was no update at this time.

“There are no other pauses, none,” Jean-Pierre said. “No other pauses or holds in place.”

On Monday, unconfirmed reports in both Israeli and German media said that during Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken in Jerusalem last week, the Israeli premier urged the US to return the frequency of its arms shipments to the level immediately after Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched the war in Gaza with its massacre across southern Israel. According to the reports, Blinken said that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

Netanyahu also reportedly warned Blinken that the slowing of aid and the perception of America’s weakened support for Israel benefits Iran and its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including Hamas, emboldening them to intensify attacks against Israel and potentially resulting in a broader regional war.

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure from Democrats, especially those on the progressive left, to condition if not outright withhold US military support for Israel. Critics of Israel have argued the Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed too many civilians and led to a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. Israel has said Hamas is to blame for starting the war, stealing aid, and intentionally placing its operation centers inside or underneath civilian sites.

Hamas started the war with its surprise invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others as hostages. Israel responded with its ongoing campaign aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas, which rules Gaza.

In recent months, the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s operations both in public and private, pressuring Jerusalem to change its military strategy and seek a ceasefire.

The issue came to a head last month, when Biden announced that it would cease a bomb shipment to Israel and threatened to halt more weapons deliveries if the Israeli army launched an offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza and Hamas’ last major military stronghold.

I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN.

Israeli officials and experts have said operating in Rafah is essential to eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions. Netanyahu said the Jewish state appreciates US support but “will stand alone” if necessary.

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