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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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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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