(JTA) — Over the course of a week, three synagogues across the United States were tagged with anti-Israel and antisemitic graffiti.
The vandalism follows weeks of similar defacement at a variety of American Jewish sites, including cemeteries, Chabad Jewish centers, and Jewish buildings on university campuses. The incidents occurred more than a month into the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which has come alongside a reported spike in antisemitism nationwide.
The recent vandalism targeted synagogues affiliated with three different religious denominations. In Washington state, the FBI is investigating anti-Israel vandalism on Nov. 22 at Herzl-Ner Tamid, a Conservative synagogue in the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island. About 20% of the island’s households identify as Jewish, the Seattle Times reported.
The graffiti, which was spray-painted in red and black in several places across the exterior of the synagogue, included phrases such as “Stop killing,” “Shame on Israel” and “You know better.” The incident follows an FBI investigation into the delivery of suspicious packages to at least five Jewish institutions in the Seattle area. Four of the five envelopes contained white powder, and all five have been determined to be non-hazardous, according to the Seattle Times.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Los Angeles, was also the site of anti-Israel graffiti reading, “Israel bombs, we pay,” according to a post by Forward reporter Louis Keene on X. A representative of the synagogue did not respond to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for comment.
And on Nov. 21 at Romemu, a Jewish Renewal congregation on New York’s Upper West Side, a vandal left antisemitic and white supremacist symbols on the door last Tuesday, including a swastika, a hammer and sickle, a Star of David, and multiple Ks, presumably a reference to the Ku Klux Klan, among other symbols. Law enforcement identified the perpetrator as a person with cognitive impairment who was already known to the police,and said the individual posed no further threat.
The graffiti has already been removed, and in an email sent to community members on Wednesday, Romemu executive director Jeffrey Cahn and Rabbi David Ingber said the incident had already been reported to the NYPD’s hate crimes unit, UJA-Federation’s Community Service Initiative and the ADL.
“These symbols of hate will not deter us from our mission of love, acceptance, and understanding,” Cahn and Ingber wrote in an earlier email Tuesday, alerting the community of the incident. “We are resolute in our commitment to building a world where prejudice has no place, and where the power of compassion and unity prevails.”
This week has seen more vandalism of a Jewish sacred space. On Monday afternoon, a Boston man was charged with multiple counts of destruction of property, destruction of a place of worship, and defacing a burial site for vandalizing the New England Holocaust Memorial in that city as well as the graves of Paul Revere and 19 others.
The acts of vandalism come amid what law enforcement and Jewish security agencies say is a rise in anti-Jewish activity. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 388% rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23 compared with the previous year. Between those dates, 190 out of 312 recorded antisemitic incidents were “directly linked to the war in Israel and Gaza” the ADL’s Center on Extremism reported.
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US Announces New Sanctions Against Iran-Backed Entities Including Hamas
The United States on Monday announced new sanctions against a range of individuals and entities associated with Hamas, Iran and other Iran-backed terrorist groups around the region.
The sanctioned entities include an Iraqi airline and Hamas fundraising and financial networks in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“Hamas has sought to leverage a variety of financial transfer mechanisms, including the exploitation of cryptocurrency, to channel funds to support the group’s terrorist activities,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson, in a statement announcing the fifth round of sanctions imposed by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) since the Hamas pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7 last year.
“Treasury, in close coordination with our allies and partners, will continue to leverage our authorities to target Hamas, its financiers, and its international financial infrastructure,” Nelson added.
One of the sanctioned networks is known as the Shamlakh Network, run by the Gaza-based Shamlakh family.
According to OFAC, “members of the Shamlakh family have become the main end point for funds transferred from [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza.” It explained that “Gaza-based financial facilitator Zuhair Shamlakh is a Gaza-based moneychanger who facilitates funds transfers in the tens of millions of dollars from Iran to Hamas. Zuhair has used his companies Al-Markaziya Li-Siarafa (Al-Markaziya) and Arab China Trading Company to channel funds for the Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades (al-Qassam Brigades), the military wing of Hamas.”
The second network is known as the Herzallah Network, which has been engaged in the illicit transfer of Hamas funds from Gaza to the West Bank through the Gaza-based Herzallah Exchange and General Trading Company LLC. The network was being targeted “for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to Hamas,” OFAC noted.
Separately, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller announced sanctions against the Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad and its CEO for supporting the IRGC-QF and Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
“The IRGC-QF and Iran-aligned militia groups pose a significant threat to the Middle East region,” Miller said. “Kata’ib Hezbollah has been responsible for a series of drone and missile attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria since Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel on October 7.”
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Norman Jewison, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ director and lifelong friend of the Jews, dies at 97
(JTA) – In a 2022 documentary on the making of the 1971 film “Fiddler on the Roof,” Norman Jewison relayed a by-now familiar anecdote: When producers of the Broadway musical approached him for the directing job, he had to sheepishly inform them that he wasn’t actually Jewish.
He got the job anyway, leading generations of Jewish families watching “Fiddler” to associate that big title card displaying the “Jewison” name with a fellow member of the tribe.
Bringing Anatevka to vivid, pulsating life was one of many career highlights for the Canadian filmmaker, who died Saturday at age 97. Jewison, a Toronto native, helmed several other iconic films in his long, distinguished career, including “Moonstruck,” “In The Heat of the Night,” “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “The Hurricane” — many of them shining light on pressing social matters like racism and other forms of bigotry. He was nominated for seven Oscars, two of them for “Fiddler” (best picture and best director). He directed a lot of musicals, including “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and returned to Jewish concerns for his swan song, the 2003 thriller “The Statement,” which takes place during the Holocaust.
But his work on “Fiddler” sealed Jewison’s reputation among Jewish viewers. He earned the job on the basis of his work on the Cold War satire “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” starring Carl Reiner and Alan Arkin, with producers reasoning that the director had what it took to convincingly depict Russian life to Westerners.
Holding the reins to Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein’s Broadway smash adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s classic folktales, Jewison went all-in on verisimilitude. He filmed “Fiddler” in the former Yugoslavia and got Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who starred as Tevye in the West End production, to reprise his role on screen (not without some controversy over bypassing better-known Broadway star Zero Mostel).
At three hours in length, with elaborate musical set pieces and additional scoring by John Williams, “Fiddler” was a classic Hollywood roadshow production that also was be a bittersweet depiction of a Jewish world wiped out by pogroms and the Holocaust — a formula not necessarily guaranteed to hook a general audience. But the gambit paid off, and “Fiddler” became the highest-grossing film of the year and a perennial staple in the homes of Ashkenazi Jews and others.
Over the years Jewison would deny rumors that he had considered converting to Judaism. But he took his connection to the Jewish story seriously. In that same 2022 documentary, he also shared that he had a Jewish wedding in 2010, to his second wife Lynne St. David Jewison. The wedding included a rabbi and a chuppah.
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Only One University Adopts Leading Antisemitism Definition 2023, New Report Says
Only one American higher education institution adopted the world’s leading definition of antisemitism in 2023, according to a new report by Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), a US antisemitism watchdog.
“Only Boston University’s student government has adopted the IHRA working definition in 2023,” CAM said on Monday in a statement. “These figures help put into context the atmosphere on college campuses that led to high-profile incidents of antisemitism on the campuses of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the George Washington University, Cooper Union College, and Cornell University, just to name a few.”
First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations and is supported by lawmakers across the political spectrum.
As previously reported by The Algemeiner, antisemitism on college campuses surged to record levels after Hamas massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, including demonstrations calling for Israel’s destruction and the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students. Elite universities have been among the biggest hubs of such activity, with students and faculty both demonizing Israel and rationalizing the Hamas atrocities. Incidents of harassment and even violence against Jewish students also increased. As a result, Jewish students have expressed feeling unsafe and unprotected on campuses. In some cases, Jewish communities on campuses have been forced to endure threats of rape and mass slaughter.
At Harvard University, anti-Zionism escalated to antisemitic harassment when a mob of anti-Israel activists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review whose alumni includes former US President Barack Obama — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student on campus, according to videos that went viral across social media. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.
At Cornell University, an individual posted on a social media forum that is popular with students messages calling for the murder and rape of Jews. In addition to threatening the lives of Cornell’s 3,500 Jewish students, who are around 22 percent of the school’s student population, the posts called for an attack on a campus kosher dining hall, which forced campus officials to shutter the property.
“American colleges need to be proactive in helping Jewish students feel safe and accepted on campus, when nearly three quarters of Jewish college students have experience antisemitism since the beginning of the school year. We must take action,” CAM CEO Sacha Roytman said. “The best path forward includes robust educational programs that raise awareness about antisemitism, including the incorporation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, so schools as well as local, state, and federal governments can properly identify, monitor, and act on antisemitic incidents.”
US higher education institutions are not the only ones declining to adopt the IHRA definition. Last August, UK based nonprofit Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) reported that it has yet to be embraced by 43 of Britain’s leading universities, including University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which has for years been the site of numerous antisemitic incidents. In 2016, for example, its Palestine Society hosted a lecture in which the featured speaker compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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