(JTA) – Elon Musk is famous for cracking down on staffers who criticize him, whether at Tesla, the electric car company he owns, or at X, the social media platform he purchased and renamed from Twitter.
So his confession to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the pair’s livestreamed conversation on Monday was notable.
“I, to be frank, probably got the most negative pushback from people at Tesla about this interview than anything else I’ve ever done,” Musk said.
Netanyahu and Musk entered the conversation dogged by criticism, Musk over his inflammatory statements about a Jewish civil rights group that has sought to tamp down hate speech on X and Netanyahu over his government’s efforts to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. In that context, Monday’s conversation was perhaps an opportunity for the two men — both right-wingers who trumpet the promises of technology — to find respite in a friendly conversation. Netanyahu wore a dark suit with an Israeli flag lapel pin. Musk, also the CEO of SpaceX, wore a partially unbuttoned white shirt and blue blazer with a patch that appeared to show spacecraft.
Israeli tech workers abroad, many living in the San Francisco Bay Area where the conversation took place, have been leaders in the movement of expats against the judicial overhaul. Musk mentioned anti-Netanyahu protests in San Francisco as he let Netanyahu know that he had faced criticism for choosing to sit down with the Israeli prime minister.
Local Jewish leaders in the Bay Area say the prime minister declined to meet with them during his visit to the area, which precedes his appearance at the United Nations in New York later in the week. The area’s Jewish Community Relations Council, which tried to set up a meeting with Netanyahu, sent him a letter referencing Musk’s inflammatory statements.
“We hope that you use your position of leadership to press for sorely needed reforms to protect Jews and other minorities from rising hate online,” the letter said. “Just last week, X owner Elon Musk fanned the flames of antisemitism by demonizing the Anti-Defamation League and amplifying white supremacist conspiracies.”
The letter also said that any changes to Israel’s judicial system need to occur via consensus, and urged the prime minister “to work with the president and opposition leaders to heal today’s divides and forge a unified path.”
Speaking with Musk, Netanyahu laid out his defense of the judicial overhaul, saying it was an effort to curb “the most activist judicial court on the planet,” and that he hoped to be a moderate consensus-builder. He added, “Israel will always be a democratic country.”
Regarding the protesters, Netanyahu said his conversation with Musk was “a good opportunity to tell people who are protesting, too, at least so they know what they’re protesting about. Because I think many of them don’t know. And there’s a concerted effort to make sure they don’t know.”
The two men appeared to get along, riffing on James Bond and “The Terminator,” and expressing admiration for Jewish science-fiction author Isaac Asimov. Musk also reminded the audience that he briefly attended a Hebrew preschool as a child in South Africa, and quipped, “I can sing a pretty good ‘Hava Nagila.’” At one point, Netanyahu asked what Musk would do if he were the “unofficial president” of the United States. (Musk, who was born in South Africa, is ineligible to become U.S. president.)
But Netanyahu also used the conversation to gently push Musk to consider how he can balance combating hate and maintaining a commitment to free speech on X.
The conversation followed accusations of antisemitism against Musk after he spent the past two weeks lambasting the Anti-Defamation League, which he blames for tanking X’s ad revenue, and threatening litigation against the Jewish civil rights group. During that time, he has also engaged with white supremacists on the platform. On Sunday, he posted that George Soros, the progressive Jewish megadonor and frequent target of antisemitic conspiracy theories, seeks “the destruction of western civilization.”
“I know your commitment to free speech. I respect that because it’s the foundational thing of democracies, really,” Netanyahu said. “But I also know your opposition to antisemitism. You’ve spoken about it, you’ve tweeted about it. And all I can say is I hope you can find within the confines of the First Amendment the ability to stop not only antisemitism, or roll it back as best you can, but any collective hatred of a people that antisemitism represents. And I know you’re committed to that. I hope you succeed in it. It’s not an easy task. But I encourage and urge you to find a balance. It’s a tough one.”
Musk responded that he is “against attacking any group. Doesn’t matter who it is.”
He added, “I’m in favor of that which furthers civilization and which ultimately leads us to become a space-bearing civilization where we understand the nature of the universe. So we can’t do that if there’s a lot of infighting and hatred and negativity. Obviously I’m against antisemitism.”
The conversation segued into a referendum on civilization. “If someone were, say, completely self-centered, how would you feel if you don’t have civilization?” Musk said. “It’s very easy to figure out. Just go into the forest with nothing. See how long you want to live there.”
“See how long you live. You’ll die very quickly,” Netanyahu said.
“I know, exactly,” Musk replied. “So, civilization, as it turns out, is pretty nice.”
The event had been marketed primarily as a chance to discuss the broader implications of artificial intelligence, which Netanyahu has previously discussed on the phone with Musk. They also participated in a roundtable discussion on artificial intelligence that also included Greg Brockman, the president and co-founder of artificial-intelligence company OpenAI, and Max Tegmark, a futurist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor whose father is Jewish.
Musk has connections to both men: He was a founding board member of OpenAI and is a funder of Tegmark’s organization, the Future of Life Institute, which last year reportedly offered a grant to a Swedish pro-Nazi newspaper. During the roundtable, Netanyahu praised a book Tegmark wrote without mentioning his connection to the Nazi outlet.
Netanyahu sat on the sidelines of the A.I. roundtable that followed his conversation with Musk. The guests, Brockman and Tegmark, afforded Netanyahu little attention, beyond a brief mention by Brockman of the many Israelis who work at Open AI. At multiple points, the prime minister tried to press them on whether the advancement of A.I. technology would lead to a “concentration of power that will create a bigger and bigger distance between the haves and the have-nots,” but none of the futurists offered much sympathy for this point, and Tegmark likened Netanyahu’s concern to worrying about “hunter-gatherers” during the Industrial Revolution.
During their one-on-one conversation, Musk told Netanyahu that he thought A.I. was “potentially the biggest civilizational threat.”
“When you’re talking about having something that is an intelligence far in excess of the smartest human on earth, you have to say at that point, who’s in charge?” he added. “Is it the computers or the humans?”
Netanyahu hopes to position Israel as an A.I. industry leader, joking at one point, “You know what A.I. stands for. It stands for America and Israel, obviously.” He called the looming influence of A.I. “a choice between two things, a blessing and a curse,” comparing the dilemma to one posed by Moses when he “steered the children of Israel to the promised land.”
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Juan Bradman, Cuban-Jewish exile whose life inspired a novel, dies at 90
(JTA) — Juan Bradman was still in his twenties when he became a circuit judge in rural Cuba, traveling among the provinces.
But in1962, after the communist takeover by Fidel Castro, he and his wife Pola fled Cuba for the United States with their daughter Miriam, who had just celebrated her first birthday.
Years later, Miriam Bradman Abrahams would remember her parents’ story of exodus and exile in the forward to a novel inspired by their lives. “The Incident at San Miguel,” written by A.J. Sidransky, was published in March.
“They would leave behind all they knew for another climate, language and culture,” she wrote of her parents. “They could barely imagine the enormity of what faced them. This leaving and arriving, setting down roots and then suddenly having to pull them up to survive, has been part of Jewish DNA for millennia. It is the biblical story of Abraham, Noah, Joseph and Moses.”
Juan Bradman, who lived in Brooklyn, died Sept 23, at the age of 90.
In many ways, Bradman’s was an archetypal story of the more than 90% of Jews who, having found a refuge in Cuba from hardship in Europe, fled once again after Castro’s revolution. After leaving Cuba and putting down roots first in Yonkers, New York and later Brooklyn, Bradman refused to return to Cuba, harboring fears about his safety and his family’s in the country from which he fled. Yet he remained connected to the country by his brother, Salomon, who supported the revolution and chose to remain after the communist takeover.
Despite their political differences and years of estrangement, when the Cuban government opened travel for Cuban citizens to the United States in 2001, Juan sponsored Salomon and his wife for a month’s visit in Brooklyn. (Salomon died in 2012.)
A fictionalized version of their reunion, as well as Juan’s brief encounter with Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, are featured in ”The Incident at San Miguel.”
Bradman never lost his bitterness over Castro’s takeover of the country, which replaced the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista with years of deepening repression and economic malaise.
“Fidel was a ruthless Stalinist dictator with a charismatic personality,” Bradman told his daughter after Castro’s death in 2016. “He destroyed the island, running it as his own personal domain. I thank Castro for being the reason we came here. We would not have lived the same quality of life, had we stayed there. History should remember him as a tyrant rather than as a hero or savior. There is an end to everything, and I hope this is the beginning of the end of communism in Cuba.”
Juan Bradman was born on June 24, 1933, the son of Rifka and Yechezkiel Bradman. He and his wife Pola’s parents were refugees from Poland and Belarus. Bradman studied law at the Universidad de Havana before it was closed by the government; he later completed his law degree through the “back door,” according to his family. A stint as a lawyer at the National Bank of Cuba was cut short by political upheaval in Cuba, and in 1959 he was appointed a traveling judge for constituents in the Cuban countryside.
In 1962, he, his wife and daughter fled Cuba “with nothing but six cigars in his pocket, one suitcase of clothes, and a smuggled law degree,” according to a family obituary. “On arriving in Miami, Juan was questioned by immigration authorities to clear up a case of mistaken identity of a cousin with the same name.”
The family continued on to the Yonkers home of an aunt who served as their sponsor, and later settled in Midwood, Brooklyn. Unable to practice law in the United States, he earned a degree from Columbia University, and later a master’s degree in social work. After retiring as a social worker he trained as a docent at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, where he taught about the Holocaust and shared his immigrant background with visitors.
Bradman was an active member of his synagogue’s Men’s Club and served on the board of his children’s school, Yeshiva Rambam.
Survivors include his wife and his daughters, Sheila Feirstein and Miriam Bradman Abrahams.
In her forward to the novel based on her parents’ lives, Bradman Abrahams wrote about the ways their parents’ Cuban, American and Jewish identities shaped the lives of their daughters.
“My parents valued education above all else,” she remembered. “Brooklyn’s public schools were not the best back then. Our parents chose to enroll my sister and me in Jewish day school. How I think, speak and react today, what I cook and eat, how I communicate with my parents, my husband, grown kids, and community are a direct result of being tri-lingual and tri-cultural.”
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A suburban NJ megamall is offering gender-segregated swimming to accommodate its Orthodox clientele
(JTA) — Featuring 15 water slides, cabanas and an enormous wave pool, the largest indoor water park in the United States is open to all customers almost every day of the year.
The calendar for the DreamWorks Water Park at American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, features blackout dates a couple weeks from now, corresponding to two weekdays in the middle of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot. But while the park’s website says “No Tickets available,” that isn’t actually the case.
Patrons can head over to an Instagram page affiliated with the mall and aimed at Jewish visitors, called “L’chaim American Dream,” where they will see water park tickets being sold at $79 a pop for those very dates — Oct. 2 and 4.
But there’s a twist: The tickets are technically for a private event at the water park, hosted by a separate company that will segregate attendees by gender. On Oct. 2, the park is open to women only and two days later, is open only to men.
The gender-segregated hours are meant to serve haredi Orthodox Jews who abide by strict modesty laws prohibiting men and women from wearing revealing clothing — such as bathing suits — in public. Having separate times for men and women would enable customers to use the waterpark without running afoul of their Jewish observance.
It’s one of the many ways the mall, which opened in 2020, caters to an Orthodox clientele — along with a food court with 13 kosher restaurants and a department store with clothes that adhere to Orthodox standards of modest dress. Accessible to Orthodox communities in Brooklyn, New Jersey and upstate New York and housing a host of activities appropriate for young children, American Dream has made itself into a top destination for Orthodox families. Families are expected to flood to its attractions — including miniature golf courses, ice skating, a theme park and more — during the intermediate days of Sukkot, when haredi yeshivas are typically closed and outings are de rigueur.
In its outdoor spaces, the mall will house multiple sukkahs, the temporary huts erected during the holiday where many Jews eat their meals during the holiday. But the water park’s gender-segregated hours represent the most substantive change planned for the holiday — and to some potential visitors, they are welcome.
“Most women to the right of left-wing Modern Orthodox would seek out this kind of arrangement in order to swim,” said Rifka Wein Harris, a haredi attorney who has advocated for changes in the way Orthodox Jews are portrayed in the media. Otherwise, she said, “I would only swim in a women’s-only environment that was not subject to public view,” such as one that was “gated or enclosed or indoors, around other women.”
Yet for those who advocate for Orthodox women’s inclusion, gender segregation on a weekday afternoon at a large suburban mall has set off alarm bells.
“Individuals can make their own decisions as to how they want to conduct their religious practice,” said Daphne Lazar Price, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “But to have a large corporate entity make these kinds of decisions for everyone is problematic.”
The waterpark has offered men- and women-only hours in the past, geared toward Orthodox customers on Sukkot, as well as on Hanukkah and the intermediate days of Passover. On those holidays, as on the intermediate days of Sukkot, observant Jews aren’t prohibited from engaging in commerce or swimming, and their children are generally off of school.
But in the past, those opportunities have been offered at night, after the park’s normal hours of business. This is the first time when it will be gender-segregated during the day.
“This is really the first time we’re doing something during daytime hours, which is usually open for the public,” said a representative of American Dream who responded to a JTA inquiry but declined to give their name or title. “You’re expecting that most of the public or the kids are in school and not coming during that time. “We’re able to close it, close up for gender-separated hours, during these specific days.”
The mall is operated by Triple Five Group, a Canadian conglomerate owned by the Ghermezian family, who are Jewish and also own the Mall of America. In this case, the gender-segregated days are being run under the auspices of a private company that rented the water park for those hours, according to the American Dream representative, who declined to disclose the company’s name.
For some haredi customers, the accommodation is welcome. “This is our [only] chance to go swimming at all, other than the bungalow colony,” Wein Harris said, referring to summer vacation complexes in upstate New York that often offer separate swimming hours to accommodate Orthodox guests. “And for people like me who don’t have a bungalow, we never swim.”
But Lazar Price says the gender-segregated hours are of a piece with “alarming growing trends” she has witnessed — and she isn’t alone. Elana Sztokman, a feminist activist and sociologist, has watched with concern as Orthodox magazines and advertisements have declined to show women’s faces. Now, it seems to her that American Dream is encouraging a communal impulse to separate genders in a way that, she says, will abet the exclusion of women.
“Suddenly what it means to be religious for a man means to be in a completely woman-free world. You can’t have women on the streets, you can’t have women near you,” she added. “These dynamics tell you that this has nothing to do with protecting women. It has to do with creating women free-zones so that men don’t have to deal with the fact that women exist.”
Gender segregation in public spaces has long been hotly debated in Israel, which has a large haredi community with political representation that sits in the current right-wing government. Some public buses in Israel have enforced gender separation, and there has been a proposal to have some publicly maintained natural springs do so at times.
Sztokman, who lives in Israel, sees a common thread between the policy at American Dream mall and the separation of men and women in her country.
“I feel like what’s happening in America is an extension of this because the haredi communities are connected; the religious communities are connected. If one practice becomes a norm then in one place, then the other communities have to ‘keep up with the Cohens’ kind of thing,” Sztokman said. “You can’t be less religious than your religious cousin across the ocean. You have to keep up.”
In the United States, institutions that attempt to enforce gender segregation in order to appeal to haredi customers have, in the past, run afoul of the law. In 2018, a federal appeals court ruled that an over-55 condominium complex in the heavily Orthodox city of Lakewood, New Jersey, was in violation of the Fair Housing Act because it offered separate swimming hours for men and women. Three non-Orthodox residents, including a married couple, filed a lawsuit against the complex after they were fined for refusing to get out of the pool when coed swimming hours had finished.
But when it comes to public accommodations such as publicly accessible swimming pools, the law appears to be different, said Michael Helfand, a scholar of religious law and religious liberty at Pepperdine University who is also a legal adviser to a branch of the Orthodox Union.
“Generally you can’t do this,” Helfand said. “But New Jersey has an exception that allows this kind of gender separation, gender exclusion under some circumstances.”
The federal Civil Rights Act does not bar discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sex. The New Jersey law that Helfand cited permits a number of establishments to restrict entry by sex if they are places that could be “reasonably restricted exclusively to individuals of one sex.” The list includes summer and day camps, resorts, dressing rooms, bathhouses, gyms, schools and swimming pools.
“There’s strong reason to think that having separate hours at a private New Jersey swimming pool would not subject the swimming pool to liability under New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law,” Helfand said. “There’s likely intuition that under some circumstances, that kind of gender separation, given a particular clientele, given a particular business might, quote-unquote, make sense.”
Wein Harris is excited by the prospect of enjoying an environment that accords with her religious requirements at an attraction that bills itself as the “largest indoor water park in North America.”
“I am overwhelmingly happy that our needs are being seen in a world where they’re not otherwise being seen,” she said.
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Golden Globes expels Egyptian member who tweeted about ‘Zionists’ stronghold’ in Hollywood
(JTA) — The organizers of the Golden Globes expelled an Egyptian member of its voting body over the weekend following the discovery of old tweets in which she seemed to espouse conspiracy theories about Israel and Zionists.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association did not say why it had expelled the film critic Howaida Hamdy along with two other members, beyond noting that they had violated the organization’s code of conduct. According to The Hollywood Reporter, members of the body had complained about the behavior of Hamdy and two others who were also recently expelled.
Hamdy, a critic and editor for several Arabic-language publications, had been the subject of a report this summer by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), a pro-Israel watchdog group.
The group had found that in 2013, Hamdy allegedly tweeted in Arabic: “Hollywood is the Zionists’ stronghold” and said “most films” are “oriented and biased,” in writing about the zombie movie “World War Z.” She said the film presented “Israel and its citizens as the embodiment of nobility, humanism and sacrifice — a repulsive thing.” “World War Z” is partially set in Israel and depicts the Mossad responding to the outbreak of a deadly zombie virus.
That tweet has since been deleted, but CAMERA noted another 2013 tweet, in which Hamdy states in Arabic: “Behind every Islamist terrorist there is a Zionist-American plot that moves him.” That tweet was still visible as of Tuesday.
CAMERA also heavily criticized two different reviews Hamdy wrote of a Palestinian film, one in Arabic and one in English, in which she used varying language to refer to the director’s depictions of Palestinian resistance movements.
Following the CAMERA report, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association opened an investigation. Hamdy had joined the group in 2021 following intense controversy that the international awards body had a closed-rank membership that lacked diversity. The Golden Globes awards were not televised that year owing to the backlash, and the association vowed to diversify its ranks.
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