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‘Nothing will separate between us’: After Israel’s bloodiest day since Oct. 7, thousands pay their respects to a fallen commander

JERUSALEM (JTA) — As rain pounded the gravestones, thousands of people crowded into Israel’s military cemetery on Mt. Herzl to pay their final respects to Lt. Col. Tomer Grinberg.

It was one of many military funerals that day. Grinberg, 35, was the commander of the Golani infantry brigade’s elite 13th battalion, which lost nine soldiers in a fierce battle Tuesday night in the Gaza City-area neighborhood of Shejaiya. Taken together with a tenth soldier killed elsewhere in Israel’s war against Hamas, it was Israel’s deadliest day of fighting since Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion, which launched the war. 

“We are all prepared to give our soul and to die for the State of Israel,” said his father Isaac, whose voice cracked as he recited the Kaddish prayer for his son. “That is Golani, that is Tomer.” 

The magnitude of the loss was evident in the funeral’s location, a new section of Mt. Herzl that was opened to accommodate the graves of soldiers killed on Oct. 7 and afterward. Since Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza, 115 Israel Defense Forces soldiers have been killed. Taken together with the casualties on Oct. 7, the military has lost more than 400 troops. 

Hundreds of thousands of reservists were called up after Oct. 7, and since the ground invasion began, Israeli families have listened to casualty announcements with anxiety, reading names, looking at pictures and hoping that their loved ones were not among the dead. 

“It is very difficult to open the news each day because every time there is news of more soldiers who fell,” said Lior Benisty, an IDF official responsible for supporting bereaved families through the grieving process who was at Mt. Herzl. 

In his 15 years of duty, he says nothing has come close to the difficulty of the current period. “It is difficult news for all of us, with each of us sharing in the sorrow of this national mourning,” he said.

Tuesday’s news has hit the country particularly hard, both due to the number of soldiers killed and the circumstances of the battle. 

The battle occurred in what the IDF called its “twilight” stage of conquering Shejaiya. In Tuesday’s operation, it sought to eliminate remaining Hamas strongholds in order to establish complete control of the northern Gaza Strip, where the ground invasion began. But amid fighting in the densely-crowded “Casbah” area of the neighborhood, Golani troops were ambushed by an explosion that cut off communication and killed four soldiers. Another five soldiers fell in an ensuing rescue mission. 

The ambushes also killed Col. Itzhak Ben Basat, 44, head of the Golani Brigade’s commander’s team and the highest-ranking soldier killed to date in the ground invasion.

In a post on social media, former Defense Minister Benny Gatz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, wrote that the war is “exacting a heavy, painful and difficult price from us.”

“Every fallen soldier is a scar on all of the state of Israel, and every scar is a reminder of our soldiers’ heroism, and of our need to be worthy as a society of their sacrifice,” he wrote. 

Grinberg had fought in Shejaiya in 2014, during Israel’s last ground invasion of Gaza, when 13 soldiers from his battalion were killed in a battle there. On Oct. 7, he led the battle against Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz, one of the border communities that was hit hard in the invasion. Golani lost 40 soldiers that day.

“We knew that it is a privilege to defend our country and it comforts me to know that you would have been complete with yourself with what you did,” said his brother Ziv, who has also been fighting in Gaza and last saw his brother when the two traveled toward the Gaza border on Oct. 7. 

In recent weeks, the IDF has shifted the brunt of its force to the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, where it believes Hamas’ leadership is based. Overall, more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, a figure that does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists killed some 1,200 people, largely civilians. 

Mourners on Mt. Herzl on Dec. 13, 2023. (Eliyahu Freedman)

Grinberg’s was one of several funerals around the Har Herzl grounds. Rows of graves newly dug in the last month were adorned with fresh flowers, flags of military units, scarves bearing the logos of favorite soccer teams and pictures of the fallen soldiers. At one grave, a family gathered with large balloons to celebrate the 23rd birthday of their fallen son, a newlywed. 

Many of the attendees at Grinberg’s funeral wore military and Golani insignia and included several of the IDF’s top brass, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. A significant number of the troops whom Grinberg commanded, and who were injured during the fighting and discharged attended the ceremony.

But there were also moments during the funeral that harkened to the world beyond the war. In her eulogy, Ashira Grinberg, Tomer’s wife, read from a birthday card she and their daughter sent him while he was at the front. 

“Tomer, until now and still, a part of you belongs to us — I want to speak for a moment that you will be my Tomer,” she said between sobs. Reading the card, she said, “I believe that you arrived at this moment in order to be in this cursed war, may it end as quickly as possible. Your beard looks good on you and we will celebrate when you return.”

She added, “Nothing will separate between us, even if the world stops one day.”

On social media, a video of Grinberg addressing his troops after Oct. 7 has made the rounds. In the clip, he compares their mission to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an existential fight for Israel which broke out exactly 50 years before the current conflict. 

“So it turns out you are not spoiled,” he said. “It turns out you are no less heroic than them. It turns out you are not the ‘iPhone generation.’ So well done, everyone. I’m proud of everyone here, but this is just the beginning.”

The post ‘Nothing will separate between us’: After Israel’s bloodiest day since Oct. 7, thousands pay their respects to a fallen commander appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

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.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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