(J. Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — The City Council in Oakland, California, unanimously passed a resolution on Monday night calling for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, after listening to hours of intense and sometimes violently anti-Israel comments.
“It was the most antisemitic room I have ever been in,” said Tye Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, who lives in Oakland.
The council meeting exploded into public view on Tuesday after Yashar Ali, the social media influencer, posted a highlights reel of some of the comments, in which speakers accused Israel of killing its own people on Oct. 7, defended Hamas as a legitimate protest group and compared defending Israel to a man who beats his wife.
Last night the Oakland City Council voted on a resolution to call for a ceasefire.
A city council member tried to insert language condemning Hamas.
This was the reaction… pic.twitter.com/r7aTb2mkrQ
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) November 28, 2023
The people in the video were among the more than 250 people who offered public comment during the special meeting devoted to the resolution, which lasted for six hours.
Among those commenting on the video was California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who tweeted, “Hamas is a terrorist organization. They must be called out for what they are: evil.”
The Oakland council resolution focused on a permanent ceasefire, which Israel and many of its supporters oppose because it would leave Hamas in power in Gaza. The measure also condemned a recent spike in antisemitism and Islamophobia, acknowledged the “long history” behind the current war and called for more humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.
But it did not include a condemnation of Hamas. An effort by a Jewish council member, Dan Kalb, to amend the resolution to acknowledge Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and condemn the terrorist group for its “repression and violence” against both Palestinians and Israelis failed, in a 2-6 vote. One councilmember, Treva Reid, joined Kalb in voting for the amended version, saying she actually supported the unamended resolution but would not allow Kalb to “stand alone.”
“I’m very disappointed in my colleagues except for Treva,” Kalb said on Tuesday. He said the idea of passing a war-related resolution without mentioning the Hamas massacre that started the war didn’t make sense to him.
“Let’s condemn all domestic and international terrorist organizations — who can be against that?” Kalb said.
Kalb and Gregory said they would remember the hostile atmosphere inside the council chambers.
“What we voted on was not the rhetoric at the microphone,” Kalb said. “A substantial number of people were trying to justify or rationalize the Hamas mass murder on Oct. 7. To me, that is so fringe and unconscionable and ridiculous.”
People who tried to legitimize the terrorist attack “should be embarrassed,” he added. “That is just nuts.”
Before the meeting started, the JCRC held a vigil in front of City Hall for the estimated 240 people in Israel who were taken hostage on Oct. 7. (As of Wednesday, Hamas had released more than 90 hostages as part of a truce deal.) About 50 people attended the vigil, while a slightly larger group of protesters across the plaza shouted and chanted to try to drown it out.
Carroll Fife, the council member who wrote the ceasefire resolution, said at Monday’s meeting that the document went through four drafts in a purposeful effort to “depoliticize” the language and focus on peace, without condemning Israel or Hamas.
“It attempted to bring the sides together,” she said at the meeting. “I want Jewish children to live as much as I want Palestinian children to live.” Fife added that she needed to acknowledge the “disproportionate deaths on one side.” According to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry, about 15,000 Palestinians have died in the war; the figure does not differentiate between militants and civilians. Israel’s death toll stands at around 1,200 people killed on Oct. 7, most of them civilians, and about 70 soldiers who have died in Gaza since the ground invasion began late last month.
Kalb publicly thanked Fife for her “sincere effort to craft and support a resolution that doesn’t have the hot-button and problematic language that had weighed down other resolutions in other places.” But he said not mentioning Oct. 7 is “sending the wrong message and an embarrassing message.”
The city clerk noted that 86% of 1,254 people who weighed in on the issue online supported the resolution without any amendments.
The scores of anti-Israeli speakers who rejected amending the resolution ranged from passionate advocates for Palestinian children to conspiracy theorists to hardcore anti-Zionists who openly supported Hamas’ attack on Israel.
John Reimann, who lost his bid as a socialist candidate for Oakland mayor last year, compared Israel to a “wife beater” who complains when the wife fights back.
One Hamas supporter described Israel as a “genocidal settler colonial state” that needs to be “completely dismantled.” Others repeatedly described Hamas as a “resistance organization” and “not a terrorist” one.
“It’s a contradiction to be pro-humanity and pro-Israel,” one woman said.
Dozens of people who identified themselves as Jewish spoke at the council meeting, with many announcing they were anti-Zionist. Kalb said Israel supporters were “outnumbered.”
Anti-Zionist Jews wore “Not in our name” T-shirts and referenced the Holocaust in their opposition to Israel’s actions in Gaza.
“I know the price of silence,” said one woman. “Never again means never again for anyone.”
Seated in the audience, Gregory said he repeatedly heard people referencing “white Hitler” to describe Jews who condemn Hamas and heard others saying that “antisemitism isn’t real.”
“I don’t expect maturity from these antisemites,” he said. “But it was disappointing the city council couldn’t rein in it.”
The council “failed to call out the antisemitism” in the chamber, Gregory said. “They tolerated it.”
The San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which Gregory called a “pro-terrorism organization,” handed out scripts to speakers that “justified and glorified Hamas,” he said. Gregory added that JCRC had been cautious in the past about describing AROC as supporting terrorists. “Not anymore,” he said.
Councilmembers repeatedly told audience members to stop booing when Israel supporters were speaking. Speakers who mentioned Hamas raping Israeli women on Oct. 7 — an ascendant topic of advocacy given the relative silence by UN Women about allegations of sexual violence against Israelis — were loudly booed.
One pro-Israel speaker said she was deeply saddened by the “slurs and lies” against Israel and Jews.
Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who is Jewish, used her time “in the spirit of bringing us back to our common humanity” by sharing the story of Isaac and Ishmael from the Bible. “Let them live, these two children of Abraham. So may it be,” she said.
Gregory spoke at the meeting in favor of Kalb’s amended resolution.
“I am proud to be a gay Jewish Zionist, and that means that I believe Jews have a right to our indigenous homeland. And that is not in contradiction to Palestinians having that same indigenous right,” he said. “Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the annihilation of Israel. This resolution must be amended to acknowledge the atrocities of Hamas and include its removal from power in Gaza.”
Even though Kalb’s effort to amend the resolution failed, he said he chose to vote in favor of the resolution because the final version didn’t include the “horrible, inaccurate, divisive language” that he’s seen from other local bodies such as the Richmond City Council, the Oakland Education Association and the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.
Gregory said the city council’s resolution would have no impact on foreign policy but would help to spread a “culture of antisemitism” in Oakland.
“They should focus on policing and housing and education issues,” he said, “and not the most intractable foreign policy issue we have on the planet.”
A version of this story was published by J. Jewish News of Northern California. It is reprinted here with permission.
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Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas
A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment.
Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.
“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”
The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.
The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.
Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom.
The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.”
“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.
Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”
“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said.
Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus.
Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7.
She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”
She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing.
“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes. The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.
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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7
Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”
“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.
Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”
“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”
Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”
Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”
Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”
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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.
She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”
” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024
The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”
Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”
The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.
David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”
An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”
The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.
It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”
Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”
Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.”
When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”
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