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Outrageous Antisemitic Incident at New Jersey High School Shows Lack of Leadership

The 2023-2024 yearbook for East Brunswick High School in New Jersey replaced a photo of the Jewish Student Union (JSU) with Muslim students and erased the names of the JSU members. Photo: Screenshot from StopAntisemitism on X/Twitter

According to Simon Sinek, the bestselling British-American author and organizational consultant renowned for his leadership expertise, “Leadership is not about being in charge … it is about taking care of those in your charge.”

While his insight is spot-on, many modern leaders have yet to embrace and implement this crucial philosophy fully.

This week, as if the world hasn’t got enough to deal with right now, a yearbook photo controversy is rocking a New Jersey high school and the surrounding community after the names of those belonging to a Jewish student group were deliberately omitted from the East Brunswick High School yearbook — and their group photo was replaced with one showing Muslim students instead.

The local mayor, Brad Cohen, called the incident a “blatant antisemitic” act and demanded answers. “Hate has no place in East Brunswick and antisemitism will not be tolerated,” he said in a Facebook post.

Superintendent of Schools Victor Valeski announced that the district will investigate how this could have occurred. Valeski was compelled to admit that the page did not look “like any of the others” in the yearbook. In an email to Valeski within hours of the incident coming to light, I expressed my outrage at the deliberate removal of the names and photograph of the Jewish Student Union members.

“Are you an outpost of Hamas?” I asked him. “Do you condone obliterating Jews? Is your school some kind of Stalinist North Korean-style authoritarian regime, where ‘enemies of the state’ are airbrushed away? Is this the ethos of your school? Adolf Hitler would be proud. So would Yahya Sinwar.”

In a subsequent update, Valeski did express both his remorse and frustration. “Above all, I personally, along with the entire East Brunswick Board of Education, sincerely apologize for the hurt, pain and anguish this event has caused our Jewish students, their families, and the impact this continues to have on the entire EB community,” he said. “East Brunswick Public Schools has been a pillar educational organization, thriving on our diversity. We do not tolerate bias and we investigate all reported antisemitism.”

But for Mayor Cohen, this was not enough — and he is absolutely right. He emphasized the need to determine how the incident had occurred in the first place, and who was responsible. He also demanded accountability: “Who signed off on this page? Did this act occur at the publisher end? How will perpetrators be held accountable?” He also assured the public that new yearbooks will be ordered and distributed with the correct pictures and names.

In the meantime, though, no one has taken responsibility. According to Valeski, the investigation is ongoing. “We do not have all the facts, but I will report to the community once I do,” he said. “I urge the East Brunswick community, the one I have a decade-long relationship with, to give me the opportunity to determine the cause and I simply ask individuals and organizations to slow their rush to judgment.”

But truthfully, Valeski’s response, and that of the school’s administration, is woefully inadequate. There is a critical need for true leadership, which is clearly lacking. The tragedy is that in today’s world, an admission of wrongdoing and an apology is often seen as the epitome of accountability. But in situations like this, where a marginalized group has been wronged, leadership must extend far beyond mere words of regret.

And let’s be honest — if this had happened to any other community, such as African-Americans or Muslims, the response would undoubtedly be much more than just a mealy-mouthed apology.

True leadership requires preempting incidents like this from happening in the first place. Erasing names and changing a photo was not a mistake, it was deliberate. And if leadership did not foresee this possibility, it indicates a significant failure in their ability to serve their community effectively.

Parshat Bamidbar, the first Torah portion of the Book of Numbers, provides profound insights into the nature of leadership and responsibility. The detailed census and the meticulous arrangement of the Israelite tribes around the Tabernacle highlight several themes, but one sticks out above all: leadership and responsibility. The thorough census included assigning roles to each Israelite tribe, and particularly the Levites, who took the responsibility of overseeing the religious needs of the Israelite nation.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch emphasizes that the organization and structure illustrate the importance of every individual knowing their role and the value they bring to the community. Each person’s contribution is essential to the overall functioning and holiness of the nation. Rav Hirsch argues that true leadership involves recognizing the unique potential of each individual and fostering an environment where everyone can contribute to the community’s collective mission.

Rav Hirsch also highlights that leaders must proactively organize and prepare their communities to face challenges, ensuring that no one is marginalized or overlooked. In today’s overheated environment, it has become increasingly obvious that for some people, Jews have no place in their world, unless they bow to an anti-Israel stance – and the tragedy is that leadership has simply allowed this attitude to flourish and proliferate.

True leadership involves taking proactive steps to address wrongs and ensure they do not happen again. This means going beyond an apology, to implement measures that prevent future occurrences and foster an environment of respect and inclusivity. In East Brunswick, it means recognizing that what happened in the yearbook was not a mistake — it was deliberate. Effective leadership requires preempting such incidents and taking responsibility when they occur. And if something like this happens on your watch, it means you are not fit for purpose.

For the East Brunswick school community in the wake of this controversy, true leadership would involve a thorough investigation, transparency in findings, and concrete actions to prevent such mistakes in the future. It requires engaging with the affected community, acknowledging their hurt, and making systemic changes to ensure every student group is fairly represented and respected. And it almost certainly needs resignations, or for people to be fired. Otherwise, it will mean this incident getting airbrushed away, just as the perpetrators airbrushed the Jews from the yearbook.

The lessons from parshat Bamidbar, as interpreted by Rav Hirsch, remind us that leadership is about more than just words. It is about responsibility, planning, anticipating all possibilities, and creating a community where everyone knows their place and contributes to the collective good.

The East Brunswick incident is a stark reminder of the need for such leadership today — leadership that does not just offer apologies but takes definitive action to uphold the values of inclusivity, respect, and justice.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills California.

The post Outrageous Antisemitic Incident at New Jersey High School Shows Lack of Leadership first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

‘WRONGFULLY DETAINED’

Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

The post Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

The post VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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