Dozens of Turkish dignitaries attended the funeral on Thursday afternoon of a pro-Hamas parliamentarian who collapsed and died just seconds after delivering a ferociously anti-Zionist speech in front of his fellow MPs.
The death of the MP — Hasan Bitmez of the Islamist Saadet Party — had been announced earlier by Turkey’s Health Minister, Fahrettin Koca.
Video of Bitmez collapsing at the podium on Monday a split second after he finished speaking went viral on the internet. After warning Israel that it faced “the wrath of God” while displaying a sign reading “Israel murders,” Bitmez immediately fell to the ground unconscious. Efforts by other MPs to revive him failed and he was rushed to Bilkent City Hospital in Ankara, where he died on Thursday morning after spending two days in the intensive care unit. It is understood that Bitmez, who was 54, suffered from diabetes.
Bitmez’s funeral procession began outside the Turkish parliament in front of key leaders, including former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Mustafa Elitas, the deputy chairman of the ruling Islamist AKP Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Also present was Bitmez’s father, who demonstratively wore a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf. The coffin was wrapped in a Turkish flag that was in turn placed over a Palestinian flag, local media outlets reported.
A vice-president of the Saadet Party, Bitmez entered parliament last May as the representative of the city of Kocaeli.
Bitmez’s last post on his X/Twitter feed on Dec. 9 criticized the Turkish government for retaining relations with Israel, comparing the country’s leaders unfavorably with the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement in Yemen which enthusiastically supports Hamas and has attacked commercial shipping bound for Israel in the Red Sea.
“Who is a friend of ISRAEL, who is a friend of PALESTINE?” Bitmez wrote. “Are the Houthis in Yemen trying to prevent ships carrying logistics to Israel? Or is it the AKP government that still sends all kinds of materials Israel needs to Israeli ports with dozens of ships every day from Turkish ports?”
The circumstances of Bitmez’s death drew ironic amusement from pro-Israel advocates on social media, who pointed out that he collapsed less than a minute after asserting that Israel faced divine retribution.
“LOL! Turkish MP Hasan Bitmez says God will punish Israel and instantly has a heart attack,” one post remarked, while another commented, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
Turkish lawmaker gets heart attack right after saying Israel will ‘not be able to escape the wrath of God’.
I guess he couldn’t escape it either. pic.twitter.com/V8wHbCm7R1
— Hananya Naftali (@HananyaNaftali) December 13, 2023
Pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia claim to be hit by ‘chemical weapon’ as they call for intifada
(New York Jewish Week) – Pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University disrupted a “day of dialogue” meant to ease campus tensions over the Israel-Hamas war, and claimed that pro-Israel activists sprayed them with a chemical agent.
Friday’s protest came after Columbia confirmed to JTA that it was extending the suspension of two leading pro-Palestinian student groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. The groups were suspended in November for violating university regulations at prior programs, and the university said they had not yet committed to abiding by school rules.
The demonstration was led by a pro-Palestinian coalition of more than 80 student groups that has formed in their absence called Columbia University Apartheid Divest. Despite the snow and cold temperatures, around 100 students gathered outside the school’s Low Library and chanted slogans including, “There is only one solution, intifada revolution.”
Protesters also railed against the “day of dialogue” held at Columbia’s Barnard College, which included scholars of Israel studies, Islamophobia, law and political science. The protesters demanded a boycott of the event, reported the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper.
A small group of counter-protesters carrying Israeli and American flags gathered opposite the pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the library. Video showed the pro-Israel demonstrators carrying orange balloons, a symbol of the Israeli hostages, holding up images of the captives, chanting “Bring them home,” and singing Israel’s national anthem.
After the protest, SJP claimed on X, formerly Twitter, that two Israeli “soldiers” had “sprayed a chemical weapon” on the demonstrators, and demanded action from the university. The group claimed that protesters were hit with “skunk spray,” a reference to a foul-smelling liquid Israeli police and soldiers have used to break up demonstrations by Palestinians, haredi Orthodox Jews and, last year, opponents of the government’s judicial overhaul.
But, as of press time, it’s unclear what the social media post was referring to. The student groups did not respond to a request for comment or elaborate on how they determined that soldiers had deployed a “chemical weapon.” The school said in a statement its Department of Public Safety was “investigating incidents reported in connection with Friday’s protest that are of great concern,” without mentioning a chemical agent.
The NYPD said a 24-year-old woman reported that an “unknown substance” had been sprayed into the air, causing her to feel nauseous. On Friday evening, police received five more reports about the incident. There were no arrests and the investigation is ongoing, police said.
The university said in a Monday night statement that information had surfaced about the incident the previous night, and that “alleged perpetrators identified to the University were immediately banned from campus.” The NYPD was taking the lead role in the investigation, the statement said.
Columbia staff told protesters that the university “welcomes the opportunity to engage with recognized student groups to support sanctioned and safe events.” But the university told the protesters that the rally was “an unsanctioned event held by an unrecognized student coalition” and a violation of the university’s policies and procedures, a Columbia spokesperson told the New York Jewish Week.
SJP, whose national umbrella celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, has been suspended at several schools, including Florida’s public universities, George Washington University and Brandeis University. It was suspended and reinstated at Rutgers University. Columbia’s suspension of JVP appeared to be the first time a university suspended the Jewish anti-Zionist group.
Columbia was a focal point for controversy in the weeks after Oct. 7, amid dueling protests for and against Israel and the reported assault of an Israeli student. It is one of several elite schools to draw scrutiny amid the Israel-Hamas war. The presidents of three other elite universities told lawmakers last month that calling for the genocide of Jews did not necessarily violate university policy, provoking a firestorm of controversy that led two of them to step down.
Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, was invited to appear before Congress at the same hearing, but declined, citing a scheduling conflict.
The protest on Friday aimed to keep the school’s focus on the war. It was part of an “action week” announced by Columbia University Apartheid Divest that began with the start of the spring semester last week. The activists demanded that Columbia divest from Israel, reform campus policing and commit to financial transparency. The students also announced a “tuition strike,” pledging to not pay the school until Columbia “concedes to our demands.”
According to a video of Friday’s protest taken by the Columbia Jewish Alumni Association, a newly formed advocacy group, around 100 student activists gathered outside the school’s Low Library and chanted, “Globalize the intifada,” and “Resistance is justified when people are colonized.”
Others carried signs that said, “Yemen Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around” — a reference to attacks on global shipping by the Houthis, a US-designated terrorist group that has claimed it is fighting Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
The Jewish alumni group charged that the new anti-Israel coalition was effectively a substitute for the suspended groups. The association said it had been hopeful the new semester would bring quiet to campus, but “that hope was quickly shattered with a week full of disruptive, antisemitic events on campus.”
The group demanded Columbia enforce its policies on protests, discipline students who violate campus policies, and condemn and ban “all antisemitic, genocidal words and actions.”
“The university is looking the other way and ignoring that the same kids are doing the same thing and they’re deciding not to enforce and it’s just disappointing,” Ari Shrage, a board member of the alumni association, told the New York Jewish Week. “Personally, I’m concerned that someone is going to get very hurt.”
Following Auschwitz visit, Elon Musk says X could have saved Jews from the Holocaust
Musk made the comment during a conversation with Jewish right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro during a forum of senior politicians and Jewish leaders from 25 European countries hosted by the European Jewish Association in Krakow. Speakers focused on a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents across the world since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded with on a bloody war on Hamas in Gaza.
The tech mogul has drawn criticism over several antisemitism controversies in recent months, including his endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory, vicious spats with the Anti-Defamation League and a documented spike in antisemitic posts on X — formerly known as Twitter — since he took over the company.
But he was treated as a heroic figure at the EJA conference, in keeping with his reception among right-leaning Jewish audiences generally. To demonstrate how X might have mitigated the mass murder of Jews, EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin played a video that scrolled through an imagined X feed during World War II.
Set to dramatic music, the posts included messages such as, “The Nazis told the Jews to get inside the synagogue – entire families, infants in their mothers’ arms, right? They’ve closed the doors and windows with metal bars and then SET IT ON FIRE! OH. MY. GOD. The world must know!”
Another post suggested that social media could have improved upon Jewish resistance efforts. “It’s time to fight back,” it said. “Join the Jewish Fighting Organization, under my command, and attack Nazis in Warsaw Ghetto!”
When the video concluded, Margolin said about the platform, “It could have saved millions of lives.”
Musk endorsed this alternate historical universe. “If there had been social media, it would have been impossible to hide,” he said about the Nazis’ campaign against the Jews. “If there had been freedom of speech, as well. One of the first things the Nazis did when they came in is they shut down all the press and any means of conveying information.”
Historians have also pointed out that the Nazis were masters of using existing media to press their case against the Jews, suggesting that in this alternate universe, the Nazis might have weaponized social media as well — as countries today have been accused of doing in their internal and external conflicts.
As a token of appreciation, Margolin, who is affiliated with the Chabad Hasidic movement, also presented Musk with an art piece made from a Hamas rocket that fell on a kindergarten in Kibbutz Beeri, where about 100 residents — a quarter of the population — were killed on Oct. 7.
“Never again” was carved on the rocket, along with a plaque reading, “Presented to Mr. Elon Musk in January 2024 in recognition and appreciation of your fight against antisemitism and to mark your visit to Auschwitz.”
When asked about critiques that X is permissive when it comes to antisemitic content, Musk argued that the platform’s “community notes” feature, in which users can attach context to others’ posts, counteracts hate speech.
“If somebody tries to push a falsehood, like Holocaust denial or something like that, they can immediately be corrected,” he said.
Despite the increase in antisemitic content under his watch, Musk said he was nearly unexposed to antisemitism in his personal life because of his personal Jewish circles.
“Two thirds of my friends are Jewish,” he said. “I have twice as many Jewish friends as non-Jewish friends. I’m like Jewish by association — I’m aspirationally Jewish.”
Margolin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he did not know enough about social media to weigh in on specific policies at X but said he believes Musk’s visit to Auschwitz will help him combat antisemitism online.
“I believe that he is absolutely against any expression of antisemitism and that the visit today helped him to understand it even better,” he said. “So I can only anticipate that we will see much less antisemitism on social media.”
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A 35-foot challah in NYC attempts to break a Guinness World Record
(New York Jewish Week) — New York City kitchens are notoriously small. Nonetheless, on Friday Congregation Rodeph Sholom on the Upper West Side unveiled a 35-foot-long challah that they and their partners hope will break a world record.
The gargantuan loaf was made in collaboration with the Jewish Federations of North America and the Orthodox Union with the aim of besting the current record-holder: a challah baked in Australia in 2019 that was just over 32 feet.
The 35-foot challah — braided in Borough Park and baked in New Jersey before being transported to the Reform synagogue — was made in honor of Shabbat of Love, a JFNA initiative that took place on Jan. 19 across North America. JFNA, OneTable, the Orthodox Union and 250 other partner organizations helped Jews organize and host thousands of Shabbat dinners.
“We came up with the idea of doing the Shabbat of Love to uplift people and to communicate the idea that you’re loved for who you are and you’re loved for being Jewish, as opposed to a lot of the messages that I think people are absorbing right now from social media,” said Sarah Eisenman, the chief officer of community and Jewish life at JFNA, who spearheaded the initiative alongside the challah-baking effort.
As for the challah, “I was thinking about what could we do that was a record-breaking, feel-good, prideful thing,” Eisenman said. She had thought about trying to break a record for the world’s largest Shabbat dinner, but realized that the challah would be less complicated and easier to measure.
Eisenman said she reached out to the Orthodox Union for help with logistics and they immediately jumped on board. “They said, ‘Let’s do it,’” she said. “Without the OU, we wouldn’t have been able to do it because they knew who to call right away.”
That call was to Strauss Bakery, a kosher bakery in Borough Park, Brooklyn, who pitched in by creating the dough. Said dough weighed in at more than 200 pounds, and was mixed and braided at the bakery last Thursday night.
Braiding a 35-foot challah is one thing; baking it is another story: The unbaked challah was then loaded onto an 18-wheeler truck and driven across state lines to a kosher commercial kitchen in New Jersey operated by David’s Cookies, which has a 40-foot long tunnel oven — one of the only places in the tri-state area that can fit a challah of that size, according to Eisenman.
Once the challah was baked Thursday night, it was loaded back on the truck and transported to Congregation Rodeph Sholom, where Eisenman’s children go to school. There, a crowd of dozens of volunteers showed up to help unload the oversized challah. Some spontaneously broke out into song, singing “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The People of Israel Live”) as they maneuvered the challah into the building.
Come Friday morning, the challah was finally revealed at an all-school Shabbat assembly for Rodeph Sholom Day School students and their families. Also in attendance was Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.
“I was shocked it was edible actually,” Eisenman joked, adding that although the bake was “doughy” in parts, community members of all ages were excited to dig in.
Eisenman said the collaboration between the Orthodox Union, the non-denominational JFNA and Rodeph Sholom, a historic Reform congregation with many Israeli members, is “exactly the kind of unifying message we need right now.”
The challah measured 35 feet, 2 inches, Eisenman said. The JFNA and the Orthodox Union are sending the measurements and video evidence to the Guinness World Records this week, and they hope to hear a verdict soon after.
If Guinness accepts the measurements, the challah would break — by several feet — the current record set by Grandma Moses Bakery and the Jewish National Fund chapter in New South Wales, Australia.
The New York-based groups also baked a backup challah that turned out even longer than the challah that was unveiled on Friday — Eisenman said it measured roughly 35 feet, 11 inches but, as it happens, was too long to fit on the wooden planks that transported it from the bakery to the truck. The back-up challah remained in New Jersey, where it was cut up into a dozen three-foot long chunks and donated to all the Moishe Houses in New York City, where the communal residences, designed for Jewish 20-somethings, were hosting their own Shabbat of Love dinners.
“Obviously, right now is a kind of a watershed moment around Jewish identity formation. It’s going to take a little time for the Jewish world to come to terms with what kind of strategies or new initiatives we might need to respond to the moment,” Eisenman said. “In the meantime, we took the approach that we can invest in and create Jewish positive spaces and experiences. We need more of them and we need them now. That is what this is about — building pride, confidence, unity and community.”
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