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Surprise blockbuster ‘Sound of Freedom’ echoes antisemitic QAnon conspiracies

(JTA) — While “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” have hogged the headlines, an unlikelier blockbuster swept the box office this month: “Sound of Freedom,” a thriller lauded by QAnon conspiracy theorists and high-profile Republicans. 

It also draws from a conspiratorial well that includes a number of anti-Jewish canards, including the “blood libel” accusation, while its star, actor Jim Cavaziel, has floated antisemitic theories in interviews promoting the film.

Despite the film’s low budget and independent distributor, “Sound of Freedom” has made over $100 million in its first few weeks, going toe-to-toe with “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” since it opened on July 4. The release date aligned with its patriotic Christian undertones, captured by the protagonist’s solemn line, “God’s children are not for sale.”

In real life, Caviezel, who plays a federal agent rescuing children from sex traffickers, has openly embraced QAnon. Caviezel’s character is based on Tim Ballard, who worked in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security before founding the anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad. 

Caviezel is best-known for playing Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” which stirred accusations of antisemitism when it was released in 2004 — a controversy compounded by Gibson’s antisemitic tirades following its release. 

The QAnon movement is largely based on a conspiracy theory that a cabal of progressive elites controls world events and runs a child trafficking ring, harvesting the hormone adrenochrome from children. According to QAnon lore, former President Donald Trump sought to defeat this operation. 

“Sound of Freedom” was filmed in 2018, before QAnon gained widespread momentum, and the film never mentions the movement. The story’s traffickers are common criminals, seemingly not part of a shadowy global cabal. Nonetheless, the movie has been celebrated in QAnon message boards for awakening “normies” to the conspiracy.

“The movie is for normies. Done in a way not to be revolting and push newbies away,” said one member of a message board called Great Awakening. 

Mike Rothschild — who researches QAnon  — said he was not surprised that the film took off with QAnon supporters, who see a global cabal of child snatchers as funded by Jewish money.

“It plays on the same fears and conspiracy theories embraced by that community — that child trafficking is rampant and massively underreported, that the traffickers have connections to high-level people, and that only a few brave patriots are willing to stand up to it,” Rothschild, author of “The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything,” told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Caviezel attended a QAnon-affiliated conference in 2021. During the event, he said that Ballard could not join because he was “saving children as we speak, because they’re pulling kids out of the darkest recesses of hell right now, in dumps and all kinds of places. The adrenochrome-ing of children.”

The adrenochrome theory has roots in a blood libel canard leveled at Jews since the Middle Ages, said Rothschild. The myth that Jews use the blood of Christian children in rituals was used to justify the torture, imprisonment and murder of Jews for centuries, even taking a role in Nazi propaganda, before it was adopted by QAnon.

Caviezel has also appeared on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast several times, calling QAnon a “good thing” and indulging in antisemitic conspiracies while promoting the film. 

In one circuitous interview with Bannon, he said, “It’s like an octopus with arms, many many arms, but you got to go after the head of the octopus. Who is it? The central banks, the [International Monetary Fund], the [European Central Bank], the Rothschild banks? We have a Rothschild pope.”

Rothschild, who is unrelated to the Jewish banking family, said these claims line up with QAnon conspiracies that posit that the Rothschild family owns all of the world’s central banks and controls the Vatican. 

“These are conspiracy theories based on centuries of myths and hoaxes about the Rothschilds, which have been shared by some of the most prominent thinkers in the right-wing conspiracy world,” he said.

Ballard, who abruptly exited Operation Underground Railroad shortly after “Sound of Freedom” premiered, has also been scrutinized for his organization’s claims and practices. In 2020, a Vice News investigation found a gap between OUR’s operations and claimed successes, reporting “a pattern of image-burnishing and mythology-building, a series of exaggerations that are, in the aggregate, quite misleading.” According to a Foreign Policy report, after a 2014 OUR sting operation in the Dominican Republic, 26 rescued girls did not receive aftercare and were released in less than a week.

In Utah, the organization was investigated by the Davis County Attorney’s Office for alleged communications fraud, witness tampering and retaliation against a witness, victim or informant, according to Deseret News. The two-year investigation was closed without charges in March. 

Ballard has also flirted with conspiracy theories, once entertaining the false viral notion that children were being trafficked through Wayfair, an online furniture retailer.

“I want to tell you this: children are sold that way,” he said in a 2020 video.

Regardless of these controversies, “Sound of Freedom” has found no shortage of high-profile promoters. Donald Trump shared its trailer on his Truth Social platform and hosted a screening of the film on Wednesday. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has pushed QAnon rhetoric online, both praised the movie. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said on Twitter, “Wow. Wow. Wow. GO SEE #SoundOfFreedom.”

Meanwhile, Twitter owner Elon Musk encouraged the film’s free promotion on his website, tweeting at its distributor: “I recommend putting it on this platform for free for a brief period or just asking people to subscribe to support (we would not keep any funds).”


The post Surprise blockbuster ‘Sound of Freedom’ echoes antisemitic QAnon conspiracies appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

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

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

The post Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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