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The Jewish left is grappling, sometimes painfully, with how to respond to Hamas’ attack

(JTA) — In his first posts about Hamas’ massacre of Israeli civilians, progressive writer Joshua Leifer expressed horror at the accounts of atrocities that were emerging from southern Israel. 

He also lamented the range of progressive organizations and figures who appeared to condone or even celebrate the attack — leaving him with “a deep sense that the left abroad has lost the values it was supposed to stand for.”

“I thought we were leftists because we wanted a world without war, torture, the killing of families & children in their beds,” Leifer posted on X. “Self-professed human rights defenders, even would-be colleagues are celebrating and glorifying unspeakable acts that violate the most basic elements of human life. I feel sick.”

The thread of posts — which Leifer later expanded into an article for the left-wing journal Dissent — struck a chord among other Jews on the left. The progressive Jewish writer Peter Beinart shared Leifer’s thread, saying it “captures my feelings exactly.”

Some progressive figures and organizations, from local Black Lives Matter chapters to the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, have appeared to condone or even celebrate the massacre — which killed 1,300 people, largely civilians — as an act of resistance against an illegal occupation. Some Jewish leftists have mourned the slaughter while placing the blame squarely on Israel. 

And others who have also spent their careers opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory are now decrying their ideological allies’ refusal to condemn the killing of civilians — in some cases their friends or relatives.

“For the people who are most connected to people in Israel, this is a really, really hard and disheartening time,” said Arielle Angel, editor-in-chief of the progressive magazine Jewish Currents. “Because what they see is people totally dismissing the value of the lives of people that they know and that they think should not be considered collateral damage.” 

At the same time, Angel said, Jewish leftists are confronting another tension: They are reckoning with the mass killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas — and also continue to oppose Israel’s occupation and airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which the terror group governs. 

“I think this is a new moment,” she said. “If you’re talking to American Jewish leftists, there’s a split in terms of where their energy is going right now.”

She added later, “I’m very scared about the future of the left in this moment.” 

Some on the left, including at least one Jewish writer, openly celebrated the attack shortly after it began. 

On Saturday, as Hamas attackers were still in Israel, Rivkah Brown, a journalist for the U.K.’s Novara Media, posted on X that the assault should mark “a day of celebration for supporters of democracy and human rights worldwide, as Gazans break out of their open-air prison.” The New York City Democratic Socialists of America promoted a rally expressing “solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to resist 75 years of occupation and apartheid.”

And in the immediate wake of the massacre, some left-wing Jewish organizations said blame lay with Israel. IfNotNow, which opposes Israel’s occupation, said of the murdered Israelis that “their blood is on the hands of the Israeli government, the US government which funds and excuses their recklessness, and every international leader who continues to turn a blind eye to decades of Palestinian oppression.” 

Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group, acknowledged the “unprecedented assault” and the hundreds of Israeli casualties in an Oct. 7 statement that did not mention Hamas. 

“Israeli apartheid and occupation — and United States complicity in that oppression — are the source of all this violence,” the statement said. “Inevitably, oppressed people everywhere will seek — and gain — their freedom.”

Other groups such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice tread a middle ground, saying, “We recognize that attacks on civilians by Hamas are neither justifiable nor unprovoked.”

Several days later, as the scale of the atrocities became clear, some of those activists walked back or qualified their statements. On Tuesday, New York City’s DSA said it mourned “the loss of life in the region” and apologized “for the confusion our post caused and for not making our values explicit.” It deleted its original tweet.

Brown also deleted her tweet and apologized on Wednesday. “I responded too quickly and in a moment of heightened emotion,” she said. “Witnessing Palestinians defy decades of oppression hardened me to the suffering of Israeli civilians, including my friends and family, and I regret that. I’m sorry.”

On the same day, Jewish Voice for Peace released another statement saying that it “mourns deeply for the over 1200 Israelis killed, the families destroyed, including many of our own, and fears for the lives of Israelis taken hostage.”

The group added, “the massacres committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians are horrific war crimes. There is no justification in international law for the indiscriminate killing of civilians or the holding of civilian hostages.”

On Wednesday, JVP spokesperson Sonya Meyerson-Knox said the group felt it was caught in a precarious position — fearing that public expressions of grief for Israeli civilians would fuel a harsher military response against Gaza. 

“We were feeling the incredible pressure of needing to say something that we hope addresses both our fear and our grief and our sorrow and our anger, and that doesn’t allow any of that to be used as fodder for the Israeli government and the United States government warmongering,” Meyerson-Knox said. “Many of us are feeling compelled to process our grief through a hard pivot to a prevention of a scale of death that is utterly inconceivable.”

The Israel Defense Forces has repeatedly said it abides by international law and takes measures to prevent civilian casualties, including by risking its own troops to reduce collateral damage. Human rights organizations and the United Nations have cast doubt on those claims and harshly criticized the conduct of Israel’s military, while other bodies — in addition to the United States and other allies — have defended Israeli actions. 

Angel said other activists on the Jewish left shared concerns similar to the ones expressed by Meyerson-Knox. 

“Even people who are not expressing grief right now are grieving, and it’s a question of whether they think that that grief is the most important thing, and what they think that public expression of grief is going to do,” Angel said. “People are afraid that there’s going to be a Palestinian genocide.”

The high death toll among Israelis on Saturday had forced a reckoning for some on the Jewish left, since in previous conflicts more Palestinians were killed, Angel said, though she added that the balance of casualties was shifting as Israel carried out airstrikes in Gaza.

“We have never seen Israeli casualties, at least in one event, that exceeded Palestinian casualties,” she said, stressing that she still believed the conflict is rooted in Israel’s occupation despite the death toll. “We have become practiced at answering that and at trying to help people see that. We are not practiced at a situation like this.”

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Harvard University President Condemns Genocide Against Jews After Backlash for Equivocating on Issue

Pro-Hamas students rallying at Harvard University. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Harvard University president Claudine Gay on Wednesday issued a statement walking back and clarifying remarks she made the prior day in which she suggested that calling for the genocide of Jews did not necessarily constitute bullying and harassment on campus.

“There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students,” Gay said in a statement posted to X/Twitter by Harvard. “Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”

Gay’s statement came after she received a wave of criticism for her testimony before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding campus antisemitism, which has been surging since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. For three hours, Gay and the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology evaded questions about their plans to combat an alarming spike in antisemitic incidents, including demonstrations calling for Israel’s destruction and the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students at college campuses across the US.

In one tense exchange during the hearing, all three presidents gave indirect answers when asked by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a Harvard alumnus, whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted bullying and harassment. Stefanik referenced the chanting of slogans such as “globalize the intifada,” “there is only one solution, intifada revolution,” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”— all widely interpreted as calls for violence against Jews and the destruction of Israel.

“We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful — it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, and intimidation,” Gay said, refusing to provide a definitive answer.

“Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel?” Stefanik asked, visibly disturbed by Gay’s answer.

“We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression even of views that are objectionable, outrageous, and offensive,” Gay responded. She also said that calls implying the genocide of Jews and Israelis “can be [considered bullying or harassment] depending on the context.”

Gay’s equivocating sparked outrage across social media, with Jewish leaders and non-Jewish allies calling for her to resign from her position.

“You refused to state that calling for the genocide of the Jewish people would violate Harvard policies,” Harvard Law School alumnus Ben Badejo wrote in a letter to Gay that was posted on X. “In so doing, you betrayed the most fundamental values of our country and of all decent people.”

StopAntisemitism, a watchdog that documents antisemitic incidents across the world, said Gay’s more recent statement from Wednesday should have been stated during her testimony to Congress.

“Then why didn’t you say this during your congressional hearing yesterday!?” the group said. “Step down. You are a failure.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, added, “Why was Claudine Gay unable to say this at the hearing and it took universal outrage and condemnation for you to issue this clarification?”

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, Gay’s tenure has been beset by accusations that she is not sympathetic to the Jewish community’s concerns about rising antisemitism and has provided refuge to Harvard students who cheered Hamas’ violence.

For several days, Gay waited to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. When 31 Harvard student groups, led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, issued a statement blaming Israel for Hamas’ brutality, Gay defended their right to free speech and said they should not be punished or barred from being hired at prestigious businesses and firms after completing their education.

Following weeks of criticism, Gay eventually denounced Harvard students’ chanting of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” last month and announced a campus initiative for fighting antisemitism.

“Harvard was founded to advance human dignity through education,” Gay said. “We inherited a faith in reason to overcome ignorance, in truth to surmount hate. Antisemitism is destructive to our mission. We will not solve every disagreement, bridge every divide, heal every wound. But if we shrink from this struggle, we betray our ideals.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Criticism mounts against UPenn president after she declines to say calls for genocide of Jews constitute harassment

(JTA) — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said the University of Pennsylvania board should make a “determination” about the school’s president, who is facing pressure to resign after she declined to say outright that calls for the genocide of Jews violate the university’s code of conduct.

The outcry follows a congressional hearing on Tuesday in which the presidents of Penn, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were all asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews constitute bullying or harassment on campus. All three said it depended on “context.”

The exchange has gone viral and prompted broad condemnation, including from the White House. Biden administration spokesman Andrew Bates said in an email, “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country.”

“Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting – and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans,” Bates added.

Shapiro, a Jewish Democrat, is among the most prominent voices calling on Penn’s president, Liz Magill, to face consequences for her response during the hearing. Shapiro did not say Magill should be fired. But he asked the board to convene soon and said if it did not, he said he would see what the state could do.

“Right now the board at Penn has a serious decision they need to make,” Shapiro said Wednesday. He said the board should “meet soon” to determine whether the “testimony under oath of their president in front of Congress represents the values of the University of Pennsylvania and the views of the board of the University of Pennsylvania.”

While Penn is a private institution, its charter names the state’s governor as a non-voting trustee — a position with considerable influence if not power. Shapiro said he would wait to hear from the Penn board before considering any state action.

“I’ve said many times, leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity, and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test,” Shapiro said.

In addition to Shapiro’s comments, Marc Rowan, the chair of Wharton, Penn’s business school, has called on the university’s board to withdraw its support for Magill, according to The New York Times. A petition calling for her resignation has garnered 1,500 signatures. Eyal Yacoby, a Penn student who joined Republican leaders at a press conference prior to the hearing on Tuesday, has filed a lawsuit with another student alleging that the university “subjects them to a pervasively hostile educational environment,” the campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, reported.

Shapiro made clear that there was little love lost between him and Magill ever since the campus hosted an event on Palestinian culture in September that included speakers who Jewish groups have said are antisemitic. Following that conference, donors have withdrawn  their support from the school, and a federal civil rights complaint has been filed against it.

“I have spoken to President Magill multiple times since that hateful festival that they had on campus,” he said. “I’ve spoken with the chairman of the board multiple times, I made concrete steps that I thought they needed to take to make sure that all students feel safe on campus. They have seemingly failed every step of the way to take concrete action to make sure all students feel safe on campus. And then, the testimony yesterday took it to the next level.”

Jewish groups also condemned the exchange on “genocide” at the congressional hearing.

“How can Jewish and pro-Israel students and faculty possibly feel safe when fellow students and faculty can call for their elimination with impunity?” the American Jewish Committee said in a statement Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wrote to all 50 governors recommending an “action plan” to make campuses safer for Jews.

One recommendation was that governors “conduct a third-party review of university policies and procedures related to antisemitism” that would “consider campus environment, including an assessment of antisemitic attitudes, current university policies for investigating antisemitism complaints, and consistency of treatment in handling of antisemitism complaints versus other kinds of discrimination.”

Shapiro was speaking to reporters  after visiting Goldie’s, a kosher eatery targeted over the weekend by pro-Palestinian protesters who accused it of “genocide,” which Shapiro likened to Nazi Germany.

Shapiro had stopped by Goldie’s in a show of solidarity and for lunch (a falafel sandwich and a tahini shake.). He said the targeting of Jewish-owned stores was antisemitic.

“What they did was blatant antisemitism,” he said. “They protested in restaurants, simply because it’s owned by a Jewish person. That is the kind of antisemitic tropes that we saw in 1930s Germany.”

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Tributes pour in from Jewish celebs as Hollywood remembers Norman Lear

(JTA) — Soon after news broke Wednesday morning of Jewish TV pioneer Norman Lear’s death at 101 years old, actors and comedians quickly took to social media to remember the titan of comedy.

Tributes poured in from a who’s-who of Jewish celebrities — from Barbra Streisand and Jon Stewart to Alex Edelman and Billy Crystal. Several comics referred to Lear as though he was family; Stewart thanked Lear for “raising me,” while Rob Reiner called him his second father.

Edelman told a story about meeting with Lear at his home after hosting his 100th birthday special on ABC. “Transparent” creator Joey Soloway shared how Lear supported the groundbreaking and very Jewish Amazon Prime show that won several Emmys and is set to open a musical adaptation on Broadway next year.

Lear is best known for the imprint he left on TV comedy through his string of wildly popular shows in the 1970s and 1980s, including “All In The Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son.” Lear’s shows are credited with pushing the genre to be more socially conscious and inclusive of Black characters.

Below is a sampling of the reactions from fellow A-List Jewish celebrities as Hollywood mourns the loss of an icon.

Goodnight Norman. Love you. Thanks for raising me.

— Jon Stewart (@jonstewart) December 6, 2023

I loved Norman Lear with all my heart. He was my second father. Sending my love to Lyn and the whole Lear family.

— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) December 6, 2023

Just heard about Norman Lear. He was 101. What a long life in television and film as well as being an activist and philanthropist. What an extraordinary man he was! Brilliant, kind and funny.

— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) December 6, 2023

A funny story about Norman Lear on the day of his passing, if that’s alright…

— Alex Edelman (@AlexEdelman) December 6, 2023

The greatest of the greats. R.I.P. Norman Lear. You were loved.

— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) December 6, 2023

We have lost a giant..a man of great humor and dignity. What an amazing life that has given so much to us all. He used laughter as a way to look at ourselves. A blessing to have been his friend for almost 50 yrs.

— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) December 6, 2023

The post Tributes pour in from Jewish celebs as Hollywood remembers Norman Lear appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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