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The Workers Circle, progressive Jewish group, leaves Conference of Presidents over disagreements on U.S. and Israel advocacy

(JTA) — The Workers Circle has resigned from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, shrinking the umbrella group’s contingent of progressive groups. 

The Workers Circle — a Jewish progressive activist group that runs a robust program of Yiddish classes, and that more recently has emphasized advocating for democracy — said it is pulling out of the Conference of Presidents over disagreements regarding policies in the United States, discourse on Israel and how to define antisemitism. 

The decision is the latest of a few incidents in recent years that have exposed cracks in the conference, which aims to be a unified voice for dozens of Jewish groups in the United States. The resignation reflects the deep political divisions among American Jews more broadly, and the challenge of trying to unite disparate opinions under one banner in order to preserve a sense of shared Jewish interests in an increasingly polarized climate.

But the Workers Circle decision does not appear to be sparking a trend: Other left-leaning groups in the conference told JTA they would remain in the coalition.

“We believe that the time has come for us to separate,” Ann Toback, CEO of The Workers Circle, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday. “Our focus on democracy is not being reflected by this organization’s representation of us.”

Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff criticized Workers Circle over the resignation, accusing the group of not raising its issues or being an active participant in the conference prior to its resignation. He said that the resignation does not speak to deeper divisions in the coalition. 

This is the first time he knows of when a group has said it is resigning from the conference due to ideological differences.

“It was a complete surprise,” Daroff said. “We had no idea that they had any substantive issues with us, with the conference. They generally have not come to meetings. There are dozens of meetings they could have attended where they could have engaged in these issues.”

He also told JTA that the Workers Circle owed upwards of $15,000 in membership dues to the conference, which vary depending on the size of member groups. Toback disputed that payment was at issue, saying that the group had paid up the invoices it has received and was committed to paying what it owed through the date of its resignation. “It wasn’t about the dues,” she said of the group’s decision.

Founded in 1900 as the Workmen’s Circle, or Arbeter Ring, by Yiddish-speaking immigrants to the United States as a socialist mutual aid society, the Workers Circle has been a member of the conference since the mid-1990s. In 2016, the organization refocused itself on opposing what it sees as the erosion of democracy in the United States. Toback says protecting democracy fits with the group’s mission because it was founded by immigrants fleeing autocratic countries. 

In recent years, the group says, it has hoped that the Conference of Presidents would take more vocal positions on domestic issues like combating voter suppression and gerrymandering that dilutes the voting power of minorities. “The COP’s unwillingness to step in and speak to the erosion of democracy in the United States has been a real issue for us,” she said.

Daroff said the Workers Circle never asked the leadership of the conference to speak out on democratic norms. While Toback acknowledged that she did not raise the issue with conference staff directly, she told JTA, “It its very clear what their positions are and aren’t.” She added later, “Our missions aren’t aligned.”

The conference was founded in the mid-1950s with the aim of more effectively advocating for issues of Jewish concern by speaking in a shared voice. Its roster of 50 groups includes some of the largest Jewish organizations, including the major religious denominations, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee. It also includes a number of groups with much smaller staffs and public profiles.

The conference is no stranger to infighting and threats of resignation. Multiple member organizations have called on its leadership over the years to discipline the Zionist Organization of America, whose president, Morton Klein, is a right-wing pro-Israel activist with a history of inflammatory remarks. In 2019, ZOA got a reprimand from the conference for “insults, ad hominem attacks and name-calling.” 

The following year, more than a dozen other liberal member organizations of the conference sent an open letter to Klein condemning his bashing of the Black Lives Matter movement. Other member groups pushed the conference to expel ZOA. Klein responded with his own complaint against the refugee aid group HIAS and the heads of the other groups who had attacked him. Conference leadership attempted to resolve the situation by declining to take action on the complaints.

The Workers Circle decision means the group will now bow out of those internal debates. In a resignation letter sent Wednesday to the conference’s leadership and shared with JTA, Toback and Workers Circle president Zeev Dagan wrote that their breakup “is not a decision that we have made lightly.” 

“We have been a longtime member of the COP and share its concern for the interests of the American and world Jewish communities,” they wrote. Yet the letter, in addition to criticizing the Conference’s “silence” on the domestic issues that have become the focus of Workers Circle, names a host of other reasons for the split, including the Conference’s promotion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, which some liberal groups say chills free speech on Israel by defining some forms of criticism of the Jewish state as antisemitism.

In his response to the Workers Circle resignation, Daroff singled out in particular their objections to the IHRA definition. He said the chorus of people and groups that oppose the Israeli government’s recent judicial overhaul efforts — which includes members of the conference — shows that criticism of Israeli policy is condoned. (At least one member of the conference, ZOA, supports the overhaul legislation.)

“One need only look at the last six months of vociferous criticism of the Israeli government’s policies, wherein no one is claiming that such criticism is antisemitic, to dispute the preposterous canard that the definition — and the Conference by extension — stifles legitimate criticism of Israel,” he wrote in a statement.

But that debate over the judicial legislation, Toback said, ended up being the final straw for the Workers Circle. After Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law last week weakening the power of the Supreme Court, prompting mass protests and charges that such laws would endanger Israeli democracy, the Conference issued a statement that expressed “concern” over the reforms and called on Israel’s leaders “to seek compromise and unity,” adding, “Responsible political actors must ease tensions that have run dangerously high.” 

Toback had hoped for a fiercer condemnation of the law. “Watching Israel’s democracy hit this crisis point without calling for real change was the final moment” in the group’s relationship with the Conference, she said.

Progressive groups have floated leaving the coalition before, including in 2014, when the conference declined to extend membership to J Street, the liberal Israel lobby. After that decision — which was made by a secret vote of the conference’s members — Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said one option for his group would be “to simply leave the Conference of Presidents.”

He added at the time, “But this much is certain: We will no longer acquiesce to simply maintaining the facade that the Conference of Presidents represents or reflects the views of all of American Jewry.”

The groups that criticized the Conference of Presidents after the J Street vote are all still members, including URJ. Reached for comment on Workers Circle’s exit, Jacobs acknowledged that it’s “a challenge to be in a large, diverse umbrella organization — sometimes it’s very frustrating.”

But, Jacobs added, the URJ and other liberal groups choose to stay because “to increase the progressive, liberal voice on the Conference platform is important.”

“They don’t make statements like the Supreme Court with a majority and a minority view,” Jacobs said of the Conference. “We don’t, either. The Talmud does, but we don’t.’

Daroff told JTA that the conference’s members “all work together to build consensus on behalf of the agenda of the American Jewish community.”

Left-leaning groups in the conference said they respected the Workers Circle’s decision but that they felt they could do more within the coalition than outside of it. 

“We’ve gone all in with the Conference of Presidents,” said Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, whose president served on the conference’s executive committee. “We’ve found the more we engage, the more opportunity there is.”

But she added, “I deeply respect the decision that Workers Circle is making based on what I know to be true about the impact they want to make. I’ll miss them there.”

Hadar Susskind, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said, “We feel it is valuable for us to be there and to be part of the conference, even though it’s not perfect.”

Toback said that the Workers Circle’s decision to leave the Conference is not meant to reflect on the organizations that remain members. 

“This is in no way pointing fingers and saying, ‘By being in the Conference, you’re anti-democracy,’” she said. “I want them to continue to be strong activists in the Conference, and encourage them and others to advocate for strong statements in support of democracy.”

The post The Workers Circle, progressive Jewish group, leaves Conference of Presidents over disagreements on U.S. and Israel advocacy appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Nearly One in Five Young People Sympathize With Hamas, 29% Say US Should Reduce or End Alliance With Israel: Poll

Illustrative: Thousands of anti-Israel demonstrators from the Midwest gather in support of Palestinians and hold a rally and march through the Loop in Chicago on Oct. 21, 2023. Photo: Alexandra Buxbaum/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

A greater proportion of young Americans sympathize with the Palestinian people and government than with the Israeli people and government, while almost one in five sympathize with Hamas and a growing number want the US to end or reduce its alliance with the Jewish State, according to a new poll.

The national poll — released by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School — was of Americans aged 18-29. It found that while 52 percent of young people sympathize with Israelis, 56 percent sympathize with the Palestinian people.

The story remained the same when it came to governments: 32 percent of respondents said they sympathize with the Palestinian government, and only 29 percent said they sympathize with the Israeli government. The question did not make clear whether it was referring only to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, or both the PA and Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that rules Gaza.

According to the poll, 17 percent of young Americans said they support Hamas; however, when asked with the added context that Hamas is an “Islamist militant group,” support dropped to 13 percent.

Meanwhile, 29 percent said they believe the US should either no longer be an ally of Israel or reduce its allyship toward the Jewish state, and 32 percent said Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre — when the terror group invaded southern Israel, murdered 1,200 people, and took more than 250 hostages — was not justified. For both of these questions, though, a plurality of respondents said they were unsure.

Notably, support for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza was strong among young people — with 51 percent supporting it and just 10 percent opposing it. Only 6 percent of Democrats said they do not support a permanent ceasefire.

The question did not distinguish between a permanent ceasefire on the condition of the release of the hostages versus an unconditional permanent ceasefire, which would allow Hamas to keep all of its captives.

The Harvard poll was consistent with others on the opinions of young people regarding Israel and its war with Hamas. Traditionally, support for Israel has been strong among the American people. However, a greater proportion of young people are now questioning that support — and, in some cases, explicitly siding with enemies of the United States and Israel, such as Hamas.

A Harvard-Harris poll from October found young people (ages 18-24) were split almost down the middle when asked, as a binary choice, whether they support Israel or Hamas in the war. Additionally, a majority of young people have said they believe Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack was justified on the basis of legitimate grievance. Another poll found 51 percent said that Israel should be “ended” as a country and “given to Hamas and the Palestinians.”

These extreme views have manifested as concrete action, with large pro-Hamas protests occurring on college campuses. Most recently, at Columbia University in New York, anti-Israel demonstrators set up an encampment in the middle of campus. Protests that accompanied it — some off campus — included chants of “Al-Qassam [Hamas], you make us proud, kill another soldier now!” and “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.” Individuals also proclaimed, “We are all Hamas,” and one person yelled at two Jews, “Never forget the 7th of October. That will happen not one more time, not five more times, not 10…100…1000…10,000…The 7th of October is going to be every day for you.”

“Never forget the 7th of October. That will happen not one more time, not five more times, not 10…100…1000…10,000…The 7th of October is going to be every day for you.”

Protestors screamed this at two Jewish @Columbia students right outside campus gates tonight.

— Jonas Du (@jonasydu) April 19, 2024

The latest Harvard University poll was conducted from March 14-21 among 2,010 young Americans and has a margin of error of +/-3.02.

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Police Stop Anti-Zionist Agitators From Accessing Florida University President’s Home as Students Revolt Nationwide

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

An extremist anti-Zionist group on Thursday was prevented by local police from marching to the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential House at Florida International University (FIU), which is the home of school president Kenneth A. Jessell.

According to the campus newspaper Panther Now, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) planned the action as part of “Palestinian Prisoner Day,” an event held by the group to honor terrorists who are detained in Israel. As the demonstrators approached Jessell’s home, a blockade of police formed to obstruct their path.

Despite the aggression displayed in marching a mob to someone’s residence, the students complained that the police’s response was disproportionate to any threat they may have posed.

“Take a look over there. Do you know how many cop cars are there? All these cops for a bunch of students who are just chanting,” SJP co-president Zuhra Alchtar was quoted by Panther Now as saying when the police arrived on the scene. “The ivory tower gets so shaken when a bunch of people speak. They can’t stand it. They have to call the big guns; they have to call the priority response team.”

The demonstration came as anti-Zionist students across the US have been recently crossing the line from peaceful expressions of free speech to riotous behavior, flagrantly violating school rules, disrupting business, and even exposing Jewish students to racist and antisemitic rhetoric unlike any uttered publicly in the US since the 1950s.

Earlier this month, Vanderbilt University suspended and expelled several protesters who occupied an administrative building and proceeded to relieve themselves and perform other private functions inside. To infiltrate the building, the students “assaulted a Community Service Officer” and “pushed” officials who suggested having a discussion about their concerns, according to school officials.

At Columbia University, students were reportedly suspended — although it has recently been alleged that the university reduced their penalties to probation — for inviting to campus a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that has committed airliner hijackings and mass shootings. This week, two days of protest convulsed the campus and resulted in the arrest and suspension from school of US Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) daughter.

In several documented cases, anti-Israel protesters resorted to verbally abusing Black officials with racial epithets and violated their personal space. The Vanderbilt protesters told a Black police officer that his racial identity demanded his being an accessory to their machinations, according to video of the scene, and at Pomona College earlier this month, the school’s president reported that protesters called a Black administrator a racial slur.

A similar incident took place at George Washington University when US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield visited the campus last week. An SJP spinoff, formed after the school’s chapter was suspended, distributed pamphlets describing the ambassador as a “puppet” and a “Black body” who is “used … to carry out repression and dissent.” After the event concluded, a protester approached GW dean Colette Coleman and clapped her hands in the official’s face.

Such incidents have occurred alongside an unprecedented surge in antisemitic incidents and extreme anti-Israel activity on US college campuses that have upended the lives of many Jewish students.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) new annual audit, there were 922 antisemitic incidents on college campuses in 2023, a “staggering” 321 percent increase from the previous year. Across the nation, 8,873 incidents added up to the most ever counted by the ADL since it began tracking such data in 1979. Most of the outrages occurred after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

In California, an elderly Jewish man was killed when an anti-Israel professor employed by a local community college allegedly pushed him during an argument. At Cornell University in upstate New York, a student threatened to rape and kill Jewish female students and “shoot up” the campus’ Hillel center. In a suburb outside Cleveland, Ohio, a group of vandals desecrated graves at a Jewish cemetery. At Harvard University, America’s oldest and, arguably, most prestigious university, a faculty group shared an antisemitic cartoon depicting a left-hand tattooed with a Star of David dangling two men of color from a noose.

Other outrages were expressive but subtle. In November, large numbers of people traveling to attend the “March for Israel” in Washington, DC either could not show up or were forced to scramble last second and final alternative transportation because numerous bus drivers allegedly refused to transport them there. Hundreds of American Jews from Detroit, for example, were left stranded at Dulles Airport, according to multiple reports. At Yale University, a campus newspaper came under fire for removing from a student’s column what it called “unsubstantiated claims” of Hamas raping Israeli women, marking a rare occasion in which the publication openly doubted reports of sexual assault.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Ilhan Omar Silent After Daughter’s Arrest, Suspension for Role in Columbia University Anti-Israel Protest

Anti-Israel demonstrators clash with New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers during a protest on April 18, 2024. Photo: Reuters Connect

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of Israel’s most hostile critics in American politics, has remained silent about the arrest and suspension from school of her daughter following an eruptive anti-Israel protest which convulsed Columbia University in New York this week.

Omar’s daughter, Barnard College junior and sociology major Isra Hirsi, was one of over 100 protesters whom New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers took into custody for staging a riotous and unauthorized demonstration in which students, as well as non-students, declared solidarity with Hamas and called for the destruction of Israel. On Thursday, Hirsi announced that the school has suspended her for her role in the pandemonium.

Omar’s office did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment for this story, and the congresswoman has been silent on social media about the arrest and suspension.

Hirsi is a member of Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) — a spinoff of a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter that the university suspended for numerous violations of school rules — which recently invited a terrorist to campus.

“Those of us in Gaza Solidarity Encampment will not be intimidated. We will stand resolute until our demands are met. Our demands include divestment from companies complicit in genocide, transparency of Columbia’s investments, and FULL amnesty for all students facing oppression,” Hirsi, the only member of her family to comment publicly on the matter, said on X/Twitter. “I’m an organizer with CU Apartheid Divest at Columbia SJP, in my three years at Barnard College I have never been reprimanded or received disciplinary warnings. I just received notice that I am of 3 students suspended for standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide.”

Until this week, it was not widely known that Omar’s daughter was an active purveyor of falsehoods about Israel nor that she was a member of anti-Zionist groups that have been accused of antisemitic discrimination and harassment, including physically assaulting Jewish students and stealing missing persons posters of Israelis who were abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Responding to the news of Hirsi’s suspension, US Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) — a member of the so-called “Squad” of far-left lawmakers along with Omar and others — accused Columbia University of punishing the student as revenge for a brief exchange that Columbia President Minouche Shafik had with Omar on Wednesday during a congressional hearing about antisemitism on campus. Omar accused Shafik of suppressing “anti-war” protesters and denied that anyone at Columbia was targeting “Jewish people.”

“The day after Ilhan Omar questioned Columbia’s leadership commitment to free academic expression, the school suspended her daughter? It’s clear what is happening here,” Bowman said on X/Twitter. “Our educational institutions should not be in the business of political reprisals.”

Columbia University began exploding into a welter of anti-Israel protests on Wednesday while Shafik was in Washington, DC testifying before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce about antisemitism on the New York campus, where law enforcement had to be called to pacify the ongoing demonstrations on Thursday.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!” they shouted, words that reinforced the theme of Wednesday’s US congressional hearing: “Crisis at Columbia.”

On Thursday, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the education and workforce committee, said that restoring decorum at Columbia was imperative, both for the sake of the school’s credibility as well as for the welfare of Jewish students. Several news outlets reported on Thursday that a Jewish student was assaulted and told to commit suicide by a protester.

“For Columbia to correct course, the events of the past 36 hours must become a turning point,” Foxx said in a statement. “Columbia must take the bold and difficult actions necessary to address the pervasive antisemitism, support for terrorism, and contempt for the university’s rules that have been allowed to flourish on its campus. This includes real discipline that matches the severity of offenses by the students, faculty, and staff responsible, including suspension, expulsion, and termination.”

Foxx, who has been leading an investigation into antisemitism at Columbia, said the protest has “underscored” why the school drew the scrutiny of lawmakers.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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