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Why I spent Yom Kippur protecting Palestinian villagers from settler violence

(JTA) — When I was 18 years old, like many American Jews, I spent a gap year in Israel. At a right-wing army-prep program called Mechinat Yeud, located in the illegal settlement of Efrat, I learned Torah, went on hikes and practiced krav maga. I fondly look back at this year as a positive experience and a time when I matured as a young adult.

I also saw the daily mechanisms of the occupation, though I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate this.

Over that year, I saw Palestinians whose cars bore different license plates than those driven by Jews. I saw a checkpoint between Israel and the West Bank that was a formality to Jews like my friends and me but very real to the Palestinians living right next to us. Though I finished my year in Yeud with a strong desire to live in Israel, I also knew that I couldn’t be complicit in Palestinian oppression. 

I eventually moved to Israel and threw myself into anti-occupation activism, spending weeks and months at a time in Palestinian communities in the West Bank. In addition to the bureaucratic oppression that Palestinians face on a daily basis, I saw — and sometimes was a victim of — the settler violence that plagues the West Bank.

During the American civil rights movement, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously referred to his protesting as “praying with his feet.” This past Yom Kippur, when the rabbis of the Talmud tell us to fully prostrate ourselves during prayer, I asked for forgiveness with my whole body by spending the Day of Atonement in Ein Rashash, a Palestinian Bedouin shepherding community located 22 miles northeast of Ramallah. Its residents had requested a 24/7 presence from solidarity activists due to threats from the nearby Israeli outpost of Malachi Hashalom.

According to a United Nations report released on Sept. 21, 1,105 Palestinians fled their homes and villages in 2022 and 2023. The report stated that settler violence is at a record high since the U.N. began documenting the trend in 2006. 

This report includes the villages of Ein-Samia, Al-Qabun, al-Baqa and Ras al-Tin. All of these villages were located near Ein Rashash, and like Ein Rashash, the communities all relied on shepherding for their livelihood. Settler attacks in the Palestinian towns of Huwara and Turmus Aya, frequently described as pogroms, have received attention within Israel and internationally.

Ein Rashash has faced similar settler violence and harassment. Shortly upon entering the village, one can see where settlers shattered the windows of homes and destroyed an outhouse in an attack in June. The community is considering leaving their land just like the community of Ein-Samia and many others have done

In response to this violence, a group of activists, most notably Rabbi Arik Ascherman, is spending long periods of time in Ein Rashash — located north of the ruins of Ein-Samia — to use our privilege as a de-escalating presence. When non-Palestinian activists are around, settler violence is less likely. Ein Rashash and the nearby villages are all located in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control as per the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian residents do not have Israeli citizenship, and they are subject to military law as opposed to the civil courts through which Israeli settlers are tried. “Protective Presence” activism is utilized in other communities in Area C that face regular threats of settler violence and home evictions, such as Masafer Yatta. I have done several shifts already, and I volunteered for the Yom Kippur shift.

I was accompanied by five other activists. The first thing we did was assign roles in case settlers came. Who would call the police or other activists? Who would film? Who would stand in front of a settler’s car if he tried to enter the village or drive through a flock of sheep? These are normal conversations in this line of work. 

A window that residents of Ein Rashash say was shattered by Jewish settlers in an attack in June 2023. (Sam Stein)

There is no break during Protective Presence activism. Either there’s an immediate incident, or you’re waiting for the next one. Every unfamiliar car or person in the distance can be a settler coming to attack or harass or bringing soldiers to force Palestinians off their land. A drone from the nearby outpost hovered overhead for around 30 seconds, and I was on edge for the next hour. You sleep with one eye open. Jewish holidays often bring with them right-wing violence in Israel and the West Bank. Hate crimes were carried out in Bat Yam this year and last year, and in 2021 there was a settler pogrom in the Palestinian village of Mufagara.

This is exhausting and emotionally draining. Unlike many other Protective Presence shifts I have participated in, Yom Kippur ended without incident. 

After 25 hours, I had the privilege of going home to Jerusalem. Palestinians do not have this option. This is their life. 

According to Torah, on Yom Kippur the Israelites are told to “afflict themselves.” The rabbis concluded that self-affliction must refer to fasting, reasoning that “affliction” refers to something that, when taken to a certain extent, can lead to death. 

Life under occupation can, and does, lead to death. One look at the statistics makes that all too clear. Since 2000, 10,667 Palestinians in the occupied territories have been killed by Israeli soldiers or civilians.

Protective Presence is my self-affliction. And yet, in homage to Yom Kippur’s imagery of being sealed in the Book of Life, life goes on. Activists laughed with and got to know each other and our Palestinian hosts. We read and we ate delicious homemade food. We didn’t embrace misery as a form of repentance. We embraced the full spectrum of life. 

I believe fasting is mentally, physically and spiritually unhealthy. The only self-affliction I find meaningful is in sharing the pain — and the joy — of my fellow human beings, particularly in a way that lightens their pain and suffering. The people of Ein Rashash have told us that our presence is making their lives easier and helping them stay on their land. The children are laughing and playing in a way that they were not when we first started these shifts. This has been the most meaningful Yom Kippur I’ve ever had.

In Mishnah Yoma 8:9, we learn that repentance on Yom Kippur only allows us to atone for the sins between ourselves and God. For a sin against another person, one must “satisfy their fellow.” We don’t need to ask God for forgiveness. We must stand with the Palestinians suffering under Israeli rule, until they’re satisfied. 

I know that it’s not a matter of if the settlers will be back, but when. For as long as that’s the case, I will continue to pray with my body and sometimes “self-afflict” in the name of justice and equality. The Talmud states self-affliction does not absolve one from their sins towards other people, only those towards God. And yet, our sins towards other people are the ones for which we direly need to repent.

The post Why I spent Yom Kippur protecting Palestinian villagers from settler violence appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities

An American flag waves outside the US Department of Justice Building in Washington, US, Dec. 2, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US federal authorities have charged, and a grand jury has indicted, a foreign national with planning a mass casualty attack against Jews and other minorities in New York on New Year’s Eve.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York reported that a grand jury indicted Georgian national Michail Chkhikvishvili with soliciting hate crimes and acts of mass violence.

Chkhikvishvili is reportedly the leader of a group called the “Maniac Murder Cult,” a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group.

Specifically, he was recruiting people to carry out arson and bombing attacks — as well as attacks aimed at Jewish and other minority children, according to US officials.

The US Attorney’s Office explained that the “planned New Year’s Eve attack involved Santa Claus handing out poisoned candy to racial minorities as well as distributing poisoned candy to Jewish children in Brooklyn.”

There were more than 450,000 Jews who lived in Brooklyn as of May 2024. Many neighborhoods are known to be predominantly Hasidic.

Authorities found out about the plot when Chkhikvishvili solicited an undercover law enforcement official to be involved in the attack.

He “sought to recruit others to commit violent attacks and killings in furtherance of his Neo-Nazi ideologies,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to find and prosecute those who threaten the safety and freedoms of all members of our community, including members of minority communities, no matter where in the world these criminals might be hiding.”

FBI New York Acting Assistant Director Christie Curtis lauded law enforcement for stopping the attack before it could ever take place.

“The swift disruption of this individual, accused of allegedly plotting violent attacks in New York, sends a clear message: we will use every resource in our power to ensure the safety of the American people,” she said. “The men and women who work on this task force day in and day out exemplify true service to our community, demonstrating unwavering commitment in thwarting those who seek to harm our citizens and our way of life.”

The plot comes amid a wave of antisemitic attacks that ramped up in America and around the world after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

Earlier this month, an observant Jew was sucker punched and beaten in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. The alleged attacker subsequently expressed his motive, saying “They’re [the Jews] the cause of all our wars,” and “We know who you are! We know the lies that you’ve told, that you have stolen the place of the true children of Israel.”

He was charged with assault and a hate crime.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then, in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US were directed against Jews.

The post Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities first appeared on

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RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

US lawmakers are preparing to release later this year a trove of new “bombshell” information revealing the extent to which antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on university campuses across the country, according to a high-ranking Republican.

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke with political pundit and podcast host Megyn Kelly about the efforts of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate surging antisemitism, including anti-Jewish bias, on college campuses. While reminiscing over last December’s congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in which each campus leader proclaimed that calls for a genocide of Jews may not violate school rules depending on “the context” — Stefanik revealed that the committee has obtained new documents shedding light on anti-Jewish hate at elite universities.

“This is pervasive in higher-ed. We have worked on this investigation, and if you think the hearing was bad, Megyn, we’re going to have to talk about all the documents that have been turned over because of our subpoena,” Stefanik said. “We’ll put out a report later this year. That’s even more bombshell material in there. It’s a disgrace what’s happening at these universities.”

Antisemitism has exploded at universities since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, amid the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Over the past several months, the committee has rigorously investigated antisemitism at America’s most prestigious universities. The panel recently unearthed and exposed text message exchanges between Columbia University deans which revealed the campus leaders mocking Jewish students as “privileged.” The lawmakers also alleged, based on their investigation, that Harvard University has engaged in a “pattern of inaction” in response to campus antisemitism.

Stefanik spoke to Kelly at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans are gathering this week to nominate their 2024 presidential candidate. The issue of campus antisemitism has been a key issue highlighted at the RNC.

On Wednesday night, Shabbos Kestenbaum, a recent Harvard graduate suing his alma mater over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students, took the RNC main stage and delivered an impassioned speech on campus antisemitism. Kestenbaum said that the surge of unchecked antisemitism on Harvard’s campus in the months following Oct. 7 left him disillusioned with progressives, prompting his move to the political right. 

“After Oct. 7, the world finally saw what I and so many Jewish students across this country experienced almost every day,” he told the RNC crowd. 

“My problem with Harvard is not its liberalism, but its illiberalism. Too often, students at Harvard are taught not how to think, but what to think. I found myself immersed in a culture that is anti-Western, that is anti American, and that is antisemitic,” Kestenbaum said. 

Kestenbaum implored the crowd to support the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Sadly the far-left wing tide of antisemitism is rising,” Kestenbaum said. “But tonight, tonight we fight back. I am proud to support President Trump’s policies to expel foreign students who violate our laws, harass our Jewish classmates, and desecrate our freedoms … let’s elect a president who recognizes that although Harvard and the Ivy Leagues have long abandoned the United States of America, the Jewish people never will.”

Anti-Israel protests have ravaged college campuses across the United States in the months following Oct. 7. Students at prominent universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT have participated in demonstrations chanting slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” Progressive student organizations have also openly banned “Zionists,” forcing Jewish students to choose between supporting Israel and maintaining their social network. Campus demonstrators have also openly cheered Hamas and in some cases threatened or committed violence against Jewish students.

Jewish donors and alumni have condemned university administrators over their unwillingness to shut down demonstrations. As a result, many of them have pulled funding and vowed not to allow their children to enroll at their alma maters.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, has ceased donating to Columbia University, citing “virulent hate” against Jews on campus.  Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania. The MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance urged Jewish graduates and allies to protest campus antisemitism by lowering their annual donation amount to $1.

The post RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe first appeared on

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Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations

Pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia University in New York City, US, April 29, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

StandWithUs (SWU), a Jewish civil rights group based in California, is imploring the US Justice Department to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing a hostile environment at the school in which pro-Hamas demonstrators who have harassed and assaulted Jewish students continuously evade justice by concealing their identities.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

The most obvious parallel between their conduct and the KKK’s, StandWithUs noted, is an inveterate shrouding of their members’ faces with masks and keffiyehs, the traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians that has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

Additionally, the groups — which also include Within Our Lifetime (WOL), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid, Columbia School of Social Work 4 Palestine (CSSW4P), and Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FJP) — have proclaimed their intention to purge Columbia’s campus of Zionists, a category which includes an overwhelming majority of Jews in the US and around the world. Their rhetoric, StandWithUs added, is unlike any uttered in the US since demonstrations against school integration in the 1950s.

“We hope the Department of Justice (DOJ) will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said on Wednesday. “Columbia President Shafik’s concession that Columbia is a hostile environment for Jewish students in violation of Title VI reflects a critical need for the current administration to take decisive action at Columbia.”

Lerman added, “We urge the DOJ to investigate the school’s failure to prevent groups and individuals on its campus from joining forces and depriving Jewish students of their civil rights, a failure that runs afoul of the KKK laws.”

SWU’s letter — sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department on Wednesday — comes amid an ongoing lawsuit the organization’s Legal Center for Justice (SCLJ) filed against Columbia University in February over its alleged failure to prevent and respond to an explosion of anti-Jewish hate incidents which have occurred on the campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, an event the protesters cheered and defended as an act of decolonization inspired by the ideas of far-left political philosophers such as Frantz Fanon.

SWU amended its complaint against Columbia in June, adding 45 students as plaintiffs and over “230 pages of allegations.” Meanwhile, the accusations which surfaced following the group’s first filing have already stained Columbia’s reputation.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” Columbia protesters chanted on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct but never facing consequences for doing so, the complaint alleges. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

The protesters later reinforced their rhetoric with violence, the complaint adds. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another allegedly attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen. Following the incidents, pleas for help went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held its demonstrations.

The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were purportedly forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, who took office in July 2023, recently attempted to assuage concerns that Columbia has become a sanctuary for antisemites after it was revealed that five high-level administrators participated in a group-chat in which ideas that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” were exchanged. She fired none of the administrators, however, which has led to calls for her to resign from office.

“We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination [sic] training for faculty and staff this fall, with related training for students under the auspices of university life,” Shafik said in statement. “Columbia’s leadership team recognizes this as an important moment to implement changes that will build a stronger institution as a result. I know that you all share this commitment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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