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Why Is the City Council of Somerville So Focused on the Middle East?

Postcard of Somerville Highlands station in Somerville, Mass. The station was located at Hancock Street on the Fitchburg Cutoff (later the freight cutoff), originally part of the Lexington & West Cambridge Railroad, circa 1907. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgSomerville is a delightful city: It was named in 2016 by Lonely Planet as one of the best places in the country to visit, borders Boston, is a short stroll from Harvard University, is home to the exciting new kosher restaurant of Lehrhaus, and, most importantly, where I lived for much of my 30s with my now wife. Recently, Somerville also became the first municipality in Massachusetts to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, the latter of which is the council’s perceived neighborhood bully.

As you would expect, this resolution has been dominating headlines all over the Israeli press and is exactly why the country is now slowing its operations against terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. We are finally moments away from the historic era of peace in the Middle East. People are asking why Somerville dragged its feet and took so long to pass such a resolution!

Of course, the part about the impact of the resolution is in jest; it has predictably failed to make a single headline in the Israeli press. If the goal of the resolution was to have an actual impact on the state of Israel, then it is hard to imagine actions by the city council that would have been a greater waste of time.

More than 100 days since Hamas started this war, Hamas is still firing rockets at civilian targets in Israel. Israeli villages that were decimated during the Hamas invasion on the morning of Oct. 7 are still uninhabitable, including Kissufim, where I spent the first years of my life. Hundreds of Israelis, men and women, babies to elderly, remain hostage and tortured. Hamas has been very vocal about their desire to repeat such atrocities again and again.

Does the city council of Somerville really think that they will cause Israel to ignore Hamas and just learn to live with this new reality? Perhaps they are reasoning that Jews have been the target of massacres for thousands of years and should continue to accept it?

In reality, resolutions like these have one effect, and that is to demonize Israel. A 2021 Pew study proves an overwhelming affinity by American Jews for Israel; more than 80% of U.S. Jews said that Israel is important for their Jewish identity. Our continued relationship for this spot on the planet dates back thousands of years.

After the second century C.E. Roman expulsion and enslavement of much of the Jewish population in Judea, Jews continued to inhabit the region, only avoiding it during periods when the penalty of inhabiting it was death. From serious attempts to rebuild the Temple to a brief period of Jewish control of Jerusalem in the fourth and fifth centuries, throughout history there were robust Jewish attempts to restore Jewish autonomy in the region. Many Jewish families fleeing the inquisition made a home in the land of Israel, and when Napoleon invaded, the de facto ruler defending Acre was Haim Farhi, a Jew. Montefiore’s Jerusalem the Biography outlines the continuous strong ties between the Jewish world and the land of Israel, despite thousands of years of oppressive discriminatory laws and violence aimed at Jews living there.

I have news for the city council of Somerville and its voters: One of the major components of being Jewish, as Avraham Infield, president emeritus of Hillel International, writes, is Memory. And we have a damned good one.

My personal favorite example that reflects the Jewish connection to the land of Israel is the prayer recited daily continuously for over a millennia by observant Jews, that makes an analogy of the return of Jews to the land of Israel to the streams of the Negev Desert—coincidentally, a the target of Hamas on Oct. 7. Only a people passionate and intimately aware of this region would constantly bring up such specific phenomena. After winter rains, areas that appear to be a barren wasteland become an unrecognizable area lush with fauna and flora.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, adopted by the state department during the Obama administration—and since then adopted by dozens of Christian, Muslim and secular countries all over the world, as well as states, and other institutions—specifically clarifies that holding Israel to a double standard is an example of antisemitism.

Somerville’s council has not passed resolutions, at least in recent history, about any other nation. From the millions of Muslim Uyghurs held in Chinese concentration camps to the half a million casualties as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from the horrible war in Sudan that has led to thousands killed and millions displaced to the reintroduction of slavery in Yemen, none of these are worthy of a resolution. Does the city council not find these situations problematic?

Perhaps the only problem that they see is the ones involving the only country in the world that has a Jewish majority. We seem to be living in Bob Dylan’s song about Israel, sarcastically named Neighborhood Bully: “ … he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized, old women condemned him, said he should apologize, then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad, the bombs were meant for him … he’s the neighborhood bully.”

So what does that make the city council of Somerville, members of which have avoided resolutions singling out any other country except Israel? If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck … ?

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The Buffer Zone Taking Shape in Gaza

Israeli soldiers fire mortar shells, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, near Israel’s border with Gaza in southern Israel, Jan. 3, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

JNS.orgThe Israeli Cabinet hasn’t issued an official directive to the military to create a buffer zone in Gaza yet, but de facto, on the ground, one appears to be taking shape anyway.

Only the prime minister and his Cabinet ministers—not the Israel Defense Forces—could decide on an official policy to cut off a certain section of land from Gaza.

In practice, however, the battlefield is producing the foundation of what could easily turn into a buffer zone—an area that is clear of all structures and the presence of Palestinians, and which cannot be used by terrorists to approach the Israeli border for further mass murder attacks.

In basic security thinking, the space that separates a holding area—the area being defended—and the nearest enemy position is a security (buffer) zone, providing strategic depth.

The security zone is designed to create distance between the first line of defending military forces and the enemy, so that if hostiles approach, the military will have enough time to recognize this and respond before terrorists breach the Israeli border. The moment such a breach occurs, the military has failed in its mission to defend, and if terrorists can start their assault from the border, they cannot be stopped in time.

This type of prevention is exactly what was missing on Oct. 7, when terrorists began their attack from the borderline, saturating it through detonated holes in the security barrier as well as via powered gliders and beach landings.

To help prevent such a large-scale attack from ever occurring again, Israel will need to create sufficient depth that gives the IDF enough time to protect its holding zone—Israeli communities near the Gaza border—and to place its units within the security zone, on the Gazan side of the border.

Optimally, the post-war reality will see the IDF conducting patrols beyond the Israeli border and creating friction within the enemy territory to defend civilian areas behind the frontier.

Deny cover to death squads

For all of this to work, the security zone must be as free as possible from people and structures, and this will deny Hamas the cover to send death squads on cross-border raids.

While the depth of a future buffer zone remains unclear, a kilometer appears to be one realistic option for defending the border communities—a kilometer into Gaza in which Israel will have a complete picture of what is occurring overground and underground.

This would enable realistic defense of communities such as Kerem Shalom on the border with southern Gaza to Nahal Oz and Sderot, which are near the northern Strip.

Ultimately, the Cabinet will need to make a decision on declaring such a zone, and to decide on how it will look in practice.

Such a decision will affect Gazan agriculture and the ability of Gazans to rebuild in eastern neighborhoods of the Strip.

There is mass destruction in these areas, which Hamas used for launch points for the Oct. 7 slaughter, and which housed key Hamas bases over and underground.

The buffer zone could feature a deep canal to cut off underground terror threats, a concrete wall barrier, an additional fence with electronic sensors, and then a large border barrier – four separate obstacles.

Laying a minefield could also be an important feature of such a security zone.

Realistically, it is difficult to imagine any other way to defend the communities of the western Negev in the post-war reality.

The idea of retreating back to a border barrier, one that was so easily breached on that terrible day in October, combined with nearly 4,000 rocket attacks, makes the idea of a return to the status quo unthinkable.

Separately, the Gaza Strip could also remain split between north and south, with an IDF brigade operating on the dividing line.

The idea would be to reduce Hamas’s ability to return to the ruins of northern Gaza and Gaza City and rebuild its shattered terror army.

Disconnecting northern and southern Gaza would be expected to significantly reduce Hamas’s operational capabilities, keeping the terrorists locked into smaller areas.

It remains unclear whether post-war the IDF will have posts within Gaza from which it can set out on smaller security raids, as is the case in Judea and Samaria, or whether such raids will be launched from Israeli territory.

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Tribute: Rabbi Dovid Schochet, 91, a pioneer in building Toronto’s observant community

The Jewish community in Toronto lost a towering leader when Rabbi Dovid Schochet, the president of the Toronto Rabbinical Council and the senior rabbi of the Chabad community in Toronto, passed away at the age of 91 on Jan. 28. He was born in 1932 in Basel, Switzerland, the second of 10 children, to Rabbi […]

The post Tribute: Rabbi Dovid Schochet, 91, a pioneer in building Toronto’s observant community appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Attacker in 2021 Antisemitic Assault in New York Sentenced to Three Years in State Prison

Joseph Borgen, victim of an antisemitic attack, addressing a rally in Long Island. Photo: courtesy

The final criminal proceeding for the case of Joseph “Joey” Borgen, a Jewish man whom a gang of antisemites mauled and pepper-sprayed in broad daylight during protests and counter-protests over Israel’s 2021 war with Hamas, resulted in another conviction Wednesday.

Mohammed Said Othman, 29, was sentenced to three years in state prison, according to a press release issued by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg.

Borgen, who is Jewish, was wearing a kippah while walking in Manhattan when Said Othman, along with several other men, ambushed him without being provoked. They shouted antisemitic slurs at the pro-Israel advocate, who suffered a concussion, wrist injury, black eye, and bruises all over his body.

Since then, three other sentences have been handed down in the Borgen case. Waseem Awawdeh, who continuously struck Borgen with a crutch while allegedly joining the others in shouting antisemitic epithets at him, pleaded guilty to attempted assault as a hate crime and received 18 months in jail, as part of a plea bargain negotiated with Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Jonathon Junig.

In November, Mahmoud Musa received seven years in prison for his role in the attack. In December, Mohammed Othman was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in state prison and five additional years of post-release supervision.

As seen in footage of the incident, Othman kicked and repeatedly struck Borgen in the face while sitting on his chest to weigh him down. In court, he pleaded guilty to gang assault and third-degree hate crime assault.

“These defendants violently targeted and assaulted another individual simply because he is Jewish,” District Attorney Bragg said in a statement. “While this office always supports the right to peacefully protest and engage in open dialogue, these multi-year prison sentences makes clear that physically attacking someone because of their religion is never acceptable. I thank our hate crimes unit for its diligent work in this case.”

Throughout the criminal proceedings in his case, Joey Borgen called on New York City lawmakers to do more to eradicate antisemitic hatred in the five boroughs.

In December, he told The Algemeiner that while he is pleased with the outcome of the case he is worried that the group with which his attackers were allegedly affiliated, the extreme anti-Zionist organization Within Our Lifetime (WOL), is still engaging in antisemitic activity that could lead to more hate crimes.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, WOL has posted (and deleted) a map, titled “Know Your Enemies,” showing the addresses of Jewish organizations in New York City, and staged numerous disruptive protests. The group is led by Nerdeen Kiswani, a former City University of New York (CUNY) student who once threatened to set on fire someone’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) hoodie while he was wearing it.

“They’re still causing havoc; they’re forcing Jewish attendees of a fundraiser to speak at the backdoor of a police van, and they’re bombarding the mother of a hostage with horrible antisemitic chants,” Borgen said. “While I’m happy that I got a positive result in my case, I’m still disturbed that this same group is still going around causing issues for Jewish people, attacking restaurants, and putting people in danger.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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