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‘You are not alone’: Biden arrives in Israel as Middle East erupts in anger after hospital blast

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden arrived in Israel with a message of wartime solidarity, saying that he accepted the Israeli claim that a blast at a Gaza hospital was the fault of Palestinian militant groups.

Speaking to the press in Tel Aviv alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden said the evidence Israeli officials presented him was persuasive. But he but also indicated that it was not likely to tamp down the eruptions of angry protests across the Arab world.

“The point is, is that I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion of the hospital in Gaza yesterday, and based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” he said. “But there’s a lot of people out there not sure, so we’ve got a lot — we’ve got to overcome a lot of things.”

The Israeli army posted what it said was intercepted audio of Palestinian terrorists saying that they believed that the blast at al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City was caused by a misfired rocket aimed at Israel. The blast reportedly killed hundreds of people, including people who had survived other blasts.

Israel says that the rocket was fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a smaller terrorist group that is at times at odds with the Hamas terrorist group, which controls Gaza. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have both publicly blamed Israel.

Before Biden took off from Washington, the spokesman for the National Security Council, John Kirby, said he expected Biden and Netanyahu to have difficult conversations. The pair have been at arm’s length all year, since Netanyahu retook power and advanced domestic policies that Biden criticized.

“He’s going to get a sense from the Israelis about the situation on the ground and, more critically, their objectives, their plans, their intentions in the days and weeks ahead,” Kirby said. “And he’ll be asking some tough questions. He’ll be asking them as a friend — as a true friend of Israel. But he will be asking some questions of them.”

Upon arrival, Biden was only sympathetic, stepping off Air Force One before anyone else and signaling Netanyahu to come forward for.a hug. In a later press opportunity with top officials from both countries, Biden sounded a note of solidarity.

“I want you to know you’re not alone,” Biden told Netanyahu at the press opportunity. “You are not alone. As I emphasized earlier, we will continue to have Israel’s back as you work to defend your people will continue to work with you and partners across the region to prevent more tragedy.”

Netanyahu reciprocated the affection. “I have seen your support every day in the depth and breath of cooperation that we have had since the beginning of this war,” Netanyahu said. “A level of cooperation that is truly unprecedented in the history of the great alliance between our two nations.”

Biden had hoped to advance plans for bringing relief to Gaza as Israel retaliates against Hamas with massive air strikes and plans for a major ground incursion aimed at destroying Hamas. But plans for Biden to meet in Amman, Jordan, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah were scuttled when the Arab leaders pulled out amid sharp domestic anger at Israel over the hospital explosion.

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Bullets fired at 2 Montreal Jewish schools amid local spike in antisemitic incidents

MONTREAL (JTA) — Bullets fired at two Montreal Jewish schools in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war have traumatized the local Jewish community, with some parents wondering if they should keep their children home.

Evidence of single bullets fired were found on the doors at the Talmud Torah elementary branch in the Montreal’s Snowdon district and the more Orthodox Yeshivah Gedolah closer to the Outremont district. The two schools are about a 10-minute drive apart.

People at the schools reported finding the bullets on Thursday morning. Police said no significant damage was done and no one was on the properties at the time the bullets were fired overnight.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the incident, tweeting: “I want to be clear: This hate has no place in Canada, and we must all stand united against it.” He also met with Canada’s new Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism Deborah Lyons on Thursday.

The incident came in the wake of attempted firebombings at a Jewish community center and synagogue two days earlier on Montreal’s West Island. It took place days after a prominent local Muslim religious leader publicly called for the eradication of all “Zionists” and hours after pro-Palestinian activists tried to violently stop a Hillel hostage-awareness display at downtown Concordia University.

The incident at Concordia resulted in two arrests and minor injuries.

“We know that words lead to action,” said Eta Yudin, vice president for Quebec at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. The bullets found at the schools, “represents a worrying escalation in the violence the Jewish community has been experiencing,” the center and the Federation CJA said in a joint statement.

“To most Canadians, the war might feel as it is on the other side of the world, bur, for Jews, we’re feeling the hate and experiencing the danger right here in our home communities,” said federation CEO Yair Szlak.

Despite Justin Trudeau and Quebec premier François Legault’s condemnations of the recent incidents, Montreal Jews say they remain concerned. The city and its surrounding suburbs are home to over 80,000 Jews.

”It’s unbelievable,” parent Iris Alpern, whose son is a Jewish elementary school student, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Our children have nothing to do with it. They’re going to school and learning to read and write and count. How is this possible, all this hate?”

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I’m an Israeli advocate for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. We’re still in this together.

KIBBUTZ HANNATON, Israel (JTA) — One of my son’s close friends was fatally wounded fighting Hamas in Gaza this week. Yair Nafusi was his name. He would have been 21 next month. He was born on Hanukkah, thus his parents chose the name Yair, to “light up.” Indeed, he lit up many lives. 

As we said goodbye to Yair’s physical presence and buried his body, I felt deep reverence and gratitude to this young man who gave his life to protect me and the more than 1,000 people standing around his grave, as well as the diversity of people living in this country and Jews around the world. They count on Israel to be a safe haven. Especially in times like these. Violent anti-Jew hatred is very much alive.

The Oct. 7 “Black Sabbath” Hamas massacre triggered a deep fear for our survival as Jews — and justifiably so. What reinforced our fear was the hailing of that massacre by much of the world, including the progressive (even Jewish) left, as a necessary step towards “freeing Palestine.”

Like many of the thousands of victims of this massacre (some who died, some who were wounded, and some who will suffer trauma for the rest of their lives) and of the almost 250 hostages taken by Hamas, I am an activist who believes in a vision of Jews and Palestinians living on this land in partnership and peace. I devote much time and energy towards building a shared society among Palestinian and Jewish Israelis, especially in the Galilee, where I live. And I continue to believe in this vision. 

I also believe terror and war are not the solution to the ongoing conflict. Only once we all (Palestinians and Jews) recognize one another’s suffering, acknowledge the truth in both our narratives, and take responsibility for the conflict and its solution, will we be able to have a true and lasting peace. I recognize Israel’s contribution to this conflict, and I hold our current government partly responsible for the ‘“success” of Hamas’ attack, although certainly not for its brutality.

The events that have unfolded since Oct. 7 have been eye-opening. My work building Palestinian-Jewish coexistence has always assumed partnership: a belief in the humanity and rights of both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples. That is why my novel, “Hope Valley,” about the friendship between a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli woman, is told from their alternating points of view. 

And yet, when I watch the pro-Palestinian protests by “progressives” from London to New York to Washington, I see activists crossing a line from struggling for peace and Palestinian rights into promoting a hateful, terrifying, dangerous anti-Jewish agenda. 

It is a line crossed when they blame the conflict on Israel and Jews alone; when they call Hamas “freedom fighters” who were justified in using barbaric violence to achieve their goals; when they distort the complicated history and present reality of Israel-Palestine into a black-and-white story of white colonialist Jews invading Palestine to commit genocide on an indigenous Palestinian population.

It’s the same dangerous line crossed by those who say innocent Israeli citizens deserve to be butchered, burned, raped, maimed; who glorify Hamas as a progressive humanitarian group when its covenant specifically calls for wiping Israel and the Jewish people off the earth; who call Israel’s retaliation against Hamas “genocide” — as if the IDF’s intention is to wipe out the entire Palestinian nation. 

Hamas is no good for Palestinians and no good for Jews. It wants a fundamentalist Muslim dictatorship on the land from the river to the sea, devoid of all Jews. And Christians. And LGBTQ folk. It is no good for anyone who believes in democracy. It is simply no good for humanity. What Israel faces now in Gaza is a moral dilemma. Hamas wanted the IDF to retaliate so it could make Israel look bad. It worked. What Israel is doing is bad — killing thousands of innocent people, including children. But not evil. Hamas is evil. And while so many across the globe who promote Palestinian rights don’t want to see the difference, I do.

I do spiritual companion work for clients around the world, including liberal rabbinical students and rabbis. They report among some of their peers a lack of knowledge of historical and political facts about Israel-Palestine, as well as about anti-Jewish tropes and their underlying theories, that concerns me immensely. I grew up Orthodox Jewish Zionist in New York, where the Palestinian narrative was omitted from my education. That was highly problematic. But so is teaching only the Palestinian narrative, or not balancing the progressive world’s bias towards the Palestinian narrative with the Jewish one. Future Jewish leaders especially need to understand both narratives, and not simply go with the tide of the times.

Human rights include Jewish human rights. It is possible to believe in human rights for both Jews and Palestinians. It is possible to cry for the innocent Palestinian lives lost in this war (from Israeli bombs, Hamas and Islamic Jihad missiles and Hamas using their own citizens to protect their terrorist cells) while believing in Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’ attempt at the annihilation of Israel and all Jews. 

It is even possible to demand from Palestinians truthful examination of their leaders’ culpability.

Devoting time and energy towards building Palestinian-Jewish partnership and fighting for equality, justice and peace, I have had to hold many truths. I have had to find a way to deal with feelings of guilt over Jewish Israelis’ part in the injustices inflicted upon innocent Palestinians (blame that must also be shared with Arab countries and Palestinian leaders) without losing my sense of self, self-respect and a belief in my right to live here, and even exist. 

It has not been simple, but it is possible. I expect my Palestinian and progressive Jewish counterparts to go through a similar process. Some have, but not all, and unfortunately the voices of those who have not are reverberating loudly throughout the world (ironically, less so in Israel, where advocates for Palestinian rights and a lasting peace more often hear and heed the voices of the “other” side). 

I do believe if we remove Hamas and replace our leaders — the Palestinian and Israeli leaders who stand in the way — with worthy ones who will talk and be willing to compromise, we can build a lasting peace. Then no more soldiers like Yair, or victims of terror, or casualties of war, will have to pay the price for our inability to do so.

The post I’m an Israeli advocate for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. We’re still in this together. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Hundreds gather in Bryant Park following pro-Palestinian NYC high school walkout

(New York Jewish Week) – Hundreds of high school students and adults gathered near Bryant Park, heeding the call of a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups for New York City high school students to stage a walkout in protest of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

The crowd chanted “Intifada,” called for a ceasefire, accused Israel of genocide and praised Palestinian “resistance.” Actress Susan Sarandon, a longtime critic of Israel, made an unannounced appearance.

Organizers had released a detailed guide to help students schedule, recruit for, organize and gain administrator consent for the walkout, but the majority of the crowd appeared to be older than school age. One speaker told the audience that “over 150” students had walked out of class, out of the hundreds of thousands of high schoolers in the city. Some young people joined the event later in the day, after schools let out.

The crowd chanted, “From the river to the sea,” “Israel is a racist state,” and “There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” from the steps of the New York Public Library. Attendees carried signs that said, “Resistance against occupation is a human right,” and “Free all Palestinian political prisoners.” 

Activists posted stickers around the protest saying, “Stop the Holocaust in Gaza” and warning “Zionist donors” against interfering in colleges.

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas invaded Israel, killing 1,400 and taking more than 200 people hostage. Israel has since conducted heavy airstrikes in Gaza and launched a ground invasion with the aim of deposing the terror group. According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, more than 10,000 people have been killed, though it isn’t clear how many are civilians and how many were killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. 

Sarandon told the crowd, “So many people do not understand the context in which this Oct. 7 assault happened. They don’t understand the history of what has been happening to the Palestinian people.”

She added, “It’s time to have an open heart. It’s time to be strong and it’s time that Palestine be free.”

Speakers at the rally decried civilian fatalities in Gaza and framed the war as the focal point of a global struggle against profit-seeking Western imperialism, raising the topics of U.S. labor unions, homelessness in New York City, U.S. taxes and the policies of New York investment firms.

“The situation in Gaza today is unfathomable,” a speaker from the Palestinian Youth Movement, one of the organizers, told the crowd. “Every day we hear from our people in Gaza, ‘Today was the worst day so far.’

“From the river to the sea, the struggle for Palestinian liberation only grows stronger and stronger in the face of the bombs and bullets of the oppressive Zionist and imperialist world,” said the speaker, who did not share her name. “The expansionist genocidal nature of the Zionist settler colony could not be more blatant.”

A high schooler told the crowd, “We are showing the people of Gaza that they are being listened to.”

“We are the resistance fighters of the West,” the student said. “And we will not be quiet until Palestine is free.”

The groups organizing the protest demanded an immediate ceasefire and “an end to U.S. support for genocide” in materials addressed to students, teachers and parents released ahead of the rally.

The event, called a “Day of Action,” was sponsored by a number of pro-Palestinian and educators’ groups, including the Palestinian Youth Movement, Teachers Unite and the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the progressive caucus within the city teachers union.

The Community Education Council in District 14 in Brooklyn, an elected entity that is part of the city’s school governance structure, also signed onto the rally. The council and several other organizers did not respond to requests for comment. 

The group’s “toolkit” included a guide for calling members of Congress, plans for the student walkout, instructions for educators, drafts for parent-teacher association anti-Israel resolutions, and talking points echoing the messages delivered at the rally. 

The toolkit suggested educators support student protesters by canceling tests or deadlines, and that students should protest inside school buildings if they are not comfortable leaving campus.

Educational materials from organizers appeared to justify the Oct. 7 attacks, saying, “Palestinians tore down the cement walls caging them in the Gaza Strip.” 

The talking points included the claim that Israel had killed 900 people in a hospital bombing last month, which has been debunked by a wide range of assessments by intelligence agencies and publications, and that it was deliberately killing civilians who were fleeing the fighting, which Israel strenuously denies. Israel has opened up protected corridors for civilians to evacuate and has instituted humanitarian pauses to provide for civilian needs.

Chancellor David Banks on Wednesday warned educators against bringing politics into the classroom. In an email the Department of Education shared with the New York Jewish Week, he said he had planned to send that message before the announcement of the walkout.

“School leaders, teachers, and other school staff should not express their personal views about political matters during the school day,” the email said. “Our job as educators is to expose our students to objective facts and multiple perspectives, allowing them to make their own judgments and grow as independent and critical thinkers.”

Late last month, Banks expressed alarm about “hateful rhetoric at educational institutions” surrounding the war. Days after the Hamas attack, Banks condemned the “horrific acts of violence” and said the school system would provide resources to facilitate discussion about the conflict. 

New York City Department of Education regulations stipulate that “School buildings are not public forums for purposes of community or political expression.” Regulations also say that employees cannot engage in political activities during working hours.

School protests against gun violence in recent years, particularly following the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, offered a recent precedent for staging protests at schools. Any disciplinary measures for illegal activity would need to be consistent, and past disciplinary measures have been moderate, said David Bloomfield, a professor of education, leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

“If the school administration didn’t punish teachers for participating in the anti-gun violence rallies, it can’t turn around and be more stringent against a pro-Palestinian demonstration,” he said.

Bloomfield said it was legal for educators to encourage the day of action, but some of its activities may not be legal during work hours. Students and faculty, he said, “need to be careful that their speech doesn’t drift into hate or threats of violence.” The participation of the Community Education Council was also legal, he said.

Faculty needed to focus on keeping students safe during the walkout, he said, adding that teachers who actively protested during school hours may be subject to disciplinary measures. It wasn’t clear if any public school educators participated in the protest.

Rabbi Yossi Schwartz, the director of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Student Union in New York, a youth group, said the organization has been grappling with antisemitism in high schools since Oct. 7. The group runs clubs meant to bolster Jewish identity and connections to Israel in around 30 public schools in New York City and Long Island, along with one location in Westchester. 

“I think the world out there knew that it was going on in colleges but the fact that it’s even in high schools, I think is shocking,” Schwartz said, adding that the group had tallied five antisemitic incidents in New York City public schools in the past week.

The post Hundreds gather in Bryant Park following pro-Palestinian NYC high school walkout appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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