(JTA) — An American Jewish group that has provided aid to Jewish communities in crisis for more than a century has become the target of one of Israel’s newly empowered far-right ministers.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, who serves as national security minister, said on Wednesday that he was shutting down a program dedicated to reducing violence in Arab Israeli towns. His reason: The program is operated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which he called a “leftist organization.”
“JDC is a nonpolitical organization and has been so since our founding in 1914,” Michael Geller, a spokesperson for JDC, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Ben-Gvir’s characterization baffled many across the Jewish communal world who know the JDC as a nonpartisan group with an extensive track record of providing humanitarian aid to Jews in distress.
To them, Ben-Gvir’s criticism of the group is the latest sign that the rupture of political norms in Israel extends beyond the judicial reforms advanced by the government, which have drawn unprecedented protests.
“To call the JDC a left-wing organization is a joke. It is not political in any way,” said Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, co-CEO of the Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit that works toward an “equal and shared society” for Jewish and Arab Israelis.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, who is Jewish, said he anticipated changes by the right-wing government, which was inaugurated in December. But he was surprised by Ben-Gvir’s announcement.
“I could expect revisiting collaboration with organizations that are branded as civil rights or human rights or Israeli-Palestinian organizations,” he added. “But the JDC — it’s very strange.”
Founded in 1914 by the American Jewish banker Jacob Schiff to aid Jews living in Palestine, the “Joint” has distributed billions of dollars in assistance across 70 countries — including, over the last year, to 43,000 Ukrainian Jews amid the war there. It played a central role in aiding Holocaust survivors following World War II, as well as in the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Among its biggest sources of support are Jewish federations, the nonpartisan umbrella charities found in nearly every major North American Jewish community.
“JDC is an apolitical organization that has worked with every government since the establishment of the State of Israel, providing critical services to the elderly, youth-at-risk, people with disabilities and other underserved populations across all sectors, including Haredim and Arab-Israelis,” the Jewish Federations of North America said in a statement. “JDC’s activities are a living and breathing example of the Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah that guide Jewish Federations’ work every day,” Hebrew phrases that connote the Jewish imperative to repair the world, as well as charity.
In Israel, the group funds and operates efforts to help needy populations — including immigrants, the elderly, people with disabilities and people living in poverty. Those efforts often involve working with the government, which in 2007 gave the JDC Israel’s most prestigious prize for its work. This year, according to a spokesman, the group is spending $129 million on Israel initiatives.
The JDC’s government-funded programs include the anti-violence effort that Ben-Gvir is targeting. It was made possible last year due to nearly $1 billion in funding to curb crime in Arab communities by the previous governing coalition, which was centrist. The allocation followed lobbying by Arab and civil society organizations, including the Abraham Initiatives, which is now monitoring how the money is being used as well as its impact.
Arab citizens of Israel make up 84% of crime victims despite comprising just 20% of the population, according to government data released last year that showed a sharp rise in the proportion of Arab Israelis who had experienced violent crime.
Many in Arab communities have called for heightened law enforcement and have charged Israeli police with making inadequate efforts to keep their communities safe. This week, commenting on the shooting death of an Arab Israeli woman, Arab Israeli opposition lawmaker Ahmad Tibi accused Ben-Gvir of being “occupied with other matters,” such as clashes with the attorney general and police officials in Tel Aviv. “Maybe the time has come for senior officials to demonstrate responsibility when it comes to crime organizations and weapons running rampant,” Tibi said.
Other initiatives have aimed to tackle the violence in ways that go beyond policing. The program that Ben-Gvir said he is shutting down is one of them. Called Stop the Bleeding, it involves multiple government ministries as well as local community groups and education efforts and has operated in seven cities with large Arab populations, including a Bedouin town and Lod, a city with significant Arab organized crime networks that also has a large Jewish population.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said the program was already starting to bear fruit and had contributed to a slowdown in a multi-year rise in murders. Canceling the program, he said, reflects the current government’s general approach to tackling Israel’s problems.
“It’s not about collaboration. It’s not about hearing the concerns and pain and hopes and needs of the Arab community,” he said. “It’s about doing everything unilaterally, and really without a lot of care for the lives of those people. I think that’s what we are watching.”
A year ago, around the time when the previous government awarded the Stop the Bleeding contract to the JDC, Bezalel Smotrich, a key Ben-Gvir ally who was then an opposition lawmaker and now serves alongside Ben-Gvir as finance minister, proposed that Israel create a “command center” of “all of the relevant entities” that provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian Jewish refugees. Included on his list, alongside the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Red Cross: the JDC.
The JDC is not the first mainstream group to be targeted by far-right members of Israel’s new right-wing government, whose signature legislative effort aims to sap the power and independence of the country’s judiciary. That legislation has given rise to a sweeping protest movement and to grave warnings about Israel’s future from a broad range of public figures — including elder statesmen, foreign governments and religious leaders.
Avi Maoz, the leader of the anti-LGBTQ Noam Party who briefly held a leadership role in Israel’s Education Ministry, compiled a list of American and British groups that he believes are trying to impose their liberal values on Israeli schoolchildren. “We must protect our people and our state from the infiltration of the alien bodies that arrive from foreign countries, foreign bodies, foreign foundations,” Maoz once said. Maoz has since resigned from that role, saying that he did not think he was being sufficiently empowered to fulfill his goals by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
But Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said he remains concerned about civil-society programs, especially those falling under the purview of far-right ministers including Ben-Gvir or those funded by American Jews, whom some on the right perceive as universally liberal.
People who are paying attention to local governance in Israel expect further tensions around initiatives that do not match Ben-Gvir’s attitudes about harsh policing. Ben-Gvir wants officers to have the right to shoot Arabs who throw stones, has called for a crackdown on anti-government protesters and is increasingly clashing with police officials who believe his orders could jeopardize public safety. Multiple former police commissioners have called for his dismissal.
“Ben-Gvir has his own political agenda and he has his own ax to grind, and at the moment, I think he’s not keen on developing services of the Arab population, either in security or juvenile delinquency or education,” said Amos Avgar, who worked for the JDC in Israel, Russia and the United States for 30 years until 2010, including as chief programming officer.
Avgar emphasized that the JDC has always studiously avoided political activity. “If there’s one thing that the JDC is not, it is not political,” he said. “It always shied [away] from anything that had the smell of politics and never dealt with any project by political agenda.”
It’s unclear how quickly Ben-Gvir’s announcement, made during a government meeting and first reported by Israel’s public broadcaster, will ultimately translate into changes. Geller, the JDC spokesman, said the organization had learned about the criticism only from the media, not from Ben-Gvir’s office. Later, amid an outcry, Ben-Gvir’s office said the funding decision had followed a review of contracts that revealed missing documentation from the JDC, a charge that the JDC denied.
Amnon-Sulitzeanu said he didn’t have high hopes for the program’s future.
“I think the first [characterization] is unfortunately going to be the correct one — that he is actually intending to stop it, which is very unfortunate because it is among the more serious programs that are willing to deal with this catastrophe,” he said. “And it shows again that the current minister is not so much interested in saving lives of Arab citizens.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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