(JTA) — A Republican-led commission tasked with studying antisemitism in Virginia recommended a suite of actions, from improving Holocaust education to prohibiting Israel boycotts, while also referring to former President Donald Trump’s recent dinner with a pair of prominent antisemitic figures.
The Virginia Commission to Combat Antisemitism, established by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, also concluded in a report released earlier this week that “political advocacy in the classroom has been associated with subsequent antisemitic actions.”
The report, which Youngkin ordered on his first day in office in January, comes just weeks after the U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into allegations of antisemitic harassment at a Fairfax County school district, filed by the right-wing Zionist Organization of America. Congress has since 2004 mandated an annual report on antisemitism worldwide, and a number of states have commissions on how best to advance Holocaust education and broader anti-hate measures.
In Virginia, the state that hosted the deadly 2017 Charlottesville march that thrust right-wing white nationalism into the American consciousness, the forming of such a commission to fight antisemitism was a potential model for other states to follow. While the report does touch on Charlottesville, it lays as much blame for antisemitism on anti-Israel activists and the state education system as it does on white nationalists.
Mirroring Youngkin’s own language about what he refers to as liberal bias in public schools, the report encouraged Virginia’s legislature to pass laws “prohibiting partisan political or ideological indoctrination in classrooms and curricula at state-supported K-12 schools and higher education institutions.”
Jennifer Goss, the program manager for the Holocaust education group Echoes & Reflections who was on the commission’s education subcommittee, said those recommendations were born out of “some members of the commission feeling concern over reported instances of antisemitism of educators, particularly in higher education institutions, making comments related to the concurrent political situation in Israel.”
For examples of such instances of anti-Israel bias among college educators, the report cited a study from the conservative Heritage Foundation alleging that university administrators tweet more negative comments about Israel than about “oppressive regimes”; its other examples involved reports of antisemitism and anti-Israel activity among university students.
By making the topic a cornerstone of his successful gubernatorial campaign and current legislative priorities, Youngkin helped turn Virginia into a hotbed for Republican-led claims that public schools are indoctrinating students with “critical race theory,” an academic concept that analyzes different aspects of society through the lens of race and ethnicity. Legislative attempts to curb such classroom instruction nationwide have sparked controversy, including in the realm of Holocaust education; school officials and lawmakers have argued students should learn about the Holocaust from the Nazis’ perspective, and multiple incidents have resulted in schools briefly or permanently removing Holocaust books from their shelves.
Democratic Virginia legislators criticized the report for what they saw as leaning into one of Youngkin’s pet issues. “You can count on him to go to the lowest common denominator and then try to politicize our children’s classrooms,” the state’s House Minority Leader, Don Scott Jr., told The Washington Post.
The commission was chaired by Jeffrey Rosen, who is Jewish and served as the acting U.S. Attorney General in the final month of the Trump administration; his work as chair was highly praised by commissioners who spoke to JTA. The commission’s other members, all appointed by Youngkin, included representatives from B’nai B’rith International, local law enforcement and non-Jewish organizations such as defense contractor Vanguard Research Inc.
Without mentioning Trump by name, the report included the passage, “Even a former president recently met with two notorious antisemites,” referring to Trump’s recent Mar-a-Lago dinner with rapper Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, whom the ADL deems a white supremacist.
Trump’s name was not mentioned because “we didn’t want it to be partisan,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Jewish Civilization and a member of the commission.
The report largely cited data from the Anti-Defamation League and the FBI’s hate crimes division when discussing antisemitism, but it also cited the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a pro-Israel legal group that frequently files challenges against U.S. universities. The AMCHA Initiative — which launches campaigns against supporters of the Israel boycott movement in higher education — along with prominent pro-Israel attorney and frequent Trump ally Alan Dershowitz are also quoted in the report, in sections on the rise of antisemitism on college campuses.
The report echoed some Brandeis Center language that some criticized as inflammatory, including its chair’s claims that the University of California-Berkeley had instituted “Jew-free zones” after some law students adopted a bylaw boycotting Zionist guest speakers.
The commission recommended that Virginia create a law prohibiting the state from doing business with entities that boycott Israel, similar to laws in several other states. It also recommended that Youngkin use an executive order banning “academic boycotts of foreign countries,” without specifying which countries.
The commission did not mention Youngkin’s own brushes with antisemitism controversies, including his 2021 assertion that Jewish Democratic megadonor George Soros was secretly inserting liberal operatives into the state’s school boards. His political action committee also financially supported a Republican state House candidate who in an ad depicted his Jewish opponent with a digitally enlarged nose, surrounded by gold coins.
“Hatred, intolerance, and antisemitism have no place in Virginia and I appreciate the committee’s hard work to highlight and grapple with these matters,” Youngkin said Monday in a statement.
Sam Asher, director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, said his main contribution as a member of the commission was to push for the state to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which other states and countries have done. He also pushed for more Holocaust education across the state, and both of those recommendations made the final report.
“I think it’s a very good report,” he said. “Now we need to put things into legislation.”
The executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington told The Washington Post that he was generally “thrilled” by the report, but he added that he wants local Jewish leaders to get time to digest its recommendations.
“I would hope that the governor and legislative leaders would not take steps on any of these things until they’ve consulted with the people who it’s going to have the most impact on,” Ron Halber said.
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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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