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Belgian government funds groups that promise to weaken influence of pro-Israel voices

1 hour 28 min ago

(JTA) — The Belgian government is financing organizations that in their appeal for federal funding promised to “mitigate the influence of pro-Israel voices.”

The appeal by three nongovernmental Belgian organizations, the Catholic aid group Broederlijke Delen, Oxfam Solidarity and Viva Salud, appeared in a document from 2016 by the Belgian Joint Strategic Framework Palestine, a platform that distributes federal money.

NGO Monitor, an Israel-based organization that investigates the activity and funding of players in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, published a report on that funding Thursday.

Arnaud Gaspart, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Ministry, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the document “does not reflect Belgium’s position or point of view.”

In 2018, the Belgian Ministry for Development Cooperation allocated at least $1.8 million for Joint Strategic Framework projects, Belgian government documents show. In the years 2015-18, it gave approximately $20 million to “NGOs and Civil Society.”

In the 2016 appeal, Joint Strategic Goal No. 3 for “Good Governance, Civil Society and Human Rights” calls for strengthening local civil society organizations “to increase their advocacy efforts towards the European institutions and member states, promoting respect for international law and mitigating the influence of pro-Israel voices.”

NGO Monitor in a statement called this a “misuse of European taxpayer funds to benefit radical groups.”

Another beneficiary of the government funding is the Made in Illegality campaign led by the Belgian nonprofit National Center for Cooperation Development. It calls for boycotting settlement goods and Israeli firms active in settlements. Many major Israeli firms, including its large banks, are active in settlements.

The post Belgian government funds groups that promise to weaken influence of pro-Israel voices appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Family of biracial Jewish woman set on fire in Wisconsin thanks public for ‘overwhelming outpouring of support’

1 hour 33 min ago

(JTA) — The family of a biracial Jewish woman in Wisconsin who said she was set on fire by four white men issued a public thank you for “the overwhelming outpouring of support that Althea is receiving.”

Althea Bernstein, 18, of Madison said last week that the incident took place early on the morning of June 24 while her car was stopped at a light. She was treated at a hospital for burns to her face.

There is now a $10,000 reward for anyone who can provide police with information that leads to the arrest of the attackers, according to reports.

The Center for Combating Antisemitism, a division of the nonprofit organization StandWithUs, in conjunction with the Mizel Family Foundation, is offering a $5,000 reward in addition to Madison Area Crime Stoppers’ reward of $5,000.

“Our family is still asking for privacy at this time so that Althea may focus on healing,” its statement said, the local ABC affiliate WKOW reported. “We ask for your continued prayers and positive thoughts not only for Althea’s healing, but for the healing of the collective wounds of our society whose history of ongoing racial inequity has come to the forefront in recent years.”

According to Bernstein, someone yelled a racial epithet at her while her car was stopped and the window was down. One of the four white men she saw sprayed liquid and threw a lighter on her.

The post Family of biracial Jewish woman set on fire in Wisconsin thanks public for ‘overwhelming outpouring of support’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

How the ADL went from working with Facebook to leading a boycott against it

Wed, 2020-07-01 21:32

(JTA) — It was when Mark Zuckerberg said he would allow Holocaust denial on his platform that the Anti-Defamation League realized its partnership with Facebook wasn’t working. 

The social media giant and the Jewish civil rights group had been working together for years to curb hate speech online. In October 2017, Facebook headlined a new ADL initiative to start a Cyberhate Problem-Solving Lab in collaboration with Silicon Valley’s biggest companies. 

Then, nine months later, Zuckerberg told the tech site Recode that while he personally found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he said, “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong.”

People who monitor anti-Semitism criticized Zuckerberg for what they saw as undeservedly giving anti-Semites the benefit of the doubt — as if they were making an innocent mistake rather than propagating a deliberate lie. That’s when the ADL realized that Facebook wasn’t going to change on its own and needed to be pressured. 

“Holocaust denial is something that we’ve been talking to Facebook about for I think it’s 11 years at this point,” Daniel Kelley, associate director of the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We’ve told them Holocaust denial is hate. It is not misinformation. And they have not only not changed, but in several instances doubled down on treating Holocaust denial as some form of misinformation.”

So the ADL has changed tacks as Facebook, according to ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, “has allowed some of the worst elements of society into our homes and our lives.”

After years of seeing the largest social network in the world as a partner, it is now treating Facebook as an adversary. That shift has culminated in an ADL-led campaign urging companies to stop advertising on Facebook for the month of July in collaboration with the NAACP and other civil rights groups.

The campaign has attracted a growing list of leading brand names. More than 230 companies have signed onto the pledge, and last week Facebook’s stock dipped more than 8%, though it has since rebounded. 

Apparently shaken by the boycott, Zuckerberg has announced a series of changes to Facebook’s hate speech policies, which he said “come directly from feedback from the civil rights community.” He also pledged to meet with the organizers of the boycott.

Facebook’s changes include labeling posts regarding voting access, flagging posts that target immigrants, banning members of the far-right antigovernment Boogaloo movement and placing warnings on hateful or false posts from public figures that the network still feels are newsworthy.

“I’m committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues, because I believe we can make more progress when we hear each other,” Zuckerberg wrote Friday in a Facebook post. “But I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that no matter where it comes from.”

Those moves have not lessened the ADL’s commitment to pressuring the company, which makes nearly its entire $70 billion in annual revenue through ads. 

“Facebook says it will take meaningful steps to address the hate on its platform,” Greenblatt tweeted after the announcement. “We’ve been down this road. Don’t let them refuel for another hate-filled trip.”

Fighting tech companies is a change for Greenblatt, who came to the ADL job in 2015 following a career as a social entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Greenblatt founded a bottled water company that donated a portion of its proceeds to clean-water access, as well as All for Good, an open-source platform that aggregated volunteer opportunities online.

The ADL had been pushing tech companies to get more serious about combating anti-Semitism for decades. Greenblatt’s predecessor, Abraham Foxman, complained in a 2013 interview with JTA about “the geniuses at Palo Alto” and said, “The providers need to take greater ownership. They don’t want regulation.”

Under Greenblatt, the ADL increased its focus on tech, and at first tried to curb online hate through partnership. The group expanded its presence in Silicon Valley in 2016 and founded the Center for Technology and Society in 2017 to combat cyberhate. Greenblatt said he hoped “to collaborate even closer on the threat with the tech industry.”

Later that year, the ADL announced its partnership with four tech giants — Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter — to create the Cyberhate Problem-Solving Lab. The idea was to work with the companies on technical solutions to improve detection and removal of hateful posts, with the ADL providing guidance on how to spot bigotry and address it. 

But according to Kelley, the effort went nowhere. Facebook, he said, never acted on any of the advice provided by the ADL. 

“They were happy to sign onto a press release and to say, well, we’re working with ADL. We did have several meetings,” Kelley said. “It’s the same story of us coming to the meeting with real ideas for how to approach the problems on their platform and them walking away not promising anything. We tried to work with them.”

Facebook did not respond to an email request for comment. But the company has disputed that it has a poor record on addressing hateful posts. It points to a recent study from the European Union showing that Facebook is the quickest among the major social media platforms in addressing notifications of hate speech coming from European users. It found that Facebook assessed 96% of the notifications of hate speech within 24 hours, compared to 76.6% for Twitter. Facebook removed 87.6% of the flagged content, compared to 35.9% for Twitter. 

But Kelley said that while Facebook does release transparency reports, it does not give outside researchers access to the data, unlike Twitter. So he said there’s no real way to confirm Facebook’s claims of transparency. 

“All these statistics are not vetted by, or verified by, any third party,” he said, adding later that “The ability to do real research into the nature of hate on Facebook is extremely limited.”

As months and then years passed, activists in Myanmar and elsewhere were complaining that Facebook was allowing public officials to encourage human rights violations. In 2018, the shooter at the New Zealand mosques livestreamed the massacre on Facebook. 

But while Facebook made some modifications to its hate speech policies, it did not appear to change course philosophically. In October, Zuckerberg said in an address at Georgetown University that he was proud that “our values at Facebook are inspired by the American tradition, which is more supportive of free expression than anywhere else.” 

Using the speech, the Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen compared Zuckerberg to a restaurateur gladly serving neo-Nazis.

“If he owned a fancy restaurant and four neo-Nazis came goose-stepping into the dining room and were talking loudly about wanting to kill ‘Jewish scum,’ would he serve them an elegant eight course meal? Or would tell them to get the f*** out of his restaurant?” Cohen wrote. “He has every legal right, indeed a moral duty, to tell them to get the f*** out of his restaurant.”

A month later, the ADL gave Cohen its International Leadership Award. The comic actor used the opportunity to give a keynote address to excoriate social media companies. 

“I say, let’s also hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites to advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies: You already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections, you already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar, do it again and you go to jail.”

A wrinkle in this story came a few weeks before Cohen’s speech. Following the October attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany, the ADL accepted a $2.5 million donation from Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. Greenblatt said, upon accepting the donation, that he was “grateful for her commitment to fighting hate in all of its forms.”

Sandberg posted on Facebook that “It means so much to me to be able to support this vital work at this critical moment.”

Facebook’s mostly hands-off approach to posts does have notable defenders.

David Hudson, an advocate of expansive First Amendment rights, said that free speech protections should be extended to Facebook because its size and breadth gives Facebook the power of a government. 

“Certain powerful private entities — particularly social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and others — can limit, control, and censor speech as much or more than governmental entities,” he wrote for the American Bar Association’s Human Rights magazine. “A society that cares for the protection of free expression needs to recognize that the time has come to extend the reach of the First Amendment to cover these powerful, private entities that have ushered in a revolution in terms of communication capabilities.”

But Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, who spoke out against Zuckerberg’s remarks on Holocaust denial, said a boycott was the right way to go. 

“Facebook is a private entity and no private entity is obligated to post hate speech,” she said. “Generally I don’t like boycotts, but if this is the only thing to which Facebook is going to respond, then you have no other choice. You can choose where you put your money.”

This year, in testimony to Congress, Greenblatt cited his work in Silicon Valley in calling on tech companies to work harder. He called tech “an amplifier, an organizer, and a catalyst for some of the worst types of hate in our society,” and said Facebook and Twitter “need to apply the same energy to protecting vulnerable users that they apply to protect their profits.”

Despite the measures Facebook has taken, the ADL says that hasn’t happened. And that’s why, after years of trying to collaborate with Facebook, the ADL is now trying to disrupt its revenue stream in the hopes of forcing change. 

“There’s a common understanding that Facebook is a company that puts revenue above all else, but I think this is a very clear-cut example,” the ADL’s Kelley said. “All of these changes, the minor tweaks that Mark Zuckerberg announced on Friday, were things that the civil rights community have been asking for for years, in addition to larger structural changes to the platform.

“It took a massive pause on advertisement by major companies to get them to move an inch.”

The post How the ADL went from working with Facebook to leading a boycott against it appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Here’s a fresh take on whitefish salad: Make it with labneh and lemon

Wed, 2020-07-01 21:00

This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.

Few things are more reminiscent of classic Jewish deli fare than whitefish salad. And while buying it by the pint is a weekend morning luxury, making your own whitefish salad might be even better because you can tailor it to your exact flavor preferences.

Not a dill fan? Skip it! Like things uber-tart? Add more lemon juice. The only thing that’s non-negotiable: smoked fish.

Still, there’s room for creativity — this salad is just as tasty when made with whitefish as it is with hot-smoked salmon or trout.

As for the dairy that tethers together the salad, nothing is as delightfully rich as creamy labneh, but you could just as easily sub in full-fat Greek yogurt or sour cream if you have them on hand.

Serve this smoked fish salad with toasted marbled rye bread (the superior choice, in my opinion) or make a bagel sandwich, though you could just as easily swap the bread for a pile of crisp Little Gem or Bibb lettuce with a handful of crackers on the side. Just don’t skip an extra squeeze of lemon to finish.

6 scallions, thinly sliced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon, plus more juice to taste
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup labneh, Greek yogurt, or sour cream
2 pounds hot-smoked whitefish, trout or salmon, picked off the bone
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias, plus any leaves, reserved
1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
Rye toast, bagels or crackers, for serving
Crisp lettuce and/or sliced cucumbers, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Combine scallions, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and let sit for at least 5 minutes or up to 1 hour.

2. Stir in labneh (start with 1/2 cup and add more to taste after the following ingredients), then fold in picked fish, sliced celery, parsley, all but 1 tablespoon dill and sliced chives. Season with more salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

3. Top with reserved dill and celery leaves. Serve with toast, bagels or crackers, as well as lettuce, cucumbers and lemon.

The post Here’s a fresh take on whitefish salad: Make it with labneh and lemon appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

I’m an Israeli settler. American Jews are debating my future, but here’s what they don’t understand.

Wed, 2020-07-01 20:45

MITZPE YERICHO, West Bank (JTA) — It’s been surreal watching from Israel as Americans discuss my future. I’ve gotten used to presidents spending years developing plans for my neighborhood and other towns in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank — they mean well and I truly appreciate their efforts. But recently I’ve been thrown by all the attention we’ve been receiving from the American Jewish establishment. 

I’ve watched Zoom panels, Facebook Lives and read countless op-eds about my future and Israel’s annexation plan for parts of the West Bank. All the attention is gratifying, but I have noticed that many of the discussions, panels and debates have been missing some important nuance. 

I’ve also noticed that many of these panels don’t include any speakers who are Jewish settlers or Palestinian residents of the area, which made it feel like I was watching an all-male panel discuss women’s issues or three white people discuss Black Lives Matter.

When I challenged one think tank about its 20-person panel that did not include a single Palestinian or Jewish settler, I was told that the discussions centered around security issues and a resident’s perspective wouldn’t be valuable. 

But without a local speaker, these organizations are robbing their audience of the chance to hear a diverse set of opinions. Setting aside that security experts who live here are more familiar with the security challenges we face than former American security officials, their response shows a deeper flaw in how Americans view Israel and the region.

I watched a congressman who hasn’t visited a settlement in years — if ever — host an hourlong conversation about why it’s not in Israel’s interests to extend sovereignty over the West Bank. He authored a letter, and got 189 of his colleagues to sign it, which made the same points. 

How can he dismiss the perspective of Israeli settlers if he hasn’t seen us or spoken to us? It’s as ridiculous as sitting in Israel explaining to Black Americans in Minneapolis that they have nothing to fear from their police department because I visited Minneapolis once eight years ago and I’ve read that their officers are trying to do the right thing. 

The American Jewish establishment is missing nuance in four major areas: the history that led Israel to extend sovereignty over the West Bank; the effect extending Israeli sovereignty will have on Palestinians; our security challenges; and foreign relations. 

Judea and Samaria are the heartland of the Jewish homeland. As I stand here writing, I’m looking out my study’s window facing Jericho and the Jordan Valley beyond. The Torah portion we will read this week, and many others, take place within the area I can see from my window. 

Israel might one day decide a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River is in its interests, but that doesn’t change the fact that this area is historically Jewish land. The people of my town are proud to be today’s Zionist pioneers: Zionism aims to return Jews to their homeland, and by living here, we are fulfilling that objective. 

Today’s pundits view the history of this place as only 70-100 years old. They vilify my neighbors and me as immoral settlers who have stolen Palestinian land. But I look at the past 3,000 years and imagine my ancestors walking these same hills. No matter what the State of Israel decides to do with this land, its Jewish history will never be erased. 

More than this, however, the main reason Israel is extending sovereignty to this area is because the Palestinians have not offered a true partner for peace. I want nothing more than to have peace with my Palestinian neighbors, but try as Israel has, it’s proven impossible. 

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have chosen terror and rejected all peace offers without ever putting forth a reasonable counteroffer. Israelis have tried to achieve peace time and again, but the Palestinian leadership has refused at every opportunity. This week, the Palestinians made a mockery of negotiations by offering to come to the table – but only if Israel agrees to impossible preconditions. The American Jewish establishment doesn’t often grapple with this reality. 

I’ve also seen many argue that annexation would put Israel’s Jewish and Democratic nature at risk and permanently deny Palestinians self-determination. This is the most egregious of false talking points. 

As a rabbi, I care deeply about human rights. Palestinians and Jews were both created in God’s image and deserve to enjoy freedom and human rights. But contrary to so many erroneous voices, Israel isn’t causing anyone to lose rights they currently enjoy. 

Currently, Israelis in Judea and Samaria vote in Israeli elections, and Palestinians in the area vote in Palestinian elections. Most Palestinian areas are governed by the Palestinian Authority, and Israel isn’t planning on extending sovereignty to Palestinian villages. I was gratified when Prime Minister Netanyahu said that just as the Jewish settlements surrounded by Palestinian land will remain under Israeli governance, Palestinian enclaves will be governed by the Palestinian Authority. If Palestinians were denied human rights, I would be the first to stand up and protest.

When people want to drive home a point about Israel they use fear, for fear is always a great accelerant. When President Trump announced that he planned to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, experts warned us that we’d experience violence in our area. Some panel discussions give the impression that Palestinian terror ended years ago, but Israel now faces existential security threats from all around us every day. Palestinians attempt an average of more than three daily terror attacks. As an American citizen, I receive State Department security alerts. About once a month I receive a warning that there will be violence in the West Bank

I believe the Palestinian people are peaceful and want a high standard of living for their family just as I want for my family. Predictions of a rise in Palestinian violence should Israel go through with annexation are based on a view that Palestinians are incapable of reacting without violence. I don’t think of Palestinians this way and neither should you. 

There are many legitimate reasons to oppose Israel’s plans to extend sovereignty to the Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria. I completely understand American Jews who oppose Israel’s plans, though I’m a proponent of Israel following the Trump peace plan. American Jews care about Israel’s future and have the right to be concerned. 

But in forming and expressing their opinions, American Jews have a responsibility to examine the issues in a comprehensive manner and ensure that their concern is both factual and expressed in a nuanced way. To do this, they should start by making sure to include people like me, who live in the areas that the international community is focused on, in the conversation.

The post I’m an Israeli settler. American Jews are debating my future, but here’s what they don’t understand. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Mondaire Jones, Nita Lowey’s presumed successor, says he’ll be a friend to Israel

Wed, 2020-07-01 20:13

(JTA) – From the very beginning, Mondaire Jones didn’t exactly fit the model created by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she unseated one of the most powerful incumbent Democrats in the country.

Some might have thought he would. Running as a Black, gay man challenging a popular pro-Israel incumbent of 31 years not far from Ocasio-Cortez’s district certainly made him seem like a natural next member of “The Squad.” (Jones announced his run as a primary challenger to Nita Lowey last summer. Lowey later announced her retirement, opening the field to several other candidates.) But despite his progressive policy goals, the 33-year-old Jones sees himself as his own kind of leader.

“I am going to be an independent voice,” he said.

Unlike Jamaal Bowman, another New York progressive who unseated another staunchly pro-Israel incumbent, Eliot Engel, Jones did not seek the endorsement of the Justice Democrats, the progressive group that helped elect Ocasio-Cortez and supports progressive challengers to Democratic incumbents. (Jones held a seemingly insurmountable lead in the primary’s in-person ballots with 42.5% of the vote, but it may take weeks before the Rockland-Westchester district’s more than 65,000 mail-in ballots are counted, according to City&State.)

Nor did Jones, a lawyer by trade, see Israel as much of an issue in his primary campaign.

“I didn’t give people a reason to think that I would not be a friend to Israel,” he said.

We spoke with Jones about how he built his relationships with the Jewish communities in his district over the course of the campaign and how he hopes to repair and strengthen the Black-Jewish relationship. This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

JTA: What lessons do you take away from your win?

Jones: That you have got to believe in yourself in politics to make the change that we desperately need in this country. And that is going to be required when you have the establishment pushing back against you. And people saying you’re too young or that you’re inexperienced because you’ve never held local elected office, or that you’re Black and gay and voters will never support you.

Do you see any themes across some of the New York races that have gotten a lot of attention?

I think voters are hungry for change. They are so disappointed with the status quo leadership. Not just in Washington, and not just with Republicans, but also with Democrats who are not giving voice to the lived experiences of the average American. You know, Congress is full of millionaires who don’t know what it’s like to struggle on top of not reflecting the kind of diversity — racially, ethnically, economically and even in terms of sexual orientation — that we would be better for having more of because those experiences inform our policymaking.

Who do you see as your role models in Congress and what kind of lane do you see yourself occupying in Congress?

Elizabeth Warren is a big role model for me. I think she’s brilliant, she speaks with moral clarity and she’s pragmatic.

I’m going to be occupying my own lane. One of the things that has frustrated me a little bit is that because someone has endorsed my campaign that I’m going to take their position on Israel. One thing I want Jewish people to know is that I will be a friend to Israel and that my love for the Jewish community is a longstanding affinity. Having been born and raised in Rockland County, I feel like I’m part of the Jewish family.

Who are you thinking of when you say you don’t want people to get the wrong idea based on who has endorsed you?

I hear them saying he’s a progressive and he’s been endorsed by progressives. We know that progressives disagree on any number of issues, and the same way that some progressives say ‘I support Medicare for All’ or ‘I support a public option,’ there’s great diversity within the progressive movement and the topic of Israel tends to be something that divides progressives. Now don’t get me wrong, I want equal treatment under the law and humanitarian assistance for Palestinians, and my ardent support of a two-state solution is beneficial for Jews and Palestinians and the strategic interests of the United States. But it does disappoint me when I see some people suggest without evidence that somehow I’m going to be non-friendly to Israel. It’s just not true.

Did Israel come up more or less than you expected in the primary? 

It came up less than I expected. J Street gave me its primary approval designation in the primary. (Note: J Street gave the designation, which is not an endorsement, to three Democratic candidates in the race, including Jones, Evelyn Farkas and Allison Fine.) It just did not come up all that often. I think it also didn’t come up because I didn’t give people a reason to think that I would not be a friend to Israel. 

What’s at the top of your list of priorities for your first month in Congress?

If we are still dealing with this economic devastation and record unemployment, we have to be providing immediate cash assistance to families. I have said repeatedly that a one-time $1,200 check for a subset of the American people is a slap in the face, especially for families in Westchester and Rockland counties where it is extremely expensive to live. We also can be making progress on the ambitious goals that I have set forth in the primary, for example, that we can at least be expanding Medicaid and Medicare eligibility. 

Something that I was critical of in the last CARES act – of course it went to die in the Senate like all good pieces of legislation – but it did not even include Medicare and Medicaid eligibility, and that was disappointing to me. And we know that over the course of 10 weeks, 40 million people lost their jobs in this country. And many of those jobs will not reappear even after we lift ourselves out of this pandemic, and that means that we can use this as an opportunity to create green jobs, invest in green technology and jobs training, and really obtain competitive advantages while we decarbonize our economy.

This week in an Instagram live conversation with Rashida Tlaib, Linda Sarsour said she told Jamaal Bowman that he had orders to do whatever the four congresswomen who make up ‘The Squad’ say, “no questions asked.” What do you make of that?

It sounds like she was joking based on what you just described.

But beyond the joking aspect of it.

I’m going to be in Congress as the best representative the district has ever seen. I take my orders from no one other than the voters of New York’s 17th District. I am going to be an independent voice, a forceful voice for the people I represent, and that means that sometimes I’m going to disagree with Democrats and Republicans if it’s in the best interest of the people I represent.

What have you done to build relationships with the Jewish community in your district over the last year since you first announced your candidacy?

I’m so grateful to have tremendous support from the Jewish community which, as you know, is not monolithic by any stretch of the imagination. The leaders of the progressive movement in Rockland County are largely Jewish and they coalesced behind my campaign and propelled me to victory. And the same is true for the base of the activist community in Westchester, again largely Jewish, and that community coalesced behind me and propelled me to victory. I did as well in Westchester as I did in Rockland County, which is a great position to be in and I suspect will convey the message to anyone who would try to challenge me in the future that it would be a fool’s errand to try to do so.

I have been in conversation with rabbis in different parts of the Jewish community. I spoke to Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York recently, I’ve spoken to Rabbi Yossi Menczer from Yorktown, he’s the head of a school there, I’ve spoken to David Kirschtel, who is head of the JCC of Rockland.

In the last year there have been some unfortunate new developments around anti-Semitism, including the Monsey attack in December in your district. How much did the issue of anti-Semitism come up in conversations with voters?

When I worked for Westchester County, I was the legal adviser to the Westchester County Human Rights Commission, where I worked closely with the members of that commission to formulate a response to rising acts of anti-Semitism and other forms of white nationalism in Westchester County. After the killing in Monsey, I penned an op-ed calling for the Black community to stand with the Jewish community, and historically that has been true. I talked about how during the civil rights era, for example, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner lost their lives during the freedom rides. (Note: Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish freedom riders who were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.) I think I am uniquely able of the candidates who are looking to succeed Nita Lowey in Congress to build those relationships and strengthen those relationships because they have frayed, especially in Rockland County.

You and I spoke last year shortly after you declared your run for Congress and you admitted that the Orthodox community in your district wasn’t a big fan of yours. How do you win over the Orthodox Jews in Rockland County who supported Adam Schleifer?

They’ve already reached out to me and did so before the primary. I think it was clear to people in the final days of the race that I was going to decisively win this election. And here’s the thing, obviously leaders in the Hasidic community supported Adam Schleifer, but I’m not holding any grudges towards anyone. I’m going to be a representative for everyone. I’m going to meet with everyone and I’m going to represent everyone. People can vote for whoever they want to in a primary, that is a democratic process.

And when they reached out, what did they say?

They said that my opponents had tried to make me into a boogeyman but that they appreciated that I did not run a campaign in which I tried to vilify them in a way that other candidates historically have done. And I said thank you for your phone call, after I win the primary I will be representing you and all of us, and I will meet with you just like I meet with anyone else.

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Anti-Semitism and hate speech are rampant on Twitter. Policing Trump doesn’t solve the problem.

Wed, 2020-07-01 19:24

TEL AVIV (JTA) — President Donald Trump has a well-established reputation for being aggressive, petty and even at times completely incoherent on Twitter. On May 29, he crassly tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase used by a white police commissioner in regards to racial tensions and riots in the 1960s. 

With the enhanced scrutiny on social media networks to stop hate speech and misinformation, Twitter has implemented inconsistent policies to “fact check” and label tweets from the president and other public figures. Facebook now plans to do the same.

Unfortunately, attempts to moderate Trump’s behavior will do more harm than good. Far from solving the problem, it will perpetuate it: Just as the media ultimately helped Trump win the election by giving him so much air time, so, too, will these new policies backfire.

Having spent the past decade working to combat anti-Semitism online, and as the architect of the StandWithUs digital department, I witnessed firsthand how even the most well-intentioned effort to police online speech can easily run into pitfalls or produce results that are the opposite of what’s intended.

Twitter has long faced criticism for political bias from many directions. The far right argues that Twitter has an agenda of silencing right-wing figures such as Laura Loomer, and most recently Katie Hopkins, who were both permanently kicked off the platform. Twitter also faces criticism for its continued failure to rein in Holocaust denial, hate speech, Nazi imagery and openly anti-Semitic leaders like Louis Farrakhan and former Knights of the KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Only after massive uproar did Twitter remove Farrakhan’s notorious tweet comparing Jews to “termites,” and even after that, it did not ban him from the platform.

While I find Trump’s looting and shooting tweet absolutely inappropriate and offensive, I don’t see it as more inappropriate or offensive than other content that Twitter chooses to ignore. Twitter damages its own credibility by ignoring these threats while responding to Trump by placing a warning that his tweet “glorifies violence.” 

Indeed, Twitter’s efforts have already backfired. On May 29, Trump issued an executive order to prevent online censorship in what was perceived as a direct attack on the network. While the executive order is deeply flawed and likely won’t stand up to legal scrutiny, it’s a serious act of hostility toward the social media site and will certainly rile Trump’s base.

While at war with the Trump administration, Twitter is also ignoring far more dangerous content. Iran, which has banned Twitter for its own citizens, routinely uses the platform to incite against Israel and the United States, and has even shared an image calling for the “Final Solution” — a cartoon in which Iran controls Jerusalem. 

In recent weeks, Iranian leaders have also been vocal in latching on to the Black Lives Matter movement in an effort to criticize the United States. Twitter has not placed warnings on tweets from Khamenei or other Iranian leaders. Similarly, there’s a well-documented track record of Iran, Turkey, China and Russia using bots and Twitter campaigns to promote pro-regime messages and misinformation. Though these coordinated campaigns are often discovered and the accounts removed, it’s always after the fact. 

If Twitter has proven incapable of handling state-sponsored misinformation, Holocaust denial and rampant anti-Semitism on its platform, what is it dealing with instead?

In the past few weeks Twitter, intentionally or not, provoked a fight with Trump by adding warnings to multiple tweets. In May, Twitter added a fact check to the president’s tweet about mail-in ballots with a point-by-point refutation of his claims in its own voice. Note that Twitter at the time hadn’t fact-checked any of China’s misinformation about COVID-19 by its diplomats, nor Turkey’s propaganda campaigns nor any other world leaders. Additionally, the entire world of “fact-checking” is fraught with errors from the left to the right. So why has Twitter made itself the arbiter of truth, opening up the platform to accusations of hypocrisy and selective enforcement?

Regardless of how offensive and inappropriate Trump’s rhetoric is, Twitter is giving him more press, more ammunition and more attention by singling him out repeatedly. This is the same method that much of the media adopted prior to the last election, and the result was the people pushing back against an almost obsessive Trump hatred. If Twitter continues on this path, it will have done its part to help President Trump secure a second term.

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My Black Jewish family’s values were 150 years in the making

Wed, 2020-07-01 19:15

This story originally appeared on Kveller.

In the 1880s, a Black Baptist and a Reform Jewish family lived in the town of Tyler, Texas. In the 1870s, Tyler was an ill-fated town with a train that ran right through it. When an unlikely stop was created on the line in the 1880s, Tyler emerged as a commercial center of West Texas.

The Jewish family’s patriarch, Maurice Faber, came from an unbroken line of Orthodox rabbis. He believed his religion was ready to be more progressive, however, and in the 1880s he moved his family from Hungary to the U.S., eventually becoming a Reform rabbi in the Texas town. The train line had tripled the town’s population within the decade, and opportunities for businesses continued to grow.

Meanwhile, in 1897, Thomas Butler was born to a land-owning Black Baptist family in Tyler. He became a foreman on the railroad and a father to 13 children, all of whom attended an all-Black school in the segregated town. In the 1910s, Butler and his family left Tyler in the middle of the night after his white supervisor made advances on his wife.

These two families lived only miles away from each other, though they may as well have been worlds apart. But both families, in their own way, taught their children — and their children’s children — to lead a life of justice (tzedek) and healing the world (tikkun olam). Both families knew communities working together was not enough to desegregate the town. The Butlers preached on getting an education, working together and being good to others. The Fabers sermonized to push communities forward, to take action and to do their part to ensure tomorrow will be better than today.

Nearly 150 years later, the descendants of these families met and fell in love in San Diego. I’m the great-great-granddaughter of the rabbi, and when I met Anthony (the great-grandson of Thomas Butler), I knew he was my bashert, my soulmate.

Our families became officially interwoven in October 2009 when Tony and I married. Even today, interfaith marriages are only performed by a handful of rabbis — indeed, interracial marriages only became legalized in this country in 1967 — and we married under a chuppah. Rabbi Harry Danziger officiated the traditional Jewish ceremony, as he had my parents’ and my sister’s weddings, as well as my grandfather’s bar mitzvah at the age of 75 and his funeral at 76.

Tony and I are raising our families’ first generation of Black Jews. We have two daughters, ages 8 and 5, and a 2-year-old son. We live in San Diego, and we intentionally moved to a pocket of the city where our kids see diversity in the families in our neighborhood: homes with two dads, two moms, a single mom, a single dad, biracial, multiracial and various socioeconomic statuses. While our temple is rather small, our children are not the only Black Jews.

The recent senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor have ignited a much-needed call to action in the U.S.

Our families — with histories of persecution on both sides — have long been prepared for this moment. Over the years, we’ve been steeping our children in the following lessons, drawing upon the generations before us. The following foundations ground our children in fortifying their Black and Jewish identity:

1. Step out. It is not enough to safely stay within the bubble of our neighborhood. When we travel, we often get a few extra glances. We try to teach our children how to be — and be themselves — in uncomfortable spaces. Often that means experiencing the awkward exchanges with strangers. Many times it’s people approaching us to say how unique and beautiful our family is.

2. Be who you are. Our children’s identity is unique. However, when there is a Hebrew school performance, both sets of grandparents sit in the front row, demonstrating that being Black is not separate from being Jewish.

3. Don’t be pushed out. Embrace standing out in a room and demonstrating that there is space for everyone. Christmas and Easter continue to be celebrated in their secular public schools — my girls are the only Jews in their classrooms. While they understand how decorating a gingerbread house allows them to help others celebrate their holidays, we make sure there’s also a Jewish activity for them to share with friends that teaches the traditions of their Jewish family.

4. Speak up. It is not enough for my kids to just speak up for themselves. It is not enough for the Black community to be the only advocates for their community. Likewise, it is not enough for Jews to champion only Jewish causes. My kids, like so many of us, are learning through the news that it takes allies of communities to help make change. Their voices must be used to amplify those that aren’t heard.

5. Acknowledge the road was paved. My children stand today on a path that was built by their ancestors. It was not so long ago that interracial marriage was illegal — we wouldn’t be able to be a family if it weren’t for the people who fought for change. It is our turn to make space for communities that are on the same journey.

These days, many parents are sitting down with their children to discuss racism, and rightly so. Our families, by contrast, have spent generations standing up for what is right. Our children are the future, and they’re now carrying the lessons of their ancestors during this critical period of civil unrest amid a pandemic.

But if our kids ever need a reminder of where they came from, there’s an easy solution: Just a few miles away lives a set of grandparents from the Butler and Faber sides. These four wonderful adults, steeped in the same discourse, all remind them that history is only as far away as they make it.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson decries annexation in op-ed for Israeli newspaper

Wed, 2020-07-01 19:05

JERUSALEM (JTA) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to the pages of an Israeli newspaper to continue his criticism of Israel’s plan to annex some West Bank territory.

His opinion piece published Wednesday on the front page of the Hebrew-language daily Yediot Acharonot said the proposal is “contrary” to Israel’s interests.

Johnson threatened that the United Kingdom will not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders except those agreed upon between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The UK has always stood by Israel and its right to live as any nation should be able to, in peace and security. Our commitment to Israel’s security will be unshakable while I am Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,” he wrote.

“So it is with sadness that I have followed the proposals to annex Palestinian territory. As a life-long friend, admirer and supporter of Israel, I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel’s borders and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.”

Johnson has previously criticized the plan in public statements in Parliament.

His piece appeared on the first day that Israel could begin to annex territory under the government coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz.

He called annexation a violation of international law and “a gift to those who want to perpetuate the old stories about Israel.”

The British leader praised “the commitment that President Trump has made to find a way forward,” and called for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the peace negotiating table.

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Ice Cube scolds Jake Tapper for Farrakhan tweet and denies report he ordered entourage to beat up a rabbi

Wed, 2020-07-01 18:47

(JTA) — Ice Cube is having some issues with journalists, including CNN’s Jake Tapper for calling Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan an anti-Semite, and the rapper called them out on social media.

On Monday, Tapper tweeted that “Farrakhan is a vile anti-LGBTQ anti-Semitic misogynist. Why is a Fox channel airing his propaganda?”

The Jewish anchor’s post was in response to the announcement that Fox Soul TV would be broadcasting a speech by Farrakhan on July 4. The channel has since canceled the broadcast.

In response, Ice Cube tweeted the same day, “Watch your mouth Jake.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, he posted an image of a cease-and-desist order against journalists Charles Nash of Mediaite and Marlow Stern of the Daily Beast for publishing “outrageously false unverified, and disparaging allegations regarding Ice Cube,” whose given name is O’Shea Jackson. Above the letter he wrote “Don’t play with me. This is just phase one.”

The letter sent from a Los Angeles law firm specifically refers to “the ridiculous, false accusation that Ice Cube ordered his ‘entourage to beat up a rabbi,’ was sued for it, and that he is anti-Semitic.”

Last month, the Daily Beast published an article by Stern titled “Ice Cube’s long, disturbing history of anti-Semitism.” In an article published Monday on the Mediaite website, Nash repeated the claims, citing the Daily Beast article.

“The idea that Ice Cube is anti-Semitic is laughable, as anyone who knows the man can attest,” the lawyer letter says. “Ice Cube has no biases against any race, creed, color, ethnicity, religion or gender. His tolerance for all peoples is exactly why he was invited to be the emcee at the national tribute dinner of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in April 2017.”

Also in June, Ice Cube tweeted a mural some have called anti-Semitic, and days later tweeted images associated with multiple conspiracy theories against Jews, including that they control the world.

Don’t play with me. This is just phase one. https://t.co/lawOTJxrVf pic.twitter.com/cZHyx2oHe9

— Ice Cube (@icecube) June 30, 2020


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YouTube pages of French comedian Dieudonne, Richard Spencer and David Duke among 25,000 removed for hate speech

Wed, 2020-07-01 17:57

(JTA) — YouTube has seen enough of the French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. White supremacist Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, too.

Their channels were among more than 25,000 shut down Monday by the online video sharing platform for violating its hate speech rules.

Dieudonne’s page, which was full of videos agitating against Jews, had some 400,000 subscribers. In a Facebook post, he blamed “Israeli pressures” for the removal.

“This deletion follows repeated violations of our YouTube community regulations,” Google France said in a statement, AFP reported.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many of the videos on the channel have agitated against Jews, French Union of Jewish Students President Noémie Madar told the French media.

Dieudonne has been convicted at least seven times in France for inciting racial hatred against Jews.

The comic is the promoter of the quenelle quasi-Nazi salute and the term shoananas — a mash-up of the Hebrew word for Holocaust and the French one for pineapple — which he uses to suggest the Holocaust never happened without openly violating French laws forbidding such denials.

Spencer, the founder of a white supremacist think tank, has advocated a white ethno-state that would exclude non-whites and Jews.

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3-D printed steaks? An Israeli startup will test them out in high-end restaurants.

Wed, 2020-07-01 17:55

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Trying to capitalize on the fast-growing global market for meat alternatives, an Israeli startup company has created a plant-based steak using a 3-D printer.

Redefine Meat announced Tuesday that it would begin testing its vegan steaks in high-end restaurants ahead of a more large-scale distribution.

The company makes what it calls Alt-Steak with industrial-scale 3-D food printers using its plant-based formulations. By printing with multiple materials, Redefine says it can create “sustainable, high-protein, no-cholesterol steaks that look, cook, and taste like beef.”

The product has a 95 percent smaller environmental impact than producing actual beef, the company says.

Redefine plans to sell its 3-D meat printers and alt-meat formulations to restaurants beginning in 2021. The restaurants can print steaks to be softer or harder, or juicier with less fat, for example.

The worldwide market for meat alternatives is expected to reach $140 billion annually, according to the company.

Redefine, based in Rehovot in central Israel, says on its website that its products “are designed to appeal to the world’s hundreds of millions of ‘flexitarians’ or ‘conscious carnivores’ who seek to reduce their meat consumption, often as part of their personal sustainability efforts.”

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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ coming back for 11th season

Wed, 2020-07-01 17:31

(JTA) — Larry David cxcoriated Californians months ago in a public service announcement to social distance and advised them “Go home! Watch TV!”

At some point they’ll have a chance to tune in for more new episodes of his “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

HBO announced Tuesday that it would renew the show created by and starring David for an 11th season, Variety reported.

“Believe me, I’m as upset about this as you are,” David, the co-creator of “Seinfeld,” said in a statement. “One day I can only hope that HBO will come to their senses and grant me the cancellation I so richly deserve.”

It’s not clear when filming will begin due to restrictions in place because of the coronavirus.

The show is filmed with only an outline, no script, and cast members improvise their lines. It premiered in 2000, took a hiatus in 2011 after eight seasons and was revived in 2017.

In his PSA for the state of California released April 1, David called on “the idiots out there” to stay home in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“You know, if you’ve seen my show, nothing good ever happens going out of the house, you know that. It’s just trouble out there,” he said. “It’s not a good place to be.”

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Harvey Weinstein accusers agree to $19 million settlement

Wed, 2020-07-01 15:27

(JTA) — A group of women in the entertainment industry who sued Harvey Weinstein over allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape have reached a $19 million settlement with the disgraced movie mogul.

Under the class-action settlement, a victims’ fund would be created allowing all women who were abused by Weinstein to make confidential claims for damages.

The attorneys for the women called the settlement unfair, saying that Weinstein does not have to accept responsibility for his actions and that it will prevent women from filing individual lawsuits against him.

On Tuesday, the women filed a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement in U.S. District Court in New York, according to reports. A bankruptcy court must approve the settlement.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed against Weinstein, his production company and his brother, Bob, in 2018 by the New York Attorney General’s office.

Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault in February in New York and was sentenced to 23 years in prison. He still faces charges in a separate case in Los Angeles.

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Meet the Black Modern Orthodox woman selling empowering Jewish apparel

Wed, 2020-07-01 15:14

This story originally appeared on Alma.

Elisheva Rishon created her clothing brand Eli7 Designs with the mission to empower people — Black and Jewish women in particular. For Elisheva, a Black Modern Orthodox millennial living in Los Angeles, her collections celebrate some of her own identities, like The #Jewishvibe Collection, The Melanated Beauties collection and the Ethnic-Racial Celebration Collection. Selling everything from sweatshirts to T-shirts to shoulder bags, many of these designs include affirming words that celebrate a multiplicity of identities, especially those who are marginalized.

I was inspired by Elisheva’s mission to center Black and Jewish pride in her fashion. Her positivity and commitment to empowerment were clear when we chatted over email, where we discussed her brand, Jewish values, beauty as resilience and more.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What inspired you to found Eli7 Designs?

My natural coping mechanism when faced with endless negativity is to counteract it with beauty — and that’s the place that Eli7 Designs comes from. I wanted to make something in fashion that would make people feel both good and empowered by their identity.

On your website, the company is described as “A Modern Twist on Empowerment Fits.” Will you elaborate on what that means to you?

The majority of my brand focuses on making you feel something real. My brand also intentionally has different collections that at some point intertwine to emphasize that everyone is connected and we are all one people. I also designed them in such a way that my apparel can easily be dressed up or down to suit everyone’s fashion style.

A lot of your clothing includes Hebrew phrases and words such as “Boker Tov” (good morning), “Koach” (strength), and “Hashem” (God). Why is it important to you to have Hebrew as a part of your brand?

Hebrew is essential to my Jewish identity. It was the second language I was learning while growing up, and it is a language that is so beautiful because behind every word is a deeper cultural, spiritual and amazing meaning that speaks to my soul. 

Additionally, Hebrew sayings such as Gam Zu L’tovah[this, too, is for the good] or Hashgacha Pratit [anything that happens is all a part of God’s plan] are universally significant mantras of Jewish culture no matter whether you are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, secular, etc. They tell a story of the essence and resilience of the Jewish people.

Can you talk about your own relationship to Judaism? How were you raised and what does your practice look like today?

I was raised in the Orthodox Jewish communities of Crown Heights and Flatbush [Brooklyn]. We went to shul every Shabbat and all the chagim [holidays], even when I didn’t want to. When I was younger, being Jewish to me meant being “religious” in a robotic, unquestioning way. Today I am much more relaxed in practice and consider myself to be very Modern Orthodox. I typically don’t attend shul because I’m not into the prying social interactions. Today I believe that being Jewish means building your own special connection with Hashem, connecting with Jewish culture on your own terms and being a light to the world.

I love your designs that state with pride an intersection of identities like “Black, Jewish, and Fabulous.” How does your identity as a Black Orthodox Jewish woman inform your commitment to creating empowering clothing?

Growing up as a Black Orthodox Jewish woman in America has been a super challenging experience that never ends. There will be many tears, rejection, untold amounts of patience and poor assumptions made about your character by some people just because you are Black. 

So I say “Black, Jewish, and Fabulous” in my design because it speaks to me and so many other Black Jewish people in America who have been told that:

Their Black Jewishness is a bad thing.

Their Black Jewishness is a strange thing.

Their Black Jewishness is a suspicious thing.

Their Black Jewishness is an impossible thing.

No, their Black Jewishness is more than a good thing — it’s a FABULOUS thing! And that’s on PERIOD!

What’s your most popular/bestselling design? 

My Isha graphic art top and my Koach apparel are equally my No. 1 bestseller. I have gotten amazing messages and voice notes from customers excited or in tears, telling me how, when they wear my apparel, they feel so happy and empowered. One woman told me she put on makeup for the first time in 10 years because when she wore my top, she felt like a real Isha, a real woman, and wanted the world to know it! 

Others have told me how amazing they feel when they wear any of my Koach items because it fills them with Jewish pride. Being a Jew today in America means dealing with a huge spike in anti-Semitism, which historically suggests that we should hide our Jewish identity. But my brand is doing the exact opposite. I want Jews to be proud of being Jewish, even in times like these, because honestly, being proudly Jewish never goes “out of style.”

Have you faced any obstacles while building your brand?

Unfortunately, yes I have.

I was one of my own biggest obstacles when building it. I started it while getting out of a very bad relationship, living in a new community without the support I needed, and not being financially stable. But because things in my life were so rough, I had to make the brand because only something that focuses on positivity and empowerment could dispel all the darkness in my life. And more importantly — only the hope that my work could make other people feel good kept me going.

A short while after beginning my brand, I experienced a devastating reaction to my big reveal that I, a Black woman, was behind Eli7 Designs. This was because in the very beginning, I usually posted pictures of non-Black people and never had an “about me” page on my site or on IG. I hid my identity to protect my brand. The initial fallout of the big reveal included losing followers on IG, having people cancel collaborations with me, having an influx of canceled orders, and receiving messages accusing me of “appropriating Judaism,” and people doubting my Jewishness that drained me mentally and emotionally.

There were many times I almost shut down my brand because of the toxicity of it all, but once I reminded myself why I was doing it and why it matters, I took up the reins again. 

What’s your hope for Eli7 Designs’ future? Any new projects in the works?

B’ezrat Hashem, Eli7 Designs will be expanding into other categories besides apparel and accessories soon!

My long-term goals for Eli7 Designs is to create a facility for Orthodox Jewish women and girls that will address their specific needs in the community that I have not seen tackled properly. It is a long way down the road and will require a lot of funding, but it is a dream of mine I have had for years. I’ve lost so many friends in various different ways because such a place doesn’t exist yet. I want to change that.

What is one thing you wish people knew about being a Black Orthodox Jewish woman in America today?

I want people to know that I don’t enjoy talking about the struggles of growing up as an Orthodox Black Jewish woman in America! It makes me feel very depressed to speak on these things. I would rather talk about fashion, makeup and religious Jewish concepts. The only reason I speak on the struggles is because people continue to repeat the same ignorant behavior towards me in reaction to my Blackness.

I also want people to know that Orthodox Jews are just like every other Jew, they are not “bad” or “worse.” They have some similar issues that exist both in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in America. It’s just a different culture. I do not like the trend of demonizing Orthodox Jews. Please stop. Thank you!

The post Meet the Black Modern Orthodox woman selling empowering Jewish apparel appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Swastikas drawn on home and bench in Jewish neighborhood of Baltimore

Wed, 2020-07-01 14:07

(JTA) — Swastikas were found drawn on a public bench and on the side door of a home in a Jewish neighborhood of Baltimore.

The symbol on the home, in the northwest section of the city, was drawn with a black marker and discovered on June 24, the local CBS affiliate WJZ reported, citing the police report.

Area residents found the swastika spray-painted on the bench.

A white piece of paper colored with a heart with the words “Love Not Hate” was taped over the swastika on the bench, according to the report.

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Next up for ‘Saturday Night Seder’: Raising money for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

Tue, 2020-06-30 22:17

(JTA) — The original broadcast raised more than $3 million for coronavirus relief efforts. Now the creators of “Saturday Night Seder” are selling singles of some the show’s memorable songs to raise money for a Jewish social justice organization.

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice will get the proceeds from sales of “When You Believe” and “Next Year,” two songs from the home-taped Passover special that aired in April.

The creators said they chose JFREJ because of the Black Lives Matter movement that has become reinvigorated since then.

“In Judaism, there’s a principle called Tikkun Olam which means to repair the broken world and to be of service to people, and so in this current moment of Black Lives Matter and to continue with that spirit of service, it was about how we could use our Tikkun Olam,” Shaina Taub, who co-wrote “Next Year,” told Variety.

She added about JFREJ, “They’re an organization that really believes in Jewish people standing up as allies, for other marginalized communities.”

(Taub was arrested on the front steps of her New York City apartment building during one protest in early June.)

The event’s creators are waging an Emmy bid right now, and executive producer Benj Pasek told Variety last week that some kind of encore production could be possible.

Earlier this year, Pasek wrote in a piece for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he hoped that a new model for supporting Jewish art would emerge after the pandemic.

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4 reasons why Israel’s West Bank annexation plans aren’t happening on July 1

Tue, 2020-06-30 22:10

(JTA) — Since April, all eyes following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been glued to July 1.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had negotiated the date into his government coalition deal with his rival Benny Gantz. On July 1, as stipulated in the agreement, Netanyahu could put the topic of annexing the West Bank — a move that would have enormous political repercussions well beyond the Middle East — up for a vote in his Cabinet or in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

(Here’s a guide to what West Bank annexation, a move to apply Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements that Netanyahu has long desired, would mean.)

But on Tuesday, Netanyahu signaled that nothing big will happen on July 1. After meeting with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Netanyahu said they “spoke about the question of sovereignty, which we are working on these days and we will continue to work on in the coming days.” 

With that, the anticipation that had been building for months — or some could argue for over a year, during which Netanyahu promised annexation in not one or two but three election campaigns — dissipated. “The coming days” takes us into an indeterminate future.

This doesn’t mean that annexation in full or some other form won’t ever happen. In fact, Netanyahu has floated the idea of annexing just a few large settlement blocs close to July 1 to try to appease all sides.

Still, missing the July 1 date is symbolic of how fraught the process has become. Here are the reasons why it hasn’t come together the way that Netanyahu had hoped.

The U.S. team is uneasy.

Tuesday’s meeting was just one of several that Netanyahu has had over the past few months with the U.S. Middle East peace team anchored by Jared Kushner, Friedman and the 31-year-old Berkowitz. The team’s message has been straightforward for months: Slow down the process.

That’s despite the fact that the Trump administration’s own peace plan, released in January, gives Israel the green light to add West Bank lands to its map in a future two-state solution with the Palestinians. The Palestinians would get about 70% of the West Bank’s territory and Israel would annex the rest.

Some have speculated that the holdup is due to geographic specifics, or which West Bank settlements the U.S. will approve annexing. The U.S. administration has also been tied up with responding to the coronavirus crisis — something that Kushner has also spent time on — and is wary of getting involved in a controversial move at the same time.

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz, Special Assistant to the President Alexa Henning, Senior Advisor to President Donald Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner and White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley walk out of the White House, May 8, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There’s also the fact that the Palestinians have outright rejected the Trump plan, which could be weighing on the U.S. team.

In addition, the Israeli army reportedly has been kept completely out of the loop of the process, giving rise to anxieties about a possible bungled security response.

Whatever the reason for the delay, it looks like Netanyahu is deferring to President Donald Trump and his team, which is unusual. In previous peace negotiations, the United States usually let the Israelis take the lead in setting parameters. In the 2013-14 negotiations, when a team led by then-Secretary of State John Kerry put forward detailed proposals, Netanyahu’s government pushed back forcefully.

Gantz is uneasy.

There’s another potential reason that the U.S. team has shown reservations: They could want the full support of Benny Gantz, now Israel’s  defense minister but also alternate prime minister. According to the coalition agreement, Gantz is scheduled to rotate into the prime minister role in a little over a year. He now represents the center-right in Israeli politics.

A view of the Jordan Valley, part of the land that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to apply Israeli sovereignty to, seen Feb. 2, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

The Times of Israel reported Tuesday that “the US appears to be conditioning the advancement of the annexation on Gantz’s backing, in addition to support by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.” Ashkenazi, like Gantz a former Israel Defense Forces leader, is part of Gantz’s Blue and White party.

Gantz has said he supports the Trump peace plan, which involves annexation, but only if the idea gains wider support than it currently has. European politicians have threatened sanctions on Israel if it follows through, and Arab countries have warned that the move would cause disastrous unrest in the region. Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States, has written that annexation would also destroy the relationships that Netanyahu has been working hard to build in the Arab world.

“I believe that the Trump plan is the right political and security framework to be promoted in the State of Israel,” Gantz said in an interview with Ynet on Tuesday. “[But] this needs to be done correctly in bringing as many partners to this discussion from the countries of the region, with international backing. [We must] make every effort to connect with them and only then continue. And I think all the means to bring in the players have not yet been exhausted.”

The Palestinians could be willing to talk if annexation is nixed.

The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, has not been happy about the annexation rumors. If Israel follows through with its plan, the P.A. said it will declare its own state. It has already reneged on all security cooperation with Israel and even stopped taking tax money held for them.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, attends the Arab League’s foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, Feb. 1, 2020. (Mohamed Mostafa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

All signs pointed to a historic low in Israeli-Palestinian relations. However, in a striking reversal, the AFP news agency reported that the P.A. is willing to come back to the negotiating table — something it hasn’t done since 2014 — if Israel drops the annexation idea. The report claims that the Palestinian Authority sent a letter to the so-called Quartet – the diplomatic grouping of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — saying it was “ready to resume direct bilateral negotiations where they stopped.” The AFP could not discern when the letter was sent, though.

The coronavirus is raging in Israel.

This is Gantz’s other point: The coronavirus has made a comeback in Israel, and he thinks the government should prioritize dealing with that first.

In the early days of the virus, Netanyahu and his government were praised for their quick and effective quarantine shutdown. In recent weeks, however, Israel has relaxed restrictions and reopened workplaces and schools — and seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry confirmed over 700 new cases that had been identified in the past 24 hours — the second-highest amount recorded in a day there since the start of the pandemic. Israeli reports claim that the ministry is pushing for curfews in dozens of cities to curb the spread of disease.

Netanyahu has disagreed with Gantz on the topic.

“We have serious issues to discuss,” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “So serious they can’t even wait until after the coronavirus passes.”

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Annexation would fundamentally change the American Jewish community’s relationship with Israel. We must stop it.

Tue, 2020-06-30 21:19

NEW YORK (JTA) — In recent weeks, I have been heartened to see major American Jewish organizations across the political and religious spectrums speak out in unified opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s West Bank annexation plans.

I have long served in leadership positions in the American Jewish community, and this moment is unprecedented: Annexation would fundamentally alter our community’s relationship with Israel. As an American Jew deeply invested in democracy and equality, and who continues to believe in the importance of Israel as the ancestral and modern-day homeland for the Jewish people, this moment requires the American Jewish community to take action or risk losing younger Jews for good. 

In my former roles as CEO of National Council of Jewish Women and executive director of the JCRC in Boston, I made the case for Israel countless times on the national stage and with local leaders and activists. I pointed to the good-faith efforts of Israelis to come to the table in an effort to broker a negotiated, just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and noted that the Israeli Declaration of Independence calls for all citizens to be afforded “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” If West Bank annexation happens, this would no longer apply. 

The new borders being drawn by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in the Trump administration would confine millions of Palestinians to disconnected enclaves, controlled by the Israeli military and encircled by Israeli territory. The Palestinians would not be granted citizenship or equal rights, an intolerable situation.

This annexation would make the military occupation of the Palestinian people permanent. It would require us to square our Jewish values of freedom and democracy with the permanent denial of citizenship and equality to millions under its control, an impossible task. 

If this happens, I fear that many American Jews will simply opt out of supporting and caring about Israel rather than trying to justify these indefensible positions. I fear even more that a generation of young Jews, righteously marching on American streets for racial justice, will look at Israel and see a nation not living up to the values they have ascribed to it for their whole lives. 

A diverse cross-section of the American Jewish community is speaking out precisely because we know that Netanyahu’s annexation plan is religiously, ethically and legally wrong, and nothing short of a disaster for Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. We have an obligation to speak out when Israel’s founding values are threatened. 

The annexation plan pushes us further from peace, and further from a secure, democratic, Jewish state of Israel that promotes equality and justice for all her citizens. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even AIPAC has given Congress the “sign” that it is OK to oppose annexation.

We must continue to sound the alarm over the detrimental consequences of Netanyahu’s recklessness. And we must reaffirm our commitment to peace and decades of bipartisan American foreign policy — now being reversed by the Trump administration — which sought to condemn the unlawful settlement expansion that has led us to this point. The future of Diaspora-Israel relations hangs in the balance.

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James Leek, 75, contributed to progressive Jewish causes in London

Tue, 2020-06-30 19:58

(JTA) — In one of the latter chapters of a life given over to interfaith and Jewish communal causes, James Leek — who died April 6 of the coronavirus at age 75 — became actively involved with the Council of Christians and Jews, Britain’s leading nationwide forum for Christian-Jewish engagement.

“He was one of those people who gave a lot of himself,” the group’s director, Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, recalled to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “but always in a very humble way.”

Becoming its co-chair, Leek helped reestablish the southwest London branch of the interfaith group at a time when his local synagogue, the Reform Wimbledon Synagogue — he served as a lay leader there for 45 years — desired to reach out to neighboring faith communities in particular local churches.

“He was very committed to Christian-Jewish relations,” Harris-Sawczenko said, and to the organization, going on to join its advisory and trustee boards.

In remarks made at a recent memorial service, which she shared with JTA, Harris-Sawczenko described Leek as a man overflowing with energy and ideas, kindness and generosity, one of life’s real do-gooders.

“He was always there to advise: patiently, kindly and thoughtfully,” she said. The last time was in December, over a lunch at which they discussed the future of Council on Christians and Jews.

An accountant by training who rose to become a top executive at Caparo, a British company dealing in steel, Leek was involved in other progressive Jewish causes as well, especially focused on egalitarianism and collaboration.

He was a “longstanding and passionate supporter” of the British branch of the New Israel Fund, the left-wing Israel advocacy organization said upon his death, “championing issues such as religious freedom and care for minorities. He was a fantastic source of advice and a true leader.”

Leek also gave his time and expertise to the Leo Baeck School in Haifa, the British Movement for Reform Judaism, the magazine Jewish Renaissance and the local Mosaic Jewish Primary School, where 50% of students come from outside the Jewish community. He raised funds for the groups, too.

“It was hard to keep up with him sometimes,” Harris-Sawczenko said in her eulogy.

Leek is survived by his wife, Hilary; three sons, Edward, Andrew and Benjamin; grandchildren Hannah, Grace and Blake; and two siblings, John and Joanna.

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