JTA

Syndicate content Jewish Telegraphic Agency
The Global Jewish News Source
Updated: 14 min 20 sec ago

Could this Mediterranean takeout brand named for an Arabic Israeli TV show be the restaurant of the future?

Thu, 2020-07-02 21:46

(JTA) — As a child in Israel, Amir Nathan dined at Sami VeSusu, an innovative restaurant in Beersheba named after a popular children’s television show from the 1960s and ’70s.

So when it came time for Nathan, now a restaurateur in New York City, to name his latest venture, he replicated the name — and an atypical approach to serving food.

Sami and Susu opened two weeks ago as a takeout and delivery service operating out of a Brooklyn bar. Nathan and his executive chef and business partner, Jordan Anderson, sling Jewish-influenced Mediterranean food in a model designed to keep locals well-fed even as the coronavirus pandemic seems likely to make traditional restaurant dining impossible for some time.

The menu in some ways is an homage to the restaurant’s television namesake. The show, which has been called an “Arabic cross between ‘Mr. Rogers’ and ‘Sesame Street,’” involved both Arab and Israeli actors and was broadcast in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles. It was popular among both Arabs and Jews, and Nathan — an outspoken critic of the current Israeli government — says it is a time capsule from an era when Israelis and Palestinians were much more hopeful about peace than they are now.

“The Ottoman Empire cuisine that we worked with, it spread through the entire Middle East. Some of our recipes are also from Lebanon, from Palestine — so the food itself symbolizes unity. I wanted to have a name that kind of symbolizes the idea,” Nathan told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. (He’s not the first in the U.S. to have the idea: A kosher restaurant by the same name in Miami closed late last year.)

Customers sitting at the bar that Nathan and Anderson are operating out of need to order Sami and Susu food from their phones. (Briana Balduci)

Sami and Susu is a far cry from the Israeli restaurant Nathan opened in New York five years ago, well into the decade-long Israeli food boom resonating across the U.S. Timna was popular and well reviewed, if a bit over the top. A New York Times article described some of its elaborate dishes: “cured tuna is laid over black-quinoa tabbouleh,” and “quenelles of steak tartare, separated by tiny wobbles of eggplant purée.”

It closed four years later, in early 2019. Nathan explained that even in years before the coronavirus pandemic, many New York restaurants that seemed to be performing well on the outside were actually straining under a precarious labor-cost-to-revenue-ratio and rising urban rents. Now COVID-19 has derailed all of them, shrinking their dining rooms to sidewalks for now, and forcing them to adapt their menus for the world of takeout and delivery.

As the renowned chef Gabrielle Hamilton put it in a New York Times Magazine essay about her New York restaurant Prune: “Does the world need it anymore?” Her thesis: The upscale restaurant as we know it, especially in New York City (Israeli and other Jewish ones included) could be a thing of the past.

With that in mind, Nathan developed a model that could be the restaurant of the future: There are no traditional restaurant accoutrements, like menus or indoor tables or silverware. Even patrons who sit at outdoor tables with drinks from the bar have to order Sami and Susu food on their phones to have it delivered from inside. There is also plenty of longer distance ordering happening though, through services like Seamless, GrubHub and Caviar. 

The food is influenced by what Ladino-speaking Jewish communities in Spain, Turkey, Greece, Italy and North Africa ate after the Spanish Inquisition, during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Half of Nathan’s family are Turkish Jews, and he developed the Sami and Susu culinary framework from books on Sephardic culinary history.

But Anderson brought along some of his American Askenazi Jewish mother’s recipes and blended them into the idea. The result is a menu that includes bourekas, pita sandwiches, stuffed peppers, tabbouleh with corn, baba ganoush and harissa-spiced carrots — but also cauliflower rubbed with pastrami seasoning, as well as a matzah ball soup that the pair refer to as a kind of Jewish ramen because of its rich broth and inclusion of yakisoba noodles.

Sami and Susu’s menu is inspired by Ottoman Empire-era Sephardic cooking. (Briana Balduci)

Anderson’s mom used to put Polish kluski noodles, akin to egg noodles, in her soup. He said he took his mom’s recipe and tried to intensify the flavors.

“I told Amir that the other night, instead of having a beer, I drank a pint of the soup. It was awesome,” Anderson said. “At 10 o’clock it was so comforting. Then I just went to bed.”

Eventually Nathan, 34, and Anderson, 28, want to have their own brick-and-mortar space, which they envision as a store, takeout counter and casual cafe spot where a few customers can sit and eat or drink a glass of wine. But the current reality has refined their takeout business model and influenced the menu — every decision they make about what to include is based on whether it can survive at least 45 minutes of transit time.

“Amir and I always say, ‘Is it gonna be hot when it gets there? Is the bread gonna be too mushy?’” Anderson said. “If I serve this pita in a menu, I would add more of the sauce to it, whereas I now say ‘OK, this is gonna be 45 minutes and this bread is gonna take a lot of the sauce in, so let’s kick it down a little.’” 

They also have pivoted away from the more specific highbrow concept that Nathan had originally imagined (he calls it “geeky”) to thinking about what people want to eat right now. That includes Jewish and Middle Eastern comfort food, and preferably comfort food that can be taken to a socially distanced picnic, last in a fridge for days and taste good after being reheated in a microwave. 

Sami and Susu also sells natural wine and ice cream from the Brooklyn-based OddFellows brand. (Briana Balduci)

“You cook food for your whole career that you don’t cook at home for yourself,” Anderson said. “You cook this really beautiful food for strangers in a restaurant who are paying an exorbitant amount of money for it, and you know there definitely is some incentive to do it, you love it, and you’re kind of told to want to do that.

“But at the same time, you go home at midnight and that’s not what you want to eat, that’s not what you want to cook,” Anderson said. “No one’s gonna go home and say ‘I wanna whip up some Bernardin food right now.’”

Anderson, who is from Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, wasn’t sure he would stay a chef after the pandemic hit and nearly obliterated the service industry. He also never imagined himself cooking this type of food. 

“I didn’t think I would be cooking stuffed peppers or matzah ball soup, but in a weird way it kind of feels right,” he said. “After cooking French and Italian food, all these types of food, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to cook some home company food. It kind of feels like I’m cooking at home.”

The post Could this Mediterranean takeout brand named for an Arabic Israeli TV show be the restaurant of the future? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

New Hampshire lawmakers send bill requiring Holocaust education to governor

Thu, 2020-07-02 21:22

BOSTON (JTA) – New Hampshire will mandate Holocaust and genocide prevention education under a bill passed overwhelmingly by its House of Representatives.

If Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, signs the measure into law, New Hampshire would become the 14th state to require genocide prevention education in public schools, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s New England regional office, which supported the bill.

An Act Relative to Holocaust and Genocide Studies will also establish a commission to study best educational practices.

The bill will enable all students to acquire knowledge of civics and government, economics, history, and Holocaust and genocide education, according to state Sen. Jay Kahn, a Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill.

“Holocaust and genocide education is a fitting part of a school’s curriculum that enables students to participate in the democratic process and to make informed choices as responsible citizens,” Kahn said in a statement.

The House approved the bill this week in a 299-17 vote as part of several other pieces of legislation. The state Senate had passed the measure  unanimously in March.

In its most recent audit on anti Semitism, ADL documented 2,107 incidents across the country in 2019, the highest since the group began tracking incidents in 1979. Of the total, 411 of the incidents were in K-12 schools, representing a 19% increase from the previous year.

“The need for Holocaust and genocide education in our schools could not be more urgent,” Robert Trestan, the ADL’s New England regional director, said in a statement.

The post New Hampshire lawmakers send bill requiring Holocaust education to governor appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

How and where the Democrats and Republicans are trying to woo Jewish swing voters

Thu, 2020-07-02 20:47

WASHINGTON (JTA) — One thing we know about elections is that Jewish voters can make a difference. Take Florida: The Sunshine State’s Jewish voters helped deliver its critical electoral votes to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Problematic ballots in heavily Jewish Broward County may have clinched George W. Bush’s win in 2000.

In years past I have sat among crowds rallied by Jewish campaign surrogates in packed synagogues in Ohio and bingo halls in Florida, and I’ve followed canvassers searching for mezuzahs in neighborhoods known for having large Jewish populations.

Severe limits on in-person campaigning imposed by the coronavirus pandemic means we’re not likely to be bringing you those stories this season. But a very different election year doesn’t mean the Jewish vote in swing states is less important. 

This week, I asked people working to get out the Jewish vote — partisan and nonpartisan — where they’re concentrating their efforts, how much they’re planning to spend, what adjustments they’re making because of the pandemic and what is preoccupying them down-ballot. Here’s what they told me.

Democratic Jewish groups have a presence in more states than Republicans

The Republican Jewish Coalition appears to have the most advanced operation in place. With $10 million pledged to reelect Donald Trump and secure GOP control in Congress, that may not be a surprise. 

The RJC’s get-out-the-vote operation already has 40 workers on staff in Florida, according to Matt Brooks, its executive director, and volunteers have made 300,000 phone calls to Jewish voters in swing states — a preliminary round of phone banking where the goal is not persuasion but identification, to see how committed a voter is to reelecting Trump and what issues they are considering ahead of Election Day. This lays the ground for more calls and texts later in the season that are tailored to the individual voter.

But with Trump’s polling in freefall, the group doesn’t have that many states to direct that energy. Brooks told me his swing-state operation was focusing on Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

“We’re monitoring and looking at and ready to pivot to see how Michigan and Wisconsin continue to shape up,” he added.

Brooks said the RJC chose those states because the vote there is “competitive.” That’s notable: Trump’s 2016 victory included narrow wins in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona. 

Including Georgia and Ohio in the mix indicates the deep trouble Trump is in. In 2016, he won Georgia by 5 points and Ohio by 8. 

From Brooks’ map it would appear that the RJC doesn’t think there’s a chance for Trump to win in Michigan or Wisconsin. Polls show Joe Biden leading Trump in both states by double digits.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Democratic Council of America has a much more expansive map. In addition to the five states the RJC is targeting, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, the JDCA says it is ready to target Jewish voters in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia — a 14-state plan, as director Halie Soifer put it.

Soifer said she hoped to spend over $1 million and as much as $5 million in pushing out the vote.

“They are the states where we think the Jewish vote can make a difference in the presidential and key Senate and House elections,” she said.

But while the JDCA has organized a number of webinars, it has yet to launch its phone banking. Once it is set up, Soifer told me, she hopes to reach “hundreds of thousands, if not over a million” Jewish voters. “First it will be persuasion methods, and then get out the vote,” she said.

The tea on the down-ballot

The political action committee associated with the Democratic Majority for Israel is planning to highlight Biden’s pro-Israel record in a digital campaign. (The RJC already launched a video, titled “Sunrise,” that calls Trump “the most pro-Israel president in history.”)

But the PAC’s emphasis will be down-ballot, Mellman said, because that’s where it makes more sense to spend money; both presidential campaigns have plenty of resources already. The messaging down-ballot will not necessarily be about Israel, he said, but about issues of importance to local voters.

During the primaries, the PAC has already run ads targeting opponents of its favored candidates on themes that have nothing to do with Israel. Its $1.5 million spent to protect veteran N.Y. Rep. Eliot Engel included ads raising the fact that his challenger, Jamaal Bowman, had an unpaid tax bill. (Bowman has declared victory in that race, but Engel is waiting out the counting of the mail-in ballots.)

Mark Mellman, the Democratic Majority for Israel’s president and CEO, has proven to be a prodigious fundraiser and said his group would be spending in the millions of dollars in a broad campaign. (He declined to be more specific on the amount.)

“We will be on TV, we will be in the mail, we will be on the telephone, we will be digital,” he said. “We will be in every form of communication known to human beings.”

When it comes to the Senate, Republicans have 23 seats up for reelection, while the Democrats have only 12. That means Republican Jewish groups must be on the defensive, especially as Trump’s sinking popularity threatens to derail down-ballot Republicans, while Democratic groups can focus on flipping seats. 

This week, the Jewish Democratic Council of America added 17 names to its congressional endorsements, bringing the total to 89. Significantly, most of the new batch is challenging Republicans in states that Trump won in 2016, including Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Alaska, South Carolina and Tennessee. Among the 17 are four Senate candidates — Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Mackler in Tennessee, Al Gross in Alaska and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina — challenging incumbent Republicans. Ossoff, Mackler and Gross are Jewish.

Here are some Senate races where the partisan PACs will go head to head, according to their endorsements:

  • Maine: The Republican Jewish Coalition has endorsed Sen. Susan Collins; the Democratic Majority for Israel, J Street and the Jewish Democratic Council of America are backing her challenger, Sara Gideon.
  • South Carolina: RJC, Sen. Lindsey Graham; JDCA and J Street, Harrison.
  • Georgia: RJC, Sen. David Perdue; JDCA and J Street, Ossoff.
  • Colorado: RJC, Sen. Cory Gardner; JDCA, DMFI and J Street, challenger John Hickenlooper.
  • Michigan: JDCA and DMFI, Sen. Gary Peters; RJC, challenger John James.
  • Arizona: RJC, Sen. Martha McSally; JDCA and J Street, challenger Mark Kelly.

The sweeping endorsements do not mean that Democratic Jewish groups are banking on their candidates winning, but it does suggest that those candidates have a chance and will force Republicans to spend defensively.

And in one notable effort, five state-level Jewish Democratic organizations are working together to influence down-ballot elections in their states. They are the Florida Democratic Party Caucus of American Jews; Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon Atlanta; Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus; Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania; and Wisconsin Jewish Democrats.

“There are two Senate races in Georgia —  Pennsylvania as you know has no U.S. Senate race,” said Jill Zipin, the founder of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. “So if they’re doing a phone bank for example for Ossoff, I would encourage our Jewish voters to help and call down there.” 

Counting on digital

Door-to-door canvassing is not completely out of the question — hanging flyers on doorknobs is still a thing, even during a plague, as anyone living in a competitive district will tell you. And the partisan Jewish groups are also counting on the old standby, direct mail.

But the pandemic has accelerated what already was a trend of moving toward text message blasts and targeted social media ads. 

“In 2008, we would go door to door and look for the mezuzah,” said Soifer, who ran Jewish outreach for Obama’s Florida campaign that year. “Now we can purchase lists of Jewish voters and with a click of a button target hundreds of thousands with digital advertising. So in some ways, the ability to reach voters has become much more efficient.”

Brooks’ RJC has rolled out the highest-profile digital campaign so far, and he said he has money to spend on broadcast and cable ads. 

The Jewish Democratic Council of America has just launched two ads on social media platforms. And Mellman said he had available technology that would allow the Democratic Majority for Israel’s PAC to target individual voters depending on their known preferences. 

“We have a pretty sophisticated way to figure out who the targets are that are going to be most movable, persuadable, in the House and Senate races,” he said. “We can identify those people, and we can target ads on digital directly to those people, and do the same thing with the mail and with the phones.”

In Other News

A Black Lives Matter march turns: A march this week in Washington sought to tie the Black Lives Matter moment to Palestinian fury at Israel for its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank. The marchers chanted “Israel, we know you, you murder children, too.” The RJC, wanting to make this Biden’s Charlottesville moment, is calling on the presumptive Democratic candidate to condemn the chanting. But it’s not clear to what degree these organizers are connected to the broader Black Lives Matter movement, and the march ended peacefully, while the Charlottesville march was violent and deadly.

Platforming the platform: In 2016, Jewish groups denounced the inclusion in the Movement for Black Lives’ platform of a passage accusing Israel of genocide. We’ve written about how a lot of the same Jewish groups have set aside their criticism in the current moment because of what they see as the urgency of joining with BLM in facing down institutional racism and police brutality. The ‘16 platform did not bind BLM chapters. Next month, The Washington Post reports, the Movement for Black Lives is convening a national conference to revise the platform. What happens to the Israel language will be interesting to watch.

Emulating Nita: Mondaire Jones, Nita Lowey’s likely replacement in Congress, tells my colleague Shira Hanau that he is no AOC, and that he shares the outgoing rep’s love for Israel.

Vouching for vouchers: Orthodox Jewish groups declare a victory in a Supreme Court decision that extends government aid to religious schools. Hanau examines the consequences.

WORTH A LOOK

Rep. Elissa Slotkin speaks at a press conference in Washington. (Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

I followed Elissa Slotkin, the freshman Michigan Democrat, around last year; she’s a pothole politician, hyperfocused on local needs. But she’s also a former CIA analyst and top Pentagon official, and the Democratic leadership is calling on her skills to make sense of why Trump has appeared to be slow to react to an apparent Russian scheme to pay for the killing of American troops. At The New York Times, Emily Cochrane talks to Slotkin about how she “toggles” between her previous and current self.

TWEET SO TWEET

“Not gonna lie, they really nailed this one” — @MattZeitlin on Twitter

Soner Cagaptay, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, resurrects a Soviet- era ethnic “types” sheet to identify suspects. Matthew Zeitlin, a reporter, is among a number of Jewish tweeps who see something strangely familiar about the Jewish “type.”

STAY IN TOUCH

Share your thoughts on The Tell, or suggest a topic for us. Connect with Ron Kampeas on Twitter at @kampeas or email him at thetell@jta.org.

The post How and where the Democrats and Republicans are trying to woo Jewish swing voters appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Facebook ad showed a Jewish California state senator clutching Monopoly money

Thu, 2020-07-02 18:19

(JTA) — A California trade union placed a political advertisement on Facebook about a Jewish state senator that evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money.

The State Building and Construction Trades Council later removed the ad and apologized after being called out by the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, the political news website CalMatters reported Tuesday.

The ad accuses Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, of “selling out” to developers and the real estate industry. It featured an image of Wiener against a backdrop of a Monopoly game board, clutching a handful of Monopoly money.

The union objects to a bill authored by Wiener that would allow churches and other religious organizations to more speedily develop low-income housing on their property. The union wants union-level wages and union-trained workers for the projects, which would make them more expensive.  The state Senate passed the legislation on Friday.

Jeremy Russell, a spokesperson for the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, called the ad “cringeworthy,” CalMatters reported.

“Everyone wants to be careful not to use that term (anti-Semitism) too lightly. But there’s not a question that it touched on anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes,” Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat from Santa Monica and chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, told CalMatters. “So at the very least the folks who put it up ought to be made aware of how problematic moving in that direction is.”

The union’s president, Robbie Hunter, at first denied that the ad could have anti-Semitic connotations and suggested that Wiener was trying to deflect attention from the legislation. He said the union had designed ads using Monopoly money for non-Jewish lawmakers, too, but never released them publicly.

The post Facebook ad showed a Jewish California state senator clutching Monopoly money appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Los Angeles has a major homelessness problem. These Jewish groups are helping by opening their parking lots.

Thu, 2020-07-02 16:19

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Art had been living with his mother for more than 30 years when she lost her apartment a little over a year ago. Though the mother was able to move in with one of Art’s brothers, the 49-year-old former tennis coach had nowhere to go and started sleeping in his car.

That meant a nightly struggle to find a place to park — and sleep — undisturbed. Sometimes he would park in a supermarket lot, only to have employees attempt to tow his car or call the police. And there was nowhere to take a shower or use the bathroom.

“Your rhythm is out. You feel almost like a zombie,” Art recalled. “The day just continues rolling into the next day.”

Things turned around for Art, who asked to be identified by his first name only, after Jewish institutions in this Southern California city invited him and other homeless people here to sleep on their property.

Through a program called Safe Parking LA, founded by three congregants at a local Reform synagogue, parking lots that otherwise would sit empty overnight are turned into safe spaces for the thousands of city residents who sleep in their cars because they do not have access to housing.

Art first parked at a synagogue, then at a Jewish residential addiction treatment center. At night, a security guard watches over him and others staying there. There’s a port-a-potty on site and, before the pandemic began, a free gym membership gave him access to a shower.

“They offer a little sanctuary,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in early March over dinner at Ikar, the synagogue that provided the parking lot for his overnights until the recent move to the treatment center Beit T’Shuvah.

Safe Parking LA is the brainchild of Scott Sale, along with Pat and Ira Cohen, members of the Leo Baeck Temple. In 2010, they were inspired by a similar initiative in Santa Barbara, a city about 110 miles north.

Sale said he drew inspiration from the Jewish principle of welcoming the stranger.

“That would be the major principle in Judaism that I espouse to, which i think Pat and Ira do, too, and so that was the major principle — to have our doors open, whether it’s Passover for Elijah or the stranger walking by my community,” he said, referring to the tradition of welcoming the biblical prophet to the Seder.

It took time for the trio to launch the initiative. Their efforts included lobbying the city to change a law that prevented organizations from housing people overnight.

“If you look at all tools in the toolbox to address homelessness, safe parking is one of those tools,” said John Maceri, the CEO of The People Concern, a Los Angeles social service agency dealing with homelessness. “It is not the only solution. It is a solution that has a very specific application to very specific types and numbers of people experiencing homelessness … but for those individuals who have vehicles it can be a very effective intervention.”

Safe Parking LA now has a $1.8 million budget, most of which comes from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and operates nine lots in the city with a total of 150 parking spots. Some of the lots are public — libraries, municipal buildings and the county Health Department. The private ones include Beit T’Shuvah, an Episcopal church and, until recently, Ikar.

Safe Parking LA does most of the work — vetting applicants as well as providing liability insurance, a security guard and the port-a-potty.

Sale and the Cohens had originally tried to operate a lot at their Leo Baeck Temple but found the area was not in demand — few homeless people worked or received services there.

That meant Ikar, a nondenominational congregation with 800 member families, was the first Jewish organization in Los Angeles to participate in the initiative, in November 2018, shortly after acquiring its own space for the first time. The congregation had previously rented space for its programming.

“When we started to think about what it meant for Ikar to have a home in Los Angeles, it seemed clear to us that we needed to use our home to address the crisis of people living without housing in our city,” said Brooke Wirtschafter, the synagogue’s director of community organizing.

Ikar volunteers and participants in the Safe Parking LA program play card games following a dinner hosted by the synagogue. (Courtesy of Ikar)

This January, Beit T’Shuvah opened its lot. Safe Parking LA decided in March to consolidate the two nearby lots, neither of which was at capacity, to cut costs — each lot costs $200,000 to run per year. The Ikar participants moved to the Beit T’Shuvah lot because it was larger  and gated.

For the Jewish rehab center, the opportunity to help those struggling resonated, said Adam Siegel, its director of community development.

“As a community made up of individuals [where] many have struggled within the margins of our society, we recognize that we are now in a position to help those that are facing these kinds of challenges,” he said.

Siegel said that turning the center’s lot into a safe parking lot has “gone smoothly,” and that staff and community members are happy that the organization can “utilize this space to its full potential.”

Some elements of the program are suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit this city’s homeless population hard and drawn attention to the inadequate options for safe short-term housing.

Ikar members had raised money to buy every program participant a gym membership, so they could have a place to shower. That is no longer an option. And the twice-monthly dinners for participants and volunteers to come together are also on hold.

Those dinners were designed to foster connection and community. Tables were set with tablecloths, plates and silverware. Volunteers and program participants go together to get the food from a kosher vegetarian buffet. Board games provide some entertainment.

“We want it to actually feel warm and to feel like a hosted dinner, where people are sitting together to build relationships, not like a charity event,” Wirtschafter said.

At a time when many synagogues are increasing security, Wirtschafter said that participating in the program made Ikar safer.

“This is an area where there is quite a bit of street homelessness and other stuff going on, and we actually think that our building is safer overnight with trusted people who just want a safe place to sleep,” she said.

Indeed, one 54-year-old woman who stayed in Ikar’s lot for more than 10 months with her 23-year-old son described the program as “a necessity.”

“You’re not harassed by the cops,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “You have a safe place to come and go to the restroom and park and plug in for your medical [devices], for your car, for charging your phone.”

The post Los Angeles has a major homelessness problem. These Jewish groups are helping by opening their parking lots. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jewish foundation in Los Angeles using its $8.5 million in grants this year just for COVID-19 relief

Thu, 2020-07-02 15:41

(JTA) — The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles will distribute $8.5 million in funds for COVID-19 relief to support nonprofit organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, representing its entire grantmaking for 2020.

Formally titled the COVID-19 Response Grants, the program’s first phase will focus on providing immediate relief to Los Angeles nonprofits  that offer direct services to those impacted by the pandemic. The second phase will support Jewish nonprofits locally and in Israel facing economic hardship due to the effects of the coronavirus in order to ensure their long-term survival.

So far, $2.5 million has been distributed to 22 nonprofit organizations, including a $1 million grant to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The foundation said in a statement that it consulted with more than 100 nonprofits locally and in Israel, as well as other foundations in the community, to gain a better understanding of the most pressing and evolving needs.

“The devastating effects of COVID-19 and the financial crisis required us to re-imagine our institutional grantmaking to meet these unprecedented challenges,” the foundation’s CEO, Marvin Schotland, said in the statement.

The post Jewish foundation in Los Angeles using its $8.5 million in grants this year just for COVID-19 relief appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Gold statue of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein appears in downtown Albuquerque

Thu, 2020-07-02 14:57

(JTA) — A statue of the late convicted sex offender Jefferey Epstein appeared in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The group responsible for the prank said it was meant as political satire, referring to Confederate monuments in public spaces.

The statue, created by painting a mannequin gold, was discovered in front of City Hall on Wednesday and removed the same day, according to local reports.

A plaque noted that Epstein had a home in New Mexico and that “He was also a rapist that died in prison.” It also included a list of court cases involving the Jewish millionaire financier, who was found dead in his New York City jail cell in August while facing sex trafficking charges for allegedly abusing dozens of minor girls.

“Generously provided to Bernalillo County by the Antlion Entertainment ‘Art’ Collective,” the plaque said.

“We think we need an Epstein statue in every school because otherwise how are students ever going to learn they even existed?” an unnamed Antlion member told told KRQE. “You know those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it, and so if we don’t have statues of Epstein up, how can we prevent predatory behavior.”

On Thursday, the FBI arrested Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and heiress who was a close friend and confidante of Epstein, on charges that she conspired with Epstein to sexually abuse minors, the WNBC-TV in New York reported.

The six-count indictment filed in Manhattan federal court alleges that Maxwell helped Epstein train girls as young as 14 years old beginning in 1994.

The post Gold statue of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein appears in downtown Albuquerque appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators in DC chant ‘Israel, we know you, you murder children, too’

Thu, 2020-07-02 14:21

(JTA) — Protesters at a demonstration in Washington, D.C., linking Black Lives Matter and the Palestinian cause chanted “Israel, we know you, you murder children, too.”

The demonstration Wednesday was billed as an event in support of the Day of Rage called by the Palestinian Authority and other groups to protest Israel’s announced plan to annex up to 30% of the West Bank on or after July 1.

A staff writer for The Washington Examiner, Nicolas Rowan, posted a video of some of the march on Twitter.

It was only a matter of time before the DC protests turned anti-Semitic. pic.twitter.com/YTbwwGuOYh

— Nic Rowan (@NicXTempore) July 1, 2020

Chants also alternated between “Black lives matter!” and “Palestinian lives matter!”

The march, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building, was led by a Harvard student, Christian Tabash, who read a poem about Israel’s crimes against Palestinian Muslims, according to the Examiner. The poem referred to Israel as “puppet master of continents,” an age-old conspiracy theory that Jews run the world.

Tabash, a rising senior, also noted several times that the Palestinian movement is “intrinsically tied to Black Lives Matter” and called to defund police departments.

The Republican Jewish Coalition in response said in a statement: “We are horrified by this vicious hatemongering by Black Lives Matter protesters. The Black Lives Matter charter is filled with anti-Israel and antisemitic lies. It is deeply disturbing, but not surprising, to hear those sentiments chanted in the streets of Washington, DC.”

The statement called on former Vice President Joe Biden, “as the standard bearer of the Democrat Party, to condemn these anti-Semitic chants by BLM protesters.”

The post Black Lives Matter demonstrators in DC chant ‘Israel, we know you, you murder children, too’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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

Thu, 2020-07-02 13:35

(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’

Thu, 2020-07-02 13:30

(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.

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

The post Mondaire Jones, Nita Lowey’s presumed successor, says he’ll be a friend to Israel appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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.

The post Anti-Semitism and hate speech are rampant on Twitter. Policing Trump doesn’t solve the problem. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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.

The post My Black Jewish family’s values were 150 years in the making appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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.

The post British Prime Minister Boris Johnson decries annexation in op-ed for Israeli newspaper appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.