Betsy DeVos Refuses to Rule Out Giving Funds to Schools That Discriminate

WASHINGTON — Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, on Wednesday fiercely defended budget plans to spend $1.4 billion on the Trump administration’s expanded school choice agenda, but refused to say whether her office would withhold funds from private schools that discriminate against students.

In her first testimony to Congress since a bruising confirmation hearing in January, Ms. DeVos appeared unflappable as she told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee that the budget sought to empower states and parents to make decisions about students’ educations.

“We cannot allow any parent to feel their child is trapped in a school that isn’t meeting his or her unique needs,” Ms. DeVos told lawmakers.

But Democrats derided the education spending blueprint for the 2018 fiscal year as tone deaf to low-income and working-class Americans. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the panel, called it “cruel” and “inhumane.”

The budget plan would eliminate more than 20 education programs and redirect funding to expanding school choice initiatives. Those include a $250 million program to give students publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools.

But Ms. DeVos said states, not the Education Department, would decide whether to withhold federal money from private schools that are neither required to serve a diverse pool of students nor held publicly accountable for doing so.

Earlier this week, in a speech to school choice advocates, Ms. DeVos said that state participation in the voucher program and other federally funded school choice initiatives would be optional. But, she said, states that chose not to participate would be making a “terrible mistake.”

Representative Katherine M. Clark, Democrat of Massachusetts, asked how Ms. DeVos would respond to a state that gave federal funding to a school that denied admission to students from lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender families.

“For states that have programs that allow for parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that,” Ms. DeVos replied.

Though she said the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights would vigorously investigate any discrimination claims, Ms. DeVos declined to say how, specifically, she might protect students’ rights by intervening in state funding decisions.

“I’m shocked that you were unable to find one example of discrimination against students that you would be willing to stand up to,” Ms. Clark said.

Ms. DeVos maintained that parents should have the final say in what kind of schools their children attend. “Too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them,” she said. “We have to do something different.”

She offered similar reasoning when asked whether schools that received voucher money would be required to uphold special education students’ due process rights.

“If a parent chooses to go to a school that is not a public school, then that is a decision made and a contract made with that provider,” she said.

The education budget calls for cutting about $9 billion, or 13 percent of the department’s funding, from about 20 programs, including the Special Olympics for students with disabilities, after-school programs for low-income students and programs for gifted students.

Since the budget’s release Tuesday, opponents have expressed alarm at how much it targets student-centered programs. The department’s cuts to programs that help students pay for college, such as work-study and subsidized loans, have drawn the most ire.

John B. King Jr., who served as education secretary under President Barack Obama and now leads the Education Trust, a think tank, said it was an “assault on the American dream.”

“No one in good conscience could stand up and say this budget makes sense for the interests of students and the long-term interest of the country,” Mr. King said.

However, supporters called the cuts long overdue. The conservative Heritage Foundation said the spending blueprint “signals a serious commitment to reducing federal intervention in education — a necessary condition to make space for a restoration of state and local control.”

Ms. DeVos told committee members that while the cuts might be alarming, they reflected “tough choices” on programs that had been deemed ineffective or duplicative. More money has not translated into success for the nation’s public schools, she said, citing a $7 billion program targeting low-performing schools that did not improve student outcomes.

Republican members of the committee agreed, and praised Ms. DeVos for her emphasis on school choice and better outcomes for students.

“I think there is no question that we don’t get a bang for our buck in the American education system,” said Representative Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland. “We are failing in a global education economy.”


McCain: Cynical Democrats killed Lieberman’s FBI chances

(CNN) Sen. John McCain is blaming Democrats for nixing former Sen. Joe Lieberman’s chances to be President Donald Trump’s next FBI director.

The Arizona Republican said Senate Democrats were being cynical when they raised opposition to Lieberman — a close friend of McCain’s — after Trump administration officials last week suggested he was one of the front-runners.
CNN reported Wednesday that Trump is now resetting his search for FBI director after the President said last week he was “very close” to choosing a replacement for fired FBI director James Comey.
“My Democratic colleagues clearly did (kill Lieberman’s chances),” McCain told reporters Wednesday. “This is their nominee for vice president of the United States. If anything would make you cynical about this town, that’s it.”
Lieberman was in fact the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000. But the former Connecticut senator became an independent in 2006 after losing his Democratic primary, and endorsed McCain for president in 2008 — angering many Democrats — and McCain had considered him a potential VP nominee for the Republican ticket.
Lieberman was one of the so-called “three amigos” in the Senate along with McCain and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Further complicating Lieberman’s chances to win Senate confirmation had he been selected, Lieberman is partners at the same law firm as Marc Kasowitz, an attorney Trump is expected to hire as part of a team on matters related to the special counsel probe into his campaign’s alleged connections to Russia.
Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said that disqualified Lieberman.
“It would be hard to see an associate of the law firm that just was hired by the President to defend him, or to represent his interests is a better way of saying it,” Cardin said. “So, yes, I think it disqualifies him.”
Even before Kasowitz was named as an expected attorney for Trump, Lieberman faced problems with Democrats as a former politician who did not have law enforcement experience, as many Democrats have called for a career-FBI official to be the next FBI director.
“I think what most of us are looking for in a nomination is someone who has broad experience in the Department of Justice, the FBI, a career-type person that doesn’t bring any political concerns one way or another,” Cardin said. “That’s what we think would be the best so we can get the type of traditional confirmation votes that would be near-unanimous that would be in the best interest of the morale of the FBI, of the Department of Justice and of the ongoing investigation.”

Paul Ryan: James Comey is not a nut job

Washington (CNN)House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he doesn’t agree with President Donald Trump that former FBI Director James Comey is a “nut job.”

His remarks were in response to a New York Times report that the President bragged to two top Russian officials earlier this month that firing “nut job” Comey eased “great pressure” on him.
“Yeah, I don’t agree with that,” Ryan told Axios’ Mike Allen at the Axios News Shapers event in Washington. “And he’s not.”
He added later, “I like Jim Comey.”
Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak came one day after Comey was fired.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not refute the Times story but said it was Comey’s “grandstanding and politicizing” of the Russia investigation that put pressure on the administration’s ability to engage Moscow.
Paul Ryan: Some people want to harm Trump

Paul Ryan: Some people want to harm Trump 00:45
“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said in a statement to CNN. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”
Following the reports that Trump called Comey a “nut job” — as well as reports that Comey wrote a memo in which he said Trump asked him to “move on” from investigating Flynn — Ryan told reporters last week he still had confidence in Trump.
When asked on his way out of a news conference about whether he still had confidence in the President, Ryan responded, “I do.”

Prepare for the weirdest Election Day in history, after a candidate allegedly body-slams a reporter (LOL….)


In a few hours, polls open across the state of Montana for a special House election to replace Ryan Zinke, who was tapped by President Trump to serve as secretary of the interior. Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in that race, closed out his electoral push in a particularly unorthodox way, allegedly body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs to the ground after being asked about the Republican health-care bill.

In any context, the apparent assault would be a stunning development. But happening so close to the election, it turns an already weird contest into one of the most unusual moments in modern American political history.

The obvious question — beyond “will Gianforte face criminal charges” — is how this will affect the vote. And that is extremely hard to answer.

Normally, one would assume that an event of this magnitude would significantly alter the course of the race. But 2017 is not normal, and the relationship between voters and the news media at the moment is unpredictable. We’ve repeatedly seen the strength of partisanship in powering candidates past controversy, most notably in the form of support for Trump over the course of 2016. One would think that this would cost Gianforte a substantial number of votes — but it would be hard to be surprised if it didn’t.

A statement from Gianforte’s campaign tries to leverage that partisanship, calling Jacobs a “liberal reporter.”

We saw this last year, too. When Trump’s then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of assaulting a reporter from Breitbart News, fervent supporters of the candidate refused to believe that reporter, Michelle Fields, or The Washington Post’s Ben Terris, who observed the incident. Video footage proved that they were telling the truth.

Of course, the effect of an event of this magnitude would also be limited by how close the event was to the election itself. It takes time for news to trickle out, and the odds are very good that many people who vote Thursday won’t have heard about this incident before they do so. As of this writing, an hour-and-a-half after the incident occurred, the local NBC affiliate in Montana has no coverage of it. Update: By 9 p.m. Eastern time, other network affiliates had picked up the story.

That said, the modern era of newsgathering — and the involvement of a reporter — means that more people will be made aware of this than one might think. Both CNN and MSNBC quickly pivoted to the story, interviewing reporters who were nearby. (Update: Shortly before 11 Eastern, Fox News reporters fully corroborated Jacobs’ version of events. The article led the national Fox News website.) Jacobs’ story spread rapidly on social media; it was the No. 2 trending topic in the United States by 8:30 p.m. That is, 8:30 p.m. Eastern. In Montana, it was only 6:30 — leaving lots of time for local news to play catch-up. An announcement from the local sheriff that he would hold a news conference the same evening likely means a lot more attention was paid to the incident than usual.

However! It’s also the case that Montana early voting had already wrapped up. By the end of the day on Sunday, Decision Desk HQ reports that 226,554 votes had already been tallied, slightly more than were cast in early voting in 2014, the most recent non-presidential-year House contest in the state. (TargetSmart’s Tom Bonier noted that the party split of the 2017 votes was about the same as during the election three years prior.) In 2014, only about 368,000 votes were cast in total. What turnout will look like in a special election is hard to predict, but if it’s similar to 2014, that means that 62 percent of votes have already been cast early.

None of those early voters will have the opportunity to let this news affect their vote, even if they wanted to. (While some states allow early voters to replace those ballots, Montana doesn’t.) That could have been the fate of far more voters: A Democratic effort to mail ballots to all of the state’s voters failed in the state House of Representatives in March.

Another wrinkle: As reporter Ari Berman notes, Montana has Election-Day registration, meaning that those interested in voting but who haven’t registered can do so at the polling place Thursday. An effort to reel back that rule was defeated on the ballot in 2014.


It’s also not clear what the state of play was in Montana coming into Election Day. Republicans bombarded the state with advertisements and a last-minute robo-call from Trump, suggesting that they weren’t confident that Gianforte would hold the seat last won by a Democrat in 1993. Democrats have made a late push in the state, buoyed by strong performances in a number of other special elections so far this year.

So what will happen on Thursday? It’s almost impossible to tell — as it will be almost impossible to tell after the fact how important Gianforte’s apparent assault on Jacobs was on the result. If Gianforte pulls out the victory, there will almost certainly be a number of other questions that await him before he heads to Washington to take his new position.

Joe Lieberman (Kike) reportedly out of contention as Trump pick to lead FBI

Joe Lieberman

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump reportedly has dropped Joe Lieberman, a one-time Democrat who was the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket, from his list of contenders to helm the FBI.

Trump had indicated last week that Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut and an Independent who has forged strong ties with Republicans and Democrats, was his likeliest pick. Lieberman was seen by Trump’s team as a sop to members of both parties angry with Trump for how he fired James Comey, the previous FBI director.

But Democrats in the Senate, chief among them Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, raised concerns because Lieberman is employed by the legal firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman, which represents Trump. CNN reported Wednesday that Trump had retained the firm’s top lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, as personal counsel as scandals besieged Trump’s presidency, and that was likely a factor in Lieberman’s removal from contention for the FBI post.

Comey was helming the investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign when Trump sacked him earlier this month.

The White House delivered an array of sometimes conflicting reasons for the dismissal, saying at first that Comey mishandled last year’s FBI inquiry into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Then Trump acknowledged that he was also thinking of the Russia inquiry when he fired Comey.

Comey’s firing and subsequent reporting that Trump had tried to influence Comey’s handling of the Trump campaign-Russia investigation was a watershed in the scandals that have plagued Trump’s young presidency. Republicans in Congress seemed eager for the first time to vigorously pursue their own investigations into the alleged Russia ties, and last week subpoenaed materials related to the Russia investigations.

Lieberman earned a reputation for integrity in the late 1990s when he became the first Senate Democrat to take President Bill Clinton to task for his transgressions related to his affair with a White House intern.

Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, made history when he named Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate.

Lieberman alienated grassroots Democrats in the next decade when he backed President George W. Bush’s Iraq War, and in 2006 was defeated in the Democratic primary in his home state. He ran and won as an Independent, and backed his close friend, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, over Barack Obama in the 2008 election. He retired from politics in 2012.

Since then, Lieberman has gravitated back toward the Democratic fold, campaigning among Florida’s Jews last year for Clinton. He still maintains ties with Republicans, however, this year testifying on behalf of two Trump nominees in confirmation hearings: Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, who is the “Friedman” in the legal firm representing Trump.



US Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to speak about the importance of commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem on the 50th anniversary of the day Israel liberated the city’s east during the Six Day War.

Cruz’s address came a day after US President Donald Trump departed from Israel, where he spent two days of his maiden foreign tour and visited the Western Wall.


“I rise to mark a truly significant and momentous day. Starting this evening, millions around the world will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, also known as Jerusalem Day,” Cruz said.

“I am proud to join our close ally Israel and the Jewish people in celebrating this historic, 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem,” he continued.


Cruz then referred to Trump, calling on him to make two significant moves Israel has been vying for in talks with the current administration and its predecessors: to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It is long past time that America does something it should have done two decades ago: move the American embassy to Jerusalem and formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and undivided capital,” he said.

Trump first made the pledge to move the embassy during his election campaign, and has since appeared to be wavering on the decision.

A US official told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the president’s visit to the region that Trump would hold off on making the decision and was not going to announce the embassy move during his stay.

Indeed, during his time in the country, Trump refrained from making a direct reference to settlement construction or to the embassy move, which are two of the major issues of contention between Israel and the United States.

“There is no reason Israel should be treated any worse when they are such a reliable and unshakable ally,” Cruz added, before stressing the significance of the embassy move once more.

“We should honor the promise that Democratic presidents and Republican presidents have made for decades and move our embassy to Jerusalem.”

Cruz then went on to note the importance of Jerusalem Day. He spoke about Israel’s battle to reunite the capital during the Six Day War, which was determined on this day 50 year ago.

“Today is a day where we must also reassert historical truth: The historic connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel did not begin in 1967,” he said. “These profound ties to Jerusalem have existed for thousands of years. They can be traced back and have been reaffirmed through numerous archeological excavations such as those in the City of David.

“And so I stand today to express my solidarity with Israel and with the Jewish people during this major celebration. Now, more than ever, America stands strong with our unshakable friend and ally, the nation of Israel.”



A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a bid by Jonathan Pollard, the former US Navy intelligence officer who served 30 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Israel, to relax his parole conditions.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan said the US Parole Commission acted within its discretion in requiring Pollard to wear an electronic tracking device, obey a curfew and allow his computers to be monitored.


Eliot Lauer, Pollard’s attorney, told The Jerusalem Post that he was “disappointed in two respects. First the result. Second in that the court did not step out of the checklist and confront the commission on the manifest injustice of the onerous and unnecessary restrictions.”

The Free Pollard campaign responded that the timing and substance of the Second Circuit’s denial of Pollard’s appeal to lift his parole restrictions “reflect politics, not due process.”

“The court’s decision was handed down with unprecedented speed obviously calculated to occur simultaneously with President’s Trump’s departure from Israel and with Yom Yerushalyim,” the campaign said. “Clearly the timing of this decision, which normally takes months but was delivered less than a week after oral arguments, was intended as a slap across Israel’s face.

“Coming on the heels of the US president’s compromise of an Israeli intelligence operation and the consequent endangerment of the life of an Israeli agent, this unambiguous insult to Israel via the Second Circuit Court is revealing of the new US administration’s continuing tolerance of an anti-Israel agenda by those elements in the American defense and intelligence communities hostile to the US-Israel special relationship,” the statement continued.

“This officially accepted belligerence will not be camouflaged by photo-ops and heart-warming speeches.

Unless and until Jonathan Pollard is allowed to come home to Israel, the US intelligence establishment’s warin- the-shadows against Israel will continue unabated,” the campaign concluded.

Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with providing Israeli contacts with hundreds of classified documents.

His lawyers have said his parole conditions have prevented him from getting a job.

On Sunday, Pollard appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring up the matter of his release during his meeting with US President Donald Trump on Monday.

Netanyahu’s spokesman declined to reveal whether or not he did.

Pollard made the comments during conversations he held with close friends over the weekend. His wife, Esther, recounted them to the Post.

“As much as Trump needs to be held to his promise to move the embassy, it is just as important that the prime minister keep his promise to bring an agent home,” Pollard reportedly said to the friends during the weekend.

Last week, Pollard appealed US District Judge Katherine Forrest’s decision to keep in place the parole conditions that were imposed when he was released from prison in November 2015, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for spying for Israel.

The conditions prevent Pollard from leaving his New York home after 7 p.m. and before 7 a.m., compel him to submit any computer he uses for inspection and require him to wear a GPS monitoring device that forces him to violate the Sabbath.

Facebook only removes Holocaust denial if facing legal action – report

This file photo taken on November 21, 2016, shows Facebook logos pictured on the screens of a smartphone (R), and a laptop computer, in central London. (AFP)

This file photo taken on November 21, 2016, shows Facebook logos pictured on the screens of a smartphone (R), and a laptop computer, in central London. (AFP)

Facebook instructs moderators to ignore Holocaust denial posted to its website unless it came from one of four countries — out of more than a dozen countries where it is illegal — and only then if it is reported, the UK Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.

The four countries are France, Germany, Israel, and Austria and the content is to be removed “not on grounds of taste, but because the company fears it might get sued,” the report said, citing training manuals for moderators at the social media giant.

Earlier this week the daily said that over a period of months it was able to review more than 100 training documents.

Facebook “does not welcome local law that stands as an obstacle to an open and connected world,” one manual says and only recommends removing or blocking Holocaust content when “we face the risk of getting blocked in a country or a legal risk.”

Examples of allowed content in the other countries where teh social media giant doesn’t fear legal action was a post that said “Never again Believe the Lies” with a picture of a concentration camp, according to the report.

“We believe our geo-blocking policy balances our belief in free expression with the practical need to respect local laws in certain sovereign nations in order to remain unblocked and avoid legal liability. We will only use geo-blocking when a country has taken sufficient steps to demonstrate that the local legislation permits censorship in that specific case,” a training manual explains.

“Some 14 countries have legislation on their books prohibiting the expression of claims that the volume of death and severity of the Holocaust is overestimated. Less than half the countries with these laws actually pursue it. We block on report only in those countries that actively pursue the issue with us.”

Facebook “contested the figures but declined to elaborate,” the report said, referring to the claim that action against Holocaust denial content is taken only in some countries.

Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook, told the Guardian, “Not every team of employees is involved in enforcing our policies around locally illegal content. Whether reported by government entities or individual users, we remove content that violates our community standards.”

Facebook was aware of “the sensitivities around the issue of Holocaust denial in Germany and other countries and [we] have made sure that our reviewers are trained to be respectful of that sensitivity,” she added.

Other guidelines instructed that refugees and asylum seekers are in a “quasi-protected category,” meaning they receive less stringent protection against online abuse than other vulnerable groups.

While any calls for violence against refugees must be removed, Facebook manuals advise that “as a quasi-protected category, they will not have the full protections of our hate speech policy because we want to allow people to have broad discussions on migrants and immigration which is a hot topic in upcoming elections.”

Comments such as “Fuck immigrant” and “Keep the horny migrant teenagers away from our daughters” do not need to be deleted although references to migrants that “equate them to other types of criminals, e.g. rapists, child molesters, murderers or terrorists” are not permitted, according to the report.

Anti-Muslim sentiment such as “All terrorists are Muslims” is permitted but a comment “All Muslims are terrorists” should be flagged because while terrorists are not a protected category, Muslims are a protected category, a manual explains.

“When context is ambiguous about whether a PC (protected category) or non-PC is being attacked, the default action is for reps to ignore,” Facebook training material instructs and gives as an example of content that can be left on the site a photograph of Syrian refugees and children in a swimming pool with the caption “The scum need to be eliminated.”

“Because it is ambiguous whether the caption is attacking Syrian refugees (PC) or perpetrators of sexual assault (or the subcategory Syrian refugees who commit sexual assault), the correct action is to ignore,” the manual explains.

On Tuesday European lawmakers approved legislation that would force social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube, to remove hate speech videos, Reuters reported. The measure still needs to be approved by the European Parliament before it becomes law.

In January, Israel’s so-called Facebook bill, which would allow the state to seek court orders to force the social media giant to remove certain content based on police recommendations, passed its first reading in the Knesset.

The bill was proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in July, two weeks after the two met with Facebook officials in the Knesset. It is aimed at combating Palestinian incitement to terror against Israelis.

The government says the bill will only be invoked in cases of suspected incitement, where there is a real possibility that the material in question endangers the public or national security.

In December Google changed its search algorithm to deny prominence to Holocaust-denying websites. The company faced criticism after Digital Trends reported that searching for the query “Did the Holocaust happen?” gave top results from white supremacist and anti-Semitic pages, which asserted that it, in fact, did not.

Google had initially said it had no intention of removing or filtering search results, but the company subsequently announced that it has “made improvements to our algorithm that will help surface more high quality, credible content on the web.”

How to square a circle: When liberal American Jews become Israeli settlers

Popular historian Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn regularly challenges her packed audiences to produce the name of one American West Bank settler. Invariably, the sole contender presented to the Oxford lecturer is Baruch Goldstein.

A resident of the settlement of Kiryat Arba on the outskirts of Hebron, the Brooklyn-born, Yeshiva University-educated physician is indubitably the most notorious of Jewish-American settlers. On Purim morning, February 1994, the IDF uniform-clad Goldstein entered a mosque at the nearby Tomb of the Patriarchs and killed 29 Palestinian Muslims. Another 125 were wounded before he was beaten to death.

While Goldstein may be the most well-known of American settlers, he is arguably not the most historically influential. In Hirschhorn’s book, “City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement,” the scholar charts the rise and reach of several other significant American settler figures.

In conversation with The Times of Israel ahead of her book’s release this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War — the genesis of the settler enterprise — Hirschhorn explained “City on a Hilltop” was written in part because of the overwhelming archetypical image of the radical American settler she has witnessed among participants of her lectures.

“They don’t know [Tekoa founder] Bobby Brown, and they don’t know [Ofra founder] Shifra Blass, and they don’t know [Yamit head] Carol Rosenblatt and they don’t know all the other people in the book, but they sure know Baruch Goldstein. And that is part of the stereotype of who American settlers are,” said American-born Hirschhorn, who began her fieldwork for the book in 2007.

Cover of 'City on a Hilltop' by Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn. (courtesy)

In vivid, approachable, yet deeply informative prose, “City on a Hilltop,” zeroes in on the diverse personalities behind the phenomenon of the “American settler.” From Yamit’s secular Seventies crowd “who look like they just walked out of a casting call for the 1970s,” to Efrat’s Modern Orthodox “baseball cap and chinos-wearing” former civil rights advocates, Hirschhorn delves behind the headlines into the people who made them.

But this is no whitewashed history. Originally penned as her doctoral dissertation, an additional final chapter was added which looks at the controversial American who’s whos of Israeli Jewish terrorism.

“There’s a little bit of truth to the [extremist] stereotype because there are a number of American settlers that have been involved in high-profile acts of settler terrorism, and that continues,” said the 36-year-old University Research Lecturer and Sidney Brichto Fellow in Israel Studies at the University of Oxford.

By their sheer numbers, the American settler movement is worth taking a look at. Out of the ballpark 200,000 American citizens in Israel, Hirschhorn estimates there are between 60,000-65,000 American passport holders currently living in the West Bank — some 30 percent of all American immigrants, and 15% of all Jewish settlers.

(The over 60,000 is “an estimate based on a number of different sources that all have various flaws,” Hirschhorn acknowledged. But for the past 10 years, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics has tracked first points of residency for American immigrants which confirm this estimate.)

Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn speaks with a settler in Shilo during a research trip, circa 2008. (courtesy)

Chapter by chapter, through anecdotes, archival documents and personal interviews, Hirschhorn charts the settlers’ ideological evolution as the progressively raised immigrants attempted to reroot their “American values” on the foreign soil of Jewish particularism. But what is perhaps most fascinating in the work is Hirschhorn’s examination of the settlers’ motivations in leaving the comforts of the United States for the undeveloped and often hostile territory of post-1967 Greater Israel.

With backgrounds in the civil rights movement and the fight to free Soviet Jewry, following the 1967 Six Day War, dozens of American Jews adopted a pioneering spirit and became instrumental in the foundation of dozens of settlements in the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula, from ill-fated pluralistic Yamit, to rugged Tekoa and the suburban Pleasantville of Efrat.

Little caravan in the big West Bank

Wisconsin-born Shifra Blass was the first woman among the original settlers at Ofra in 1975.

“There were all these men who were living in rough conditions without any sanitation or real amenities, and then she [Blass] showed up and wanted to give the place a kind of ‘womanly presence.’ So the first thing that she did was whitewash the walls of the caravan that she was living in and put up some lace curtains,” said Hirschhorn relating an anecdote told to her by Blass.

Written by an unabashedly feminist academic, Hirschhorn’s book is uniquely sensitive to the fact of differing narratives among male and female settlers. To her, hanging lace curtains, a story so easily overlooked, is a telling episode in Blass’s acclimation.

“Those aren’t the kind of stories we hear about when we read about Gush Emunim [the settlers’ movement]. We hear about pioneering and reclaiming the Zionist vision, and self-realization,” said Hirschhorn.

A 1976 photo of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin speaking with Tekoa residents. (Saar Yaacov/GPO)

In stark juxtaposition to Blass’s lace curtains, said Hirschhorn, is a fence built by Tekoa founder Bobby Brown. At the end of the chapter on Tekoa, Hirschhorn quotes from a speech Brown made at the settlement’s second anniversary.

“I remember about half a year ago, we were putting up a fence around the area of Tekoa… after a whole day of putting up fences, barbed wire fences, your hands would get all bloody, your pants get ripped, and your coat gets ripped, and you’re cold and you’re dirty and everything. I got home and I felt pretty good… I was actually fencing in land that would belong to the Jewish people,” said Brown.

In the speech, said Hirschhorn, Brown is “staking his claim to the territory. And that’s a very different way of imagining your contribution to the movement: Putting up a barbed wire fence is different from hanging lace curtains,” she said.

But what connects between Blass and Brown’s stories is the idea of that they, and many Jewish American immigrants in the West Bank, conceived of themselves as Zionist pioneers.

Bronx-born Miriam Levinger, a driving force in the Jewish settlement of Hebron, told Hirschhorn that since she immigrated post-1948, she had “missed out on the original pioneering.” Becoming a settler, said Hirschhorn “was sort of a new-age halutz [pioneering] movement that appeals to Americans both in their American background and in the Israeli context.”

“They thought of themselves as reclaiming the spirit of the frontier, especially at a time when the frontier really closed for this group of people — no one was doing manifest destiny in the Bronx anymore, and they weren’t moving out to Oklahoma to homestead. That opportunity had passed for Jews in the United States and even really in territorial Israel,” said Hirschhorn.

Rabbi Moshe Levinger (L), Gush Emunim leader Hanan Porat (R) and fellow activists, celebrate the government's 1975 agreement which allows all settlers to relocate to a military camp near the Arab village of Sebastia and additional locations in the Samaria region. (Moshe Milner)

Scholars of immigration speak about migration as a “push-pull” phenomenon, said Hirschhorn. “Most immigrants are ‘push’ immigrants, meaning they are pushed out of their country of origin because of war, famine, poverty, or something really horrible. Immigrants from Western countries are primarily immigrants by choice. They’re attracted to Israel, but it’s an elective option.”

However, in their decision to immigrate to Israel from post-1967 America, these otherwise privileged American settlers, argued Hirschhorn, did have a very real “push” factor: their frustratingly overwhelming Zionism.

“These individuals felt that they couldn’t fully realize their Jewish and Zionist vision in the United States. So they were pushed out — maybe not in the same way that somebody fleeing war is pushed out — and they were also pulled by the incentivization of ethnic-return migration, this idea of Aliyah, of realizing their destiny… These are ideological immigrants. Whether it’s the push or the pull, it’s certainly an ideological force,” she said.

A 1971 photo of school children playing in front of the public religious school in Kiryat Arba. (Moshe Milner)

What makes someone leave Cincinnati, Ohio, for Israel — “in and of itself a pretty big transition” — is difficult to explain. But then to move to the West Bank?

“Trying to explain that bit has been the struggle of the book because for most American immigrants, moving to Jerusalem is enough, so why is it that there is this cohort that feels that’s not sufficient,” she asked.

“There’s this additional ideological piece where they see themselves either in religious terms as wanting to live in the Land of Israel, or in political terms as wanting to be a kind of guarantor of Jewish presence in the occupied territories. Or in spiritual terms, where they felt that only there could they fully realize themselves,” said Hirschhorn.

From 1979, the Ofra settlement headquarters. (Moshe Milner/GPO)

These Americans were led to the settlements through the desire to “self-actualize” and create a new utopia.

“But the pioneering also came with the same kind of blindness that those of the pre-state era had, or those in the United States had, and that was to the indigenous population that was already living there. So this is a pattern that we see all over the world, and that is that pioneering sometimes has a darker side, and that myth of the frontier doesn’t hold up so well to historical scrutiny,” said Hirschhorn.

Hippies on a hilltop?

What could be more picturesque: A wind-swept, olive tree-studded hilltop, crowned by a few caravans. Shrugging a rifle on his shoulder, a bearded man guards the barren land as his children frolic amongst the goats.

“The image that we have that is propagated in the media, of that guy in his hippie clothing with his AK-47 on a hilltop in the West Bank — that’s not really what the settler movement looks like today. In essence, the religious nationalist settler that dominates media coverage and our stereotype of who a settler is, is really in decline,” she said. In fact, said Hirschhorn, today’s stereotypical settler would be best portrayed as ultra-Orthodox.

Illustrative image of an ultra orthodox teacher takes the kids from his class to a walk in the sun on March 12, 2013, in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A goal of the book, said Hirschhorn, is to “complicate the picture of the settler movement today.” As such, one of Hirschhorn’s concerns in the completed book is the paucity of Palestinian voices.

“The book was about settlers, and it wasn’t about Palestinian reaction to the settler movement. So I didn’t go around and really interview Palestinians who were living near some of the settlements. But I did think that it was important to try and insert that side of the story.”

Many figures in the book claim to be living on “empty land,” or that their Palestinian neighbors aren’t the “rightful owners” of their land. In many cases, the scholar paused the settlers’ narratives to bring in a few lines of context which often disputed their claims.

‘I don’t think you shouldn’t produce scholarship about settlements just because it can be instrumentalized. But it’s a danger’

In this “conflict zone,” the Palestinians, said Hirschhorn, “certainly have their own understanding of these events and their own perceptions of settlers, and I thought that was important to bring out — especially when frankly the facts contradict what these settlers have to say.”

With that in mind, she has no delusions the book will be universally warmly received.

“I did my very best to provide an objective scholarly account, but I’m not under any illusion that it won’t be instrumentalized by people on both sides of the debate to service whatever agenda they have, and to use the book as ammunition in that battle,” she said.

“I have the feeling that in a few weeks everyone’s going to be calling me the ‘useful idiot’ of one side or the other,” she said, joking she should print t-shirts with the epithet. “I don’t think you shouldn’t produce scholarship about settlements just because it can be instrumentalized. But it’s a danger.”

How to square a circle

In a chapter on Jewish terrorism, Hirschhorn unflinchingly examines those American settlers who, especially when anguished by the “betrayal” of the 1993 Oslo accords, like Goldstein, eventually resorted to violence. How could they reconcile this intentional bloodshed with their “progressive” American backgrounds.

Baruch Goldstein (photo credit: Flash90)

“For at least some of these people it’s really the story of confronting what I’d call American values and settler realities, and how do they square that circle. For someone like [Shiloh founder] Era Rappaport, who was a member of the Jewish underground in the 1980s, it was really a story of losing his liberalism,” she said. “How did he go from being a civil rights worker in the Bronx to blowing off the legs of Bassam Shakaa in Nablus, as part of the [1980] bombings of the Arab mayors’ cars?”

When finally incarcerated, Rappaport penned a 1996 autobiography through missives (which won the National Jewish Book Award) called “Letters from Tel Mond Prison,” riffing on “Letters from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He talks about how he loses his liberalism in this Middle Eastern environment where he understands, in his own sort of way of telling it, that ‘Arabs only understand force and that’s the direction I’m going to go in. All the values I brought with me are incompatible with this Middle Eastern environment, and I see violence as the solution,’” said Hirschhorn.

At the same time, other American settlers, eschewing violence, took to the battlefield of ideas. During their 1990s Oslo-era struggles, some, like Shiloh-based Yisrael Medad, became PR whizzes and spokesmen for the settler movement on the international stage.

View of a hill slotted from development in the Judean Desert in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/TOI)

“The other arena Americans have been involved with since the 1990s is the public relations game. And there, instead of rejecting their liberal values, they kind of double down on them and use them to sell the settler project to the international community as really being an enterprise that’s dedicated to Jewish human and civil rights,” said Hirschhorn.

“Talking about the Bible is not a really great marketing point. It’s not a good soundbite. Talking about turning scripture into a soundbite or prophecy into public relations, that’s what they want to do by using the types of discourses that we’re familiar with and that appeal to us in the broader Diaspora and the international community,” she said.

‘Talking about the Bible is not a really great marketing point. It’s not a good soundbite’

The American settlers of her book, said Hirschhorn, have reconciled the tensions between their progressive past and nationalistic present in a way many in the States feel creates cognitive dissonance.

Unwilling to delve into the nuance of the settler movement or how it affects the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many of today’s young American Jews and much of mainstream left-leaning Israel simply view settlers as “obstacles to peace.”

“I think that at least among my generation of American Jews, we’ve been told that the reason American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel is because of the settlements… And if I snap my fingers tomorrow and every settlement disappears then everything will be kumbaya in the Middle East, and wonderful peace would just be at our doorstep,” elaborated Hirschhorn.

“That’s a lie that people tell themselves to avoid the real issues from 1948 and the future of some kind of Zionist entity between the river and the sea,” she said.

Dr. Sara Hirschhorn: 'Liberalism and particularism, just like nationalism and liberalism, are always in dialogue or in tension.' (courtesy)

Hirschhorn believes the reason why many young American Jews are turning away from Israel is their inability to hold the ideologies of liberalism and Zionism concurrently.

Referencing contemporary debates on college campuses and in social media, she said, “And then this whole idea that intersectionality is sort of incompatible with Zionism in some way — you can’t be a Zionist and a feminist, you can’t be a Zionist and a liberal, you can’t be a Zionist and an activist for civil rights — I guess this really is the struggle of the post-1967 era.

“Liberalism and particularism, just like nationalism and liberalism, are always in dialogue or in tension, and I think the debate today for our generation is how do we square this circle between wanting to be committed Zionists, but also holding liberal values,” she said.

“This is the whole debate of our generation: Are we going to be able to have a hyphenated identity — liberal-Zionist — and I don’t know,” she said.

Netanyahu thanks Czechs (White Freemasons) for pro-Israel resolutions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday thanked the Czech parliament for passing two pro-Israel resolutions that recognize the Jewish people’s ancient ties to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu praised the Czech Chamber of Deputies for its call on Tuesday to the nation’s government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to stop paying membership fees to UNESCO until the organization stops its anti-Israel bias.

Speaking at the official ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War, the prime minister said that the Czech decision was a courageous one. “This is the proper position, it is the courageous stance that others should take,” he said.

He also said that the move to recognize Israel’s capital as Jerusalem was “the recognition of something simple.” Netanyahu said he hoped that the Czech resolution would inspire other countries to do the same.

“This is the correct, worthy and courageous decision that others should copy,” he said.

Czech President Milos Zeman, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Monday October 7, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The prime minister connected Prague’s support for Israel to the early years of the Jewish state when Czechoslovakia sold arms to the fledgling IDF, which proved crucial to the establishment of the country.

“The Czechs once gave us Czech rifles,” he said, “this was the start of the struggle.”

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the lower chamber of the Czech Republic’s bicameral parliament passed two pro-Israel resolutions, both critical of the United Nations’ cultural and scientific agency.

In an unusual step, the country’s president also sent greetings to an event hosted by the Israeli embassy in honor of Jerusalem Day.

“The Chamber of Deputies calls on the government of the Czech Republic to stop all payments of membership fees to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from the state budget this year,” the nonbinding resolution read.

The Czech lawmakers further resolved to urge the government to freeze payments to UNESCO in future years if it does not cease allowing itself to be politicized for an anti-Israel agenda.

Israel’s ambassador to the Paris-based agency, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, welcomed the resolution. “Another blessed decision and another sane voice against the stream of delusional resolutions on the matter of Jerusalem,” he told The Times of Israel. “This is indeed a nice present from Prague to the people of Israel on Jerusalem Day.”

Israelis on Tuesday evening started celebrating the 50th anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem in the course of the Six Day War. Israel subsequently annexed that part of the city and declared united Jerusalem its eternal capital, a move not recognized by the international community.

Hundreds of revelers wave Israeli flags as they they prepare to march their way through the city towards the Western Wall for Jerusalem Day. (Like Tress/Times of Israel)

In an additional resolution, the Czech parliamentarians condemned the “continuing politicization of the issue of Jerusalem.” It passed with an overwhelming majority of 112 to 2.

The lawmakers declared their rejection of UNESCO’s May 2 resolution, which denied Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, and urged the government in Prague to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

Resolution 201 EX/PX/DR.30.1, which was proposed by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, “reaffirms the enduring biased and hostile attitude of UNESCO to one of its Member States; as well as the unacceptable politicization of the organization” by dealing with matter that are “clearly beyond its mandate,” the Czech resolution stated.

The UNESCO vote, which coincided with Israel’s Independence Day, passed with 22 countries in favor, 23 abstentions, 10 opposed, and the representatives of three countries absent.

The Czech Chamber of Deputies further endorsed a two-state solution and called for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations without preconditions. It also opposed decisions and resolutions by international organizations such as the European Union that “distort historical facts” and contain the “spirit of anti-Israel bigotry.”

Today we celebrated Jerusalem day in Prague Castle with Archbishop of Prague and many other friends

On Tuesday evening, the Israeli embassy in Prague hosted 500 guests at a Jerusalem Day celebration at the 9th-century Prague Castle — the official residence of the president of the Czech Republic.

“Let me greet you all on the occasion of this gathering that takes place on the eve of the Day of Jerusalem,” Czech President Milos Zeman said in a written message to the event’s participants. “You have gathered in this magnificent cathedral, the spiritual center of our country so steadfastly connected with our statehood.”

For Israel to celebrate in the historic venue is more than symbolic, he continued. “It was the Czechoslovak Republic that gave the helping hand to Israel in the difficult times. And in exchange, Israel with its vitality and pride encourages us in Europe where we face the evil of terrorism.”

Zeman concluded his message by thanking the guests for supporting Israel. “It is all the more valuable in the situation when the poisonous shoots of anti-Semitism once again started to take root on the European continent.”

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