antisemitism

German opera festival confronts Wagner anti-Semitism head-on

BAYREUTH, Germany (AFP) — An edgy new opera production by Australian Jewish director Barrie Kosky tackling Wagner’s anti-Semitism head-on won rapturous applause at Germany’s renowned Bayreuth opera festival and rave reviews Wednesday.

An audience including German Chancellor Angela Merkel cheered the four-and-a-half-hour staging of “The Master-Singers of Nuremberg” on opening night Tuesday at Bayreuth, the festival dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner.

Critics said they were impressed with the first production ever by a Jewish director at Bayreuth, now in its 106th year, and called it chillingly relevant.

Spiegel Online said Kosky’s “remarkably entertaining and convincing” staging effectively used Wagner’s notorious anti-Semitism to take on “hatred of Jews in general” in today’s Europe.

National daily Die Welt said Wagner’s toxic ideology had always been an “elephant in the room” which Kosky had opted to make “the actual subject of his staging.”

Wagner’s musical and artistic legacy from the 19th century is infused with anti-Semitism, misogyny and proto-Nazi ideas of racial purity.

His grandiose, nationalistic works were later embraced by the Third Reich, and Adolf Hitler called him his favorite composer.

Nevertheless in purely musical terms, Wagner’s achievements are undeniable and his operas figure in the standard repertoire of houses around the world — apart from Israel which maintains an effective ban on public performances of his work.

An entrance of the Festival Theatre (Festspielhaus) is pictured on July 25, 2017, in Bayreuth, southern Germany, ahead of the opening of Bayreuth's legendary annual opera festival dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner. (AFP PHOTO / Christof Stache)

The Bayreuth festival, still run by the Wagner family, long tried to separate the works from their murky origins.

But reviewers said the pairing of Kosky with one of Wagner’s most iconic operas marked a bold break with that tradition.

First performed in Munich in 1868, “The Master-Singers” is essentially a hymn to the supremacy of German art.

It was one of Hitler’s most-loved operas and its music was misused for propaganda purposes by the Nazis.

‘Frankenstein creation’

In the production, Kosky embeds the opera’s setting of Nuremberg in the city’s grim 20th century history as the birthplace of the Nazi race laws, the setting of the party’s giant torchlit rallies and, after the war, the scene for the trials of Hitler’s henchmen.

An entire act is set in the Nuremberg Trials’ wood-panelled courtroom, and a key character, the town clerk Sixtus Beckmesser, is presented as a grotesque Jewish caricature recalling Nazi smear-sheets.

Composer Richard Wagner (YouTube screen capture)

“I am the first Jewish director to stage this piece in Bayreuth and as a Jew that means I can’t say, as many do, that Beckmesser as a character has nothing to do with anti-Semitism,” Kosky told public broadcaster 3sat.

“Of course it does. In my opinion Beckmesser is a Frankenstein creation of everything Wagner hated — Jews, the French, the Italians and critics.”

Kosky has run Berlin’s Komische Oper for five years and introduced a little-known repertoire from the turbulent 1920s and 1930s by Jewish composers later forced to flee the Nazis.

He admitted in an interview with AFP last year that he has “many contrasting emotions” about Wagner’s masterpiece.

“Can you just portray the work as just being a simple fairy story, (given) the history of the piece?” he asked.

The Bayreuth festival runs till August 28.

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THE FIGHT AGAINST THE NEW ANTISEMITISM

 

The 20th century began with a series of pogroms targeting Jews that swept across Eastern Europe and Latin America, the most infamous of which was in Kishinev, Russia. A poisonous anti-Jewish campaign culminated on Easter 1903, as gangs of men, 10 to 20 apiece, stormed through the Jewish areas of the city armed with hatchets and knives. They went block to block and house to house, slaughtering every Jew and raping every woman in sight. Over the next two days they wrought a path of destruction that would be heard around the world, with 49 Jews murdered, thousands wounded and untold number of rapes, and more than 1,500 homes damaged.

For some outside observers, the event was made even more disturbing by the passivity of thousands of Jewish men in the face of a relatively small group of peasants.

After traveling to Kishinev in the wake of the pogrom, the famous Hayim Nahman Bialik penned a poem, “The Slaughter,” lamenting the fact that the “Sons of Maccabees” were “concealed and cowering,” as their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and other family members were raped and killed.

What was the lesson that Bialik and others took from Kishinev? The Jewish People can’t rely on others to protect us. We must fight antisemitism head-on. This became a guiding philosophy of the Zionist Movement, which sought to fashion a “new Jew” that would be able to defend themselves in a self-governed Jewish homeland.

In the wake of the pogroms and the Holocaust, the majority of Jewish People settled in the United States and Israel. In Israel, Jews learned how to defend themselves and fight back with courage and determination. In 1948, against all odds, the Israeli people defeated six fully equipped Arab armies, and today the Jewish People have a state that can defend itself, and provide a shield of defense for Jews throughout the Diaspora.

During the same period, the Jews that immigrated to America became one of the country’s most affluent, influential and accomplished communities. Yet, with all the strength of the Jewish American community and the benefits of a strong and independent Jewish state, we have not been able to stop the growth of antisemitism in our time.

Today antisemites work to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish People and the State of Israel in the media, political institutions, academia, on college campuses and elsewhere, often bleeding from the court of public opinion to physical assaults on Jewish communities.

How can we apply the lessons of the past century for the fight against antisemitism today? Clearly, we must fight the disease head-on, and we must start by understanding who is behind it.

Antisemitism now has three distinct sources: We face antisemitism on the radical Right. This is the heir of traditional Christian antisemitism, rooted in our alleged killing of Jesus, with a legacy extends from the Spanish Inquisition to the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

We face antisemitism from radical Islam – which draws on a tradition of hatred against the infidel, led by the Jews, stretching back centuries. Since the 19th century with Jews started immigrating to Israel, radical Islam has been determined to eradicate the State of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants, as they occupy a land that the Islamists believe belongs to the Islamic caliphate.

We face antisemitism on the radical Left – which sees Jews and Israel as emblematic of America and Western imperialism and despises us for it.

Too many in the Jewish community don’t recognize this reality. In particular, not nearly enough attention has been paid to the growing alliance between the radical Left and radical Islamists – two groups with seemingly incompatible worldviews.

This strange alliance is encompassed by a new theory called intersectionality – embraced by many on the Left – which calls for the unification of all groups facing discrimination, whether they are Native American, Latino, African-American, LGBT, Arab or Muslim.

Radical Islamists have been able to link their hatred toward Israel, presented as their genuine concern for the Palestinian cause, to the idea of intersectionality, painting Israel as an oppressor that all progressives must fight. In doing so, they work to spread the vilest antisemitic ideas into mainstream discourse.

College students and young professionals in many circles now face a clear choice: exclusion, or joining anti-Israel and antisemitic campaigns.

Working together, radical Islamists and radical leftists have successfully created an alternate reality in which Jews have no rights to self-determination, in which Israel is the greatest violator of human rights in the world, and in which people with extreme regressive views, like Linda Sarsour, are championed as progressive heroes.

Sarsour has a long running association with Muslim Brotherhood, publicly expressed her admiration for the Sharia of Saudi Arabia and for terrorists like Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and recently said that she wants to “take the vagina away” from female genital mutilation victim and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Despite these regressive views and statements, Sarsour is a darling among many who claim to hold progressive ideas.

History shows that antisemites gain power not only by creating more antisemites, but also by getting others to tolerate their ideology.

As extremists like Sarsour build a platform and gain broad acceptance in our communities, we have no choice but to fight them tooth and nail. We must expose the fundamental incongruence between radical Islamic ideas and the progressive movements that they are trying to hijack.

We must make clear that antisemitic ideology is now often masquerading in a more politically correct form of anti-Israel hatred. We must push antisemitism out of the mainstream and into the shadows where it belongs.

The lessons of Kishinev hang over our time. When given the choice to fight back or sit back, I pray that the Jews around the world will take heed of history – and have the courage and determination to act before it is too late.

Anti-Semitism, Hungary and Netanyahu: What you need to know

(JTA) — To critics of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Hungary this week was a disgrace and an abandonment of local Jews in their fight against a government that is widely seen as one of Europe’s worst promoters of anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism.

Yet other Hungarian Jewish leaders and observers of Israel-Hungary relations viewed the visit as both vital to his country’s own interests and effective in assisting Hungarian Jews to promote theirs.

Such were the dynamics when Netanyahu held a joint news conference Tuesday with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, during which Netanyahu devoted exactly 35 words to what he called “the concerns” of the Jewish community in Hungary. He did not specify those concerns in the statement, which kicked off the three-day visit in Hungary — the first by an Israeli prime minister since the fall of communism.

“I discussed with Prime Minister Orbán the concerns that I heard raised from the Jewish community,” Netanyahu said. “He reassured me in unequivocal terms, just as he did now, publicly. I appreciate that. These are important words.”

It was a vague and mild reference to a growing list of grievances fueling an escalating row between a significant part of Hungarian Jewry and their government. This includes alleged anti-Semitic incitement by the government in the form of attacks on the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros; the glorification of Nazi collaborators; crackdowns on Jewish opposition groups, and state-sponsored xenophobia against other minorities.

Zehava Gal-On, the leader of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, wrote on Facebook ahead of Netanyahu’s visit that in view of the track record of Orban’s government, Netanyahu “has become a collaborator of anti-Semites.” Andras Heisler, president of the Mazsihisz Jewish federation of Hungary, said ahead of the visit that his community felt “left in the lurch” by Israel because of its perceived indifference to some of the issues at play.

Also prior to the visit, Heisler told JTA that he hoped Netanyahu “condemns strongly any kind of hate campaign or hate speech.”

Netanyahu’s photo op with Orban on Tuesday was not the rebuke that Mazsihisz had been seeking, the chairman of its rabbinical council, Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, told JTA the following day.

“Bibi pushed away Hungarian Jews in favor of good relations with Orban, who can now dismiss accusations of anti-Semitism by citing Netanyahu’s support,” Radnoti said, using the Israeli prime minister’s nickname.

But to Rabbi Slomo Koves, leader of the Chabad-affiliated Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, or EMIH, the Netanyahu visit was instrumental in obtaining Orban’s first unequivocal rejection of Hungary’s fascist past, when Orban said the country had committed a “sin” in not protecting its Jewish citizens during World War II.

And the visit was crucial, Koves added, for strengthening Jerusalem’s alliance with one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the European Union and the only member state with a large Jewish population that is not under threat from anti-Semitic violence.

Some prominent members of Mazsihisz share his view.

Peter Feldmajer, its previous president and now a representative in the umbrella group for the Central District, said government-led campaigns to rehabilitate collaborators with the Nazis or demonize liberal Jews like Soros are “ugly” and they “hurt the Jewish community of Hungary.” He also agreed that the anti-Soros campaign had anti-Semitic characteristics.

“But the community is threatened not by these issues,” Feldmajer said, “but by Islamic violence and bans on ritual slaughter, both of which Orban opposes. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with Netanyahu being received here.”

Koves called Orban’s remarks, delivered at a joint news conference with Netanyahu, the “most outspoken rejection of Hungary’s fascist past and admission of guilt” ever.

The government of Hungary, Orban said, “committed a sin when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary.” Hungarians, he added, decided “instead of protecting the Jewish community to collaborate with the Nazis.”

Radnoti welcomed Orban’s speech but said it omitted a direct reference to the active murder of tens of thousands of Jews by Hungarian troops.

“Orban spoke of collaboration. But Hungarians did more than help the Germans kill Jews: They killed them themselves, and in thousands,” the rabbi  said.

Still, coming from a leader whose party openly glorifies late politicians with an anti-Semitic legacy, the Orban speech was precedent setting, according to Efraim Zuroff, a hunter of Nazis and head of the Eastern Europe operations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“It was very important,” Zuroff said of the prime minister’s words about the Holocaust. “I never heard this from Hungary.”

Indeed, two years ago, Orban was accused of whitewashing Hungary’s Holocaust-era record when he ignored Jewish protests about a monument built in Budapest about the Nazi occupation that featured an innocent angel being attacked by a vicious eagle. Only last month, Orban in a speech called the Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II leader, an “exceptional statesman.”

Orban’s statement made it counterproductive for Netanyahu to revisit the issue, Koves argued.

“I’m no diplomat, but I think it’s common sense that such a statement is more powerful coming from Mr. Orban than from Mr. Netanyahu,” Koves said while crediting Israeli diplomacy, at least in part, for obtaining the statement.

The statement was a step further than any gesture Orban had made previously regarding Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust. He also said the Hungarian government today has a “zero tolerance” attitude to anti-Semitism.

But the “problem is,” Zuroff said, “it doesn’t represent the reality on the ground.”

He was referring to a host of government initiatives celebrating fascists and obstructing efforts to bringing Nazi-era criminals to justice, as well as the recently terminated billboard campaign against Soros, a left-leaning American billionaire who funds opposition groups and organizations assisting Muslim immigrants both in Hungary and Israel.

Mazsihisz claimed the billboards, which featured pictures of a laughing Soros and a slogan saying “don’t let him have the last laugh,” encouraged anti-Semitism. Indeed, some of the posters were defaced with anti-Semitic slogans.

 “Soros’ name has a different meaning in Hungary [than] in Israel,” Heisler, the Mazsihisz president, told JTA earlier this week. “In Hungary, Soros is the symbol of the Jewish capitalist. The campaign against Soros in Hungary incited anti-Semitic reactions.”

The Chabad-affiliated EMIH, however, disputes the assertion, viewing the campaign as criticism only of Soros’ politics and actions. Organizations belonging to both EMIH and Mazsihisz receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funding.

Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, made a statement earlier this month that seconded the Mazsihisz view. But the following day, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign minister added a “clarification” to the Amrani statement saying that its “sole purpose” was to reflect that Israel rejects “any expression of anti-Semitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred.”

The clarification added that in no way was the statement “meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Regardless of the Israeli government’s open animosity toward Soros, Israel has good reasons to preserve its friendship with Hungary.

Netanyahu alluded to this in his statement, and later in a hot-mic incident in Budapest, where his private summit talk with Orban and three other leaders of EU member states in Central Europe was accidentally aired to journalists.

In his public address, Netanyahu thanked Orban for “standing up for Israel in international forums. You’ve done that time and again” – an apparent reference to Hungary’s public refusal to comply with European Union regulations requiring separate labeling for products from West Bank settlements and several similar cases.

Later, meeting with Orban and leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, Netanyahu was heard calling the European Union “crazy” for insisting that closer trade ties with Israel will only come after the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He asked the leaders to help change that policy.

Insisting Israel downgrade its relations with Hungary over perceived anti-Semitism is “unrealistic,” according to Koves, who said doing so ignores Israel’s need for allies like Hungary. But it is also unjustified, he added, in light of the relatively positive situation of Hungarian Jewry.

According to TEV, a watchdog group on anti-Semitic incidents set up jointly by Mazsihisz and EMIH in 2013, there is no evidence suggesting the anti-Soros campaign is increasing anti-Semitic incidents. In its annual report for 2016, the group documented a total of 48 anti-Semitic hate crimes — a 16 percent decrease from the previous year.

The data, compiled according to international standards and without direct government funding, suggest that Hungary, which is home to 100,000 Jews, has the lowest per capita prevalence of anti-Semitic crimes of any EU state with a sizable Jewish population. This includes Britain (1,309 incidents in 2016), France (335) and Germany (461).

Hungary recently saw the opening of a major kosher slaughterhouse in its south amid vows by Orban to protect religious freedoms in his country. It came in stark contrast with steps to limit practices like kosher slaughter in Western Europe “that make life miserable for local Jews,” Koves said.

What these data and trends mean, Koves added, is that “Jewish communities are thriving and safer in Hungary, which is a reliable friend of Israel, than in many countries in Western Europe that do their best to isolate both their Jews and Israel. And the Israeli prime minister is supposed to boycott Hungary or destroy relations with it?”

Besides, Israel has leveraged its diplomacy in memory-related issues in Hungary, at times behind the scenes and at other times publicly, Koves said. He cited the 2012 withdrawal of an invitation to the Israeli Knesset extended to the Hungarian parliament’s speaker, Laszlo Kover, over his attendance at a commemoration of the anti-Semitic author Jozsef Nyiro.

Still, Zuroff said Israel can do more to counter Holocaust distortion and revisionism in Eastern and Central Europe while pursuing its strategic goals.

“Israel has abandoned ship, giving countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Ukraine a green light to continue with the vilest forms of Holocaust revisionism that reflect local anti-Semitism,” he said.

Israel needs to forge its foreign relations according to its own strategic road map, Zuroff said, but Jerusalem can still “leverage the fact that Israel has become a powerful economic player, a hub of innovation, to achieve” additional goals.

“There’s a way to do this without harming partnerships,” he said. “But not without political will.”

New York senator Chuck Schumer (Kike) tells US lawmakers anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday in a speech on the Senate floor that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism.

Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate and currently the highest-ranking Jewish person in government, added his remarks on anti-Zionism to a speech he was giving on health care, saying at the end of that speech that he wanted to thank French President Emmanuel Macron for making the same argument in a speech this weekend.

“Anti-Semitism is a word that has been used throughout history when Jewish people are judged and measured by one standard and the rest by another,” Schumer said.

“When everyone else was allowed to farm and Jews could not; when anyone else could live in Moscow and Jews could not; when others could become academics or tradesmen and Jews could not,” he said. “The word to describe all of these acts is anti-Semitism. So it is with anti-Zionism; the idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to self-determination but Jews cannot; that other nations have a right to exist, but the Jewish state of Israel does not.”

Emmanuel Macron speaking at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv Holocaust roundup in Paris, July 16, 2017. (Kamil ZihnIoglu/AFP/Getty Images)

Schumer said a recent manifestation of anti-Jewish bias was the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel.

“The global BDS movement is a deeply biased campaign that I would say, in similar words to Mr. Macron, is a ‘reinvented form of anti-Semitism’ because it seeks to impose boycotts on Israel and not on any other nation,” Schumer said.

Macron denounces anti-Zionism as a new form of anti-Semitism

French president Emmanuel Macron on Sunday condemned anti-Zionism as a new form of anti-Semitism, in what observers said was an unprecedented statement from the leader of France in support of the Jewish state.

“We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism,” Macron said an event in Paris marking the mass deportation of French Jews during World War II. He was directly addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the event.

During a lengthy and introspective speech commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, a mass arrest of 13,152 French Jews in July 1942 that was part of the Nazi effort to eradicate the Jews of France, Macron forcefully denounced Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

Like several of his predecessors, Macron accepted France’s responsibility for the deportations, admitting that the Vichy regime actively organized them. “It is indeed France that organized” the roundup, Macron said. “Not a single German” took part, he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup in Paris on July 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Kamil Zihnioglu)

“Time does its work,” the president said. “Archives open (and) the truth comes out. It’s stark, irrevocable. It imposes itself on us all.”

In 1995, then-president Jacques Chirac was the first French leader to admit his nation was guilty of having assisted in the mass murder of Jews.

Fewer than 100 of those who were detained at the so-called Vel d’Hiv and then sent to the Nazi death camps survived.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pays his respects after laying a wreath during a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup in Paris on July 16, 2017. French President Emmanuel Macron on July 16 marked 75 years since the roundup of some 13,000 Jews to be sent to Nazi death camps, calling France's responsibility a "stark truth." (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Kamil Zihnioglu)

In a clear reference to far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the rival he defeated in May, Macron denounced “politicians who are prepared to reverse the truth.”

France's far-right National Front (FN) leader and parliamentary candidate Marine Le Pen speaks (C) after the polls closed during the second round of the French parliamentary elections (elections legislatives in French) on June 18, 2017 in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. (Denis Charlet/AFP)

Le Pen had insisted during the campaign that today’s France could not be held accountable for the Vichy regime’s actions.

Netanyahu was the first Israeli leader to speak at the annual event in memory of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, which led to criticism by some leftist Jewish French groups, who argued that this event had nothing to do with Israel.

During his speech, delivered partially in French but mostly in English, Netanyahu hailed French citizens who protected Jews during World War II and vowed never to let Holocaust be repeated.

“Seventy-five years ago, a heavy darkness descended on this City of Lights,” he said adding that the Nazis and their collaborators in France “shattered the lives of thousands of French Jews at Vel’ d’Hiv.”

But he praised “Chirac and successive presidents” who deserved “much credit for telling the truth.”

A memorial to the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, on Quai de Grenelle in Paris. (CC BY-SA Leonieke Aalders, Wikimedia commons)

During the Holocaust, the values of the French Revolution – liberty, equality and fraternity – were brutally crushed “under the boot of anti-Semitism,” he went on. “Yet we must say, and we heard it today as well, we must say that not all was dark.”

Netanyahu then saluted “the noble French citizens” who risked their lives to rescue fellow Frenchmen, such as the residents of Chambon-sur-Lignon who saved thousands of Jews.

“This is a special heroism. We have known in Israel a lot of heroism, as have you here in France. This is different heroism,” Netanyahu said. “There is heroism in battle, in pitting one’s life to save others. But the heroism of the people who saved Jews involved putting their families at risk, putting their children, their wives, their husbands, at the risk of execution… We will never forget, never, these great, great human beings.”

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu at the Elysee palace in Paris, July 16, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

After the Holocaust, the State of Israel was established to guarantee that the Jewish people will never undergo a Holocaust again, Netanyahu said. “Never again. We will never let it happen again.”

Turning to the present, the prime minister spoke about a “war of civilization” between radical Islam and the West. “Militant Islam wants to destroy our common civilization. The militant Shiites led by Iran, the militant Sunnis led by ISIS – both seek to vanquish us,” he declared.

In the jihadists’ view Israel is merely the first Western target that stands in the way of their goal, he added. “Militant Islamists do not hate the West because of Israel. To the contrary, they hate Israel because of the West, because they rightly see in Israel a forward bastion of our common values of freedom, humanism, democracy. They try to destroy us, but also they try to destroy you.”

Netanyahu, who spoke ahead of Macron, praised the new president for condemning anti-Semitism and “this larger militancy that seeks to destroy our world.”

Israel identifies with France in its struggle against terrorism, the prime minister continued. “The zealots of militant Islam who seek to destroy you, seek to destroy us as well. We must stand against them together; we must remain strong against them together; and we must defeat them together.”

The event was also attended by famed French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld; Francis Kalifat, the head of French-Jewish umbrella group CRIF, and several leaders of organizations representing French Holocaust survivors.

After the ceremony, Netanyahu and Macron headed to the Elysee palace for their first formal working meeting.

US poll: 65% (Idiots) believe anti-Semitism a serious problem in country

Nearly two-thirds of US voters see anti-Semitism as a serious problem in America, according to a Thursday poll by Rasmussen Reports.

According to the survey, 65 percent believe anti-Jewish hatred is a serious problem, with 24% saying it’s “very serious.”

The poll also found that nearly one-third (32%) of US voters believe criticism of Israeli government policies stems from anti-Semitic feeling, while 41% say it comes from human rights concerns.

The survey was conducted on 1,000 eligible US voters between July 10-11, with a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

“These findings are consistent with our research showing that Americans are still very much concerned about anti-Semitism and the safety of the Jewish community,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, Anti-Defamation League CEO, in a statement.

“The increase in overt anti-Semitic acts around the country and the proliferation of hate speech aimed at Jews online is clearly on the minds of many Americans. We call on political and civic leaders to step up and confront the problem. We will be there with them every step of the way,” said Greenblatt.

ADL data in April said anti-Semitic incidents in the United States saw a massive spike of 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

The Jewish civil rights group’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents found 541 reported anti-Semitic incidents in the first four months of the current year, including 380 episodes of harassment, 161 bomb threats to Jewish institutions and 155 cases of anti-Jewish vandalism.

In March, an 18-year-old Israeli hacker from Ashkelon was arrested on suspicion of carrying out many of the bomb threats, some of them in exchange for money.

The incidents took place throughout the country, with the majority concentrated in areas with large Jewish populations, including California (211 incidents), New York (199), New Jersey (157), Florida (137) and Massachusetts (125).

How this 650-year-old French synagogue withstood centuries of anti-Semitism

CARPENTRAS, France (JTA) — The synagogue in this Provence town is Western Europe’s oldest functioning Jewish house of worship — and one of the prettiest on the continent.

The Synagogue of Carpentras, which this year is celebrating its 650th anniversary, has a Baroque-style interior and a gold-ornamented hall with a blue domed ceiling. The rabbi’s pulpit is, unusually, on a balcony that overlooks the pews and the Torah ark  — the work of the non-Jews who built the synagogue in a Christian style in the 16th century atop its earlier structure, which was first established in 1367.

Most impressive of all is that the synagogue is housed within a larger building that once functioned as an ancient Jewish community center of sorts. The space boasts spectacular facilities, including a 30-foot-deep ritual bath, or mikvah, fed by turquoise waters from a natural spring, another heated bath, a kosher abattoir and a bakery with large ovens that burned year round.

Yet the architects did their best to conceal the building’s splendor. The small, wooden front door is but a drab opening in a simple facade that unlike Europe’s other majestic synagogues does not even hint at the bling inside.

The juxtaposition between the majestic interior and basic exterior is the result of French Jewry’s long-held desire to celebrate its greatness without attracting too much attention.

The Synagogue of Carpentras is, to French Jews today, a testament to that conflicted sentiment and tangible proof of their deep roots in a country where many of them nonetheless feel they are treated as outsiders.

“At a time when on some streets in France people are shouting ‘Jews, get out, France is not yours,’ the Synagogue of Carpentras and its 650th anniversary are proof of just how deep our roots run here,” Carine Benarous, the communications officer of the Fleg Jewish Community Center in Marseille, 80 miles south of Carpentras, told JTA last week.

Benarous was referring to a slogan that shocked many in France in 2014, when the media reported its use at anti-Israel protests in several cities.

In May, the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia — whom many French Jews treat with the kind of adoration typically reserved for rock stars — traveled more than six hours from Paris to spend Shabbat with the Carpentras Jewish community of 125 members. Alongside a regional archbishop, an influential imam and other rabbis from across the Provence region, Korsia also attended a ceremony marking the 650th anniversary.

“Here we acknowledge how deeply our history and our roots are anchored in the soil of France,” he said, noting that a Jewish presence has been documented in Provence since the first century.

In his speech, Korsia recalled a different slogan — one used several times by France’s former prime minister, Manuel Valls, following a wave of terrorist attacks on Jews. Valls had said that without Jews, “France isn’t France.”

The Synagogue of Carpentras, Korsia said, “is proof of that.”

“I still have goose bumps from his speech,” said Françoise Richez, a Carpentras Jew who gives tours of the synagogue.

But Carpentras, she added, is also a testament to the “long and, unfortunately, unfinished history of anti-Semitism.”

Carpentras was one of only four locales in present-day France where Jews were allowed to stay even after the Great Expulsion of French Jewry, decreed by King Philip IV of France in 1306, according to Ram Ben-Shalom, a historian and lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem specializing in the Jewry of Provence.

Jews were allowed to live in closed, guarded and crowded ghettos, known as “carrieres,” in Carpentras, Avignon, Cavaillon and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue because these locales in Provence were on lands owned by the pope, who took in Jews in exchange for payment. Additionally, he said, Jews were made to wear distinctive clothing, often a cape.

As for the synagogues serving the carrieres, they were designed by Christians because the Jews were only allowed to work as traders or moneylenders, according to Yoann Rogier, a guide at the Synagogue of Cavaillon, which was built in 1494 but now functions as a museum of the town’s historic Jewish population, its door frames lacking a mezuzah.

As such, in both Carpentras and Cavaillon, congregants must turn their backs to the Torah ark if they want to face their rabbi, and vice versa. (In most synagogues, the rabbi’s pulpit sits on a bimah, or platform, situated in front of the ark or in the middle of the sanctuary.) To read from the Torah, the rabbis of both synagogues had to carry the Torah scroll up to their balcony. The Cavaillon synagogue still has a portable ark with wheels for this purpose.

Despite the imperfect circumstances, the Jews of Carpentras ingeniously turned their synagogue into a labyrinthine community center, making maximum use of the limited space allotted to them thanks to partitions, underground passages and interior courts that offered facilities for every aspect of Jewish life. The synagogue complex even had a special matzah bakery.

Gilberte Levy, another member of the Carpentras Jewish community, is among the many local Jews who can trace their lineage nearly to the year that the synagogue was established.

“They call me the community’s Brontosaurus,” she said, laughing.

To Richez, whose husband is descended from a Jewish family forced to convert to Christianity in Spain during the Inquisition, the Carpentras synagogue “shows that despite everything, we prevailed,” she said.

Yet Carpentras also is symbolic of more recent struggles for French Jews.

In 1990, it saw one of the worst cases of anti-Semitic vandalism in France after the Holocaust: Neo-Nazis smashed dozens of tombstones in the ancient graveyard. The incident predated the current wave of anti-Semitic violence that is causing many thousands of Jews to leave France and was particularly shocking.

Today, Carpentras is one of the few active synagogues in France without army protection. Unlike most French synagogues, visitors may enter without first undergoing a security inspection. While this is good for tourism, “the important thing is that the tourism stops at 6 p.m. and this returns to being an active Jewish synagogue,” said Richez, a mother of two. “We don’t want to end up with just a museum, like in Cavaillon.”

There used to be more incidents, “anti-Semitic shouts and such around the synagogue,” Richez added, but matters improved after the municipality closed the synagogue’s street to vehicles.

“All in all,” she said, “I think we’re pretty privileged here.”

Hungary’s PM meets with Jewish leaders amid anti-Semitism fears

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday met with a delegation of Jewish leaders amid concerns over his government’s alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism, pledging he would protect the rights of the country’s Jewish community.

“Hungary is committed to maintaining full freedom of religion for its Jewish community,” Orban said, according to a statement from the European Jewish Association.

The delegation, which was inaugurating a new kosher slaughterhouse, included Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, General Director of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe and European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin and Hungarian Rabbis Baruch Oberlander and Shlomo Kovesh.

During the meeting, the rabbis said they were “deeply impressed” by Orban’s commitment to combat anti-Semitism, as well as his “unconditional support” for “the continuation of Jewish religious life in the country.”

“In times like these, when the Belgian parliament passes a law banning kosher slaughter and other countries are undermining freedom of religion all over Europe, we were happy to inaugurate a new kosher slaughterhouse and to witness the help of the government to the Hungarian religious Jewish community,” Lau and Margolin said.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban meets with a delegation of Jewish leaders on July 6, 2017. (European Jewish Association)

The meeting between Orban and the delegation of Jewish leaders came after the head of Hungary’s largest Jewish organization said a “poisonous” poster campaign by the government that targets US billionaire George Soros is stoking anti-Semitic sentiments.

The posters show a large image of the Hungarian-born Jewish emigre Soros laughing, alongside the text: “Let’s not let Soros laugh last,” a reference to an accusation by the government that the 86-year-old is behind pressure to force Hungary to let in migrants.

This photo taken Wednesday, July 5, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary, shows an anti-Soros campaign reading "99 percent reject illegal migration" and “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh”. (AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi)

Since the posters appeared in public spaces nationwide last Friday, local media has reported several incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti daubed on them.

“These poisonous messages harm the whole of Hungary,” said Andras Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), in a letter to Orban published on the group’s website Thursday.

“We ask you and your government to take action to stop the campaign immediately and remove the posters from our streets and squares,” he said.

Orban has regularly accused Soros, 86, of orchestrating flows of migrants to Europe by financially backing pro-immigration and pro-refugee civil groups.

The government also says groups supported by Soros interfere in Hungary’s domestic affairs and ultimately aim to topple the hardline Orban.

George Soros at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 20, 2016. (Peter Foley/Pool/Getty Images/via JTA)

The graffiti “harks back to dark periods in Hungarian history,” according to Heisler whose organization represents Hungary’s 100,000-strong Jewish community.

“This campaign is not openly anti-Semitic, but it is quite capable of giving rise to uncontrolled sentiments including anti-Semitic ones,” said Heisler.

“As our elected leaders you have a historic responsibility to stop hatred getting stronger in our homeland, and not to turn Hungarians against each other,” he said.

The latest campaign is the fourth nationwide media blitz by the government this year that attacks Brussels or Soros for allegedly pressuring Hungary to take in migrants.

Laws passed by parliament this year have also been widely seen as aimed at non-governmental organizations supported by Soros, and the Central European University, a Soros-founded institution in Budapest.

A senior government official said later Friday that the campaign is “not about Soros’s background or identity.”

“It calls attention to the danger represented by Soros in the immigration issue,” Orban’s chief of staff Janos Lazar told a press briefing.

Regent of Hungary Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya with Adolf Hitler, year unspecified (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Remarks by Orban last month praising Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy have also sparked controversy.

In response to a request by Israel’s envoy in Budapest for clarification, Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary has “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism.

The rows come shortly before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Hungary July 18, the first ever by an Israeli premier.

AUSTRIAN BISHOP RESIGNS FROM NGO OVER ANTISEMITISM AT PALESTINIAN EVENT

 

Bishop Manfred Scheuer resigned on Monday as president of the Catholic peace organization Pax Christi in Austria because of outbreaks of antisemitism within the NGO and at a Pax Christi event with the Palestinian ambassador.

Scheuer, Bishop of Linz — Austria’s third largest city — said that the reason for his resignation is Pax Christi’s “criticism of Israel’s politics” and over the assessment of the “criticism as antisemitic,” wrote the Catholic wire agency Kathpress.

 

Scheuer said, “I am convinced that because of the Shoah in Germany and Austria a special responsibility and sensitivity is necessary toward the state of Israel.”

Pax Christi International supports the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign targeting the Jewish state.

In addition to anti-Israel antisemitism, Scheuer cited an additional reason for his break with Pax Christi: verbal attacks on members of the Jewish community in Linz during a late May lecture by Salah Abdel Shafi who serves as the Palestinian ambassador to Austria and the UN in Vienna.

According to Kathpress, during the joint Pax Christi event with Abdel Shafi, insults were leveled at a writer and Anna Mitgutch, a representative of the Jewish community in Linz, as well as two members of the community.

Mitgutch told the Linz Kirchenzeitung (Church Paper) that the language used was a “new flare up of antisemitism.”

It is unclear what the nature of the alleged antisemitism was at the Pax Christi event with Abdel Shafi, who is an economist and was born in Gaza City. A Post query to Abdel Shafi on Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, “This resignation therefore marks an important turning point — for the first time, a member of the Catholic hierarchy in Europe has openly criticized the organization for this activity. By highlighting the antisemitism, Bishop Scheuer’s resignation might also lead the Vatican to issue long overdue guidelines for Pax Christi and other Catholic NGOs such as Misoerer in Germany, that promote BDS. ”

The bishop said he shared the concerns of the Jewish community over growing antisemitism in Europe. “Every form of antisemitism is disgraceful and should be sharply criticized, ” said Scheuer.

He said antisemitism should have no place in Austria and elsewhere. Churches, society and politics must decisively fight antisemitism,added the bishop. Scheuer lamented that antisemitism shows that “people have forgotten history and are not aware of the entire catastrophe of the Shoah.”

The bishop cited Pope Francis’s statement: “It is impossible to be a Christian and at the same time an antisemite.”

Pax Christi has 30 branches and the Pax Christi Bank is listed as a bank to send funds that could be used for BDS.

Dr. Elvira U. Groezinger, the head of the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post: “It is high time for such a step like the one of the Bishop of Linz. Pax Christi is also one of the most notorious supporters of the BDS in Germany as well. Only recently for instance in the city of Essen they co-organized a BDS event with Jews as actors. There was no protest from the mayor there.”

She added, “Jena’s mayor has supported them in the past and was heavily criticized for that. All these local politicians but above all the heads of the Catholic Church should now follow the Linz Bishop’s example. He has put them to shame by showing what moral and ethic integrity are, missing totally in the Pax Christi circles.”

The Social Democratic Mayor Albrecht Schröter in the east German city of Jena joined the Pax Christ boycott of Israel in 2012 and has faced allegation of stoking hatred of Jews and Israel in Germany.

Steinberg said, “Pax Christi is heavily involved and partners with antisemitic groups and activities, including BDS and lobbying the EU to ‘suspend economic relations with Israel.’ They are also co-founders of EAPPI, whose activists accuse Israel of ‘apartheid,’and promote the Palestinian victimization narrative. Pax Christi repeats Palestinian accusations of ‘collective punishment’ and ‘unjustified and disproportionate use of force,’ erasing terror and contributing to demonization and antisemitism.”

TUNISIAN WATCHDOG: BDS CAMPAIGN AGAINST JEWISH COMEDIAN IS ANTISEMITISM (LOL….)

 

A Tunisian watchdog group on racism accused promoters of a boycott against Israel of antisemitism after they protested the invitation extended to a Jewish comedian to appear at a local festival.

The accusation Thursday by the Tunisian Association for Support of Minorities was over an open letter sent earlier this week to the Tunisian Ministry of Culture and the organizers of the annual Catharge Festival of music next month to protest the invitation extended by organizers to Michel Boujenah, a well-known Tunisia-born French Jewish standup artist.

 

The letter, authored by Tunisian activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, says that Boujenah, who often speaks lovingly of his native Tunisia during his shows, should not be allowed to perform because he is a Zionist.

Boujenah, who is not a citizen of Israel, has often spoken during interviews about his support for Israel, including during a 2009 talk with Gilles Sitruk, an organizer of interfaith delegations to Israel and writer.

“We Diaspora Jews have no qualms about declaring our admiration for Israel,” Boujenah said in that interview. “A justified admiration as the people to which I belong want peace more than anything.”

He also said: “I feel Jewish, French, Tunisian, Zionist and very close to Israel, as well as a supporter of a Palestinian state. In short, one big balagan,” the Hebrew-language word for “mess.”

Citing this interview and others, the BDS activists wrote in their request to officials and the organizers of the festival to cancel Boujenah’s participation: “No place for the Zionists, whatever their nationality, in our country and festivals.”

Yet Yamina Thabet, the president of the Tunisian Association for Support of Minorities, told the Tribune Juive Jewish newspaper in France that the activists are “cowardly taking anti-Jewish action.”

Calling for a boycott of Boujenah’s show “under the pretext of fighting Zionism is nothing but an anti-Jewish act. We know this is a Tunisian who has always spoken loud and clear about his attachment” to Tunisia, she added in the interview, which was published Thursday.

In 2009, another French-Jewish comedian, Gad Elamaleh, was forced to cancel a tour in Lebanon amid threats over his ethnicity. In 2014, Bernard-Henri Levy, a French Jewish philosopher and supporter of Israel, was greeted at Carthage Airport in Tunis by protesters who shouted “No to Zionist power in Tunisia” and “Get lost.”