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Sheldon Adelson group changes how it’s selling Israel on campus

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A group of student leaders from a major American university meets in eastern Jerusalem with Palestinian students on the campus of Al-Quds University, named for Jerusalem, the city Palestinians hope will one day be their capital.

It’s the kind of encounter that once might have sent Sheldon Adelson and other right-wing pro-Israel givers into a tizzy — except it’s the casino magnate and philanthropist who is funding the meeting.

Two years ago, when he launched The Maccabee Task Force to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel on campus, mainstream pro-Israel student groups were wary of Adelson’s reputation as a hard-line right-winger. Now the organization is quietly making inroads among progressives on campuses that have been the focus of anti-Israel activity.

Moreover, the group, helmed by David Brog, who is on the board at Christians United for Israel, is working with Hillel, one of the establishment groups that initially held Adelson and his initiative at arm’s length.

San Jose was one of 20 campuses where the Maccabee Task Force sent a team of strategists and funders last year. That’s doubled to 40 this year, an official of the group said.“We are very grateful for the really impactful activities to change the conversation about Israel,” said Sarita Bronstein, the Hillel director at San Jose State University. In 2015, the campus became among the first to pass a student resolution favoring BDS.

Beneficiaries say that what sets the group apart is that it provides cash and tactical advice — but leaves the vision up to the students.

“We’re familiar with many organizations who hire interns, distribute promotional materials and are very intentional about trying to get their name out,” said Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, who directs the New York University Hillel. “It was refreshing to have a group say they would come and support many indigenous organizations with varying political and cultural viewpoints.”

That impression is the opposite of what observers took away from the rollout two years ago of Adelson’s initiative. At a weekend retreat held in June 2015 in Las Vegas, Adelson’s home base, presenters lined up to prove they had the best plan for spending the magnate’s money.

Most of the presenters were on the right — among them The Clarion Project, a secretive group dinged in the past for spreading videotapes and other materials some consider Islamophobic. Mainstream groups either declined to attend or sent observers and did not make a presentation.

Haim Saban, the billionaire entertainment mogul who is a pro-Israel force among Democrats and was part of the initiative, soon dropped out, reportedly under pressure from centrist Jews appalled at the tenor of the rollout.

Brog immediately understood that things had gone awry. Meeting with a JTA reporter in October 2015, within months of the program’s rollout, he said he was recalibrating.

“When you’re trying to appeal to a demographic like students on campus, who are largely progressive, you’d be ill advised to come with a right-wing agenda,” he said at the time. “We’re still figuring out a strategy.”

The strategy has been in place for a year, and Hillel is now fully on board.

“MTF empowers Hillels and pro-Israel students to develop programs that educate and engage the campus community about Israel’s people, culture and history,” said Hillel’s spokesman, Matthew Berger. “With their support, our students are able to create the programs they feel will have a real impact on campus.”

Not everyone is convinced.

Catie Stewart, the deputy director of J Street U, says her organization is still non grata: Maccabee Task Force won’t have anything to do with the campus adjunct of the national liberal Middle East policy group that emphasizes the two-state solution, supported the Iran nuclear deal and often criticizes the Israeli government. Adelson has made clear he reviles the group.

“Our students would attend Maccabee Task Force meetings, and [MTF officials] would tell the students, ‘OK you guys, you can do whatever you want to do!’ And we would say ‘Great!’ and they would say, ‘Not you, you can’t do what you want to do,’” she recalled.

Stewart said the task force was immediately alienating some of the most committed pro-Israel students on campus.

“It was a classic example of taking a step back,” she said. (Hillel continues to work with J Street U on most campuses.)

Ariana Jahiel, a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, who is active with the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow, said the anti-boycott thrust of the Maccabee Task Force is beside the point for Jewish students living with the specter of renewed white supremacism. She noted the proliferation of expressions of support for white supremacists since the election of President Donald Trump, whom Adelson backed and who has equivocated in condemning bigotry.

“Last week, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there were swastikas found on my campus,” she said in an interview. “My immediate thought was that the people putting these up were not progressive students but white nationalists. If Sheldon Adelson and the Jewish establishment really cared about Jewish students, they would be fighting swastikas, not BDS. Instead, they are cozying up with the Trump administration and its continued support of Israel.”

Brog, meanwhile, suggests that some on the far left are trying in turn to connect Israel to white supremacy as a way to justify their own “pet hatred” of Zionism.

“The campus left is now laser-focused on claims of white supremacy, police brutality and anti-immigrant racism — so Israel’s campus detractors are changing their rhetoric, updating their slogans and aggressively inserting themselves into every new protest,” he told JNS.org last month.

‘Show them a lot of narratives’

The group’s modus operandi now is to send a team of Maccabee Task Force advisers to a campus at the beginning of the academic year. The team, usually two people, offers its own ideas, solicits ideas and suggests tweaks — but no major changes — and figures out funding. Funding per campus, according to a task force official, is in the low six figures per academic year.

Students bring in speakers and organize on-campus Israel weeks — usually timed for Israel’s Independence Day, which usually falls in May. But by far the most successful initiative, participants say, are Israel trips for campus leaders. The only criteria Maccabee Task Force sets is that the participants are leaders in a campus group and in their junior year or earlier, allowing the student time to counter anti-Israel activity.

Hillels organize two to three trips a year, each with 20-25 students. Accompanying them are staff from the Hillel, often including a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow, the program that sends post-army young Israelis to Hillels throughout the United States.

“It was enriching because it was not a brainwashing experience,” Sarna said of the three tours that students on his campus did last academic year. “Many people were social justice oriented working for minority causes, women’s rights.”

The tours organized by the campus Hillel and the task force, lasting 10-11 days, include stops at Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah and a meeting with a P.A. official. Also on at least one itinerary was a meeting with an African refugee in Israel — a touchy subject there, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government facing accusations of cruel and discriminatory treatment. (Am MTF official said the refugee in this particular encounter was pro-Israel.)

“The purpose was to show them a lot of narratives on the Israeli-Palestinian narrative as opposed to campus, where everything is very one-sided, very sound bite,” said Noa Shemer, a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow who until recently was assigned to the San Jose campus.

Lipaz Ela, until recently the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at UCLA, helped organize the trip that included the encounter on the Abu Dis campus of Al-Quds University. She said many of the meetings are open-ended — neither Hillel nor the Maccabee Task Force necessarily knew what interlocutors were going to say.

“You don’t know where they are coming from,” she said of the Israelis and Palestinians they meet. “Sometimes Palestinians supported one-state solution, two-state solution, no state solution.”

To be sure, the itineraries are Israel heavy, and students are bound to come away more besotted with Masada sunrises, Tel Aviv’s cafe society and the nation’s embrace of the LGBTQ culture than they are with a critical outlook. And that’s still the point: getting across the pro-Israel narrative, Brog said in a more recent interview.

“Israel, as imperfect as it may be, agree with Netanyahu or not — the story of Israel is compelling,” he said.

Ela said an important component of the program is creating a mix of students, including known on-campus critics of Israel as well as Israel supporters, in order to keep the arguments going throughout the trip.

“We created a dynamic to have open emotional conversations, to bring that back to campus,” he said. (Hillel’s guidelines do not allow joint programming with groups that back BDS, but do not proscribe participation in Hillel programming by individuals who back the boycott movement. It’s not clear if any of the task force tour participants backed BDS.)

Response on the San Jose campus, Hillel’s Bronstein said, is such that there are four times as many students who apply for the trips as there are spots. She has instituted an essay question to winnow the applicants — not to assess bias for or against Israel but to see how passionate they are about the subject, whatever their opinions.

“It’s based on how much effort they put into the assignment, not so much what they wrote about,” she said. “We want people who are in the middle of the conflict, but people who are insightful and critical.”

Retention is strong, the Hillel directors said.

“Conversations on campus change, many of the students who went on the trip keep coming for Shabbat dinners,” Bronstein said. “One of the students is vice president of the student government. If a BDS resolution came up today, she would not be rushing in to vote for it.”

Stewart said the effect of the Maccabee Task Force’s programs on progressive students would be shallow, lacking in the long-term specialized alliances J Street U aims for.

“Progressive students care about Israel’s future as a democratic state, anti-democratic trends in Israel and the United States, two states and two peoples,” she said. “If you try to pretend you care about those things and create a narrative out of nothing, you won’t get anywhere.”

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‘ALT-RIGHT’ CHILDREN’S BOOK PROFITS TO GO TO MUSLIM ADVOCACY GROUP

 

Pepe the Frog hopped out from the virtual world into a real-life legal dispute.

Matt Furie, the cartoonist who created Pepe the Frog, took legal action against Eric Hauser, the author of an “alt-right” children’s book that uses the Pepe character.

Pepe the Frog first appeared in the early 2000s and had no political or ideological connotations. Beginning in late 2015, however, people and groups associated with the alt-right adopted the cartoon amphibian as their own and used his image to espouse racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic ideas.

According to the Washington Post, Hauser’s book, titled The Adventures of Pepe and Pede, follows Pepe and a centipede — which is a popular Reddit term for Trump supporters — while they try to save “Wishington Farm” from an evil bearded alligator called Alkah.

WilmerHale, the law firm that represents Furie, said in a statement released on Tuesday that after Hauser was threatened with litigation, he agreed to stop distribution of the children’s book that the firm says “espoused racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes.”

“Under US copyright law, Furie is entitled to all of the profits that Hauser made by selling his infringing book. Instead, per the agreement — and at Furie’s insistence — Hauser will be required to give all of his profits to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization,” the statement continued.

According to Motherboard, the total sales of the book amount to $1521.54.

Hauser told the Dallas Morning News that he thought the frog was just a conservative meme and was unaware of its white supremacist connections.

The book was self-published on Amazon by Hauser on August 1.

Rodriguez Middle School in Texas, where Hauser worked as an assistant principal, removed him from his post after the book’s publication and its subsequent spread on social media. Hauser later resigned.

While this is the first time Furie has threatened litigation in order to protect his intellectual property rights, the cartoonist has been outspoken against the alt-right’s use of Pepe the Frog for racist memes.

After the Anti-Defamation League added the character to its online hate database in 2016, Furie began the #SavePepe campaign. He partnered with the ADL to design positive Pepe memes in a bid to remove the character from the database and reclaim Pepe as “a force for good.”

Furie later killed off the character last May, depicting the cartoon frog in an open casket.

Wisconsin man (White Idiot) cancels fascist barbecue and flees neo-Nazi group after public backlash

Another white supremacist rally has been canceled in the wake of the backlash that followed the Charlottesville, Virginia protest. However, this one has a unique twist.

In recent weeks, Nazi and white supremacists have claimed that they would be hosting additional events in opposition to monuments to Confederate generals being taken down across the United States. One was to be held in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, according to WQOW, but it has now been canceled. It is not the first, a book-burning of “degenerate literature” was canceled after backlash last week.

The group initially claimed the event was part of the National Socialist Movement and would be a barbecue meet and greet. They planned to gather at a local park Sept. 16, but the event has been canceled until further notice.

After announcing the event, a petition was posted trying to prevent the group from gathering. So far, over 1,200 people have signed it and a copy was sent to members of the city council.

“We’re just regular people, too. We’re not a threat, we’re not going to hurt them,” petition organizer Ebony Cooper told WQOW. “I’m hoping to kind of raise awareness for it and get people to come closer because that was the goal for my project, is to get people to see that we’re all just people, and we need to be together as a country instead of everybody dividing based on what color they are.”
She and her mother began a new Facebook page called The Fight Against Racism Project and they hope to use it to expose the racism they see in Eau Claire.

Cory Klicko, the president of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Socialist Movement, said that the event wasn’t canceled out of fear or community outreach, rather he decided to renounce the movement entirely.

“All associations and contacts are renounced and no longer in force,” Klicko told WQOW in a statement. “After careful consideration and communications with positive people, I’ve decided to break away from anything that may be perceived as negative to myself, my family or the community.”

He also said that the anti-fascist group Antifa were contacted and informed but he said that the group “continued bullying” him as well as friends and family. Klicko was then doxxed, a tactic that has been used by Trump supporters to attack the media and their families in the past.
The site that revealed Klicko’s information described him as someone who “appears to not even be able to hold a job or support his own children. This Nazi cant [sic] even ‘secure a future’ for his own kids. Public court records show that he had to be sued to pay child support. By night he engages in armed robbery, obstructing an officer, bail jumping, driving while suspended, driving uninsured, and theft of movable property.”

The site then listed his last known public address in Wisconsin.

“Death or violence directed towards myself and others are being noted and reported,” he said in the statement. “I do not believe any person on this Earth is superior or inferior than others based on race or religion. I have cut ties with anyone who believes any differently. Racism and hate have no place in communities and we all need to move forward to better provide for our future.”

However, Klicko’s website for the Wisconsin chapter of the NSM described itself the “nation’s largest white civil rights organization.”

While Klicko cites death threats as a source of his fear, Antifa explained that they never personally threatened the man or his family. The said that the purpose of their doxxing is to inform others in their community who the white supremacists or Nazis are. They explained that Klicko is part of an organization that advocates ethnic cleansing.

“We believe people have the right to know when a person who identifies with a group responsible for the wholesale slaughter of millions of civilians lives in their city,” the group said in a statement.

Attendees of the Charlottesville rally have been identified using photos on social media. Some have lost their jobs or been kicked off of social media, while others then had warrants issued for their arrest and ended up sobbing on videos.

‘My life is over’: 21-year-old Charlottesville marcher (White Idiot) whines over ‘outing’ by anti-fascist group

A 21-year-old Honeoye Falls, NY man was outed as a white supremacist after photos of him marching in Charlottesville, VA circulated online.

According to the Livingston County News, Jerrod Kuhn was filmed on Friday and Saturday last week by a BBC documentary crew as he carried a torch on the University of Virginia campus and chanted Nazi slogans and marched with the KKK and neo-Nazis the following day.

Rochester, NY-based group called Eastside Antifascists took still images of Kuhn and distributed 250 fliers bearing his photo throughout the Honeoye Falls area with the slogan, “No Nazis in our neighborhood.”

The fliers explained that Kuhn is a participant and prolific poster at neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, “an avowedly neo-Nazi website around which local groups have been organizing to promote anti-Semitism, white supremacy and violence against LGBTQ communities.”

Kuhn says he’s not a racist, but that he traveled the nearly 500 miles from Honeoye Falls to Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate monument to Gen. Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park.

“It’s a piece of history, and I thought that it should remain,” Kuhn said. “It’s important to me that we preserve American history no matter how ugly the past is it’s associated with.”

“I’m not a neo-Nazi,” he insisted. “I don’t belong to a German workers’ party from 1933. I’m a moderate Republican.”

Other white supremacist marchers from Saturday’s deadly melee have made similar claims, like Washington State University College Republicans president James Allsup, who said, “They have no proof that I’m a racist”when confronted with photos of himself at the white supremacist rally.

“People have a right to know if their neighbor is a violent neo-Nazi just as much as they would if their neighbor was a violent sex offender,” said Peter Berkman of Eastside Antifascists. “I think it’s important that people know the dangers the community faces and we think people having that information is important for them to protect themselves.”

Berkman said that his group has been tracking Kuhn’s participation in online neo-Nazi groups over a period of time, including the Daily Stormer, which has migrated to a Russian domain after a series of U.S. web hosting companies refused to provide it service.

Kuhn now says his life and reputation are ruined in his community and that he and his family are receiving threats.

“I can’t live in this community anymore. I’m in the process of figuring out what I’m going to do,” he complained. “I’m 21 years old and now my life is over in this area.”

“These folks don’t just get to be weekend neo-Nazis and then come home and live comfortably without having people around them knowing who they are,” said Berkman. “It’s important that people know who he is and that this person is in their community and to proceed with caution.”

What you need to know about antifa, the group that fought white supremacists in Charlottesville

Charlottesville

(JTA) — Is it OK to punch a Nazi in the face?

That’s the question animating much of the discussion of Saturday’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which quickly devolved into a brawl between rally-goers and a contingent of anti-fascist counterprotesters known as antifa. Following the clashes, a white supremacist rammed his car into the counterprotest, killing Heather Heyer, 32.

Leaders and activists across the spectrum — except President Donald Trump — have unequivocally condemned the racist, anti-Semitic rally. But they are divided on whether physically attacking white supremacists is justified simply because they are white supremacists.

Some have celebrated the antifa activists for standing up to hate. But others have condemned them alongside neo-Nazis for engaging in violence. And on Tuesday, Trump appeared to equate them with the rabble of white supremacists, branding antifa the “alt-left” and saying “there’s blame on both sides.”

Here’s what you need to know about antifa, the loose network that fights fascists on the streets.

Antifa was born from groups that fought the original fascists.

In 1934, Milwaukee police arrested three leftists who infiltrated a pro-Nazi meeting and began scuffling with supporters of Hitler. The leftists were part of a group of several hundred anti-fascists who entered the meeting, broke it up and pelted the keynote speaker with rotten eggs. The melee ended only after 100 police arrived to restore order.

Today’s antifa (an abbreviation of “anti-fascist action”) sees itself as the ideological descendant of activists like these. Anti-fascist brawlers — many of them communists, socialists or anarchists — began organizing in the 1920s and ’30s to oppose the rising dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Spain through demonstrations and street fights. The groups re-emerged in Europe in the ’70s and ’80s to combat white supremacists and skinheads, and the idea migrated to America, where groups were originally known as “Anti-Racist Action.”

While it’s hard to pin down numbers on antifa in the United States, members and experts say the movement has boomed since Trump’s election. Mark Bray, a lecturer on human rights and politics at Dartmouth College, estimates that there are a couple hundred antifa chapters of varying sizes and levels of activity across the country.

“The threat posed by the ‘alt-right’ in the context of empowerment through Trump made a lot of people concerned about fascist, neo-Nazi, white supremacist violence,” said Bray, author of the forthcoming book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.” “They turned to the Antifa model as one option to resist it. The option of physically confronting these groups has spread among the left and been normalized.”

It has no formal organization or leadership structure.

Like the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter, antifa has no institutional structure or unified plan of action. Much of its activism comes through informal collaboration around certain cities or regions, and individual members taking initiative. Separate Facebook pages exist, for example, for New York antifa, New York City antifa and Western New York antifa.

Long before antifa gets to physical altercations with the far right, members will attempt to prevent white supremacists from assembling or spreading their message. Bray said some antifa members will pressure white supremacists’ employers to fire them.

Daniel Sieradski, a Jewish antifa member who became involved following the presidential election in November, said he and other activists try to pressure venues to cancel white supremacist events, and only show up to counterprotest once that fails. (Sieradski formerly worked at JTA as the director of digital media.)

“I’ve always identified with the spirit of the movement, which is to challenge racists when they come into your community and try to incite hatred and violence,” Sieradski said. “Every effort is made to prevent the Nazis from showing up in the first place. Once they manage to do so, the demonstrations do not get violent until confrontations are provoked.”

Antifa tends to align with the left — and some members are anti-Zionists.

Because antifa is so loosely constructed, it has no formal ideological agenda beyond opposing fascism. But the movement has roots in left-wing movements like socialism or anarchism. Bray said that members may be part of other left-wing activist groups, like the Occupy movement, and subscribe to ideas popular in progressive circles.

The Torch Network, a group of antifa chapters, includes in its “points of unity” opposition to “all forms of oppression and exploitation.” That includes fighting “against racism, sexism, nativism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination against the disabled, the oldest, the youngest, and the most oppressed people.” The group is also pro-choice. Unlike the Movement for Black Lives platform, it does not single out Israel or Zionism.

Bray said that while anti-Zionism is not a focus of antifa, many members tend to be anti-Zionist as part of their far-left activism. Anti-Racist Action groups, he said, had taken part in anti-Zionist events in the past.

Sieradski said, however, that Jews play a significant role in the movement because “we’re fighting Nazis and anti-Semitism is the prime ideological viewpoint of Nazis.”

Antifa has no problem with fighting Nazis …

Antifa has no qualms about scuffling with white supremacists. The group gained publicity in February when it physically fought alt-righters at the University of California, Berkeley, during a speech by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Tussles with the far right have followed at other events.

Sieradski said violence is a “last resort,” but added there is nothing wrong with responding to anti-Semitic or racist rhetoric with a punch. Those who are advocating ethnic cleansing should be punched, he said, and showing white supremacists that their rallies will end with them being hurt will deter them from assembling.

“When Nazis are screaming epithets in our faces, should we just smile?” Sieradski asked. “They come into our towns and yell at us and threaten us and say they want to kill us. Should we take that sitting down because fascists deserve free speech, too? When someone is threatening you with an existential threat, you fight back. You don’t stand there and take it.”

Antifa members also reject the notion that the movement instigated the violence in Charlottesville or is as guilty as its white supremacist foes. Spencer Sunshine, who counterprotested at the Charlottesville rally and witnessed the deadly car ramming, said there certainly were fights, but there is no comparing antifa with the far right.

“Any equivalence between antifa and fascists is a complete lie,” he said. “We were not armed the way the fascists were, and certainly did not drive a car into crowds. It was a total Nazi rally.”

… but has been criticized for its violent tactics.

Antifa has garnered its share of liberal critics who say nothing — even neo-Nazism — justifies violence and the suppression of free speech. Critics also say that antifa’s violence draws attention to the far right and allows white supremacists to claim they are acting in self-defense.

“They’re troubling tactically because conservatives use antifa’s violence to justify — or at least distract from — the violence of white supremacists, as Trump did in his press conference,” the liberal Jewish essayist Peter Beinart wrote Wednesday in The Atlantic. “They’re troubling strategically because they allow white supremacists to depict themselves as victims being denied the right to freely assemble. And they’re troubling morally because antifa activists really do infringe upon that right.”

Following Saturday’s rally, Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted “Whether by #AltRight or #Antifa, no excuses for violence and, keep in mind, this is exactly the response that the bigots seek to provoke.”

Mark Pitcavage, an ADL senior researcher, said his group cannot condemn one side’s violence and condone the other. He added that the attention Charlottesville gained is also energizing the “alt-right” to hold more rallies.

“I don’t know how you can put together a calculus of violence where some sort of act of violence is unacceptable if one group does it but if another group commits it, that’s acceptable,” he said. “We’d just rather not see violence.”

But Pitcavage added that right-wing violence has been far more destructive than antifa’s, which to his knowledge has not led to any deaths. According to a 25-year study by the Cato Institute, nationalist and right-wing terrorists have killed about 10 times as many people since 1992 as left-wing terrorists, which may or may not include those who identify with antifa.

“That doesn’t mean that the sides are equal, the causes are equal,” he said. “It’s important to realize that their violence does in no way compare in numbers or severity to the far-rightist violence in the United States.”

Fighting facists: The group that battled white supremacists in Charlottesville

JTA — Is it OK to punch a Nazi in the face? That’s the question animating much of the discussion of Saturday’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which quickly devolved into a brawl between rally-goers and a contingent of anti-fascist counter-protesters known as Antifa. Following the clashes, a white supremacist rammed his car into the counter protest, killing Heather Heyer, 32.

Leaders and activists across the spectrum — except President Donald Trump — have unequivocally condemned the racist, anti-Semitic rally. But they are divided on whether physically attacking white supremacists is justified simply because they are white supremacists.

Some have celebrated the Antifa activists for standing up to hate. But others have condemned them alongside neo-Nazis for engaging in violence. And on Tuesday, Trump appeared to equate them with the rabble of white supremacists, branding Antifa the “alt-left” and saying “there’s blame on both sides.”

Here’s what you need to know about Antifa, the loose network that fights fascists on the streets.

Antifa was born from groups that fought the original fascists

In 1934, Milwaukee police arrested three leftists who infiltrated a pro-Nazi meeting and began scuffling with supporters of Hitler. The leftists were part of a group of several hundred anti-fascists who entered the meeting, broke it up and pelted the keynote speaker with rotten eggs. The melee ended only after 100 police arrived to restore order.

Today’s Antifa (an abbreviation of “anti-fascist action”) sees itself as the ideological descendant of activists like these. Anti-fascist brawlers — many of them communists, socialists or anarchists — began organizing in the 1920s and ’30s to oppose the rising dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Spain through demonstrations and street fights. The groups re-emerged in Europe in the ’70s and ’80s to combat white supremacists and skinheads, and the idea migrated to America, where groups were originally known as “Anti-Racist Action.”

Battle lines form between white nationalists and antifa protesters at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

While it’s hard to pin down numbers on Antifa in the United States, members and experts say the movement has boomed since Trump’s election. Mark Bray, a lecturer on human rights and politics at Dartmouth College, estimates that there are a couple hundred Antifa chapters of varying sizes and levels of activity across the country.

“The threat posed by the ‘alt-right’ in the context of empowerment through Trump made a lot of people concerned about fascist, neo-Nazi, white supremacist violence,” said Bray, author of the forthcoming book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.” “They turned to the Antifa model as one option to resist it. The option of physically confronting these groups has spread among the left and been normalized.”

It has no formal organization or leadership structure

Like the “Occupy” movement and “Black Lives Matter,” Antifa has no institutional structure or unified plan of action. Much of its activism comes through informal collaboration around certain cities or regions, and individual members taking initiative. Separate Facebook pages exist, for example, for New York Antifa, New York City Antifa and Western New York Antifa.

Jewish Antifa activist Daniel Sieradski. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Mobius1ski/Wikipedia)

Long before Antifa gets to physical altercations with the far right, members will attempt to prevent white supremacists from assembling or spreading their message. Bray said some Antifa members will pressure white supremacists’ employers to fire them.

Daniel Sieradski, a Jewish Antifa member who became involved following the presidential election in November, said he and other activists try to pressure venues to cancel white supremacist events, and only show up to counter-protest once that fails.

“I’ve always identified with the spirit of the movement, which is to challenge racists when they come into your community and try to incite hatred and violence,” Sieradski said. “Every effort is made to prevent the Nazis from showing up in the first place. Once they manage to do so, the demonstrations do not get violent until confrontations are provoked.”

Antifa aligns with the left — and some members are anti-Zionists

Because Antifa is so loosely constructed, it has no formal ideological agenda beyond opposing fascism. But the movement has roots in left-wing movements like socialism or anarchism. Bray said that members may be part of other left-wing activist groups, like the Occupy movement, and subscribe to ideas popular in progressive circles.

The Torch Network, a group of Antifa chapters, includes in its “points of unity” opposition to “all forms of oppression and exploitation.” That includes fighting “against racism, sexism, nativism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination against the disabled, the oldest, the youngest, and the most oppressed people.” The group is also pro-choice. Unlike the Black Lives Matter platform, it does not single out Israel or Zionism.

Bray said that while anti-Zionism is not a focus of Antifa, many members tend to be anti-Zionist as part of their far-left activism. Anti-Racist Action groups, he said, had taken part in anti-Zionist events in the past.

Sieradski said, however, that Jews play a significant role in the movement because “we’re fighting Nazis and anti-Semitism is the prime ideological viewpoint of Nazis.”

Antifa has no problem with fighting Nazis…

Antifa has no qualms about scuffling with white supremacists. The group gained publicity in February when it physically fought alt-righters at the University of California, Berkeley, during a speech by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Tussles with the far right have followed at other events.

Sieradski said violence is a “last resort,” but added there is nothing wrong with responding to anti-Semitic or racist rhetoric with a punch. Those who are advocating ethnic cleansing deserve to be beaten up, he said, and showing white supremacists that their rallies will end with them being hurt will deter them from assembling.

“When Nazis are screaming epithets in our faces, should we just smile?” Sieradski asked. “They come into our towns and yell at us and threaten us and say they want to kill us. Should we take that sitting down because fascists deserve free speech, too? When someone is threatening you with an existential threat, you fight back. You don’t stand there and take it.”

Antifa members also reject the notion that the movement instigated the violence in Charlottesville or is as guilty as its white supremacist foes. Spencer Sunshine, who counterprotested at the Charlottesville rally and witnessed the deadly car ramming, said there certainly were fights, but there is no comparing Antifa with the far right.

“Any equivalence between Antifa and fascists is a complete lie,” he said. “We were not armed the way the fascists were, and certainly did not drive a car into crowds. It was a total Nazi rally.”

…but has been criticized for its violent tactics

Antifa has garnered its share of liberal critics who say nothing — even neo-Nazism — justifies violence and the suppression of free speech. Critics also say that Antifa’s violence draws attention to the far right and allows white supremacists to claim they are acting in self-defense.

“They’re troubling tactically because conservatives use Antifa’s violence to justify — or at least distract from — the violence of white supremacists, as Trump did in his press conference,” the liberal Jewish essayist Peter Beinart wrote Wednesday in The Atlantic. “They’re troubling strategically because they allow white supremacists to depict themselves as victims being denied the right to freely assemble. And they’re troubling morally because Antifa activists really do infringe upon that right.”

Following Saturday’s rally, Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted “Whether by #AltRight or #Antifa, no excuses for violence and, keep in mind, this is exactly the response that the bigots seek to provoke.”

Whether by  or , no excuses for violence and, keep in mind, this is exactly the response that the bigots seek to provoke pic.twitter.com/wmrD9fbivK

View image on Twitter

Mark Pitcavage, an ADL senior researcher, said his group cannot condemn one side’s violence and condone the other. He added that the attention Charlottesville gained is also energizing the “alt-right” to hold more rallies.

“I don’t know how you can put together a calculus of violence where some sort of act of violence is unacceptable if one group does it but if another group commits it, that’s acceptable,” he said. “We’d just rather not see violence.”

White nationalists clash with counter-protesters in the street after the "Unite the Right" rally was delcared a unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

But Pitcavage added that right-wing violence has been far more destructive than Antifa’s, which to his knowledge has not led to any deaths. According to a 25-year study by the Cato Institute, nationalist and right-wing terrorists have killed about 10 times as many people since 1992 as left-wing terrorists, which may or may not include those who identify with Antifa.

“That doesn’t mean that the sides are equal, the causes are equal,” he said. “It’s important to realize that their violence does in no way compare in numbers or severity to the far-rightist violence in the United States.”

Brazilian Israelis launch group to help growing stream of newcomers

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) – Amid growing immigration from Brazil to Israel, Brazilian Jews living in the Jewish state established an organization devoted to facilitating the absorption of the newcomers.

Olim MeBrasil, or Immigrants from Brazil, was registered Tuesday as a nongovernmental association in Israel.

“The idea came with the increase in olim coming from Brazil year after year, and the forecast is that this increase is not temporary and will continue during the upcoming years,” the group’s vice president, Gladis Berezowsky, told JTA. “It’s an NGO by Brazilians for Brazilians.”

Olim is the Hebrew-language word for people who make aliyah, or immigrants to Israel, according to its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives.

The NGO’s main goals are to “improve the absorption of olim in Israel and improve access to information about Israel for all potential olim from all across Brazil,” Berezowsky added.

Brazil has approximately 120,000 Jews. Brazilian Jews were the sixth largest group to make aliyah in 2016 with some 700 olim, according to the Jewish Agency.

Yigal Palmor, the Jewish Agency’s director of public affairs and communications, told JTA that his organization expects a 30 percent increase in aliyah from Brazil this year, to 900 people, though he added that the factors that result in aliyah are too varied to allow for an accurate forecast.

In 2015, nearly 500 olim came from Brazil – nearly double the 2014 tally of 280.

Brazil’s business sector is attempting to weather the country’s worst financial crisis, in which a stagnant economy is buoyed primarily by foreign investments. The country’s currency, the real, has lost about half its value against the dollar since 2011. But political instability, the result of corruption scandals at the highest levels, is scaring off investors.

Brazil has relatively low levels of anti-Semitic incidents. Many members of the country’s Jewish community enroll their children in Jewish schools with intensive Hebrew-language programs and Zionist youth movements.

The newly arrived Brazilian ambassador in Tel Aviv, Paulo Cesar Meira de Vasconcellos, praised the new organization’s goals.

“We welcome all types of groups of Brazilians working to help Brazilians. There are currently 12,000 and more to come. I wish plenty of success and that the organization continues the exceptional work of its founders supporting the engagement of new Brazilians,” he told JTA.

In 2014, the Beit Brasil project was created to support Brazilian immigrants in Israel as well as potential immigrants in Brazil. The 120-member network of Brazilian volunteers spread across the Jewish state is a branch of the Latin American Organization in Israel, or OLEI.

HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS GROUP SLAMS RESULTS OF CLAIMS CONFERENCE TALKS

 

Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA released a withering statement on Thursday, slamming the outcome of negotiations between the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the German government.

The main announcement highlighted by the Claims Conference on Wednesday was that Holocaust survivors of the death trains, pogroms and ghettos in Iasi, Romania, will for the first time be eligible to receive compensation pensions. It also announced an increase in the in-home services budget for 2018, from $399 million to $462m.

 

But the Foundation, which is often critical of both the Claims Conference and the compensation process in general said: “Once again, the Claims Conference announcement of their so-called negotiations will mean little to thousands of survivors in dire need of serious health care, mental health care and all the rest of the services they currently are deprived of for lack of resources that Germany should have provided to so many deserving of help.”

The foundation represents Holocaust survivors in the US, fighting for their rights and raising awareness about the hardships and poverty they face.

While welcoming the “long overdue” announcement regarding the victims of the Iasi massacres, the group said that it “cannot be used to obscure the broader failure of the negotiations – once again.”

According to the foundation, $462m. allocated to in-home services is “tragically low when compared with survivors’ real-life needs, and when spread across the 67,000 survivors worldwide the Claims Conference said it served last year.”

It highlighted that funds for emergency services “are desperately and widely needed by Holocaust survivors and obscenely underfunded.”

Since 1952, the Claims Conference has negotiated for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs.

The organization administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property, and allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and preserve the memory and lessons of the Holocaust.

There are an estimated 500,000 Holocaust victims alive today. Approximately 20% of them live in the US.

Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA maintains the Claims Conference’s role as an intermediary between Germany and the survivors is unnecessary. “It is time to end the piecemeal, secret negotiations that have failed to alleviate the poverty and suffering of so many survivors,” it argues. “Survivors need and deserve a comprehensive program of care fully funded by Germany for a new life, worry free for the last part of their lives. These funds should be channeled to the survivors through the US government or directly to survivors.”

Indigenous Australians (Subhumans) form pro-Israel group

SYDNEY — A group called Indigenous Friends of Israel was established by indigenous Australians in what organizers said was a bid to counter growing support in the country’s Labor party for recognition of a Palestinian state and to boost bipartisan support for Israel.

Spokesperson Munganbana Norman Miller said the national organization is concerned that the Labor Party is “going down a dangerous path” in its attempt to get individual states and then federal Labor endorsement of a Palestinian state while Palestinian leaders do not accept the right of Israel to exist and continue to support terrorism.

Miller spoke Thursday from the north Queensland city of Cairns, an area with high concentrations of indigenous Australians.

“I support a two-state solution and Israel has offered it in 1947, 2000, 2008 and 2014,” he said, “but Arab leadership including Yasser Arafat and current Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas have rejected it. Also, Hamas who are in control of Gaza have vowed to annihilate Israel and drive every Jew into the sea. It is a terrorist organization, recognized as such by the Australian and other governments,” he said.

“At this stage there is no viable Palestinian state until the governments of the West Bank and Gaza sort out their difficulties. Who will the Labor Party and possibly Labor in government recognize?”

Miller told JTA that unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state is likely to further discourage the Palestinians from coming to the negotiating table, which he believes they have been reluctant to do.

A future Palestinian state, which could require land swaps to make it viable, “needs to recognize Israel as a Jewish state with secure borders and call off terrorism, including spending millions of overseas aid money on payments to the families of terrorists and promoting hatred of Jews [among] its schoolchildren,” he said.

“It is simply untrue to maintain that Israel is an apartheid state,” he added. “As Indigenous people, we know what apartheid is. Israel is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and has Arab members of the Knesset and has Arabs living peacefully and working in all walks of life enjoying their democratic freedoms.”

How the GOP shooting affected an Israeli anti-abortion group’s anniversary celebration

Louie Gohmert

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Speakers at a Washington function for an Israeli group that discourages abortion said the shooting attack on Republican Congress members the day before was a reminder of the sanctity of life.

“As the world becomes more and more secular, we forget where we came from,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said at the June 15 event in a Capitol Hill office building marking the 40th anniversary of EFRAT. “We forget the importance of and the special nature of what is life.”

EFRAT is an Israeli organization that encourages women considering abortion to have and raise their children, providing them with counseling and information on pregnancy as well as baby items like strollers, cribs and clothing. It does not lobby against Israel’s relatively liberal abortion laws.

Other speakers also referred to the June 14 shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, that wounded five people at a practice for Republican Congress members and their staffers ahead of a charity game the next day against Democrats.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the third-ranked Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, is still in hospital suffering from serious wounds.

The shooter, a 66-year-old Illinois man who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the presidential race and had obsessed on social media about President Donald Trump and other Republicans, was shot dead in return fire by Capitol Police.

“It’s bad enough that bad things happen in the world, which we’re reminded of just yesterday with the shooting,” said Joshua London, a lobbyist for the Zionist Organization of America.

“EFRAT sends a message that life is sacred. It is a blessing. Life is worthy of our love. It is worthy, every day in and day out, of our work.”

A number of Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona, Doug Lamborn of Colorado and Louie Gohmert of Texas, spoke at the event.

“I’m usually a little more effervescent, but we’ve had a tough couple of days here and it’s going to be tough for a while to come for our majority whip,” Gohmert said.

Franks noted his long history of pro-Israel activism, but also spoke of his opposition to abortion.

“When we turn our back on the innocent, not only does that say something about who we are, not only does that diminish who we are, but it also has its own built-in consequences,” he said.

The event honored Eli Schussheim, the organization’s president, and Woli Stern, its director.

EFRAT, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing unwanted abortions, celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Capitol.