Jews Outraged over “Hipster Hitler” Comic

A group of Jews have threatened to buy and shred all copies of a comic book, describing the authors’ mocking of Hitler and hipsters as “anti-Semitic” and “sick”. 

(Hamhigh.co.uk)

Members of London Stands with Israel, a campaign group set up to defend Israel and Jews from attacks, have threatened to boycott and protest outside stores selling the comic Hipster Hitler, and have specifically targeted a Jewish-owned comic store in Camden Town. The book, which contains a series of cartoon strips taking a light-hearted look at both hipster culture and the exploits of the Third Reich, has proved popular.

The New York authors insist it is “not written with the intent of offending people” but provides “a new way of disliking Hitler and laughing at the ‘lazy dictator’ he was [while] taking a few digs at a contemporary subculture of urban, middle-class youth that fetishise the ‘authentic’ and conform to non-conformism”.

 

The comic depicts the Führer wearing ironic T-shirts with slogans like “Death Camp for Cutie” and “Aryan Microjewery”, and show the tyrant struggling with his advisers as a constantly miffed and sulking hipster.

Shania Angel, 23, of London Stands with Israel, accused the authors of “making Hitler cute” and said they should be “ashamed”. She said: “The book is a disgrace and should be banned.

“T-shirts are now being sold of Hipster Hitler – it’s turning Hitler into a cute and trendy character.

“Anti-Semitism has skyrocketed recently and we shouldn’t be selling books like this.

“We should boycott shops that sell it, we should protest outside their stores and do everything we can to make sure these aren’t being sold.”

Ilana Katz, also of London Stands with Israel, said while the group would probably not burn the books, it would take drastic action to make sure people don’t read them.

The 23-year-old singer from Northwood told the Ham&High: “If we can’t get shops to stop selling copies we’ll buy and shred them all.

“Since when was it okay to promote Hitler as a cool person?”

The activists say they plan to protest outside Mega City Comics in Inverness Street – a Jewish-owned comic book store and one of Camden Town’s longest running independent shops.

Amazon, Waterstones and other book stores also stock the comic.

Martin Kravetz, owner of Mega City Comics, said: “While it’s perhaps close to the knuckle, I don’t find Hipster Hitler offensive.

“I’m Jewish myself and if it was in any way making light of the Holocaust I would remove it.

“I’m not in the business to cause people offence, but any book shop will carry books that some people may find offensive.

“The book doesn’t contain references to the Holocaust. It’s a satirical piece, making jibes at the expense of both Hitler and hipsters.

“Our customer base is predominantly adult, and I think they can identify a satirical piece for what it is.”

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Alt-right website tries to weed out Jews from drug reform

http://www.timesofisrael.com/alt-right-website-tries-to-weed-out-jews-from-drug-reform/

 

NEW YORK — Back in 1971, the father of the American “War on Drugs” drew a connection between Jews and cannabis.

“You know it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish,” president Richard Nixon said. “What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists.”

Most Jews are not psychiatrists, of course, just as most marijuana law reform activists are not Jewish. Nixon, however, wasn’t alone in calling Jews out for their involvement in cannabis policy.

An anti-Semitic article published by alt-right website The Daily Stormer in late November entitled “Weed Kikes Attacking Jeff Sessions!” denigrates a number of Jewish activists by name for opposing President Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions for US Attorney General, a position that directs federal drug law enforcement.

“The Jews come at you from every angle. Here they are coming at you from the weed lmao [sic] angle,” the article says. “The marijuana legalization agenda is entirely Jew.”

The Daily Stormer, recently ranked the US’s top hate site by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), took its name from Der Stürmer, a Nazi newspaper started by Julius Streicher, who was later hanged for war crimes at Nuremberg. SPLC calls the website a “malignant presence in the real world.”

Andrew Anglin, who runs the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, wearing a pro-Donald Trump hat after endorsing the Republican frontrunner. (Wikipedia/BFG101/CC BY SA-4.0)

Andrew Anglin, who runs the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, wearing a pro-Donald Trump hat after endorsing the Republican frontrunner. (Wikipedia/BFG101/CC BY SA-4.0)

The Daily Stormer article, one of many displays of anti-Semitism that seem to be gaining traction in America, doesn’t merely attack Jews for being Jewish: The pretense of this article is that association with Jews is inherently a smear against the drug reform movement.

It sets a dangerous precedent, though its argument itself isn’t very strong. The story names a prominent Jewish cannabis activist, Adam Eidinger from Washington, DC, who led protests against Sessions’ nomination, and later goes on to describe a cannabis-themed seder that took place in Portland, Oregon last year.

Perhaps the article’s strongest — or most accurate — point is acknowledging “a Jew group that considers legalizing drugs as part of the Jew agenda of ‘Tikkun olam’ (fixing the world).”

There are indeed many Jewish cannabis activists (and many Jewish psychiatrists). Including those interviewed for this article, many of these activists propose that drug policy reform really does align with Jewish values like tikkun olam and standing up against oppression.

The alt-right may be using anti-Semitism to discredit marijuana law reform and clearly the “marijuana legalization agenda” is not “entirely Jew,” as the article states, but Jewish morality does play a role for some of the Jewish activists who are motivated by social justice.

Sessions: KKK ok — until smoking pot

Sessions, who was recently confirmed as US attorney general, has been hostile toward cannabis and thinks marijuana law reform is a “tragic mistake.” He has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” According to 1986 Senate committee testimony, the former Alabama senator once said he thought the Ku Klux Klan were okay until learning that they smoked pot.

Sessions has also criticized former president Barack Obama’s administration for not enforcing federal prohibition in the now 28 states that legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Sen. Jeff Sessions arrives to testify at his confirmation hearing to be attorney general of the US before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10, 2017, in Washington, DC. (AFP/Molly Riley)

Sen. Jeff Sessions arrives to testify at his confirmation hearing to be attorney general of the US before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10, 2017, in Washington, DC. (AFP/Molly Riley)

With Sessions’ confirmation, drug policy reformers are worried he will undermine America’s fast-growing cannabis industry and progressive trend toward more lenient state policies.

‘Anti-Semitic slurs against Jewish people for being drug policy reformers is an attempt to delegitimize drug policy reform through anti-Semitism’

“To throw anti-Semitic slurs against Jewish people for being drug policy reformers is an attempt to delegitimize drug policy reform through anti-Semitism,” says Eidinger, founder of DCMJ.org, which helped legalize cannabis in the city of Washington, DC. The Daily Stormer article features a photo of Eidinger holding a bong.

“It gets scary when the most die-hard Trump partisans, who happen to be neo-Nazis, are coming after you,” Eidinger says.

Customers buy products at the Harvest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco, California, April 20, 2016. (AP/Haven Daley)

Customers buy products at the Harvest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco, California, April 20, 2016. (AP/Haven Daley)

Jewish Manhattan Assembly member Richard Gottfried, who originally proposed New York State’s medical marijuana program, says tikkun olam inspired him to advocate for reform. He now fears medical marijuana patients will suffer if Sessions attacks state policies.

‘I have definitely noticed in my unscientific sampling that Jews tend to enjoy their ganja’

“My views on marijuana and all public issues have been strongly influenced by my upbringing, which included Jewish values focusing on justice and personal responsibility for promoting a better world for all,” says Gottfried. “Of course, Judaism is not alone in upholding the value of healing the world.”

When, for example, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for pot, despite comparable rates of use with the rest of the US, marijuana law reform often falls under the greater social justice umbrella.

Marijuana buds drying at a pot farm in Northern California. Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states. (Madison Margolin/Times of Israel)

Marijuana buds drying at a pot farm in Northern California. Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states. (Madison Margolin/Times of Israel)

“I think it’s interesting that many of us who work in drug policy reform are Jewish, and I have definitely noticed in my unscientific sampling that Jews tend to enjoy their ganja,” says Natalie Ginsberg, policy and advocacy manager at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Jews who are impacted by generations of trauma or who suffer from anxiety may gravitate towards cannabis as medicine, Ginsberg says.

“Also, personally, both cannabis and Judaism have empowered me to question things and see the greater context, so I can see why neo-Nazis would feel especially threatened by the combination,” says Ginsberg.

Jews as ultimate scapegoats

In a political atmosphere that marginalizes Muslims, Mexicans, and other minorities, “Jews are acutely sensitive to being scapegoated, and drugs are a scapegoat for all sorts of problems,” says Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS.

“When you have a whole cultural system built on throwing people in jail for drug use that in many cases is not harmful, but beneficial, you have a massive scapegoating problem going on,” says Dobin.

The seder plate at Le’Or’s inaugural Cannabis Seder included a marijuana leaf. (photo credit: Alain Sylvestre Media)

The seder plate at Le’Or’s inaugural Cannabis Seder included a marijuana leaf. (photo credit: Alain Sylvestre Media)

Roy Kaufman, co-host of a cannabis seder in Portland, Oregon, and mentioned in the Daily Stormer article, finds common ground between Jewish tradition and drug policy. The Passover story is one of bondage to freedom, he says, just as ending prohibition takes people out of bondage and into personal freedom, to choose what’s best for their health.

Meanwhile, Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a nonprofit advocating for reform, draws a connection between prohibition and Nazi Germany, where his grandfather had perished.

“Any time the majority thinks that it needs to impose its particular morality on the minority, not just for our sake but their sake, that’s trouble,” Nadelmann says in an interview.

While many American Jews are not as directly impacted by the War on Drugs as people of color, many nonetheless feel a responsibility to act on behalf of those who are, says Amanda Reiman, DPA’s former marijuana law and policy manager.

“What we need is a proliferation of people who are willing to fight and defend the rights of people, even if they’re not directly affected by [the War on Drugs], and that’s what’s under attack in that article,” she says. “The reason we’re involved in drug policy is because of tikkun olam.”

ARAB AND JEWISH JERUSALEM RESIDENTS CONDEMN ‘ONE-STATE SOLUTION’

 

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Arab-and-Jewish-Jerusalem-residents-condemn-one-state-solution-481894

 

In a rare display of unanimity, Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites on Thursday agreed that abandoning a two-state solution for one state would invariably result in violence, as well as an Arab majority.

One day after US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic Washington press conference raised the possibility of jettisoning the one-time pillar of peace talks, a cross-section of residents predicted institutionalized “chaos.”

“I don’t believe that one state is the right thing for us, because we’ll have an Arab prime minister and there will no longer be a Jewish state,” said Sarit, a middle-aged Jaffa Road boutique owner, who requested her last name not be published.

“The other outcome would be apartheid, which is something we could never live with, so the only option is two states,” she continued. “People say they have Gaza and Jordan, but this is their home, and we have to recognize that they need to live here and have their own state.”

Already fearing Trump’s presidency, Arab resident Yasmina Quteb, 30, who lives in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur on the Mount of Olives, said she believes any intervention from Trump will backfire.

“Trump is going to make everything worse here, because everything he does is irrational,” said Quteb, who wore a black hijab while walking home with a friend from Zion Square.

“He’s not doing his own people good – he’s not doing the immigrants coming to his country any good – so I don’t think he’s going to do us any good, and I wish he would just stay out of it.”

Despite the promise from President Reuvin Rivlin of equal rights for all citizens after Israel would annex the West Bank and absorb the 2.7 million Palestinians living there, Quteb predicted an Arab uprising.

“Making it into one state is going to cause chaos,” she said. “[Israel] has been divided for a long time, and if this happens it’s going to cause another intifada.”

Elias Capon, a 23-year-old salesman at a Mamilla clothing store, said the sheer shock of the paradigm shift will be too difficult for most Israelis and Arabs to absorb.

“I don’t think it will work, because both sides are not used to the idea, and everyone born here was raised to believe in a two state-solution,” he said. “So, it’s like telling someone who was born black that he is now white.”

Citing chronic unrest in east Jerusalem – compounded by the absorption of nearly 3 million more Palestinians from the West Bank – Benny Rave, 34, who owns Anak Hacellular on Jaffa Road, predicted Israel would lose control of security as well as its Jewish majority.

“There will no longer be an Israeli country if this happens,” he said. “It will be ‘Palestine,’ like they say, which is an invented name and identity. I’d prefer them to leave Israel and go back to their roots, which is Jordan. Even their flag is almost identical to Jordan’s.”

Meanwhile, Rami Wakileh, a 41-year-old attorney and Christian Palestinian living in Pisgat Ze’ev, deemed the proposal for one state “the worst solution ever.”

“It’s bad for Israelis and for Palestinians, because in the end we’ll wind up with a state with no internal borders and no peace,” he said. “It would be two ideologically opposed nations living inside one nation, and in the past 100 years they haven’t solved the problem, so there is no reason to suppose one state will solve it. They are just postponing the problem by doing this.”

A two-state solution, Wakileh asserted, is the only viable means of resolving the conflict.

“It is the only way, because each nation would know exactly where they will live, and be able to live in a way where no one will interfere with difficult problems like religion, and beliefs that are not compatible. It will be easier to keep each nation separated from the other and have normal relations like any other two states.”

Moreover, Wakileh echoed Israeli concerns of an inevitable Arab majority.

“It’s a very bad solution for Israelis, because Arabs will become the majority at some point and it will no longer be a Jewish state, which is what they want.”

Hate crimes against Jews in NY have doubled in ’17, police say

A children’s playground in Brooklyn Heights, New York, was vandalized with a swastika in November 2016. (Screenshot from Twitter)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Hate crimes against Jews have more than doubled in New York City since the start of the new year from the same period in 2016, police reported.

The city’s Police Department said 56 hate crimes were reported from Jan. 1 to Feb. 12, with 28 of the incidents targeting Jews, according to Politico. In the same period last year, the total number of hate crimes was 31, with 13 targeting Jews.

Jews were the top targets in both years.

In December, the NYPD said it witnessed “a huge spike” in hate crimes following the election of President Donald Trump, with the majority of incidents directed at Jews.

JTA has reported on anti-Semitic incidents following the election, including acts of vandalism featuring swastikas in the New York subway and Donald Trump-related themes left in public areas as well as on the homes of Jewish individuals. Also, three separate strings of bomb threats have targeted Jewish community centers across the country.

On Wednesday, when asked by a reporter about “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States,” Trump responded by boasting about his Electoral College win, pointing to his Jewish daughter’s family and promising that “you’re going to see a lot of love.”

In reviewing ‘Hobby Lobby’ opinion, Jews see reasons to diverge over Neil Gorsuch

WASHINGTON (JTA) – On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, handed down a decision that would make history a year later when it was upheld by the Supreme Court: Closely held corporations have the same religious freedom rights as individuals.

The majority decision in the case then called Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, 67 pages long, had attached to it several concurrences, including one of 18 pages by Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch was nominated last month by President Donald Trump to the vacant Supreme Court position. Now Jewish groups are closely reading his concurrence to understand how this noted conservative would treat church-state issues.

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby (to become known as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby by the time it reached the Supreme Court in 2014) split a Jewish community that just 20 or so years earlier reached rare consensus supporting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Jewish groups welcomed and lobbied for RFRA, which was passed in 1993 because it allowed for consideration of religion when a law “substantially burdens” belief. Prompted by a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that religious beliefs must always defer to “the law of the land,” the measure helped ease zoning laws that burdened the construction or expansion of synagogues, protected observant Jews who were not available to work on Saturday and enabled a Jewish inmate to successfully sue the Florida prison system for kosher meals.

Hobby Lobby argued – and the appellate and Supreme Court agreed — that RFRA entitled it, a corporation, to a similar exemption that the Obama administration was extending to religious nonprofits. Under the exemptions, religious nonprofits could opt out of a government mandate that required companies providing their employees with health care to include contraceptive coverage.

Liberal Jewish groups backed the government in arguing that applying religious freedoms to a commercial enterprise mocked the principle that RFRA was meant to protect individuals from more powerful interests. Orthodox Jewish groups backed Hobby Lobby, saying that employers and employees deserved similar freedoms.

Gorsuch’s concurrence, joined by two other judges on the appellate court, took the majority’s decision in two additional directions:

* He argued that the individuals who own the business — in this case, the Green family, who are evangelical Christians — are entitled under RFRA to the same freedoms extended to the corporation by the majority opinion.

“As the Greens explain their complaint, the ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong,” Gorsuch wrote, referring to the Affordable Care Act. “As they understand it, ordering their companies to provide insurance coverage for drugs or devices whose use is inconsistent with their faith itself violates their faith, representing a degree of complicity their religion disallows.”

* Gorsuch also argued that precedent protects “sincerely held” beliefs, period, however noxious they may seem at a given historical moment, or how divorced the expression of that belief seems from commonly understood religious practice. He cited a case involving a pacifist Jehovah’s Witness who refused to work on an assembly line manufacturing tank turrets, although he agreed to help manufacture sheet metal, which might end up used in armaments.

“That’s the line he understood his faith to draw when it came to complicity in war-making, an activity itself forbidden by his faith,” Gorsuch wrote.

“The Supreme Court acknowledged this line surely wasn’t the same many others would draw, and that it wasn’t even necessarily the same line other adherents to the plaintiff’s own faith might always draw. But the Court proceeded to hold that it was not, is not, the place of courts of law to question the correctness or the consistency of tenets of religious faith, only to protect the exercise of faith. No different result can reasonably follow here.”

JTA asked Jewish groups and individuals who closely watched Hobby Lobby to reread Gorsuch’s concurrence and share what lessons they could draw about Trump’s pick to fill the seat left open by the death of Antonin Scalia.

Here are some of their impressions:

Deborah Lauter, the senior vice president at the Anti-Defamation League, which joined amicus briefs against Hobby Lobby, noted that the ADL originally supported RFRA. The ADL agreed with Gorsuch when he wrote that “[t]he Act doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs.”

“ADL, however, has serious concerns with the remaining substance of the concurrence,” she wrote in an email. “It appears to exceed the U.S. Supreme Court’s overly broad interpretation of RFRA in the Hobby Lobby decision, which effectively transformed the statute into a sword for imposing religious beliefs to the detriment of others. The concurrence would allow a plaintiff meet its evidentiary burden under RFRA by the mere subjective assertion that a federal law creates a ‘substantial burden’ on religious exercise rather than requiring an objective judicial determination, a standard which other courts have applied. And once this RFRA requirement is established, plaintiffs usually prevail.”

The subjective assertion of a burden also concerned Rabbi David Saperstein, who at the time of the decision directed the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, which also joined in an amicus brief against Hobby Lobby.

“Although it wasn’t the main focus of his concurrence, the wording suggests that so long as a religious belief is sincerely held by a person, that answers the substantial burden requirement of RFRA,” Saperstein said in an interview.

Saperstein, while cautioning it is difficult to infer sweeping conclusions about a judicial philosophy from a concurrence, said Gorsuch’s views as expressed here would be of concern should Trump sign an executive order establishing sweeping religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. A draft of just such an order was obtained last month by The Investigative Fund and The Nation.

“That kind of approach threatens to undercut the entire structure of civil rights laws and protections,” said Saperstein, who until last month was the Obama administration’s religious freedoms envoy.

Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, which joined an amicus brief defending Hobby Lobby, said Gorsuch’s reasoning should please those who belong to minority faiths.

Diament quoted the full passage excerpted by Lauter, in which Gorsuch argued that RFRA’s “most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”

“This is the kind of thinking and jurisprudence we should want to see from a Supreme Court justice,” Diament said in an email.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, in an email also alluded to Gorsuch’s argument “strongly affirming that sincerity, not popularity, is the judicial yardstick.” He also admired how Gorsuch extended RFRA not just to the corporation, but to the individuals who own it.

“Advocates often talk about the evil of forcing upon employees the Hobson’s choice between religion and livelihood, but Judge Gorsuch reminds us that protecting against such unfairness is no less compelling — no less personal — when dealing with employers,” he said. Agudah filed a brief in defense of Hobby Lobby in the case.

Bruce Abramson and Jeff Ballabon, who have advocated for Trump and his nominees in Jewish publications including JTA, said in an email that by upholding of the rights of the Greens as individual employers not to assist employees in what they regard as sinful behavior, Gorsuch’s concurrence comports with Jewish teachings as well as with precedent.

“He opened with a sensitive reminder of a concept central to Jewish law and morality that modern society often forgets: ‘For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability,’” Abramson and Ballabon wrote in an email, quoting Gorsuch. “The Torah itself prohibits ‘putting a stumbling block before a blind person’ (Vayikra 19:24), a metaphor for enabling someone else’s violation. There are both Biblical and Rabbinic Jewish laws that forbid assisting someone who is committing a sin.”

Ilana Flemming, the advocacy manager for Jewish Women International, which joined an amicus brief opposing Hobby Lobby, said that Gorsuch’s ruling made employees vulnerable to sudden changes in their coverage should there be a change in ownership.

“If the owners change, then the beliefs change, and the new owners could bring a claim,” she said in an interview.

That coupled with the rights extended to corporations under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of RFRA in its 2014 ruling disempowers employees, Flemming said.

“It gives the company owners an enormous amount of leeway and power to object to presumably any health care service, drawing a broad exemption, where a company owner or the corporation itself can claim a religious objection that has a real impact on what health care an employee can access,” she said.

That also was a concern for Jody Rabhan, the director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women, which also filed an amicus brief against Hobby Lobby. She said Gorsuch’s thinking reflected a trend among conservative justices to favor businesses over employees.

“It is a dangerous trend and is a big reason NCJW came out in opposition to his nomination,” Rabhan said in an interview. “No one should get their boss’s approval to do what she believes is right for herself, her body, her family.”

Marc Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s general counsel, said rereading Gorsuch reminded him of the culture wars that troubled him at the time of the Supreme Court fight.

AJC had sought a middle ground, filing an amicus brief on the government’s behalf, but avoiding the difficult arguments ADL and the other groups engaged in about the place of the government in the practice of religion. Instead, AJC said there was a compelling government interest in providing health coverage, including contraceptives.

“The gap in moral perceptions is now so great that most people on either side of it don’t understand the other side,” Stern said. “It’s why people were talking by each other and there was really no way the Obama administration could make everybody happy.”

Pew: Jews are best-liked religious group in America

(JTA) – Jews are the most warmly regarded religious group in America, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, which was released Wednesday, found that Americans generally express more positive feelings toward various religious groups than they did three years ago.

As they did the first time the survey was taken in 2014, Jews topped the survey, in which respondents rank various religious groups on a “feeling thermometer.” On the scale of 1 to 100, 1 is the coldest and 100 the warmest; 50 means they have neither positive nor negative feelings.

Jews were ranked at 67 degrees, up from 63 in the 2014 survey, followed by Catholics at 66, up from 62, and Mainline Protestants at 65. Evangelical Christians stayed at 61 degrees.

Buddhists rose to 60 from 53, and Hindus increased to 58 from 50. Mormons moved to 54 from 48.

Atheists and Muslims again had the lowest ratings, but both still rose on the warmth scale. Atheists ranked at 50 degrees, up from 41, and Muslims were at 48, up from 40.

The authors noted that warm feelings toward religious groups rose despite a contentious election year that deeply divided Americans. “The increase in mean ratings is broad based,” according to the authors. “Warmer feelings are expressed by people in all the major religious groups analyzed, as well as by both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and younger and older adults.”

The random-digit-dial survey of 4,248 respondents was conducted Jan. 9-23. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Americans tend to rate their own faith groups highest, the survey found. Jews rated themselves at 91 and rated Muslims at 51, up from 35 three years ago. Jews rated themselves the highest compared to other groups; the next highest was Catholics at 83.

The survey showed a divide between older and younger Americans. While Jews received a 74 from respondents aged 65 and up, the age group’s second-highest ranking behind Mainline Protestants, respondents aged 18-29 ranked Jews at 62 and gave their highest ranking to Buddhists at 66.

Religious groups also were rated higher by respondents who knew someone from that religion. Those who knew Jews gave them a 72, and those who do not know any Jews gave them a 58.

‘We were once strangers too’: Jews rally across US in support of refugees

NEW YORK (JTA) — Over 100 years ago, Barnett Levine was greeted by the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty as he arrived in the United States, having fled anti-Semitism and pogroms in his native Poland.

On Sunday, his grandson saw those very same sights when he joined about 700 others in this city’s Battery Park downtown at a rally protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order banning all refugees from the country for 120 days.

“I am the grandchild of four immigrants who came here when the gates of the United States were wide open and they made a life here,” Harold Levine, a 60-year-old marketing consultant, told JTA. He added: “I think that it is the duty of the Jewish community to pay this forward to other immigrants who are trying to come to the United States.”

The rally was organized by HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, part of an initiative by the immigrant resettlement group called the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees.

The president issued his order last month, which also banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. On Thursday, a federal appeals court ruling upheld a stay on the ban, a move praised by Jewish groups, including HIAS.

Harold Levine brought a poster to the New York City rally showing his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States over 100 years ago, fleeing anti-Semitism in his native Poland. (JTA/Josefin Dolsten)

Harold Levine brought a poster to the New York City rally showing his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States over 100 years ago, fleeing anti-Semitism in his native Poland. (JTA/Josefin Dolsten)

Thousands attended rallies on Sunday as part of the HIAS initiative, including in Boston, Washington, DC, and other major cities, a representative for the group told JTA. The demonstrations had more than 20 co-sponsors, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Mark Hetfield, the CEO of HIAS, said the rallies were a rare moment of joining together in support of refugees.

“I haven’t seen anything like this since I got my start [with HIAS] in 1989, which was at the height of the Soviet Jewry movement,” he said. “This is a galvanizing moment like that, but the difference is that then we were standing up for Jews, and now we are standing up as Jews.”

At the New York rally, participants braved icy wind, hail and rain to join in chants of “When refugees are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back” and “Never again means never again for everyone” between speeches by rabbis and clergy members, politicians and leaders of Jewish groups. Among the speakers were Mayor Bill de Blasio; Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the ADL, and Sana Mustafa, a Syrian refugee.

In Boston, speakers at a rally with several hundred participants included City Councilor Josh Zakim, whose father, the late Lenny Zakim, was the longtime director of the New England Anti-Defamation League; Imam Faisal Khan, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Wayland, and Fred Manasse, a child Holocaust survivor who was brought to the US by HIAS.

Elianna Kan, left, said the fact that her family members came to the US as refugees from the Soviet Union motivated her to attend the New York City rally with her friends Will Hunt and Sarah Rosen. (JTA/Josefin Dolsten)

Elianna Kan, left, said the fact that her family members came to the US as refugees from the Soviet Union motivated her to attend the New York City rally with her friends Will Hunt and Sarah Rosen. (JTA/Josefin Dolsten)

Speeches — even those given by non-Jewish speakers — were peppered with references to Jewish history and traditions.

“In this city, we believe we can live in harmony,” de Blasio said in New York.” It’s not perfect, but we believe we can do something that the whole world is struggling to do, that we can all be together…people of all religions and backgrounds, that is what we’re fighting for — doesn’t that fit beautifully the profound Jewish concept of tikkun olam, of healing the world?”

Ellison, who told JTA that the rally was “one of the main reasons” for his visit to New York, talked in his speech about the MS St. Louis, a ship with 900 Jewish refugees from Germany that tried to enter the United States and other countries but was turned away. He called the incident “a shameful time in our country.”

“All of our officials who worked with this stuff knew about it. We can’t say we didn’t know — we knew,” said Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a front-runner to lead the Democratic National Committee. “We didn’t want to get involved, we wanted to just mind our own business, we just kind of thought, ‘Oh, this is not our issue.’”

Jewish ritual featured prominently. At one point during the New York rally, representatives of 10 of the co-sponsoring groups went on stage and tore pieces of cloth, mimicking a Jewish ritual in which mourners rend their clothing. The tearing was done to remind attendees of refugees who had died before being able to reach safety, as well as those who are now facing dangerous circumstances.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the HIAS rally in New York, February 12, 2017. (Gili Getz via JTA)

In addition to co-sponsoring the New York event, the ADL on Sunday also launched a campaign to rally opposition to Trump’s executive order urging people to share on social media their family stories of coming to the US and tagging posts with #ThisIsARefugee.

“We remember that we were once strangers, too, that Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and oppression during the Holocaust were often denied entry with claims eerily similar to some of the claims that are being made today to deny entrance to refugees, and we think that’s wrong,” Greenblatt told JTA on the phone before the rally.

Participants at the rally said they were compelled to attend for a variety of reasons, both personal and historical.

Lisa Davidson, a 41-year-old professor who attended the New York event, said she saw historic parallels between the Holocaust and the civil war in Syria.

“What’s going on in Syria right now is criminal, and it is sort of reminiscent of what happened in the Holocaust in the ’30s and ’40s, and I think that we don’t want to repeat that again, and we don’t want to sit and say that we did nothing,” Davidson said.

Lisa Davidson, seen at the New York rally, says she sees parallels between the Holocaust and the civil war in Syria. (JTA/ Josefin Dolsten)

Lisa Davidson, seen at the New York rally, says she sees parallels between the Holocaust and the civil war in Syria. (JTA/ Josefin Dolsten)

For some the motivation came from their family history. Levine, the marketing consultant whose grandfather immigrated to the US over a century ago, brought with him a poster saying”This is personal” and showing a photograph of his grandfather and his immigration paperwork.

“I couldn’t not come here. The minute I heard about it, I thought I had to come,” he said.

Elianna Kan shared similar reasons for coming. The 28-year-old translator and journalist said her family came to the US in the 1970s as refugees from the Soviet Union, receiving financial and logistical help from HIAS.

“I’m here and have the privilege of being born in a free country because people who were concerned with the plight of my family, whether or not they had a personal connection, were out there, and this seems like an even more extreme case,” she said. “It’s a different case, but the parallels are far too obvious to me.”

GERMANY – Jews Furious At German Politician’s Call To End Nazi Guilt from Yahoo

Berlin (AFP) – A leading member of German right-wing populist party AfD sparked an outcry Wednesday by criticising the Holocaust memorial in Berlin and calling for the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past.

Bjoern Hoecke’s comments also exposed a damaging split in the anti-immigration party, just months before Germany heads to the polls.

“Up to now, our state of mind is still one of a totally defeated people… We Germans, our people, are the only people in the world who have planted a monument of shame in the heart of the capital,” Hoecke told party faithful including youth members, according to a video of the speech circulated online.

“We need nothing less than a 180-degree shift in the politics of remembrance,” he said in the remarks on Tuesday to chants of “Germany, Germany”.

Instead of introducing younger generations to home-grown “internationally-acclaimed philosophers, musicians and ingenious inventors… German history has been made lousy and ridiculous,” he complained, winning a standing ovation from the crowd.

“There is no moral responsibility to make yourself disappear,” said Hoecke, who was a high school sports and history teacher, adding that Germany should instead “build up a positive relationship with our history”.

The comments were met with an instant uproar, with Social Democrat vice chief Ralf Stegner accusing Hoecke of making a “hate incitement speech” — which is illegal in Germany — that called for history to be rewritten.

Chairwoman of the Greens party Simone Peter said the comments were “unspeakable” and demanded an apology from the AfD to Jews.

“Germany’s Central Council of Jews also lashed out, accusing the politician of trampling on six million Jewish Holocaust victims murdered by the Nazis.”

“The AfD has shown its real face with these anti-Semitic and extremely hostile words,” said the council’s chairman Josef Schuster, adding that he “never thought that 70 years after the Holocaust, a politician in Germany could say such things”.

Council of Europe chief Thorbjorn Jagland also weighed in, saying that “calling our remembrance culture into question is outrageous and dangerous”.

The case also exposed a rift within the party.

AfD co-leader Frauke Petry told Young Freedom weekly that the episode showed that “Hoecke has become a burden on the party with his go-it-alone attitude and constant sniping”.

But deputy chief Alexander Gauland defended the politician, telling national news agency DPA that Hoecke had “in no manner criticised the remembrance of the Holocaust”.

In a post on Facebook on Wednesday, Hoecke also insisted that he had been misinterpreted and that he “described the Holocaust… as a shame for our people”.

The AfD had started out as an anti-euro party, but has since morphed into an anti-immigration outfit railing against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy that brought some 890,000 refugees to Germany in 2015 alone.

The party, which disputes the place of Islam in Germany, is polling nationwide at around 12 to 15 percent ahead of general elections.

Hoecke, who is a regional deputy in the eastern state of Thuringia, is viewed as one of the most right-leaning leaders of the populist party.

In December 2015, he sparked outrage when he said that the “reproductive behaviour of Africans” could be a threat for Germany.

Most recently, he was greeted by students chanting “Nazis out” as he tried to make a speech at a university in the eastern city of Magdeburg, and had to leave the hall under police escort.

JEWS GOING TO BAT FOR ISRAEL

They call it Team Israel, but really, it’s Team Jew. And there’s never been anything like it.

Next month in South Korea, 16 countries will play in the quadrennial baseball tournament known as the World Baseball Classic (WBC), a “World Cup” for baseball. One of them is Israel, which advanced to the tournament by winning its qualifier in Brooklyn in September.

 

Almost all the players on this team are Jewish Americans, representing a mix of the American-Jewish community. Some have an integrated Jewish background – two Jewish parents, extensive participation in Jewish holidays, and involvement in the Jewish community – while others have a Jewish parent but grew up with the other parent after divorce, or have only one Jewish grandparent, and barely know they are Jewish. Yet somehow, they all bought in on being a Jew representing Israel.

“I always found it amazing that so many of these guys who had virtually no [Jewish] identity growing up, never celebrated Jewish holidays, embraced being known as a Jewish baseball player,” says Jonathan Mayo, 46, a reporter for MLB.com since 1999; “and understanding that the Jewish community in the United States loves them unconditionally.”

The guys not only embraced their identity as Jewish players, they embraced each other. The weekend before the Brooklyn qualifier, the team gathered for the first time in Wappingers Falls, New York. It was a threeday mini-camp to get them ready to play Great Britain and Brazil. Repeatedly, veterans spoke of their amazement at the team comradery that so quickly came together.

“I don’t know what the reason was behind it, but everybody got super comfortable with everybody on the first day of the workouts,” says Nick Rickles, 27, a catcher with the Washington Nationals organization. “The next day, it was like we’d played together six months – everybody was on the same page immediately. That was very impressive to me. I can feel something special that I don’t know that I felt with a team before, especially this soon.”

Rickles is one of a handful of returning veterans who played in the WBC in 2012, the first qualifying round in which Israel competed. “It’s been four years since we’ve seen each other, but coming back, we hadn’t missed a beat in four years,” he says. “That was also very impressive to me.”

Nate Freiman, 30, a free agent first baseman, is another of the five or six players who will be playing on the third Team Israel roster next month ‒ 2012 and September being the first two. He was the star at the first qualifier in Jupiter, Florida, when he hit four home runs, knocked in seven and slugged 1.417.

He had one simple message for the players:

“I said this is going to be a new experience for almost all of you, playing on the international stage. And the type of baseball, and the type of feeling surrounding this tournament, is something that is difficult to replicate in minor league baseball. But buy into this, bring everything you have to this, and this will be an experience you won’t ever forget.”

TEAM ISRAEL is like no team the players have ever played on. As professionals, they are used to shuffling from one franchise to another, making friends and then moving on, as they have all done in their careers. Here, it is a permanent team. No one’s traded or released: if you can still play, you’ll keep playing, and if you retire, you remain part of the family. In the world of professional baseball, that’s a very small family.

“I grew up as a Jewish kid in Santa Monica playing baseball with other Jewish kids,” says Cody Decker, a 30-year-old catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers organization. “But the higher you get in the ranks, there’s less and less Jewish baseball players to the point where other than on this team, I’ve been teammates with only two Jewish players in professional baseball over the last eight seasons.”

The result, he says, is something unique, “this thing we have in common and no one else gets to experience that. That’s why this is pretty special.”

Is it a good baseball team? Yes. Can the total be greater than the sum of its parts? Absolutely. And the parts are pretty impressive.

Israel’s 28-man roster was put together by the team’s 73-year-old manager, Jerry Weinstein, a toothpick-chewing baseball lifer with 40 years of experience coaching professional and college baseball. A studious and well-prepared leader, he was just named manager of the Colorado Rockies’ Hartford Yard Goats in the Double AA Eastern League.

The team Weinstein put together resulted in a group of 28 extremely talented professional baseball players, among the minuscule number of the very best in the world.

A dozen of them have Major League experience (final rosters were not available at press time). These include Craig Breslow, Ike Davis, Decker, Freiman, Ty Kelly, Ryan Lavarnway, Jason Marquis, Josh Satin and Josh Zeid. Other possibilities include Ian Kinsler, Kevin Pillar and Danny Valencia. Another dozen or so players have played in Triple AAA, one level below the Major League. This is an able and capable team.

The level of Major League experience varies. Marquis, 39, who retired in 2015 after 15 years in the big leagues, can still pitch, as demonstrated by his outstanding performance in September – starting two of the three games, pitching seven innings, giving up one run, two hits, walking one and striking out six.

Marquis is the most accomplished major leaguer on this team – third on the all-time Jewish list in wins and strikeouts, and fourth in innings pitched. He’s likely to start the first game, and, if he can duplicate what he did in Brooklyn, the third as well.

Another atypical characteristic of Weinstein’s roster is how smart a team it is.

“The level of conversation is at a much higher level, one not usually associated with a baseball clubhouse,” says Dan Rootenberg, 44, the team’s strength and conditioning coach and physical therapist, who played for the Netanya Tigers in 2007 in the one-season Israel Baseball League (IBL). “You’ve got guys who have deferred medical school, who’ve been to Yale, Duke, Stanford, you name it. There is this extremely high level of intelligence and depth of conversation that’s not typical.”

Nate Fish, 37, Team Israel’s first-base coach who played in the IBL for the Tel Aviv Lightning, says, “Every team has that one smart guy everyone considers weird, but also kind of looks up to because they suspect he is smart. We were that guy, all of us… It’s not only the best Jewish baseball team ever; it’s the most educated baseball team ever.”

To be eligible to play in the WBC, Major League Baseball (MLB) instituted rules different from all other international sporting events such as the World Cup, Maccabiah and Olympics. Those require participants to be passport-holding citizens of the country for which they play. However, to help spread baseball around the world, eligibility requirements in the WBC were changed ‒ players do not need to hold passports of the country they are representing, but only be eligible to hold passports of the country they are representing.

The Israeli parameter for citizenship is called Hok Hashvut, The Law of Return: any Jew anywhere in the world has the fundamental right to move to Israel and become an Israeli citizen. That’s how Team Israel’s players are American Jews who are playing in an international competition on behalf of the State of Israel. And that’s a first.

Identifying who is a Jew starts with lists of Jewish players compiled by Shel Wallman and Ephraim Moxson at Jewish Sports Review, and Scott Barancik of Jewishbaseballnews.com.

Finding proof that the players are in fact Jewish then falls on Peter Kurz, 59, president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), the governing body of baseball in Israel and the sponsor of Team Israel.

“Some parents are both Jewish, so the player has a bar mitzva certificate, a bris certificate, a ketuba from the parents,” says Kurz. “MLB accepts that. Then I have to prove that the player is related to the parents, so I have to bring his birth certificate in addition to the ketuba. What if the parents are not Jewish? Or only one parent is Jewish? Then I have to go back – did his father have a bar mitzva? He didn’t have a bar mitzva? What about his grandfather? Maybe his grandfather had something.”

Every ketuba Kurz received was in English, except for one in Hebrew. Not to worry, MLB has someone in the office who can read the Hebrew. If there are no documents, Kurz gets a letter from their rabbi. One player had an army certificate of his grandfather from World War II that said he was Jewish. MLB accepted that, too.

THE TEAM bonding continued into the qualifying tournament in Brooklyn. Pitcher Alon Leichman, 27, one of three Israelis on the 2012 team who now serves as the bullpen coach, printed out Hebrew phrases to learn, posting them in everyone’s lockers. The team also practiced in the clubhouse singing “Hatikva,” Israel’s national anthem, “so everyone could at least pretend they knew the words,” says Fish.

As is customary, the national anthem of each country is played before every game in the tournament. At the opening strains of “Hatikva,” all the players pulled out a blue kippa with the IAB insignia and put it on their heads ‒ some for the first time in their lives. “We had to remember to keep our hats on, not off, when ‘Hatikva’ was played,” laughs Fish, the self-proclaimed @ kingofjbaseball.

The players also identified with the team mascot: The Mensch on the Bench, a stuffed toy rabbi and Jewish knockoff of Elf on the Shelf, the Christmas doll toy. It was brought by Decker, the team’s practical joker, its merry prankster.

Decker is the Jewish “Crash” Davis, with 173 home runs over eight seasons in the minor leagues, and only 12 plate appearances in the majors, with no hits and one RBI on a sac fly. (The answer to the trivia question is Melvin Upton Jr.)

Decker borrowed a real tallit from a reporter, wrapped it around the little Mensch, and gave the tiny Hasid a prominent seat on the dugout bench and its own locker in the clubhouse. “That brought a whole ’nother level of cohesion to this group,” says Rootenberg. “And it’s been in our clubhouse this whole time bringing us luck. It’s special.” The photograph that accompanied a New York Times feature on the team was of the toy.

Identification as a player for Israel was not only exhibited at the tournament itself; some of the players carry it with pride affiliated with an organization receive travel bags for carrying equipment with the team’s logo on the side. Those who have played for multiple organizations – and almost all of these players have – collect many travel bags over the years.

Which one they use is their choice.

“One of the things that we’re very proud of is showing off that we were part of the team,” says Rickles. “So, we get these travel bags – I’m with the Nationals, I was previously with the Oakland A’s – but instead of using those bags, I would use my Team Israel bag. So not only does that show that I’m proud to be part of the team, it brings awareness to other guys – ‘What is that? What did you guys do? When do you guys play again?’ Seeing the bag and being able to talk about it makes other people aware and want to be part of the team.”

Each of the players has a personal reason for wanting to represent Israel: their religion, a love of competition, a grandparent who survived the Holocaust, their careers, a chance to play for a country on the biggest international stage baseball has to offer, for the friendship and comradery.

“Baseball has been my career,” says Adam Gladstone, 44, head of baseball operations for the team. “If I have the ability to give back to Israel and to my religion through baseball, it’s probably the best way for me to do that; my way of giving back to the religion, the community and my heritage.”

Freiman calls it “an extreme honor” to play for Team Israel, a sentiment voiced by many of the players. “I’ve been fortunate to represent towns and schools and cities, and I’m always proud and honored to represent my team,” he says. “But this is different. In international baseball, you’re representing an entire country, an entire people, an entire heritage and culture. And we are here to make them proud.”

Being on Team Israel also helps the players get in touch with their own Jewishness.

For 28-year-old infielder Kelly, whose mother is Jewish but who was raised Catholic, his father’s religion, this team is the most connected he’s ever been. “I identify with it much more now,” he says of his Judaism.

As for the team, Kelly says, “I don’t want to say I feel like an outsider, but I feel like I have to be more appreciative because it’s not something that I’ve been practicing my whole life, and that it’s just a natural thing that I’m playing for Team Israel. It’s been sort of an afterthought.”

Whatever their individual motives, the common theme for all is helping to grow the sport in Israel, putting Israel on the baseball map, and knowing that they are playing for something way beyond themselves.

“The team comradery is us understanding what we’re representing and what we’re here to do,” says R.C. Orlan, 26, a pitcher with the Nationals franchise. “There’s a certain purpose other than just winning ‒ it’s always been about going as far as you can and winning, but we’re trying to represent something bigger than that.”

They are not in competition for stats, fighting the guy sitting next to them on the bench to get to the Major Leagues or to stay there, perusing whose numbers are better. These teammates are competing for one goal: Help Israel. Help Israeli baseball.

“None of this is for us,” says Decker. “That’s why this tournament is so great for us, especially for this team. We know we’re playing for something a lot bigger. This is not about our stats, this is not about our careers – it doesn’t necessarily do much for our careers. This is for Israel. This is something that’s bigger.”

THE PLAYERS also have come to understand how deeply it touches Jews in the US, and how they’re playing both for Israel and for baseball-loving Jewish Americans who root for Israel. But they only discovered just how much impact they had after playing in Jupiter, where they were defeated 9-7 in 10 innings by Spain.

“It didn’t sink in until we lost,” says Rickles. “You don’t realize how many people have your back, how many people want you to succeed. Coming into this year, four years later, it means a lot to me to play for a country and the people that are behind us.”

Freiman calls that loss “a crushing disappointment, one of the biggest disappointments of my baseball career. In the intervening four years, we’ve seen how much this has meant to people all across the country, and abroad.”

Decker says he and Freiman, who have played together on a couple of teams since 2012, including last summer, “brought it up once a week how crushing a night that was. It was crushing. We thought we had it. That line drive to right – we were jumping out of the dugout, running onto the field. And the guy made a good catch. I’ll remember that Joc [Pederson] hit to right forever.”

Wherever he’s gone the last four years, Decker says, people referenced Team Israel over and over.

“A shocking amount of people,” he says. “When mail came to the clubhouse with requests to sign cards, I’d say 50 percent of them mention Team Israel. Honest to God truth. It’s an outrageous amount of people. When I sign [autographs] on the field, there’s always one guy saying, ‘Remember when you played on Team Israel?’”

Freiman says he had the same experience.

“All over the country ‒ California, Texas, Iowa, Florida, New York – everywhere in the country [Jews] follow this.”

STILL, FOR all their feelings about connecting to their fellow Jew, their own Jewishness and to each other, there was one piece missing: Israel. With only a couple of the players having been there, the teammates had little idea what it was about. They were representing the country in the abstract.

So to create a bond with the country on their uniforms, a group of 10 players – past, present and future – flew to Israel in January (on a plane borrowed from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson) to see and learn about the country and the baseball scene there.

Jeff Aeder, 55, who started the jewishbaseballmuseum.com website, co-sponsored and organized the journey, bringing the group to Israel for a six-day trip much like the Birthright experience.

“There’s nothing more exciting to me than bringing people who have never been here before, who don’t have the same background, and the same inherent love of this country,” says Aeder, a Chicago businessman and owner of Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed, a profit-free kosher restaurant. “My job was to expose them to enough different aspects of it so that they get a feel for the country, so that when they go back they’re absolutely amazed by the vitality of the country, the spirit of the people, by the hope, the optimism, and also understanding the risks and concerns ‒ the press doesn’t portray Israel the way we see it. For them to do this, and to turn them on to what we know as the beauty of Israel is just phenomenal, just great.”

The entire trip was caught on camera by filmmaker Jeremy Newberger, who together with MLB.com’s Mayo is producing a documentary called “Heading Home,” which chronicles the players getting a taste of Israel and then playing in the 2017 Classic.

The group was filmed eating shawarma and falafel in the Mahane Yehuda market; visiting Yad Vashem; listening to a recording of David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence in Tel Aviv; attending a groundbreaking ceremony for a new baseball field to be built in Beit Shemesh; visiting the Western Wall on Friday night; swimming in the Dead Sea; climbing Masada; taking in an air force base; and dedicating a medical motorcycle for the volunteer emergency medical service, Hatzalah.

“The purpose of the film is to document this trip beyond the goodwill tour,” says Mayo, “to show these players exploring what it means to be a Jewish ballplayer, and this momentous occasion of having an Israeli national team competing in a major international competition for the first time.”

A highlight for all was a meet-and-greet event at the Baptist Village field in Petah Tikva. Dozens of Israeli kids who play in one of the IAB’s five age-group leagues watched the stars take a little batting practice, before getting autographs and selfies.

For the IAB, it was about connecting the Israeli kids to baseball, which is not easy in a country where passion for sports centers on soccer and basketball. But what better way to get them jazzed than to meet professional baseball players?

“Stars make leagues, in every sport,” says Fish, who just completed three years as the inaugural executive director of the IAB, the organization’s first paid professional. “Without stars, no one cares about baseball. Especially little kids. Little kids don’t care about the nuances of baseball as much as they think Ken Griffey is a really cool dude. So a team like that gives Israel a team to look up to ‒ that’s the spark that little kids need to play baseball.”

As much as the players may have sparked interest in the kids, it was Israel that sparkled for the players. They tweeted throughout the trip and after returning to the States.

“From the Mediterranean to the Dead, the Western Wall to graffiti wall, Masada to sabbaba, what a trip,” tweeted Sam Fuld, a 35-year-old free agent outfielder.

Jon Moscot, 25, a pitcher with the Reds, who was forced out of this tournament because of Tommy John surgery but is already committed for 2021, tweeted: “The trip to Israel is nothing short of spectacular.”

“After being home for two days and letting our incredible trip sink in, my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude,” tweeted A’s franchise catcher Ryan Lavarnway, 29, one of two Yale graduates on the team. “I learned so much about history and religion and the State of Israel. Everybody was so kind and we felt totally at home. Thank you so much!”

Zeid, a 29-year-old free agent pitcher and another veteran from 2012, ended his visit with a strong recommendation: “One of the best weeks ever. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, Israel is an incredible, must-see experience.”

When the players put on their uniforms in Seoul with the Star of David patch on their right arm, not all of the best Jewish professionals in the US will be playing for Team Israel. Some couldn’t join due to injury, or because they had to be in spring training with their organization, or because of family commitments. One, 22-year-old top rookie Alex Bregman, is playing for team USA.

“Everybody who has bought into this ‒ from a player’s standpoint, from a coaching standpoint, from a front-office IAB standpoint ‒ everybody is proud to put that jersey on, for whatever reason it is,” says Gladstone. “This is their way of giving back. If they didn’t want to do it, they wouldn’t be here, they would have declined. There were some guys we would have liked to have on the club, offered the opportunity to see if they had interest, and they didn’t relate to it. So, if they didn’t relate to it ‒ great. We found the 28 best guys that can represent us.”

THEN THERE’S the bonus: not only do these players get to play in the biggest international baseball tournament, play to represent world Jewry, and play for the State of Israel – they also get paid. For winning in Brooklyn, the players and the IAB split $400,000. Each game they win next month earns another round of money. When the Dominican Republic took home the trophy in 2013, the players and the country’s baseball federation split $3.5 million.

Las Vegas has the Dominicans favored next month at 5-2 odds, with Japan and the US at 3-1. The four lowest odds are Australia, China, Colombia and Israel, at 100-1.

The world rankings are worse. China and Colombia are 18th and 19th, respectively, the lowest among the 16 teams playing next month ‒ except Israel, that is, which is ranked 41st. In the opening round, Israel will play No. 3-ranked South Korea, No. 4 Chinese Taipei and No. 9 Netherlands.

But rankings and odds can be misleading. For one, these numbers were on the board before the rosters came out. Moreover, with two teams less talented than this one – and this is the best Jewish baseball team ever ‒ Israel played six games against four countries in the 2012 and 2016 qualifiers and won five of them.

For the IAB, the World Baseball Classic is about the excitement of being represented on the world baseball stage; Jewish pride watching this warm and embracing family of American Jewish jocks play baseball with the best in the world; and of course, the bottom line: the chance to really grow the sport in Israel.

There are already IAB teams in cities with large Anglo communities, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, Beersheba and Hashmonaim, as well as in smaller towns such as Tel Mond, where the majority of players are Israeli- born. A lot of the games they play, however, are on makeshift diamonds carved out of soccer field corners.

“Our primary need for Israel baseball is field development,” says Jordy Alter, 53, vice president of the IAB. “Without proper facilities for kids to play, it is impossible to expand from our current number of players. Advancing in this competition will help provide us with funding we would use for field development and to improve current facilities. We would also benefit from hiring a professional coach to help our kids and train our many volunteers.”

FOR ALL the Jewish focus on Team Israel, in the end it comes down to balls and strikes, yada yada yada. It’s about baseball.

“On a given night, anything can happen in baseball,” manager Weinstein said at the Winter Meetings, echoing one of the sport’s time-honored axioms. “You get the right guys pitching and executing their pitches, you never can tell what’s going to happen.”

The WBC has been played three times, with Japan winning in 2006 and 2009, and the Dominicans in 2013. Next month’s classic begins with Israel playing the opener against Korea on March 6 at noon Israel time/5:00 a.m. Eastern. Israel plays Chinese Taipei 17½ hours later, and The Netherlands 48 hours after that. Two of the four teams in this Group A advance to the next round to play against the top two teams from Group B. The top two teams from that round in Tokyo will advance to the semifinals and finals, booked for Dodger Stadium, March 20 to 22.

Could Israel be one of them?

“It’s a talented enough team, I think, to get to Japan,” says Mayo, the top evaluator of minor leaguers at MLB.com. “And then? Who knows. They’ll have to play Japan and Cuba in all likelihood. Cuba is not what it used to be… Could it happen? I think it could happen…yeah…yeah.”

Everyone’s dreaming big. Asked what it would mean for Israel to win it all in Los Angeles, Mayo paused.

“Mashiach [the Messiah] would come?”

Bannon and the Jews: A conditional kind of love

(JTA) — Reports that White House Svengali Steve Bannon once referred to the American Jewish community as enablers of Islamist jihad revived accusations that the former Breitbart News publisher is an anti-Semite.

On its face the accusation, like the oft-repeated charge that Breitbart itself is an anti-Semitic news site, is weak. Bannon’s point about jihad’s “enablers” is not that Jews share an ideology with the jihadists but the opposite: As a largely liberal community, American Jews support civil liberties and immigrants’ rights — creating a climate, so goes the argument, that even with the best of intentions supposedly allows terrorists to thrive.

Breitbart is a reliably pro-Israel site, well to the right of most American Jewish publications. In the rare instance where one of its correspondents has slipped into explicit anti-Jewish territory — as when an article declared about a Washington Post reporter that “hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned” — “Jewish” is synonymous with “liberal.” Spend some time on Breitbart and what emerges is contempt for the Secular American Jewish Liberal and admiration for the Religious Nationalist Jewish Conservative.

I don’t know if that makes the average Jew feel any better — that if you’re the right (and I do mean right) kind of Jew, then you’re OK. But it’s essential to acknowledge the distinction if we are to understand the ways public discourse is changing in the Trump area. Anti-Semitism is alive and well on the fringes of the movements that helped elect Trump, but it remains taboo the closer you get to the inner circle, which includes Trump’s Orthodox daughter and son-in-law. Where Jews might have cause to worry, however, is in the tendency of Trump’s insiders to cleave the Jews into two unreconcilable communities — blues and reds, Republicans and Democrats, doves and hawks, Hillary supporters and Trump voters.

The White House tapes revealed Richard Nixon as an unrepentant anti-Semite who whispered with aide Bob Haldeman about the Jewish “bastards” who can’t be trusted and “turn on you.” But his apologists have long argued that his animus wasn’t aroused by Jews per se but by their politics. They point to the Jews in his inner circle — Henry Kissinger, William Safire and Leonard Garment, to name a few (although there’s a long conversation in which Nixon and Haldeman discuss Kissinger’s Jewish “insecurity”). The tapes also suggest that Nixon thought better of Israeli Jews than American Jews.

In one sense, Nixon was right: Then, as now, Jews tended to vote Democratic and were overrepresented among the politicians, activists and academics who opposed him. But there is already a name for such people: liberals. “Jew” doesn’t add much to the formula except to tar a people — a historically persecuted people to boot — with the brush of bigotry.

(And the argument that it was liberals not Jews who raised Nixon’s hackles is undermined by Nixonisms like this one: “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”)

Breitbart, a sort of farm team for the White House staff, never dips into that kind of invective (even if its readers often do). But they also imagine two very different kinds of Jews. Israeli Jews and their supporters on the right are the good kind, strong and stalwart when they aren’t the innocent and nearly helpless victims of a fierce Arab enemy and their Western enablers. They have a lot to teach the West about security and standing up to Islamist terror.

American Jews, especially the Democratic-voting majority and the organizations that represent them, tend to show up in Breitbart only when they occasionally agree with a conservative position or are criticized by right-leaning Jews for disagreeing with a right-wing position. That was the point of the article by right-wing activist David Horowitz, titled “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” that is usually labeled Exhibit A in describing Breitbart as anti-Semitic. As Horowitz himself explained in a follow-up, he called Kristol a “renegade Jew” because he felt the conservative pundit, in opposing Trump, had “betrayed the Jews.” Horowitz’s overheated article was a defense of right-wing Jewish interests and an attack on a Jew who would undermine them.

Trump bought into the good Jews-bad Jews view of the world in picking David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. Most American Jews weren’t surprised that Trump would pick an envoy (and personal lawyer) who shared his and Bannon’s (and, in most ways, Benjamin Netanyahu’s) right-leaning, nationalist version of pro-Israel politics. But after getting over Friedman’s dearth of diplomatic credentials, they were shocked by his stated disdain for Jews on the other side of the argument. Writing for the pro-settler Arutz Sheva news site, Friedman labeled the left-wing pro-Israel group J Street as “not Jewish” and “worse than” the Jewish “kapos” who collaborated with the Nazis.

As my colleague Ron Kampeas pointed out, one traditional job of the U.S. ambassador to Israel is to serve as an envoy between and among American Jews — if not to agree with them, at least to assure them that they will be heard. Dan Shapiro, Obama’s ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017, was highly regarded on both sides for performing this function: Representing an administration that was often unpopular with much of the activist class, Shapiro respected, and earned the respect, of the other side.

Jews have done a good job all by themselves in dividing up their community into warring camps — and, perhaps worse, camps that barely talk with each other. The right-left divide, the schism between Orthodox and non-Orthodox — Jews didn’t need any help in creating these categories. But they also understood that Jewish influence would be diminished and Jewish security compromised if those on the outside were able to splinter an already splintered and tiny community into smaller and smaller pieces. That was the mantra of pro-Israel advocacy going back to the era of Max Fisher, a Jewish Republican who enjoyed good relations with Nixon.

In drawing up his enemies list, Nixon could barely distinguish between liberals and Jews, and decided he despised both. In drawing up its own list of friends, Bannon and Breitbart are happy to distinguish between the right sort of Jews and the wrong sort of Jews.

Trump isn’t one to reach out to those who disagree with him, to say the least. Divide and conquer was pretty much his campaign strategy. And so far his efforts at Jewish inclusion — like the polarizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement — have been dead on arrival.

The evidence is weak that Breitbart or Bannon are anti-Semitic. And Breitbart’s eager pro-Israel stance, like Trump’s, is unmistakable.

But what troubles so many Jews, including some Jewish Republicans, is the deeply conditional nature of a support that says “If you’re with me, I’m with you.” It’s the flip side of Nixonian mania. It’s also the ideological version of two of the weakest defenses in the accused bigot’s arsenal: “Some of my best friends are Jewish” and “I have Jewish grandchildren.”