Bomb threat suspect’s arrest brings relief, but US Jews vow to stay vigilant

WASHINGTON — Despite Israeli police arresting a Jewish Israeli teenager Thursday suspected of making the majority of bomb threats to Jewish centers and other institutions around the country, JCC leaders and prominent American Jews said they would not be putting their guard down.

“I don’t think it’s changed at all,” Richard Zakalik, executive director of the JCC in Getzville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, told The Times of Israel. “I mean, you got one guy who was arrested and there was a copycat and there are others. This isn’t something new with Jews. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again.”

The JCC in Getzville received a bomb threat last month, prompting the evacuation of its facilities. The call came on February 20 — President’s Day — as past of a wave of threats that were phoned in to 11 other Jewish institutions that day.

Since January, nearly 150 bomb threats have hit JCCs, Jewish day schools and other institutions, causing the evacuation of dozens of Jewish community centers and prompting some parents to remove their children from JCC programs.

The threats have come in repeated waves, via phone and email, and many of the institutions have been targeted more than once.

On Thursday, police in Israel arrested an Ashkelon man, 18, suspected of being behind hundreds of threats to institutions in the US and elsewhere, a bizarre twist following fears in the US Jewish community that the threats were part of an uptick in anti-Semitism.

A Jewish Israeli-American teen is brought for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, on suspicion of issuing fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US and around the world, on March 23, 2017. (Flash90)

Zakalik’s sentiment was seemingly shared by many in the American Jewish community, who say hate crimes have spiked in the last three months.

“This arrest doesn’t change the fact that anti-Semitism is at an alarmingly high level,” Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, told The Times of Israel in a statement. “There have been other threats, instances of physical attacks on Jews, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and cyberattacks against Jews.

Rep. Ted Deutch on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)

“We need improved coordination between government agencies to investigate cases and combat anti-Semitism,” he added. “I continue to urge the administration to put together a comprehensive and coordinated approach to combating these threats.”

Aside from the bomb threats, other anti-Semitic attacks that definitely originated on US soil have also sparked worry in Jewish communities. Those include swastikas drawn on numerous schools and other buildings, and hundreds of Jewish tombstones that have been vandalized, including recently in Pennsylvania and Missouri.

In another incident this month, a gun was fired into a synagogue, Adath B’Nai Israel Temple, in Evansville, Indiana.

Nevertheless, some leaders of JCCs in the United States feel some portion of the threat may have been mitigated with the arrest of the Israeli teenager.

“I’m relieved that an arrest has been made,” Barak Hermann, who heads the JCC of Greater Baltimore, told The Times of Israel. “I hope that that arrest will reflect all the threats, both email and phone, that have been coming in. I’m hopeful that they found the primary perpetrator [of the threats] that we and other JCCs across the US and Canada have received.”

People evacuated because of a bomb threat return to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Despite the arrest, the facility Hermann runs isn’t letting down its guard. “We’re going to maintain all the same security protocol that we’ve had in place,” he said.

Zakalik said the same thing about his JCC in western New York: “Our security precautions were in place before the bomb threats and they will be in place after the bomb threats.”

One reality that American Jews had to grapple with Thursday was the background of the alleged perpetrator, a Jewish Israeli-American teen.

“We are troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish community centers, which play a central role in the Jewish community, as well as serve as inclusive and welcoming places for all – is reportedly Jewish,” said Doron Krakow, CEO and president of the JCC Association of North America, in a statement.

Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, also expressed regret. “It was heartbreaking to learn that a Jewish man is a prime suspect,” he said in a statement.

Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, at the 2012 General Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland (photo credit: JFNA/JTA)

Last month, President Donald Trump reportedly told a group of state attorneys general visiting the White House that he suspected the bomb threat calls may be planted from within the Jewish community out of political motives.

Later that same day, he opened his first address to a joint session of Congress by condemning anti-Semitic attacks throughout the country.

Earlier this month 141 leaders of American Jewish community centers sent an open letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding he take more action to address the threat , and expressing frustration over how it was being handled. But on Thursday, Jewish leaders praised the cooperation that took place between Israeli and American crime enforcement agencies.

“Ten days ago, and again this morning, Jewish leaders were briefed by top officials from the FBI. From those briefings we learned about the unprecedented level of time and resources that were committed to this investigation along with high levels of cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and a long list of partners, including Israeli law enforcement,” Silverman said.

“As a community and a society we must remain vigilant in our effort to counter anti-Semitism and other hate crimes as they appear,” he added.


Donald Trump’s approval rating among US Jews is 31 percent, Gallup poll finds

(JTA) — President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Jews in the United States is 31 percent.

The figure is more than 10 percent lower than the president’s overall approval rating of 42 percent, according to a Gallup poll taken from Jan. 20, the day Trump was sworn in, to March 15.

Gallup points out that Jews appear to be reacting to Trump along party lines. Some 64 percent of Jews identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, according to data from the same time period, and 29 percent identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.

Gallup also points out that Trump has sent “mixed signals to American Jews about their position in the country and his administration’s stance toward Israel.” Among the issues was being slow to denounce a pronounced wave of anti-Semitism and failing to mention Jews in the administration’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, as well as appointing a pro-settlements ambassador to Israel but then calling on Israel to “hold off” on building in settlements.

Trump has a “significant opportunity to boost his image among Jews, Americans and the world,” Gallup reports.”During the campaign, Trump talked about using his negotiating skills, and those of (his son-in-law Jared) Kushner, to reach a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Trump accomplishes what his predecessors could not by negotiating a peace deal, this could certainly affect his approval rating not only among American Jews but among all national adults.”

With Friedman’s confirmation looming, US Jews range from despondent to exhilarated

WASHINGTON — The moment will soon arrive when the full United States Senate will vote on whether to confirm President Donald Trump’s controversial choice for ambassador to Israel. It is not yet clear when exactly that vote will happen exactly, but since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved David Friedman’s nomination last week, it is probably a matter of days.

The announcement of Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer and longtime friend of the president’s, as Trump’s Israel envoy pick set the political world and Jewish community ablaze. A supporter of the settlement movement — both financially and vocally — and a vociferous critic of the two-state solution, the 57-year-old left many wondering whether Trump is planning to upend decades of US policy by granting him such a significant diplomatic assignment.

Indeed, after the nomination was announced, Friedman said he intended to fulfill his duties as ambassador in “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem,” a statement that, at the time, was read to indicate the administration’s resolve to follow through on a campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But beyond that, he horrified liberal Jews — the vast majority of American Jewry — by designating supporters of the progressive Middle East advocacy group J Street as “worse than kapos,” the Jews who assisted Nazis in the slaughter of their own people during the Holocaust.

At his confirmation hearing last month, however, Friedman said he felt remorse over his rhetoric. “These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them,” he said. “They’re not reflective of my nature, or my character.”

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

J Street was unmoved. Having already kicked off a vigorous campaign against Friedman’s appointment, the group proceeded to collect 40,000 signatures opposing his confirmation by the foreign relations panel. The organization’s president, Jeremy Ben Ami, told The Times of Israel at the time that he hoped Friedman’s words of contrition would not “expunge” his problematic record.

Over the course of the campaign, Friedman was outspoken about his belief that settlement activity is not an obstacle to peace and that Israel would not face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it failed to separate from the Palestinians.

The settlers have thus rejoiced over Friedman. The Yesha Council, the main umbrella group for West Bank settlements, said last week it looked forward to “working together with him to build a brighter future for everyone in the region.”

With Friedman’s confirmation seeming extremely likely — there would need to be at least three Republican defections to block it — here is a look at where prominent American Jews and Jewish groups stand on the firebrand who may soon be the main diplomatic representative of the United States to the Jewish state.

The opposition

J Street: “J Street is vehemently opposed to the nomination of David Friedman to serve as United States Ambassador to Israel,” the group said shortly after the pick was announced. “Friedman is a leading American friend and funder of the settlement movement, lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials and has attacked fellow Jews and public figures with hateful accusations that are disqualifying for representing our country in any capacity… The nomination shows breathtaking disdain for the vast majority of American Jews who support the two-state solution, progress toward peace with the Palestinians and common decency in public discourse.”

Six hundred rabbis and cantors: “The Rabbis of the Talmud are adamant that we are to speak to and about other people — particularly those with whom we disagree — with love and respect. We are taught that shaming a person is tantamount to shedding their blood,” they said in an open letter to President Trump. “Yet Mr. Friedman seems to have no qualms about insulting people with whom he disagrees… We are very concerned that rather than try to represent the US as an advocate for peace, Mr. Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology.”

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Following extensive consideration of Mr. Friedman’s record and taking into account his statements during his nomination hearing, I have concluded that his past record would make it very difficult for him to serve as that unifying force,” he said in a statement. “For that reason, I am unable to support his nomination as America’s top diplomat in Israel.”

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin,(D) ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, right, accompanied by committee Chairman Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (R), questions Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“Unfortunately, I believe that the body of Mr. Friedman’s published work will compromise his effectiveness representing the United States – and all Americans – to the Government of Israel and all Israelis,” he added. “Taken together, Mr. Friedman’s statements and affiliations make it clear that he does not believe the two-state solution is necessary for a just and lasting peace. I am concerned that Mr. Friedman’s history on this issue undermines his ability to represent the United States as a credible facilitator of the peace process.”

Ameinu: “David Friedman’s views directly conflict with long standing American foreign policy and practice in the region. He is an opponent of a two-state solution, a supporter of increased settlement expansion in the West Bank and even its annexation, and an advocate of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem without any other associated peace efforts,” the organization said. “He has also viscously attacked liberal advocates of a two-state solution as ‘worse than kapos,’ Jews who were forced to assist the Nazis. This raises serious concerns about Friedman’s temperament and his ability to serve in this sensitive diplomatic position.”

National Council of Jewish Women: “NCJW believes the choice of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel flies in the face of the principles we hold dear: in order to ensure a secure and strong Israel we must seek a fair and just peace with all Israel’s neighbors; and to strengthen Israel from within we must create a state where minorities, women, children, and all people must be treated with dignity and afforded all the protections of a great democracy,” the group’s CEO, Nancy K. Kaufman, said in a press release. “Friedman’s extremist views would lead us down a dangerous path to greater violence and self-destruction. Simply put, David Friedman is an irresponsible choice as US Ambassador to Israel. If confirmed, he could undermine Israel’s traditional bi-partisan support in the United States and alienate much of the American Jewish community.”

David Friedman testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination to be the US ambassador to Israel, Feb. 16, 2017. (Win McNamee/Getty Images via JTA)

Americans for Peace Now: “Americans for Peace Now (APN) is alarmed by President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of David Friedman to be the United States’ next ambassador to Israel. Friedman’s choice sends an alarming message about the Trump administration’s role in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace,” the left-wing organization said in a statement. “Friedman opposes the two-state solution and thus breaks with longstanding bi-partisan U.S. policy on Israel, a policy that even Prime Minister Netanyahu endorses. David Friedman has called the two-state solution an ‘illusion,’ an ‘anachronism,’ and ‘a narrative that needs to end.’ He recently said that he does not view Israeli West Bank settlements as an obstacle to peace. Friedman opposes the very essence of APN’s values and mission. We oppose Friedman’s nomination.”

Partners for Progressive Israel: The liberal advocacy group has encouraged its supporters to send letters to their representatives in Congress saying Friedman is “hostile to the two-state solution … a friend of the settlement movement and an avid supporter of further settlement expansion. He’s shown disdain for Israel’s Arab population, questioning their value to Israeli society. He has even made the case for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. Furthermore, the contempt Mr. Friedman has shown toward liberal American Jews — labeling them worse than Nazi collaborators — makes him a horrible choice to be our representative in Israel.”

Then Maryland State Sen. Jamie Raskin speaks during a debate on possible amendments to a gay marriage bill in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin (D): “Now is a moment that calls for maximum prudence and diplomacy in office, cultural bridge-building and creative political action to break the brutal logic of hatred and war,” he said. “The confirmation of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel would be bad news not only for Israel and the Palestinians, but for solidarity and civility in the American Jewish community.”

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D): “The nomination of David Friedman as the new US ambassador to Israel underscores, yet again, the extremist agenda of Donald Trump and his administration. This is an appointment with dangerous consequences for both the United States and Israel, not only with respect to the prospect of an eventual negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also with respect to the relationship between our two countries, and more generally, to regional stability,” he said in a statement. “Mr. Friedman’s extreme views and use of such hateful language is an insult to the majority of American Jews.”

Kentucky Rep. John Yarmouth (D): “Donald Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel is totally out of step with longstanding, bipartisan US foreign policy,” he posted on his Facebook account. “At a challenging and precarious time in the Middle East, catering to right-wing inflammatory views that will unnecessarily strain our relationships in the region is extremely dangerous. We should be working toward a two-state solution, with both Jews and Palestinians living alongside each other in peace and security.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism: “We have never before opposed the nomination of a U.S. Ambassador. We do so now because of our firm belief that Mr. Friedman is the wrong person for this essential job at this critical time,” he said in a statement.

‘We have never before opposed the nomination of a US Ambassador. We do so now because of our firm belief that Mr. Friedman is the wrong person for this essential job at this critical time’

Jacobs went on to say that Friedman lacks “the basic qualifications for the position,” that his “views on key issues suggest he will not be able to play a constructive role,” and that he “lacks the necessary temperament for such a sensitive position.”

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights: “The selection of David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel represents a threat to the security of Israelis, Palestinians, and Jews everywhere. The policies he supports — from the expansion of settlements to the annexation of the West Bank to the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem — not only violate decades of U.S. policy, but also will only fuel resentment and could even provoke violence,” the group said. “The selection of Mr. Friedman is a step in the wrong direction—a step likely to lead to an escalation in the conflict, and a threat to the very possibility of peace, liberty, security, and justice for all Israelis and Palestinians.”

Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D): “David Friedman is wholly unfit and completely unqualified to serve as our country’s ambassador to Israel,” she said in a statement. “He has a long record of extremist statements in opposition to a two-state solution and in support of settlement expansion in the West Bank. These positions are in direct opposition to long-standing official US policy held by both Republican and Democratic Administrations.”

“At a time when we need an ambassador to Israel who has demonstrated the highest level of diplomatic skills, President-elect Trump has named a bankruptcy lawyer with no foreign policy credentials; an individual who has antagonized and insulted both Jews and Arabs with his far-right statements and divisive rhetoric,” she added. “His appointment would make a very dangerous situation even worse.”

The supporters

Richard Sandler, chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America: “I believe he’s a very intelligent individual, and I think he’ll be a good representative if he is confirmed,” Sandler reportedly said during a meeting with the Jewish Agency’s board of governors in Tel Aviv. “My expectations of him are very positive … Obviously he made certain comments before he knew he was going to be vetted for the position of ambassador, but I thought he explained himself very well during the Senate hearings … I think he is probably more knowledgeable than some people think on a number of topics, and I think he’s serious about wanting to find a solution.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America: “ZOA urges the US Senate to confirm President Donald Trump’s outstanding nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman,” he said in a statement. “Mr. Friedman has sterling qualifications, is one of America’s most eminent attorneys, speaks fluent Hebrew, is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the Middle East, and is the ideal nominee to restore and strengthen the vital US-Israel alliance and the cause of real peace. In addition, Mr. Friedman’s views reflect widely-held views of the American public at large, the Jewish-American public, Congress and our major American political parties. In sum, Mr. Friedman will be a great credit to America and an upstanding representative of the American people.”

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) president Morton A. Klein (Joseph Savetsky/courtesy of ZOA)

Orthodox Union: “A campaign has been launched to portray Mr. Friedman’s skeptical views toward the ‘two state solution’ — as the means of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — as extreme and even beyond the pale of mainstream thought,” said the leaders of the Orthodox movement’s largest umbrella group in a press release.

“This campaign has been launched by several liberal activist organizations, editorial columnists and even a few Members of Congress. We would not deny that these organizations represent the views of many American Jews and others who indeed believe in the ‘peace process’ and a two state solution” as the preferred means of resolving the conflict. But there is also no denying that many American Jews — certainly in the Orthodox Union’s constituency — and other pro-Israel Americans share Mr. Friedman’s deep skepticism towatd this decades-old approach which has been tried and tested and failed repeatedly to deliver security and peace to the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the region.”

‘I think that given his background, his family lineage, his love for this country, and his general intellect – he has all the makings.’

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations: “He is very well thought of as a creditor-debtor lawyer. He has the confidence of the president. Certainly he is knowledgeable, and he is articulate,” the group’s chairman Stephen Greenberg said during a recent press conference in Jerusalem.

“I think he has made some statements that he has come back and modified, and I think that given his background, his family lineage, his love for this country, and his general intellect – he has all the makings.”

New York Rep. Lee Zeldin (R): “I support the nomination of David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Israel is our greatest ally, and we must always do everything that we can to strengthen that bond. I look forward to working with Ambassador Friedman,” he said to The Times of Israel in a statement.

Sitting it out

Several Jewish organizations and Israel advocacy groups have not taken a position on Friedman’s nomination — many because they are non-partisan and don’t want to inject themselves into a partisan political dispute — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

One public official who has remained conspicuously absent from the debate is New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, who hasn’t released a statement or made public comments on the nomination.

Eyeing move to Israel, some US Jews see Trump as solution, not problem

The Parkins family of four looked dazed standing in the large lobby of John Jay College in Midtown Manhattan. Having driven all night from Chicago, they were a bit bedraggled and blinked at the hundreds milling about this massive annual event promoting immigration to Israel.

The parents, Andrea and Paul, had visited Israel three years ago and fallen in love with the country. With two high school-aged kids, however, uprooting their family wasn’t a decision to be made lightly.

Asked at the Nefesh B’Nefesh Mega Event on February 26 if the current political climate in the United States contributed in any way to their decision, Paul chuckled and said no. Andrea, however, hesitated and said, “Well, maybe a little.”

Making aliyah “was already something on our plate,” she explained. The family, a double minority in that they are both black and Jewish, has already submitted much of their paperwork. They are serious about completing their immigration process — and soon.

Gesturing to her children, Andrea said, “We’re thinking about the future.”

The Parkins family drove all night from Chicago to arrive in time for the February 26 Nefesh B'Nefesh Mega Event in New York for Jews interested in immigrating to Israel. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

With a recent increase in reports of US-based anti-Semitic attacks, Andrea’s concern for her children’s future in America could be well founded. On Monday, another spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers brought the total of such call-in threats to 90, at 73 locations. Occurring both at JCCs and Jewish day schools, the threats have taken place in 30 states and 1 Canadian province over five waves in January and February. (Perhaps with this in mind, Sunday’s Nefesh B’Nefesh event saw serious security protecting the campus — from metal detectors at the entrance to a visible police presence in its halls.)

Preceded by desecration of graves at two US Jewish cemeteries, after this newest series of call-in threats, on Monday Labor party leader MK Isaac Herzog called on the Israeli government to “urgently prepare and establish and emergency national program for the possibility that we will see waves of our Jewish brothers immigrating to Israel.”

‘The State of Israel is ready for every number of immigrants that will come’

A day earlier at Sunday’s fair, Minister of Absorption Sofa Landver had pooh-poohed the idea of a new wave of US immigration. Regardless, she assured journalists that “the State of Israel is ready for every number of immigrants that will come.”

After greeting a large group of teenage future citizens and their parents, Landver acknowledged a rise in American anti-Semitism, but told The Times of Israel that the Trump administration would strengthen ties between Israel and its “big brother,” America. Landver said that while she hopes immigration would be spurred by “a desire to be home,” when anti-Semitism reaches a certain level “it could be pushing people home [to Israel].”

Among the diverse Jewish population The Times of Israel spoke with at Sunday’s fair, the impetus for immigration is a mix of personal and political reasons. From 18-year-old Israeli Defense Forces enlistees to octogenarian retirees, however, their decisions to leave the US had much to do with where they find their own and their families’ futures, and, to a lesser extent, their relationships to US President Donald Trump.

Each in his own corner of the US ‘boxing ring’

For Cindy and Gil Roter, the political influence on their decision “is very unconscious,” said Cindy. Both Roters are Trump supporters, whom they saw as the only pro-Israel candidate. For Gil, it “was a single-issue vote,” said Cindy, a teacher, who said she put liberalism to the side and voted based on Israel, national security, and the economy.

Cindy and Gil Roter are supporters of President Donald Trump, whom they saw as the only pro-Israel candidate. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

Regarding the contentious presidential election and its aftermath, she said it is as though everyone in her social sphere is sitting in their own boxing ring corner with their gloves on. In making a new life elsewhere, she said she feels that she and her physician husband, would make “a fresh start.”

The Roters had sat in on a session on transferring Gil’s medical license for practice in Israel, one of the over 50 sessions and workshops on all aspects of life in Israel presented at the Mega Event.

Organized in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA, the event drew a record 1,500 attendees and offered what NBN labeled “a full-service aliyah planning experience” — from meetings with employment professionals and lawyers to booths with movers and realtors. Similar fairs are scheduled for Toronto, Montreal and Los Angeles in early March.

In addition to Minister Landver, other high-profile Israelis greeting participants in New York included a cadre of mayors and former Knesset member Dov Lipman. Comedian Joel Chasnoff kept the recruits entertained and an Orthodox a cappella group was relentlessly, loudly cheerful.

Over 50 sessions and workshops on all aspects of life in Israel were held at the Nefesh B’Nefesh Mega Event on February 26 in New York. (Shahar Azran)

Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh works throughout North America and the UK in cooperation with the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel to raise awareness of immigration to the Jewish state. While immigration is never easy, NBN attempts to reduce the “financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliyah.” According to NBN, its work has seen a 90 percent retention rate of the over 50,000 new immigrants it has helped bring to Israel.

For some at the fair, aliyah was something to consider in another few years, or upon retirement. For others, such as 19-year-old Miriam, it was an imminent proposition.

The modestly dressed Modern Orthodox teen from Long Israel said she wants to move within the next few years because Israel “is the place I could live the life I want to live in the most optimal way.”

While not involved or interested in US politics — she did not vote in the recent elections, although her accompanying mother voted for Trump — Miriam said, “It just helps that nothing here is speaking to me anymore.”

Time to come ‘home’

At the New York fair, an entire floor was dedicated to Israelis living in the US who have decided to return to the Jewish state. According to several couples approached by The Times of Israel, they were there because it was simply “time to come back home.”

For the Rubenchik family, however, the Trump era was the direct cause of their exploration of their rights and obligations in returning to the Jewish state. After 30 years in the US, Motti Rubenchik compared the new administration with the rise of Nazi Germany. Saying he doesn’t want to repeat historical mistakes, the dentist and his anesthesiologist wife are seriously considering replanting their family’s roots.

Motti and Naomi, who didn’t support either candidate in the presidential elections, said “We couldn’t bring ourselves to vote.” With the rise of Trump, however, Naomi said they are “very frightened.”

“We didn’t think it would come to this,” she said, adding that while they don’t necessarily want to return to Israel, “We don’t have any other place to go.”

Larry and Judy Polsky, a retired couple from Riverdale, New York, whose daughter has lived in Israel since 2009. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

The sentiments expressed by the Rubenchiks were definitely the minority at Sunday’s event, however, which seemed to belie the national stats in which only 30% of Jews voted for Trump.

Most who spoke with The Times of Israel were of a similar mindset as Larry and Judy Polsky, a retired couple from Riverdale whose daughter has lived in Israel since 2009. As they await the birth of their first grandchild, the couple contemplates moving to an Israel that, they said, has a stronger friend in the US with Trump in office.

The Obama administration was very anti-Israel and did “unfixable damage” to Israel with its “disastrous Iran deal,” said Larry, a smiling retired physicist. Trump, on the other hand, “truly will protect Israel,” he said.

It is a fallacy to think the administration is driving people away to Israel, he said. Quite the opposite: Today Jews can feel “especially good” about moving to Israel.

“Trump’s election increases the desire to make aliyah, because now Israel has a future,” said Polsky.

U.S. Jewish NGOs to Get 97% of Homeland Security’s Defense Grant in 2012

Jewish non-profit organizations in the United States will receive 97 percent of the funds granted by the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year 2012, money which is aimed at dealing with security threats those institutions face.

In 2012, Jewish institutions in the U.S. will receive $9.7 million, or 97 percent of the funds intended for dealing with security threats, as part of the Vital Nonprofit Security Grants distributed by the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2009, when the white supremacist James W. von Brunn opened fire at the Washington Holocaust Museum, killing a guard, Jewish NGOs received over $9 million out of $15 million allocated to 227 non-profit organizations, aimed to “bolster the security of nonprofit institutions deemed by the Department of Homeland Security to be vulnerable to terrorist attacks.”

In 2010, Jewish institutions received $15 million of the total sum of $19 million distributed by Homeland Security.

However, in recent years the budget has been shrinking, while the threat level has not changed, resulting in Jewish non-profits – community centers, schools, hospitals, synagogues and charities – primed to receive a record percentage of next year’s non-profit funding.

“I’d gladly trade out threat level not to qualify for these grants,” William Daroff, vice president for Public Policy of The Jewish Federations of North America told Haaretz.
“Any non-profit in the largest urban areas can apply for these grants, and determinations are made solely on the threat level Homeland Security officials assess each institution faces.”

Daroff explained that most of the funds are usually used for the purchase of closed circuit TVs, vehicle barriers and blast proof glass, while a small amount is designated for training.

“In the post-9/11 era it’s clear that Jewish institutions are at an increased threat level, and we are briefed more often than we wish by the local and federal officials on potential threats,” Daroff said, adding that the “threats are there, but it’s always a struggle to ensure funds are there during these times of fiscal hardship, so the lobbying for them is a continuous process.”

Kathy Manning, chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America, noted that “the Department of Homeland Security has demonstrated a great commitment to protecting at-risk communities. These effective security grants are vital to the ongoing protection of deserving institutions, enabling us to work, worship, gather and learn without fear.”
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Bannon, in film treatment, described US Jews as “unwitting” enablers of jihad

WASHINGTON — In a treatment describing a documentary on a purported Muslim plan to take over America, Stephen Bannon, now President Donald Trump’s top strategic adviser, described the “American Jewish community” as among unwitting “enablers” of jihad.

Bannon, a former banker who transitioned into a career as an ultranationalist propagandist, culminating in his becoming a top adviser to the Trump campaign, made several right-wing documentaries in the 2000s.

The Washington Post reported Friday on a 2007 proposal for a documentary that was never made called “The Islamic States of America.” It would be comprised of interviews of people who, like Bannon, believe that the threat posed to the West is broader than Islamist extremist terrorists, embracing an array of Muslim advocacy groups.

It describes as “enablers among us” – albeit with the “best intentions” — major media outlets, the CIA and FBI, civil liberties groups, “universities and the left” and the “American Jewish Community.”

It also describes “front groups and disingenuous Muslim Americans who preach reconciliation and dialogue in the open but, behind the scenes, advocate hatred and contempt for the West.”

Among these named by Bannon as “cultural jihadists” are the Islamic Society of North America, a group that had associations with the Muslim Brotherhood at its founding in the 1960s, but in recent years has worked closely with Jewish groups, including in combating anti-Semitism and raising Holocaust awareness among Muslims.

Before joining Trump’s campaign last summer, Bannon helmed Breitbart News, a site that is stridently pro-Israel, but which also has featured white nationalists and which Bannon once described as a platform for the “alt-right,” a loose-knit alliance that includes within it anti-Semites as well as right-wing Jews.

US Jews see ‘tragic irony’ in refugee ban on Holocaust Remembrance Day

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States left much of the American Jewish community horrified — particularly as the announcement came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The order — titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” — immediately suspends all refugee resettlement from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days and forbids those from war-ravaged Syria from entering the country indefinitely.

The Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt vowed in a statement Thursday to “relentlessly fight this policy,” noting “our history and heritage compel us to take a stand.” The ADL, a Jewish civil rights group, monitors and combats anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry across the globe.

But that was before it was announced, when rumors were circulating that Trump would soon fulfill his controversial campaign pledge, which started as a “Muslim ban” and then morphed into a proposal to halt immigration from territories, particularly in the Middle East, where terror groups have a foothold.

On Saturday, Greenblatt, who has not been shy to speak out against Trump during the US election, noted with revulsion that the presidential executive order was signed on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, likening it to passengers of the MS St. Louis, a German ship filled with 937 Jewish refugees, who were denied entry into the United States, as well as Cuba and Canada, in 1939.

Jewish refugees aboard the German liner St. Louis, June 29, 1939. (Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images/via JTA)

“It’s impossible to ignore, whether intentional or not, the tragic irony in executing the kind of order that kept Jews out of America, like those who perished on the St. Louis and countless others, on the day when we remember the unspeakable tragedy that befell European Jewry and the Jewish people,” he told The Times of Israel.

“The tragic irony of this order being executed on the same day is, at best striking, and sad to see,” he added. “[It is] a policy that is in direct contravention to our core values as a country and all that we’ve learned in the years since the Shoah.”

On Twitter, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Union of Reform Jewry, compared the order to the Dred Scott court decision upholding slavery in the antebellum South and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Yesterday’s EO will be remembered with Dred Scott and WWII internment of Japanese Americans as gov actions most antithetical to Amer. values

The AJC also spoke out swiftly against the order, calling it “both unjust and unwarranted” in a Friday statement.

Trump, said the organization’s CEO David Harris, is justified in wanting to assure a secure border that properly vets those who enter the country. But such blanket action is beyond the pale, he indicated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and AJC Executive Director David Harris (right) during a meeting Monday in Israel (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/AJC)

“Blanket suspensions of visas and refugee admission would suggest guilt by association – targeted primarily at Muslims fleeing violence and oppression,” he said. “AJC regards such actions, contrary to international perceptions of a compassionate America and reinforcing anti-Muslim stereotypes, as both unjust and unwarranted.”

Trump’s executive action includes a provision that allows the US to admit refugees on a case-by-case basis during the freeze, as the government will process requests from people claiming religious persecution, but only if the religion of any such individuals is a minority religion in the respective country.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at the organization’s Never is Now conference in New York City, Nov. 17, 2016. (Courtesy of the ADL)

Greenblatt found that disturbing.

“It’s impossible not to see this as a broad brush that paints all Muslims from these countries with the same regard,” he said. “All of us are struggling to make sense of a policy that is at odds with the values of our country.”

He said the ADL is preparing a course of action to combat that policy of the Trump administration and will be rolling out its plan this week.

A woman wears a pin during a rally against Muslim immigration ban at San Francisco International Airport on January 28, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images/AFP)

“We’ll be clarifying that in the coming days,” he said.

B’nai B’rith International said it was “deeply concerned” by the “drastic” plan.

“While we acknowledge the very real threat posed by terrorists who aim to exploit our nation’s humanitarian instincts, a more nuanced and balanced approach to helping those seeking a safe harbor is clearly preferable, and more in keeping with America’s values, than the sweeping ban being imposed by the administration,” B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin said in a joint statement.

“Our country has a great, though sometimes imperfect, tradition of welcoming those fleeing oppression, persecution and unending civil wars,” they said.

US Jews grapple with election-year eruption of anti-Semitism (VERY VERY VERY GOOD!!!!)

NEW YORK (AP) — American Jews gathered Thursday to wrestle with how they should confront an election-year surge in anti-Semitism, a level of bias not seen in the US for decades.

At a national meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights group, about 1,000 people listened to talks expressing shock at the hatred expressed during the presidential campaign and questioned what they thought was a high-level of acceptance by other Americans.

“I’m struggling right now in this American moment,” said Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, an education and research organization, in his talk at the event. “I wonder whether I have been — and I think the answer is probably yes — a little bit naive.”

During this past year, anti-Semitic imagery proliferated on social media, Jewish journalists were targeted and longstanding anti-Jewish conspiracy theories got a fresh airing. Much of the bias originated with the alt-right, or alternative right, a loose group espousing a provocative and reactionary strain of conservatism. It’s often associated with far right efforts to preserve “white identity,” oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.”

In this Wednesday, June 17, 2015 file photo, Jonathan Greenblatt, left, incoming national director for the Anti-Defamation League, talks with Abe Foxman, outgoing director of the ADL, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

In addition to the online intimidation, reports of anti-Semitic vandalism and other attacks have risen. Last week, the day after the election, a Philadelphia storefront was sprayed with a swastika and the words “Sieg Heil 2106,” which means “Hail Victory,” a common Nazi chant, and the word “Trump,” with a swastika replacing the “T.”

These developments have stunned US Jewish leaders, who in recent years had been more focused on anti-Semitism in Europe and on addressing complaints of anti-Jewish bias on college campuses amid the debate over the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Graffiti in South Philadelphia, including the word “Trump” and a swastika discovered on a Philadelphia storefront on Nov. 9, 2016. (Facebook via JTA)

In a sign of the depth of American Jewish anxiety about anti-Semitism, ADL officials said donations to their organization increased 50-fold in the days immediately after the election and a large majority of the money came from first-time donors. Every one of their regional offices reported an uptick in calls from people wanting to donate or volunteer, the ADL said.

“We must not be silent, we must raise our voices, we must act, and to act we must understand what we are up against,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of ADL, opening the meeting in Manhattan.

As the presidential race intensified, Jews started seeing their names bracketed with a series of parentheses in harassing tweets, signaling that the person had been identified as a Jew. The image became known as the Jewish cowbell and its source was traced to neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

The ADL investigated the harassment and found more than 800 journalists had suffered anti-Semitic attacks on Twitter during the election, mostly from anonymous Twitter accounts, although some belonged to white supremacists. In a common example of the reporters’ experiences, Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Forward, an influential Jewish newspaper that extensively covered the election, said she received an email the morning after the second presidential debate with an image of a Nazi solder pointing a gun at her head, which was Photoshopped onto a concentration camp uniform.

Donald Trump’s campaign came under scrutiny since much of the harassment came from accounts claiming to support him.

An image tweeted and then deleted by Donald Trump on July 2, 2016 that uses an apparent Star of David to call Hillary Clinton 'the most corrupt candidate ever!' (screen capture: YouTube)

Trump drew direct criticism last July when he tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton’s face with a six-pointed star, a pile of hundred dollar bills and the words “most corrupt candidate ever.” The star was in the shape of the Jewish Star of David and was widely condemned as anti-Semitic. Trump’s campaign said it was a sheriff’s badge.

Last month, Trump gave a speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, in which he accused Clinton of holding secret meetings with bankers in a conspiracy to undermine US sovereignty. The ADL said that whether intentional or not, Trump had reflected a classic anti-Semitic theme of Jewish control of banks.

The president-elect’s daughter Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who is now one of his top advisers, are Orthodox Jews. Kushner has defended Trump against allegations of bias.

The issue erupted anew when Trump announced far-right publishing executive Stephen Bannon as his top White House Strategist. Bannon led the Breitbart website, considered by many to be the alt-right’s platform that has been widely condemned as racist, sexist and anti-Semitic. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called the accusations against Bannon “very unfair.”

President-elect Donald Trump's appointment for senior counselor and chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon looks on during a national security meeting with advisers at Trump Tower, October 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Some Jewish groups have defended Bannon, including the hawkish Zionist Organization of America. Bernie Marcus, a founder of The Home Depot Inc. and board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in a statement that Bannon was “a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel.” Marcus called the condemnations of Bannon an attempt to undermine the incoming administration.

Seventy-one percent of Jewish voters voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, according to exit polls. ADL’s Greenblatt worked in the Obama administration.

Jonathan Sarna at Brandeis University, his undergraduate alma mater and where he has taught for more than 25 years, May 10, 2016 (Uriel Heilman/via JTA)

Still, Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University professor and historian of American Judaism, said it would be wrong to attribute the criticisms of Trump appointments or his supporters to partisanship. “I don’t know anybody who is looking at this in a serious way who says nothing has changed,” in regard to the level of anti-Semitism, Sarna said.

“American Jews assumed that anti-Semitism had largely been overcome,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, unexpectedly, anti-Semitism of a virulent kind came roaring back.”

With anti-Semitism ‘crawling out from under rock,’ Trump win rattles US Jews (GOOD!!!!)


BOSTON – After weathering arguably the most openly anti-Semitic American election season in recent memory, some American Jews are nervously asking what the new political reality of a President Donald Trump might mean for them as Jews.

It’s the kind of question most thought they no longer had to ask in this country.

“I think it’s the first election for anyone who is not a senior citizen that you are straight up scared as a Jew,” said Hadar Susskind, 43, a longtime professional in Jewish organizations in Washington, DC. He said he was among a group of publicly identified Jews who has been receiving anti-Semitic phone messages in recent months.

“This is not usually how things go in our democracy, but you don’t usually have the person literally endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan elected president. From children to adults, people are feeling very uncomfortable,” said Susskind.

In a Trump campaign punctuated by hateful rhetoric and fear of Muslims, Latinos and blacks, notes of what some called out as dog-whistle anti-Semitism were also sounded. Among them were allegedly old-school anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about power and money Trump floated in comments, via Twitter and in the final campaign ad. There was also the barrage of online harassment by self-identified Trump supporters of several Jewish journalists who wrote critically of Trump, including Holocaust-themed memes depicting them in striped concentration camp uniforms.

“All of a sudden it seemed [anti-Semitism] crawled out from under the rock and we are still trying to come to grips with that,” said Laurel Leff, a professor of journalism and Jewish studies at Northeastern University.

“I think it puts us on more alert as Jews. I think in previous elections, I’ve always voted Democratic, but after a loss I felt terrible. But I felt terrible because I felt as if other persecuted groups and poor people would not get the opportunities they wanted. But I never felt personally my life would be affected directly,” she said.

Jews, of course, know something about how badly the game of scapegoating and normalizing of racism can end. Like others who supported Hillary Clinton, they too are fearful for the future of civil liberties, freedom of the press and progress for women and minorities.

In the immediate aftermath of the election results, some Jews looked to the past, openly pondering on social media whether the shock and disorientation they felt in learning of a Trump victory is how Jews in Europe felt when the Nazis rose to power. A 1933 editorial from a German-Jewish newspaper advising Jews not to panic over Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, was posted on Facebook by a professor of Jewish history and widely shared.

Rabbis and communal leaders sent out missives acknowledging peoples’ fears, but also seeking to soothe and inspire.

“It’s important for us to remember that however unsettling this current state of affairs, unexpected events are hardly unprecedented in American, or Jewish, history. As the Psalmist reminds us (24:2), God ‘founded the world on waters; atop rivers God established it.’ In other words, existence is inherently unstable. But we forget this during quieter times. We forget that the circumstances of our lives are constantly shifting, regularly requiring that we readjust to new realities,” Rabbi Ethan Seidel wrote to his congregants at Tifereth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.

“We live in a place in which we still have a certain sphere of influence, an opportunity to serve. Thus, though on one level this new era is full of uncertainty, on another level, we are called just as we have always been, to look out for others — in our community, and also farther afield,” he added.

Historically Jews overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, and that was true too this year,with 70 percent of Jews voting for Hillary Clinton and 25% voting for Trump, according to a J-Street poll.

Deborah Lipstadt (Emory University)

The day before the election, Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University posted to Facebook: “Any Jew who votes for Donald Trump should do so in the full knowledge that they are supporting the most virulent public expression of antisemitism in the United States in many years. Period.”

Howard Schnitz, 59, from Columbus, Ohio said the noise around Trump did not dissuade him, a longtime Republican, from voting for him.

“I think people are overreacting. In the end he will prove to be a decent human being, a very bright businessman in the White House, who will surround himself with the best possible advice,” said Schnitz, who runs a bookkeeping business. His main motivation in voting for Trump, he said, was to help ensure a conservative Supreme Court.

Jonathan Sarna at Brandeis University, his undergraduate alma mater and where he has taught for more than 25 years, May 10, 2016 (Uriel Heilman/via JTA)

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University noted Jewish Republicans were heavily represented in the “Never Trump” camp and he wonders where they will align themselves in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, he said, even though many in the Jewish community were unhappy that American billionaire Sheldon Adelson was supporting Trump, some in communal leadership positions will now be relieved he will have the new president’s ear.

But the uneasiness lingers, Sarna said.

“Many of us are deeply worried that the forces of darkness — the alt-right, the KKK, and David Duke — have been unleashed. And the question is will they become an important factor on the ground on advancing new presidential policies and will some even move into government?” Sarna asked.

“Will Trump desert some of the extremist forces who put him into power or feel beholden to them? That is one of the great questions and we will only find out as time moves on,” he said.

US Jews contribute half of all donations to the Democratic Party

A new study argues that the large majority of American Jews have a deep-seated notion that being Jewish is inextricably bound to being liberal.

That idea took hold after the large waves of Jewish immigration to the US in the late 19th century, according to the study’s author, American history professor Gil Troy.

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American Jewish liberalism and association with the Democratic party is showing no signs of abatement, despite many predictions to the contrary since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, according to Troy’s research, which is being published by the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, As to the origin of Jewish liberalism in the US, Troy says the phenomenon stems from the immigration of eastern European Jews who emigrated to the US with “socialist idealism and labor unionist values.”
In particular, Troy notes that president Franklin Roosevelt, author of the New Deal program of social initiatives and policies, became a hero for American Jews who benefited from these measures and drew them even further toward the Democratic Party.

“Liberalism worked for Jews in the US. It gave them extraordinary opportunities and allowed them to enjoy political freedom,” Troy told The Jerusalem Post.

“The degree to which liberalism and liberal ideas has been good for the Jews in America helps explain why so many American Jews think liberalism and Judaism are the same,” he said.

In the current generation of what Troy describes as “freedom- fromers,” liberal Jews are proudly American and have adopted past and modern fears of restrictions imposed by government or religion, the study says.
In addition, Troy says despite perceptions that Jews vote for Jewish interests, in particular for Israel’s interests, “American Jews are more pro-choice than pro-Israel when voting.”

This does not mean to say they are not pro-Israel, but rather that the intensity of commitment to pro-freedom, liberal ideas is more intense than the commitment to Israel, he says, adding that according to polling data, the overwhelming majority of US Jews do not base their vote on Israeli interests.

Troy also looked at what he describes as “the disproportionate frenzy surrounding the Jewish vote,” when bearing in mind that Jews comprise just 2 percent of the US electorate.

The reason for such intense scrutiny is the outsize contributions of Jewish donors to US political campaigns, with Jewish donors contributing a whopping 50% of funds received by the Democratic Party and 25% to the Republican Party, Troy says.

He also says the “megaphone effect” of the US’s Electoral College election system is particularly pronounced in some key swing states with large Jewish populations, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

As for this election, Troy estimates that the Jewish vote will follow patterns seen in recent presidential elections, with approximately 70% of Jews voting for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and the remainder voting for Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Troy said that in meetings he conducted with Republican officials, they expressed surprise and bewilderment that regardless of the Republican Party’s staunch and even hawkish pro-Israel stances, the large majority of US Jews still vote for the Democratic Party.

But American Jews have remained faithful to their liberal ideology, as reflected by the 78% of the Jewish vote garnered by President Barack Obama in the 2008 election when he defeated strongly pro-Israel Sen. John McCain and the 69% support he took in 2012 against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, despite accusations against Obama regarding his dealings with Israel during his first term.

Finally, Troy predicts that in the near to medium future, there is little chance of a significant Jewish swing towards the Republican party and away from liberalism.

Although religious Orthodox American Jews are more likely to vote Republicans, Troy says their relatively small size compared to the non-Orthodox and non-affiliated Jewish community means that it will be some time before this trend has a discernible impact.

“Thus, despite repeated eulogies for the alliance, the liberal-Jewish-Democratic connection has strengthened not weakened since Ronald Reagan,” Troy wrote. “Even though the Republican Party is more pro-Israel than ever, and sometimes more ‘pro-Israel’ (however you define that) than the Democratic Party, American Jewish liberalism has become a mentality, a sensibility, an ideology, a cultural identity.”

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