u.s. jews

Rivlin: Israel stands with US Jews after Charlottesville rally

President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday that Israel stands with the American Jewish community in the wake of the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, while calling the display of Nazi flags by white supremacists there “beyond belief.”

“The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag — perhaps the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism — paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally, is almost beyond belief,” the president said in a letter addressed to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“We have seen manifestations of anti-Semitism again and again arise across the world; in Europe and the Middle East. In the face of such evil, we stand now as we did then. With faith. With faith in humanity, with faith in democracy, and with faith in justice,” he added.

“I know that the great nation of the United States of America and its leaders will know how to face this difficult challenge, and prove to the world the robustness and strength of democracy and freedom.”

Rivlin’s statement avoided the latest iteration of the controversy: US President Donald Trump’s comments appearing to equate neo-Nazis with left-wing anti-fascist activists, which have been strongly criticized by a number of Israeli lawmakers.

US President Donald Trump and President Reuven Rivlin shake hands following a press conference at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

A group of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville on Friday to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. During the protest, marchers waved swastikas and chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” a popular Nazi chant.

Counter-protesters massed in opposition the next day. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car was driven into a crowd of people protesting the racist rally, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 26 others. The driver was later taken into custody.

Two Virginia state troopers were also killed when their police helicopter crashed and caught on fire while responding to clashes between white supremacist protesters and counter-protesters.

Israeli leaders had come under fire before Tuesday for failing to speak out on the violence and hateful rallies in Virginia over the weekend, as a group of neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white nationalist groups clashed with anti-fascist activists.

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke his silence on the issue, tweeting that he was “outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett had been the only major Israeli politician to speak out against the neo-Nazis, saying in a statement Sunday that US leaders must denounce the white supremacist rally’s “displays of anti-Semitism.”

Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" march down East Market Street toward Lee Park during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Trump, meanwhile, came under harsh criticism, even from members of his own party, for blaming the violence on hatred and bigotry “on many sides,” and not explicitly condemning the white extremist groups at the rally.

On Sunday, the White House released a statement clarifying that his condemnation of hate and bigotry at the “Unite the Right” Virginia rally had been in reference to the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

Amid intense pressure, he followed up on Monday with a direct condemnation of white supremacy and white nationalism, naming the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

But a day later, on Tuesday, he again reiterated that “both sides” were to blame, saying that “there are two sides to every story.”

“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?” he asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he said.

Trump’s depiction of the counter-protesters is similar to the narrative that has come from white nationalists since the bloody demonstration.

Republicans and Democrats alike, meanwhile, have expressed unhappiness with Trump’s statements.

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US Muslims intermarry way less and are far more religious than US Jews

NEW YORK (JTA) — Since it came out in 2013, the “Pew study” — a landmark survey of American Jewish demographics, beliefs and practices — has been at the center of American Jewish scrutiny and handwringing. Now it’s American Muslims’ turn.

On Wednesday, the Pew Research Center released a survey of American Muslims focusing not only on numbers and their way of life, but also on how the community has responded to the election of President Donald Trump.

Comparing the two studies shows a Muslim sector in America that is more religious, growing faster and feels more embattled than American Jews. But both groups voted for Hillary Clinton.

Here’s how the Jews and Muslims of the United States stack up.

There are more Jews than Muslims in America, but the Muslim population is growing faster.

Pew found that there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, a little more than 1 percent of the population. US Jews, by contrast, stand at 5.3 million — around 2 percent of all Americans.

But Muslims, Pew found, skew younger and have higher birth rates. More than a third of US Muslims are under 30, only 14 percent are over 55 and their birth rate is 2.4, slightly higher than the national average. Most American Jews are over 50 and their birth rate is 1.9. While the median age of US Muslims is 35, the median age of US Jews is 50. Americans in general have a median age of 47.

These numbers explain why a 2015 Pew study found that by 2050, American Muslims will outnumber American Jews. While the Jewish population is expected to stagnate at about 5.4 million, Pew predicts that in a little more than three decades, there will be 8 million Muslims in America.

The respective studies also included some data unique to each religion. While there are sharp internal divides between Shia and Sunni Muslims, Pew did not address the question of “who is a Muslim” as it did with Jewish Americans.

The study reported demographic data that may contradict popular American stereotypes of Muslims. Only 14 percent of Muslim immigrants are from the Middle East, while one-fifth are from South Asia. And the plurality of American Muslims — four in 10 — are white.

Only 13 percent of American Muslims are intermarried.

When Pew released its study of the Jews in 2013, American Jewish leaders began fretting about an intermarriage rate of 58 percent since 2000 — and they haven’t stopped. By that measure, American Muslim leaders can rest easy.

Unlike the majority of American Jews, only 13 percent of American Muslims are intermarried. And the number has declined in recent years: In 2011, the number was 16 percent. The numbers are so low that the word “intermarriage” doesn’t even appear in the survey.

But another statistic shows that American Muslims may be following their Jewish neighbors. Among Muslims born in the US, the intermarriage rate is nearly 20 percent.

Most Jews say they don’t face discrimination. Most Muslims say they do.

Another reason for the difference in intermarriage rates could be the discrimination that Jews and Muslims each face in America. Jews, who are more likely to marry outside their group, are also more accepted in America than Muslims.

In an age when Trump the candidate called for a ban on Muslim immigration, the Muslim study focused heavily on Muslim feelings of discrimination and belonging in America. Questions were asked about Islamophobia, anti-Muslim violence, the president, terrorism, extremism and how Muslims feel about being Muslim and American.

In brief, the study found that nearly half of Muslims have faced discrimination in the past year, and 75 percent feel Muslims face a great deal discrimination in America. But nine in 10 feel proud to be American. Three-quarters of American Muslims say violence against civilians can never be justified, as opposed to 59 percent of Americans in general.

In 2013, most Jews said that Jews do not face a lot of discrimination in America, and only 15 percent personally faced discrimination in the year before the survey.

But Pew’s Jewish study was published three years before the spike in anti-Semitism that accompanied the 2016 election. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League published in April revealed starkly different numbers, showing that most Americans were concerned about violence against Jews.

Jews graduate college at higher rates than Muslims and earn more.

The graduation rates and household incomes of American Muslims track with the rest of the country. Like Americans in general, 31 percent of Muslim Americans have graduated college. And a quarter of Muslim Americans earn more than $100,000, similar to the national average. But 40 percent of Muslim households earn less than $30,000 — eight points higher than Americans in general.

Nearly six in 10 American Jews, meanwhile, have graduated college. And 42 percent have household incomes higher than $100,000, while only 20 percent earn less than $30,000.

Muslims are far more religious than Jews, but both say social justice is central.

American Jews and Muslims are particularly different when it comes to religion. While nearly two-thirds of American Muslims say religion is very important to them, only a quarter of Jews do. A third of Jews believe in God, compared to 85 percent of Muslims who said belief in God is essential to being a Muslim. Nearly six in 10 American Muslims say following the Quran is essential to being a Muslim, compared to less than a quarter of American Jews who say the same about Jewish law.

Four in 10 American Muslims attend mosque at least once a week and eight in 10 observe the monthlong fast of Ramadan. By contrast, two-thirds of American Jews attend synagogue less than once a month and only about half fasted on Yom Kippur.

But there are some commonalities, too. Nearly all American Jews and Muslims say they are proud to be Jewish and Muslim, respectively. And both groups prioritize social justice. Solid majorities of Jews (60 percent) and Muslims (69 percent) see “working for justice and equality” as an essential part of their religious identity.

Jews are more liberal than Muslims, but a higher percentage voted for Trump.

American Muslims responded to Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail by voting for Clinton. Nearly 80 percent of American Muslims voted for the Democrat, while only 8 percent backed Trump. By contrast, Clinton earned 70 percent of the Jewish vote, with Trump garnering 25 percent.

But proportionally more American Jews identify as liberal than do American Muslims. While nearly half of American Jews call themselves liberal, only 30 percent of American Muslims do — close to the national average.

But Muslims are trending liberal on at least one issue: A majority believe homosexuality should be accepted in society, compared to just 27 percent who felt that way a decade ago. Four-fifths of American Jews agree.

Fired by Trump, reviled by Democrats, Comey will be missed by those who protect US Jews

WASHINGTON (JTA) — “You make us better,” James Comey told the Anti-Defamation League in his final public speech as FBI director. Judging from the applause in the conference room at Washington DC’s venerable Mayflower Hotel, the feeling was mutual.

Mired in investigations of the scandals of 2016 (Hillary Clinton’s relationship with her email server) and 2017 (Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia), not a lot of love ended up being lost between the FBI director and either party.

Democrats called for Comey’s firing last year when a week and a half before the election he reopened the Clinton case because of emails found on former congressman Anthony Weiner’s laptop in an unrelated case.

US President Donald Trump (who as a candidate repeatedly praised the FBI director) fired Comey on Tuesday, ostensibly because Comey treated Clinton unfairly last July when he excoriated her for her email habits in a press conference (but recommended against legal action). The firing, however, was drawing attention for its timing: Comey is delving into ties between Trump campaign and transition officials who may have had ties to Russia.

But among the folks whose business it is to keep Jews safe – like those gathered Monday in the Mayflower for the ADL’s leadership summit – admiration for Comey was fairly unequivocal. To a degree greater than most of his predecessors, he made the Jewish story central to the FBI mission.

FBI Director James Comey addresses the Anti-Defamation League's annual National Summit at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC on May 8, 2017 (screen capture)

Comey required all FBI staffers to undergo a tour of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Good people helped to murder millions. And that’s the most frightening lesson of all,” he told a museum dinner in 2015. “That is why I send our agents and our analysts to the museum. I want them to stare at us and realize our capacity for rationalization and moral surrender.”

Comey, already known as a persuasive speaker, was especially adept at understanding what moved Jewish Americans. In his ADL speech this week, he recalled meeting a man who was not far from the scene when a gunman opened fire last June at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“My name is Menachem Green and I’m Jewish,” Comey quoted the man as saying (pronouncing Menachem impeccably) and went on to say Menachem Green was pleased to tell him that he ran toward the shooting alongside a police officer he learned was a Muslim.

“We were Jew and Muslim and Christian and white and black and Latino running to help people we didn’t know,” he said. He also recalled the “Muslim activists who raised over $100,000 to repair Jewish headstones in St. Louis and Philadelphia – that makes us better.”

Comey also embraced one of the ADL’s signature issues, improving reporting of hate crimes by local authorities. “We must do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crime to fully understand what is happening in our country so we can stop it,” he said.

FBI Director James Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing on the FBI on Capitol Hill May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Eric Thayer/Getty Images/AFP)

Just a week earlier, Comey was due to receive a recognition award from Secure Community Network, the security affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America. Paul Goldenberg, the SCN director, said Comey was to be recognized for his work with the community in tracking down the perpetrator of dozens of bomb hoaxes on JCCs and other Jewish institutions.

“Director Comey put in extraordinary resources and showed tremendous commitment to the American Jewish community,” noting that the agency had deployed agents to Jewish communities across the states.

Comey could not personally accept the recognition, and SCN delivered it to a surrogate – but this was because Comey was on the Hill, testifying to the Senate about how he handled the email and Russia scandals.

He noted in his testimony one of the FBI triumphs of recent months as a defense of the agency – helping to solve the JCC bomb threats.

“Children frightened, old people frightened, terrifying threats of bombs at Jewish institutions, especially the Jewish community centers — the entire FBI surged in response to that threat,” Comey said in his opening remarks Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This file photo taken on January 22, 2017 shows US Vice President Mike Pence, 2nd left, shaking hands with FBI Director James Comey, right, watched by Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy, left, and US President Donald Trump, 3rd right, during the reception for law enforcement officers and first responders in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP/ MANDEL NGAN)

In March, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in Israel on suspicion of calling in more than 200 bomb threats. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department charged the teen, Michael Kadar, with making threatening calls to JCCs in Florida, conveying false information to the police and cyberstalking.

“Working across all programs, all divisions, our technical wizards, using our vital international presence and using our partnerships especially with the Israeli national police, we made that case and the Israelis locked up the person behind those threats and stopped the terrifying plague against the Jewish community centers,” Comey said.

Comey may be gone, but the shock among Democrats – and some congressional Republicans — at his departure means his memory is unlikely to fade anytime soon.

“We must have a special prosecutor,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who is the minority leader in the Senate, said in a statement delivered at a briefing for reporters late on Tueday. He said he had told Trump in a phone call that firing Comey was a “very big mistake.”

Trump fired back at Schumer on Twitter, recalling that Schumer had recently said that he did not have confidence in Comey. “Then acts so indignant,” Trump said of Schumer.

Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, “I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.” Then acts so indignant.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is the ranking Democrat on the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, which is also probing the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, said there was no contradiction between being appalled at Comey’s handling of the Clinton case and also at Comey’s firing.

He noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation because he had met with a Russian diplomat during the transition, had signed off on the firing.

“The decision by a President whose campaign associates are under investigation by the FBI for collusion with Russia to fire the man overseeing that investigation, upon the recommendation of an Attorney General who has recused himself from that investigation, raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter,” he said.

German officials: Increase in US Jews seeking citizenship since election

Since the election of US President Donald Trump, increasing numbers of Jews whose parents and grandparents fled from Nazi Germany to the United States have applied for German citizenship, German officials said.

Consulates in New York and Boston have seen a rise in the number of people seeking to reclaim their ancestors’ German citizenship.

“We can confirm that there has been a perceptible increase in the number of people claiming German citizenship under Article 116, Paragraph 2 of the German Basic Law,” Bradford Elder, a spokesperson for the New York German consulate, told German news site Deutsche Welle.

Article 116 is intended mainly for Jews, socialists, and communists who fled Germany under the Nazis. It states that “former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored.”

According to the German consulate in New York, between 50 and 70 people applied for citizenship each year in 2014 and 2015. In the month of November 2016 alone there were 124 applications. In March 2017 a total of 235 people submitted the paperwork to become German citizens.

German biometric passport of November 2006 in high resolution. (Public doman, Wikimedia commons)

The Boston German consulate, meanwhile, has seen the number of applicants triple.

Ralf Horlemann, the consul-general of Germany in Boston, said that in the first quarter of 2016, there were 13 people who reclaimed their German citizenship in Boston. In the first quarter of 2017, that number grew to 49.

“Although we don’t have any firm statistical data on the reasons behind the application for naturalization,” he told the news site, “we have seen a considerable increase in applications since, well the autumn, or the end of last year.”

Some applicants, like Ilana and Rena Sufrin, 26-year-old twins from Pittsburgh, began the application process before the US election, primarily to obtain EU benefits. But they now maintained German citizenship is an insurance policy in increasingly uncertain times.

“I feel like people don’t really believe that something [bad] could happen,” said Rena Sufrin, according to DW. “But I feel like it’s at the back of everyone’s mind, especially when you start hearing the way people like Trump talk. It gets a little unnerving.”

They began the application process in 2015, intending it as an entry to the European Union, and a way to connect to their German heritage.

“When we initially applied, Obama was president,” said Ilana. “I’m a pretty liberal person. I had a lot of hope. I didn’t think there was going to be any potential problem. But I would say now …”

“It’s definitely a good thing to have,” her sister added.

Larry Klein told KUNC Community Radio for Northern Colorado that initially he began the application process so that it would be easier for him to travel around Europe. But now he is glad to have a German passport in his pocket as a backup plan.

“The tone of this country at this point in time is disturbing. A country like Germany which, you know, has this history that obviously my family’s well aware of, espouses the beliefs and philosophy that actually is the way I’d like a country to behave,” he said. “So, things come around in very interesting ways.”

Linda Heuman’s parents and grandparents came to the US as refugees. Her great-grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. She said that after Trump came to power it became clear to hear that she might need an escape route.

“I just instantly felt like I needed someplace else to go. I have that somewhere in my history, like that visceral knowledge,” Heuman said. “With racism on the rise and anything might happen so, so that was my motivation for finally getting around to filling out the paperwork.”

Terry Mandel told DW that her main reason for wanting dual citizenship was in case of emergency.

“It was 99 percent motivated by wanting to have a way out,” Mandel told DW. “It’s about having a plan B. I’ve always referred to it as plan B.”

“Like many progressive Americans, I didn’t think there was a chance that Trump could win,” she said. “But I still thought: Why take the risk?”

Father of JCC bomb hoaxer apologizes to US Jews, blames tumor

http://www.timesofisrael.com/father-of-jcc-bomb-hoaxer-apologizes-to-us-jews-blames-tumor/

 

The father of the Israeli-American teen behind hundreds of hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US issued an apology “from the bottom of our hearts” to all American Jews on Monday, and stressed “there was no hatred” behind the threatening calls.

Speaking two days after the 18-year-old’s mother had blamed her son’s autism and a tumor on his brain for the hundreds of hoax calls he made, his father also said that it was “illness” that was responsible for his son’s actions. “The child is different. He is unique,” said his father, who appeared in silhouette on Channel 2 news and was identified by the pseudonym Eli. (A police gag order prevents the naming of the 18-year-old suspect, who is being identified only as “M.”) “There was no motive of hatred. The motive was illness.”

Eli, who was previously reported to have worked in high-tech, said without elaboration that he himself had been “exposed to thousands of destructive chemicals” and underwent “three operations to remove tumors. And my son has a tumor.”

He said that he and his son had watched TV news reports of US Jewish centers being evacuated because of the hoax bomb calls. “You see what can happen,” he recalled telling his son, apparently referring to the dangers facing Jews. How did his son react? he was asked. “He didn’t answer.”

The father of the JCC bomb hoax suspect, interviewed on Channel 2 news on April 3, 2017 (Channel 2 screenshot)

Eli, who was held in detention for several days on suspicion of involvement in the threats, but who has since been released with certain limitations, said he wanted to apologize to American Jewry. “To all the Jews in America, I want to say clearly, we are very, very sorry, from the bottom of our hearts. Very sorry.”

The father’s lawyer added that he had nothing to do with his son’s hoax calls, and had no idea what the boy was up to.

Asked somewhat provocatively by the TV interviewer whether he was proud of his son, Eli replied: “I love him. His heart and my heart are the same heart.”

The antenna in the window of the teen JCC bomb hoax suspect's Ashkelon room (Channel 10 screenshot)

Questioned about the antenna his son placed in his bedroom window that the teen used to connect to the internet without being easily traced, Eli said he had not been suspicious about it.

The suspect, who also used voice-masking technology, is to appear before judges again on Thursday, where police will seek a further remand in custody.

In comments on Monday. M’s mother said her son has been diagnosed with autism and could not control his actions due to a tumor in his brain.

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 30, 2017. (Flash90)

She said she was “shocked” to discover her son was behind a spate of US bomb scares and wished “I had known and could have prevented it.”

But, speaking with her face concealed, she insisted that the teen was not responsible for his actions. “My son is not a criminal, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” she said, repeating claims by his lawyer that a non-malignant brain tumor discovered several years ago had an adverse affect on his behavior.

An Israeli teen, center, suspected of calling in bomb threats to hundreds of institutions is brought to the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on March 30, 2017. (Flash90)

The teen, whose family lives in Ashkelon, is facing charges of extortion, making threats, publishing false information and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic.

Police say he was behind a range of threats against Jewish community centers and other buildings linked to Jewish communities in the United States in recent months, and is alleged to have made hundreds of threatening phone calls over the past two to three years, targeting schools and other public institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

His mother, who spoke halting American-accented Hebrew and was identified only as “C,” said it was clear from a young age that her son, while highly intelligent, could not function in the regular education system.

She said she was 40 when she gave birth to him, in the US, and that he had an unusually large head, and did not develop speaking skills at a normal rate, but was very good at solving puzzles and was later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

The mother of an Israeli-American teen allegedly behind hundreds of threatening calls and fake bomb threats to Jewish institutions around the world speaks to Channel 2 (Channel 2 news)

“He couldn’t sit down, he’d walk around, shaking,” she said of his inability to concentrate on tasks. Writing and listening were also problematic.

He couldn’t cope with the formal framework of preschool education, she said. When he was about 6, the family moved to Israel, and he could not function in the school system.

The boy’s parents decided to homeschool him, and the mother gave up her job as a biochemist to care for her child from first grade through twelfth.

The woman showed Channel 2 reporters some of her son’s obsessions — endlessly drawing maps, creating complex games for himself with incomprehensible lists of numbers, and collecting and cataloging tickets for every single bus or train ride he took.

Shira Nir, a lawyer of an American-Israeli teenager suspected of calling in fake bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the world, shows the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court what she says is an image of a cancerous growth in her client's brain, on March 30, 2017. (Flash90)

She said her son almost never left home and spent most of his time alone. He had no friends, she said.

“I didn’t know how much he sat on his computer,” she said. “I was working. I work nights. I’m at work all night, I come back and sleep.”

The Ashkelon bedroom of the JCC bomb hoax suspect (Channel 2 screenshot)

She added that she had discussed the recent bomb scares with her son, as she was worried about Jewish American friends of hers. Her son, she said, had also expressed concern about the threatening calls to Jewish targets. “It doesn’t make sense. This is a kid who loves Judaism.”

The mother said she was “very sorry for what happened,” but that her son was “not at fault.”

An American-Israeli Jewish teenager, accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, is escorted by police as he leaves a courtroom in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

“It’s the tumor. It could happen to anyone with a tumor in his head,” she said. “He’s autistic, he can’t control it, he can’t think straight. He needs medical help.”

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported last Sunday that the teenager made more than 1,000 threatening phone calls over the past two years, including at least two threats to Delta Airlines, resulting in the grounding of planes already in the air.

The Albany JCC closed briefly due to one of the bomb threats, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)

Israeli police only managed to zero in on the suspect after US President Donald Trump sent a team of 12 FBI agents to Israel in recent weeks, Haaretz reported.

The FBI agents are still involved in questioning him here, the TV report said, and the family is concerned that the US may seek to extradite the suspect.

Below is a recording and transcription of one of the bomb threats, made on January 18.

TRANSCRIPTION:

It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel, surrounded by a bag (inaudible). In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel. There’s a lot of shrapnel. There’s going to be a bloodbath that’s going to take place in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.

TIES BETWEEN US JEWS AND ISRAEL COULD REACH BREAKING POINT IN 2017

 

The year 2017 could see a “perfect storm’ for Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora, according to a report released by the Reut Institute this month under the title “The Future of the Nation State of the Jewish People: Consolidation or Rupture?”

The report discusses various components of Israel’s ties with world Jewry, primarily US Jewry, and posits that if Israel does not take action to change an outdated mindset and working assumptions which no longer correlate with reality, Israel’s function as the national home for the Jewish people will ultimately be destroyed. If that happens it warns, the Jewish state’s very existence could be threatened further than it is today.

 

The Reut Institute, a non-partisan and non-profit organization which strives to be a “force of change” in Israel and the Jewish World, collaborated with numerous experts to produce the 31-page-report.

The Reut Institute conducted the research project in response to several indicators of a consistent decline in the connection between the state of Israel and large Jewish communities in the US, partly fueled by an increasingly complex relationship between Israel and the younger generation of American Jews.

The Institute sees the convergence of major Zionist events this year, including the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and the 50-year anniversary of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, which also marks 50 years of Israeli control of the West Bank, as occasions which will highlight the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its implications for Israel-Diaspora relations.

“The resolution of the conflict is a foundation of central organizations in the American Jewish community, including AIPAC, the World Jewish Congress, and Jewish Federations of North America,” the report says. “Due to a decline in the prospects for a Two-State Solution, and the lack of an agreed upon alternative, these organizations increasingly struggle to deal with a complex Israeli reality.”

The institute also sees the advent of the Trump era as driving a further wedge between Israel and progressive Jews in the US.

“The present Israeli government’s strong support of the Trump Administration, expected agreements on the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and lack of progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, are likely to place most American Jews and the Israeli government on two different sides of the political arena,” the document states, also warning that Israel is becoming a partisan issue.

“Consequently, American Jewish organizations will be compelled to take clear sides on Israeli political issues, including Israeli settlement policy and the status of the Orthodox Rabbinate.”

The latter comprises the third major component flagged by the institute – the growing daylight between Israel and non-Orthodox Jews over the the status of Progressive Judaism in Israel. Referencing the as yet unimplemented government agreement for an egalitarian section at the Western Wall, as well as issues pertaining to conversions and mikvaot, the research found that these types of disputes negatively impact the ability of an increasing number of individuals, as well as Jewish communal organizations to maintain a meaningful connection to Israel.

“Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people is taken for granted, but the reality is that this has changed in the last few years,” the Managing Director of the Reut Institute Naama Klar told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Klar emphasized that the issue should not only be of concern to the Israeli government, but also to civil society, lamenting an ignorance regarding the importance of the Diaspora relationship among the general public, which social entrepreneurs, public intellectuals and and thought-leaders can help change.

The institute is collaborating with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry in an effort to work with Israeli leadership programs and youth movements to change this. She explains that while according to the “old mindset,” Israel would send shlichim (emissaries) to Diaspora communities to try to strengthen its relationship with them, the focus is now shifting inwards. “There is a problem and it’s our problem,” she asserts, warning that if certain questions are not asked by Israeli leaders and members of society, “we are on a destructive trajectory.”

At the crux of these questions is how modern-day Israel can fulfill its role as the national home of the Jewish people. According to the institute, the reasons for which Israel was in the past an asset to the Jewish people are no longer relevant in the same ways. For instance, it states that most Jews today do not face existential threats and thus no longer see Israel as a country of refuge; it also posits that the decline of Israel’s image may even endanger Diaspora Jews, particularly in times of conflict. Raising a host of other issues, such as a lack of identification with Israeli policies, dissatisfaction with its democracy and the Orthodox monopoly of the country, the institute concludes that “instead of being a source of unity for the Jewish People, the State of Israel has become a cause of division.”

The result of this, the report continues, challenges the basic legitimacy of Israel’s existence, which stems from its role as a national home for the Jewish people.

Offering solutions as to how Israel can today serve the resilience and prosperity of the entire Jewish people, the institute highlights three areas: consciousness, structure and policy.

“The State of Israel should aspire to develop a widespread consciousness among Israeli Jews, which emphasizes the basic assumption that the State of Israel is the nation state of the entire Jewish People,” the institute says of the first element, noting that formal and informal educational bodies can play an important role in this.

In terms of structure, the organization notes that in the past, the Israel-Diaspora relationship was managed by “strong mediators and dominant institutions” such as Chaim Weizmann and Rav Soloveitchik, as well as the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and other Israeli government institutions. Today, the Reut Institute believes their influence has waned and must be modernized in addition to bringing in new mediators. “Historically, these issues were decided by religious authorities from various communities in a decentralized manner,” the report points out. It also raises the idea that Israel should allow a higher level of Diaspora political involvement, as well as anchoring Diaspora Jewry as a core issue in Israeli decision-making.

Quoting Zionist thinker Ahad Ha’am, the institute drums home the essential mission of preserving the unity of the Jewish people: “If a land is destroyed, but its people are still full of life and strength – they will rise to her. Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah and the people will return and build it again; but if a people is destroyed, who will rise up for them, and where will help come from?”

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.