ADL Documents Rise in Global Anti-Semitism

The Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in central Paris, which was recently attacked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in central Paris, which was recently attacked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. (Wikimedia Commons)

A new report from the Anti-Defamation League details what it calls a “dramatic upsurge in violence and vitriol against Jews” related to Operation Protective Edge.

The ADL reported incidents linked to anti-Israel protests that involved attacks against Jews and Jewish buildings in Western Europe, South America, Canada, Australia and North and South Africa. The report did not include incidents in the U.S.

“There was a dramatic upsurge in violence against Jews and Jewish institutions around the world during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, said in a statement. From France to Argentina, from Canada to Chile, synagogues were attacked, Jewish cultural centers were vandalized, Jewish shops were threatened, and identifiably Jewish individuals [were] beaten on the street. Anti-Semitism was in the air, and in the streets.”

The ADL will share its report with members of Congress and world leaders in effort to raise awareness of the problem. The ADL Global 100 poll, a survey of anti-Semitic attitudes, found that one-quarter of those surveyed in 100 counties harbored anti-Semitic attitude.

The ADL detailed some examples in a statement that included shouts of “Jews to the gas!” at an anti-Israel rally in Germany; a newspaper in Spain publishing an op-ed with blunt anti-Semitism; a sign that said “Well done Israel, Hitler would be proud” at a London protest; signs showing [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu drinking the blood of Palestinian children in various places; and pro-Palestinian protesters pelting Jews with cans and eggs and shouting at them in Manchester, England.

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Exodus to Egypt

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau Sr. was instrumental in getting food and medicine to the Palestine Jewish community at a time when thousands were dying of starvation. (The World’s Work via Wikimedia Commons.)

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau Sr. was instrumental in getting food and medicine to the Palestine Jewish community at a time when thousands were dying of starvation. (The World’s Work via Wikimedia Commons.)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the expulsion of thousands of Jews from Turkish-ruled Palestine to Egypt, in a dramatic reversal of the historic exodus from the Land of the Pharaohs to the Land of Israel. But from that tragic episode in 1914 would emerge a Jewish fighting force that would help liberate the Holy Land from the Turks.

Turkey entered World War I in October 1914, joining Germany in its fight against Russia, England, and France. In Turkey’s eyes, all Russian citizens, including the many Russian-born Jews living in Palestine, were now enemy nationals. Fueled by wartime hysteria and Muslim religious sentiment, the Turkish authorities in the Holy Land turned against the country’s foreign-born Jews. On Dec. 17, the Turkish governor of Jaffa, Beha A-Din, ordered the mass expulsion of the 6,000 Russian-born Jewish residents of that city.

Over the course of the next three months, thousands more Russian-born Jews were expelled from Palestine or fled just ahead of the deportations. By the spring of 1915, more than 11,000 Russian Jewish exiles were living in British-occupied Egypt.

Yaakov and Frieda Brodetzky were among the deportees. “My parents were newlyweds when the expulsion was ordered,” Moshe Brodetzky, 88, of Los Angeles, said. “They spent their ‘honeymoon’ — and the next three years — in exile in Egypt.”

With generous support from the Egyptian Jewish community, the exiled family built a new life for itself in the Mafruza and Gabbari refugee camps near Alexandria. “My father earned a living by becoming a teacher in a Talmud Torah that the refugees established for their children,” Brodetzky noted.

Back in Turkish Palestine, the rest of the local Jewish community struggled to survive. Some, including two of Frieda’s brothers went into hiding to avoid being inducted into the Turkish army, where anti-Jewish discrimination was rife. Others, such as future Israel Prime Minister Moshe Shertok (Sharett), sought to ingratiate themselves with the authorities by volunteering to serve in the armed forces.

Frieda’s father devised a unique way to elude the Turkish censors and communicate with his exiled daughter. “He would write a message on the inside of a bandage, which would be wrapped around the arm of someone who was traveling from Jerusalem to Egypt,” Moshe Brodetzky explained. “My mother saved those bandages for the rest of her life. When she passed away more than a half-century later, we found some of them among her treasured possessions.”

A number of Palestine’s Jews were forced into Turkish labor brigades, where they paved roads and worked in stone quarries without pay, barely subsisting on meager food rations. Zionist political parties were outlawed, and newspapers were shut down. When David Ben-Gurion — who would later become Israel’s first prime minister — protested these measures, he too was deported to Egypt.

With thousands of Palestine’s Jewish farmers trapped in Egypt, their crops back home withered on the vine. To make matters worse, wartime naval blockades prevented the importation of many foods. As a result, from 1915 to 1916, thousands of Jews in Palestine died of starvation or diseases aggravated by the lack of food.

Henry Morgenthau Sr., America’s ambassador to Turkey, played a critical role in rescuing Palestine Jewry from utter devastation. He persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to let U.S. ships bring food and medicine to the Palestine Jewish community, even though that technically meant providing supplies to a country with which the U.S. was at war.

In a remarkable historical twist, the Jewish refugee camps in Egypt became the birthplace of a Jewish armed force that would help take back the land of Israel from the Turks. Advocates of the creation of a modern-day Jewish army found large numbers of eager volunteers among those exiled.

These recruiting efforts were spearheaded by Russian Zionist leader Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, war hero and Zionist pioneer Yosef Trumpeldor and a fervent Christian Zionist, the famous British lion hunter, Col. John Henry Patterson. The latter personally signed up the first 500 volunteers in the Gabbari camp. “Even many years later, my father still vividly recalled and told me about the stirring speeches that Jabotinsky gave to inspire the refugees to sign up,” Brodetzky recalled.

The British agreed to create a relatively small unit known as the Zion Mule Corps, then expanded it into the Jewish Legion, consisting of five full battalions. It was the first Jewish army in nearly 2,000 years. The legion played an important role in the battles that brought about the liberation of Palestine from the Turks in 1918.

Jabotinsky served as a lieutenant in the Jewish Legion. Other legionnaires included Ben-Gurion, future Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Zionist leader Berl Katznelson and future Jerusalem mayor Gershon Agron.

Jewish Legion members took part in the defense of Jerusalem against Arab rioters in 1920. After the British disbanded the legion, some of its veterans joined up with the Jewish underground militias that ultimately fought for the creation of Israel.

The Brodetzky family, for its part, in the 1920s lived in Michigan City (Indiana), Chicago and Brooklyn, where young Moshe became active in Hashomer Hadati, the youth wing of the Mizrachi movement (today known as the Religious Zionists of America). The family returned to British Palestine in 1934, and Moshe later served with the Irgun Zvai Leumi, headed by Menachem Begin, in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

It was historical irony, twice over: The first generation of Jews exiled to Egypt had helped bring about the liberation of Palestine from the Turks, and the second generation played its own part in freeing the land of Israel from the British three decades later.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

Reverse Birthright

Students of the University of Haifa's Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies participate in a 10-day U.S. trip.

Students of the University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies participate in a 10-day U.S. trip.

Gur Alroey, chair of the School of History at the University of Haifa and director of the Israeli school’s pioneering Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies, has likened a 10-day United States trip for the program’s students to “Reverse Taglit,” referring to the free Taglit-Birthright trips of the same length that bring diaspora Jews to Israel.

Last month, the Ruderman Program’s inaugural class of 21 graduate students took part in that immersive U.S. journey, attending lectures, meeting community leaders and touring historical and religious sites that reflect the American Jewish experience.

“The focus is American Jewry, to examine this community as a group that stands in its own right, independent of Israel,” Alroey said.

In August 2013, JNS.org was the first outlet to report the formation of the American Jewish Studies program, which launched with a $2 million combined investment from the University of Haifa and the Ruderman Family Foundation. The foundation, headquartered in Israel and Boston (Haifa’s sister city), prioritizes the issue of Israel-diaspora relations.

The master’s degree program’s curriculum surveys American Jewish immigration history, modern foreign policy and governmental structures, gender issues and the religious makeup of American Jewish communities. But the highlight, according to some participants, is the 10-day U.S. trip.

The Israeli students who arrived in America on June 22 were eager to embrace American culture. Two students in the group, Ayala Shanee and Hila Madar, had never visited the U.S., and their excitement was palpable. “[New York City] is big, it’s overwhelming, so diverse and so human,” Shanee said. Madar described her first experience at an American salsa nightclub, saying, “I was impressed by the way people interacted and the diversity of the people on the dance floor. It gave me confidence.”

Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University (NYU) and the Ruderman Program’s primary contact in New York City, said U.S. Jewry “would be what it is even if there were no Israel.”

“Obviously, Israel has had an impact, but the basic foundations of Jewish American life were formed in an American context,” she said.

Against the backdrop of that historical context, discovering the true nature of the unique American Jewish population is the challenge faced by the Ruderman Program’s students and professors alike.

“The group [of students] has a strong Israeli mindset,” Alroey said. “They are a product of the Israeli education system, the exams, etc. It’s very difficult for some of the students to accept that there is a Jewish existence outside of Israel.”

The group toured Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum in New York as well as the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. The students also gathered for a morning lecture at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan by Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, director of the JCC’s Center for Jewish Living.

“We provide people with links, connections and ways of exploring Jewish identity,” Cohen said of the JCC. Asked whether there is an equivalent resource in Israel or if the JCC is something unique to Jewish life in America, Cohen’s answer was multifaceted.

“There is a distinction in the lifestyle and practices, but also many similarities,” she said. “People don’t want their Jewish identity defined for them in either country, yet they are looking for more meaningful ways to connect.”

Describing her impressions of the differences between Israeli and American culture, Madar said, “Here you can’t push in line. In Israel, you push. In some ways, I want this structure for Israel.” Her observations demonstrate the mentality of the graduate program’s students as they embarked on their American adventure. Many of the students are seeking outside perspectives as a way to reflect on their experience growing up and living in Israel. Sometimes, their findings can be surprising.

“[On one day of the trip] we met with a number of rabbis representing different denominations,” Diner said. “One student asked, ‘If you’re an Orthodox Jew, why don’t you live in Israel?’”

Commenting on the meeting with the rabbis in a different context, Madar reveals that her deep-rooted connection to Israel is based in Judaism.

“In Israel our perspective is intertwined with Jewish life,” she said. “We see a tree and we know that Elijah sat under that tree. We have a strong connection to the land.”

Almost a year after its formation, founders of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies say it has made significant strides — bolstering dialogue between allied nations and Jewish populations, while providing a mechanism for Israelis to reflect on their homeland. Program funding is secure through next year, and Alroey is astonished by the interest he has received.

“The demand is unbelievable. Without any advertising, we already have 25 students for next year, and applications pour in,” he said.

“The United States of America is Israel’s greatest and most important ally,” Ruderman said. “Yet, Israeli leaders have very little knowledge about their American Jewish cousins. They simply don’t understand the nature and challenges facing the American Jewish community. I believe that the Ruderman Program in American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, the only academic program focusing on the American Jewish community at any Israeli university, will play a large role in educating Israel’s leaders of tomorrow on this most vital community for Israel’s future.”

Right Man for the Job

Rabbi David Saperstein (World Economic Forum)

Rabbi David Saperstein (World Economic Forum)

After being vacant for nearly a year, the role of America’s top representative for religious freedom in the world will soon likely be occupied by a leader well known to the Washington, D.C. Jewish community.

President Barack Obama on July 28 announced that he is nominating Rabbi David Saperstein, director and chief counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, to be the United States’ ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

“I am grateful that Rabbi Saperstein has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country,” the president wrote in a statement. “I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.”

Named the most influential rabbi in the United States in Newsweek magazine’s 2009 list of  the Top 50 Influential Rabbis in America, Saperstein has been on the forefront of the Reform movement’s campaign for social justice and a prominent voice in the Establishment Clause and religious freedom debate in the United States.

If confirmed by the Senate, his new position will put Saperstein at the head of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, which was created by the overwhelmingly bipartisan passing of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The act was designed to combat growing religious persecution around the world, with the ambassador’s main role being to promote religious freedom while monitoring and holding violators accountable.

The ambassador is also principal adviser to the president in religious freedom matters and can make policy recommendations for the United States to enact toward nations violating the individual’s right to freedom of religion, belief and practice. Changes in the level of aid a country receives from the United States, economic cooperation and even sanctions can be recommended by the ambassador, although all are subject to presidential review.

Despite Saperstein’s liberal political views putting him at odds with more conservative Jewish organizations on some issues, most believe that his experience on international religious freedom issues makes him a good fit for the positon.

“He, although obviously on the liberal, progressive side of the political spectrum, has excellent relationships across the religious spectrum, [not only] in terms of different religions and denominations but also in terms of from liberal to conservative in many faith communities,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of public policy at the Orthodox Union. “That wealth of experience and that wealth of knowledge are unsurpassed in someone who could fill this position.”

Diament highlighted Saperstein’s efforts to pass the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993; the International Religious Freedom act, which created his future position; and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000.

Diament said that his organization would disagree with Saperstein on issues relating to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in the fight over what constitutes a too close relationship between the federal government and a religion, but rarely has it disagreed on religious freedom issues.

Saperstein and Diament both served on the president’s faith advisory council and, said Diament, “in many of those discussions, [Saperstein] and I were on the same page.”

Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, called the nomination an “outstanding choice” and noted the decades he has witnessed Saperstein’s work with religious freedom.

“I think David got nominated to this position because of his experience, his expertise, his caring, his sensitivity to these issues and his being able to speak out,” Mariaschin said. “The commendatory part of this is that someone who is so deserving and who can do so much good has been nominated for the positon. David is very well connected internationally, and his reputation, his writings, his speaking — all of those things are known in so much of the world in which we operate and [in which] we’re going to operate, so I think that’s a big plus.”

So far, there have only been three others who have held the post, and Saperstein will become the first rabbi to occupy it.

Although the post had broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill when it was created — something Ambassador Robert Seiple, the first person to hold the post, said was unusual during at the time due to the Monica Lewinsky fight — its creation was not initially supported by the State Department and still lags on the priority list compared with other ambassadorships.

“The State Department’s concern was: ‘Look, we have these bilateral relationships that are complex at best, and now you’re going to throw in this huge new issues of religions,’” said Seiple. “Well, 95 percent of the world’s problems today take place at the intersection of politics and religion, so the State Department very definitely has to understand this issue.”

Seiple said that he was close to Saperstein and said that like many across religious lines, he considers him his favorite rabbi. Seiple recalled that during his tenure, he and Saperstein joined each other on a trip to Africa and Europe. From his interactions, Seiple said that Saperstein was the right choice and should have been announced sooner. He also said that Saperstein’s experience could help raise the position’s profile and effectiveness.

“He understands Washington. He’s not intimidated by it,” said Seiple. “He understands the issue and can articulate it. He’s a listener which will make him a good negotiator when tough issues have to be confronted in other countries. He’s not a grandstander, he can work quietly behind the scenes, but he’s very effective. And I think in terms of his moral courage and the ethical dimension of the man, he’s the gold standard.”

Seiple nevertheless believes that the task appears more daunting than ever, made more unpredictable by the Arab Spring and the increased strength of Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to Seiple, American influence has declined in much of the world making it harder for the ambassador to be persuasive.

“When I was there, I think the U.S. flag had a lot more power and commanded a lot more respect. So in that sense, it’s going to be a little bit harder today,” said Seiple. “The world is a lot more dangerous than it was when I was there.”

Yet, he holds out hope for Saperstein. “I think David will change all of that because he’s not a small thinker and he’s not a small-ball player,” he said.  “I think he’ll have some visionary approach to the issue, and I think it’s possible that in the next few years you’ll see some real changes.”

A new religious freedom ambassador “is going to be welcomed in a lot of places, and in those places where religious freedom is being abridged, they should know that they’re going to have in our [ambassador] someone who is keeping a very close eye on what they’re doing,” said Mariaschin. He listed the proliferation of violence against Christians in Iraq, Syria, Africa, South Asia and Iran as top priorities for Saperstein.

“It’s almost as if you don’t know where to start, and unfortunately the list is long and it is growing longer,” he added.

Seiple’s advice to Saperstein for his new position would be keep his goals to around two to three.

“The thing that can sink you pretty quickly is if you have a 12-item agenda and you’re trying to operate sort of like John Kerry and you end up getting criticized by everybody,” said Seiple. “So find a few things that you want to change during the time you’re there … and go for it.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com       
JNS.org contributed to this story.

On the Attack

Spray-painted swastikas were the work of vandals at Torah V’Emunah in North Miami Beach. (Yona Lunger)

Spray-painted swastikas were the work of vandals at Torah V’Emunah in North Miami Beach.
(Yona Lunger)

Set back from a main street on one side and obscured by trees and shrubs on another, it’s easy to miss Torah V’Emunah, an Orthodox synagogue in a residential North Miami Beach neighborhood.

“We don’t even have a sign in front of the synagogue,” said Miriam Bensinger, the rabbi’s wife. “People in the Jewish community know what it is.”

The inconspicuous synagogue became a center of controversy this week after authorities say vandals spray-painted swastikas and the word “Hamas” in bold red letters on the pillars at the building’s entrance early on the morning of July 28.

The vandalism appears to be part of the protests that have erupted since Israel began its offensive against Hamas in Gaza on July 8. Through this past weekend, more than 1,400 Palestinians have died, perhaps 70 percent of them civilians. Israel has suffered 67 casualties, including 64 soldiers and three civilians.

While polls show that Americans generally support Israel’s war against Hamas, there have been more than 200 anti-Israel protests around the country, including in Washington, D.C. Increasingly, demonstrators’ criticism of Israel’s actions has taken on an anti-Semitic tinge, according to Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.

“There are Holocaust analogies, apartheid analogies, signs saying, ‘Death to Israel,’ and sometimes they’re replacing ‘Israelis’ with ‘Jews.’”

Still, he said, this activism is nothing like what is happening in Europe, where mobs have burned down Jewish property and threatened worshipers in synagogues.

The graffiti on the Florida synagogue was amateurish, with the arms of the swastikas painted in the wrong direction.

The defacing of the synagogue has been considered “criminal mischief,” according to police reports.

“This is not Europe,” Segal said. “The concern is that as people use this inflammatory rhetoric” it will be translated into intimidation and violence.

So far there has been no violence, with only reports of shoving between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators in Los Angeles and Boston, Segal said. What is changing is that online rhetoric, unrestrained by the anonymity of the person posting it, is “spilling over to the demonstrations,” he said.

Slogans such as “blaming Hamas for rockets is like blaming a woman for punching a rapist” and the hashtag “#HitlerWasRight” have become part of the protestors’ discourse, said Segal. “We’re seeing that on the ground now.”

The ADL reports that phrases such as “Jews=Killers” and “Jews are Killing Innocent Children” were found near the entrance to a Jewish summer camp near Malibu, Calif. And leaflets that threatened violence if Israel does not pull out of Gaza were left on cars in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Chicago.

Authorities have not made any arrests in the Miami incidents, but the police have increased area patrols. And leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities are trying to stem any violence by working together behind the scenes, said Syed Faisal, a founding board member of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations.

“We stand together as one when it comes to protecting the places of worship,” Faisal said. “We’re trying to take a more calm stand, a more peaceful stand, because at the end of the day, the violence is not going to help anyone.”

The anti-Jewish activities come after several surveys have shown a decrease in such incidents in the United States. In April, the ADL reported that anti-Semitic acts were down 19 percent in 2013 over the year before, continuing a multiyear trend. And last month, a Pew survey found that Jews were the religious group that Americans felt most warmly about.

“There’s no doubt that the country is the safest place for Jews,” Segal said. “But next year I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers [in the ADL anti-Semitism audit] were up.”

Since the fighting in Gaza broke out, some commentators have noted that the strong identification of Jews with Israel is a double-edged sword: Just as Jews blur the distinction between themselves and Israel with slogans such as, “We stand with Israel,” Israel’s extreme detractors likewise make no distinction between Israel and the Jewish people when they place blame.

Segal rejects the comparison.

“Holding Jews accountable for the perceived actions of Israel when those actions are equated with what the Nazis did is not what any Jew is asking for,” he said. “Demonizing Jews for expressing support for Israel as it defends itself from terrorist attacks is morally bankrupt and potentially dangerous.”

An Internet Defense

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One of the images posted by the “Israel Under Fire” student initiative of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya college and graduate school.

Australia’s Sydney Harbor is up in flames. Large letters superimposed on the scene ask, “How would they react?”

That image and many others like it have been distributed by an Israeli student initiative called “Israel Under Fire,” which now boasts more than 66,000 followers on its Facebook page. While rocket attacks continue from Gaza after Palestinian terrorists’ rejection of a cease-fire brokered by Egypt and accepted by Israel, more than 400 student volunteers are working together from a computer room at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) college and graduate school to present the world with Israel’s position on the ongoing conflict with Hamas.

“We really believe that today the real war takes place on the Internet,” Israel Zari, the student union spokesman at IDC, said.

The first Israel Under Fire student operation at IDC was held during Israel’s November 2012 conflict with Hamas, which saw the Israel Defense Forces conduct Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. The student initiative was reopened as soon as the IDF launched its current operation, Protective Edge. This time the campaign has its own website, israelunderfire.com, where the students accumulate all of their information via text, videos, and memes.

Despite their initiative being a private one, Israel Under Fire’s students work in conjunction with guidelines and rules from the Israeli prime minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

“This is the largest private [media] operations room in Israel,” Zari said. “Our goal is … to present a unified front.”

The students work around the clock in groups. Each group is dedicated to a different skill, such as graphic design and research. There are also many international students who translate the content into various languages.

Given the current situation, the students are focusing on promoting the message that Israel “would welcome a cease-fire” and would like “to finish the military operation,” Zari said.

They also want to show that Israel froze its weapons and strikes, “but on the side of Hamas this did not happen, despite all the mediation efforts,” he said.

The students’ posts have included images of the warnings that the IDF sends to Gaza citizens before airstrikes and examples of Israel’s humanitarian efforts in order to show to the world that Israel’s goal is not to hurt citizens.

080814_hasbara2

Student volunteers work from a computer room at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya on the “Israel Under Fire” initiative, which presents the world with Israel’s position on the ongoing conflict with Hamas.

On the other side of the media war, Palestinian groups and activists are promoting the opposite perspective. According to Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not personally supporting Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, but Fatah — the movement he heads — is spreading a violent anti-Israel message on Facebook.

In a Tuesday post on the official Fatah Facebook page, “a poster claiming to be from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, called for renewing suicide terror attacks against Israel,” Marcus said.

The post stated, “Today Palestine is waiting for its men … our promise of the [Al-Aqsa Martyrs] Brigades is to cause the enemy to tremble, who only understands the language of blood, bullets, explosive belts and Martyrdom-seeking [suicide] actions … We call to perform Martyrdom-seeking actions [suicide attacks].”

Earlier in July, Fatah announced in a Facebook post that Hamas, Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are “brothers-in-arms,” united by “one God, one homeland, one enemy, one goal,” through an image showing three fighters from the three organizations’ military wings.

Additionally, in a recent video produced by Fatah’s military wing the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and posted on Facebook, Abbas’ movement warns the Israeli government and the Israeli people, “Death will reach you from the south to the north. Flee our country and you won’t die. The KN-103 rocket is on its way toward you.”

“As is its standard policy, the Palestinian Authority is sending different messages through different mediums,” Marcus said. “Abbas’ Fatah is using its social media to say things that would bring outrage from the international community if they were said by the Palestinian Authority directly.”

Meanwhile, independent Palestinian activists are continuing to wage their own battles on social media. For instance, the Facebook page “Stand Up for Palestine” uses “Israel is a war criminal” as its tagline and posts memes such as an image of screaming children being threatened by a knife with the headline, “Gaza Holocaust.”

At IDC, some of the students are specifically responsible for monitoring and exposing false information distributed by pro-Palestinian activists.

Zari points to just one example of many, a video that gained popularity on the Internet with “a horrible picture of a woman with an exploded head” and an accusation by a Palestinian activist that the IDF is murdering innocent people. In their research, the students realized that the photo is actually taken from a Hollywood movie.

“It shows how they’re using false information just to influence public opinion,” Zari said, describing how pro-Palestinian activists can rely “on people’s ignorance” to persuade Web surfers.

When the students first launched the media operation during Operation Pillar of Defense, they worked hard to build a reputation for the initiative in Israeli society, primarily via word of mouth exposure and coverage by Israeli news outlets.

Now that the media operation is taking place for the second time, “there’s a lot more public faith in what we’re doing,” and many people actually forward materials to the group for broader dissemination, Zari said.

Although the students initially intended to open the media operation only during violent escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and IDF operations, there are discussions on trying to maintain the operation over the long run. Israel really needs to promote its message with publicity “because it is being presented many times in a very problematic way in media outlets,” said Zari.

The success of the student initiative is also being closely measured through website analytics on the number of visitors, their frequency and where they are coming from.

“We see there’s growth [in Web traffic] from all over the world,” Zari said. For instance, there has been a recent 400 percent growth in visitors entering the website from Russia, leading to a decision to add more Russian-language content.

The students also see a growth in volunteers for and media coverage of their cause, which, Zari said, “proves to us the website is doing its job and the operation is fulfilling its goals.”

‘We Have Nothing Now’

Elena Konigina and her daughter Kseniya fled Lugansk, Ukraine in  May and are now staying at a resort near Pavlohrad.

Elena Konigina and her daughter Kseniya fled Lugansk, Ukraine in
May and are now staying at a resort near Pavlohrad.

DNEPROPETROVSK, Ukraine — Anatoly Lazaurenko’s face betrays no emotion as he watches footage of an old woman he used to know lying in the rubble of what once was his home in the war-torn city of Slavyansk.

Oblivious to her mangled face, Anatoly, 8, points to a corner of the computer screen to indicate the bombed-out apartment in eastern Ukraine that his family fled last month, as a tense standoff between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces escalated into urban warfare.

Like many Ukrainians, the boy has become inured to disturbing sights after months of violent conflict in his country. Even after watching the video, Anatoly said he would rather be home — under fire, but with his friends and classmates. But his mother insists they are staying with relatives near Dnepropetrovsk, far from the battle zone, as long as the fighting persists.

“Every day Anatoly asks me in tears if we can go back yet,” said his mother, Ludmila.

The Lazaurenkos are among hundreds of Jews made refugees by the fighting in eastern Ukraine, part of a larger movement of tens of thousands of people who have fled since pro-Russian militias — some toting heavy- caliber machine guns and mortars- took up arms against government troops in March.

Hundreds already have died in the fighting, including the 200 passengers and crew aboard a Malaysia Airlines jet shot down over eastern Ukraine by what American and Ukrainian officials say was a Russian anti-aircraft missile fired from rebel-controlled territory.

Last Friday, two Jews — Svetlana Sitnikov and her daughter, Anna — were killed in an explosion in the eastern city of Lugansk.

The Jewish refugees are surviving on assistance from local and foreign Jewish groups that in recent weeks have launched major rescue and relief operations. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and community officials are helping to provide housing, monthly stipends, food and medicine in what they describe as one of largest mobilizations in the history of Ukrainian Jewry.

“We’re talking about a multi-element package designed to improve the situation of each and every person who left the battle zone,” said Yoni Leifer, the head of operations in the Dnepropetrovsk region for JDC. A separate relief operation is being carried out by the Chabad-led Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk.

The Lazaurenkos decided to leave Slavyansk last month after government forces began engaging the separatists. But Ludmila Lazaurenko does not blame Ukrainian troops, who launched their offensive following the standoff with the rebels.

“We were pro-Russian,” Lazaurenko said of herself and her parents, Nadezhda and Alexander Belovol, who fled with her and Anatoly. “But that changed after we saw how they fought from inside the houses of civilians with no regard for their lives. There is no excuse for that.”

Two weeks after the family left, they learned from a television news broadcast that their house had been blown up.

“We started crying when we saw that nothing was left,” Lazaurenko said. “We have nothing now.”

Ludmila Lazaurenko (right), son Anatoly and mother Nadezhda  Belovol live in temporary housing near Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. (Photos Cnaan Liphshiz)

Ludmila Lazaurenko (right), son Anatoly and mother Nadezhda
Belovol live in temporary housing near Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. (Photos Cnaan Liphshiz)

For those without relatives to take them in, JDC and the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk have arranged rooms in the community’s various institutions. The Beit Baruch old-age home reached its capacity last week after 28 people were given spots in vacant rooms.

Among them are Rosa Dvoskina and Sofia Sanina, two women in their 80s who fled Slavyansk and Lugansk, respectively, earlier this month.

“I made it out, but I can’t stop thinking about my poor friends and neighbors who are still trapped there without water or medicines in a place full of death,” said a weeping Dvoskina, who had lived in her apartment building for 40 years before having to leave.

Like most refugees, Dvoskina and Sanina say they fled out of a general concern for safety unrelated to the fact that they are Jewish.

But their neighbors at Beit Baruch, an Orthodox family of seven from Donetsk who requested not to be named, said anti-Jewish graffiti began to appear in the city as the rule of law weakened.

“We started seeing swastikas painted on park benches, buildings,” the family’s grandfather said.

Amid lingering uncertainty about the future of Ukraine’s embattled eastern border cities, Dvoskina and Sanina are thinking about immigrating to
Israel, though they would prefer to return to their homes. Other refugees, including Elena Libina from Donetsk, are determined to leave permanently for Israel.

Libina is staying in a community facility in Dnepropetrovsk only until her immigration application is approved. Meanwhile, the Jewish community is arranging for the rescue of her 91-year-old aunt, who remains trapped in Lugansk.

“We felt the tension rising and noticed that bus tickets out of the city were increasingly becoming more expensive,” Libina said. “When they bombed the administration building, I left.”

Dnepropetrovsk is one of Ukraine’s largest Jewish communities, with 50,000 members. Several oligarchs, including the banking magnate Igor Kolomoisky, have poured millions into the community’s institutions, includ-ing several Jewish schools and the $100 million Menorah Jewish Community Center, a 450,000-square-foot facility that includes luxury mikvah baths, kosher restaurants, a Holocaust museum and a day care center.

Zelig Brez, the community’s director general and right hand of the city’s influential chief rabbi, Shmuel Kamenetsky, said organizing the rescue and relief operation isn’t merely a religious duty but part of his responsibility toward Ukraine’s smaller Jewish communities.

“It comes with the territory of being an engine of Jewish life in Ukraine,” Brez said.

The community has made wide use of its facilities to help house the refugees. Elena Konigina and her 12-year-old daughter, Ksenia, have stayed at a scenic countryside resort near the Dnepropetrovsk suburb of Pavlograd since they fled Lugansk in May.

Konigina would like to immigrate to Israel, but Ksenia is a minor and cannot exit the country without the consent of both parents. Konigina says she does not know how to reach Ksenia’s father, whom she divorced several years ago.

Even if she could go, Konigina worries that the situation in the Jewish state won’t be much better.

“I don’t know what good that will do,” Konigina said. “They are shooting there too.”

Cruz Takes Aim At Iran

In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor this month, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the Obama administration’s stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict and nuclear negotiations with Iran — indicating that he will  present a bill to reimpose the sanctions on Iran previously lifted by the United States.

Cruz said that U.S. efforts should be focused on supporting and ensuring the security of Israel and backing Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket
attacks from Hamas, not forcing Israel to make security concessions to the Palestinians in pursuit of a cease-fire.

“Only when the Palestinians take it upon themselves to embrace their neighbors and eradicate terrorist violence from their society can a real and just peace be possible,” Cruz said. “Until then, there should be no question of the United States’ firm solidarity with Israel in the mutual defense of our fundamental values and interests.”

Up until the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, Israeli officials were clear that their main priority was to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not create a nuclear bomb — often putting itself at odds with the United States and Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought a more moderate approach that included allowing Iran to maintain a level of enrichment capability as part of a final deal.

In his speech, Cruz linked his position on Iran to the safety of Israel, noting that Iran is considered to be a significant sponsor of Hamas. He called Kerry’s Joint Plan of Action, an agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear ambitions to energy production only, that after an extention will expire on Nov. 24, a “historic mistake.”

“The connection between Hamas and Iran is a sobering reminder of the larger context in which the events of the last month have taken place,” Cruz said. “They are not an isolated local issue that could be managed if only Israel would act with restraint. Both the United States and Israel want the Palestinian people to have a secure and prosperous future free from the corrosive hatred that has so far prevented them from thriving.”

Cruz’s proposed bill, which he said he will be introducing later this week, will include strong sanctions and mechanisms for their enforcement as well as calling for a dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program.

“A negotiated settlement is not an absolute prerequisite to Israel’s security, as the administration has claimed,” Cruz concluded, “but rather establishing Israel’s security may well be the only way to eventually reach any such settlement.”

Cruz is also the sponsor of another pro-Israel bill presented two weeks ago which would require the U.S. State Department to offer a $5 million reward for capturing the Hamas terrorists responsible for the murder of a dual American-Israeli citizen, Naftali Fraenkel, along with two other Israeli teens. The bill is co-sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and includes a version in the House co-sponsored by Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

That bill, along with another bipartisan Senate resolution in support of Israel’s operation in Gaza, appeared in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

A Chapter Closes

Shimon Peres speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for his successor as Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, July 24, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shimon Peres speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for his successor as Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, July 24, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JERUSALEM — In the midst of a grinding war in Gaza, a sometimes near-empty Knesset gallery was packed last week for an uplifting moment: what probably was the final political act of Israel’s elder statesman.

Shimon Peres — former Israeli prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and now former president — stood before the Knesset for the last time as a public servant on July 24, just prior to the inauguration of his successor, Reuven Rivlin.

Facing his professional home for almost all of the past six decades, Peres gave a farewell speech that traced the arc of his long career, recounting
Israel’s past, defending it in its present predicament and offering hope for its future.

“We are a people that experienced unimaginable agony,” Peres said. “And we are a people that reached the lofty heights of human achievement. We made great efforts. We paid a heavy price.”

It was a toned-down ceremony due to the continuing conflict in Gaza and was an inauspicious time for Peres, 91, to be exiting the political scene.

For decades, the man who in 1994 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping engineer the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords has repeated over and over that peace is within reach and could be achieved in his lifetime. Yet the final months of his presidency saw the acrimonious collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the murder of four boys — three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian teen — and Israel’s bloodiest military offensive in five years.

Peres is known today as a peacemaker, but he began his career in the Defense Ministry, helping to cement a close military alliance with France in the 1950s and developing Israel’s nuclear program in the 1960s. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Peres advocated the settlement of the West Bank and Gaza.

Only in the 1980s, as Labor Party leader, did Peres become the peacenik he’s known as today. And it was only after he left party politics for the presidency, in 2007 that he rose above the parliamentary rivalries and failed leadership bids that had embroiled and foiled him over the previous few decades to become the unifying figure he is today.

Peres is the phoenix of Israeli politics. From hawk to dove, from faction leader to uniter, he has ridden the wave of Israeli history and somehow stayed afloat while others fell, faded away or died. It is that history that makes Peres one of the few Israeli leaders who could deliver the speech he did last week: at once vociferously defending Israel’s offensive in Gaza while also calling for an aggressive approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“There is no place to doubt our victory,” Peres said, adding immediately: “We know that no military victory will be enough. There is no permanent security without permanent peace. Just as there is no real peace without real security.”

In a political career that spans 55 years, Peres has never prevailed in a popular election. He became prime minister in 1984 after his party, unable to form a government, entered into a unity coalition with the Likud. He also occupied the post briefly in 1977, after Yitzhak Rabin resigned, and in 1995, after Rabin’s assassination.

The peace treaty Peres yearns for has yet to be signed. But whether or not peace comes in his lifetime — though in his 10th decade he still appears energetic — his starring role in so much of Israeli history has earned him a respect that transcends political divisions.

At the Knesset session on July 24, Peres received thunderous applause from a generally divided house.

The man who succeeds him, Reuven Rivlin, is in many ways Peres’ opposite. Rivlin is a lifelong Likudnik; Peres has bounced between three parties. Rivlin wants to annex the West Bank; Peres prefers a two-state solution. Rivlin has pledged to focus his efforts on healing Israel’s internal divisions; Peres at times has acted like Israel’s second foreign minister.

Though he is no longer a government official, Peres is unlikely to disappear. He intends to continue working for regional reconciliation at his Peres Center for Peace, and he still will be a presence in the media and at international conferences.

And Peres’ story remains woven into the history of Israel — its successes, its failures, its frustrations and its resilience.

“When I return and meet the beauty and strength of the State of Israel, I find myself shedding a tear,” he said near the end of his speech. “Maybe excited slightly more than my younger friends. Because throughout my years I witnessed the entire incredible journey and the miracles of Israel.”

Economic Impact

A Gap store at the quiet Mamillamall in Jerusalem. Sales are affected due to a drop in tourism during Operation Protective Edge.  (Photos Joshua Runyan)

A Gap store at the quiet Mamillamall in Jerusalem. Sales are affected due to a drop in tourism during Operation Protective Edge. (Photos Joshua Runyan)

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A storefront, quiet and lacking customers last week, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

JERUSALEM — There was a time in the not-so-distant past when a visitor to Jerusalem’s high-end outdoor Mamilla mall skirting the Old City’s Western Wall just outside the Jaffa Gate would strain to hear Israel’s native language of Hebrew. Among the throngs of people perusing the jewelry stores, fashion houses and art galleries during the height of the summer tourist season would be visitors from North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

But on Wednesday night last week, such tourists were nowhere to be found, and the thoroughfare lined by Rolex, Abercrombie & Fitch, the Gap and upscale restaurants was reduced to the equivalent of a municipal mall found in dust-strewn Israeli towns such as Beit She’an or Kiryat Malachi. There were still people, but they were locals.

And they weren’t spending.

“We’re hurting,” said Esther Berdugo, 60, standing outside the Israel Antiquities store where she’s worked for seven years, her back leaning against the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone that lines buildings new and ancient in the Israeli capital. “We feel it. We feel it in the stores. There are no tourists, just Israelis.”

She pointed to the Rimon café across the street to prove her point.

“People over there used to stand in line to wait for a table, it was so busy,” she said in Hebrew.

At 8:30 that night, just a handful of people patronized the restaurant. Most of them sipped coffee.

Over at the A & F Brands Factory Store, one of the first storefronts people encounter when they walk through the mall’s entrance facing the pricey David Citadel Hotel, clerk Dan Levi, 23, walked among the retailer’s displays of button-down shirts and designer jeans. No one else was in the store.

“In July and August, we get 20,000 people per day walking through Mamilla,” he said. “Since the war began, it’s 6,000. And we depend on business during the summer to carry us through the winter season.”

As Israel entered its 17th day of fighting in its Operation Protective Edge to destroy enemy tunnels dug by the terrorist group Hamas and stop the firing of rockets from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, life in Jerusalem — the economic realities of decreased tourism notwithstanding — continued more or less as before. Air-raid sirens hadn’t been heard for several days; cars and buses still moved along such central thoroughfares as King David and King George streets; pedestrians still clogged the small sidewalks along Agrippas Street leading to the famed Mahane Yehuda market.

But beneath the surface were the worries and concerns of shopkeepers such as Berdugo, who realize that with each additional day of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s economy gets more and more isolated. When asked what she felt about the planeload of North American immigrants who arrived in the country just a day before, Berdugo’s face lit up. Like many Israelis, she spoke effusively of how important it was for foreign Jews to cast their lot with Israel.

Also read, Aliyah During Wartime.

“I am inspired,” she said. “The Jewish people are one. This is very important. But even more so, they’ve come because they truly love the land.”

But press further, and some locals can’t help but call the new arrivals “crazy” for giving up easy lives in places such as the United States for a life of hardship in a dangerous part of the world.

Yoel Cohen, former chairman of the School of Communication at Ariel University and author of “God, Jews and the Media,” explained the dichotomy in Israeli attitudes as part of how they view the diaspora Jewish community in general.

“Overall, there’s not a great deal of interest among Israelis in the diaspora, and that gets expression in the extent to which the Israeli media covers the diaspora,” he said. “The interest is mainly unidirectional, such that Jewish newspaper editors are interested in what happens here … but the Israeli media fails to cover the diaspora in an important way.”

The disinterest only goes so far, however, and in times of existential crisis or when anti-Semitic attacks threaten Jews abroad, said Cohen, Israeli attitudes reflect more of an identification with a united global Jewish community.

That sense of shared identity goes both ways, said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg. Wrapping up a four-week visit to the Jewish state, Blumenthal said that witnessing war from the perspective of a non-tourist — he took part in a rabbinical conference run by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem — has strengthened his sense of Jewish identity.

“I’m still trying to process everything and decide what it’s all really about,” he said of the ongoing conflict. “But it’s deepened my sense of Jewish peoplehood.

“It’s striking that in my program of 27 rabbis, nobody went home [when the fighting started]. Everybody stayed,” he continued. “So on the one hand, yes, people decided this might not be the best place to take a vacation, but I’ve seen lots of people stay.”

And while he experienced firsthand what fleeing to a bomb shelter is like when air-raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem weeks ago, a recent trip to the war-torn community of Sderot just a mile from the Gaza Strip afforded Blumenthal the “opportunity,” he said, of witnessing just how “normal” life in Israel is during a war.

“There’s a tremendous pride and strength [among Israelis], a sense that we’re not going anywhere,” the rabbi said of locals in Sderot. “And throughout my time in Israel, I feel incredibly protected, as long as you follow directives. It’s a strange feeling to hear a siren while on a bus. You pull over like every other car, you crouch down and you protect your head. Then the siren is over, you wait a couple of minutes, and everything starts up again like nothing happened.”

Life goes on, emphasized Berdugo. “People who come here are not afraid. They realize that this land is ours.”

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com