Day of Rage American pols react to violence in Israel

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A Palestinian throws a tear gas canister Monday during clashes with Israeli troops at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. (MOHAMMED SABER/EPA/Newscom)

Three Israelis were murdered and 20 more injured following multiple terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and near Tel Aviv on Tuesday organized by Palestinian groups as part of a Day of Rage.

The murders are the latest in a string of violent attacks on Israelis perpetrated by knife- and gun-wielding individuals, leading to security crackdowns and fears of a Third Intifada. Thus far, the United States has seemingly done little more than condemn the violence and remind all parties that it is monitoring the situation.

Tuesday morning, the State Department, in a statement attributed to spokesman John Kirby, condemned “in the strongest terms” the terrorist attacks, adding that “we mourn any loss of innocent life, Israeli or Palestinian.”

The substance of the one paragraph statement did not vary greatly from a readout made available to reporters late last week, which offered scant details of separate phone calls between Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Oct. 10 to “express his deep concern” over the recent violence.

Kerry reminded the two leaders of the “importance of strongly condemning violence and combating incitement and taking affirmative steps to reduce tensions,” including upholding the status quo at the Temple Mount, which Muslims refer to as Haram al Sharif.

The Tuesday violence came as part of a daily round of attacks perpetrated by Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Israel. Three people were killed in two simultaneous incidents in the East Talpiot neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem and in the Geula neighborhood in the central part of the city.

Two men, identified by police as Palestinians from the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, attacked passengers on an Egged bus in East Talpiot, killing a man in his 60s. One assailant carried a gun and the other a knife. A second man, 45, later died at Shaare Zedek hospital. At least 10 other people injured by gunshots and stabbing wounds were treated at area hospitals. One of the attackers was killed and the other wounded during the attack. According to reports, the assailants first attempted to commandeer the bus before attacking passengers.

In the Haredi Orthodox Geula neighborhood, police said an attacker drove a car into a bus stop, killing one and seriously injuring another before exiting the car and stabbing pedestrians. A security guard shot and seriously wounded the attacker, who was identified as a resident of eastern Jerusalem with Israeli citizenship. An employee of the Bezeq telecommunications group, the assailant used a company car in the attack, Ynet reported.

Two attacks on Tuesday morning took place in the central Israeli city of Raanana, located about 10 miles from Tel Aviv and home to many immigrants from English-speaking countries.

An eastern Jerusalem resident employed by a local rehabilitation center stabbed pedestrians at a bus stop on Ahuza Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. He was subdued by civilians, according to police.

Another resident of eastern Jerusalem, reported to be a municipal worker, was captured and subdued by passers-by after stabbing pedestrians near Raanana City Hall, police said.

Early Tuesday afternoon, police said a Jewish-Israeli stabbed a fellow Jewish-Israeli near Haifa after mistaking him for a Palestinian. The attack took place near an IKEA store in Kiryat Ata, located in northern Israel.

Also Tuesday, hundreds of Gaza Palestinians rioted close to the Erez Crossing near the security fence with Israel, throwing rocks and firebombs, according to police. The border with Gaza was closed.

Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of the Security Cabinet to assess the security situation.

According to Gregg Roman, director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank that publishes Middle East Quarterly, the response coming from the Obama administration shows a general lack of understanding of the current situation.

“[The] U.S. is treating it like any other Monday in Israel when it’s not,” said Roman. “It’s not business as usual.”

With each of these murders an entire family is shattered and will never be the same.

Roman described the incidents, which some have termed “lone wolf attacks,” and viral incitement as the “ISIS-ization” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, borrowing from an acronym used by the Islamic State organization that has de facto control of swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Though a Third Intifada “may be even more frightful” than the Second Intifada, which was launched in 2000 and claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis, Roman also predicted that the situation could present an opportunity.

“Maybe they’ll realize [the 1993 Oslo peace accord] is dead,” said Roman, who in the past served as a political adviser to Daniel Ayalon during that politician’s time as Israel’s deputy foreign minister. This could be a “third Israeli awakening.”

It could prove to be an American awakening as well, he contended. Congress could tighten the purse strings and stop funding corrupt Palestinian Authority officials and call for increased engagement between Israelis and Palestinians, with the help of regional partners such as Jordan, he suggested.

Sorrow at the escalation of violence came from many quarters of the Jewish community.

“With each of these murders an entire family is shattered and will never be the same. Our hearts ache for their loss as we hope for this violence to end,” said Michael Siegal, chair of the board for the Jewish Federations of North America, in a written statement.

“We continue to mourn for those who have been murdered and pray for their families, and we wish for a full and speedy recovery to all of those who have been injured. No family should have to endure such pain and suffering,” echoed Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“There is no possible justification for this shedding of innocent blood, and we continue to stand in solidarity with the State of Israel and its efforts to combat terrorism and stop these senseless attacks,” Silverman added.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism, the umbrella organization of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements, headquartered in Jerusalem, condemned the acts.

“The cruelty of those who attack innocent civilians and children on their way home from school seems to know no limit,” the statement attributed to WUPJ leadership said.

“During dark times like these, there is a powerful urge to hate and to inflict collective punishment on ‘the other.’ However, we cannot let extremists set the agenda for the rest of us. There will only be peace once the fundamentalists no longer perpetuate this cycle of hate.”

WUPJ international leadership was scheduled to meet in Jerusalem this week in an expression of solidarity and will have full representation at the World Zionist Congress, scheduled to meet in Jerusalem from Oct. 20 to Oct. 22.

Some members of Congress declared their solidarity with Israel in the wake of the most recent attacks.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Baltimore Jewish community, said via email, “I’m concerned and saddened by the increasing incident of attacks on Israelis in recent days. The brutal attacks against men and women, young and old, religious and secular, soldiers and students are deplorable terrorist acts that must be condemned forcefully and cease immediately.”

Likewise, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said via email, “Today and every day I continue to stand with a friend and treasured ally, Israel, in the face of troubling and heart-wrenching attacks. We must ensure that Israel, our nation’s trusted ally, has the resources it needs to protect its people and the support necessary to end the cycle of violence.

“As vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have been insistent and persistent on foreign aid and military assistance to Israel that maintains its qualitative military edge on its defensive systems. A rise in violence in Israel underscores the need for Congress to continue to work together to stand with Israel. You can count on me to be an unabashed and unwavering fighter for the safety and security of Israel.”

Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas laid the blame for the violence — which began soon after Abbas’ return late last month from New York, where he told the U.N. General Assembly that his people would no longer see themselves bound by any peace agreement — squarely on Palestinian leadership.

“These attacks have been incubated by the continued incitement and glorification of violence by the Palestinian leadership, most recently by President Mahmoud Abbas during his address at the United Nations General Assembly,” Cruz said last week in a written statement.

Cruz noted that Eitam Henkin was a dual American-Israeli citizen. Henkin and his wife, Naama, who lived in the Neria West Bank settlement, were killed Oct. 1 when Palestinians fired multiple shots into their vehicle. Four of the couple’s young children were in the backseat during the attack but were unharmed.

“The terrorist who killed him did not care, as his sole intent was to kill Jews, not to engage in a political process,” said Cruz. “There is no moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and the obligation of Israel to act in defense of its people.”

Following the attacks Tuesday morning, Cruz added, “Meat cleavers and carving knives are the tools of barbaric violence, not the diplomatic process. [Abbas] must end this savagery immediately or face the loss of the support American taxpayers have generously extended for many decades.”

He reiterated the United States’ ongoing commitment to Israel “in the ongoing fight against the radical Islamic fanaticism that is trying to destroy both our countries.”

JTA contributed to this report.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

On the Attack Jewish pro-Palestinian groups claim Israel advocates stifle free speech

“Stifling Dissent,” a report compiled by Jewish Voice for Peace, claims that  pro-Palestinian voices are being limited on college campuses.

“Stifling Dissent,” a report compiled by Jewish Voice for Peace, claims that pro-Palestinian voices are being limited on college campuses.

Critics of Israel are being silenced on campus, the Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish pro-Palestinian group, contends in a newly released report.

The report, “Stifling Dissent,” issued Sept. 30, asserts that Israel advocates are using “false charges” of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel’s policies. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional -Rights issued a similar work on the same day, “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US.”

The 69-page JVP report argues that Jewish communal organizations are seeking to “muzzle political criticism” of Israeli policies and threatening “constitutionally protected speech and academic freedom.” JVP accuses groups such as StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America — which JVP describes as “far-right political organizations” — of filing false complaints with the federal government that claim campuses are hostile for Jewish students, pressure university administrators into canceling pro-Palestinian speakers and engage in “blacklisting professors.”

In a conference call with reporters last week, Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, said that intimidation of pro-Palestinian students is “widespread across the country” and that the incidents detailed in the joint report are “only the tip of the iceberg with a lot more incidents going unreported.”

“We’re seeing disparate treatment for students who are speaking out for Palestinian rights,” said Khalidi. She said that that pro-Palestinian students are punished disproportionately or scrutinized more heavily than other students for violations of university policy, such as delivering mock eviction notices.

But StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein called the reports “a feeble attempt to try to turn the tables,” saying the same tactics JVP and Palestine Legal-CCR accuse Jewish organizations of employing are in reality being used by pro-Palestinian students to stifle the free speech of pro-Israel students.

JVP’s report makes mention of the “Irvine 11 Prosecution.” In February 2010, Muslim students repeatedly interrupted a speech by then-Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren at the University of California at Irvine. For their actions, a court convicted the students of conspiracy to disrupt a public meeting and sentenced them to community service.

Tallie Ben-Daniel, JVP Academic Advisory Council coordinator, said that the students’ actions were “an important tactic that people use all the time” to make their voices heard. She conceded that Students for Justice in Palestine, often connected with similar-style protests, can use “theatrical” and “dramatic” tactics to “make people pay attention.”  However, she said she was “troubled” by the idea that such groups should expect a harsh punishment, which JVP maintains is tantamount to a double standard.

Rothstein, who attended Oren’s speech, disputed JVP’s characterization of the event. She said a StandWithUs videographer captured the speech and the students’ actions outside the event. That video was subpoenaed and used to convict the 11 UC Irvine and UC Riverdale students.

Several well-known Jewish communal organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee ,were named in the report. Ben-Daniel said that the issue with these organizations is that they “set a political litmus test” to participate in the Jewish communal world.

The report also criticizes Hillel International for its standards for partnership. Local Hillels cannot partner with organizations that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace, said Ben-Daniel, “is proudly taking up the BDS call.”

“Hillel polices Jewish identity, and we want that to change and be more open,” said Ben-Daniel. “What’s concerning to us is that Hillel is seen as the voice of all Jewish students on campus [and] we believe that they should invite students of all political persuasions.”

“ADL and AJC — everybody is concerned about the BDS mission,” said Rothstein. “It’s a continuation of the Arab League boycott, and it’s illegal. You can only ignore it for so long. So now the greater Jewish community is concerned, and [JVP] doesn’t like that!”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Netanyahu’s Silent Treatment Prime minister skewers international community during UN address

In a pointed moment during his 40-minute address to the 70th United Nations General  Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped speaking for 44 seconds,  scanning the room with a stern look on his face, to  underscore his indictment of the international community for its “deafening silence” in the face of Iranian threats against the Jewish state.

After days of praise for the Iran nuclear agreement from world leaders, including Pope Francis, when Netanyahu took the main podium in New York on Oct. 1, he told the international observers present to “check your enthusiasm at the door.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasts the international community for its support of the Iran nuclear agreement. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasts the international community for its support of the Iran nuclear agreement. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The prime minister asserted that the deal makes war more likely and denounced Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, alleging that Iran has sent thousands of soldiers into Syria to “prop up Assad’s brutal regime” and has threatened to open up two new terror fronts against Israel.

Not one to shy away from props to make a rhetorical point, Netanyahu held up a book authored by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that he called a “400-page screed” that outlines Iran’s plans to destroy Israel.

“Iran’s been doing all of this, everything I just  described, just in the last six months when it was trying to convince the world to remove sanctions,” said Netanyahu. Without sanctions in place,  Netanyahu said, “Iran will go on the prowl devouring more and more prey.”

He acknowledged that it would be easier to keep quiet rather than stand in opposition to the majority of the world that supports the nuclear agreement. But, he said, “I refuse to remain silent.”

“The days when the Jewish people remained silent in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over,” Netanyahu said.

Despite the repeated castigation of the global community, Netanyahu praise President Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, and he  reiterated the “unshakable” bond between the United States and Israel. The two leaders have sparred  frequently this year over the nuclear negotiations and expected implementation.

The days when the Jewish people remained silent in the face of genocidal  enemies, those days are over

Toward the end of his address, the prime minister addressed the stalled peace process and — in  response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech the previous day in which he stated that the Palestinians would not be bound by previous agreements — called for renewed negotiations without preconditions.

Abbas said, “We declare that as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, which renders us an authority without real powers, and as long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities and to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners in accordance with our agreements, they leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of those agreements.

“We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must  assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power.”

Abbas, who was on hand for the inaugural raising of the Palestinian flag outside United Nations headquarters, did not specify when or how the Palestinian Authority would withdraw from the agreements.

Tension has been building, and fear of a third  intifada is brewing. Four Israelis were killed in the span of three days following weeks of tension over the Temple Mount.

While Abbas has laid the blame on Israelis and condemned Israel for killing two of the Palestinian attackers responsible for the recent murders,  Netanyahu said that Israel has maintained the  status quo on the Temple Mount.

“Israel expects the Palestinian Authority to abide by its commitments,” said Netanyahu. “The Palestinians should not walk away from peace.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

‘An Obligation’ How Israeli volunteers in Europe are helping Syrian refugees

Dr. Tali Shaltiel explains to a group of Afghans how to get to the refugee  registration center some 40 miles away. (Gavin Rabinowitz)

Dr. Tali Shaltiel explains to a group of Afghans how to get to the refugee
registration center some 40 miles away. (Gavin Rabinowitz)

LESBOS, Greece — As the small rubber dinghy crowded with Syrians and Afghans emerged from the midnight-black sea to land on a desolate pebble beach, the first people to greet the bewildered and frightened refugees were two Israelis.

“Does anyone need a doctor?”Majeda Kardosh, 27, a nurse from Nazareth, shouted repeatedly in Arabic as the asylum seekers scrambled ashore amid cries of celebration and tears of relief at surviving the short but perilous crossing from Turkey to this Greek island.

Her team partner, Tali Shaltiel, 31, a physician from Jerusalem, stood knee deep in the water, helping a shivering 4-year-old girl out of her wet clothes and a pair of inflatable armbands that would have provided little protection had the overloaded boat capsized at sea.

Kardosh and Shaltiel are part of a small advance group of volunteers from IsraAid, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that is trying to provide some assistance to the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who are flowing into Europe.

While IsraAid has plenty of experience in disaster relief and assistance in 31 countries — from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa — this mission presents a unique challenge: The beneficiaries come from countries that are traditionally hostile, or even officially still at war, with Israel.

But for Shaltiel, that’s unimportant.

“You are meeting fellow human beings,” she said. “You see agony and pain, you see a need; then what does it matter where the person is from.

“In the end you hope that the human contact will bring us forward,” added Shaltiel, who also volunteered for the IsraAid mission in South Sudan.

But she does acknowledge that for the Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis — who make up the vast majority of those arriving — having Israelis as a first contact in Europe can be unexpected and unnerving.

“We try to find a balance,” Shaltiel said. “On the one hand, we are wearing IsraAid shirts and speaking most of the time in Hebrew to each other. But, ultimately, you just want people to get help, you don’t want to put up barriers to that.”

Plus, in reality, even though the Israelis are wearing bright blue Stars of David on their shirts, most of the refugees don’t even notice amid the chaos and tumult of emotions of the landing beaches, said Kardosh, who does most of the communicating with them in Arabic.

Among those who recognize the T-shirts, most have a positive response — although some are resistant. One man who was receiving treatment from Shaltiel kept asking Kardosh, “Tell me the truth, is she a Jew?”

“I tried to ignore him, but he persisted. Eventually I said to him, ‘She is here to help you, what does it matter who she is?’” Kardosh said. “After about 10 minutes he came back and offered Tali a biscuit and apologized.”

Another issue for IsraAid has been finding Arabic-speaking personnel who can communicate with the refugees. That’s particularly important for the second part of IsraAid’s mission, which is providing psychological first-aid to those who have experienced trauma.

One IsraAid volunteer social worker spent Saturday providing support to the family of a 5-year-old girl who drowned on the crossing. Another team was on the island of Rhodes assisting survivors from a boat that sank, killing 34, including 15 infants and children.

“We are working in complicated conditions and our Arabic speakers have that experience of working in difficult situations,” said Naama Gorodischer, IsraAid’s global programs manager.

Still, it’s a challenge for those who have never done field work before.

“Usually I’m dressed in heels and a skirt with my regular shift and going to the gym four times a week,” said Kardosh, who is also a lecturer at the Schoenbrunn Nursing School at Tel Aviv University.

“Now I’m here,” she said, pointing at the beach strewn with deflated dinghies, hundreds of life jackets, lost shoes and trash — the debris of thousands of journeys.

At the moment, the main aim of the team is to assess the needs of the refugees and find gaps in the services provided by the overwhelmed Greek authorities and other volunteer groups.

IsraAid plans to expand the medical teams and eventually establish a mobile clinic that will provide emergency care for new arrivals on the beaches. It will also expand the psycho-social help to bases in the registration and refugee camps that have been set up.

The NGO also has volunteers providing assistance on the Croatia-Hungary border. Eventually IsraAid plans to be in final-destination countries, like Germany, where they hope to help with refugee rehabilitation.

“The aim is to have a presence as an organization along the entire journey,” Gorodischer said.

On the beach in Lesbos, the work goes beyond the medical. When she is finished dealing with the hypothermia, dehydration, wounds and illnesses of the travelers, Shaltiel gathers some of the refugees to explain their situation to them.

Most have only a vague idea of which country they are in or that they are on an island and not the mainland. None realize that their landing spot is still a grueling 40-mile walk from the registration camps.

“It’s safer to stay here during the night and start your walk in the morning,” she tells them, giving them a map made by the IsraAid team with instructions written in Arabic.

The volunteers look to assist in any way they can.

“The situation is chaotic, you don’t always know what you need in the beginning, so we keep looking for ways to help, to see what’s needed,” said Boaz Arad, a volunteer who was documenting IsraAid activities and also organizing the logistics and transportation.

After finding hundreds of people sleeping in the open along the road, IsraAid volunteers bought sleeping bags to distribute to families with children. They were also waiting for a shipment of donated baby carriers from Israel.

The American Jewish Committee said it was increasing funding to IsraAid, which is also supported by other American Jewish groups and the Israeli government.

“During this holiest period of the Jewish year, we are proud to assist … in offering vital help to Syrians who fled the horrific war in their homeland and seek a new start,” said AJC executive director David Harris.

For Shaltiel, the sight of tens of thousands of refugees walking across Europe was especially poignant.

“When we say ‘Never again,’ it is also an obligation to do something,” she said. “Apparently I can’t stop the war in Syria, but I can do something.”

Uncertain Future Still, Israeli ministry plows ahead with World Jewry Project

Natan Sharansky (left), head of the Jewish Agency, joins Israeli Prime  Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the latter's Jerusalem office in 2013. (Kofi Gideon/Flash90)

Natan Sharansky (left), head of the Jewish Agency, joins Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the latter’s Jerusalem office in 2013. (Kofi Gideon/Flash90)

TEL AVIV — With a budget reaching $300 million, it was conceived as a broad partnership between the Israeli government and leading Diaspora Jewish groups. Its goal: to create a stronger connection between global Jews and Israel.

But nearly two years after its launch was announced with much fanfare — and after a string of delays — the Joint Initiative of the Government of Israel and World Jewry has yet to get off the ground. Even as an Israeli government ministry moves forward with appointing its staff, two of the three bodies that once led the project are now distancing themselves from it, and funding remains uncertain.

“There’s been a lot of politics surrounding this initiative,” said Jay Ruderman, whose Ruderman Family Foundation focuses on strengthening Israel-Diaspora ties. “This initiative is talking about being around for the long term. The important question to ask is, who’s in charge? Who’s making the decisions? How open are they to learning about the Diaspora and treating them as equals?”

Inaugurated in November 2013, the initiative was conceived to fund Israel education and Jewish identity-building programs in Diaspora communities — in camps, schools and on campus — and finance young Diaspora Jews coming on short- and long-term trips to Israel. The project hopes to replicate the success of Birthright Israel, the free 10-day trips to Israel that have drawn more than 500,000 participants, by building platforms for similar trips and programs that will make Diaspora youth feel closer to Israel.

But what has happened instead is a series of delays, caused in part by a war and last year’s election campaign, and further exacerbated by vague promises and a lack of concrete funding. When the project was approved in June 2014, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky predicted program proposals would begin to be issued within a month, but they have yet to materialize. Funders from the Diaspora, meant to provide a majority of the budget, have not yet committed to donating.

Israel’s Cabinet approved the project last year as a tripartite partnership: Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office would direct the initiative in concert with the Jewish Agency, which would represent major Diaspora organizations, and the Diaspora Ministry would manage the day-to-day operations.

The Cabinet voted to invest $50 million in the initiative by 2017 and a total of $100 million by 2022. The government wanted Diaspora sources — federations, philanthropic foundations and individual donors — to contribute double those sums fortwo-thirds of the initiative’s $300 million total budget.

But the initiative has yet to launch. A subsequent Cabinet decision in June, weeks after Israel’s new governing coalition formed, put the Diaspora Ministry in charge of the initiative’s policy and its operations — effectively removing the Prime Minister’s Office. In early August, the Jewish Agency quit the project, complaining in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it had been frozen out of the decision-making process.

“Until the program is returned to its original conception and direction, we no longer see this as the joint initiative between the Government of Israel and World Jewry and therefore can no longer see ourselves part of it,” Sharansky and his agency’s board chairman, Charles Ratner, wrote in the Aug. 6 letter. “This undertaking has transformed simply into a funding framework for programs to be conducted by a single government Ministry.”

The Diaspora Ministry says it has remained faithful to the initiative’s original goals and that it will begin funding programs across the Jewish world by early 2016. But a Diaspora Ministry official said that the ministry will have exclusive final say over which programs are approved.

The ministry official said the funding will be allocated across the Jewish ideological spectrum. A steering committee appointed by the ministry includes a former Sheldon Adelson deputy, a Detroit federation executive, a Holocaust education activist and an Israeli philanthropist. The Jewish Agency has also been offered a seat on the committee.

“The professional staff will work together with federations, philanthropies,” the official said. “The initiative doesn’t look at denominations or political affiliations. It looks at platforms.”

However, the ministry official could not name any confirmed funders who have committed to matching the government’s budget for the project. And the umbrella Jewish communal organization in the United States, the Jewish Federations of North America, supports the Jewish Agency’s protest of the initiative.

“We are proud of the Jewish Agency’s ongoing effort to meet the needs of the Jewish people, and we support their strategy as they move forward with the Government of Israel’s initiative,” JFNA president Jerry Silverman said in a statement.

It isn’t even clear whether the Diaspora Ministry has Netanyahu’s support; a spokesman for the prime minister would not comment on the issue. And Netanyahu sent a letter to Sharansky and Ratner, the Jewish Agency chairs, weeks after their split with the Diaspora Ministry suggesting that he would like to continue working with them toward the initiative’s goals.

“The Jewish Agency is our historic and invaluable partner to this end” of strengthening Israel-Diaspora ties, Netanyahu wrote on Aug. 17. He added that he hopes to “expand our cooperation even further.”

Despite the conflicts and unknowns, the Diaspora Ministry is optimistic that the initiative will move forward. The ministry is hiring a professional staff to oversee it, housed in a government-funded nonprofit that manages the project. The official said the nonprofit would launch pilot programs within the next several months.

“There are a number of foundations and philanthropies who have already been in talks with the ministry,” the official said. “It’s good to be ambitious.”

Why Israelis are ditching Turkey for Georgia

092515_georgiaTBILISI, Georgia — Rabbi Rakhmim Murdukhashvili had come to think of a crowded synagogue as a distant childhood memory.

In 1979, the year he was born, the Jewish population of Georgia was more than 28,000. But during his lifetime the Jewish population has dwindled to just 4,000 as the republic coped with war and instability in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Georgia’s Jewish community dates back at least 1,500 years, and its trajectory is emblematic of a decline that in the decades since the fall of communism has been reshaping ancient Jewish communities throughout the Caucasus region — including the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan and Dagestan, and the Bukharan Jews of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

But since 2009, a spike in Israeli tourism has breathed new life into the Jewish community of this mountainous republic known for its breathtaking scenery, friendly people and a super-sized meat dumpling known as khinkali.

“On some Friday nights, I close my eyes and listen to the sound of 80 Jews singing in my synagogue — something I remember only from when my dad would take me to shul,” said Murdukhashvili, the spiritual leader of the Great Synagogue Tbilisi and a Jewish ritual slaughterer, or shochet. “They sing in the Moroccan, not Georgian, style. But who cares? Before they came, the only time I had a full house was on Yom Kippur.”

Rabbi Meir Kozlovsky, the local Chabad emissary, said Israelis “discovered Georgia” as an alternative to Turkey, where Israeli tourism has fallen by half in the last six years following the worsening of relations between the two countries. Some 60,000 Israelis now visit Georgia annually, according to Israel’s Tourism Ministry — nearly triple the number recorded in 2010.

Israeli tourism has prompted the opening of at least three kosher restaurants and several kosher hostels in this capital city alone. It has also meant that Tbilisi’s two synagogues — long populated by a graying, predominantly male crowd — are abuzz with hundreds of Israelis streaming in daily. Some only come to walk around and snap a picture, but many dozens come for the evening prayer service, when the synagogue’s back rows fill up with young men on their way to a mountain trek or are just returning from one.

“I can count on 10 fingers the number of times that we had to open the upstairs floor,” said Murdukhashvili, adding that since the Israelis came, the upstairs synagogue is opened every Rosh Hashanah to accommodate the influx.

Sensing the financial potential of the new visitors, the Jewish community of Tbilisi quickly set up a kosher restaurant, King David, in the synagogue courtyard, which also has a kiosk and a souvenir shop. Meanwhile, local Jewish entrepreneurs are preparing to open a kosher food service, where campers can stock up on kosher food and Israeli snacks to take on mountain treks.

Georgia is “as close and cheap as Turkey, but without the anti-Semitism,” said Liad Shemesh, an Israeli tourist in his 30s. “I don’t feel especially moved to contribute to the Turkish economy right now.”

Ortal Panehla, who hails from the Tel Aviv suburb of Shaarei Tikvah, said she traveled to Georgia not as a protest against Turkey but because of the country’s beauty and exoticism.

“You can’t really compare a Turkish vacation at some beach resort or at the pool to a hiking trip in Georgia,” Panehla said. “It’s really two different experiences.”

Along with the tourists, some Israelis of Georgian descent have returned permanently to their country of origin to capitalize on the clientele they know so well. Etty Kricheli and her husband, Jacob, who immigrated to Israel in the 1970s, returned recently and last year opened Restaurant Jerusalem in central Tbilisi, where they serve traditional Georgian dishes like beef stew in hazelnut sauce and a kosher variant of khinkali.

They even hired a professional khinkali chef, who sometimes instructs patrons how to consume it: Using the right hand, grab the dumpling by its doughy top, which is not meant for consumption but only to function as a handle.

Kosher supervision at Restaurant Jerusalem, which is usually full to its capacity of 30 diners, is overseen by Nanuli Janashvili, a Georgian Jewish woman in her 50s. Janashvili said she belongs to a traditional community in which it only recently became acceptable for women to work. Restaurant Jerusalem, she said, is her first real job.

The Georgian government has also served as a modernizing force for the Jewish community. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili last month
attended a ceremony celebrating the 120th anniversary of the synagogue in Oni, 120 miles northwest of Tbilisi. Garibashvili, whose government provided some of the funding for renovations at the Oni and Tbilisi synagogues, called Georgia “the second homeland of the Jewish people.”

But Micho Benzion, said to be the country’s only other ritual slaughterer, is not so sure that Georgian Jewry will be able to survive for much longer. Oni used to have a flourishing Jewish community, Benzion said, but only 16 Jews remain. To pray, women are relied on to provide a minyan, or prayer quorum, a practice generally prohibited by Orthodox Jewish law.

“Sadly, I’m not sure what’s going to become of this community, Israeli tourists or no Israeli tourists,” Benzion said.

Benzion, 42, who is single and has no children, said he is staying in Georgia for now.

“But maybe it’s time that I, too, move to Israel,” he said, “to finally find a wife and settle down.”

Strange Bedfellows Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, British Jewry may need to make up

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn, the new head of Britain’s opposition Labor Party, has many of the makings of a hero for British Jews.

A Labor lawmaker with over 30 years of experience, Corbyn passionately and eloquently defends blue-collar Britain, multiculturalism and a left-of-center notion of social justice. These are issues that resonate with Britain’s 250,000-strong Jewish community, which has historically leaned Labor.

Yet, Corbyn’s election earlier this month has generated unprecedented concern in British Jewry’s ranks, where many resent his Israel-critical views and endorsement of enemies of the Jewish state, including Islamist militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Following an acrimonious exchange of allegations during Corbyn’s campaign for Labor leader, he and representatives of British Jewry may now find they need to mend fences and figure out a way to work together.

“The problem is not that Corbyn is an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier — he is neither,” said Dave Rich, a spokesman for the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s main watchdog. But Corbyn “seems to gravitate towards people who are, if they come with an anti-Israel sticker on them.”

Corbyn, 66, who has visited the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel nine times, publicly endorsed a blanket arms embargo on Israel and boycotting Israeli universities involved in weapons research.

Jonathan Sacerdoti, a Jewish political commentator and journalist, said Corbyn’s election “and failure to convincingly and definitively distance himself from his endorsements of anti-Semitic entities is sure to embolden the anti-Israel camp and its anti-Semites.”

Ambrosine Shitrit, co-founder of Yad B’yad, a right-leaning British anti-Semitism watchdog, called Corbyn’s election “one of the most tragic things to have happened to Labor.”

Corbyn’s Jewish critics have said that if he is to be trusted, he must first clarify or backtrack from a string of gestures he made toward anti-Semitic individuals and groups.

Famous among those gestures was his use during a speech he made in 2009 of the term “friends” to describe activists from Hezbollah and Hamas.

“Tomorrow evening it will be my pleasure and my honor to host an event in parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking,” Corbyn said of members of the Shiite Islamist militia and political party.

On Palestinian Islamic military and political group Hamas, Corbyn said, “I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well. Unfortunately the Israelis would not allow them to travel here.” Labeling Hamas a terrorist group, he added, was “a big, big historical mistake.”

Holocaust denier Paul Eisen wrote that Corbyn donated money to his Palestinian advocacy group, Deir Yassin Remembered.

Corbyn denied the claim and said during a television interview in July that he did not agree with Hamas and Hezbollah. He only called them friends, he said, as a figure of speech. He defended his talks with militant Islamists by comparing them with right-wing Israelis, “who have the same view possibly that the State of Israel should extend from the river to the sea.”

But his explanations failed to convince supporters of Israel and Labor Jews, including lawmaker Ivan Lewis, who following Corbyn’s election quit his Labor position as shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Lewis challenged Corbyn to attend a meeting on anti-Semitism on the left, and Corbyn accepted this week. The meeting, Lewis said, is meant in part to address “Jeremy’s support in the past for people who have used anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

Corbyn faces a chorus of other Labor critics, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who say the Labor leader’s radically socialist views on the economy will either split Labor, make it unelectable as a ruling party or both.

One of the most dramatic twists in Corbyn’s strained relationship with British Jewry’s establishment unfolded on Aug. 14, when the Jewish Chronicle — neither a right-wing publication nor one prone to making unfounded claims — warned in an editorial that Corbyn risked being “regarded from the day of his election as an enemy of Britain’s Jewish community.”

Speaking for what the paper said was “the vast majority of British Jews,” the Chronicle’s unusually harsh-worded editorial spoke of “deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr. Corbyn’s election as Labor leader.”

Yet, British Jews also have an interest in working with Corbyn, as evidenced in a Sept. 12 statement by Simon Johnson, CEO of Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council — an umbrella group with representation by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Despite “a number of concerns regarding some of Mr. Corbyn’s past connections,” Johnson wrote, “We will, as we always have, find ways of working with Her Majesty’s Opposition on matters relevant to us.” He added, “We hope that the Labor movement remains a welcoming environment for members of the Jewish community, many of whom have lifelong commitments to it.”

Johnson’s statement reflects a mutual need by Corbyn and the British Jews for cooperation. This need will prevail — perhaps through a succession of low-key, trust-building encounters — over the current atmosphere of distrust, according to Keith Harris-Kahn, a London-area Jewish sociologist and editor of the Jewish Journal of Sociology.

“It’s a very bad idea for the Jewish community to not have workable relationships with the major opposition party,” Harris-Kahn said, citing the community’s need to avoid partisanship and promote its interest in various British parliaments.

For Corbyn, Harris-Kahn said, “as a politician aspiring to be the prime minister of a multicultural country, it’s a very bad idea for him to be alienated from the majority of one significant British minority.”

‘Duty Bound to Help’ European Jews, mindful of risks, urge aid to refugees

Refugees flee along railroad tracks near the southern Hungarian village of Roszke.

Refugees flee along railroad tracks near the southern Hungarian village of Roszke.

When he looks into the tired eyes of the Syrian refugees now flooding Europe’s borders, Guy Sorman is reminded of his father, Nathan, who fled Germany for France just months before Adolf Hitler came to power.

“He wanted to go to the United States. Visa declined. He tried Spain, same result. He ended up in France, neither welcome nor deported,” Sorman wrote last week in an op-ed in Le Monde in which he argued that Europe should learn from its abandonment of the Jews during the Holocaust and accommodate the stream of migrants pouring through its borders from the war-torn Middle East.

Sorman’s view is not uncommon among European Jews, many of them living in societies still grappling with a sense of collective guilt for their indifference to the Nazi genocide — or complicity in it. At a Holocaust memorial event in Paris Sept. 6, French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia urged Europe’s leaders to match the actions of non-Jews who saved Jews from the Nazis by welcoming Syrian refugees.

Yet, as many European Jews rush to the refugees’ aid in word and deed, some worry that letting them stay may further contribute to the anti-Semitic violence driving Jews to leave Europe, much of it perpetrated by immigrants from the Middle East. Eager to exploit such fears, ISIS claimed in July that it had sent 1,000 fighters to infiltrate Europe as refugees.

“Some of these new immigrants — the Syrians and Iraqis especially — have been taught to hate Jews,” Henri Gutman, president of the left-leaning Belgian Jewish cultural group CCLJ, wrote in an op-ed published Aug. 31 on the organization’s website. “We risk further increases in anti-Semitism.”

While urging “generosity” toward the refugees, Gutman said Europeans must observe “imperatives of defense” against Islamism. The Central Jewish Organization of the Netherlands, where two elderly Holocaust survivors were hospitalized recently following an assault by robbers who appeared to be Middle Eastern immigrants, spoke to a similar tension in a statement from its chairman, Ron van der Wieken.

While “aware that some Middle Eastern refugees harbor very negative feelings toward Jews … Jews cannot withdraw support from those in need and fleeing serious violence,” van der Wieken wrote. He urged Holland to devise a “charitable” refugee policy.

Such tension even exists for some of the hundreds of Jews helping the refugees in Hungary, Austria, Italy and beyond.

“As Eastern European Jews, we carry the knowledge of how it feels like to flee our homes,” said Zoltan Radnoti, the newly elected chairman of the rabbinical board of the Mazsihisz umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities. “Still, I help the refugees with fear that I am helping send danger to other Jews in Europe. I know some of the refugees may have fired on our [Israeli] soldiers. Others would have done so in a heartbeat. I know. But I am duty bound to help.”

In Hungary, the main point of entry for a wave of refugees that authorities have only partially been able to check since its onset last month, approximately 150 Jews are involved in a relief operation mounted by local Jewish communities. Two weeks ago, Mazsihisz set up three collection depots in Budapest Jewish institutions from which it delivered approximately half a ton of food, clothes and other necessities to migrants. The community also collected $5,000 to buy diapers, medicine and water.

In Italy, the Jewish community of Milan threw open the doors of its Holocaust museum last month to accommodate homeless migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

And in Brussels, Menachen Margolin, a Chabad rabbi and director of the European Jewish Association lobby group, led a delegation of rabbis to deliver food and nonperishables to the refugees.

Such actions are part of a wider popular reaction in Europe to the migrant problem. It’s an issue that has worried immigration authorities for more than 20 years, but the wars in Syria and Iraq along with instability elsewhere in the region brought the crisis to a head last month, as tens of thousands began pouring into the European Union from Serbia.

In some cases, border guards were unable to stop the masses from crossing. In Hungary, authorities helped the masses move westward to wealthier EU countries, a policy consistent with right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s claim that the migrants are “a German problem” because that’s where the refugees “would like to go.” The move flouts EU rules that make refugees the responsibility of the first member state they reach.

On Sept. 8, Germany vowed to absorb 500,000 refugees per year — far beyond the figure pledged by other members.

Some 340,000 people have immigrated from the Middle East into Europe in 2015 alone, according to EU figures.

Some of the volunteers were jarred into action by the image of Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach on Sept. 2. Aylan’s father was the only member of his family who survived when its boat capsized en route from Turkey to Greece. The gruesome sight followed the discovery the previous week of 71 bodies in a truck abandoned on an Austrian highway.

But for Julia Kaldori, a Hungarian-born Jew who divides her time between Vienna and Budapest, the trigger was less shocking.

“I started seeing people convening at train stations in Budapest,” said Kaldori, the editor of Wina, the monthly publication of the Jewish Community of Vienna. “I began talking to some of them, and I couldn’t help becoming involved.”

Kaldori says she is aware that statistically, Middle Eastern immigrants are responsible for most of the violence driving French Jews to leave in record numbers — nearly 7,000 in 2014 alone. But “when you look into their eyes, the refugee issue stops being a demographic issue,” she said.

Kaldori hopes that having been helped by Jews, refugees with anti-Jewish views may reconsider. But Radnoti, the rabbi from Budapest, says he is less hopeful. Instead, he cites the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sinner cities that Abraham had pleaded with God to spare.

“If there are but five righteous souls in that group,” Radnoti said, “then we must do what we can to save them.”

Technology and Tikkun Olam: In health and medicine, Israel paves the way

A new app — LifeCompass — records incidents and alerts nearby medics and guides them to the scene. (Provided)

A new app — LifeCompass — records incidents and alerts nearby medics and guides them to the scene. (Provided)

Decades have passed since Israelis invented a modernized drip irrigation to maximize limited water supply and make desert bloom, yet Israeli curiosity, drive and ingenuity toward excellence continues to thrive. Israelis are determined to lead in solving some of the most pressing humanitarian challenges. Working on the precepts of tikkun olam, Israel persists at the forefront of innovation, seeking to make life better for all. Just one avenue where Israel excels is health and medicine.

Nearly 1 billion people in developed countries consider emergency response expensive and delayed, while upward of 6 billion people in the developing world simply lack access to any sort of emergence response. In cases of accidents, terror attacks or other medical emergencies, people are likely to die or suffer serious injuries because of a lack of proper response. With its unfortunate and long history of facing terror attacks, Israel has honed in on effective emergency response techniques to save lives quicker.

In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as in most major cities, ambulances typically get stuck in traffic and cannot arrive fast enough.

Following the Second Intifada, a group of young ambulance medics watched too many people die because aid was unavailable. So they envisioned a solution, where medics could be notified according to their proximity to a reported incident. Equipped with medical supplies, they could rush over and stabilize victims within the minutes before the ambulance arrives.

This model, now called United Hatzalah, dropped response times to under three minutes.

“We took chutzpah and ran with it,” said Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah of Israel. Since officially formalized in 2006, United Hatzalah has recruited over 2,500 trained volunteer medics to join the movement of community-based lifesaving. To fuel the program, the organization worked with Israeli startup NowForce to develop the LifeCompass app, an integrated GPS-powered system that records incidents, alerts nearby medics and guides them to arrive to the scene quickly.

In addition to the app, United Hatzalah has crafted and deployed customized ambulance motorcycles to weave through traffic.

This “ambucycle” is stocked with medical equipment and works in tandem with LifeCompass.

By way of practical ingenuity, United Hatzalah’s community-based emergency response model has exceled in cutting response time and attending to more people who need critical care.

United Hatzalah dispatchers received 245,000 calls last year, nearly a quarter of which are considered life-threatening situations.

Hooked on their effective program, United Hatzalah representatives have traveled the globe sharing their knowledge and experience.” We have taken what we have learned in Israel and begun sharing it with others, because we know that we can help solve this world-wide challenge,” said Beer.

In July, Beer and Dov Maisel, vice president of international projects, traveled to Dubai to present the model to delegates from several developing countries. This model has been deployed in places such as India, Lithuania, Argentina and Panama, and recently made its debut in the United States, with Jersey City into the United Rescue initiative.

While sharing tools and techniques with the world has huge merit, teaching and inspiring others to better the world is even more valuable, as Jewish proverbs explain.  Israeli institutions are famed as major research centers and engaged in Israel’s role as the “Startup Nation.” At the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, innumerable cutting-edge research and innovation have been born in the halls of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.

“Ask any researcher or academic in medicine anywhere in the world and they will tell you that Israelis are world-class, first-class innovators,” said Dr. Debra Kiez, an emergency medicine clinician based in Toronto.

Kiez also lectures at the Technion’s American Medical School program (TEAMS) on how to bridge Israeli and American medical systems.

“Israel is doing a large amount in medicine and science with very little; as a small yet impressive country, Israelis have a huge ability to discover, learn, innovate, research and teach,” said Kiez, who has worked in Canada, the U.S. and Israel.

“Hospitals and medical schools in Israel are rich learning environments … because people in Israel have learned how to maximize what they can do with very little,” she said.

TEAMS educates America’s future doctors, giving them hands on experience in a rigorous clinical setting while studying under top Israeli physicians and researchers. Graduates land residencies at top programs across North America and go on to successful and impactful careers as physicians, educators and researchers.

Like most American alumni from the Technion medical school, Dr. Samantha Jagger, now a cardiologist at AdvantageCare Physicians in Brooklyn, studied under Nobel Prize winners and stays connected to Israel by following all the published medical research.

“When I was a student at the Technion, I saw the first PillCam being tested during my rotations,” said Jagger.

“Now it’s a routine practice everywhere!” Jagger added that there is a special ablation procedure used to solve rhythmic problems in the heart developed in Israel that she and her colleagues use frequently.

Dr. Jason Brookman, a 2004 graduate of TEAMS currently working as a fellowship program director and assistant professor in anesthesia at Johns Hopkins University, said his experience in medical school was “a stepping stone for the rest of his “career.”

“Medical school is the foundation, like a background in a good painting, we paint as broadly as possible. With each additional training or residency, our medical careers get refined with smaller brush strokes. The nitty gritty details of medical practice rely on a solid foundation in medical school,” he explained.

Most of the benefits of studying in Israel is getting to learn from world-class experts while in a very diverse setting. As a small country with an extremely diverse population, Israeli doctors serve a wide range of people, with each population bringing unique diseases and cultural trends into the fold, said Kiez.

“My time at Technion and in Israel gave me a really deep cultural experience,” said Jagger.”I got a good understanding of how to deal with patients cross culturally, especially when you can’t necessarily communicate in their language.” Now working with Asian and Spanish speaking patients, she has implemented the skills and tools she garnered from working in Israeli hospitals teaching Russian, Arab and Ethiopian patients.

By combining top-class education and rich life experiences, Israeli medical school students are bridging the world, serving also as a light bringing positive healing into the world.

Daniela Berkowitz writes for The Jewish Press.

Colel Chabad Helps Those in Need in Israel

For Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest continuously running social services organization, the Jewish month of Tishrei that includes many holy days is one of the busiest times of year. More than 18,000 families, including 2,500 families of widows and children, will receive boxes of dry goods, vegetables and vouchers for chicken, delivered to their doors from the organization.

“Getting ourselves ready for the days of introspection and repentance should not be marred by worrying if you will be able to purchase food for the table,” said Rabbi Menachem Traxler, director of volunteering for Colel Chabad. “Every family deserves to celebrate the holidays as they should be celebrated.”

Colel Chabad will provide holiday meals for more than 18,000 families this month. (Provided)

Colel Chabad will provide holiday meals for more than 18,000 families this month. (Provided)

Partnering with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Colel Chabad will deliver food to an additional 5,000 of Israel’s elderly. In total, 81,000 fresh, hot-cooked meals will also be served to seniors and those with nowhere to spend holiday in the 20 various Colel Chabad soup kitchens around Israel.

“Meals on Rosh Hashana are always special in the soup kitchen,” said Yisrael, manager of the Eshel Binyamin soup kitchen in Safed. “During the year, people often come in with stress and worry. But there is something very special about Rosh Hashana,” with the addition of special holiday foods, he said. “The atmosphere at the soup kitchen is very upbeat and hopeful for a new year blessed with health and happiness.”

“Thank G-d, we are blessed with good health but this past winter my husband lost his job and hasn’t yet found a proper job,” said Ilanit from Beit Shean. “We were fortunate to receive assistance last Pesach from Colel Chabad, and we look forward to this Rosh Hashanah to once again get the help for us celebrate the chag in a respectable way.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com