Sanders Supporters Showed Up in Droves to Protest DNC

Protest photos by Marissa Stern

Protest photos by Marissa Stern

City Hall was a hotbed for those protesting the Democratic National Convention and, even more so, the candidate the convention was officially nominating.

Starting as early as 10 a.m. on Monday — the first day of the convention — protesters showed up to voice their support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Throughout the day, there were protests and groups of people joining together to fight — quite vocally — for causes from Sanders’ nomination to legalizing marijuana. (Perhaps you saw the 51-foot joint being “passed” on the way to the Wells Fargo Center.)

Most groups traveled in the oppressive heat from City Hall to another popular spot for protesters to gather, Franklin D. Roosevelt Park.

By around 12:30 p.m., there was still a sizable crowd who hadn’t yet started to march to FDR Park. And there were Sanders supporters of all ages and stripes — from the young-faced boy with “Baby” era Justin Bieber hair sporting a onesie plastered with Sanders’ face all over it to the older gentleman with two braids in his hair wearing Sanders overalls.

Protest2People held signs advocating the ban of fracking, “Anyone but Hillary” and one that said “I was told there would be cake.”

For some Bernie supporters, getting to the convention was a cross-country journey.

Nyree Krikorian and DeCourcy Squire were standing together in the shade with signs supporting Sanders. They met at the People’s Convention on Sunday, July 23 after traveling from Seattle and Minneapolis, respectively.

While Squire recently arrived in the city, Krikorian came to Philadelphia a week early because she couldn’t stand the anticipation.

“I’m excited about making the super delegates hear our voices,” Krikorian said. “They need to hear our voices. And they need to know we are not bluffing. I want them to know that they still have a chance to save the party.”

Krikorian came to America from Baghdad when she was 15 years old in pursuit of education. Ten years after, she chose to become a U.S. citizen.

“It wasn’t something I had to do,” she said. “I had a green card. I could have worked, but I chose to become a U.S. citizen believing all along that my vote counted and that I really lived in a democracy. Thanks to Bernie, my eyes have been opened. For the first time, I now see the truth: that I never had true democracy, and this is an amazing example right now what DNC has done, what Hillary has done is steal the election and ignore our voices.”

Protest1The recent email hack exposing potential bias from the DNC that resulted in the resignation of chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz further supports her point, Krikorian said.

“Bernie has won the popular vote, but Hillary rigged the election and now WikiLeaks is proving us right all along because whenever I went to Bernie’s rallies, 60,000 people. Hillary couldn’t even fill a high school gymnasium,” she said. “My hope is that today the DNC makes the right choice, a wise choice, to save themselves and save the party. If they don’t, we know what to do. We are united.”

Squire was sporting a shirt in support of Jill Stein, the Jewish presidential candidate for the Green Party — Stein is her Plan B in November.

She was out in support of Sanders, whom she called “the kind of candidate that comes along once in a lifetime,” particularly because of his policies and the success she thinks he’d have as president.

“It’s very important for us to speak out and show that there is so much energy for Bernie and change, progressive change,” she said. “If we want to defeat Trump, we have to listen to what the people really need and want, and the DNC is going to lose to Trump by choosing a candidate who can’t win against Trump. Bernie will not only win against Trump, but our country will be better.”

There were so many Sanders supporters around the city, you might have forgotten who the convention was actually nominating. That’s not to say, however, there weren’t any Hillary Clinton supporters in the crowd. They just seemed few and far between.

Decked out in a royal blue blazer with red and white stripes and a matching hat and bowtie (there was more to the costume, but the heat made him change his mind, he said), David Manzo stood at City Hall with a tray of toys.

His wife started making jack-in-the-box toys of President Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election from her company, Pop Art Creations. So, needless to say, this election and the convention provided a great reason to bring them back, and Manzo was there to show them off.

“We got an offer from a company to make these in bulk, and so we made them in 2008,” he said, “and by the time we got the Hillarys in stock, she was out of the race. So then we were asked to do the Barack, so we quickly got the Barack done, and we sold about half of them when the election was done and over. So we’ve got about 300 Hillarys left and just wanted to see if I could get rid of them. I got her to sign one in 2008, so they’re going to be very collectible.”

Manzo traveled from San Jose, Calif. for the convention. In a sea of Sanders supporters, Manzo — a Hillary supporter at a Bernie rally — was pretty much a lone wolf.

“Everybody in this place has asked me what is the meaning, and I say it’s a toy. It’s just a toy. Eighty percent of the Bernie supporters have been really nice, and about 20 percent have been very mean.”

A good sport, he posed with the toys while people took pictures of them, but he wanted people to keep in mind there is no hidden message.

“It’s just a toy. That’s all it is,” he said with a laugh. “There’s no subliminal meaning here.”

Around the Wells Fargo Center on Monday around 3 p.m. — just before the official start time of the convention — there were still masses of people gathered by the Septa Broad Street Line entrance shouting “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!”

Inside, there were several advocacy groups supporting their own causes.

Meantime, at a pro-Palestinian protest outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, participants wore T-shirts saying “Palestinians should be free.” They were mixed in with people wearing Sanders T-shirts.

The row of exhibiting organizations at the convention center included the Marijuana Policy Project and a Democratic pro-life group, as well as JStreet, but there was no AIPAC table.

The convention and protests even brought out a few celebrities.

Jerry Springer was spotted outside the kosher grill at the Wells Fargo Center. Meanwhile, at FDR Park, actresses and outspoken Sanders supporters Shailene Woodley and Rosario Dawson gathered to film a video for Sanders.

Marissa Stern is a reporter at the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

mstern@midatlanticmedia.com

Trump Call for Russian Spying Causes Stir at AJC Event

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The theft by suspected Russian agents of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, leading to the abrupt departure of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chairwoman after the release of 30,000 of those emails by WikiLeaks, was bound to continue to earn headlines on Wednesday. But as Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia got underway, it wasn’t news of an FBI investigation into the hack that got everyone’s attention — that distinction belonged to Republican nominee Donald Trump, who seemed to encourage at a Florida press conference Russian spying on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

That drew a sharp rebuke by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who learned of the Trump remarks while in conference with a staffer on the sidelines of an American Jewish Committee event at a Center City office building.

“For a presidential hopeful of the United States to ask Russia to spy on a [former secretary of state] is shameful,” said Engel, to a round of applause. “It’s a scary thing, because I happen to believe that Russia’s interests are not America’s interests.”

According to an account in The New York Times, Trump, just minutes before his comments were broadcast across Twitter, had a message directly for Russia from the podium at one of his golf courses.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said, apparently referencing emails that had been stored on a private Clinton server and have not been released by the State Department. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Engel’s reaction to those comments came at the end of a discussion on the necessity of the United States to engage with other nations. The congressman had been joined on the panel by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), several foreign ambassadors, and Wendy Sherman, the former undersecretary of state who led the U.S. negotiating team on the Iran nuclear deal.

Wasserman-Schultz Resigns from DNC Chair Post

When the Democratic National Convention gets underway this week in Philadelphia, it will be without one of the party’s key leaders. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee Sunday. Her term was scheduled to end next year.

“Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as party chair at the end of this convention,” she wrote in a statement. “As party chair, this week I will open and close the convention and I will address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans.”

President Barack Obama praised Wasserman-Schultz for her efforts in organizing the party from a political and financial perspective.

“Her critical role in supporting our economic recovery, our fights for social and civil justice and providing health care for all Americans will be a hallmark of her tenure as party chair,” he wrote in a statement. “Her fundraising and organizing skills were matched only by her passion, her commitment and her warmth.”

Wasserman-Schultz’s resignation comes in the wake of a series of emails leaked on Friday by the website WikiLeaks that show communication among DNC officials illustrating tension they have had with the primary campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the Democratic nomination.

The email leaks come just two weeks after Sanders ended his campaign by endorsing Clinton in the race, but on Sunday he restated his hope that Wasserman-Schultz resign as chair of the party due to what he believes has been an effort to aid presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in capturing the nomination. This includes an exchange from CFO Brad Marshall questioning Sanders’ Jewish faith.

“Does he believe in a God?” Marshall wrote on May 5. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

Marshall later apologized for the comments in a Facebook post and said they “do not reflect my beliefs nor do they reflect the beliefs of the DNC and its employees.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council is scheduled to honor Wasserman-Schultz at its reception during the convention on Thursday. NJDC chairman Marc Stanley said he was sad to hear of the chairwoman’s resignation, but that the ceremony will still go forward. He added that Wasserman-Schultz deserves credit for being an “honest broker” and delivering a convention that was “on budget and well-organized.”

“She had some incredible achievements this year, and I think these events cloud her otherwise incredible job as chair,” he said. “I think she made clear with her staff that there was to be no unfair treatment, and in every dealing I’ve had with her she’s been nothing but fair to both sides.”

Stanley said despite the media firestorm that has surrounded Wasserman-Schultz of late, he thinks the mood at the convention will be largely unaffected. “This is the news here on Sunday, and tomorrow they’ll be other news, and when Tim Kaine is selected as the vice presidential nominee and Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee their speeches will be the news.”

NJDC member and Bethesda resident Greg Rosenbaum said he is aware of the alleged bias against Sanders but since he began working on the party’s platform committee as a vice chair, Wasserman-Schultz has encouraged him to maintain his neutrality in the nomination process.

“I can tell you that as chairman of NJDC I took the position that had been taken in the past, which is that NJDC doesn’t choose sides in a contested Democratic primary at any level other than in extraordinary circumstances,” he said.

Rosenbaum said he has the “utmost respect and admiration” for Wasserman-Schultz and that he thinks the leaked emails are “selective and done to prove a point.”

But despite Rosenbaum’s support for Wasserman Schultz, he did express disapproval of the DNC’s criticism towards Sanders’ faith.

“Any time we bring religious beliefs into public life, other than to celebrate diversity it creates a real problem,” he said. “If in fact there is an effort to discredit Sen. Sanders because of his religion, I personally as a member of NJDC would say that crossed the line.”

Additionally Rabbi Jack Moline, who serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, said that Wasserman-Schultz is ultimately accountable for what goes on in the party.

“I don’t know enough about what actually happened, but if his happened on her watch, I am certain she would accept responsibility for it,” he said in Philadelphia prior to a kickoff interfaith service at the convention site.

Rosenbaum said despite the inner-party fighting, he thinks the convention will run smoothly and that Democrats will ultimately unify.

“My personal experience from the platform committee says to me we’ve had a spirited campaign, we’ve had a spirited debate, brought all of our issues to the forefront and the platform resolves all of those.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

JWV Fights Changes in Veteran Hiring Law

A screenshot from the JWV website that supports the current veterans-preference hiring system (Screenshot of Jewish War Veterans Opposes Elimination of Veterans Preference: jwv.org)

A screenshot from the JWV website that supports the current veterans-preference hiring system (Screenshot of Jewish War Veterans Opposes Elimination of Veterans Preference: jwv.org)

The veterans-preference hiring system that has helped former U.S. troops re-enter the workforce is in jeopardy, according to the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, which sets out budget priorities for the Department of Defense, contains wording that would limit veterans to one-time use of the hiring preference, a point system that gives them an advantage over nonmilitary federal civil service applicants.

The unemployment rate for veterans in the United States was 4.6 percent as of 2015,  according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure rises to 5.8 percent for active-duty service members who have served since 2001. Those numbers could rise still further if veterans are restricted to taking advantage of the preference one time only, say Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. and other groups.

If two candidates apply for the same job and both are exactly equal in their qualification, the veteran … should  be selected for it.” — Norman Rosenshein, JWV

 

“Many veterans struggle to find a job that is the right fit for them after getting out of the service and to penalize them for that is only going to hurt them,” a news release from JWV stated.

Veterans are eligible for hiring preference consideration if they were on active military duty, are not retired and received an honorable or general discharge. The system is tiered to give higher scores — that  is, additional preference —  to veterans who earned a Purple Heart or are disabled as a result of their service.

Veterans also receive a higher score if they were on active duty during the Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War or the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“If two candidates apply for the same job and both are exactly equal in their qualification, the veteran automatically gets five to 10 points, which means he should be selected for it,” said Norman Rosenshein, chairman of JWV’s coordinating committee and a past commander of the organization. “What this new law is changing is that this only counts for the first job.”

JWV, a nonprofit organization, over the last few years has taken up advocating for reform for the VA hospital system and other benefits-related issues with retaining the existing veterans-preference system as its latest mission.

Rosenshein was on active duty in the Army during the Vietnam War, although he did not serve in Vietnam. He worked in the television industry for a number of years after his service and was helped by the veterans-preference system when he sought a civil service job eight years ago. He said he worries about today’s veterans who have been deployed in the Middle East over the last 15 years.

“They volunteered their service,” he said, “and [the government] saying, ‘Tough luck to you.’”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Gauging the Impact of BDS Is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel succeeding?

In 2005, Palestinian nongovernmental organizations initiated the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to encourage businesses, universities and other global entities to pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights, giving full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and recognizing the Palestinians’ right of return to land they had fled when Israel became a state.

In the United States, some college campuses have seen protests and student-backed resolutions calling for their schools to divest from companies that do business with Israel. An increasing number of state governments are combatting BDS and showing support for Israel through legislation.

So just how much support does BDS have and to what degree has it affected Israel?

Gauging the Impact of BDS

On Campus

On April 22, New York University’s graduate student union, a 600-member organization, voted to approve a measure urging the university to end its exchange program with Tel Aviv University and called on the United Auto Workers, its parent union, to divest from Israeli companies.

Four days later, NYU’s president, Andrew Hamilton, rejected the union’s proposal, stating that it would be “contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas.”

The same month, Vassar College students voted in a referendum to reject a resolution supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement after the student council had passed it.

These two recent incidents at NYU and Vassar help illustrate the dynamics of BDS on campus. Student-backed resolutions relating to at least one element of BDS have seen the light of day at 34 universities in the United States between 2013 and 2015, according to the ADL. Of these, 13 passed. Despite the activism at these universities, these numbers constitute just a fraction of the more than 4,500 institutions of higher learning in the United States.

Nevertheless, BDS on campus has caused alarm from the organized Jewish community. In spring 2015, Eric Fingerhut, CEO of Hillel International, the campus student organization, said the lives of American Jewish students and the integrity of the university were at stake.

“And so, some Hillel directors who might not have experienced it may find that they experience it in the future. And our job is to be proactive,” he said.

Fingerhut put in place a controversial set of guidelines about which positions on Israel are acceptable in the organization’s activities. Groups that advocate any form of BDS violate those guidelines.

Last summer, billionaire Sheldon Adelson raised $50 million to create an organization called Campus Maccabees to fight BDS. David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, was named to head the group. An associated Facebook Page called Maccabee Task Force has some 20,000 likes.

Economic Effects

Central to the BDS mission is to hit Israel economically and damage it so it will withdraw from the occupied territories. SodaStream, a do-it-yourself carbonated beverage company, was in the BDS spotlight for months after it opened a factory in the West Bank in 2014.

An interfaith coalition of organizations announced a boycott of SodaStream. The company eventually closed the plant and moved to a larger facility within Israel. More than 500 Palestinian jobs were lost in the process.

SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said the move had nothing to do with BDS or politics. But BDS advocates declared victory upon hearing the news.

“SodaStream’s announcement today shows that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is increasingly capable of holding corporate criminals to account for their participation in Israeli apartheid and colonialism,” said Rafeef Ziadah, of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.

But the SodaStream boycott appears to have done no long-term economic damage.

“The impact of BDS is more psychological than real so far and has had no discernible impact on Israeli trade or the broader economy,” Kristin Lindow of Moody’s Investor’s Service told Forbes. “That said, the sanctions do run the risk of hurting the Palestinian economy, which is much smaller and poorer than that of Israel, as seen in the case of SodaStream.”

If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you.
— New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

 

Foreign investments in Israel now total $285 billion, three times what they were 11 years ago when BDS was launched, Israel Bonds chairman Izzy Tapoohi wrote in the Jerusalem Post on July 6.

That has not daunted Palestinian activist Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Munayyer said BDS is working even if the economic results are not apparent.

“It’s not just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s a matter of corporations that are profiteering off of a system of injustice,” he said. “When you have debates over whether or not to boycott or to divest in an institution or a church, that conversation is happening, and that conversation would not be happening if people were not using these [boycott] tactics.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan- yahu last year launched a $25 million effort to combat BDS by monitoring the activities of pro-BDS organizations. The plan was not implemented due to infighting in the Israeli cabinet.

Isolating and Delegitimizing Israel

Opponents of the occupation want to distinguish Israeli products made in the West Bank and Golan from those made within the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border. BDS goes further. It wishes to stop the sale of Israeli goods from the territories and often from Israel itself.

In response, Israel supporters in this country have spearheaded anti-BDS legislation in U.S. states. Ten states passed laws in the last three years. Another 15, including Virginia, have them on their agendas.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently signed a bill into law that creates a blacklist of companies engaging in BDS tactics. “If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you,” he declared.

The Baltimore Jewish Council planned to pursue an anti-BDS bill in Maryland’s 2016 General Assembly session that would have prevented pension divestment to ensure that state pensions weren’t invested in companies that divested from Israel and changed the state’s procurement contract process so that companies who divest could not earn state contracts, similar to laws enacted in regard to Iran. When BJC officials researched both issues, they found that no companies had divested and decided not to pursue an anti-BDS bill, but they continue to monitor the issue in Maryland.

At the federal level, the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 30 passed the Combatting BDS Act of 2016. It would authorize state and local governments to divest funds from companies that engage in BDS activity that targets Israel.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the conservative pro-Israel group StandWithUs, calls the legislation “victories against bigotry.”

BDS loses “as they play the game because they appear to be so extremist, and they’re losing because [U.S. governments] recognize that [BDS is] spreading bigotry,” she said.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has proposed a litmus test for whether words or actions critical of Israel cross the line from anti-Israel to anti-Semitic.

Central to the BDS mission is to hit Israel economically and damage it so it will withdraw from the occupied territories. The support for BDS among young people can partially be attributed to the effectiveness of Palestinians in making their appeal similar to that of anti-Apartheid activists, said political analyst Peter Beinart.

He calls it the “Three D’s test”: delegitimization, demonization and double standard.

“We have to fight to convince others of why [BDS] is absolutely wrong,” Sharansky said. “And in this BDS movement, the most important thing is not to convince our enemies that they are wrong. We have to tell the Jews that they have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Marketing to Millennials

BDS also marks a generational divide that is highlighted in a study released in May by the Pew Research Center. It examined American attitudes toward foreign policy, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pew found that 43 percent of millennials, people born after 1980, were likely to sympathize with Israel compared with more than 60 percent of people born before 1964.

Simply put, Israel is not the miracle for millennials that it is for their parents and grandparents. The BDS movement, with its argument on justice for the Palestinians, is tapping into the passions of the millennials.

“In my generation, Israel may have been the first driver of Jewish identity,” Jay Sanderson, president of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, told Ha’aretz. “But it’s not going to be anymore in the same way. Israel’s too complicated. So our approach has to be to connect these students to Jewish life and then find a meaningful way to engage them with Israel.”

The growing support for BDS among young people can partially be attributed to the effectiveness of Palestinians in making their appeal in a similar way black South Africans did during the anti-Apartheid movement, said political analyst Peter Beinart.

“It makes sense that this is going to be strongest in the places where there is such strong political activism,” he said, noting that pro-BDS sentiments have taken root in particularly left-leaning areas of the United States such as New England and California.

Beinart, who opposes BDS, said that because the Israeli government is “erasing the Green Line” [with its settlements policy] and because there has been little progress in the Middle East peace process over the last 20 years, BDS has become an alternative for the Palestinians in achieving their goal of a state.

Rabbi Alana Suskin, director of strategic communications for Americans for Peace Now, a pro-Israel group that opposes the occupation, said younger people are becoming attracted to the BDS movement because they are more engaged with social media and have not had to deal with the levels of anti-Semitism their parents faced.

“Younger people have much broader connections,” she said. “They’re reading tweets from people all over the world. When they’re having revolutions in the Middle East, people can see it on Twitter. You’re looking at all of these things and you’re thinking, what can I do?”

BDS supporters only constitute a small percentage of Israel critics, said political theorist Michael Walzer. But if the movement continues, it could have negative long-term effects.

“We have to acknowledge that this is a political movement of some importance,” he said. “This is not a movement that can do serious damage to the State of Israel, and its importance often is exaggerated for political purposes on the right. But it could turn the next generation of the American foreign policy elite against Israel.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Presbyterian General Assembly’s Shift Brings Mixed Reactions

Presbyterians are pushing back against the church group’s  anti-Zionist study guide.

Presbyterians are pushing back against the church group’s anti-Zionist study guide.

Jewish organizations praised the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America for moderating its stance highly critical of Israel.

The 222nd Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, held in Portland, Ore., last month, passed a resolution in “opposition to any efforts to deny or undermine the rights of the Palestinian people or the Jewish people to self- determination.”

But overall, the American Jewish Committee and other Jewish groups that were present at the assembly opposed the resolution, “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” calling it anti-Israel. The resolution passed 429 to 129.

The resolution affirmed that the church “stands with the people of Israel, affirming their right to exist as a sovereign nation” as it does with the Palestinian people.

“Just two years ago a group chartered by the Presbyterian Church issued an anti-Zionist screed called ‘Zionism Unsettled,’” said Ethan Felson, executive director of  Israel Action Network. “This general assembly said they oppose any anti-Zionism. That’s a significant shift in two years.”

Charles Wiley, a church spokesman, said the assembly left the church’s policy on the two-state solution largely  unchanged and added that the church has “a long-standing commitment to affirm the two-state solution as a part of that self-determination for  Israelis and Palestinians.

“There was research and  reflection on what the current possibilities were for two states, but there was no change in our general policy,” Wiley said. That policy “is an affirmation for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peaceful self-determination and for oppressive practices on all sides to stop.”

Jewish groups condemned a four-minute video, “Wala,” shown at the assembly, The  Israel Action Network and the Anti-Defamation League said the video, by Palestinian American poet Susan Abulhawa, was “egregious” for its comparison of Israel’s Palestinian checkpoints with the Nazi cattle cars that carried Jews to concentration camps during World War II.

“We would hope that church leaders might have recognized what a profound  offense this

was, not just to Jews, but to everyone,” the Israel Action Network said in a statement. “Gratefully, a majority of the commissioners did realize how offensive it  was and voted down a boycott resolution to which the video was directed.”

Wiley said the video was shown in support of a resolution to boycott Hewlett-Packard products. The action failed in plenary by a vote of 483 to 72.

“Advocates are free to advocate for their issue however they choose, within their time limits,” he said.

Other resolutions included a call for a “prayerful study” of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. It was amended to include a study of the opposition to BDS.

Another resolution urged the realty company RE/MAX to stop its sales of property within Jewish settlements. Supporters of the resolution reportedly said they received a letter from RE/MAX CEO Dave Liniger before the general assembly, stating that the company “will no longer receive any income from the sale of Jewish settlement properties in the West Bank,” according to JTA.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

State Congressmen Rally for Gun Control

(File photos)

Gun control: ©istockphoto.com\BradCalkins; politicians: file photos

Maryland’s Democratic Congressmen gathered in Baltimore on Wednesday, June 29 to underscore the need for gun control two weeks after a mass shooting in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub killed 49 people and less than a week after Congressional Democrats staged a sit-in in attempt to force a gun control vote.

Congressmen Chris Van Hollen, Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes joined local leaders at the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland on the National Day of Action for Gun Violence Prevention in the hopes of continuing to pressure Republican leadership following the sit-in.

“Ladies and gentleman, at some point we have to say enough is enough,” Cummings said. “The thing that really bothered me is when Speaker [of the House Paul] Ryan called what we had done a publicity stunt.”

Cummings directed a message at Ryan to resounding applause — “85 percent of Americans have said, and made it very clear, that those who are suspected terrorists should not have guns … duh. Ninety-two percent said we should have expanded gun checks.”

“It’ s about generations yet unborn,” the congressman continued. “When I ride from D.C. to Baltimore, do you know what I look for? Fresh balloons. And anytime I see the fresh balloons, I knew that someone had recently died at that corner.”

Dr. Leana Wen, commissioner of health in Baltimore, spoke at the event as well: “I’ve seen that bullet traumatize siblings and haunt parents; I’ve seen it destroy their lives. That happens in our communities every day. We are speaking up for what science shows us to be true, that gun violence is a disease.”

Dr. Wen continued, “Why has Congress banned federal funding for research on anything related to guns? Can you imagine if every year, 30,000 people died from Ebola [as they do from guns]? We would be studying it, we would be treating it, we would be doing everything we could to prevent it.”

In addition to the public officials, community members who had been directly affected by gun violence spoke at the event.

Cheryl Brooks, whose son had committed suicide with a gun, shared her story.

“People tell me all the time that he could have chosen another method … but statistics say otherwise,” she said. “People who try other methods and survive get help and usually go on to live productive lives. It’ s hard to say what would have happened had he not been able to get that gun in 15 minutes in Walmart. But I think that had they made him wait, maybe … he would have changed his mind.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Dershowitz: ‘There is No Such Thing as a BDS Movement’

Alan Dershowitz said that by his calculation, Israel should be 196th in line for a boycott.(Jared Feldschreiber)

Alan Dershowitz said that by his calculation, Israel should be 196th in line for a boycott.(Jared Feldschreiber)

Alan Dershowitz was in the mood to prosecute. The accused: the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

“The goal of the BDS movement is to miseducate a  generation of future leaders by lying to them,” he said in an interview last week, “by demonizing, delegitimizing, discriminating against and applying a double standard to the nation state of the Jewish people. The answer to that is emet — truth.

Or EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, the Washington think tank whose annual dinner the retired Harvard law professor was about to address.

“Why do we face a danger from BDS? It’s failing on every college campus. It has never actually succeeded in getting any university to divest,” he said. “We will win. In the United States, we will win in virtually every battle on campus; that’s the good news. The bad news is, while we’re winning, we’re losing. The goal of BDS is not to actually get universities to divest, its goal is actually to miseducate students.”

The audience for Dershowitz’s 35-minute speech in the ballroom of Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington included 350 supporters of EMET, members of Congress and media personalities. Dershowitz, who received the group’s Speaker of Truth Award, hailed First Amendment lawyer Nathan Lewin, his mentor and friend for 50 years, who was in attendance.

Dershowitz said in an interview that if BDS were a  legitimate movement, it would not single out Israel.

The bad news is, while we’re winning, we’re losing.” — Alan Dershowitz

 

“If there were such a thing as a BDS movement, if it sought to boycott, divest and sanction —  generally — and sought to apply these death penalty economic penalties, it would be across the board to all countries in the world,” said Dershowitz. “That would be a movement. It would have to apply the major rule of human rights and to always go after the worst offenders first. You go after those countries where there is no opportunity for the victims to seek relief within the country, through the judiciary, through the media, through legislation.”

He said that based on his criteria, Israel would be ranked 196th on the list.

Dershowitz arrived at the Grand Hyatt just hours after two Palestinian gunmen shot and killed four Israelis and wounded 16 in Tel Aviv.

In his speech, Dershowitz said that it remains vital for  Israel advocates to fight vigorously in the face of miseducation on college campuses. He praised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for signing an executive order last week that required all New York State agencies to divest from companies supporting the BDS movement.

In signing the order, New York became the first state to take executive action against the BDS movement.

Dershowitz lambasted Jewish Voice for Peace, a proponent of BDS, saying that the organization used “the argument by ethnic affiliation” to justify its derision toward Israel. The group is “not pro-peace, it is anti-Israel,” he said.

Jewish Voice for Peace  believes in “freedom, justice and equality for all people,”  according to its website, and “that the time-honored, nonviolent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful  opportunities to make that  vision real.”

Dershowitz reiterated that the BDS movement has seeds of anti-Semitism. “[Within it], there are insidious purposes. We have to fight it. I am optimistic we are winning the argument,” he said.

D.C. Dems Feeling the Blues Over Primary Date

District resident Linda Benesch and her boyfriend posted this photo of themselves returning from early voting to encourage their friends to do the same. (Provided)

District resident Linda Benesch and her boyfriend posted this photo of themselves returning from early voting to encourage their friends to do the same. (Provided)

Voters in the District of Columbia headed to the polls this past Tuesday to conclude the presidential primary season and determine how the last 45 delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be allotted. With the final primary playing a mostly ceremonial role in the nominee selection process, there is a sense that D.C. is once again being given the short end of the stick compared with its  fellow 50 states.

“In some ways it does a disservice to our democracy,” said resident and Bernie Sanders supporter Josh Nierman. “If the primary is already determined, then why should I go out and vote? It sort of goes along with the theme of how Bernie Sanders has been treated by the media as this socialist from Vermont with pie-in-the-sky ideas.”

Nierman has lived in the District for five-and-a-half years and works as a property manager for an nonprofit  affordable housing organization. He said that while he feels the media and the Democratic National Committee have written off the importance of Tuesday’s primary, he is glad that it has generated conversation about granting statehood to the District — something supported by both Sanders and his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Shame on D.C. for scheduling its primary last. — Steve Rabinowitz, a Northwest D.C. resident

 

“I’d like to see whoever is the next president make D.C. the 51st state,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we don’t have full representation in Congress.

Nierman said he attended last week’s rally that Sanders held at RFK Stadium and planned to vote on Tuesday. The frustration that he feels over the District’s lack of influence this election cycle is being felt  by both Sanders and Clinton supporters.

“Shame on D.C. for scheduling its primary last,” said Steve Rabinowitz, who owns the public relations firm Bluelight Strategies and lives in Northwest D.C.

Rabinowitz, a longtime Clinton supporter, noted that the District’s primary could have had an impact if the race were close, but voting has now  become an “afterthought” for many voters. He thinks Clinton will do well due to the city’s large African-American population.

The feeling about Tuesday’s primary among supporters of Sanders is much different, with the senator showing no signs of leaving the race. Even supporters beyond the confines of the Beltway see the District’s vote as an important part of the electoral process.

“I think that it’s important for everybody’s vote to be counted before decisions are made, particularly before the press makes decisions on behalf of the public,” said Daniel Sieradski of Syracuse, N.Y., who runs the Sanders political  action committee Progressive Jews PAC.

Sieradski criticized major outlets such as the Associated Press for declaring Clinton the winner by counting the 577 super delegates from whom she has earned support.

“It amounts to voter suppression,” he said. “Not only is that silly and harmful, but it was just irresponsible behavior partially driven by media companies in a difficult climate to  attract internet attention.”

The perception of D.C. having little to no impact on this year’s election is the latest in a series of blows to those residing within the city limits who for years have felt left out of national politics, with the added irony of living in the  nation’s capital. This frustration has been fueled by a struggle for voting rights that lasted until the 1960s with passage of the 23rd Amendment and presently has resulted in multiple calls for granting the District statehood as well as license plates bearing the phrase “Taxation Without Representation.” Comedian John Oliver even included a bit about the District’s lack of representation in Congress on his show “Last Week Tonight.”

With Clinton’s primary victory in California last week that gave her the needed number of delegates to clinch her party’s nomination, the contest is all but over. But with Sanders promising to stay in the race until the convention next month in Philadelphia, the fat lady is not yet singing — in this case, the District of  Columbia’s more than 400,000 registered voters.

Linda Benesch, a member of the group Jews United for Justice, hopes others will understand the importance of the election even if it does not have a large national impact.

“What I hope is that more D.C. residents will take the  opportunity of the fact that there is not as much need to focus on the presidential race at this point to focus on their local races, because we really make much more of a difference in our vote for city council  than we do with our vote for president,” she said.

Benesch acknowledged that an earlier primary would have been a fairer gesture to a jurisdiction that has long been put on the back burner.

“If it was up to me, it would definitely be earlier because as it is, D.C. has the indignity of not being a state, not getting full representation in Congress, and so I do think that giving us a fair share in the presidential primary by moving it up to where it’s more of a decision would be very good,” she said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Outpouring of Love in the Face of Hatred, Violence

Hundreds turned out for a vigil in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood on Monday, June 13 to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. (Dan Samuels)

Hundreds turned out for a vigil in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood on Monday, June 13 to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. (Dan Samuels)

Reeling from the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in its history, many cities around the country and the world came together in vigil, song and prayer this week to work through waves of grief felt from the tragedy and to stand in solidarity with the families and loved ones of the 49 lives lost and also with the LGBTQ community, at which the heinous attack carried out by Omar Mateen was targeted.

Mateen, 29, an American-born citizen living in Fort Pierce, Fla., whose parents are from Afghanistan, entered the Pulse nightclub some 120 miles away in Orlando, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, just after 2 a.m. on Sunday. The popular gay dance club had about 300 patrons inside at the time of the attack according to Orlando police chief John Mina.

The shooter killed 49 people and injured more than 50, held some hostage in a club bathroom and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State via a 911 call shortly after the start of the attack. He later was killed in a gun battle with police.

The outpourings of support and solidarity began almost immediately.

Marty Katz, co-director of JQ Baltimore, an organization that supports the Jewish LGBTQ community, attended the local vigil on Monday night, sponsored by the GLBT Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland and the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care. Hundreds of people showed up at the Ynot lot, an open area in the Station North District, and filled the blocked off intersection of North and Charles avenues. Katz said he’s heard from many young people, and their parents, who have expressed concern over attending Gay Pride events this month and next.

“When terror takes place, the [terrorist’s] idea is to scare people and change people’s lifestyles and how they behave,” he said. “I encourage them to be smart, go in groups and be aware but have a good time. We don’t close the synagogues because there has been an attack on a synagogue [somewhere]. They may hire additional security but don’t close. So I don’t think we should close gay bars or Gay Pride events, but we should be smart.”

I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.

— Rabbi Jessy Gross, Charm City Tribe

He was much more concerned, however, with the language and actions of some extremist organizations “that stigmatize the LGBTQ community, [creating an atmosphere and mentality] that a person might latch on to, to justify harmful behaviors.”

Mindy Dickler, a co-founder of JQ Baltimore, agreed with the sentiment and added, “My son is participating in Pride activities, and I certainly won’t tell him to stop — just like in Israel, when there are attacks, people go on with their lives because that’s how you show love wins.”

Many politicians, community leaders and organizations released statements in light of the attack, such as Eshel, a national organization that creates community and acceptance for LGBT Jews and their families in Orthodox communities:

“Our hearts are broken over the senseless violence, the lives cut short, the families torn apart. … We pray for the day when we will know no more homophobia and or violence against LGBTQ people. … As Jews, we know all too well that hatred does not arise in a vacuum. It persists in our communities and our society at large. In face of this horror and bigotry, we must stand together as one and redouble our efforts to heal a broken world. … We call on religious leaders, particularly those in more traditional religious communities, and especially those in our own Orthodox Jewish community, to commit themselves and their congregations to not stand idly by the spilling of blood, to share responsibility for violence that is all too often inflamed by fundamentalism and to work hard to ensure that all our communities are safe, inclusive and welcoming to all.”

And after the conclusion of Shavuot, typically a joy-filled holiday, the Baltimore Jewish Council statement said, “Yet, this Shavuot was filled with sadness, as we mourned thelives lost in the senseless violence of the Orlando shooting. At a time meant for reflection on the joy and holiness brought by our faith, it is important that we do not demonize the faith of others. The culprit of this violent act is one man who has twisted his concept of faith to meet his own ends; it is not a representation of the entire Muslim community. … We must all ask ourselves, how many of these statements will we write in 2017, how many more senseless killings will our country endure? Something must be done to fight this epidemic and we look towards our interfaith and community partners to undertake this battle together.”

Molly Amster, Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice, echoed that charge with, “We must work to end the hatred and intolerance and remove the weapons from our society that enable a single person to perpetrate such a heinous act. Though Maryland has instituted important common-sense gun violence reforms in recent years, there legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse.”

Evan Serpick, director of strategic communications at Open Society Institute of Baltimore, also attended the vigil and observed that “people were looking for a way to process what they were going through — the frustration, anger, sadness — it seemed very helpful and cathartic.”

He said a host of area politicians spoke, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake, State Sen. Catherine Pugh and Del. Mary Washington. Gov. Larry Hogan did not attend but issued this statement:

“The First Lady and I are shocked and saddened by the senseless violence this morning at a nightclub in Orlando. We offer our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of the innocent victims of this act of terror and our deepest gratitude to the first responders and law enforcement who responded to this tragedy with bravery and courage.

“I have reached out to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to express our support during this time. The State of Maryland is ready and willing to provide any assistance needed. Gov. Scott has called for a moment of silence and prayer at 6 p.m. [Sunday] for the victims and their loved ones. I urge everyone in Maryland to join in Gov. Scott’s call for unity and prayer.”

Rabbi Jessy Gross of Charm City Tribe has a different take on calls for prayer:

“I feel like if I hear one more politician say that what we need to do is pray, as a person who has a prayer life, I’m offended because prayer is not going to get us anywhere at this point,” she said. “Of course, we need prayer and healing when we have circumstances with victims and heartbreak, so there is a distinction to be made, but at this point the culpability is on us as a society.

“I fear that the ways in which we’re able to pour out our sadness and reactions to these devastating circumstances … are at this point a really unfortunate method of paralysis, and we as individuals and communities need to reclaim our power.”

Marc Shapiro and JTA contributed to this article.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com