Is Jeremy Corbyn an Anti-Semite? It No Longer Matters

One of the more interesting takes:

A lot of things about Britain today are what psychologists might describe as complex. Brexit? Don’t get me started. The social care crisis? A mess. Addressing the climate emergency and homelessness? Neither is straightforward.

Labour’s anti-Semitism problem doesn’t belong in this category. No venerable commission of experts is required to deliberate at length and produce an authoritative report on what to do. You don’t have to balance weighty arguments on both sides. This should be easy: Zero tolerance; one strike and you’re out.

And yet for reasons on which we can only speculate, it hasn’t been simple for Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader’s failure to get a grip on anti-Semitism prompted an extraordinary intervention this week from Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who normally stays removed from politics. Corbyn has tried to dismiss the complaints and change the subject to the National Health Service, but his record is impossible to ignore. It now threatens to contribute to a “Never Corbyn” vote that takes the Dec. 12 election away from the battleground of inequality where Labour would prefer to be fighting — something that might ease Boris Johnson’s path to Downing Street.

It is striking that Her Majesty’s Opposition is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over anti-Semitism. Nine Labour MPs have quit in protest over Corbyn’s leadership on Brexit and anti-Semitism. The Jewish Labour Movement says there are more than 100 outstanding cases of anti-Semitism the party hasn’t investigated, a figure Corbyn disputes.

Corbyn himself has shown a disregard for the message his own actions convey. His scorn for Western imperialism, his criticism of the Israeli state and the the sea of Palestinian flags at Labour Party conferences all create an impression of bias he does little to dispel. Nearly half of Jews say they would “seriously consider” emigrating if Corbyn were elected, according to a poll by Survation commissioned by the Jewish Leadership Council, while 87% believe he’s an anti-Semite.

A BBC investigation in July featured former party officials who claimed that senior Labour figures interfered with a supposedly independent disputes office on the issue. Each time the problem bubbles over, Corbyn has the same response: All racism is evil and wrong and his party won’t tolerate it. But it has.

Whether or not Jeremy Corbyn himself holds anti-Semitic views is now beside the point. All of this has happened on his watch. Either Corbyn is unable to deal with the problem, which suggests he lacks the leadership skills to do so, or he doesn’t regard it as the grave problem that nearly everyone else does. Either way his position is untenable.

In a remarkably tin-eared televised interview with Andrew Neil this week, Corbyn refused to apologize for anti-Semitism within the party and claimed he’s doing everything possible to tackle it. Such claims, wrote the Chief Rabbi, are a “mendacious fiction.”

Mervis couldn’t have been blunter when he said the “very soul of our nation is at stake.” He wasn’t out on a limb here either. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Hindu Council of Britain all released statements of support. It may now be incumbent on members of a minority group, or any voter who cares about minority rights, to shun Labour at the polls — although it must be said that Johnson’s Conservatives have had their own troubles with charges of Islamophobia. The Tory leader, who has compared burqa-wearing women to bank robbers and letterboxes, apologized on behalf of this party on Wednesday.

It’s impossible to say how the anti-Semitism row will affect an election that’s primarily about Brexit and public services. Jews make up about half a percent of the U.K. population and, of course, don’t vote as a block. A closely watched YouGov poll released Wednesday night, using methodology (known as MRP) that was remarkably accurate in 2017, predicted a Tory majority of 359 to 211 seats for Labour, a substantial gain for Johnson.

The YouGov projections have the Conservatives comfortably holding heavily Jewish Finchley and Golders Green in London, but puts the Labour vote more than eight points higher than another recent poll in that constituency and so may be overestimating the Jewish support for Corbyn’s party. In another area with a significant Jewish community, Chipping Barnet, the YouGov poll has Labour and the Tories even, but data scientist Abigail Lebrecht suspects the Labour vote may be overstated there too.

There’s also some evidence from focus groups by Tory tycoon and pollster Michael Ashcroft in leave-voting areas that the anti-Semitism charges may be hurting. People might not cast their votes on Dec. 12 on the issue alone, but it has an impact on how voters view Corbyn and the Labour brand.

Corbyn has been a pivotal figure in modern British history without ever being in government. Had another leader been at the helm of the Labour Party over the past four years, Leave might not have won the Brexit referendum in 2016 (remember Corbyn was largely AWOL during the Remain campaign he supposedly supported). If not for his unpopular leadership and radicalism, Labour would probably be mounting a serious challenge to form a majority government after nine years of Tory rule.

Britain certainly wouldn’t be embroiled in a discussion of anti-Semitism. Corbyn has put the word on the radar. “A year ago people didn’t know what anti-Semitism was,” says James Johnson, who conducted hundreds of focus groups for former prime minister Theresa May. “If you brought it up people were unsure. They thought it had something to do with Jewish people and racism but weren’t clear what it means. Now people know what it means. They know Corbyn is associated with it.”

Corbyn’s indulgence of anti-Semitism has at least heightened public awareness. What impact it has on the vote two weeks from now is hard to separate from Brexit and other issues. But it’s certainly damaged the Labour brand and raises serious questions about how long Corbyn’s leadership can last.

Source: Is Jeremy Corbyn an Anti-Semite? It No Longer Matters

Nazi Symbols and Racist Memes: Combating School Intolerance Many educators feel ill-equipped for the urgent and difficult task of identifying students exposed to extremist material online.

On ongoing challenge without easy solutions:

An 18-year-old senior at Battle Ground High School in Washington State was immersed in a fighting video game with a couple of online friends in March when news broke about a violent shooter targeting New Zealand mosques.

The three friends, including one in Virginia and another in Britain, often frequented the chat platform Discord while playing Melty Blood, their favorite game. Sometimes they dabbled in extremist material — like videos claiming that Jews control America — that white supremacists have propagated via Discord in recent years, the senior explained.

Intrigued by the attack, they quickly found the gunman’s lengthy manifesto and an Instagram account that appeared to be his, so the senior dashed off a message in the jargon of white supremacists. “WAR IS ON THE HORIZON WE SHALL NOT LOSE WE SHALL SURVIVE,” he wrote, according to a screenshot.

Much to their astonishment, an answer popped up within 15 minutes: “This is my final message, this is my farewell.” Soon afterward, the account went dark.

Italy Has an Intolerance Problem. Does It Still Have a Moderate Right?

Good if disturbing analysis:
When Liliana Segre, the face of Italy’s historical memory of the Holocaust, was named a senator for life last year, it was something of an honorary title for the 89-year-old grandmother. Segre, who was deported to Auschwitz at 13, No. 75191 tattooed on her arm, has spent her life speaking about her experience. She could easily have remained a figurehead in her new role. Instead, she has used her platform to speak up about minority rights in Italy in the face of rising right-wing populism. In the process, she has become a moral authority and a woman in a position of prominence, in a country that often lacks both.

Today Segre finds herself in the middle of one of the most intense national debates about anti-Semitism and intolerance in Italy in decades, at a time when the country’s right-wing League party has dominated the political conversation with an “immigrants out” rhetoric. Segre has been the direct target of thousands of anti-Semitic messages online, a center that monitors anti-Semitism in Italy said last week. On Thursday, she was assigned a police escort because of threats against her, and after neo-fascists unfurled a banner that read antifa acts, the people submit near an event where she had been scheduled to speak. Two Carabinieri must now accompany her every move.

That anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe, both online and in real life, and that Jewish sites and community leaders require police protection are, alas, nothing new. But the notion that an octogenarian Holocaust survivor is under threat and is now required to have a police escort stirred strong feelings in Italy and led the front pages of the country’s leading dailies on Friday. A headline on Wired summed up the response: “What Kind of Country Is This Where a Death Camp Survivor Needs a Police Escort?”What’s at stake here is whether Italy, one of the pillars of the European Union, is capable of having a moderate political right, or whether the far right, with its “us versus them” attitude toward ethnic and religious minorities, has definitively absorbed the center.

Britain’s Labour Party has been convulsed by debates about anti-Semitism. In France, Islamist terrorists have singled out and killed Jews. In Germany, a leader in the Alternative for Germany partyasserted that the Holocaust was a “speck of bird poop” in the country’s long history. Italy stands out in this landscape because the most vocal and agenda-setting politician in the country, the League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, has been extremely ambiguous about his party’s stance on Italy’s fascist past. Salvini, who was the interior minister until August and who now leads the opposition, often cites Mussolini, has delivered a speech from a balcony where the fascist leader once spoke, and has held rallies in front of other fascist-era monuments. At a League rally in September, supporters shouted “Get out of here, Jew” to Gad Lerner, a prominent Italian journalist, and Salvini never addressed the issue.

That same ambiguity was on full display last week, when the League and the entire right-wing opposition abstained from a Senate vote on a committee that Segre had proposed to investigate hate speech, racism, and incitement to violence on ethnic and religious grounds. The vote passed and the committee itself is somewhat symbolic, but the abstentions were significant. Not only did the League abstain, but the once philo-Semitic center-right Forza Italia party, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, also abstained, as did the far-right Brothers of Italy party. Salvini said it was because he worried that the committee would restrict free speech, such as the League’s slogan of “Italians first.” After Segre was given a police escort, Salvini said he had one too—suggesting that this was no big deal for public figures—then later amended his comments to say anti-Semitism should be condemned.

Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italy, said she didn’t think the committee would adequately address intolerance and anti-Semitism on the part of Muslims. She said that Salvini had denounced anti-Semitism, and that suggesting her party indulged in nostalgia for fascism was ridiculous. But she has also posed in front of a fascist-era monument, to endorse a descendant of Mussolini.

This goes beyond political posturing. The fact is, Italy’s right-wing parties draw support, both moral and electoral, from far-right elements. CasaPound, a far-right group that organizes the demolition of Roma encampments, has supported the League. Salvini hasn’t endorsed its support, but he hasn’t disavowed it either. Abstaining from voting for the committee fits in this pattern. “When you propose a parliamentary committee to investigate language which is useful for the League, it’s impossible for the League to vote for it,” says Gadi Luzzatto Voghera, the director of Milan’s Center of Contemporary Jewish Documents, which conducted the study into anti-Semitism that found Segre was a target.

“The direct and continuous attacks on Liliana Segre, in my view, is not haphazard anti-Semitism,” he told me. They are aimed at Segre “because she has started to do politics. And she’s doing it in a very weighty and direct and intelligent way.”

Segre proposed the Senate committee to monitor hate speech afterspeaking out this month about how she sometimes receives hundreds of anti-Semitic messages a day. (According to the study, the slurs include: “professional Jew”; “jerk”; “senile old lady”; “senator with no merits who profits off the Holocaust.”)

In a recent interview, Segre said that she thought her online attackers were troubled people who needed treatment. “They’re serial haters who need to hate someone,” she said. “Wasting time writing to wish death on a 90-year-old, anyway nature will soon take care of that.” “I don’t forgive,” she added about her experience at the hands of the Nazis. “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget, but I don’t hate.”

The populist right today in Italy and elsewhere derives much of its power from anger and hate, especially toward immigrants. The attacks on Segre are part of a broader wave of intolerance here. Last weekend, fans shouted racist slurs and made monkey noises at Mario Balotelli, a soccer player for Brescia and a star of Italy’s national team. Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents and raised by Italian foster parents, has emerged as a critic of Salvini, and has spoken out against the racism he has faced.

Late Friday, Italian media reported that Salvini met with Segre that afternoon at her home in Milan. What words the two exchanged aren’t yet known. Salvini didn’t post anything about the meeting on his active Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Last weekend, Segre told Corriere della Sera that “if he comes, I’ll offer him tea, cookies, a coffee, but certainly not a mojito”—a reference to Salvini’s appearance last summer shirtless at a beach club, drinking his cocktail of choice. How Salvini and his allies respond to Segre publicly will determine what kind of country Italy wants to be: one that reckons with its fascist past, or one that celebrates it or banalizes it for political gain.

Source: Italy Has an Intolerance Problem. Does It Still Have a Moderate Right?

25% of citizenship applicants under Sephardic law of return are not Jewish

Pretty high number:

At least a quarter of those who have applied for Spanish nationality under the country’s law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews are not Jewish, according to the local media.

Of the 153,767 applicants, 52,823 are from four Latin American countries — Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Ecuador — the La Razon newspaper reported Sunday. Their combined Jewish population is smaller than 10,000, according to the World Jewish Congress.

That means that nearly 43,000 applicants, or 27 percent of the total who applied before the closing of the deadline for applications in October, are not Jewish based on the relatively liberal definition of who is a Jew applied by the World Jewish Congress.

Only 4,313 applicants, or 2.8 percent, are Israelis and more than one-fifth, or 33,653, come from Mexico, which has the highest number of applicants. Colombia was next at 28,314. The United States had 5,461 applicants and Turkey had 1,994.

Only 31,222 applications had been approved by Oct. 1 and the rest are still pending. September had the most applicants, no fewer than 71,789, since the opening of the window in January 2018.
Spain passed its law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews in 2015 shortly after Portugal.

Thousands of applicants have asked to be naturalized in Portugal, where the law is open ended.

In both countries, the government described the law as an act of atonement for the persecution and mass expulsion of Jews during the Inquisition that began in the 15th century. Many Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity.

Source: 25% of citizenship applicants under Sephardic law of return are not Jewish

Vatican, Jews criticise Italy’s right for snubbing anti-Semitism committee

Of note:

The Roman Catholic Church and Rome’s Jewish community expressed dismay on Thursday after rightist parties refused to back the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate hate, racism and anti-Semitism.

The idea of the committee was put forward by Holocaust survivor and life senator Liliana Segre in response to a regular stream of abuse hurled her way on social media.

The ruling 5-Star Movement and center-left Democratic Party (PD) backed the motion, but the far-right League and its allies, the Brothers of Italy and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, all abstained.

“The abstention of some parties is a bit dismaying. It’s a decision that we consider wrong and dangerous,” said the president of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello.

The Vatican’s powerful number two, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also weighed in.

“I am worried, in the sense that on some things like fundamental values we should all be united,” he told reporters. “There is a danger that all this gets politicized. We need to break clear of this,” he said.

Segre was deported from Italy to Auschwitz in 1944 when she was 13 – one of some 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to the Nazi concentration camp. Only 35 survived.

She said this month that social media haters posted an average 200 messages a day against her. “They should be pitied or treated,” she said this week.

The League and its allies said they abstained in Wednesday’s vote because Segre’s motion was ambiguous, in citing, for example, nationalism and ethnocentricity as possible driving forces behind racial hatred.

“By doing that you are outlawing Brothers of Italy,” said one of the party’s senators, Giovanbattista Fazzolari. “This is not a commission on anti-Semitism, as they want you believe, but rather a commission aimed at political censorship.”

While Brothers of Italy and the League, led by Matteo Salvini, have both positioned themselves on the far-right of the political spectrum, Forza Italia sees itself as center-right and some of its leaders were dismayed by the decision to abstain.

“We are betraying our values and changing our skin,” said lawmaker Mara Carfagna, who is widely seen as a possible party leader when Berlusconi finally steps away from the helm.

She has voiced alarm at Berlusconi’s recent efforts to patch up differences with the League and hand effective control of the rightist bloc to Salvini. “We are being dragged along without defending our identity,” Carfagna wrote on Twitter.

The rightist bloc triumphed in a local election in Umbria on Sunday, beating a candidate put forward by the PD and 5-Star by 20 percentage points and ousting the center-left from power in the central Italian region for the first time in 50 years.

The Senate committee will be set up despite the abstention from the rightist bloc, but the 5-Star and PD both denounced their stance.

“This abstention seems to legitimize a culture of hatred that is reflected in society. It is a shameful page in our political life,” said 5-Star lawmaker Elisa Tripodi.

Source: Vatican, Jews criticise Italy’s right for snubbing anti-Semitism committee

Germany’s Far Right Tightens Its Grip in the East


The far-right Alternative for Germany party on Sunday celebrated a strong showing in the former Communist East, more than doubling its support in a state election held two weeks after an attack on a synagogue that some tied to the party’s use of hateful language.

The party won 23.5 percent of the vote in Thuringia, according to preliminary returns, up from 10.6 percent in 2014. That left it in second place, behind the Left Party but ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The party, known by its German initials AfD, has no hope of governing, since all the other parties have ruled out cooperating with it. But its strong showing is likely to reverberate in other ways. The election outcome could further strengthen the power of Björn Höcke, the party’s leader in Thuringia and its most notorious figure.

Spain’s atonement: How the country plans to make amends for killing Jews during the Inquisition

Of interest:

Juan Hernandez-Villafuerte’s parents identified as Christian, so he didn’t understand why, by family tradition, they abstained from pork, washed their hands thoroughly before and after meals and covered the mirrors in the home after someone died.

“You had to do it, but you never knew why,” he says at age 41. “I wasn’t aware of my Sephardic heritage at (any) point, even though I knew there was something different about us.”

Before immigrating to Canada in 2012, he grew up in northeastern Mexico. His mother suspected they might have Jewish roots, so this fall, he left his home in Montreal and spent most of his vacation in the municipal archives of Mexico City. He found police and church records, as well as a yellowish paper — a property record from the year 1610 — bearing the name of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

“I was actually able to touch it,” he says. “I always wanted to know who I was.”

He was prompted to begin his research after the Spanish Parliament unanimously passed a law in 2015 to grant citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews, meaning Jews with Iberian roots. The deadline for applications passed at the end of September, at which point the Ministry of Justice said it had received more than 130,000 applications, of which approximately 6,000 had been approved.

Spain’s initiative is part of a trend across Europe to repatriate Jewish families who faced persecution. Beginning in the 1300s, Sephardic Jews were forcibly converted to Catholicism, and during the Spanish Inquisition beginning the 1400s, the converts were investigated under suspicion that they may be continuing to practice judaism. Some historians estimate 2,000 converts were burned alive, while others faced different punishments, and after the Inquisition was established, an estimated 100,000 remaining Jews were expelled. Portugal also enacted a similar citizenship law in 2015, and countries including Germany, Austria and Poland have been granting citizenship to the descendants of Jews persecuted in the lead up to the Holocaust and during the Holocaust.

Spain’s initiative has led people to discover their family identities, but many of them have spent $6,000 on the application process, and the program is politically and economically charged. While some people commend Spain’s gesture as a way to rectify historical violence — or at least a way to secure a passport to the European Union — critics point out the expense of the application and question the country’s motives.

“They took everything from us — our identity, our possessions, any property that we had,” says Maria Apodaca, a Sephardic Jew who lives in Albuquerque, NM. “I don’t have $6,000 a pop to do this, and I don’t see how it would benefit me,” she says. “I was planted in the United States, and in the United States I’ll stay.”

Applicants do not need to be practicing Jews, but they do need to prove Sephardic heritage with evidence such as census documents and records of birth, baptism, marriage and death. Applicants must have these records translated by a translator recognized by the Spanish government, and they must travel to Spain to sign with a Spanish notary.

“It’s almost like a huge, many, many months-long scavenger hunt,” says Daniel Romano, a lawyer in Montreal who applied for citizenship with his wife. In his legal profession, he recently worked on an immigration case of a Venezuelan refugee, and he says her refugee claim was “100 times more simple” than his Spanish citizenship application.

Romano has always identified as a Sephardic Jew, and he had a sense of duty to accept the Spanish government’s offer of reconciliation. “It’s odd, but I felt the need to reciprocate. They cannot make amends through our mutual ancestors … if the descendants do not take up the offer,” he says.

Some applicants have sought rabbis to vouch for their heritage. Shlomo Gabay, the rabbi at Beth Hamidrash, a Sephardic synagogue in Vancouver, says he received eight or more requests per month to write letters for Spanish citizenship applications. The requests came mainly from South Americans, Mexicans and the occasional Canadian, with some people showing him original scripts from the time of the Inquisition.

“People really, really took this seriously,” says Gabay.

Though not subject to the Inquisition, Jews who refused to convert or leave Spain were called heretics and could be burned to death on a stake. Henry Duff Linton (1815-1899)/Creative Commons

In Britain, some Jews have seen repatriation programs as a ticket to work, study and travel in the European Union after Brexit. Ben Shapiro, a 26-year-old man who works at an interfaith charity in London, considered applying for Spanish citizenship but instead applied for German citizenship because the process was easier given that his relative was already applying, and it achieves the same access to the E.U.

“There’s definitely a lot of Jewish people that feel like their Spanish or Sephardic expression of Judaism is important to them, so being validated by Spain is something that’s pleasing,” says Shapiro, “but I think also Brexit is just having a big (impact on) young, liberal European-liking people who don’t want to give that up if they don’t have to.”

Spain could be taking this measure as an effort to boost its population and economy. The country’s fertility rate is far below replacement level at 1.3 children per woman, and its population is predicted to decline by 9.4 million between 2000 and 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division in 2000. The country has introduced pro-natal policies to encourage Spaniards to have more children and has accepted increasing numbers of refugees. Since applicants for the Jewish repatriation program must pass a language and citizenship test — and in many cases must hire a lawyer and genealogist to help with their claim — the initiative could attract migrants of affluence, as could repatriation programs elsewhere in Europe.

“There’s a sense certainly toward the Jews of some sort of historical debt, some sort of reckoning,” says Howard Adelman, an associate professor of history at Queen’s University, specializing in Jewish history, “but if I can be more cynical, I think there’s also an element of an attempt to bring people with assets and affluence to the countries and also to offset some of the refugees that are arriving at these countries.”

An original land grant from 1610 given to Marcos Alonso de la Garza in northeastern Mexico. His descendant, Juan Hernandez-Villafuerte, searched for the document to prove his Sephardic Jewish heritage. Juan Hernandez-Villafuerte

He notes that Muslims also endured forcible conversion in Spain, and in the 1600s, he says, hundreds of thousands of converts, known as Moriscos, were expelled. Yet, “no country has it on the table to talk about repatriating Muslims.”

Adelman says some Jews are disillusioned by antisemitism during the Trump administration, while some Jews are leaving Israel due to its unstable democracy.

“Many of them are having an awakening that they have to have another place to go, and I think that Israel used to be that escape hatch, but now Israel is in as much chaos as the United States,” he says.

Applications for Spanish citizenship surged at the time of Donald Trump’s election, says Schelly Talalay Dardashti, who works with the Spanish Citizenship Committee of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, which received 50 to 75 calls per day before the deadline from people inquiring about Spanish citizenship. Some applicants have showed up at her office and cried, she says, having observed family customs all their lives but never having understood that the customs were Jewish.

“That is a bombshell that goes off in someone’s head. That is a real identity crisis,” she says. “Citizenship is like getting this badge: yes, we are who we are.”

When Dardashti meets with people, she asks them to write down family customs related to death, food and even cleaning the home, but many applicants get DNA testing and hire genealogists to help their claim.

Dennis Maez, a genealogist in New Mexico, was so overwhelmed with requests from Sephardic applicants that he had to put on hold his day job, running businesses that sell cars and cattle. He researched family trees for approximately 250 applicants, tracing some families back as far as the year 910.

As the deadline approached, he was “absolutely burnt out,” he says. “I would just work tremendous hours putting the (genealogies) together. I just finally had to quit.”

In Montreal, Hernandez-Villafuerte did his genealogy research himself. Even if his application is approved, he never intends to live in Spain.

“I think this is something I had to do for my ancestors,” he says. “They went through a lot of pain. They were expelled from their land … To me, it’s not about, What I can do with that citizenship? It’s more about restoring something that I love, or we loved, hundreds of years ago.”

Source: Spain’s atonement: How the country plans to make amends for killing Jews during the Inquisition

Tragedies deepen Jewish-Muslim bonds to fight hate crimes

Of note:

Muslim groups helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue recover after a gunman killed 11 people there, one year ago this week. The Jewish congregation mounted its own fundraiser for New Zealand’s Muslims after a white supremacist shooter killed 51 people at two mosques there in March.

Such outreach between Jews and Muslims often draws widespread attention only in the immediate wake of tragedy. But as both faiths grapple with a rise in reported hate crimes and fears within their communities of being attacked for their beliefs, Jews and Muslims are forging bonds that rely on shared personal values to help combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

For Sheryl Olitzky, 63, the “aha moment” that inspired her focus on Jewish-Muslim connections came almost a decade ago on a trip to Poland, when she asked a guide why she saw no locals in the head-covering garb of devout members of either faith.

Olitzky, who was married at Tree of Life synagogue, recalled being stunned by the exclusionary response she heard and telling herself that “I could not change history, but I could rewrite it by changing the future” and working to prevent further episodes of discrimination against Jews and Muslims.

When the grandmother of seven returned home to New Jersey, however, it took several months for her to realize that, despite living in an area with “a fairly substantial number of Muslims and Jews,” she had no Muslim friends.

“I said, ‘I believe ignorance is a primary driver of hate, and it’s time, if I want to make change that I get to know Muslim women’,” Olitzky said.

When Olitzky was introduced to Atiya Aftab, a Muslim attorney and adjunct professor at Rutgers University, their partnership took off as the nonprofit Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. What began as a meeting of six Muslim and six Jewish women at Atfab’s home now counts more than 170 chapters in 32 states and Canada, according to Olitzky.

The Sisterhood devotes much of its attention to education and shared experiences that can deepen ties between its members, with its fourth annual trip this year taking dozens of Muslim and Jewish women and teenage girls to Germany and Poland. But a vow to fight hate crimes that target their respective communities is also woven into the group’s foundation, with a “rise and respond” primer for speaking out against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia released this year .

Other members of the two faiths have created formal alliances as well. The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council was established by the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America in the first days after President Donald Trump’s 2016 election — following a campaign where Trump repeatedly stoked public fears of Muslims.

MJAC is co-chaired by two business executives, one Jewish and one Muslim. The group opened regional affiliates after a 2017 spike in reported hate crimes that included the death of Heather Heyer, killed while demonstrating against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

AJC Director of U.S. Muslim-Jewish Relations Ari Gordon said that some themes common in episodes of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are “definitely linked.” The same man who allegedly attacked a synagogue in Poway, Calif., this spring was also linked to a fire set at a nearby California mosque, Gordon pointed out.

Hate crimes reported to the FBI have risen for three years running, according to official statistics, with Jews and Muslims ranking as the top two targets of religiously motivated incidents. But underreporting is seen as a significant obstacle to effective tracking of the problem. Heyer’s death, for example, was not included in the federal database although the man who drove his car into the crowd where she stood pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges.

MJAC has championed bipartisan legislation in Congress designed to improve the tracking of hate crimes — but its work has stayed in that domestic policy lane, steering clear of U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict that has been a longtime divider of Jews and Muslims.

“We don’t put that issue on the side because it’s not important; quite the opposite,” Gordon said, adding that MJAC aims to demonstrate that the two faiths “can work together for mutual benefit and build trust despite this disagreement.”

Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of the Muslim advocacy group Emgage Action, and Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, took a similar approach when they co-authored a columnafter the New Zealand mosque attacks that described their faiths as battling the “common enemy” of white supremacist violence. The duo first got to know each other as colleagues on the staff of Samantha Power, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama.

“We can work together on issues that unite us, and that doesn’t mean we have to agree on every issue,” Soifer said. Alzayat, also a member of MJAC, agreed that the alignment to discuss their faiths’ struggles against hate crimes does not mean “you let go of your principles.”

If the two communities can successfully find that “common ground,” Alzayat said, “over time, the really difficult stuff becomes easier to talk about.”

The partnerships between Muslim and Jewish groups have extended beyond battling hate crimes. AJC held an event last week to show support for the majority-Muslim Syrian Kurds as they grapple with the fallout from Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the country’s northeast and Turkey’s subsequent attacks on Kurdish-held territory.

But even when it comes to the unifying issue of preventing hate crimes against their respective faiths, not every Muslim-Jewish partnership agrees on how publicly to discuss Trump’s role in the problem. Alzayat and Soifer used their op-ed to label Trump “a symbol of rising Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racial and religious intolerance,” and Olitzky also said she views Trump’s muddled rhetoric about white nationalists as having “given permission for them to come out” further into the open.

MJAC, for its part, takes a more positive approach toward an administration whose support it needs to get further hate crimes legislation passed into law under Trump. The president signed a bipartisan bill strengthening penalties for threats against religiously affiliated institutions into law last fall. Gordon praised the Justice Department’s work on anti-Semitism and said that the group would not pull back on “criticism where we think it’s due.”

Source: Tragedies deepen Jewish-Muslim bonds to fight hate crimes

Do Germans Know a Hate Crime When They See It?

Ongoing and disturbing:

Slowly, many would say too slowly, Germany is waking up to the threat of far right terrorism. How could it not after a gunman attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar? Unable to enter, he killed a woman on the street and a man in a kebab shop.

The shooter’s “manifesto” was a typical anti-Semitic screed, but his mother’s words, in their way, were more chilling. She told the German magazine Der Spiegel that her son “didn’t have anything against Jews in that sense. He had something against the people who stand behind financial power.”

Unfortunately, such parsing of definitions is not unique to the moms of murderers. Violent hate crimes that stop short of fatalities occur on an almost daily basis in this country, but are rarely reported or prosecuted.

In the past week alone, three right-wing extremists walked through the streets of Doebeln wearing orange jackets that said “Safe Zone,” chanting far right slogans and claiming to hunt “foreigners.” Right-wing extremist strategy is to make out that a “foreign threat,” that is, immigrants, has made streets unsafe, and that the German state has lost control of order, so it’s up to quasi-nazis to defend the streets and their country. Thus the “safe zone” reference.

In Mannheim, a 62-year-old man was arrested after shouting racist abuse at people on the train. (He was first told to leave because he didn’t have a ticket.) In Halle, someone uploaded a video of a man on the bus slurring abuse and talking about “gassing” people.

A few hours after the terror attack in Halle, police in the western city of Bonn reported that shots were fired through the window of an immigrant asylum home. The suspects drove off.

For the far right, such attacks small and large serve to instill fear in the targeted group, to drive a wedge between that group and the rest of society and thus fuel the extremists’ prophesied “war of cultures,” as Matthias Quent writes in his book Deutschland Rechts Aussen, or “The German Far Right.” And by failing to provide victims of hate crimes with justice, or declining to acknowledge that they are what they are, Germany’s democratic institutions perpetuate these aims.

In the aftermath of Halle, some measures have been announced. At a press conference, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said security measures at synagogues across the country would be improved.

But the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, thinks that’s not enough. Speaking on ZDF television the day after the attack, he demanded that judges be allowed to recognize and give tougher sentences to anti-Semitic hate crimes. Right now the relevant law speaks of “contemptuous” motives.

“The attack began with a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with the image of Horst Wessel, a Nazi shot in 1930 and portrayed as a martyr by Josef Goebbels. ”

“I have not had one case where anti-Semitism was clearly named as the motive for a crime,” says Christina Büttner from “ezra,” an organization in Thuringia, where victims of violent hate crimes can get counselling and legal advice.

Thuringia is an eastern German state and home to the far-right AfD, Alternative für Deutschland, hardliner Bjoern Hoecke, who has called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” and said that schools should highlight German suffering in World War Two

In 2014, a group of right-wing extremists beat up six people at an art exhibition in Erfurt, a city in Thuringia. The attack began with a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with the image of Horst Wessel, a Nazi shot in 1930 and portrayed as a martyr by Josef Goebbels. That man started making anti-Semitic slurs to visitors before he was joined by seven other men who shouted “Sieg Heil.” At their court hearing, the consensus appeared to be that the offenders were “drunk and looking for a fight,” says Büttner. The anti-Semitic slurs were “brushed aside.” The fact that one of them had the face of an SS officer tattooed on his calf was only added to the case file after he appeared at proceedings in short pants.

“There are education gaps about anti-Semitism among officials, state prosecutors and judges,” says Büttner. “One cannot assume that highly educated people in Germany know what anti-Semitism is.”

According to official figures, such as they are, anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes—including online hate speech and the use of Nazi symbols—increased almost 20 percent in Germany last year. In most cases, the offender was judged to have a far right background. Büttner says her organization has dealt with one case where the offender had a Muslim background, but when it comes to violent anti-Semitic attacks, right-wing extremists “are in the majority.”

When confronted with the case of a person who may have been a victim of a violent hate crime, the police in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Halle is located, have been told to refer victims to independent advisory services like ezra. The legal advice of these NGOs can be useful, for example, if police refuse to provide a translator to a victim who doesn’t speak German.

“In Halle, this works very well,” says a counselor for the organization Mobile Operberatung. “But in other parts of the state, it may be that the police don’t recognize the cases or that they don’t know what they are supposed to do.”

Independent advisory services for hate crimes—mostly present in eastern Germany—record a much higher number of violent attacks than the authorities. Last year, they estimated that an average number of five people a day were attacked.

“Last year, they estimated that an average number of five people a day were attacked.”

Even more hate crimes go completely unrecorded. “Our statistics are the tip of the iceberg,” Büttner says.

In Germany, the individual police officer asked to register an assault decides whether it is a hate crime or not. Judith Porath, who counsels victims of violent hate crimes in the eastern state of Brandenburg, says that the people who come to her center often decide not to go to the police. Some worry about revenge. Others distrust the authorities. “People feel that they are not being believed, that they are being treated as the offenders,” she says.

Sometimes, a person who is targeted repeatedly by hate crimes will think there is no point in going to the police if they are still waiting for the legal proceedings against a different assailant from three years ago. One reason that proceedings are so slow is that there is a significant shortage of judges and state prosecutors in Germany.

In cases of far right violence, according to Porath, a common strategy that her organization has encountered is for gangs to first ambush a person who is alone, then accuse that person of assault. The culprits can back each other up in court. If the victim has no witnesses, the case either is dropped or the victim ends up being charged.

The fact that there are more hate crimes could be interpreted by the organized extremist movement as a sign the population is “leaning toward their ideology” and shares their definition of “enemies,” Daniel Koehler, director of the Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies, tells The Daily Beast.

There are some signs that the German law enforcement’s sensitivity may be improving. In the ZDF interview, Felix Klein said that one reason the number of officially recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes last year increased was because more people are now going to the police.

In Halle, the number of violent attacks recorded by the Mobile Operberatung actually decreased in the past year. But in the neighboring state of Saxony, NGOs recorded a 38 percent increase in violent attacks—not least because of a series of assaults fuelled by the racist riots in Chemnitz last August.

In the wake of those riots, four restaurants were attacked, including the Jewish restaurant Shalom and the Persian restaurant Safran. These properties were destroyed, swastikas were painted on the glass and one owner was in the hospital for eight days. The state police took over the cases, citing the likelihood of a xenophobic motive. No suspects were found.

“To some extent, the affected did not feel like they were being taken seriously,” says Anna Pöhl, a counselor for victims of hate crimes in Chemnitz. This was in part because of the manner in which police investigated the attacks, for example by checking for ties to organized crime or asking whether the offenders had perhaps been shouting something in Arabic or Russian–this after being told that they’d given a Hitler salute and shouted “Sieg Heil.”

This September, the far right Alternative für Deutschland party became the second strongest party in Saxony and Brandenburg. Now, Judith Porath says “The AfD tries to discredit us, they are constantly making inquiries about us.”  Other political parties have defended the NGO, she said, so far.

Source: Do Germans Know a Hate Crime When They See It?

Merkel warns against racism on anniversary of German reunification

Impressive as usual:

Chancellor Angela Merkel made a veiled attack on the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on the 29th anniversary of German reunification on Thursday, saying economic grievances in the east were no excuse for racism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses with Mayor of Kiel Ulf Kampfer and President of the German Federal Council Daniel Gunther during the celebrations to mark the 29th anniversary of the country’s reunification, in the northern city of Kiel, Germany, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

In a speech marking the anniversary, Merkel cited a government-commissioned report that found economic discrepancies between the eastern and western parts of Germany and which said people in the east feel like second-class citizens.

But she said this was no justification for verbal attacks on foreigners under the guise of free speech, and that such attacks threatened democracy in Germany. Shortly after she spoke, about 600 people took part in a far-right rally in Berlin, with some carrying German flags and waving anti-Islam placards.

Merkel did not mention the anti-migrant AfD by name but it has stronger support in eastern parts of Germany and made big gains in elections in two eastern regions last month.

“It should never be the case that disappointment with politics, however significant, be accepted as a legitimate reason to marginalise, threaten or attack others because of their skin color, religion, sex, or sexual orientation,” Merkel said in the northern city of Kiel.

“The values of our constitution must guide each and every debate in our country,” she said. “In concrete terms this means, ‘Yes’ to open debate, ‘Yes’ to tough demands from politics, ‘No’ to intolerance, ‘No’ to marginalisation, ‘No’ to hate and anti-Semitism, ‘No’ to living at the expense of the weak and minorities.”


Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have accused the AfD, the largest opposition party in parliament, of legitimizing a language of hate that spurs violence.

They have said the AfD manipulates the grievances of eastern Germans – about lower wages and pensions, an exodus of young people, plans to phase out coal and the challenge of integrating a record influx of refugees – to make political gains through populism.

The AfD, which entered parliament two years ago in elections that were shaped by disquiet over Merkel’s decision in 2015 to welcome almost 1 million migrants, says it has always distanced itself from violent, far-right extremists.

The deadly shooting of a pro-immigration conservative politician in June and a rise in anti-Semitism have fueled debate about the anti-immigrant speeches of some AfD leaders.

The party has about 10% support in western regions and is polling at around 14% nationally.

The report cited by Merkel showed east Germany’s economic strength has risen to 75% of the west German level from 43% in 1990. Employment is at a high in the east and wages there are 84% of those in the west, it showed.

The report found that less than 40% say reunification was worth it and less than half are happy with democracy in Germany.

“A lot has been achieved in the past 29 years. In the west as well as in the east, people are all in all happier with their lives than at any other moment since reunification. But we also know that this is not the whole truth,” Merkel said.

“We must all learn to understand why reunification for many people in eastern states is not only a positive experience.”

Source: Merkel warns against racism on anniversary of German reunification