Category Archive: JTA

Pro-Palestinian student walks out on Holocaust survivor’s speech after accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’

(JTA) — A Palestinian student at Benedictine University called on a Holocaust survivor to condemn the establishment of Israel, and then walked out on his speech after he did not do so.

Following a speech last week by Professor Harold Kasimow, who survived the Holocaust as a child, Benedictine senior Ayah Ali asked a question which drew a parallel between Kasimow’s experiences and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Ali, according to her Twitter feed, is affiliated with the Chicago-area school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

“It honestly means the world that you were willing to share your story with us, but I wanted to bring your attention towards a similar story,” Ali said. “I’m sure you know about whats happening in Palestine and my question to you is, do you support or do you condemn the establishment of the Zionist Israeli state, and whether it’s OK to exile and completely — the complete ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, the way that the Jewish people were exiled and ethnically cleansed?”

Kasimow, an emeritus professor of religious studies at Grinnell University who is a visiting scholar at Benedictine this year, answered that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “not an area of my experience.” He added that though he is “not happy with the government in Israel,” he believes the state should exist. He said that both sides of the conflict bear responsibility for solving it.

“It’s such a complicated issue,” he said. “There are many Jews involved in interfaith centers who are working on this very issue, trying to help create peace, but it’s really both sides need to [be] open to each other and talk to each other. But if Israel should exist? Yes, I believe Israel should exist.”

Ali responded that she is “a result of experiences that you’ve been through. I am a survivor of the intifada.” She said “it’s disappointing to know that a Holocaust survivor would remain neutral in a situation of injustice.”

Kasimow said that “it’s not a matter of neutral, it’s not total guilt or innocence on either side.”

After reiterating her comments, Ali walked out of the speech. The school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine tweeted out videos of the exchange.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has reached out to both Kasimow and Ali seeking comment.

Nazi flag seen hanging in state building in Sacramento

(Screenshot from video uploaded to Imgur by California Department of Corrections)

The state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has launched an investigation to find out.

An anonymous video uploaded Saturday on Imgur, a video and photo sharing website similar to Instagram, shows a red Nazi flag with a black swastika in the center visible through the window of a CDCR office in downtown Sacramento. The video also shows what appears to be a second flag, black with SS bolts, hanging below it.

“This is a trashy way to represent this beautiful city, especially in a state building,” a caption on the online post read.

By Tuesday, the video had been viewed more than 23,000 times.

A CDCR spokesperson confirmed that the flag had been hung in its state parole office at 1608 T St. In a statement emailed to J. on Tuesday, press secretary Dana Simas said the office deals with high-level offenders and often comes into contact with “objectionable” items.

“While CDCR has a zero tolerance policy for the display of objects that are derogatory in nature, in an office that covers gang members and high-risk sex offenders we will come into contact with items that may be considered objectionable,” the statement read. “However, we take this issue seriously and have removed the item and are looking into the circumstances for why the flag was displayed in potential view of the public.”

Some of the items confiscated from offenders are “used as training tools,” Simas wrote. She did not say whether the flag was among them.

The Nazi flag was not the only wall decoration seen in the video. Also visible was a “Thin Blue Line” flag — a black-and-white version of the American flag with a blue line that represents law enforcement. Its popularity grew around the time of prominent demonstrations against police brutality in Baltimore, Ferguson and elsewhere. The flag is often associated with the Blue Lives Matter movement.

The Anti-Defamation League calls the Nazi flag, which has been adopted by white supremacists across the globe, “one of the most potent hate symbols worldwide.” It is banned in Germany.

Principal and teacher at Utah school placed on leave after student dresses as Hitler

(JTA) — The principal and a teacher at an elementary school in Utah have been placed on paid administrative leave after a student dressed in an Adolf Hitler costume and participated in the schools Halloween parade.

The student at the Creekside Elementary School in Kaysville, Utah wore a brown long-sleeve shirt with a red swastika armband on the sleeve in photos that circulated Friday on social media. He also appeared to be wearing a Hitler mustache.

The Davis School District apologized for the incident in a statement, the local Fox affiliate reported.

“The Davis School District apologizes for what took place yesterday. It does not tolerate speech, images or conduct that portray or promote hate in any form. The district is taking the matter very seriously and is investigating every aspect of the situation,” the statement said. “It does not tolerate speech, images or conduct that portray or promote hate in any form.”

“The United Jewish Federation of Utah is deeply concerned about the rising tide of hateful speech and actions in our country. As such, we are appalled that an elementary school student at Creekside Elementary School in Kaysville, Utah was allowed to participate in a Halloween parade dressed as Adolf Hitler. Almost all Jews and Americans regard Hitler and Nazi symbols as signifiers of the worst hatred, racism, and crimes against humanity that the world has known. Dressing a child as Hitler is intolerably offensive and should not be suggested, permitted or condoned.

UK’s Labour Party has an opportunity in upcoming elections. The anti-Semitism controversy is holding it back.


(JTA) – After nearly a decade in power, Britain’s Conservative Party is in tatters.

Years of failing to negotiate a deal with the European Union to follow through with Brexit have led to internal party discord and roiled public frustration. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial push to leave the EU without a negotiated deal has only added to the political headache.

As if Brexit woes aren’t enough, Conservatives are also under fire in the media for alleged xenophobic radicalization in their ranks — not least by Johnson himself, who last year wrote an op-ed calling Muslim women who wear face-covering veils “ridiculous” for choosing to look like “bank robbers” or “letterboxes.”

Johnson’s approval ratings in August were the lowest of any British prime minister in over 40 years of polling, and since then he’s suffered a succession of policy defeats. He felt the need to call for new elections, which will be held Dec. 12.

It all adds up to what seems like ideal conditions for the liberal Labour Party’s return to power, which it has not held since 2010 under Gordon Brown.

But multiple opinion polls consistently suggest that the Conservatives still have a significant lead on Labour, which has been led by Jeremy Corbyn since 2015.

Corbyn’s hard-left economic policies, often described as populist, his perceived neutrality on Brexit and his history of alleged support for Britain’s enemies have caused major strife in Labour’s own ranks and likely have contributed to its dismal performance in the polls.

But Labour’s many scandals involving anti-Semitism — and the British media’s unrelenting attention to these problems — are also a key factor holding back the party at this crucial moment of opportunity, according to expert observers.

Following Corbyn’s takeover of the party, hate speech against Jews and Israel began proliferating in Labour’s ranks. Thousands of incidents have been recorded both by internal Labour groups like Labour Against Anti-Semitism, and external ones, including the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

British Prime Minister-elect Boris Johnson waiting to glide on a zip line onto the Olympic Park in London, the United Kingdom, on August 1, 2012. (Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London, waits to glide on a Zip line onto the Olympic Park in the British capital, Aug. 1, 2012. (Barcroft Media/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Corbyn came under scrutiny increasingly in the media and beyond both for his alleged failure to stop the hate speech and for past actions in which he appeared to ignore, condone or encourage it — and even to partake in it himself.

He has defended a London mural showing bankers, understood by many to be Jewish, playing monopoly on the backs of dark-skinned people. He once said that UK-born “Zionists” have “no sense of irony.” He blamed “the hand of Israel” for an Islamist terrorist attack in Egypt in an interview for the Iranian state-run Press TV network. He has called Hezbollah and Hamas — militant groups that vow to destroy Israel — his friends. In 2015, he placed a wreath in a Tunisian cemetery to commemorate the Black September terrorists who killed 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In 2016, an interparliamentary committee, which included Labour representatives, accused Labour of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

Jewish community leaders and prominent members have not minced words about the controversy.

British Jewry’s leaders, including former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, said it would be an “existential threat to their community were Corbyn to come to power. In a recent poll, 85 percent of British Jewish respondents said Corbyn is anti-Semitic.

In a Jewish News poll last month of more than 1,000 non-Jewish voters, 55 percent agreed with the statement that Corbyn’s “failure to tackle anti-Semitism within his own party shows he is unfit” to lead.

In the poll, 51 percent said Labour has a “serious anti-Semitism problem” – up from 34 percent when the same question was asked by an earlier ComRes poll. Just 18 percent disagreed.

According to a YouGov survey from May, 80 percent of British voters are now aware of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis, and just 19 percent are still convinced by Labour and Corbyn’s arguments that they are not anti-Semitic.

Still, a typical voter from northern England, for example, where few Jews live, will likely not be aware of the intricacies or the timeline of the Labour anti-Semitism crisis, says Jonathan Arkush, the previous president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

But even there, “there is now a pretty wide spread perception that there’s something rather nasty around Labour,” Arkush suggested.

“Voters aren’t stupid. They’re able to recognize when a pregnant woman, a member of Parliament, is being bullied,” he said, referencing the case of Luciana Berger, a young rising star who resigned from Labour this year over anti-Semitism while pregnant.

U.K. parliament member Luciana Berger announces her resignation from the Labour Party at a press conference in London, Feb. 18, 2019. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Parliament member Luciana Berger announces her resignation from the Labour Party at a news conference in London, Feb. 18, 2019. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

“They recognize it when another Jewish lawmaker, who represented Labour for 20 years, faces hostile and aggressive questions at a party meeting,” Arkush added, referencing recent incidents involving lawmakers Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth. Ellman recently joined other Jewish Labour leavers when she quit the party over anti-Semitism after 55 years in its ranks.

If Corbyn’s critics, especially his Jewish ones, are correct, it means that the general electorate is punishing Corbyn for Labour’s perceived treatment of a minority so small that it comprises less than half a percent of the population. It’s a remarkable scenario considering the relative success of parties with a longer tradition of anti-Semitic controversy elsewhere in Europe, including the National Front in France and the Freedom Party in Austria.

The possibility that Labour pays a price for its anti-Semitism problem at the ballot box makes activist Jonathan Hoffman, an activist who last year spearheaded a billboard campaign against Corbyn, feel “relieved.”

“If we lived in a society whose people and media were prepared to overlook anti-Semitism, it’d be a terrible place,” Hoffman said. “And I’m proud of how Jews, but also many non-Jews, are standing up to anti-Semitism here.”


Yvette Lundy, French Resistance member who helped Jewish families, dies at 103


(JTA) — Yvette Lundy, a member of the French Resistance who provided false identification papers to Jewish families, has died. She was 103.

Lundy, who also survived two Nazi concentration camps, died in the northern French town of Epernay on Sunday.

She would go on to become a schoolteacher and also worked at the town hall.

Lundy joined the Resistance at the beginning of the Nazi occupation of France, the French news agency AFP reported. She provided fake papers to Jewish families and escaped prisoners of war.

She was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1944, when she was 28. Lundy was imprisoned at the Ravensbrück concentration camp and later at Buchenwald. Later she later was assigned to a Kommando slave labor unit near Weimar and was liberated by the Russian army in April 1945.

Lundy returned to France but did not begin speaking about her experiences until 1959.

“The words of Yvette Lundy were a powerful call for citizen vigilance, so that the darkest hours of the 20th century would never be repeated,” a statement issued by the office of President Emmanuel Macron said.

Her memoir “Le Fil de l’araignée” (The Spider’s Web) was published in 2012. In 2017, she received one of France’s highest honors, becoming a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour.

Anti-Semitic hate crimes in Sweden rise by 53% to all-time record high


(JTA) — The number of anti-Semitic hate crimes recorded in Sweden rose to a record high last year, jumping 53 percent over the 2016 figures, government statistics show.

The 2018 report, which the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention published Thursday, listed 280 anti-Semitic hate crimes that year compared to 182 in 2016. The latest numbers are the highest on record since at least 2006, when the Council began collecting aggregated data.

Overall, the number of hate crimes with a racist or xenophobic motive rose by 69 percent over 2016 in Sweden to 4,865 cases last year, the report stated.

The council decided not to publish hate crime figures for 2017 without explaining the decision. In one attack from 2017, the Jewish assembly synagogue in Gothenburg was firebombed by approximately 10 men protesting Israel’s policies.

Anti-Semitic motives represented the largest increase from 2016 in hate crimes and was the largest hike in anti-Semitic crimes on record, the report said.

Anti-Semitic attacks accounted for 4 percent of all hate crimes in 2018. The Jewish population of 20,000 comprises approximately 0.2 percent of Sweden’s population.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes accounted for 8 percent of the hate crimes recorded in 2018, a proportion slightly lower than that minority’s estimated share of the population in Sweden.

The report did not specify the identity of perpetrators of hate crimes against Jews, but it did say the data include “cases both when the offender belongs to the majority population and when the offender belongs to another minority group.”

Fliers bearing swastika and Star of David found around Arizona State U campus


(JTA) — Fliers bearing a swastika and a Star of David were discovered around the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.

The Hillel Jewish Center at ASU said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that some of the fliers depict references to the Holocaust, and “trivialize” it.

“Like you, we believe this message has no place on our campus. We are proud to work with you to make Jewish life on campus stronger every day, and an isolated incident such as this one will not deter us,” the post said.

A student first discovered one of the fliers on Friday, The State Press, the campus student newspaper,reported.

Arizona State University Police, in conjunction with the Tempe Police, are investigating the incident.

The Anti-Defamation League of Arizona said in a Facebook post that it has reached out to Hillel and Chabad at ASU.

“Ensuring the safety and security of our students is our top priority, and the university undertakes extensive efforts to ensure student safety is not compromised. ASU is a place where open debate can thrive and honest disagreements can be explored, but not when hateful rhetoric is used. That is not who we are,” a university statement said,according to the Arizona Republic Daily newspaper.

‘Wonder’ author R.J. Palacio tells us why her new book is a Holocaust story

This story originally appeared on Kveller.

If your kids are of a certain age, they’ve probably read ‘Wonder,” the best-selling book about Auggie Pullman, a boy born with facial differences who, after being homeschooled his whole life, begins attending a school in fifth grade. It’s on our must-read list of books for kids and adults navigating disabilities and special needs — and it was made into a film in November 2017 starring Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay.

Since “Wonder” was published in 2012, the author, R. J. Palacio, has written a series of novels within the same universe, including “Auggie & Me,” a collection of three related stories. One of those stories centers on Julian, the school bully who is the antagonist in “Wonder.” In “Auggie & Me,” we learn about Grandmère, Julian’s grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor. But we don’t get her full story — until now.

“White Bird,” a graphic novel by Palacio, is a deep dive into what happened to Grandmère — Sara — during World War II, and how she survived as a young Jewish girl in France.

In an interview with Kveller, Palacio explained why she decided to publish this particular story in 2019.

“It’s really important for kids to have the historical context with which to [understand] what’s happening now, so that they can make the direct correlations,” she said.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Palacio talks about her husband’s Jewish family, Holocaust education, the 2016 elections and more.

Kveller: Even though you yourself are not Jewish, you write in the author’s note about your husband’s family. How much did their story influence “White Bird”?

Palacio: It didn’t influence the actual, specific events; I was more influenced by when I [lived] in Paris for a year. But it did affect, very much, my passion for the subject. I was very close to my mother-in-law, and she lost much of her family in the Holocaust. Not that she knew them, but still I think, existentially, to have suffered that kind of profound loss affects generations. I could not stop thinking about her while I was working on this, wishing she could have lived to have seen it, cause I think she would have loved it.

What was your research process like?

I’d always been obsessed with stories in and around the Holocaust. Because A, it’s almost impossible to imagine the suffering that happened, and B, it’s even more impossible to imagine that it could have happened, and that people let it happen, that the world let it happen.

I remember reading Martin Gilbert’s book “The Rightenous,” which were stories about the gentiles who actually tried to shield Jews and rescue Jews, and sometimes Romani, from persecution. I’ve always been very moved by the call to goodness, and the strength it took for people to do the right thing. And those tie in very much to “Wonder”; “Wonder” is about kindness and, ultimately, standing up for your neighbors, standing up against intolerance — that’s also an extension of kindness. The kind of kindness that takes a little more courage.

Why do you think it was important to tell Sara’s story? 

This is a story about a little girl who was growing up feeling completely ordinary, very much like Auggie in a lot of ways, except she really was ordinary. She had loving parents, a great school, lots of friends and she was popular. And yet she, like her friends, was not especially nice or kind to the little boy at school who had polio and walked with two crutches.

Ironically, this is the very boy that ends up rescuing her when Nazis come for the Jewish kids one day. As she gets to know him, she realizes that first of all, she’d been kind of a jerk, but also what they actually had in common was that they were judged for things that were beyond [their] control. There’s a whole learning process for her and evolution for her as she realizes that she is alive because of the kindness of this boy and his family, who risk everything to shield her.

white bird

When there are so many harrowing, real-life survivor stories, why tell a fictionalized one?

Fiction is the world in which I live, and it’s important for me to tell the story within this historical context, but not try to take on a real-life story. I don’t feel like I would have been able to do it, and I don’t feel like I would have been the right person to do it. I think people should tell stories about their grandparents, and I hope my husband writes the story of his grandparents someday. That’s his story to tell.

Early in Sara’s story, her parents talk to her about what’s happening and the rise of Nazism. How do you talk to your kids about anti-Semitism? Do you have any tips for parents talking to their kids?

I have always taken anti-Semitism to be something that we all need to fight, whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish. It shouldn’t fall on Jewish people to remind people of the Holocaust. It shouldn’t fall on the victims of persecution to remind other people to do something to stop it. We’ve raised our kids always knowing about everything that happened. I encourage parents — I get so much that it’s a difficult subject, it’s so horrific, yet if we don’t teach our children about it, then we are relying on schools to do it, and them somehow imbibing this information from other sources which may or may not be accurate, especially nowadays.

One of the things I found very moving was the epilogue about border separations — particularly the last panel, where Julian holds up a NEVER AGAIN sign. What went into that decision?

I decided to actually do this whole story, to write “White Bird,” for a couple of reasons. I first introduced Grandmère and her story very briefly in “The Julian Chapter” of “Auggie & Me,” which was published in 2014 — before Trumpism, before we knew about border separations or anything like that.

I remember it was my husband’s Uncle Bernard, who had been a New York City principal for many years, told me that I should do it as a larger story because it was an excellent first introduction to the Holocaust for younger kids, like fourth- and fifth-graders. In curriculums across the country, for a lot of kids, it isn’t until the seventh or eighth grade, with “The Diary of Anne Frank,” that they actually first learn about the Holocaust.

In any case, I thought about [writing Grandmère’s story] … and then 2016 happened. And almost immediately, in January 2017 when Trump took office, there was a call for a Muslim ban, and there was a call to kick trans soldiers out of the military. And even before that, we started hearing all this anti-immigrant rhetoric. We started seeing American Nazis marching in Charlottesville. This was all happening very quickly. I could not stop thinking about it — I could not stop seeing all the dots connecting back to 1938 Europe. The rise of intolerance always leads right to anti-Semitism. If you’re a student of history, you know that that’s true.

So what brought you back to this story?

The story that Grandmère told suddenly became very relevant: The story of a little girl who becomes a refugee in her own country, who suddenly becomes illegal and loses her rights, and is facing deportation and mass roundups.

I see the direct connection between what’s happening now and what happened in the events leading up to the Holocaust in Germany and much of Europe. I thought that it was time to do what my husband’s Uncle Bernard had suggested, to tell the story of “White Bird,” so that kids could have a historical context with which to view what’s happening today, especially since a lot of them — and a lot of readers of “Wonder” who did not grow up in New York who don’t have Jewish friends, and certainly that’s a big swath of the country — may never have really heard about the Holocaust.

What do you hope kids take away from this? 

It’s very important for kids to understand that they have to speak up; they have to sort of have some agency in what’s going on. I feel powerless, so I can imagine how kids must feel right now. Which is why I’m so inspired by Greta Thunberg and the Parkland kids — kids who are saying, “Well, you know what? We have to take this into our own hands because the grown-ups aren’t doing enough.” That’s what I’m hoping, for kids to get inspired and never let [something like the Holocaust] happen again.