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April 23, 2015 0

Israel’s Independence at 67: Living Up to the Ideals of its Founders

By Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

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As Israel cel­e­brates its 67th Inde­pen­dence Day, it is easy to fall into one or two cat­e­gories in reaction.

One entails an “oy gevalt syn­drome” — the sky is falling.  Just look at Israel, its rela­tions with its main ally, the United States.  An Israeli gov­ern­ment is on the verge of being formed after national elec­tions that looks like it will be more right-wing than its pre­de­ces­sor which may inevitably exac­er­bate rela­tions with the U.S., pos­si­bly fur­ther iso­late Israel from the Euro­pean Union, and spur expanded BDS activ­ity on cam­puses and else­where.  And Israel’s demo­c­ra­tic val­ues may be under assault from a Haredi and right-wing politi­cians who will seek hyper-nationalist leg­is­la­tion lim­it­ing rights to those who express oppo­si­tion to Israeli policies.

The other per­spec­tive is one that says, despite all the com­plaints and crit­i­cisms, Israel has never been doing as well nor in a bet­ter place. U.S.-Israel rela­tions remain strong in spite of the spats between Pres­i­dent Obama and Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu. Ter­ror against Israeli cit­i­zens is way down.  The regional chaos actu­ally ben­e­fits Israel in two ways:  Dis­tract­ing Israel’s ene­mies from focus­ing on the Jew­ish State, and mov­ing the Saudis and the Gulf States into a tacit alliance with Israel based on the shared inter­est of com­bat­ting Iran­ian expan­sion and aggres­sion.  And Israel’s econ­omy remains strong led by the vital high-tech sec­tor which con­tin­ues to enhance Israel’s busi­ness sta­tus in the world.

I pre­fer to look at this moment through a lens that can both enjoy the mir­a­cle of what Israel has become and still, even on a day of cel­e­bra­tion, be aware of the many chal­lenges fac­ing the Jew­ish State as it heads into its 67th year. Para­phras­ing the old Ben Gurion line, I will rap­tur­ously cel­e­brate the won­der that is mod­ern day Israel as if there were no neg­a­tive real­i­ties sur­round­ing its exis­tence, and I will see clearly and worry a great deal about the strug­gles ahead for Israel as if the mir­a­cle of Israel’s very exis­tence and its devel­op­ment were not relevant.

Another way of putting it is that I am as deter­mined as ever, on the occa­sion of this anniver­sary to com­bat the egre­giously dis­torted image of Israel that exists in too many places in the world and on too many cam­puses and main­stream protes­tant churches in the United States.  Israel is far from per­fect as a soci­ety, in its treat­ment of its Arab com­mu­nity and of the Pales­tini­ans.  But it has always been and still is the only true democ­racy and respec­tor of human rights in the region and would have made peace with the Pales­tini­ans on many an occa­sion had it not been for ongo­ing Pales­tin­ian rejec­tion­ism.

I will con­tinue to fight the BDS folks and all those who demo­nize Israel because they are deal­ing in lies about the Jew­ish State.

At the same time, and hav­ing noth­ing to do with the dis­tor­tions from out­side, I worry about some of the direc­tions Israel is going in as an activist Jew who has spent all of his adult life fight­ing for Israel and car­ing about its future.

How will Israel remain both Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic if it can­not find a way out of the cur­rent stale­mate?  With all the legit­i­mate con­cerns about secu­rity, par­tic­u­larly regard­ing an expan­sion­ist and poten­tially nuclear Iran, what is going to be done about the severe domes­tic chal­lenges?  I think of three that demand imme­di­ate atten­tion:  Income inequal­ity, the need for afford­able hous­ing, and the quest for reli­gious pluralism.

So on this impor­tant day, I can live with these dual feel­ings:  An immense pride as a Jew in the glo­ries of the Jew­ish State, and a real­iza­tion that the chal­lenges fac­ing Israel are pro­found and require new initiatives.

Of course, my bot­tom line as a life­long and proud Zion­ist is a belief that Israel will emerge tri­umphant and that what­ever the obsta­cles it will face will be overcome.

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April 16, 2015 3

Yom Hashoah: The Renewed Importance of Remembering

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Holo­caust Remem­brance Day is com­mem­o­rated each year a week after the end of the Passover hol­i­day, a day when the world pauses  to remem­ber the Holo­caust, the mil­lions who died and those who lived on, many to tell their sto­ries to a gen­er­a­tion born more than half a cen­tury later. To the younger among us, the Holo­caust can feel like ancient his­tory. Why is it impor­tant that we remem­ber? And why do we con­tinue to utter the man­date of Never Again, when the real­ity is that geno­cide has occurred again and again in parts of the world today.

It is often said that our youngest gen­er­a­tion will be the last to meet and hear sur­vivors tell their own sto­ries, and those that have this priv­i­lege are unlikely to ever for­get it. There are impor­tant lessons to be learned from sur­vivors’ words and expe­ri­ences, lessons that still have rel­e­vance to stu­dents’ lives today. One impor­tant les­son is about the ten­dency of hate to esca­late when it is unchecked.  When we wit­ness every­day acts of insen­si­tiv­ity, bias or intol­er­ance, it’s easy to turn our backs and walk away, to avoid get­ting involved. Many did just that in Europe sev­enty years ago, and that sub­tle bias was able to grow and fes­ter like a can­cer.  A wise per­son once reminded us that the Holo­caust did not begin at the gates of con­cen­tra­tion camps. It began with words – words that grew into prej­u­dice and then acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence and finally genocide.

We remem­ber the Holo­caust because of our hope that the world will never go through dark­ness as deep as that, but also because we know that the mil­lions who did not sur­vive to tell their sto­ries took with them a world of lost pos­si­bil­i­ties. They would want to know that they were not for­got­ten. And because today’s youth will be the last to hear sur­vivors speak in per­son, there is a renewed impor­tance to find­ing new ways to keep their sto­ries alive.

But how do we do that?  And how do we inspire in one another the moti­va­tion to make Never Again the real­ity the world longs for?  We can begin by tak­ing a moment wher­ever we are to remem­ber those who died. We can be wit­nesses who carry on the sto­ries we have heard to oth­ers.  We can ensure that stu­dents today have oppor­tu­ni­ties to reflect on the lessons of the Holo­caust and to hear the sto­ries of sur­vivors, resisters and res­cuers.  And we can take the time to stop and take a stand against the insen­si­tive, biased and intol­er­ant words and acts that hap­pen around us. Work­ing together, we may even turn the hope of Never Again into a global reality.

Yom Hashoah will be observed on the fol­low­ing dates:

Thurs­day, April 16, 2015 Thurs­day, May 5, 2016 Mon­day, April 24, 2017 Thurs­day, April 12, 2018

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April 14, 2015 3

New ISIS Videos Threaten U.S. Amid Increase In Domestic Plots

Image promoting new ISIS video

Image pro­mot­ing new ISIS video

Two new videos released this week by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) demon­strate a ramp­ing up of threats against the U.S. as ter­ror groups increas­ingly call for home­grown attacks against West­ern coun­tries – and as indi­vid­u­als increas­ingly appear to be heed­ing those calls.

Recent arrests of U.S. res­i­dents plan­ning domes­tic attacks in ISIS’s name indi­cates that such calls for vio­lence can have an impact on Amer­i­cans moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ism and the pro­pa­ganda they find online dis­trib­uted by ISIS and other ter­ror groups.

There have been five alleged instances of domes­tic plots in the U.S. in 2015, rang­ing from con­ver­sa­tions about the pos­si­bil­ity of attack to actual attempted attacks. All were report­edly planned by indi­vid­u­als claim­ing alle­giance to ISIS.

  • Christo­pher Lee Cor­nell of Ohio, arrested in Jan­u­ary for his alleged plot to attack the U.S. Capi­tol after fail­ing to con­nect with ISIS mem­bers abroad.
  • Abdura­sul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhme­tov of New York, arrested in Feb­ru­ary and charged with mate­r­ial sup­port for ter­ror. Court doc­u­ments state they were attempt­ing to join ISIS and dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a domes­tic attack.
  • Hasan and Jonas Edmonds of Illi­nois, arrested in March and charged with attempt­ing to join ISIS and plot­ting an attack against a mil­i­tary base.
  • Noelle Velentzas and Asia Sid­diqui of New York, arrested in April for allegedly pur­chas­ing bomb-making equip­ment with plans for an attack.
  • John T. Booker and Alexan­der Blair of Kansas, arrested in April for allegedly attempt­ing to under­take a sui­cide attack at the Ft. Riley mil­i­tary base.

These are among the 23 U.S. res­i­dents arrested on ter­ror charges thus far in 2015, all but two of whom claimed alle­giance to ISIS.

Both of the videos released this week fea­ture ref­er­ences to pre­vi­ous ter­ror attacks in West­ern coun­tries and footage of bru­tal exe­cu­tions of ISIS vic­tims in Iraq and Syria, as well as encour­age­ment of individually-directed domes­tic plots.

One of the videos, released on April 10, was titled “We Will Burn Amer­ica.” It fea­tured footage and praise of the Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Cen­ter along with nar­ra­tion in Ara­bic with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles stat­ing, “Sep­tem­ber 11 will be repeated.”

The video also fea­tures images from the attack on the Paris kosher super­mar­ket and shoot­ings in Canada, both of which were under­taken by indi­vid­u­als act­ing in ISIS’s name, as well as images of behead­ings by ISIS. Its style was rem­i­nis­cent of ISIS’s feature-film-length pro­pa­ganda video “Flames of War,” which was shot to resem­ble an action movie and high­lights the group’s ide­o­log­i­cal claims of a bat­tle between good and evil, Islam and the West.

“We Will Burn Amer­ica” was released on Twit­ter with the hash­tag #we_will_burn_america. ISIS reg­u­larly encour­ages its sup­port­ers to par­tic­i­pate in hash­tag cam­paigns designed to arti­fi­cially cre­ate trend­ing items and spread the group’s pro­pa­ganda. Last sum­mer, the group under­took two hash­tag cam­paigns sim­i­larly threat­en­ing the U.S., with the hash­tags #Calami­ty­Will­Be­fal­lUS and #AMes­sage­FromI­SIS­ToUS.

The sec­ond video, released April 14, takes the form of a music video encour­ag­ing lone-wolf attacks and threat­en­ing West­ern coun­tries. The lan­guage is Ger­man, with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. ISIS has released mul­ti­ple music videos to appeal to young audi­ences while con­vey­ing the group’s messages.

A screenshot from the new ISIS music video

A screen­shot from the new ISIS music video

Addressed “to the ene­mies of Allah,” the video’s nar­ra­tion states that “this is a mes­sage and more are going to fol­low.” The video por­trays a man read­ing the Qu’ran and watch­ing ISIS pro­pa­ganda on his com­puter, includ­ing graphic videos of behead­ings, the burn­ing of the Jor­dan­ian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, mass killings, and wounded sol­diers. “We want your blood,” it states, “it tastes so wonderful.”

It then shows indi­vid­u­als prepar­ing for dif­fer­ent types of domes­tic attacks, includ­ing a stab­bing, car bomb, and a sui­cide bomb­ing in Times Square, as well as learn­ing about gun use and bomb-making online – seem­ingly exam­ples for would-be domes­tic attack­ers and an acknowl­edg­ment of the impor­tance of online ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda. Images of pre­vi­ous attacks against the West, includ­ing the attack against the Paris kosher super­mar­ket, are shown as well. “In France it has been proven by deeds. Ger­man sleeper cell are wait­ing,” it states. “Allah has called you! … Your neigh­bor is a kaf­fir (apos­tate)… take a big knife and give him what he rightly deserves.”

The release of the videos comes as ISIS is los­ing ter­ri­tory and recruits in the Mid­dle East. Losses by ter­ror­ist groups have often cor­re­sponded with increased calls for attacks abroad, which do not require resource expen­di­ture by the ter­ror group itself and can then be claimed as vic­to­ries for the group. Al Shabaab, for exam­ple, has sim­i­larly released calls for domes­tic attacks abroad in the past year as it under­goes losses of recruits, lead­er­ship, and ter­ri­tory in Soma­lia and its sur­round­ing countries.

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