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April 21, 2016 Off

This Passover Let Us Remember That Once We Were Strangers, Too

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Syrian refugee woman reacts while travelling in an overcrowded dinghy as it arrives at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey

This Fri­day night, Jews around the world will gather at Seder tables with friends and fam­ily to tell the story of the Exo­dus from Egypt. We are com­manded to tell the story as if we had per­son­ally fled slav­ery, trans­form­ing the expe­ri­ence from the sim­ple recount­ing of an ancient tale to an exer­cise of empa­thy and reflec­tion on the suf­fer­ing of others.

Today, as 60 mil­lion peo­ple have been forcibly dis­placed from their homes around the world, we face the worst refugee cri­sis since World War II. Many are caught between the ter­ror of the Islamic State and the bar­rel bombs of Assad’s regime and his Iran­ian back­ers in Syria. Oth­ers flee the ter­ri­fy­ing grip of Boko Haram in Nige­ria, or extreme gang vio­lence in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Still oth­ers flee other coun­tries where they are per­se­cuted and tor­tured because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity. There is one thing that unites all these refugees: No mat­ter their home coun­try, they are flee­ing for their lives and seek­ing safety in new lands.

In place of com­pas­sion and open arms, how­ever, too often refugees have been met with hate­ful rhetoric and closed doors. More than half of U.S. gov­er­nors have either said they will not accept refugees in their states or have asked the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to shut our doors. A bill pend­ing now before Con­gress, the ill-named “Refugee Pro­gram Integrity Restora­tion Act” (H.R. 4731), would dras­ti­cally reduce and cap refugee admis­sions and cre­ate new pro­ce­dures that would sub­stan­tially delay reset­tle­ment for many refugees whose lives are in dan­ger. It would also allow state and local gov­ern­ments who “dis­ap­prove” of a group of refugees to veto reset­tle­ment in their communities.

Shut­ting our doors to those flee­ing extreme vio­lence is un-American. It flies in the face of our val­ues as a nation that has served as a bea­con of hope for those around the world seek­ing a bet­ter life. But, sadly, it is not the first time we have seen this kind of ugly response to a refugee crisis.

For those of us in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity who have fam­ily mem­bers, like my grand­fa­ther, who fled Nazism in Europe, this nar­ra­tive is all too famil­iar. In July 1938—three years after the Nurem­berg Laws had stripped Jews of Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship, deprived them of most polit­i­cal rights, and left hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews seek­ing inter­na­tional refuge—For­tune mag­a­zine asked Amer­i­cans, “What is your atti­tude toward allow­ing Ger­man, Aus­trian, and other polit­i­cal refugees to come to the U.S.?” Shame­fully, more than two-thirds said we should keep the refugees out.

The fol­low­ing year the St. Louis, car­ry­ing 937 Ger­man refugees—mostly Jews flee­ing Nazi Germany—set sail for Cuba. Most had applied for U.S. visas. Turned away from Cuba, as the St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that the pas­sen­gers could see the lights from Miami, they appealed to Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt to give them safe har­bor. With pub­lic opin­ion opposed to lift­ing the strin­gent immi­gra­tion quo­tas or to mak­ing an excep­tion for the ship’s pas­sen­gers, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Almost a quar­ter of the pas­sen­gers per­ished in the Holocaust.

It was uncon­scionable to turn our backs on Jew­ish refugees flee­ing Europe in the 1930s, just as it is uncon­scionable today to seal our bor­ders to those flee­ing extreme vio­lence around the world.

The temp­ta­tion may be to give into fear and fear-mongering claims that ter­ror­ists will slip into our midst dis­guised as refugees, but Amer­ica has put up the high­est hur­dles in the world for refugees seek­ing entry. In fact, refugee sta­tus is the sin­gle most dif­fi­cult way to enter the United States. Refugees must pass dif­fi­cult and thor­ough screen­ings by the U.S. Depart­ment of State, the FBI, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity, inter­na­tional intel­li­gence agen­cies, and the United Nations. Refugees are not ter­ror­ists. There may be even more that can be done to edu­cate refugees as they seek to inte­grate into our soci­ety, but we must remem­ber that they are peo­ple flee­ing the very same bru­tal­ity we fear.

As we gather around the Seder table, and we tell the story of the Exo­dus as if we too were flee­ing Egypt, may we also have com­pas­sion for those flee­ing bru­tal­ity today. The Passover story is the story of peo­ple flee­ing slav­ery. It is the story of peo­ple seek­ing safety abroad. It is the refugee story. This Passover, may we open our doors to refugees and grant safe har­bor to those flee­ing for their lives. For once we were strangers, too.

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April 20, 2016 8

Why I’m Speaking to Students at J Street U

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium on April 17, 2016.

J Street U

This morn­ing, I will speak to stu­dents at the J Street U National Assem­bly, the annual gath­er­ing of more than 200 young lead­ers from across the coun­try who con­verge on Wash­ing­ton D.C. to dis­cuss the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and to exchange views about what they can do on cam­pus to advance a two-state solu­tion. J Street U reached out to me seek­ing to engage with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, eager to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which it has never had.

As I begin to chart the course of my lead­er­ship, I felt it was impor­tant that I accept this invi­ta­tion. I feel this way because of my con­vic­tion that it is vital to engage with all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity, even and espe­cially those with whom we might have disagreements.

We can’t talk only to those who are aligned with us on every point.

In our time of hyper-polarization and the ero­sion of civil dis­course, I believe it’s imper­a­tive that the orga­nized Jew­ish lead­er­ship mod­els the traits that we want to define the broader pol­i­tics in our coun­try. When I started my tenure as CEO, the coun­try was locked in a bit­ter debate over the Iran deal. More than any­thing, the expe­ri­ence showed me that our com­mu­nity suf­fers from an inabil­ity to thought­fully and respect­fully engage across polit­i­cal divides.

I saw it first­hand as Jews who sup­ported the deal as well as those who opposed the deal both were attacked viciously for their views, par­tic­u­larly by fel­low Jews. I was dis­mayed by the self-destructive behav­ior — tak­ing out news­pa­per ads, plas­ter­ing munic­i­pal buses, exco­ri­at­ing oth­ers with ad home­nim attacks — such attacks don’t advance the debate. They dimin­ish all of us.

For a peo­ple who ele­vated the notion of dis­sent as a bedrock prin­ci­ple of our reli­gious prac­tice, the unwill­ing­ness to coun­te­nance oppos­ing views is counter to the best tra­di­tions of our peo­ple. As a leader, I will not engage in these tac­tics. Instead, as the CEO of ADL, I will be an active advo­cate for civil­ity and avoid the pol­i­tics of per­sonal destruction.

Build­ing from this frame, I see my remarks today as a major oppor­tu­nity for ADL to accom­plish two things.

The first is to deliver the mes­sage that, at ADL, we are com­mit­ted to ensur­ing Israel remains a safe and secure, Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic state, as enshrined in its procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence. It was that remark­able Zion­ist vision expressed from the cra­dle of Israel’s birth that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and the world, the notion that Israel would be a coun­try unlike all others:

“…based on free­dom, jus­tice and peace as envis­aged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure com­plete equal­ity of social and polit­i­cal rights to all its inhab­i­tants irre­spec­tive of reli­gion, race or sex; it will guar­an­tee free­dom of reli­gion, con­science, lan­guage, edu­ca­tion and culture…”

Frayed Israel Flag

That is why ADL has had a pol­icy of sup­port for a two-state solu­tion for decades. This means advo­cat­ing for the legit­i­macy and secu­rity of the Jew­ish state even as we sup­port Pales­tin­ian dig­nity and equal­ity of Arab cit­i­zens in Israel. These ideas should not be in con­flict. Rather, they are con­sis­tent with our cen­ten­nial com­mit­ment to civil rights and social justice.

Sec­ondly, I see an oppor­tu­nity to deliver an impor­tant mes­sage to these impas­sioned stu­dents who are gal­va­nized by the imper­a­tive to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. At ADL, we equally want to see a res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict. Israel must take real, mean­ing­ful mea­sures to pro­mote an end to the impasse. How­ever, the idea that peace can be brought about only by apply­ing pres­sure to one side of the con­flict — Israel — is a strat­egy bound to backfire.

Fur­ther iso­lat­ing Israel at a time of great local tumult and regional volatil­ity will only rein­force the polit­i­cal psy­chol­ogy of Israelis who eye con­ces­sions made in the con­text of nego­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans as inevitably endan­ger­ing them. And this fear is real. It is sub­stan­ti­ated in the unrav­el­ing of the mod­ern Mid­dle East, the rise of vio­lent non-state actors com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of Israel, ter­ror­ist groups like Hezbol­lahISIS and Hamas, and the regional power of Iran whose rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­ogy remains firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. As Israelis look around they see regional chaos engulf­ing their neigh­bor­hood: whole­sale slaugh­ter in Syria, chaos in Sinai, chal­lenges to the sta­bil­ity of their friends in Jor­dan. Any rea­son­able approach to solv­ing the con­flict in order to be cred­i­ble in the eyes of Israel must bear in mind this new reality.

Given these facts, it is only the con­stancy of Amer­i­can guar­an­tees of moral and phys­i­cal sup­port that will under­gird an even­tual agree­ment. And under­min­ing that sup­port endan­gers the prospects of peace. While a respon­si­ble approach should rec­og­nize that there are steps that Israel must take to ensure the via­bil­ity of a two-state solu­tion, a rea­son­able approach must have expec­ta­tions of the Pales­tini­ans as well.

Ignor­ing the steps they also must take, com­pro­mises they too must make to achieve peace, does a deep dis­ser­vice toward that goal.

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The fact is that the Pales­tini­ans, under the lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas, twice rejected seri­ous Israeli peace offers, once in 2008 dur­ing direct talks between Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen, and again under the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion — an admin­is­tra­tion which I was a part of. When Pres­i­dent Obama offered Pres­i­dent Abbas an Amer­i­can frame­work doc­u­ment for the res­o­lu­tion of the final sta­tus of the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, Abbas decided to ignore it entirely. That is an incon­ve­nient fact for some who wish to por­tray the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict as a sim­plis­tic story of Israel’s unwill­ing­ness to make peace. But it is a fact that can­not be ignored.

The cham­pi­ons of Pales­tin­ian self-determination must hold the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship to task for its fail­ures as well.

But even as I will make these points, I want to stress that despite this, we must find the areas where we can be partners.

It is vital to be in con­ver­sa­tion with these stu­dents and the next gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers because it they who can cred­i­bly bro­ker crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions on cam­puses rooted in a com­mit­ment to peace, while unmask­ing the dam­ag­ing effects of BDS and anti-normalization.

The imper­a­tives for social jus­tice today do not lie in the Israeli-Palestinian nego­ti­a­tions alone. We can­not let our dif­fer­ences over how to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace keep us from work­ing together to address so many other chal­lenges fac­ing our nation. There are vital issues of struc­tural racism that we must address now, mat­ters of press­ing racial injus­tice that wrack our own soci­ety. There are dem­a­gogues ris­ing to power in Europe and the intro­duc­tion of a ter­ri­ble new type of polit­i­cal dis­course that threat­ens our fun­da­men­tal values.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 with an endur­ing mis­sion that still rings true today: to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. For more than 100 years, we have worked to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of big­otry even as we equally have fought for civil rights and social jus­tice for Jews and other mar­gin­al­ized people.

But it always has been a shared strug­gle, one that we have not waged our­selves but that has been a prod­uct of alliances, coali­tions and part­ner­ships. And the work is not yet com­plete. There is still much to do be done. Hope­fully we can do it, together.

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March 11, 2016 1

Turning Current Events Instruction Into Social Justice Teaching

Jin­nie Spiegler
Direc­tor of Cur­ricu­lum, Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Edutopia

Mar­riage equal­ity, refugees seek­ing safety in Europe, the Con­fed­er­ate flag, police shoot­ings of black and Latino men, the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Cait­lyn Jen­ner, ISIS, and immi­gra­tion are just a few of the news sto­ries that inhab­ited the head­lines this year on our phones, lap­tops, and news­pa­pers. Unlike 20 years ago when teach­ers and par­ents had to inten­tion­ally raise cur­rent events top­ics with young peo­ple, nowa­days stu­dents are already part of the con­ver­sa­tion. Through their smart­phones, social media out­lets, and over­heard con­ver­sa­tions, they know what is hap­pen­ing. And yet, do stu­dents really under­stand the head­lines they see? Do they have the chance to grap­ple with the infor­ma­tion, or is it sim­ply seep­ing into their psy­che with no oppor­tu­nity to ask ques­tions, dig deeper, or explore how they feel about it?

Most edu­ca­tors feel a sense of respon­si­bil­ity to talk with their stu­dents about what’s going on in soci­ety and the world. Indeed, it’s the rea­son that many decided to become teach­ers in the first place. With top­ics both large and small — from the Supreme Court rul­ing on mar­riage equal­ity to the lack of diver­sity in the Acad­emy Awards, from racism in polic­ing to the school dress codes con­tro­versy — teach­ing about cur­rent events has enor­mous ben­e­fits for stu­dents. And it almost always has a social jus­tice lens with which to learn, ana­lyze, and discover.

Whether teach­ers have a few min­utes, one class period, or an entire unit to spend on a cur­rent event topic, the oppor­tu­nity is ripe with learn­ing poten­tial. Stu­dents’ high inter­est and moti­va­tion lay the ground­work for being an informed cit­i­zen and talk­ing at home with par­ents and fam­ily mem­bers. Cur­rent events dis­cus­sions offer ample oppor­tu­nity for skill build­ing (e.g. vocab­u­lary devel­op­ment, read­ing and writ­ing infor­ma­tional and ana­lyt­i­cal text, oral expres­sion, crit­i­cal analy­sis — all part of the ELA Com­mon Core Learn­ing Stan­dards). Stu­dents can build and prac­tice their social and emo­tional skills, and these top­ics often present an oppor­tu­nity to con­nect the present with the past. Finally, because so many cur­rent events top­ics shed light on human and civil rights, teach­ers have an excel­lent con­ver­sa­tional bridge as well as a lens for address­ing equity and jus­tice, a topic that so many young peo­ple are hun­gry to discuss.

As you reflect on what and how to bring cur­rent events top­ics into your class­room, con­sider the following:

1. Thought­fully con­sider who is in your classroom.

All cur­rent events top­ics have the poten­tial to raise sen­si­tive issues for stu­dents, espe­cially around iden­tity. Whether the topic brings up race, reli­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, immi­gra­tion, etc., think about the com­po­si­tion of your stu­dents. The young peo­ple who might iden­tify with the topic per­son­ally will likely have a range of thoughts and feel­ings about dis­cussing the topic: relief, embar­rass­ment, annoy­ance, pride, excite­ment, or noth­ing at all. Do not assume that all of the stu­dents in that iden­tity group know about or are inter­ested in talk­ing about the topic at hand, and be care­ful not to put those stu­dents in the posi­tion of being the “author­ity” or main pos­ses­sor of knowl­edge on the topic. Do not ask or expect them to speak for all stu­dents in this iden­tity group. If you antic­i­pate that the topic could be very emo­tional for some stu­dents, con­sider speak­ing with them prior to the lesson.

2. Explore opin­ions and perspective.

Most news top­ics raise con­tro­ver­sial issues with dif­fer­ent points of view. Use the topic as an open­ing to help stu­dents under­stand what they believe and why they believe it. Pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to talk about and write their opin­ions on the issue. Engage them in read­ing about and lis­ten­ing to the opin­ions of oth­ers — their class­mates as well as op-ed colum­nists and sub­ject mat­ter experts. This can and should com­pli­cate their think­ing and pro­pel them to ques­tion, change, and/or sharpen their points of view, and artic­u­late those posi­tions with evi­dence. Dis­cus­sion, debate and dia­logue should be foun­da­tions for these conversations.

3. Make the anti-bias, social jus­tice theme explicit and clear.

What­ever the sub­ject is, bring to the cen­ter of the dis­cus­sion the spe­cific aspect of diver­sity, bias, or injus­tice that it raises. For exam­ple, when dis­cussing home­less­ness, explore the stigma and stereo­types of home­less peo­ple in the U.S. You may also need to pro­vide some foun­da­tional skill devel­op­ment in under­stand­ing the lan­guage of bias, or give back­ground infor­ma­tion in order for stu­dents to under­stand a cur­rent con­tro­versy (e.g. under­stand the his­tory of and dis­crim­i­na­tion against Native Amer­i­can peo­ple, includ­ing the his­tory of mas­cots and sym­bols in sports, in order to make sense of the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins’ name controversy).

4. Make the les­son inter­ac­tive and use technology.

As much as pos­si­ble, cre­ate inter­ac­tive and engag­ing activ­i­ties that also develop skills and expand knowl­edge. This could take the form of debates, mock tri­als, stu­dent sur­veys or inter­views, small-group dis­cus­sions, role plays, teach-ins, or a sim­pler activ­ity. Take advan­tage of stu­dents’ inter­est and acu­men in the dig­i­tal world by inte­grat­ing stu­dent blogs, pho­tog­ra­phy and video, and social media plat­forms, and by fol­low­ing spe­cific hash­tags, info­graph­ics, and analy­sis of how social media has helped to facil­i­tate cur­rent activist efforts.

5. Do something.

Top­ics in the news can eas­ily lead to despair, anger, and hope­less­ness. Espe­cially for young peo­ple, it is crit­i­cal that we give them the per­spec­tive and tools to do some­thing about the injus­tice they see in the world. Expos­ing stu­dents to the wide range of responses to injus­tice, includ­ing activism strate­gies both past and present, goes a long way toward their turn­ing these neg­a­tive emo­tions into pos­i­tive actions. If pos­si­ble, work together on a class project, and encour­age stu­dents to get involved in larger efforts on issues that are impor­tant to them.

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