News from May 18-May 25

President Trump praised Henry Ford, Netanyahu takes the stand, and summer camps close

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President Trump criticized for praising Henry Ford’s “Bloodline:”

What happened? On May 21, President Trump spoke to an audience at a Ford factory in Michigan, where he praised the “good bloodline” of Henry Ford. While Ford was indisputably an intelligent and successful entrepreneur, he was also a virulent antisemite and supporter of eugenics (he specifically believed in the superiority of the white race). By praising Ford’s bloodlines, the Michigan Jewish Democratic Party said, President Trump showed a “breathtaking indifference to the history and welfare of Michigan’s Jews.”

Why were his comments really bad? A couple of reasons.

For one, Henry Ford was a raging antisemite. He was known for believing Jewish people were involved in an international conspiracy to rule the world through financial markets. Accordingly, Ford was a notable proponent of the fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion (virtually the textbook on antisemitism) and his publishing company created a four-part publication called The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. He also ordered Swastika pins to his office and was once quoted as saying, “When we get through with the Jews, there won't be one of them who would dare raise his head in public.” Critics felt that President Trump should not have praised his bloodlines because it was the very idea that some bloodlines could be better than others that fueled Ford’s antisemitism. 

Secondly, antisemitism is increasing, and some see the President’s often-questionable language as contributing to the rise. Recent data from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) showed that there were more antisemitic incidents in 2019 than any year in the past 40 years. Moreover, an Oxford study recently found that one in five people in England believe that the Coronavirus pandemic is a Jewish conspiracy. While many can write his comments off as innocuous, some groups, like the Jewish Democratic Council of America, feel that “President Trump echoed a concept used by Hitler to target and massacre Jews during the Holocaust,” and that “Neo-Nazis and white supremacists hear the President’s message of solidarity loud and clear.” In an era of swelling antisemitism, President Trump’s critics believe that he should be more careful with his word choice. 

Further reading (about Ford’s antisemitism):https://history.hanover.edu/hhr/99/hhr99_2.html

Netanyahu takes the stand:

What happened? Yesterday, the trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began, making him the first sitting leader of Israel to stand trial while in office. As you may recall, Netanyahu was indicted on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust related to three cases.

What is he accused of? Here’s a reminder of the details of his trial from a previous News of the Jews:

“Case 1000: Netanyahu is accused of accepting gifts from Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan and billionaire James Packer. Members of Netanyahu’s family are also said to have demanded and received gifts (cigars and champagne) from Milchan and Packer. In exchange, Netanyahu is said to have taken actions to benefit Milchan, including helping Milchan obtain a visa and tax exemptions. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said that these actions warranted charges of fraud and breach of trust because Netanyahu used his role as the Prime Minister to get the gifts. Netanyahu’s legal defense is that he is friends with Milchan and Packer and that the gifts were given from one friend to another, not from a businessman to a government official. Netanyahu also claims that he did not know of his family members’ requests for the gifts. 

Case 2000: Netanyahu is accused of giving the impression that he would take a bribe, which, in Mandelblit’s opinion, constitutes charges of bribery and fraud. Netanyahu allegedly had a meeting with the publisher of Yediot Ahronot, one of the most prominent newspapers in Israel, where he suggested he could get a large rival newspaper, Israel Hayom, to reduce its free circulation. In exchange, Yediot Ahronot would give Netanyahu more favorable coverage. Although the deal never ended up happening, Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with bribery on the grounds that he made it known that bribing public officials was acceptable. Netanyahu’s legal team is countering by saying that Netanyahu never intended to follow through on the deal.

Case 4000: This is considered the most serious of the cases. Mandelblit accused Netanyahu of asking Shaul Elovitch, a businessman who owns Bezeq (a telecommunications company) and a news site called Walla News, for better coverage. In exchange, Netanyahu, who was the Communications Minister at the time, allegedly changed regulations that netted Elovitch around $500,000,000. Although there is no evidence of explicit coordination, Mandelblit said the quid-pro-quo scheme was severe enough to warrant charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu’s legal defense is that good coverage doesn’t constitute a bribe and that Netanyahu wasn’t aware of the quid-pro-quo.”

Netanyahu at his arraignment hearing. Photo via Reuters.

Did anything notable happen during his arraignment hearing? Whether or not Netanyahu would have to show up to the hearing was contentious. Ahead of the preliminary hearing, Netanyahu requested not to attend the arraignment. The judges ultimately ruled against him, saying that, like everyone else, he would have to be present for his trial. However, the judges asked the prosecution to allow Netanyahu to skip the next phase of hearings because they are mostly procedural. Netanyahu is not expected back in court this year. 

Further reading: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/24/world/middleeast/israel-benjamin-netanyahu-corruption-trial.html (NYT)

Summer camps close all over the United States:

What happened? Summer camps all over the country have announced they will be closed this summer due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Significantly, the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) closed all of its summer camps for the first time since 1947. Although some Jewish camps have not closed, the nearly 180,000 youth and college-aged adults who attend Jewish summer camps will likely have their summers affected by the pandemic. 

Many camps only recently announced their policies because the American Camp Association released their Coronavirus guidance, which was prepared in collaboration with the CDC and a private consulting firm, last week. The guidelines specifically suggest breaking campers down into “households” and limiting interactions between households, wearing facemasks, and restricting days off for staff. As of last Tuesday, the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey said that at least 45 of its 300 member camps had canceled, but more were canceling daily. 

It’s not all bad news, though: A Jewish summer camp in Sweden is partially re-opening after initially closing!

Further reading: https://www.jta.org/2020/04/30/united-states/its-official-jewish-camps-will-cancel-this-summer-due-to-covid-affecting-at-least-10000-kids (JTA)

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