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News from May 17 to May 23
Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire, antisemitism on the rise, and honorable mentions
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What happened? As you may recall from last week’s newsletter (and wall-to-wall media coverage last week), Israel has been striking Gaza in response to Hamas launching rockets at Israeli civilian centers. The fighting has been brutal and tragic; during the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas, at least 232 Gazans* (including 65 children) and 12 Israelis (including 2 children) were killed. However, after 11 days, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire. Since this round of violence started, Hamas has fired over 4,000 rockets at civilian centers and Israel has struck Gaza hundreds of times, displacing tens of thousands and destroying an estimated 1,000 residential units.
*Gazan casualties are reported by Hamas and typically do not draw a distinction between civilian and militant casualties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had killed over 200 militants.
A quick reminder from last week’s post: “It is essential to remember that the casualties here are real people. They are not just numbers. Every Israeli and Palestinian civilian killed had family, friends, and a future. Don’t be numbed by text on a screen. Remember them and grieve for their loss.”
What led to the ceasefire? There were a lot of factors. For one, Hamas had signaled that it was prepared for a ceasefire for days. Hamas’ desire to stop fighting was not a surprise; it had already captured a “victory” when it fired rockets on Jerusalem. Asking for an immediate ceasefire made sense for them as a way to prevent Israeli retaliation. Of course, Israel said it would continue striking Hamas in Gaza for as long as would be necessary to eliminate Hamas’ ability to launch terror attacks. Regardless, after intense negotiations brokered by Egypt, Qatar, and the UN as well as personal lobbying from President Biden (He reportedly called Israeli PM repeatedly in the days leading up to the ceasefire), Israel and Hamas finally agreed to the ceasefire on Friday.
Will the ceasefire hold? Hopefully, but ceasefires between Israel and Hamas have a habit of breaking before a more comprehensive agreement can be reached. As of Sunday evening, the ceasefire appears to be holding. Still, these agreements are often tenuous and can break down quickly. The IDF said that it foiled a major attack just before the ceasefire was set to take effect, which makes one wonder how close the agreement was to falling apart. The same media report claimed that Israel delayed the ceasefire by 48 hours to carry out a mission that Hamas might not even know about, which is interesting.
How has the ceasefire affected Israeli politics? As I mentioned last week, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid appeared inches away from forming a government that would initially be led by Yamina leader Naftali Bennett. Then, when the violence broke out, Bennett reportedly broke off negotiations with Lapid, citing the inability of a coalition backed by Israeli-Arab party Ra’am to lower Jewish-Arab tensions. Last week, reports emerged suggesting that Bennett had returned to negotiations with Netanyahu, though such a coalition would need the support of New Hope, a party that ran explicitly on not joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. However, over the weekend, media reports indicated that Bennett was still open to negotiating with Lapid after Netanyahu offered Bennett a suboptimal arrangement. All that is to say Israel’s political dilemma is back to square one and nothing has changed. Lapid has until June 2 to form a government before he must return the mandate to the President.
What else? Israeli authorities reopened the Temple Mount for Jews, suggesting a return to normalcy, but tensions remain high over the potential evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. Meanwhile, in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and Mark Pocan launched an effort to restrict American aid to Israel. Both stories are good reminders that important schisms either remain (Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and Israeli-Palestinian relations) or have intensified (the growing rift in the Democratic party over Israel) during the violence of the last two weeks.
What happened? The United States (and really the entire world) has seen a rise in antisemitism amid the clashes between Israel and Hamas. Many of the incidents have happened at pro-Palestinian rallies, though some have occurred independently of the demonstrations. The Anti-defamation League (ADL), a leading antisemitism watchdog, said that preliminary data suggests a “drastic surge” in antisemitism over the last week. In its press release, the ADL said that the term “Hitler was right” was tweeted over 17,000 times between May 7 and May 14.
What are some specific incidents that happened? Here are some of the more high profile incidents (There have been so many lately, but these are the ones that were heavily reported):
In one case, a Jewish man was surrounded by violent pro-Palestinian protestors in Times Square, where he was beaten and pepper-sprayed while the men yelled antisemitic slurs. So far, one man has been arrested. The victim, Joseph Borgen, has since spoken to many media outlets, saying, “I was literally just in a fetal position, trying to guard my head and face, literally just trying to make it out of there alive. I thought I was going to die. I thought I was really going to die.” He also said, “I would never think I’d ever have to worry about my religion or my skin color or my ethnicity being a problem in New York City.”
Also in New York, soccer player Luca Lewis said that Palestinian men approached him and asked if he was Jewish. He initially said no after he saw that the men had knives, though he ultimately asked them what they would do if he was Jewish. One man responded, “‘I’ll beat the f—king sh-t out of you and kill you.”
Luca Lewis. Source: Instagram.
In another case, a group of men targeted Jewish diners at a restaurant in Los Angeles, shouting antisemitic remarks while beating and pepper-spraying the victims. So far, one suspect has been arrested, though the LAPD is continuing to search for other suspects in the case.
In London, men in a caravan of vehicles shouted antisemitic remarks, including calling for Jewish women to be raped. Four men have been arrested so far.
Lastly, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi said that the United States’ media is controlled by Israel and that Israel has “deep pockets” during an interview with CNN. After he was called out for his antisemitic remarks by anchor Bianna Golodryga, Qureshi dodged and denied the allegations.
For a detailed list of the global antisemitic incidents over the past couple of weeks, check out this piece.
For a list of some of the examples of antisemitism and extremism at pro-Palestinian rallies, check out this piece.
For a list of some examples of antisemitism across the country, check out this piece.
A personal note: To those of you who are not Jewish, make sure to check on your Jewish friends. Many of us have had antisemitic incidents in our areas and it has been a tough week. To those of you who are Jewish, I sincerely hope you’re doing okay.
One story that caught my eye for being particularly troubling was that Jews are starting to fear wearing Jewish symbols like Stars of David and kippot. Nobody of any religion should ever have to feel like they must hide their faith. Accordingly, this week should serve as a reminder that we must always call out antisemitism and other forms of bigotry wherever they exist. That also includes islamophobia, which is very much prevalent in the United States today.
I also wanted to note that while a lot of the antisemitism and antisemitic violence occurred at pro-Palestinian rallies, as with most causes, the majority of these rallies remained peaceful. Just remember to keep some perspective during a time of highly sensationalist media coverage. Additionally, in some cases, Jewish extremists emerged to cause trouble and they should be condemned as well. Don’t let antisemitism lead to the bigotry of others.
“NYC’s mayoral candidates haven’t said much about Jews or Israel. The Pew study suggests why.” by Andrew Silow-Carroll (JTA)
“Dispel the darkness: Thousands of Jews, Arabs rally for coexistence in Tel Aviv” by Simona Weinglass (ToI)
“Israeli soccer star Tomer Hemed celebrates goals with Israeli flag and kippah ‘for peace’” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)
“Arab woman receives kidney from a Jew killed in Lod riots” by Abigail Klein Leichman (JNS)
“WATCH: Israel’s Jon Stewart takes on John Oliver’s viral video” by Lior Schleien (Forward)
“Ethiopian Israeli Singer Eden Alene Will Compete in Eurovision 2021 Final” by Chloe Sarbib (Hey Alma) (Italy ended up winning Eurovision this year. Israel placed 17th)
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has torn apart Chicago’s biggest Facebook moms group” by Philissa Kramer (JTA)
“New documentary lends rare insight into motivations of Nazi perpetrators” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)
“Pinpointing where Democrats are on Israel” by Gabby Deutch, Matthew Kassel, Marc Rod (Jewish Insider)
“Irish parliament to vote on motion to expel Israeli ambassador” by Lahav Harkov (Jerusalem Post)
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