News from September 2-September 9

Greenblatt resigns, antisemitism on the rise, and Eli Cohen

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President Trump’s Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt Resigns:

What happened? On September 5th, Jason Greenblatt, the chief negotiator of President Trump’s middle east peace plan, resigned. Greenblatt had been responsible for working with a variety of stakeholders to produce the “Deal of the Century” which aims to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan, though it has only been partially released, is said to include both economic and political components. The economic piece (Peace to Prosperity), compared to the post-World War II Marshall plan by Trump aide Jared Kushner, has been criticized by some as ignoring the nationalistic nature of the conflict.

Why is this important? The Trump administration has said that they will release the middle east peace plan right after the Israeli election, irrespective of the victor. With the Israeli election just weeks away, Greenblatt’s departure comes at a curious time. Why would one of the main architects of the plan leave just before its rollout? Greenblatt has since said that he had only intended to work on the plan for two years and has actually stayed on longer than he had anticipated. Some are speculating that his departure could indicate that the Trump administration might not have much faith in its success.

What’s next? Taking over for Greenblatt will be Avi Berkowitz, who was an assistant to Jared Kushner before the promotion, and Brian Hook, Trump’s special envoy to Iran. The peace plan is still expected to be released after the Israeli election.

Further reading: https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/with-jason-greenblatts-resignation-questions-about-mideast-peace-plan/

Antisemitic hate crimes soar in New York City:

What happened? The New York Police Department said Wednesday that there has been a “surge” of antisemitic hate crimes in New York City this year. According to the NYPD, more than half of the hate crimes, including race-based and sexuality-based hate crimes, have targeted Jews. Most of the crime is vandalism and graffiti, but there have been many violent attacks on Jews as well. Last week I mentioned an attack in Crown Heights where a rabbi was attacked with a large rock, knocking out some of his teeth. 

What’s the bigger picture? Antisemitism in New York City is nothing new; high profile incidents include the Crown Heights riots during which Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered as well as the “Knockout Game” which was a viral trend in 2015 of teenagers sucker-punching people on the street, often Jews. Yet, the sharp increase has some worrying whether the situation in New York City is an early warning that antisemitism is on the rise nationally.

It’s not that simple, is it? No, it's not. There’s a number of factors at play here. First and foremost, the attacks are largely occurring on individuals who are visibly Jewish, and that means that Orthodox Jews are attacked at a much higher rate. There is also the question of who is perpetrating the attacks. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be many similarities between the attackers except that the attacks are frequently their first recorded incident of hate. 

A personal note: I think it’s really important that secular Jews realize that they cannot be apathetic about hate towards religious Jews. It’s unfortunate that we tend to not care as much about hate in cases where the victims don’t look like us. They aren’t being attacked because they are Orthodox, they are being attacked because they are Jews. The answer isn’t to hide our Judaism or retreat behind secularity, it’s to stand against hate wherever it exists. 

Further reading: https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/287821/orthodox-jews-attacked-brooklyn-hate-crime

Netflix releases The Spy, a series about legendary Israeli Spy Eli Cohen:

Background: Eli Cohen grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, and faced a great deal of antisemitism. When he was expelled from Egypt in 1956, he fled to Israel, where he attempted to join the Mossad (Israel’s premier intelligence agency) but was rejected. Eventually, Cohen was recruited for a special mission which would see him go undercover for years as a Syrian businessman to acquire intelligence from senior politicians and military officials. His mission started by establishing an identity in Argentina as a wealthy businessman. After becoming friends with the future Syrian president, Cohen made his way to Syria where he shmoozed his way all the way to becoming the Chief Advisor to the Minister of Defense. In that position, he was able to provide Israel with intelligence crucial to its massive success in the six-day war. Notably, he convinced the Syrians to plant trees to provide shade to soldiers in the Golan Heights so that Israelis knew exactly where the soldiers would be. Eventually, however, he was discovered by the Syrians, tried, and publicly executed.

That’s a crazy story. He is a national hero in Israel and every child knows his story. His body remains a contentious issue between Israel and Syria. There were reports that his body was exhumed and in Russian possession in April 2019, but nothing came of it. Most recently, the Mossad announced that it had retrieved Cohen’s wristwatch, which is now on display at the Mossad headquarters. 

Anything else? If you need any other reason to watch it, Sacha Baron Cohen is playing (Eli) Cohen and it has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes! The limited series is available now on Netflix.

Further reading: https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-real-story-behind-the-spy-sacha-baron-cohens-new-netflix-series/

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