Monday, December 21, 2020

From Ian:

The dangerous logic of anti-racism
We all know that racism is about prejudice and power. Or at least that is an increasingly popular definition, one that has become more mainstream during this most racially-conscious of years.

By this logic, evidence of prejudice is insufficient qualification for racism; the group you are prejudiced against also needs to be structurally oppressed. This explains why many say that white people can’t be victims of racism; they may suffer prejudice, but they are not systematically disadvantaged in school, employment and the criminal justice system on the basis of their race. And this is why, for many, there is no distinction between racism and structural racism; racism is structural by definition.

But this definition raises an important question: that if racism is about disadvantages in education, employment and the criminal justice system, what does this mean for ethnic minorities who are not disadvantaged in contemporary Britain along those lines?

The Labour Party, an avowedly anti-racist movement, has been plagued in recent years by accusations of anti-Semitism. The recent EHRC report found “a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it”.

Many Labour supporters and sympathisers have tried nobly to make sense of this contradiction. In a recent article, Novara Media writer Ash Sarkar distinguished anti-Semitism from other forms of racism. Anti-Semitism, she contended, is unrelated to “systemic disadvantage in either the jobs market or the criminal justice system”. Sarkar emphasised in a later tweet that she does not think Jews are privileged, or that they don’t face racism; she simply thinks that the racism they face is different from the racism other minorities face.

Nevertheless, Sarkar seems more sympathetic to the structural definition of racism. She argues, for instance, that “better party strategy, or fairer media coverage, does not result in a healthier anti-racist politic”. This is because “the bullying of black MPs might be stamped out, but it would not mean that Labour’s policy on policing or immigration would improve”. So a “healthier anti-racist politics” is one that focuses on structural inequalities rather than interpersonal prejudice.

The anti-Semitism scandal within the Labour Party has been specifically about the spread of noxious ideas and instances of interpersonal abuse. Sarkar, on the other hand, argues that anti-racism is actually about dismantling the material inequalities in our society, and that “racism against Jewish people does not result in the harsher prison sentences, wage gaps, stop and search or unequal healthcare outcomes that we see with other groups“.

Jews, by this logic, do not qualify under this definition of racism, which emphasises structural inequalities — that same definition to which Sarkar and many others are most attached to. If structural inequalities are the basis for racism, then Jews in contemporary Britain cannot by definition be victims of racism.
Fauda became a bridge between Arabs, Jews
It might have taken Israel years of political manoeuvring to strike the latest peace deals with its Arab neighbours, the UAE and Bahrain. But much before the powers in Washington’s White House negotiated the Abraham Accords on September 15 and ended hostilities, the popular Netflix series ‘Fauda’ had melted the ice between traditional foes --- the Jews and the Arabs.

The award-winning Israeli show – in Hebrew and Arabic – that depicted the heat and gore of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was a cross-border success and won over international audience, including those in the Arab world, on Netflix, an American over-the-top (OTT) content platform and production company.

‘Fauda’ was rated the most-watched series in the UAE.

The high-octane action-drama centred around a counter-terrorism Commando Unit called “Mista’arvim’ of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) that went undercover into the Palestinian territory to nab a Hamas operative. The ensuing chaos packed with raw, unflinching violence, hostage drama and nail-biting plot twists were driven by the protagonist, Doron Kavilio, who had co-authored the show with his old friend, Avi Issacharoff.

When Khaleej Times sat down with Lior, at a private villa in Tel Aviv during our trip to Israel last week, he was excited about the sweeping political changes happening in the region. ‘Fauda’, Lior said, had set the tone and became a bridge between the Arabs and the Jews because it humanised people from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We showed Israelis like human beings for the first time… our soldiers as human beings. And we also were showing Palestinians as human beings. So, I think this is the achievement of the show. I hope that it helped people understand that there are people behind the headlines of the newspaper. We showed both the narrative.”
A Holocaust Fairy Tale From France
Jean-Claude Grumberg finds the unbelievable truth in ‘The Most Precious of Cargoes’

Grumberg grapples with the enormity of the Shoah through the principle of synecdoche—a part standing for the whole. Paring away superfluous verbiage and nonessential details, his spare prose, trenchantly translated by Frank Wynne, bears the weight of Six Million. Though Grumberg calls the father who saves his infant daughter by abandoning her by the tracks in the forest “our hero,” he never names him, as if individuation would diminish the general devastation. To appreciate the anonymous man’s heroism, and the generosity of a strange benefactor, it is necessary to reach the heartrending conclusion of a story meant to be read in a single bated breath.

The work’s epilogue teases the reader’s credulity. “You want to know if this is a true story? A true story?” Grumberg asks. His answer, “Of course not, absolutely not,” reaffirms his claim that it is all a fairy tale. But then he proceeds to support that claim through a long series of disavowals that only the most obdurate and malicious of Holocaust deniers could support: “There were no cargo trains crossing war-torn continents to deliver urgently their oh-so-perishable cargo. No reunification camps, internment camps, concentration camps, or even extermination camps. No families were vaporized in smoke after their final journey. No hair was shorn, gathered, packaged, and shipped. There were no flames, no ashes, no tears. …” Since we know that these genocidal horrors did occur, that—hard as it is to believe—there were in fact cargo trains that transported human beings to extermination camps, we are forced to read Grumberg’s indelible “fairy tale” as accurate history.

For all his cunning irony, Grumberg is probably sincere about his distaste for “mawkish” fairy tales. His own fairy tale, a story of villainy and valor, loathing and love, earns a reader’s fears and tears without being sentimental. The standard disclaimer on the copyright page—“This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental”—is a blatant lie in the service of truth.


Tufts University Group Condemns Passage of ‘Modern-Day Antisemitic Blood Libel’ by Student Government
A student group at Tufts University that advocates for Jewish rights on campus strongly condemned the college’s student government for passing a referendum over the weekend that blames Israel for police violence against people of color, calling it “a modern-day antisemitic blood libel.”

The anti-Israel hate group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at the Massachusetts institution got the initiative — which calls for the “demilitarization” of the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) due to its alleged connections with Israel — on a Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate special election ballot.

The resolution was passed by 68% to 26%—1,725 in favor, 665 opposed, and 161 abstentions, according to the student newspaper Tufts Daily.

The Daily also reported that the referendum was passed by illegitimate means, with two major violations of the election process.

The Elections Commission of the Tufts Community Union (ECOM) stated, “The full wordings of the referenda were not made public at least nine days before the election as required by the Constitution.”

In addition, it said, “The referenda did not have a receipt date with the Elections Commission at least seven days before the vote, as required by the Elections Commission bylaws.”

Bizarrely, ECOM nonetheless declared that the results were valid.

The Real Reform at Tufts Campaign, a grassroots student movement which opposed the resolution, said in a statement, “We are deeply disappointed in the results of the antisemitic ‘deadly exchange’ referendum.”

“We strongly believe that voting for a referendum based on mistruths that propagates a modern-day antisemitic blood libel will not fix a broken policing system in America or get us closer to racial justice,” they asserted.


AFP Corrects Erroneous Misidentification of Yad Vashem As Judaism’s Holiest Day
CAMERA’s Israel office today prompted correction of an Agence France Presse article which misidentified Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, as the holiest day in the Jewish year. Today’s article, “German verdict due in deadly anti-Semitic rampage,” had erred: “A bolted door at the eastern city’s synagogue with 52 worshippers inside marking Yad Vashem, the holiest day of the Jewish year . . . “ The holiest day in the Jewish year is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The French version of the same article correctly reported: “Jugé depuis cinq mois par le tribunal de Magdebourg en Saxe-Anhalt, Stephan Balliet, 28 ans, avait en pleine fête religieuse de Yom Kippour en octobre 2019 . . . “

In response to communication from CAMERA, editors commendably corrected the article, which now accurately refers to Yom Kippur as Judaism’s holiest day.

CAMERA’s timely action vis-à-vis AFP’s article today underscores the value of the organization’s monitoring and responding to wire stories in the same news cycle as they appear. With this preemptive work CAMERA helps prevent misinformation from appearing in media outlets around the world.

Update, 7:05 EST: VOA Corrects
Voice of America, which had published the AFP story on its site, including the error, has commendably corrected in response to communication from CAMERA.
Seasonal politicisation goes unchallenged on BBC Radio Scotland
Much of that ten-minute item did indeed relate to the difficulties celebrating Christmas this year in Bethlehem due to the Covid-19 pandemic but Vera Baboun also indulged in some unsurprising political opportunism. [emphasis in italics in the original]

1:12:43 Baboun: “Despondency is so hard on each one of us, mainly when we in Bethlehem do not only live the pandemic. We live the wall as well and that is very hard. […] We have two pandemics in Bethlehem: the pandemic of the wall and this pandemic.”

1:15:40 Baboun: “The relationship, the way we are challenging the nature of our reality – which I would like to call the abnormality of our living due to all the occupational restrictions – built some kind of resilience that is different.”


The coming days will mark a quarter of a century since Bethlehem was placed under the full control of the Palestinian Authority and yet presenter Cathy Macdonald failed to question Baboun’s reference to “occupational restrictions” and made no effort to clarify to listeners that “the wall” to which her interviewee referred was made necessary by Palestinian terrorism.

The opportunistic promotion of politicised messaging has unfortunately been a feature of BBC Christmas content for many years. However, if the BBC is going to provide platforms to a veteran propagandist such as Vera Baboun (as it also did on November 22nd on BBC Radio Sheffield – from 2:53:00 here – when listeners were told that “unlike any other city in the world, Bethlehem as you know is besieged, Bethlehem has the wall…”), its presenters should at least be sufficiently informed to challenge her entirely predictable politically motivated talking points in real time.


Life sentence for Halle synagogue shooter who killed 2 in Yom Kippur rampage
A German court handed down a life sentence on Monday to the terrorist behind a deadly far-right attack last year that nearly became the country’s worst anti-Semitic atrocity since World War II.

News agency dpa reported that judges at the court in Magdeburg found him “seriously culpable,” meaning that he will be effectively barred from early release after 15 years.

Presiding Judge Ursula Mertens described it as a “cowardly attack” as she announced the verdict. Balliet showed no reaction but took notes.

A bolted door at the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle with 52 worshippers inside marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, was the only thing that prevented the heavily armed assailant from carrying out a planned bloodbath.

After failing to storm the temple on October 9, 2019, the attacker, Stephan Balliet, 28, shot dead a female passerby and a man at a kebab shop.

He was charged with two counts of murder and multiple counts of attempted murder in a case that deeply rattled the country and fueled fears about rising right-wing extremism and anti-Jewish violence, 75 years after the end of the Nazi era.

During his five-month trial, Balliet denied the Holocaust in open court — a crime in Germany — and expressed no remorse to those targeted, many of whom are co-plaintiffs in the case.
Belgian Jewish students take action after antisemitic message in train
On December 9, in Belgium, four men who took control of a train’s public address system to threaten a bombing of the vehicle between the cities of Antwerp and Mechelen, unless the "cancer Jews to get off the train".

“Attention, attention,” the men said in Flemish, “the cancer Jews need to leave the train now or we’ll blow you all up,” witnesses said. Notably, Mechelen is the city that Nazis and their collaborators used as an internment and dispatch station for Jews whom they sent to be murdered in Poland.

In reaction to this, the Union of Belgium’s Jewish Students (UEJB) took action and broadcasted the following message on Thursday evening in several national trains via interphones and portable megaphones:
“On Wednesday, December 9, four individuals took control of the intercom of a train connecting Antwerp and Mechelen in order to order, and I quote them, "[remove] cancer Jews to get of the train."

"In reaction to that, we would like to wish the Jews, but also all the other people present on this train who are discriminated against on the basis of their culture, their religion, their gender, their sexual orientation or their skin color, an excellent journey on board the SNCB trains (the National railway company of Belgium)."
Two men spray swastika onto Brooklyn yeshiva
Two men spray painted a swastika onto a Brooklyn yeshiva last weekend in an apparent hate crime, authorities said Saturday as they released surveillance video of the incident.

The antisemitic image, along with the men’s tags, or graffiti signatures, were found on the side of Mesilas Bias Yaakov in the South Slope neighborhood last Sunday.

The New York Daily News reported that the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the crime, but that so far there have been no arrests.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident “despicable.”

“To the Mesilas Bias Yaakov community: your city stands with you. We denounce this vile act of antisemitism with one voice,” he tweeted Saturday.

De Blasio’s long and relatively close relationship with the city’s Orthodox Jewish community took a hit during the early days of the pandemic, after he drew widespread criticism for calling out haredi Jews as a main culprit in the virus’ spread.
Israeli-founded maker of ‘smart scooters’ gets $60 million from investors
Superpedestrian, a maker of smart scooters, has raised some $60 million from investors to expand its fleet of vehicles that have an intelligence system alerting for safety hazards.

Investors in the firm include the Citi Impact Fund, Jerusalem-based OurCrowd, and private equity firm Winthrop Square Capital, the US firm founded by Israel-born CEO Assaf Biderman, said in a statement.

Biderman, who has a background in physics, left for Boston 19 years ago and worked for 13 years in a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where researchers use machine learning and robotics in a bid to solve city problems.

Superpedestrian, founded in 2013, was spun out of MIT, and spent eight years and $75 million to patent more than 30 electric vehicle technologies that have resulted in what the firm says is the industry’s “first and only” e-scooter, the LINK. Superpedestrian founder and CEO Assaf Biderman (YouTube screenshot)

Its “onboard intelligence” allows the scooters to perform autonomous maintenance and safety verification before every ride. Each vehicle has five computers that monitor every component thousands of times per second, instantly self-repairing the electronic systems. Whereas other scooter providers spend days transporting vehicles in need of repair to warehouses for diagnostics and maintenance, Superpedestrian can resolve issues autonomously in the field, the statement said.

The new funding will help the company expand the deployment of its scooters, Biderman said in a phone interview.
How startups can avoid a SolarWinds cyber attack
It looks like a nation-state attacker found a loophole and hacked its way into US government computers. While the damage is still being assessed, startups can learn lessons right now from the cyber-attack.

Group Think Is Fail Think
“Everyone is using this software, it must be safe”. Famous last words. While sometimes there is safety in numbers, this is not the case when it comes to cybersecurity. Ignore the crowd and research protocols, software, policies, best practices and response techniques within your startup.

Imagine the US government agency CISOs who said, “50 other government agencies are using SolarWinds, we’ll be fine.”

Once you decide to skip group think and go against the grain, what can you do?

Run Your Own Penetration Tests
By not relying on what others do, your startup should run penetration tests on your system – especially 3rd party software and code. Don’t convince yourself that others already did it, and everything is probably fine. If you don’t have an in-house penetration test team, hire one.

Penetration tests are similar to live-fire military exercises. For those unfamiliar with the term, “pen testing” teams are “kosher hackers” who look for weaknesses within your system. They are the good guys who hack in order to breach your system. Perhaps a good penetration testing team would have found malware on external software within government agencies.
Ritual bath from time of Jesus found at Gethsemane in Jerusalem
Archaeological excavations by the Antiquities Authority ahead of construction unearthed a 2000-year-old ritual bath near the modern church at Gethsemane, together with the remains of a church from the Byzantine period (ca. 1500 years ago). The finds were uncovered with the assistance of scholars from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and were presented Monday, with the participation of the Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton.

The Church of Gethsemane (also known as the Church of the Agony or Church of All Nations), located at the foot of the famous Mount of Olives, is one of Christianity’s most important churches and is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. The modern church was built on the spot where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was betrayed. According to Christian belief, Jesus used to pray on the Mount of Olives (Lk. 22:39) and prayed here on the night before the crucifixion (Matt. 26:36).

A 2000-year-old ritual bath discovered at the site dates from the time of Jesus’s presence in Jerusalem, following Christian belief. Remains of a Byzantine church were also uncovered in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Jerusalem church.

Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, said, “Gethsemane is one of the most important sanctuaries in the Holy Land, because in this place the tradition remembers the confident prayer of Jesus and his betrayal and because every year millions of pilgrims visit and pray in this place. Even the latest excavations conducted on this site have confirmed the antiquity of the Christian memory and tradition linked to the place, and this is very important for us and for the spiritual meaning connected with the archaeological findings. I greet with great pleasure this fruitful cooperation between the Custody of the Holy Land, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and the Israel Antiquities Authority and I hope that we will be able to join our scientific competences for further future collaborations.”
Archaeologists recreate tiles of temple where Jesus walked
When Jesus strode through the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, his feet met hewn-stone, earth-tone tiles that were geometric in design and cool, dappled and scuffed to the touch. Such is the understanding of Israeli archaeologists and masons who, drawing on relics and historical texts, have recreated the sacred flooring, so it can be experienced today. "We even made the scratches and all kind of marks that created the same appearance as it used to look like at the time," archaeologist Assaf Avraham told Reuters near the one- meter square, ankle-high replica on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem's Old City and holy sites. According to the New Testament, Jesus went to the temple as a boy for pilgrimage and study and, as an older preacher, cast out its money-changers in anger. The Gospel of John describes him "walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon."
More than 250 new immigrants from 'lost tribe' arrive in Israel
Immigrants from the Jewish "lost tribe" of Bnei Menashe landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport this week to build a new life in Israel.

Hailing from Northeast India, the Bnei Menashe community is said to be descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel – specifically, the tribe of Menashe – that scattered across the globe after being exiled at the end of the First Temple period in the eighth century BCE.

The 252 new immigrants, who made their way to Israel this week with the help of the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and the Shavei Israel organization, joined the 3,000-strong Bnei Menashe community already in the country. Some 7,000 more community members await immigration in northeast India.

This week's immigrants include 50 families and 24 single individuals; four infants under the age of 2; 39 children aged 12 or younger; and 19 seniors aged 62 or older. They underwent a quick absorption process at the airport and were sent to quarantine according to government COVID-19 regulations.

"As we celebrate the festival of Hanukkah and the miracle of the flask of oil, the aliyah of the lost tribe of Bnei Menashe after 2,700 years of exile is itself a modern-day Hanukkah miracle," says Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.

"The story of this unique community that maintained its connection to the Jewish people and the land of Israel down through the generations is powerful and inspiring, and I fervently hope that we will soon see all the remaining Bnei Menashe make aliyah, as well," he added.


Hundreds of 'Lost Tribe' Bnei Menashe Jews Make Aliyah






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