Why We Should Embrace #Freepalestine

The celebrity Twitter hashtag fad is an opportunity to make a vital point

(Twin Design /

Ever since the current conflict in Gaza began, America’s celebrities have joined the fray the only way they know how: in 140 characters or less. Particularly notable were tweets by NBA star Dwight Howard and pop singer Rihanna, both of which consisted of a single hashtag: #freepalestine. Both celebrities promptly deleted their tweets so as not to get needlessly embroiled in a publicity flap. It’s a shame: the #freepalestine hashtag is one we should all embrace.

If you’re serious about desiring a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if you’re acting in good faith and harbor no illogical hatred to one side or another, you realize right away that for both nations to live side by side with dignity, security, and prosperity, Palestine must first be free. (more…)

Swastikas Spray Painted Outside AEPi House

University of Oregon Jewish fraternity house has been vandalized before

(Joshua Rainey Photography /

Swastikas were painted on the mailboxes in front of the house belonging to Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi at the University of Oregon in Eugene, JTA reports. According to the Daily Emerald, the school’s student newspaper, the fraternity filed a report with Eugene Police on Monday night. A police spokeswoman told the Daily Emerald there is no information about possible suspects.

According to Eugene television station KMTR, the mailbox on which the swastika was spray painted is not the fraternity’s mailbox, so it’s not clear whether the graffiti was directly intended for the fraternity. (more…)

Four Boys Killed in Israeli Strike on Gaza

Escalating air strikes targeted homes of senior Hamas leaders

Palestinian women grieve during the funerals of four boys killed during Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on July 16, 2014.(MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Four Palestinian boys were killed in Israeli air strikes over a Gaza City beach Wednesday, the AP reports. The airstrikes, which have escalated since yesterday’s short-lived ceasefire, targeted the homes of senior Hamas leaders.

The four boys, who were cousins and ages 9 to 11, were killed while playing on a beach off a coastal road west of Gaza City, said Ashraf Al Kedra, a Palestinian doctor. Seven others — adults and children — were wounded in the strike, which Palestinian human rights activist Khaki Au Shamalla came from an Israeli naval vessel operating offshore.

The IDF is reportedly probing the children’s deaths. (more…)

Student Essays Argue Holocaust Didn’t Happen

Controversial 8th-grade exam prompt prompts disturbing responses


In April, a Rialto, California school asked 2,000 of its 8th-grade students to debate, in an essay, whether the Holocaust happened. Students were given materials from and the History Channel, as well as writings from leading Holocaust deniers, and were tasked with concluding whether or not “this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”

Now, the San Bernadino Sun, which broke the news of the exams, has published images of the students’ essays. The disturbing mini-tracts, riddled with spelling errors that would probably in other circumstances seem charming, fly squarely in the face of the school’s assertions that the assignment was designed to engage critical thinking skills, and that of course none of the students came to the conclusion that the Holocaust didn’t happen. (more…)

‘Amistad’ and Spielberg’s West African Moses

The 1997 film looks back to the biblical Exodus and ahead to Abraham Lincoln

Still of Djimon Hounsou in the 1997 film Amistad. (DreamWorks)

Spielberg movies often come in twos. There are the conventional sequels, of course, but if there’s a subject that really engages him, Spielberg has a habit of circling back around to it with new ideas, new collaborators, and new technological tools.

The late critic Stanley Kauffmann noted that, “in a sense, E.T. begins where Close Encounters ends.” Spielberg himself has called Jurassic Park a kind of “Jaws on land.”

And in Amistad, we see a first reckoning with slavery that Spielberg returned to again in a fuller more final form with Lincoln 15 years later. (more…)

For Young Americans in Tel Aviv, an Uneasy Summer

Sirens, bomb shelters, and the occasional selfie as Gaza conflict escalates

Graffiti of a flying bird being attacked by rockets is seen on a wall in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 12, 2014. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The start of last week’s Operation Protective Edge and the threat of rocket fire directed toward Tel Aviv have cast a surreal pallor over the young Americans spending their summers in the coastal Israeli city. The mood is complex: alternately tense, frightened, anxious, optimistic, adrenaline-pumped, political, apathetic, homesick, Zionist, militaristic, and pacifist. A few have returned to the States, some are on the fence, others are soothing the worried cries of their Jewish mothers, and still others are embracing Zionism and Israel with newfound fervor.

Gathering with friends after the workday now includes discussing where you were when the sirens sounded, if you heard the boom, and constant praise for the Iron Dome. Our various programs regularly express concern for our safety, explaining (even before this flare-up) where the dorm’s bomb shelters are and how to use them.

Our inboxes are flooded with reassuring emails, and our support staff is a resource for emotional and moral support. They’ve arranged drills from the bus (which included lying face down in garbage by the side of the road) and have taught us to see everything as a possible source of shelter. A few adjustments notwithstanding, life is peculiarly normal. (more…)

Fighting Resumes After Brief Israeli Ceasefire

Netanyahu fires deputy defense minister; first Israeli casualty reported

Smoke from rockets fired from Gaza City are seen after being launched toward Israel, on July 15, 2014. (THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

An Egypt-mediated cease fire seemed a possibility this morning, with Israel agreeing to the proposal and halting fire for six hours—while Hamas continued to launch nearly 50 rockets from Gaza. According to the New York Times, Hamas’ military wing took responsibility for the rockets in a Twitter post, writing, “We will continue to bombard until our conditions are met.”

Now, the short-lived glimmer of a truce has been shattered, with Israel resuming air strikes and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing retaliation. (more…)

Trauma Lingers for East Jerusalem Family

Uncle of Muhammad Abu Khdeir still reeling from identifying nephew’s body

Walid Abu Khdeir, 51, in a mourning tent in Shuafat, the east Jerusalem neighborhood where his nephew Mohammad was abducted and later murdered. (Photo by the author)

Last month, before Israeli air strikes were pummeling Gaza and before Hamas lobbed rockets across Israel, Israelis and Palestinians were reeling over the brutal murders of four teenagers. First, three Israeli teens were abducted and fatally shot near the Gush Etzion settlements in the West Bank. Then, one Palestinian teen was forced into a car and burned alive in the Jerusalem forest. 

The murders triggered an outpouring of grief and fury across the country, ultimately escalating the long-simmering tensions between Israelis and Palestinians into a full-scale military offensive. I went to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat last week to see how the family of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, was dealing with their tragedy, which was at once deeply personal and collective. (more…)

Anti-Israel Protesters Attack Paris Synagogues

Congregants trapped in building as Bastille Day demonstration turns violent

A protester wearing a gas mask and a keffiyeh gives a quenelle gesture while holding a fake rocket with the Israeli flag, swastikas and a nuclear symbol on July 13, 2014 in Paris, during a demonstration against Israel. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

Traditionally French people dance in the streets and fire stations on the eve of the Quatorze Juillet, known in English as Bastille Day. This year, however, anti-Israel demonstrators took control of the monument in the center of the Bastille circle Sunday, brandishing Palestinian flags and cardboard replicas of scimitars and Kassam rockets. Described in AFP releases as a well-mannered demonstration except for a few incidents, it was in fact a hate-fest against Israel and the Jews. “Death to the Jews,” “Murderous Israel,” “One Jew Some Jews All Jews are Terrorists” figured loudly among the slogans hurled by kefiyyeh-clad marchers.

According to the police, the 7,000 demonstrators (organizers claimed 30,000) began in the northern quartier of Barbès, which has a large African and Maghrebi population, and marched to the Bastille, where they remained for several hours. A small contingent started to attack the police, and was quickly brought under control. At the same time, hundreds of protesters raced up rue de la Roquette—street of the rocket—and surrounded the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue, which is protected by a tall metal gate. Security guards from the SPCJ (Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive), Beitar, and the Jewish Defense League faced assailants reportedly armed with knives, axes, and iron bars. (more…)

Israel Shoots Down Hamas Drone Over Ashdod

First time the militant group has used an unmanned aircraft against Israel

Israelis seen by a Iron Dome unit missile system on July 14, 2014 at the city of Ashdod. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

Israel shot down a Hamas drone over the southern coastal city of Ashdod Monday, day seven of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza, the Associated Press reports. The unmanned flying device is the first of its kind to be used by Hamas over Israeli airspace.

The use of the unmanned drone marked a new and unexpected tactic by Hamas, which has never before acknowledged having such weapons. Although it was quickly shot down, the drone represented a new level of sophistication for the militant group. In the past, Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have sent at least one drone into Israel that also was shot down.

The Israeli military said the drone was shot down in mid-flight by a Patriot surface-to-air missile along the southern Israeli coastline, near the city of Ashdod.

Israel officials said they were aware that Hamas had drones, and in fact had targeted drone facilities in Gaza in the past. (more…)

Israel Argument Gets Jewish JetBlue Flyer Booted

Passenger asked to leave New York-bound flight after dispute in Palm Beach

(Chris Parypa Photography /

A tense confrontation about the current conflict in Israel led to a Jewish woman being kicked off a JetBlue plane last week in Palm Beach, the Palm Beach Post reports. The trouble started when Lisa Rosenberg, a doctor boarding a flight home to New York, was overheard discussing recent events in Israel while on a phone call.

“I was saying how it was good Israel found the students that killed the Palestinian teenager and how it was exemplary not making them into heroes, but seeking to publicly try them,” Rosenberg said. “I said any other country would have made these students out to be martyrs and celebrating them.”

Rosenberg added that she had never heard of the Palestinians seeking the same sort of justice against one of their own people.

Rosenberg told the Post that after finishing her phone call, she was approached by a woman who identified herself as Palestinian and said she was offended by Rosenberg’s conversation. (more…)

Jewish Fast Day Magnified by Conflict in Israel

The 17th of Tammuz, which falls on Tuesday, has additional meaning this year

Smoke billows from a building hit by an Israeli air strike in the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 14, 2014. (SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)

Among the litany of Jewish fast days, Shiva Asar B’Tammuz—the 17th of Tammuz—is lesser known, lacking the familiarity of Yom Kippur or the cachet of Tisha B’Av. Coming three weeks before Tisha B’av, or the Ninth of Av—the commemoration of the destruction of the First and Second Temples—the 17th of Tammuz, among other things, marks the initial breach of the walls of the Second Temple by the Romans. The fast also begins the Three Weeks, a period of mourning on the Jewish calendar during which observant Jews abstain from shaving or cutting their hair, eating meat, and celebrating festive events like weddings.

In Jewish tradition, fasting is an attempt to make our mental and emotional anguish tangible—to afflict our bodies along with our souls. When we refrain from eating and drinking, we open a space for contemplation—of our collective pasts, of our futures, of our desires for change.

This year, the 17th of Tammuz has taken on additional meaning. (more…)

South African Activist Nadine Gordimer Dies at 90

The Nobel Prize-winning novelist critiqued the apartheid regime in her work

1991 Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature Nadine Gordimer at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on May 17, 2011. (JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Nadine Gordimer, the South African novelist whose work won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, died yesterday at age 90 at her home in Johannesburg. One of 13 women to ever capture that honor, Gordimer also took home the Booker Prize, the Rome Prize, and countless other awards for stories set amidst the immoral landscape of her country’s apartheid regime.

Born to Jewish parents—her father was an immigrant from Lithuania and her mother moved as a child from England—Gordimer grew up without particular religious engagement. “My mother was an agnostic and my sister and I didn’t have any education as Jewish children,” she said in a 2009 interview. Her father, a watchmaker, “used to go to synagogue on occasion, fasting and days like that, and to honor his parents and the anniversary of their death, but that was all. I went to the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy, a Catholic convent school, and nobody tried to convert me to anything.” (more…)

More Details in Menachem Stark Murder Case

Suspected construction worker says botched kidnapping was business-related

Menachem Stark. (ELI WOHL/VIN NEWS)

The suspect indicted in the murder of Hasidic landlord Menachem Stark, who was killed in a botched kidnapping in January, revealed details of the abduction gone wrong to investigators after pleading not guilty to murder and kidnapping. The New York Post reports that 26-year-old Kendal Felix, a construction worked employed by a man Stark reportedly owed money to, told the full story after “cops asked him whether his preacher father taught him to tell the truth.”

Kendal Felix, 26, told detectives that his boss, identified only as “Erskine” approached him in December and said “Max” [Stark] owed him money and that if Felix helped him force Stark to pay up that he would give him a cut, said the documents, which were released after the suspect’s arraignment in Brooklyn Supreme Court.


Atheists Demand Removal of Miami Beach Eruv

Organization says ritual marker imposes Orthodox Judaism on all residents


An eruv constructed last summer ignited a tense battle among residents of the Miami Beach neighborhood of Pinetree Park, and it shows no signs of simmering. An eruv is a Jewish loophole of sorts, a minimally defined wall inside which observant Jews are allowed to carry objects on Shabbat, a practice which is typically forbidden outside the home.

There are eruvs in cities like New York City or Los Angeles, thin strings attached to pre-existing poles, that most residents are entirely unaware of. But some eruvs are controversial—a Westhampton Beach eruv recently prompted three federal lawsuits—and Miami Beach is the latest battleground. (more…)

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.