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People of the Pod

People of the Pod is a weekly podcast analyzing global affairs through a Jewish lens, brought to you by American Jewish Committee. Host Manya Brachear Pashman examines current events, the people driving them, and what it all means for America, Israel, and the Jewish people.


Believe Israeli Women: How to Advocate for Victims of Hamas’ Sexual Violence
During their murderous rampage across Southern Israel on October 7th, Hamas weaponized sexual violence. Over 138 days later, denial of these crimes runs rampant despite verified evidence and testimony from survivors of the NOVA festival, the attacked kibbutzim, and freed hostages.  Hear from Julie Fishman Rayman, AJC’s Managing Director of Policy and Political Affairs, on the efforts in Congress to stand in solidarity with Israeli victims of Hamas’ sexual violence, and what you can do to make sure the plight of Israeli women is heard.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Julie Fishman Rayman Show Notes: Act: Urge Congress: Condemn Rape and Sexual Violence by Hamas Terrorists Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: When Antisemites Target Local Businesses: How Communities Are Uniting in Response How A 10/7 Survivor is Confronting Anti-Israel Activists on College Campuses Tal Shimony Survived the Hamas Attack on the Nova Music Festival: Hear Her Story of Courage, Resilience, and Remembrance How to Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a Post-October 7th World Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Julie Fishman Rayman: Manya Brachear Pashman:   This week, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel delivered a report to the United Nations detailing the systemic sexual violence committed by the Hamas terror group during and after the October 7 attack on Israel. The horrific report follows a bipartisan resolution adopted by the US House of Representatives last week, condemning the use of rape and sexual violence. Here to discuss that resolution is AJC’s Managing Director of Policy and Political Affairs Julie Fishman Rayman. Julie, welcome. Julie Fishman Rayman:   Thank you so much, Manya. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So anything bipartisan on Capitol Hill is rare and worth discussing. Can you walk our listeners through the details of the resolution and explain why there was such unity around it? Julie Fishman Rayman:   Absolutely. So the resolution was introduced in January. And it really came out of a concerted effort on the part of mostly female members of Congress, who were hearing about what had gone on on October 7, and what was continuing to go on in Israel as it related to gender based violence and sexual assault.  And they read the tea leaves of the deafening silence on behalf of the global community and said, if people aren't believing Israeli women, we are going to show that Congress, the American Congress, is united in believing Israeli women. So there are two resolutions, in the House and in the Senate, the resolution in the House passed.  And they're pretty straightforward, expressing this sense, both of outrage and outlining some next steps. So in addition to condemning rape, and all forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war by Hamas, calling on nations to criminalize rape and sexual assault and hold perpetrators accountable, including by armed groups, which is somewhat of a different take on this.  Calling on international bodies to really condemn these atrocities in a way that we have seen too many of them pause or hesitate or simply remain silent. Reaffirming the US government support for an independent, impartial investigation —this is very important— into what happened on October 7th and afterwards, and reaffirming this commitment to supporting survivors, which is, I think, so critical in this moment. It’s one of those things you could say, Oh, of course, we support the survivors. But recognizing the reality of what's going on in Israel today, and how this trauma continues to play for those victims, is really critical, right. In this moment, Israel is not focused on supporting the survivors of rape and sexual assault, not because it's not important, but because they're still fighting a war and focusing on you know, rebuilding and what to do with the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes, to elsewhere.  So in the hierarchy of need, addressing all sorts of trauma, is it has to be sort of lower on the totem pole and hopefully will be addressed. But that's a piece of what the international community can do and what Congress is trying to do. Just express that support and solidarity. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Calling on international bodies to condemn sexual violence, international bodies such as the UN, correct? Julie Fishman Rayman:   Yes.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   All right. Can you tell us a little bit about the report that the Association of Rape Crisis Centers released this week? Julie Fishman Rayman:   It's a really important report. Not least of which because in some ways it's the first sort of fully fleshed out credible report about the atrocities of the seven. And in a lot of ways it's important also because it pushes us to be uncomfortable, right?  I think a lot of why this issue has been sidelined or pushed aside is not just because Israel continues to be fighting a war. And their myriad other issues, the release of the hostages, etc, that are really, there's all these competing needs, both in our minds, as people who are sympathetic to these causes, but also in the world, and in terms of advocacy.  But it really pushes a lot of these deeply uncomfortable themes to the forefront. So for example, there's a whole section in this report about the sadistic practices of Hamas, binding and tying, mutilation or destruction of genitalia, insertion of weapons into intimate areas, destruction and mutilation of the body. It's grotesque. It is hard to read about, it's hard to say. But in some ways, I think that's sort of our responsibility, right? We who have not thank God lived through this trauma can be the voices for those who have and may not feel comfortable coming forward to tell their stories, may not have the emotional capacity or stamina, to tell their story and relive the horrific trauma that they suffered. So every time I sort of talk about this issue, I try to make whoever I'm speaking to, especially women, say the really uncomfortable things that we're taught as young children not to say in polite society, talk about vaginas, talk about rape, talk about fondling of breasts and mutilation and all of these things.  Because if we're not comfortable saying it out loud, we're not going to be comfortable doing that advocacy that's so important. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Has sexual violence been used or highlighted as a weapon of war elsewhere, Julie, that we know of? Julie Fishman Rayman:   It’s enough of an instrument of war, that it's been deemed a war crime. I think that this, like so many things that took place on October 7, it was used to such a degree that the global community at some point will have to reckon with how we treat or how we consider sexual assault as an instrument of war.  But certainly in lots of other places this is the sad reality. And I would say the sad reality of sort of the treatment of women. But of course, we know from October 7, that it wasn't just women. It was women, children, accounts of men being sexually abused. Even men who are still hostage in the tunnels in Gaza, there are reports of sexual abuse against them.  So we sort of think about it in terms of gender based and focused specifically and solely on females. But the sad reality is, that's also not the case. And for men, especially, I think the stigma can be that much more heightened. So knowing that it could take years or even decades for us to fully understand the full gravity of the situation of what happened on October 7th against women. When it comes to men and other victims, we may never understand the full scope of what happened and what continues to happen. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What is the progress of the resolution in the Senate? Julie Fishman Rayman:   It's moving. It’s been introduced, it has about a quarter of the Senate as co-sponsors, which is significant. There’s a need for swift movement, I would say and greater advocacy so for listeners, they can go to and find our action alert, calling on senators to co-sponsor and support this really important resolution when it's up for a vote.  This is one where again, our advocacy is critical and sometimes we shy away. But it's much easier to send an email to your Senators than it is to actually have to talk about these really awful issues.  So for anyone who is looking for a 30 second way to sort of comfortably take action on this important issue, the action alert is a really good and meaningful way to do so. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Can you kind of walk us through the advocacy efforts that push this through the House of Representatives, but also are pushing it through the Senate? In other words, are there victims participating in this, families of victims? What kinds of stories, and again, this could be a very uncomfortable portion of our conversation, what kinds of stories are being shared with people to convince them to put their name on this resolution? Julie Fishman Rayman:   A lot of the stories are coming from the family members and loved ones of current hostages. So there's there's an amazing piece of advocacy going on, in the halls of Congress nearly every week that that touches on this, but isn't entirely about the sexual assault. But it's about those families coming whether they're Americans, Israelis, or some other nationality. And they have family members who are still hostage. They are coming week after week, day after day, to speak to members of Congress to keep that issue at the forefront. And of course, for a lot of them the hostage issue is part and parcel integrally connected to the issue of gender based violence.  So for example, there's a woman who has been to DC several times already. And who is coming back next week to talk specifically about gender based violence. Her name is Yarden Gonen. And she is an amazing advocate for her sister, her sister Romi, who is young, she's in her 20s. She was at the Nova festival.  And she had this horrific experience of being shot, calling her mother saying I've been shot, I've been bleeding. And while she was on the phone, her mother relays that they heard screaming, screaming in Arabic, screaming in Hebrew. And then the sounds got louder and louder, the voices got louder. And then Romi shut the phone and was taken into Gaza and is still held hostage. She is one of the few women still held hostage.  And so her sister tirelessly comes to tell her story. With this sort of recognition, this sad recognition that probably all of our worst fears. You know, hopefully not God forbid, but our worst fears about sexual assault are possibly happening to her sister with frequency or regularity. And she's one example you know. There’s another woman who comes also to advocate in Washington, but elsewhere as well, who actually works on this issue. She works in rape centers and working on sexual assault in Israel for many years. So she comes to talk about her cousins and her family members who experienced a raid on a kibbutz but specifically through this lens and says, I know, the type of trauma that women experience. I know why they don't speak out, why it can take years, even not in war time. And this impossible situation that Israeli women are now being faced with right where they have to before they're ready before they have the emotional capacity, tell their stories because the world is not believing them. Because there needs to be this public cry, believe Israeli women. Me too unless you're a Jew, all of this you know, horrific silencing, that now they're they're forced into telling these stories and the long standing trauma that will certainly continue. not just because of what they experienced. not because of the sexual assault and rape but then also because of the the repeated trauma of sharing that with others. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Of course, this advocacy is also happening in other countries as well. AJC's Berlin director Remko Leemhuis told us about Shani Louk, another Supernova festival goer, who was actually filmed by terrorists and that film was released. She was experiencing horrible treatment. Unfortunately, she did not survive her captivity. But certainly her story lives on in Germany, and her family has spoken out about some of the crimes committed against her. And there's certainly evidence of that, as well.  Julie, who were the champions of this resolution on Capitol Hill, who really supported it, lobbied for it. And I'm talking about the US House of Representatives, but also which senators are indeed putting their name on it? Julie Fishman Rayman:   So in the house, it was really the brainchild of Kathy Manning, Lois Frankel, Mario Díaz-Balart, and Jen Kiggans. And some of those names will probably be familiar to listeners. Kathy Manning is one of the co chairs of the bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism. Lois Frankel, another very outspoken Jewish female representative, who leads a lot of the sort of women's groups and women's caucuses on Capitol Hill.  In the Senate, it's an all female cast, which I think is beautiful. In both the House and the Senate, you have two Democrats and two Republicans. But in the Senate, it's all women, Jeanne Shaheen, Kirsten Gillibrand, Doug Fisher and [Katie] Britt from Alabama. They've really emerged as champions on this issue.  Especially, you know, Kirsten Gillibrand is the senator from New York. She's going to the floor nearly every week to tell the stories of hostage families, about what happened in Israel on the seventh, the sexual assault, etc. And she's not alone. There are true champions that have been kind of tapped into because of this unspeakable trauma. And their voices, I'm sure will outlive this war, certainly, the hostage crisis, I say, hopefully, and with a lot of prayers. That kind of advocacy continues.  Of course, there are others. Everyone, I'm sure by this point has seen the images of Senator John Fetterman’s office, where he has every single hostage poster, sort of wallpapered in his office. And his staff are tracking who's released, who's still being held, who do we know is already deceased? They're tracking it as closely as the Hostages and Missing Family Forum is in Tel Aviv. They're so on top of it. They're great friends.  In Congress and the administration around the world. What you said about the work of our Berlin office is absolutely true. These issues are being raised by AJC at the EU in Brussels, in Paris, at the Vatican, really throughout the country and throughout the world. Manya Brachear Pashman:   The only abstention in Congress was Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a woman. Has she explained why she saw problems supporting such a resolution, but also why she didn't outright object to it? Julie Fishman Rayman:   Her response was really a case of classic Whataboutism. You know, how can you speak about the Israeli victims while not speaking about Palestinian victims? And that's something that we've heard increasingly on social media. Oh, there are there Palestinian victims as well of sexual abuse. It's a really twisted distortion of reality. While horrible things happen in wartime, there's there's no comparison to Hamas’ systematic, targeted, brutal, sadistic, planned assault on Israeli women and anything that could be happening elsewhere.  Hamas has really sort of set the benchmark and I say that with some irony for what sexual assault as a weapon of war can look like. So I'm not surprised by Congresswoman Tlaib's vote. It tracks with other votes that she's taken and other statements that she's making. And I think for her, it's very personal. You know, she has Palestinian roots, she has Palestinian family members. So I imagine for her, all of this is very, very personal, very sensitive. And she probably comes to this issue with a great degree of defensiveness as well. That said, the sheer fact that she was standing alone as the only voice not affirming this condemnation, says a great deal. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Did she explain why she didn't outright object to it? Julie Fishman Rayman:   I don't believe that she did. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What else is AJC trying to accomplish in Washington right now? What more is needed? Julie Fishman Rayman:   Certainly, we need the Senate to pass this resolution. There's this continued fight over foreign aid for Israel. How do we get Israel the support that it needs in terms of material and munitions, etc? And a lot of that is tied up in a political battle over, do we fund Israel alone? Do we find Israel and Ukraine and Taiwan and other allies who are sort of collectively fighting against forces of authoritarianism or anti democratic forces? And then, of course, then there's additional layers, do we also then fund efforts to secure our border in different ways? And the more you sort of add into this pot of money, the more additional avenues or or recipients the more opportunities there are for poisoned pills.  So AJC is working really hard to try to continue the fight for Israel to get the support they need, for Ukraine to get the support that they need, as they continue to fight Russian aggression. It's an uphill battle. And so, so, so political. But those are the really the key advocacy items.  And of course, we continue, as I said before, to support a number of family members and loved ones of hostages as they come week after week to tell their stories on Capitol Hill. Next week, actually, we have a delegation specifically to talk about gender based violence. And it's going to include the sister of one of the hostages who I mentioned before, a part of the Zaka search and rescue team who went and saw bodies as they were being prepared for burial and witnessed the clear and really atrocious evidence of sexual assault.  A reservist for the IDF, who he was off duty, but the minute that he heard the news about the Nova festival and what had happened there, he went to help and try to try to rescue people and saw bodies that had clearly undergone sexual assault. Naked bodies, a male body with cut genitalia, talking about how it's not just women, who are victims here. A woman's body with her breast cut off a young woman with massive bleeding in and around her genitalia.  And then also a survivor of the Nova festival, who saved himself by hiding in bushes, but heard repeatedly over and over again, the sounds of rapes happening. So we're bringing these people to Washington to tell their stories to members of Congress, to diplomats, to State Department officials and other members of the administration. To continue the momentum.  We're really lucky that most of the audiences that we'll be reaching, do believe. They've already reached that first hurdle of believing Israeli women, but now need to be urged continuously to take those stories on as as their own to continue that advocacy and to make sure that those stories don't stand on their own, but they have echoes throughout throughout the halls of Congress, throughout Washington throughout you know, the EU, the UN, other multilaterals until this attention really gets this issue really gets the attention that it deserves. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Why aren't women being believed? Julie Fishman Rayman:   For all, for all conflicts like this, for any other case, massive or individual, where a woman has experienced sexual assault, our first response is supposed to be belief. We're supposed to believe, we're supposed to hear. It is the opposite of innocent until proven guilty, you are a victim until or unless it can be proven otherwise. We start with belief. So the fact that that hasn't been the case here, it defies explanation. It defies our understanding, and unfortunately, really heightens the need for the victims to tell their stories, the witnesses to tell their stories. It is horrific that these people are being put in this place where they have to continue to tell this story because people aren't believing them. I wish I had a better explanation for why they're why they're not being believed. That being said, there are reasons voiced as to why Israeli women aren't being believed. There are reasons given that to some may hold sway. And they're worth acknowledging, because that's part of the narrative that is incumbent on all of us to address and rebut. Part of it we hear is because there's not always that clear cut evidence. This was war time. The worst attack against Jews since the Holocaust. A truly traumatic moment for Israel. They were not doing the job that maybe in retrospect, they should have done in terms of rape kits, and documenting all of that evidence. For Zaka, the search and rescue team, they traditionally don't take photos, that's not a part of their mandate. And in some ways they feel it's a violation. You know, it's not a part of the holy work that they're doing in terms of collecting body parts and trying to keep victims, victims of terror of the seventh and preceding, trying to keep those victims as whole as possible. So there's this sort of dearth of evidence. But there's plenty of credible accounts. So I say that, but it doesn't explain why people aren't being believed. There's no explanation for that. ya Brachear Pashman:   Well thank you so much Julie for joining us. And for those listeners out there who would like to do more and push the senate to adopt that resolution, you can go to Julie, thank you. Julie Fishman Rayman:   Thank you for having me and Manya, I can't thank you enough and People of the Pod enough for shining some light on this really horrific story that needs to be at the forefront of all of our attention. 
23:34 2/23/24
When Antisemites Target Local Businesses: How Communities Are Uniting in Response
One in five U.S. Jews reported that local businesses where they live have been the target of antisemitism in the past five years, revealed AJC's State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report, published this week. To dive deeper into this concerning trend, we spoke with Adam Deutsch who, since October 8, has displayed a “We Stand With Israel Sign” in the window of his Scarsdale, NY ice cream shop. In January, his storefront was spray painted with the words “genocide supporters.” Hear from Deutsch on how his local community rallied against this hateful action and why he’s been even more vocal about his support for the Jewish state and prouder to be Jewish. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Adam Deutsch Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: How A 10/7 Survivor is Confronting Anti-Israel Activists on College Campuses Tal Shimony Survived the Hamas Attack on the Nova Music Festival: Hear Her Story of Courage, Resilience, and Remembrance How to Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a Post-October 7th World Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Adam Deutsch: Manya Brachear Pashman:   The contrast was stark. The words “genocide supporters” scrawled in black spray paint across the windows. On the other side of the glass, giant stuffed animals and pillows embroidered with the abbreviation for I love you so much. This was the scene one morning in January at The Scoop Shop, an ice cream and gift store at a shopping plaza in Scarsdale, New York. The vandals also left their mark on a nearby boutique. Both stores had one thing in common: Jewish owners.  This week, AJC released The State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report, which for the first time found that one in five American Jews reported local businesses where they live had been the target of antisemitism in the past five years.  With us to talk about the incident in January is the owner of the Scoop Shop, Adam Deutsch.  Adam, welcome to People of the Pod. Adam Deutsch:   Thank you for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Adam, if you wouldn't mind walking us through that morning when you discovered the graffiti on your storefront. Adam Deutsch:   Sure. So my brother actually got a call, we're partners, got a call around 7am rrom the people who do the maintenance in the shopping center. They were with the police who actually noticed the graffiti. So we got a call from them saying that something was written on the store window.  My brother was in the middle of getting ready to drop his kids off at school so he was planning on coming right after that. He called me. And we met over there and they were already starting to clean it off. But at first I couldn't really read what it said. The handwriting was very mishy mashy.  But once we actually saw it, we realized that it was not good. Not like it would have been good anyway, graffiti on the store. But we realized it had something to do with the fact that we supported Israel or that we were Jewish or something along those lines. We weren't positive at first. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So how did the vandals know to target your business?  Adam Deutsch:   So we have a sign that says We Support Israel with the Israeli flag in our storefront window. I think it was October 8, someone came to the shopping center and asked if we would put it up. We said absolutely. So we've had it up for a few months. A few shops in the shopping center do as well, the other store that was vandalized did also.  So I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that I'm Jewish, necessarily. Because how would they know that? However, the fact of what they wrote, that they believe what's going on in Israel is genocide made them write what they wrote. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So how did law enforcement respond? And I'm also curious if the shopping plaza’s staff contacted law enforcement when they contacted you and your brother? Adam Deutsch:   The police were actually, they do rounds in the shopping center. They do like a drive by all the time. So the police actually are the ones that saw what happened, the New Rochelle police department. They, the guys who do the maintenance of the shopping center were changing the garbages at the time. So it was like they told them, they called us. But there was a lot of police presence. And you know, the district attorney's office and there was FBI. I thought it was handled very well. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So it sounds like they did report it as a hate crime. Adam Deutsch:   Yeah, so it was originally being reported as a possible hate crime. So I know that they have not caught the person. But I was also told that since it was written on glass, as opposed to brick, which is not permanent. And the fact that it wasn't really derogatory towards Jews or towards any group, that it wouldn't have been a hate crime. If they got caught, they wouldn't have been arrested for a hate crime. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I should add that the AJC survey found that a vast majority of American Jews and American adults, 93% of Jews, 91% of the American public, believe it's important that law enforcement report hate crimes, or even be required to report hate crimes to a federal government database.  So I wonder if your incident is going to be reported and recorded since it was on glass. So bizarre.  So and neighbors, how did the neighbors respond? Adam Deutsch:   First of all within the first–this was at eight o'clock in the morning, by the time we got there, within the first half hour of us being there, my phone received probably 20-30 text messages. Someone created this flyer that they were planning on doing an ice cream social get together and a pro-Israel rally at four o'clock.  I was planning on working by myself because it's January in an ice cream store, it's pretty quiet. I right away started texting all my employees, who are in high school. So I knew they couldn't get there until after three o'clock. But I said you got to come. I need everyone here.  Not knowing exactly what it was gonna be like. But, you know, I was getting texts from everyone, people who belong to all different temples saying that their temple sent this out or, this group on Facebook sent this out. It was building a lot of steam. I was like, something’s gonna be crazy today.  It was already crazy what we woke up too, but I wasn't expecting it to really inflate business. But I mean, literally from 8:15 in the morning when I walked into the store until 10:30 at night, I didn't sit down once.  It's still hard for me to grasp what has happened in these last few weeks. But the support from the community and the words that we're getting from everyone, and I mean, I shook hands with more rabbis in the last couple of weeks than I have since my bar mitzvah for sure. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I am curious, though, if you changed anything that you did – I've been asking you, how did law enforcement respond? How did neighbors respond? How did you respond?  Adam Deutsch:   Aside from being an ice cream shop, we're also a custom gift store. So we do custom shirts, water bottles. We print and we do stuff for teams and schools and everything like that.  So that morning, my brother had to go to our office, and he was doing an order for a bat mitzvah that weekend. So he literally went to the office, the first thing he did was, he printed five or six more signs, t-shirts that said we stand with Israel and the Scoop Shop logo and the Israeli flag.  We now have five signs in the front window. He made a few thousand stickers that we were handing out to everyone. We were wearing t-shirts that said, you know that we stand with Israel. And I mean, we've doubled down and we I mean we're standing pretty strong. So that's the biggest thing that changed is that we have more support for Israel signage than we did before. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Had you ever been targeted personally before by antisemitism?  Adam Deutsch:   Personally, no. However, in December, my daughter, there was an incident at her school where her and a couple of her friends were just sitting in class, she's in sixth grade. And a kid went up to them and started making some antisemitic comments to them. Not even knowing that they were Jewish, but like, he then asked them if they were Jewish. So the fact that this all happened, and I didn't really put two and two together at first, and I still don't think there's any connection at all. The school handled that.  But I grew up in New Rochelle, and it's a very large city, and there's a lot of Jewish people in one part of town, and non-Jewish in another part of town and not like it's like, segregated like that. But like, there was always people who just didn't know or didn't understand. And, you know, just thought of us Jews as different, which is the same as it is in the world today. I knew it growing up, but I didn't think twice about it. I mean, I've never seen it as bad as it is now. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What sets AJC's survey apart from others is that it measures perceptions of antisemitism, both among American Jews and the American public. And I'm curious what your perception was, before this happened or before October 7 did you sense that antisemitism was already on the rise or not so much? Adam Deutsch:   I mean, it's been in the news a lot for the past few months. So like, since October 7, I mean, that's really what put it in my head more like, I always knew it was out there, but I never really thought it was more than usual or that it was more than other races or religion.  You know, I didn't think it was different than other groups of people. But just seeing on the news since October 7, and everything like that, you see, I mean, literally every, every day on the news, there's something that says the word antisemitism, every day on Facebook, on Instagram, on anything I see online, it's, you hear the word antisemitism. But I never really saw it in my hometown. I didn't really think it was going to affect me personally, like, at work, or anything like that.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Were you afraid?  Adam Deutsch:   No.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Or are you afraid?  Adam Deutsch:   No. From what happened at the store, I mean, the person was honestly the worst vandal I've ever seen. They wrote a little spray paint on the glass that was literally taken down in five minutes, they wore masks, they were scared. During the rally, there was a rally, and someone came, a pro-Palestine person came wearing a mask, it's like, you're gonna come and talk smack, show who you are. Don't be, you know, don't hide behind something. If you have something to say, say it.  I mean, I'm not a tough guy by any means. And I'm all for fun, and, you know, not controversy. But if you have a point to make, make it. These people literally came, spray painted in the morning. It's like, if you got something to say, say it to my face. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So how do you talk to your children about this, especially since they've encountered some difficulty themselves? Or at least your daughter has? Adam Deutsch:   Yeah. So I mean, look, I watch the news every morning. My kids are getting ready for school. And like, we have like our morning routine, where I'm sitting on the couch at one spot, drinking my coffee, my son's in one other area, getting ready for school, on his iPad, my daughter's doing her thing, my wife's doing her thing. But the news is always on in the background. And it just, you hear it. So like they ask me, you know, what does that mean when they hear the word antisemitism, and you know, we tell them, there are hateful people out there. And a lot of people don't like Jews. I mean, we tell them this has happened for a long, long time, and it's going to continue to happen, but we have to just be strong and be proud of who we are. And they get it, I think, but they're not scared. They're not worried.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Do you think you would have been so brave as to increase your show of support for Israel if the community hadn't rallied around you? Adam Deutsch:   Look, to be honest with you, we have the sign in our window, but I haven't really thought much. I mean, I see it every day when I walk in and out of the door. But other than that, it hasn't really crossed my mind too much to be honest with you. I'm not proud of that. Because obviously what's going on over there…I mean, I hear it on the news and I know what's going on, but I'm wrapped up in what's going on in my world here.  But now that this happened, and the showing of support and the amount of people coming in and thanking us, we're doubling down and putting more signs up, and just telling us how proud they are, and how much they appreciate it. I mean, all I did was put a sign in the window. I mean, I didn't do anything heroic. I had someone come up to me and said, You're a hero. I mean, that was like, what? You know, that was a little odd, I'm not gonna lie. But, you know, I understand what they're saying. Because we have a way to show to the community that we stand with Israel, because I have a big storefront window that gets a lot of eyeballs on it. But all I did was put a sign in the window and opened my store for business. I don't feel like I did anything really special. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Have you been kind of part of the Jewish community? Are you part of a congregation, or not really? Adam Deutsch:   Yeah, my kids go to Hebrew school. We're raising our kids in the town that we grew up in, New Rochelle. My kids went to nursery school at Kehila, which is at Temple Israel in New Rochelle. That's where we belong as congregants. My daughter is going to be Bat Mitzvahed there in two years, we just got her date a month and a half ago. I mean, we're in it. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I'm just curious if you've had conversations within that community. I mean, you said it was odd to be called a hero for putting a sign in your window. But I'm curious if other people have expressed reticence about showing their support for Israel, because of what's happening? Adam Deutsch:   I see a lot of people in the store, from my temple and from all the different temples around just because we're right in the middle of everything. So people have come up to me and told me that they're glad that we did what we did.  So I got a lot of calls at the store from different rabbis or different clergy from all different religions. When it first happened, but I got a call on my cell phone from my rabbi. So that was, a nice feeling, to get a call from your rabbi. He brought his kids to the, to the rally. I mean, it was knowing that even though I'm not really doing anything, I'm representing either my temple or my people. That's the least I can do. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Have you been to Israel? Adam Deutsch:   I have not.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   So what prompted you to show such support for a place where you've never been? Adam Deutsch:   I mean, I've wanted to go for forever. I do have family that is from there. Plenty of my family members have been there. I just have never had the opportunity. When I was growing up. I mean, birthright wasn't really like a thing. It happened, like a few years after, like, I just like it started really becoming a popular thing after I was, you know, already working full time, and I didn't have time to go travel or do anything like that. But that would have been an amazing thing to do.  We’cr talked about maybe doing my daughter's Bat Mitzvah in Israel. Now we're not really keen on going there at this moment, you know, but we'd love to, at some point, get there for sure. Manya Brachear Pashman:   AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2023 Report found that a majority of American Jews, 8 in 10, said that when thinking about what being Jewish means to them, caring about Israel is important. Do you agree? Adam Deutsch:   Yeah, I mean, it's our place, it's our land. I'm not gonna say our country because it's like, it's not my country. I'm not Israeli. But I feel like it's the land of the Jewish people. It's our homeland. It's where we could all go, we should be able to all go and feel like we belong here. We are here as one. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Adam, the survey’s findings that we've been talking about here certainly show that I'm not alone in occasionally feeling alone as a Jew. Isolated. Once in a while, not all the time. But not always fully free to express my Jewish identity, my anxiety and concern about what's going on. And I host a podcast in the Jewish space. So I can only imagine how others who aren't regularly in this space must feel. What do you say, especially based on what has happened, what do you say to people who have felt that way?  Adam Deutsch:   I just think that it's important to know that people are gonna disagree with your beliefs and your feelings and who you are. And it happens all over the world, it happens everywhere. But don't let that change how you feel or how you act because whether you don't see it or feel it on an everyday basis, you have so many people in your corner and that have your back.  It's like, I can't even put into words the appreciation I have for all the people in the community that have come out and continue to come out. And my brother and I looked at each other and we knew it was going to be busy that day, because there were rumblings.  We never could have imagined in a million years. That would have been what it was and continued to be what it's been. It's incredible. It's incredible. And we're so grateful for it.  A terrible thing happened. Not even though they did a good job on it, because like I said, they wrote a little spray paint, they wore a mask.  But the stupid thing they did turn into an amazing coming together of the community and I'm glad that I can be a part of it because it made me, it made me really just sit back and think for a second how proud I am to be Jewish and to know that my people have gone through stuff like this and a million times worse than this. And we're still here and we're not going anywhere. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Adam, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your experience.  Adam Deutsch:   Thank you. I do appreciate it. Manya Brachear Pashman:   If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with Israeli filmmaker Yoni Diller who escaped the Supernova Music Festival on foot, walking for hours through southern Israel’s desert to safety.
17:27 2/15/24
How A 10/7 Survivor is Confronting Anti-Israel Activists on College Campuses
Yoni Diller, a 28-year-old Israeli filmmaker, arrived at the Supernova Music Festival just hours before Hamas terrorists launched their unprecedented attack on Israel that killed 1200 people, including 401 at the music festival alone. Yoni escaped the festival on foot, walking for hours through southern Israel’s desert to safety.  Having survived this harrowing experience, Yoni is now traveling the world to share his story with political leaders, college students, and others, providing firsthand testimony of the horrors he and his fellow festival attendees witnessed on that fateful morning of October 7th. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Yoni Diller Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: Tal Shimony Survived the Hamas Attack on the Nova Music Festival: Hear Her Story of Courage, Resilience, and Remembrance How to Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a Post-October 7th World A Spider Web of Terror: How Iran’s Axis of Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas Threaten Israel and America Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Yoni Diller: Manya Brachear Pashman: During the Grammys this past Sunday, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. remembered the 401 people murdered and 40 kidnapped by Hamas terrorists during the October 7 attack on the Nova Music Festival.  Yoni Diller is a 28-year-old filmmaker from Ra’anana, a town outside Tel Aviv. Yoni and his friend Nadav arrived at the Supernova Music Festival just a few hours before rockets began flying overhead. At daybreak, he had expected to send up a drone camera to capture the scene of unadulterated song and dance in the desert. But he never got the chance to get his camera ready. Yoni is with us now to describe that harrowing day that started at dawn. Yoni, welcome to People of the Pod.   Yoni Diller: Thank you for having me.  Manya Brachear Pashman: Could you please walk us through what you saw that morning?  Yoni Diller:   So, when the sirens went on at 6:30, we saw hundreds of missiles heading our way. So we rushed back to our campsite. We packed up our stuff, we tried to leave, the parking lot was chaotic. And I suggested going a different way. This decision to head south towards Re’im, which is another village. I didn't think it would change or it will change everything, but it did. On the road, people originally told us to turn around, to do a u-turn.  Manya Brachear Pashman: You told me earlier that was when a car riddled with bullet holes approached you and you found yourself helping a wounded women. That was 25 year old Shani Gabay whose remains were identified seven weeks later. At that time, when you were helping her, you heard gunfire in the distance and you tried to take cover in a nearby valley.  Yoni Diller:   Yes. I saw terrorists from a distance and continued to hide. A short moment later, mass shooting started in the Be’eri area, north of us.  I checked my phone to assess our surroundings and our current location. At the same time, my friend's sister called him to check on him to check everything's okay. He promised everything's gonna be alright. And about that time about a dozen others had joined us and we start walking. But the best thing I could do at that moment is to scream for everyone to get down because bullets are flying up on top of our head.  So when the gunshots stop for a second, we decided to head towards Patish, it was more than 24 kilometers away. My intuition told me that this will be safer there.  Manya Brachear Pashman: Did you just say 24 kilometers away? How did you make it through an almost 15-mile walk? You're walking in fields, the open fields in the desert, without food or water for over four and a half hours. It's really really tough. The fear and uncertainty made it even harder. At some point, Nadav found a single grapefruit that gave us enough energy to finish the long walk to Patish.  Throughout this journey we continued to hear automatic gunfire. Finally after 4 ½ hours we arrived at Patish. Emotions were mixed because we began to learn the enormity of what happened. Friends were missing and there were rumors of many people hurt and worse from the festival. Later on around 2 in the afternoon, a bus came to take us away, bringing us to Be’er Sheva and then to Tel Aviv. Then I arrived to Ra'anana finally. Safe and sound in one piece. I hugged my family and I understood just how lucky I had been.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   So can you kind of explain to our audience what is so wonderful about this festival, this trance culture and this music, this experience? Yoni Diller:   So trance, psy-trance, electronic music, personally for me it's not a genre. It’s like you said, it's a culture, it’s the people in it. It's the free spirit people, liberal people, just all about spreading love. It doesn't have to be in a hippie way, just more in a way that everything is very simple, you know. Simply just be a good person, giving, ego’s not involved, very laid back people. And that's the whole idea behind all these festivals and that's what's for me. It's about the people, it's about the music, it’s about the art, everything together.  I joined a group of friends, friends of friends, we were like total more than 20 people and two of them lost their lives there and two others that I know from another group that went with me to high school also.  One got killed and actually the one the other one got kidnapped. These festivals,  from event to event, you get to know people from everywhere. It's a small world. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Your companion who was kidnapped, has he been released, any word on where they are now? Yoni Diller:   No, one of them is still there. Hopefully he's still alive. I’m not even sure what's less worse, being kidnapped, or hostage, or being killed. We don't really know what they're going through over there. The best we can do is just wish for them to be released, no matter what the circumstances are. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Yes, my colleagues here at AJC are working to bring about the safe return of all the hostages. Listeners can go to to learn more about those efforts.  Yoni, do you feel like people outside Israel fully grasp the gravity of what happened to people there, or really how truly innocent the festival goers were? Yoni Diller:   Unfortunately, you know, this generation wants to get fast news and simple news comfortably, and a lot of them consume content from, you know, platforms like Tiktok, or Instagram. And unfortunately, there's a lot of fake news out there, a lot of false accusations. And, you know, people sometimes deny that October 7 happened. And that's really unfortunate. I'll give you an example.  I flew to the US after the event, I was part of this special delegation to do advocacy and telling the story to politicians in DC, in New York. And also, independently later after this delegation, I stayed another week in the States, and I took the train to these campuses. And I spoke and told my story. You know, campuses like NYU, Columbia, I went to Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Princeton.  Six campuses in three days. It wasn't easy. I was really exhausted. But the fact that I had that meaning that, you know, I'm there to tell the story.  Not for me, not telling the story for me. I’m telling that story for people to actually know what really happened, you know, the truth. I'm saying this for people who weren't lucky to tell them to tell the story themselves, or for the families.  So what I saw, when I told the story, is a lot of people were actually in shock, like, wow, I didn't know if this would really happen. Like, how can you not know, we're in 2023. Information hasn't been easier to be delivered from place to place up until this moment, and how do you not know exactly what happened? There's videos everywhere.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   You mentioned that students were actually shocked that when they heard your testimony, and what happened. What other kinds of reactions are you getting, both reassuring reactions and negative reactions? Yoni Diller:   I would say that the positive reactions I had a lot, a lot of good reactions. I mean, most of the people I spoke to or through this Hillel organization and the campuses. And, you know, people come up to me after the event and they feel very sorry, and they sort of it was really nice, but I would say that the only time that I dealt with some, somebody that was maybe a negative was at Princeton, there was this guy, some 18 year old kid. Apparently he's not one of the Israeli supporters I would say, is an understatement. And he had a weird comment.  It took him actually 10 minutes to ask me a question, at the end of the lecture, I asked if anyone has any questions, and he asked me something. He was very embarrassed to ask me this. But he said something about should we feel bad for the Palestinians, they've been oppressed for many years, October 7th was legitimate, it should have happened, something in that kind of way.  So instead of attacking him and try to humiliate him, or trying to make him look really bad, make him look silly, I told him, Look, I can talk to you about it. No problem. I'm not here to talk about politics or give you history lessons. I'm just here to tell my story, this is what happen. Again, I can get into it, but I wasn't really interested,I wasn't sure it was really appropriate to just get into that, because he just wanted to find some action.  In terms of antisemitism or just being against Israel, I see it's a very broad trend, nowadays. I had this event with Douglas Murray the other day. And he said, this generation is Gen Z, you know, everyone wants to be an activist, everyone wants to be an influencer in some way. And people calling Israel, telling them they're calling colonialist or doing genocide, all that. It's very easy to use these buzzwords, okay, but most of the people don't even know what they mean. Most of the people when they shout from the river to the sea, don't even know which sea or which river they're talking about. But a lot of these people feel a sense of meaning, oh, we're part of something, although they don't know 100%, where they're part of part of.  So my mission, or one of my main meanings, is to educate people and telling them in a very simple way, what really happened because I'm the proof that October 7, I'm evidence to all this all this thing happened. So no one can actually tell me that this didn't happen. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Yoni I am curious, how you are healing, how you are taking care of yourself, and whether these opportunities to speak about what happened are therapeutic, and what music is playing in your healing process? Yoni Diller:   Well, as I tell the story more, at some point I feel it comes out more easy and less challenging. As I tell it more, I feel I become stronger. You know, because you just can't keep this stuff in your stomach, you gotta share this stuff, and be very careful how you share it.  I've read this book Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl,  I'm sure you've heard about it. And I read this book while I was doing this whole advocacy work, and, you know, doing this journey in the states, in Europe, and it gave me a lot of strength. And, and it was part of my healing process, you know, to have this meaning.  But the main point wasn't really, you know, spreading the story everywhere. I mean, it was important, but how do I bridge that story to something more positive? So that was part of my healing process. In addition, I have friends and family that are very supportive. And I'm very lucky to have them.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Do you encounter mostly Jewish audiences with whom you speak? Or do you encounter non-Jewish audiences and recipients? Yoni Diller:   It's mixed. It's mixed. Mostly mixed. A lot of them are Jews, though, because I was hosted by Hillel. So a lot of them were Jews. Also for security reasons.  At that time, I decided to go to Harvard and MIT when there were all the riots. I went there by myself to speak and they had to make sure everything's secure and they had police on the outside, the inside, it really kept everything very safe.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   And did you get any surprising reactions from non-Jewish audience members? Yoni Diller:   Just from that incident in Princeton, but if the event was more like for everyone, I'm sure I would get responses from so many other people. And it would be a disaster, it would just be a mess because it would be me probably arguing with a couple of kids screaming stuff like free Palestine and stuff, things that have no connection to what I came for. And, you know, just misses the whole purpose. So we try to do something more organized, more the Jewish crowd, because let me tell you this, okay.  A lot of Jews, Israelis that live in the States, whoever it is, the campuses, they know what happened, but most of them don't know from a survivor or someone who's really there. In addition, a lot of them don't have the self confidence to combat this antisemitism and hate in their surroundings, they feel afraid to stand up.  I mean, if I survived it, I’m just a simple Ashkenazi guy from Ra’anana. And, you know, I survived it. You know, I wouldn't consider myself a big hero. I mean, I was very lucky. And again, you know, I've been through hell. But the last thing I should do is be silent and just stay home. I got to speak up. Hey, guys, look this is what happened, you know, get your head up. People are in a much worse situation, you have no reason to be afraid. We went through the Holocaust, we’ve been through, you know, 3000 years of hell. And we've always survived. So we're resilient. And that's kind of the message that I came to convey.  You know, that's one of the reasons I'm there to speak. Again, you cannot fight antisemitism with the other side's kind of method, let's say, they would scream stuff, and be violent. You can't play that game. Let them yell and play that game or spread their lies.  What you should do is, you know, you gotta really pick your crowd, like I said, You got to pick your people. You got to be more united, you got to speak, you got to spread facts. That's what you should do, every Jew in the world. Because we're stronger than ever. Nothing can break us. History has shown it. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Yoni, do you think that you will return to the supernova festival or any other music festival? Do you think you'll dance again? Yoni Diller:   I’ll even dance more. You know, this is what they want, disregarding what happened and everything. I guess that these terrorist organizations, not only they want to, like physically hurt you, they will also want to mentally break you, okay? And they want you to fear them. So the last thing you should do is be afraid of that. So you got to do the opposite. They probably would want me not to dance anymore, not to go to these festivals or just not enjoy my life. I'll do the opposite. I will go and I'll dance even more often. Or I'll just you know, create more joy. And that's one of the ways to really combat this battle.  So to your question. Yes. I will not stop, maybe it'll take me some time. I'm not sure if I'm so ready. But slowly, you know, you got to really listen to yourself first. That’s the most important. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Yoni, thank you so much for sharing your story and I hope to see you dancing again very soon.   Yoni Diller:   Hey, thank you so much for having me. Hopefully, people can hear this and they can spread the word. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with another Supernova survivor Tal Shimony as she discusses the genesis of the exhibit 'Nova 6.29,' where the community aims to tell their story and honor those killed and taken hostage. Tal guides us through the horrors she witnessed during the deadliest attack on a music event in history.
15:51 2/8/24
Tal Shimony Survived the Hamas Attack on the Nova Music Festival: Hear Her Story of Courage, Resilience, and Remembrance
Dancing. Costumes. Music. Rockets. Running. Chaos.  At 6:29 am on the morning of October 7, Tal Shimony went from dancing in a field outside the Southern Israeli kibbutz of Re’im at the Supernova Music Festival to running for her life as the site was attacked by Hamas terrorists. Tal guides us through the horrors she witnessed that morning, and the exhibit 'Nova 6.29,' where the community aims to tell their story and honor those killed and taken hostage, in the deadliest attack on a music event in history.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Tal Shimony  Show Notes: Song credits: Clear Test Signal Artifex Remix - Nova Tribute Learn more: Tribe of Nova Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: How to Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a Post-October 7th World A Spider Web of Terror: How Iran’s Axis of Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas Threaten Israel and America Unpacking South Africa’s Baseless Genocide Charge Against Israel Countering the Denial and Distortion of the 10/7 Hamas Attack Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Tal Shimony:  Manya Brachear Pashman:   More than 3000 people were at the Supernova Music Festival that began on Friday night October 6, and was meant to last through the next day. But at 6:29 am on October 7, it came to an end. In the horrific hours that followed, more than 400 people were killed and more than 40 kidnapped by Hamas terrorists.  Survivors organized an exhibit at the Tel Aviv Expo to tell their story. ‘Nova 6.29’ is named for the moment when rockets began falling on the tribe of Nova desert rave. During an AJC Project Interchange Fact Finding Delegation to Israel in December 2023, my colleagues met survivor and organizer Tal Shimony. After hearing her story, we wanted you to meet her too.  Tal, welcome to People of the Pod. Tal Shimony: Thank you so much for inviting me, it means a lot for me and also for my tribe. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So before we begin, I'm hoping you can kind of help our audience understand your tribe and understand just what the tribe of Nova or trance culture is, and what were people celebrating that morning?  Tal Shimony: Yeah, of course, I will explain to the audience about trance culture and who we are. It's named after music, electronic music. What's very interesting about this music, it came to Israel around the 80s from the area of India, and very soon became a very popular culture here and a very big scene here in Israel.  Every weekend, we have around 20 parties that are happening in nature, that are celebrating this culture. The trance culture is connected in a way to the more liberal and free culture, connected to the yoga world. Which means it's a very global and international thing. We're speaking about love and peace.  In all of the international trance festivals, it's not very much allowed to bring national flags. You're not allowed to bring flags of your own country. You can bring flags that are stating a peace of love or stuff that are representing your group of friends, but nothing that is representing anything national. The aim is to do a community that has no judgment. That everyone can join it. If you're a good person, and you love nature, and you love humankind, and you love the music, you can join. And that's the Nova tribe’s main values. These are the things that we are standing for.  And the gap between what happened to us at 6:29 that morning, and of course, the whole day after, because it's not just that moment that was horrible. It was the whole day after it and of course, until now it's still going on. And from that moment on, the gap between this and who we are and what we are and what we came to celebrate is so big.  For me, this is the unbelievable thing. A lot of time I ask myself, What am I doing here? What happened? Why did it happen to us? Manya Brachear Pashman:   How many festivals have you been to personally, and what took you to that one in October? Tal Shimony: I've been going to trance festivals and nature parties in Israel since I'm really young. I live in a really small village in the north that is quite hippy. So these things are a part of who I am and what I do since I'm around 15. My first International Festival was in Hungary when I was 19. So I traveled to festivals around the world when I was very young. Today, I'm 25.  So this thing has been a part of my world for a while now. And Nova festival came into my world around two years ago. I went to the same festival as I went to the first time. And I didn't want to go alone. And some of my friends connected me to one of the Nova producers, Nimrod Arnin, or the way I call him, Nimi. He’s a good friend. And became sort of a little love story, not in the romantic way. But in a way they opened their arms to me, this production, said come join us, just be with us as our friends. And I just fell in love with these people. They are so beautiful.  The people who will lead this community are people that are full with heart, all they want to do is give good to this world. They volunteer monthly as a production. And we have another volunteering now and this week on Friday. This is something that they do all the time and, and every time and at some point, I decided that every time I'm going to come to visit Israel, I will visit in the time of the Nova festival.  I've been living in Berlin for the last three and a half years. So it's not like it's been easy for me to come to the Israeli festival of Nova. But I did. I felt like it was important to me to do so. And they really produce something that is in international levels. Just like the Hungarian festival I went to or the Portuguese Boom famous festival or Universo Paralello, which is the festival that Nova worked in collaboration with in the seventh of October. The international trance community is hugging us as much as they can, because it's also very complex for them. This is for me what this thing is about. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Can you take us back to October 6, and then October 7, Tal, and tell our listeners what you went through that day personally? Tal Shimony: Yeah. So I was not supposed to be at that party. But I got a call from one of the producers, my friend, his name is Dov. And he needed help in a new ecological team. He's been building up this first of a kind ecological project in an Israeli festival, using reusable cups in the bar, and handing out trash bags to the audience and differentiating trash, plastic trash and non-plastic trash, things that are really revolutionary in Israel.  And since I was living in Berlin, in Germany, as you know, is top one in this thing. He called me and he asked for help. I was supposed to come to Israel for the winter because the Berlin winter was too cold for me. And I decided I'm going to take my flight a bit more earlier than I planned and landed in Israel in the second of October. Which means the sixth of October was my first Friday at home after many months. I was doing a Friday dinner, shishi, Shabbat dinner with my family. Around 11 I took a ride with a friend. And we had two other friends in the car and we drove into the party. I arrived around 12:30.  And I said it to you before the podcast that my boyfriend is one of the leaders of this production. He was already there. He was setting up the event, so this is why I had to take a ride. And he had his car there. And then he was really tired, he went to sleep. And I started working. At around 4am, I got a radio. And I started doing my job. And around 5:45, actually, quite exactly, my friend Yarin, he was going to play. His DJ name is Artifex, you probably know this name. He is the last DJ who played at the party. I woke up my boyfriend at 5:45, and I told him, let's go to dance, I can take my break now. And we can go and hear Yarin play on the main dance floor. It's a really big dance floor. It's one of the biggest he ever played in, so we were very excited for him. He’s a good friend. And we went to dance.  Now you see in the dance floors of, especially of Nova community, but generally in the trance community, you don't really need to stay next to your friends, you can walk around, everyone are friends with everyone, everyone is super friendly and nice. And I think it's a very beautiful atmosphere. As I said, no judgment, everyone was smiling at you.  Manya Brachear Pashman: And then the sun starts to rise over the festival, right? Describe that for us. Tal Shimony: I don't think there are words that can express how you can feel when the sun is rising on a desert party in Israel. First of all, the Israeli sunrises in the desert are the most beautiful thing you can see. Really. I've seen a lot of sunrises, in a lot of places in the world, I'm traveling quite a lot. This is something else. The atmosphere is magical.  And also, you are dancing in the dark next to people that you don't see, when suddenly the light of the sun comes in, and you can see the people around you. You can see their eyes, you can see their faces.  And I think around 6:20 the sun was already starting to rise and at 6:20 my boyfriend said he's going to the bathroom and I asked to join him. He found me in the dance floor somehow, which was luck for both of us. And we went to the bathroom, we went outside the bathroom at 6:29. And I can see a missile from far away. And I asked my boyfriend, didn't you say there is a ceasefire?  And the minute I finished my sentence, hundreds of rockets are already flying above my head. And when I say above my head, you need to understand it was very, very close to my head. Physically, you can really feel the echo on your body, the echo of the Iron Dome, disarming these missiles.  Now we are in an open field and as an Israeli I know that open field missiles are not usually being disarmed by Iron Dome because it's protecting the villages. So we are deciding to go away from the area of the party. So if there will be any missiles exploding on the ground and heating something with electricity, so we will be safe. Like us a lot of people are doing so there is a lot of mess in the beginning.  Very fast the music is turned off. Very fast our head of security, Aviv Avraham, rest in peace, who was murdered at the event after saving lots of people's life. He's calling on the speakers that there is a red alert, which means missiles, that the party's over and everyone should go outside of the party area to their cars, take their cars and go away. Now we are production members. We also meet some of the production members outside the area of the party. And we don't really know what to do. Should we go, should we help the security members take everyone outside, what should we do?  We go back to the area where my boyfriend's car was, next to the police improvised tent that was there. We have 27 police officers on the job, 80 security members, private security that the Nova is hiring. And one of the police officers was screaming from the tent: everyone who has a car take your car, go away, the party's over.  Manya Brachear Pashman: Did you still feel compelled to stay or did you follow his orders and flee?  Tal Shimony: In the moment that these missiles are flying above my head at 6:29, I immediately get an anxiety attack. So everything I'm telling you right now are stuff that my boyfriend told me. And he was leading me through. So he was leading me out of the area of the party, and then into the car physically taking me because I was incapable of walking, my body completely froze. I couldn't speak. I couldn't say anything but the name of my dog for a while, because she was home. And this is the only thing I could think about. And also saying to him, What can we do? Can we help? He said, I also said that, which is quite funny, because who I can help to when I'm like this. The mind can be very tricky at that point.  We take the car, we go inside the car, and we're driving through the emergency exit. From the left side of us, we can already see the traffic of cars coming out of the event, it's 4,000 people, around 2,000 cars. One road. There is no other way.  We take the left turn towards the north, and we drive away. At that point, we decided we're going to take a safe house.  We didn't know there were terrorists. We knew they were only missiles. So we decided we're going to go to the artist's house the production has rented. And we're going to go to the protected room there because this is the safest place we know. And the closest place we know.  My boyfriend was also thinking about stopping on the road, in the protected houses that are on the road, protected rooms. These places became death traps that many of my friends were there and murdered. And some of our friends were there and were lucky enough to survive and tell horrible stories from there. And I am very lucky he thought that way. And then for some reason he didn't do so. Everything is very random. We arrive into this house. He's opening his phone and you can see a message in the group that says that there are terrorists in the party. I'm calling my best friend, Or. She was working in the entrance. I can hear gunshots when Or is talking to me. She's talking with me for a while, around 20 minutes, where she's been led by police officers in the field, trying to escape terrorists that have arrived. And the conversation ends with, Tal I have to ditch my car, I’ll call you later, bye. And she hangs up. Manya Brachear Pashman: I hope you will tell us what happened to her later. But what is going through your mind at this point? It seems so cliche to ask, but what do you remember feeling in such a moment of confusion and utter chaos? Tal Shimony: Helplessness I think is the best way to describe the way I feel right now. I want to go out, take my take my boyfriend’s car and go and save everyone I can, because this phone call is just one out of many we got at the same time. We get notified of people we know being murdered. Some of our friends saw it happening, and they are texting us. And then we realize everyone ditched their cars.  At that point a couple, a friend of ours in, one girl that he managed to take with him. They're coming into this safe house and they are telling us that they saw someone completely wounded from gunshots on the way they wanted to take him and help him and he told them leave me here. I'm out. Don't take me, you will die. And they had to continue driving because they were shooting at that time.  And the stories that continue to come and at some point we’re being asked by our production to start gathering locations of our friends that are hiding and running away from terrorists. We are posting everywhere online that we need people to send us the locations and that we need people to help us get to our people.  At that point one of our security members with some military man's that were in voluntarily arriving into the era. He managed to sort of take back the area of the party from the terrorists, because they conquered it. Even when I say it, like four months ahead, it still sounds to me like a movie.  At 8:30 I get a video call from the same friend, Or, this time, she's running in an open field and I can see the terrorists running behind her. And I scream at her to run as fast as she can. And I scream at her that I love her. She doesn't really talk. She says to me, she loves me back. And she hangs up. She was saying goodbye.  Now you see, I was a shooting instructor in the army. And I see my friend in an open field when terrorists are shooting at her. For me, she's dead. There is no other option. And she's a friend of mine, and also everyone else who was sitting there with me. And we all hear her in this conversation and we are completely broken at that moment.  Half an hour later, I get a sign of life from her when she says to me, Sister, I got shot. She got shot in her leg. She survived. But after she got shot in her leg, she had to run 10 more kilometers with a gunshot in her leg. She survived, but I think her soul died that day and she had to rebirth.  Manya Brachear Pashman: I am so relieved to hear that Or survived. When were you finally able to leave the house that you were trapped in and go home? Tal Shimony: This house is not far away from the area of the party and definitely not far away from Gaza. It's next to a city called Netivot. Netivot is a small city in the area of Sderot and Ofakim, and the terrorists are arriving there at some point. They're not arriving into the village we are. And there is a civilian squad who is protecting us. But they are getting very much closer to us all the time. We have television so we can see it on the news that they are getting closer.  And this entire day, I'm trying to send locations of people that I know and people I don't know and I get phone calls from worried mothers asking me to see what's going on with their child. And this whole thing is happening while in one hand, I have my phone, and I'm calling people in the other hand, they have a knife. Because they are coming closer. And I need to protect myself.  And this feeling of fear and helplessness being all the time switching, and anxiety attacks that are being escort me until this day, and on the seventh of October, I think I had around 48 hours of an extended anxiety attack that was going on and off.  At 5pm, my boyfriend decided he had enough and he doesn't want to stay in this house in the dark and we want to go home. We are calling the head of the civilian squad that is protecting the little village we are in. We're telling them we want to leave. And he says to me on the phone like this, listen, I can't guarantee you're going to survive this, right, it's your choice. We have no idea where they are right now. This is your decision. I don't take responsibility for that. And we decide to leave anyway. I don't remember anything from that ride, only two burned cars. And that's it.  Manya Brachear Pashman: Thank God you survived that trip. Tal, how have you coped during the weeks and months since then?  Tal Shimony: I think in the first week, I didn't sleep at all. Everything is very vague. The day after the seventh of October, the eighth of October was the hardest day for me because I realized how many people I know lost their life that day.  And then started a week that was the most horrible week in my life. So every day I go to around three funerals of people that I know from the international festivals, from home, from other circles in my life, and some of the funerals of my friends I couldn't arrive because they were in the parallel time for another funeral. And the decision was to choose which one of my friends I'm saying goodbye to.  Some of them were also in areas of risk, like the desert, like the Israeli South. And some of them were in the North that was very much involved at that point. Nimrod Arnin, my friend who welcomed me into this community, his sister, 19 years old, Ayelet Arnin, was murdered. So we went to, of course, to her funeral, and there was an alarm. And it's 30 Nova survivors in a house that doesn't really have a place for us to be protected. So we couldn't stay for this funeral. We all left. It was very sad.  And that's how my first week goes. I still carry with me marks of this. Anxiety attacks that are happening. My sleepless nights, nightmares that are worse than anyone can imagine. Yeah. This is my life right now. Manya Brachear Pashman:   This is so unfathomable, and Tal, and I am so grateful to you for sharing all of that, because I think it is hard for so many people to truly fathom the horrors of that day. And I imagine that is part of why this exhibit came together. Can you tell us how it came together, who's behind it, and kind of describe it to our listeners? Tal Shimony: So all the villages next to Gaza–Kibbutz Nir Oz, Kibbutz Re’im–all these beautiful places that were burned out by Hamas, they have something to show, they can show people this is what happened to us.  The Nova parties, just like any other international festival, are being built and disassembled in a matter of hours or days. And we had nothing to show. Our community is the biggest community hit by this day. A third of all the victims from the seventh of October are coming from the Nova community, it's such a big number.  After the seventh of October, the first thing that we did as a community was building a healing center for the community where we had body treatment, mental treatment, workshops, everything we thought about that can help people. Of course, at some point, the artists of Israel came to play music for us. And during that time, some producers in Israel came to help us because some of them are the dinosaurs of the tribe of trance in Israel, it's a big thing. And they wanted to help.  And one of them came up with this idea of rebuilding the area of the party, as an exhibition for the public. And this exhibition, what you can see there, is the original party place. So it's the shadow tent, the big one that everyone can see in all the videos, is being rebuilt there. The bars, the camping area, the stages. We also have there toilets. The ones that I left from, and these toilets are now full with bullet holes, real bullet holes, from the terrorist attack. For example, we know that around 30 people were hiding in these toilets and only three came out. And you can see and bear witness with your eyes on these things. You can see how many bullets are in every cell, they really didn't let anyone survive.  You can see burned cars, because Hamas just burned everything they saw with every measure they had. So if it's special explosives that burns everything very fast and at a very high temperature, if it’s RPGs, if it’s fuel, they used everything they had.  Some people were hiding underneath the car, inside the trunk, and they were burned alive. And you can see that there. I have so many stories of friends that we found their bodies in cars. And it took so long to identify the bodies because when you burn the human body, there is nothing left. Manya Brachear Pashman:   After living through what you did, what was it like to see the scene recreated and memorialized for the exhibit? Tal Shimony: For me, the first time I arrived into this exhibition was horrible. The most horrible part was not all these things. The most horrible part was the screens. We had screens of pictures of the kidnapped people, and a screen of murdered people, all the faces, pictures of them. And between these two, we had a little place of lost and found. Everything that was found in the area of the party was brought there. Some people find their stuff there. It's a very exciting moment. But there is one table that was always staying the same. I call it the fun table.  So when you are going to trance party or into a Nova party, you usually bring with you stuff that makes other people happy. Because this is the tribe, this is what we do.  So for example, I like to put on a costume of a fairy. So I have my wings, and I have my elf ears and I have many glitters. And some people are going around with really nice, beautiful, colorful umbrellas. Some people are going with a Hollywood sign of action and running around the dance floor and saying action to people.  Some people are going with water guns and shooting at people in the dance floor. It’s very warm in the Israeli desert. And people brought all these things with them. Some people bring some juggling, very expensive juggling stuff to entertain themselves and the audience. And this table was always remaining full.  And at some point I realized why. I was thinking to myself, if I would lose my own juggling equipment which I bring to every party, if I would lose it in the area of the party, I would come back to take it. There is no way. It's so expensive and it's so sentimental and it's so personal. And I know that my mother would never know how it looks like.  So I believe that most of the things in this table were belonging to victims because they were just staying there for so long, and they look so insignificant for someone from the outside.  For me, that was the most hard table, hard area in the party, because you can see the pictures of the victims and you can see equipment that you understand that the only person who can take them is this people that belongs these things, because they are so personal. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You make a really good point about the exhibit memorializing a culture that's so ephemeral, so intangible. And I'm curious if there is a therapeutic quality to the trance culture? And is there a therapeutic quality to this exhibit, both for those who have organized it, and for those who are visiting? Tal Shimony: I always end my tours there, when I was doing tours, I was always ending them with this table that I told you about in the last one and I always told them that I still see the hope. Because I know I have my festival clothes at home and also all my friends and we all have our fun stuff, waiting for us to come back dancing. Because for me, dancing means healing. Dancing means therapy. Dancing means being connected to myself.  And the great Raja Ram, which is a very big DJ, famous trance DJ. When he was asked about dancing in a trance festival what it means, he was saying something very beautiful. He was saying you forget who you are. You forget your identity. You forget your job. You are just there at that moment. And that moment is so beautiful.  And I think we all need to come back dancing. We have every Wednesdays now a Healing Center, a community day that has being end with two hours of trance music. And there are therapists around if someone needs help, and some people are not staying. They know that at 8pm starts a set, a set of trance, so they are not staying because it's too much for them. They're coming there for the therapy and they're coming there to meet their friends and be together and hug. And some are staying and fighting through it.  And it's a beautiful thing to see. It's a beautiful thing to see but it takes time. I have to say that. We are trying to be back dancing but I have to say I tried a few times to go to nature parties, and it ended up with very big anxiety attacks. And I'm, let's say a very high-functioning survivor, I can help others, which is not something I take for granted.  So yes, definitely, we will dance again. And we don't say this sentence…again together as a community. Because it's a part of our healing.  I believe my friends, who are not with us, are very proud of the Nova tribe, for continuing dancing, for trying to heal and come back to the dance floors. This is what they left for us. They said to us with everything, with everything they have, dance. With everything they have. They will not die in another way. They died in the middle of one of the most beautiful things you can do.  Unfortunately, a very horrible death. But if I want to remember these people, as they were, I would like to remember them dancing on the dance floor with me. And they will dance with me when I dance everywhere. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Tal, the Grammy Awards are this Sunday, February 4th. Of course, it's not just an awards show. It's a platform for artists to speak out or pay tribute, and we’ve seen that after horrific events like the shooting at the Route 91 country music festival in Las Vegas or the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in England.  Do you feel that the music world has spoken out about Nova? Tal Shimony:  Definitely not. I would expect the music industry to talk about it at the international level. You can say, we are not talking about politics, we don't talk about Israel, we just talk about Nova. I think it's something that is possible to do. But it takes some bravery.  Because people are connecting what happened with Nova to what happened generally on the seventh of October, and for me going inside the music trance festival is like going into international grounds. Really, it's just like the same for me. And the thing that the music industry is forgetting is that, as you said yourself, there were so many music events that were attacked by terror before.  And that can happen in every trance music festival around the world. They forget it, that each and every country, also in the US, there is many, many festivals with this type of music and this type of culture. They forget it, it could have happened everywhere else, everywhere else.  And of course, I would have expected the Grammys to do something about it, but I don't. I know how it works. When it comes to Israel, it's always been separated. It's just like all the women organizations that are always talking about rape publicly.  When it came to the seventh October attack, which women were raped, by the way a lot of them were raped in the rave, in the Nova party. We have testimonies of our friends. Yesterday, even some of the representatives of the UN came to our Community Day to speak with some of the witnesses, because they came here to Israel to do it.  I can’t understand why they need to come to believe me. There is a movement now that's called Me Too Unless You're a Jew. And when I saw even the name of it I was like, how can they separate me from the rest of the world, if I was in an international festival, music festival, just like anywhere else in the world? Manya Brachear Pashman: What would be a meaningful tribute in your eyes? What would you like to see at the Grammys on Sunday?  Tal Shimony: I think they should do something similar to whatever they did on other occasions that terror attacks were happening, for any music festival or any music performance or in any other thing. I think they are creative enough and they are very good producers, they are bigger than, than whatever the Nova will ever be. So I trust them to know that they should recognize the fact that there was an attack in a music industry related festival.  But I'm also not expecting them to do so because I know that this festival was in Israel. And everything that is connected to Israel or to Jews is being treated differently. People are saying it's not antisemitism, but I'm asking myself, so what is it? Manya Brachear Pashman:   Will this exhibit travel, Tal? Will there be an opportunity for people around the world to see this and to memorialize this community? Tal Shimony: Yes, we are working on it, very hard, actually. I'm a part of the international team right now. It seems like the first destination might be New York or LA, but the United States.  I think it's very important that everyone who can will come to this exhibition when it will arrive to an area that is close to them because it will mean a lot to the Nova community and also to the Israeli state. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Tal, thank you so much for joining us.  Tal Shimony: Thank you so much for inviting me. It means a lot and I'm so grateful for being here today. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with Mark Weitzman from the World Jewish Restitution Organization, on how Holocaust museums worldwide and in Israel are grappling with the aftermath of October 7 in their exhibits. And tune in next week, for another conversation with a Supernova survivor, Yoni Diller. He shares his journey from that field in southern Israel that morning to American college campuses.  Manya Brachear Pashman: The music heard throughout this episode was the last track played at Nova on October 7, when Hamas terrorists stormed the festival. The remix by DJ Artifex was released in dedication to all lives lost and forever changed that morning.
33:45 2/2/24
How to Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a Post-October 7th World
This week, Mark Weitzman from the World Jewish Restitution Organization, joins us to discuss the links between the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the Holocaust, and how Holocaust museums worldwide and in Israel are grappling with the aftermath. As International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, we also delve into the direct connection between Holocaust denial and distortion to the denial and distortion of October 7 events, and how both are rooted in antisemitism. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Mark Weitzman Show Notes: Learn: AJC’s Translate Hate Glossary: See why Holocaust denial / distortion is antisemitic. Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: A Spider Web of Terror: How Iran’s Axis of Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas Threaten Israel and America Unpacking South Africa’s Baseless Genocide Charge Against Israel Countering the Denial and Distortion of the 10/7 Hamas Attack 4-Year-Old Hostage Abigail Idan is Free–Her Family is On a Mission to #BringThemAllHome Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Mark Weitzman: Manya Brachear Pashman:   One could easily say the October 7 Hamas invasion and massacre in Israel is one of the most well-documented terrorist attacks in history. Dozens of smartphone cameras and GoPros filmed Hamas terrorists crossing the border between Gaza and southern Israel murdered more than 1000 soldiers and civilians and kidnapped more than 200 others, the deadliest antisemitic attack since the Holocaust. But just like the scourge of Holocaust denial, October 7th denial is growing. Mark Weitzman is the chief operating officer of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, a nonprofit that pursues claims for the recovery of Jewish properties lost during World War Two.  He's also the lead author of the working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance known as IHRA, and chairs the IHRA Working Group on museums and memorials.  As we approach International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mark has joined us to discuss how we can make sure the world does not forget or deny any atrocities committed against Jews.  Mark, welcome to People of the Pod. Mark Weitzman: Thank you very much for the invitation to be here. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Mark, you are an expert on Holocaust denial and distortion. What does it have in common with the denial we’re seeing around October 7?  Mark Weitzman: I think there are clear connections between people who are downplaying or distorting the events of October 7, and those that engage in Holocaust distortion or hardcore Holocaust denial, because both are linked by an attempt to try to explain what is for them an uncomfortable historical reality that targeted Jews, whether the Holocaust or the events of October seventh, to justify their preconceived political agenda, which often includes an antisemitic conspiracy theory, either as its base or as its method to achieve their goals.  One of the root causes of Holocaust denial distortion, from the antisemitic perspective, is the attempt to say that since the Holocaust, there is a certain sympathy for Jews as victims, and sometimes that turns into political sympathy or support for the State of Israel. Sometimes it turns into actions that are pro-democracy or anti-racist in terms of society and saying that we've seen what happened in Auschwitz, we don't want our society to go in that direction. So we're going to take certain positive steps. Those people who want to turn the clock back to a world where people could still be judged by their religion, their race or whatever signifier, often have to grasp with the Holocaust. It's the paradigm of what can happen when society turns evil.  The same thing in the sense is at the root of October 7 denial. It's the attempt to say that, Oh, no, we don't want to allow any sympathy to Jews or Israelis, we have to justify it or explain it away in a way that allows us to accept the reality of what it happened, because denying it puts you in a really sort of cuckoo cage of denying what’s obvious to everyone what happened there.  So in this sense, in a particular sense, it can be by saying that, Oh, yeah, it happened there. The Israelis were killed, but they were killed by the Government of Israel. The hostages were not really taking the Gaza, they're actually hidden in Israeli buildings or holdings. That, you know, this is all part of a plot by Israel and the US government, aimed at undermining the Palestinian narrative and drive for freedom. But the goal there is similar, it's to grapple with a reality that most people would find repugnant. An anti semitic reality. The latest poll in the US shows 80% of the US population support Israel versus Hamas. And in an attempt to justify their stance, their pure antisemitic stance, they have to deal with that reality. And so you can't ignore it, you can say it didn't happen. Since as you pointed out, it's one of the most photographed and verified actions in recent memory. So you try to twist it away, and turn it on its head. Manya Brachear Pashman:   But how do people wrap their heads around this fantasy fiction? Mark Weitzman: These conspiracy theories are linked. And I don't think enough people have realized this or paid attention to it, that Hamas’s original charter, 1988, actually quoted, literally quoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is, as we all know, the Bible of antisemitic conspiracy theories.  And they literally based their charter, it's the only western document quoted in their charter, their original charter. And it links the events of October 7, with the history of antisemitic conspiracy theories. This is not an anti-Zionist document, the protocols, it's an anti-Jewish, antisemitic document. So there's a direct connection there.  The Holocaust is the most documented event in human history. There are films, there are millions and millions of pages of documents. There are so many archival records of survivors, of perpetrators, of war crimes tribunals that have, you know, judged and and entered into evidence, the effects of the Holocaust, the reality of the Holocaust, not just in the United States.  But look at the David Irving trial, the famous David Irving trial. But all the war crimes trials in Europe as well, to say that it did not happen, or to twist, it requires an effort of will. And it's not just on the individual level.  In our work at the WJRO, we see governments today that do not want to deal with restitution, and use manipulation of the Holocaust, to try to get out of it by claiming that it was all the Germans, the local collaborators had nothing to do with it, or that the numbers were inflated or that we don't know what the value was, what was really owned by by Jews at that time.  All sorts of methods used to evade trying to make some payment, some form of restitution, and then to survivors and part of our mission is to set forth and ensure that the historical record, even in terms of the theft of Jewish property, is well established.  So when we get to the events of October 7, particularly in an era where fake news, where people claim to believe all sorts of conspiracy theories, whether it's related to COVID, whether it's related to American election results, and a lot of these people kind of bond together. The underground of election denial and some of the anti-COVID extremists, and some of the Hamas or some of the October 7 deniers or distorters. Very often, they live in the same atmosphere, in the same basement, they imbibe the same fumes, they're in touch with each other. Very often they're cooperating or believe in similar conspiracy theories.  And this is one of the problems that we have as a society, amplified by social media, is to separate the real from the fake, and to try to limit and minimize the impact that the fake has on real life, on mainstream society, and politics, and culture, and so on. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So as I mentioned in the introduction, International Holocaust Remembrance is January 27. You just returned from a meeting with representatives of Holocaust institutions around the world. How did these museums come to be? I mean, was it a bricks and mortar movement to counter Holocaust denial, was it seen more broadly as a tool to fight antisemitism or something else entirely? Mark Weitzman: Well, I think that most of these came to be, first of all, through the efforts of survivors. In so many cases, it was the survivor community that were the driving force behind it. And yes, it was in response to antisemitism and to Holocaust denial. But those movements were not, in a sense, the dominant factors that we may think today.  It was a sense, I think, more of trying to pass on what they went through, both to the Jewish community, their children and grandchildren, and so on, but more importantly, to the community writ large, meaning that to the world at large, whether it's the US or the UK or Canada. They wanted people to learn the lessons from what they had gone through and survived. They wanted people to not to have to deal with the same things that they dealt with.  And it's fascinating to me, one of the most interesting things that I find in the field is that today, and not only a majority of visitors to Holocaust museums, the vast majority, are not Jewish. But the majority of people who work in these institutions are not Jewish either. There are people who have dedicated their lives to some second career, some it's, you know, a career long commitment to both studying and teaching and passing on lessons of the Holocaust.  So what began sometimes within the Jewish community, as a survivor-led effort, at this point, there are very few survivors still actively involved in this, especially, you know, on that level, and it's evolved into something that is broader and larger than just the Jewish community. Manya Brachear Pashman:   We had your colleague Rob Williams at the USC Shoah Foundation join us at the end of last year, and the Shoah Foundation is collecting testimonies from October 7 now. And I'm curious, are other Holocaust Memorial institutions developing programs or adding evidence from October 7, to their collections? Mark Weitzman: I think one of the things that came out at the meeting, which was at the Holocaust Museum in Washington about a month ago, was that these institutions are grappling with October 7, and it was very clear. And part of it is that most of these institutions had not tried to be politically based. In other words, they did not conceive of themselves as taking a political stance one way or the other. And the supercharged atmosphere of October 7, the events of October 7, the atmosphere post October 7, caught them, I think, by surprise, and they're still grappling with how to respond and how to react to it. There has been a tremendous amount of interest, of support. USC is leading the way with a tremendous effort of taping the survivor accounts and making them available. But I saw conversations, we had conversations from certain speakers in how to address October 7, how to deal with antisemitism in the wake of October 7. Because again, these are people who are not necessarily the the you're an expert in the Holocaust is that's really mean you're an expert in what's happening with Israel and Hamas and the Middle East, and, and so on. And it's a very different field, a very volatile field. And they're in a position that they had not anticipated. So I think that there was a shock. There's a strong sense of moral support, moral based support for Israel and the victims there, there is a strong commitment to, I think, keeping the message of releasing the hostages first and foremost in people's minds.  But how exactly to go about it, what the best way to achieve those goals is still something I think some of them are wrestling with. Some are doing even little things like one museum that I know of, has in their gift shop, a sort of small section of Israeli objects for sale, that the proceeds will go back to, you know, to some of the communities or some of the people in Israel who have been evacuated or need support. So it can be a small thing like that could be educational programs. It can be public statements that could be hosting events, it could be showing the testimony. It could be learning more about the background that led up to it. There are a lot of potential paths and ways that they're engaging with. And I think each of them are finding their own path right now. But they were in the process of grappling with something that they had not anticipated. And this is somewhat novel, for them to have to deal with. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Generally, do Holocaust institutions try to avoid Israel or kind of leave Israel out of their exhibitions, their collections, and really focus on the Jewish communities of their particular country? Mark Weitzman: I think it varies. I think that, you know, in a broad sense, they're not necessarily want to be seen up till now at least, as partisans in a political struggle or political battle. But there was clear recognition in so many of them you that you can't leave Israel out of the story, because you had survivors going to Israel. You had the Zionist youth groups, let's say in the Warsaw ghetto, and other places that It helps spearhead some of the revolts you, if you ignore those parts of the story of the narrative of the Holocaust, then, you know, you're not being true to the history of it. Would you show where survivors ended up after the war? Certainly, you know, a huge number of them, percentage wise ended up in Israel is one of the, you know, the prime spots for survivors to go to. You have many of them worked with Yad Vashem, for example, and have a relationship there. You have the righteous among the Gentiles, which is a story that almost all Holocaust museums wanted to have some focus on, because it's a prime example of non Jews responding in a positive way in the most dire circumstances, but the certification of who is a righteous Gentile came from Yad Vashem, in Israel. So there are, you know, inextricably linked to it, but you went, you didn't, and what they try to avoid, was taking a, you know, sort of a partisan position, should Israel do this action? Should this Israeli Government be supported against that Israeli government or, you know, so on and so forth.  But the broad idea of Israel's right to exist of Israel as a place of refuge for the survivors as Israel, a change in the narrative of the history of the Jewish people in the 20th and 21st centuries, all those had to be part of the story and are dealt with, but in different ways in in many of these institutions. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So you also traveled to Israel at the end of last year. And I'm curious up until now, how have Israelis talked about the Holocaust? Is it a cornerstone of their history as a modern nation, maybe not so much for the younger generations, and could October 7, connect some dots and change that? Mark Weitzman: Well, I led a small mission for the WJRO, and went down south to Kfar Aza. And also met with evacuees. And it was an incredibly moving experience. And the reality of what happened there, going to the exhibition on Nova, music festival is something that I don't think any of us who participated will ever forget.  And it was interesting, because we had two guides, from the Israeli army, from the spokespersons office from the Israeli army, two young women who were with us in Kfar Aza down at the border, one of the worst hit places. And they made the connection. And we had a Holocaust survivor with us, as well. And she made the connection.  And there was a resolve that, you know, this is something that we didn't think we would ever have to face firsthand. This kind of targeted destruction of Jewish civilian life. I don't think Israelis have fully come to grasp and understandably, with the implications of what happened, I think it may take even a generation or two, to kind of work this through in some ways, and I don't think…it may be premature to make judgments.  But I think that there's no question that hearing over and over again, the worst act of violence since the Holocaust, gives a frame and a context that is going to keep the Holocaust as part of the conversation about this. Israel prior to this, there have been a lot of efforts. I mentioned Yad Vashem earlier, it's certainly one of the cornerstones of a historical, cultural life in Israel. But it wasn't the only place, there were other kibbutzim, such as up north, Beit Lohamei Ha-Getaot, the ghetto fighters kibbutz that had the same similar mission of educating about the Holocaust. The Israeli government that no matter which party the Prime Minister belongs to, has always been very strongly supportive of Holocaust education. Has been a partner key partner of WJRO, and its work on restitution issues and efforts.  So the Holocaust has been, I think, part of the Israeli consciousness. But I think it was viewed as historical in many ways, this is what our grandparents went through. This is what happened over there in Europe. And now that reality is shifted a little bit, that, Oh, something that can be spoken about in the same sentence, not the same, not comparable in many ways. But it's here, and it's now.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   So how do the events of October 7 alter this year's observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day? Mark Weitzman: Throughout the world, I think you're going to hear a lot of linkage in a way of people saying that, we can't forget that, you know, what happened, the victims. So many places are involved, for example, in the reading of names of victims names. And yet, for many of us on a weekly basis, or whenever we can, we still read the names of the hostages, and try to get them returned in those efforts. So there are going to be you know, connections like that connections made about the threat, the ongoing threat to the Jewish people. The fact that since the Holocaust 80 years ago, we haven't faced anything like this, like we're facing today. Um, certainly in the West, the in the United States, the conversation is certainly going to include the fact that Jews are in an unprecedented situation in this country in terms of anti semitism.  The questions of the people trying to erode support for the existence and legitimacy of Israel take on much more significance, especially as they become much more high profile, the attempts. I'm sure there'll be part of, they are part of the political landscape for the forthcoming elections.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   AJC often cautions against comparing tragic events to the Holocaust because it risks trivializing the genocide of 6 million Jews. But I have heard well-meaning people make that comparison. In this case, is it a legitimate analogy? Mark Weitzman: Israel as a state, was able to strike back and respond in a way that Jews could not do during World War Two. Governments in the West–the UK, France, Germany, and so on the United States, of course, first and foremost, have responded forcefully defending Jews align themselves with Israel. Whereas governments in the West prior to World War Two, basically ignored, accepted or complicit in the Nazi actions. You know, those kinds of differences are significant. And the fact that as I said public opinion in the United States is firmly on the side of Israel compared to on the side of Hamas is also significant.  So I think we have to be careful about making kind of glib historical comparisons. We're not powerless today. We were powerless in the 1930s. But that doesn't mean that our situation is not problematic and dangerous for us today it is. And we have to recognize that. But we need to do that, factually and calmly and realistically, we need to find our allies. And they're our allies, in many places, and to work together with them. Because the threat to us, particularly today, from Hamas, and allied groups like that, and their supporters, whether from the extreme left, the so called progressives, or the extreme right, is a threat to liberal society, in general. And that's something that we need to be able to share, and to work with our allies to turn that thread back. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Mark, thank you for sharing your expertise and cautionary advice.  Mark Weitzman: Thank you very much. Manya Brachear Pashman:   If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with Dr. Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute as he helped us make sense of the renewed terror threat, how Iran’s terror proxies Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis are coordinating their strategy and attacks, and what the U.S., Israel, and its allies are doing to fight back.  
21:26 1/25/24
A Spider Web of Terror: How Iran’s Axis of Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas Threaten Israel and America
This week President Biden re-designated Yemen’s Houthis as a global terrorist group amid its increasing attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the Hezbollah terror group continues to threaten Israel's northern border, and the Israel-Hamas war continues as Hamas still holds more than 100 Israeli hostages taken on 10/7. Matthew Levitt, Fromer-Wexler Fellow & Director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute, joins us to help make sense of the renewed terror threat, how these terror groups are coordinating their strategy and attacks, and what the U.S., Israel, and its allies are doing to fight back against Iran and its terror proxies. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Matthew Levitt Show Notes: Learn: 5 Things to Know About the Houthis, Their Attacks on Israel and the U.S., and Their Treatment of Yemen’s Jews Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: Unpacking South Africa’s Baseless Genocide Charge Against Israel Countering the Denial and Distortion of the 10/7 Hamas Attack 4-Year-Old Hostage Abigail Idan is Free–Her Family is On a Mission to #BringThemAllHome What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Matthew Levitt: Manya Brachear Pashman:   This week the US military struck a Houthi arsenal in Yemen that had threatened US Navy vessels in the Red Sea. It was America's fourth strike on Houthi turf since November 19. Meanwhile, the Hezbollah terror group continues to violate a UN Security Resolution and threaten Israel's border, and Hamas still holds more than 100 Israeli hostages taken during the October 7th invasion and massacre.  What do all these terror groups have in common? Returning here to discuss is Matthew Levitt, the Fromer-Wexler Fellow & Director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute.  Matt, welcome back to People of the Pod. Matthew Levitt:   Thank you so much for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So let's start with the terror group making the latest headlines. The Houthis? Who are they and why has the Biden administration just re-designated them a terrorist organization? Matthew Levitt:   So the Houthis are a separatist group in Yemen, based in the north of the country. They are Shia, and they get support from Iran. But they're not exactly the same kind of Shia as Iran. And they aren't exactly the kind of proxy that says jump when Iran says how high.  This is a relationship of convenience and my enemy's enemy. And they both hate the United States and the west and hate Israel. And the Houthis have been for years an ineffective, and for the Iranians an inexpensive and risk free way to complicate things for the Saudis. So for years, the Houthis were shooting at the Saudis when the Saudis were involved in the Yemeni war, after the Houthis had taken over.  And that's one of the reasons why things are a little sensitive right now, because there have been efforts to try and negotiate a ceasefire between the Houthis and the Saudis. The Saudis aren't happy with what the Houthis are doing right now in the Red Sea. But they also don't want to rock the boat.  The Houthis have as part of their mantra printed on their flag, Death to Israel, Death to America, Death to Jews, all three, they're not particularly, you know, unclear. And so they have flown drones towards Israel that have been shot down, they have fired ballistic missiles at Israel, some of which have been shut down by US Navy vessels, at least one was shut down by the Saudis. Just pause to think about that for a minute. The Saudis weren't thinking this was aimed at them, the Saudis shut down a Houthi missile aimed at Israel, which suggests that the Israel-Saudi reconciliation track, while very much on pause, is not over. And the Israelis have shot down some including for the first time ever using the arrow anti-missile system, which shot down a ballistic missile in lower outer space.  Now, the Houthis have tried to leverage their position geographically by targeting ships in the Red Sea. They claim that they are targeting only those ships that are owned in whole or in part by Israel or have serviced Israeli ports. They've hit some American ships as well. They're clearly getting intelligence from the Iranians on this. And it has disruptive international freedom of navigation.  And you have now a new problem in terms of getting things where we need them to be to stock our shelves, because boats that would normally go up the Red Sea and through the canal are now going around South Africa. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And this volatility on the part of the Houthis is also compounded by what's going on with Hamas, and also Hezbollah. Is Iran the common denominator here, Matt? I mean, is that what all these terror groups have in common, or is there much more? Matthew Levitt:   So it's true, the Houthis claimed that what they're doing is in support of the Palestinians. But what we are seeing for the first time put into action is the strategy that was developed by the late Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, who was killed in Iraq several years ago. And that strategy was what he called uniting the fronts. And so this idea that across the spectrum, and it really is a spectrum of proxy, activity of sponsorship.  Hezbollah is at one end very, very close to Iran, the Houthis, I would argue, are at the other end, and Hamas is kind of somewhere in between. Getting them all to be able to coordinate their activities, when push comes to shove. Now, Hamas for its part is very happy with the Houthis. They're quite disappointed with Hezbollah.  There are reports in the Arabic press, that Hamas expected that Hezbollah would get much more involved and Hezbollah didn't when they saw the US naval presence, you know, two aircraft carriers. Whatever the specifics, Hamas have been very vocal about how displeased they are with the level of support they're getting from Hezbollah, though that has been significant. And they're pretty pleased with the support they're getting from the Houthis, which is outsized what might have otherwise been expected from the Houthis. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So the alignment of these groups with Iran, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that Iran is pulling the strings? Are they funding the activities? All of the above? I mean, you mentioned the goal of coordinating all these proxies, but does coordinating go as far as collaborating? Matthew Levitt:   So I don't want to get into a semantic discussion of what exactly is the difference between collaborating and coordinating. I think what's important to understand here is that it's not like in the movies, where everybody's getting together at a meeting with evil laughs, coordinating all that they're doing. There have been some meetings, we know that for at least the past few years. Iranian Quds Force, Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad had been meeting at what they call, their term not mine, a joint operations room in Beirut. What all is coordinated is not entirely clear. You've had Iranian and some Shia militants from Iraq, the Ḥashd ash-Shaʿbī making statements recently about how, you know, generally things are coordinated right now.  Frankly, the level of coordination took a hit with the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. And there was no one with the gravitas to kind of bring all these proxies together. So they actually leaned on Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Lebanese Hezbollah to come in and serve that role not only kind of mediating between the various Iraqi Shia militant groups, but also the others, the Hamas is that Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Houthis. So they're not all sitting around a big conference table. And you'll do this and you'll do this, but they're all getting support–financial and often weapons from Iran. There is some significant cross pollination in some personalities.  So for example, for the first time this week I've seen in the open source, Israelis say that the head of the Redwan special forces unit in southern Lebanon that has been firing anti tank guided missiles into Israel multiple times a day is a guy known as Abu ‘Ali Al- Tabataba’i. He was in southern Lebanon for many years. Then he was sent to Syria, where he worked with Iraqi Shia militants and Quds Force. Then he was moved from there to Yemen, where Hezbollah had a very, very small contingent, maybe a couple of dozen.  But the fact that they sent someone that senior was telling. I actually wrote a piece of Foreign Affairs about this years ago, when it came out that he was sent to Yemen. He was designated by the US Treasury, there's a Rewards for Justice from the State Department to reward out for his head. Well, he now is back from Yemen, got a promotion and is the overall head of the Redwan unit. And he has at this point, all kinds of personal relationships.  And so there's a little bit of cross pollination, you might talk about the people you know, from back when you went to college together. And back in the day the Al Qaeda would talk, did you go to the duranta camp in Afghanistan? Do you remember that trainer? Well, now there's a similar thing going on in the Shia extremists milieu? Did you go to the camps together? Were you in Iran at the same time, or Iraq or Lebanon at the same time? Which trainer did you have, who did they send to you? And so there is coordination happening, but I don't think it's Houthis. Sometime this morning, you're going to be targeting a ship.  On the flip side, there is some open source information about ships that you can find and their ownership. But it's clear that the Iranians are also providing them information that is not public. And they're also clearly working with Hezbollah. If you go back to October 7 itself, the plotline of October 7, fire a bunch of missiles under that cover, infiltrate across the border, take as many civilian communities as possible, kill a bunch of people, kidnap others across the border.  That was the Hezbollah plan that the IDF Northern Command was preparing and training to deal with for years. And it was Hamas who used it, so you can see some of that connectivity. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Ah, exchanges of strategy. Matthew Levitt:   Strategy and more. It's not every tactic. It's not every every instance, but there is certainly overall strategy that they're coordinating. There certainly is communication. There certainly is movement of funds and of weapons. And, and this is the first time we're seeing that type of coordinated effort involving militants from Iraq, Iranian assets in Syria. You know, at one point, the Iranians flew a drone and crashed it into a school and a lot. The drone flew down. Jordan didn't cross into Israel until the very end went into a lot. It was a school where children evacuated from communities in the south, are being educated. I don't know if it's luck. I think it is. I don't think the Iranians had intelligence to know exactly what time class got out. But it was, you know, a couple of hours after class got out could have been much, much worse. And even just today, there are reports of things being shot towards Israel, around the Red Sea. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So are we at risk of a wider war? Or does anything stand in the way of that? Matthew Levitt:   Yes. We really are at the brink of a regional war. And I see a lot of people, a lot of press saying that Israel has done something which brings us to the brink of a regional war. And I challenge that Israel is responding to not only the attack on October 7, but to all kinds of attacks. Still, the United States also is not bringing the region to the brink of war, when United Kingdom strike Houthi assets in an effort to prevent them from being able or to deter them from carrying out attacks on vessels in the Red Sea. Ultimately, this really comes down to how far do Iran and its spectrum of proxies want to push the envelope.  I think at the end of the day, they're actually quite happy with what's going on. So long as the fighting in the Gaza Strip continues, I think they feel justified in saying this can go on. They have said, Hezbollah and others have said, that this can stop when the fighting of the Gaza Strip stops. Whether that is what they actually mean or not is something only time will tell. But I think at the end of the day, the decision about whether or not this spills into a broader regional war doesn't rest with Israel or the United States or the United Kingdom, those that are responding to the aggression.  But it’s the aggressors. How far does Hezbollah want to push this? For a long time, Hezbollah was only hitting military targets in the north and now they're selectively hitting some civilian targets. Killed a mother and her son in their home in northern Israel just a few days ago. Generally, they're still hitting military targets but it's escalating a little bit in response to the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri, which was a big deal because they killed him in Hezbollah stronghold.  They hit some pretty significant Israeli military targets, a radar installation on the Hermon mountains and Northern Command Headquarters near Safed.  Those appear to be one offs. Do the Shia militias do something more? Do Iranian assets in Syria try and infiltrate more drones or rockets? Do the Houthis get lucky and hit something particularly big and bark something more. There's lots of ways for this to unintentionally, to escalate. But I do think that all parties right now don't want a regional war.  That said, Hezbollah, Iran, the Houthis, the Shia militias in Iraq, certainly Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, some of the groups that we're seeing very active in the West Bank right now are quite happy to see this level of pressure on Israel and starting the first of what I think they want to be a trend, of these types of coordinated assaults.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   So why don't they want a wider war? What is their goal? Matthew Levitt:   They all have as part of their goal, their raison d'etre, destroying Israel, kicking the United States out of the region, undermining Western powers in the region, etc. But they all also understand that you go too far, and you open up this to a much broader conflict. The United States has barely gotten involved. They've done a few very, very small things in Yemen. They have been very supportive to Israel's effort to defend itself. While the US has sent significant forces to the region, they have not done anything, for example, regarding Hezbollah in Lebanon. They've not done anything in terms of the Hashed al-Shaabi in Iraq attacking Israel, though they have responded very, very, very few times, I might add, to the significant number of times Iraqi Shia militants have struck at US military targets in Iraq and Syria. They understand that this could get much bigger. And ultimately, Iran understands that if things escalate too much, that the fight is going to come to Iran. And it won't stop.  They also really don't want Hezbollah in particular, to go too far in the moment. Because all those rockets that the Iranians have provided to Hezbollah in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, since the 2006 war, they're not there primarily for this. They're there to deter Israel and anybody else from attacking Iran's nuclear program, which by the way, the Iranians have been pushing the envelope on throughout this period of conflict since October 7.  And if anybody should attack Iran or its nuclear program, this is seen as Iran's best second strike capability. It's why Hezbollah has basically not fired almost anything other than the Kornet anti tank guided missiles, fired a couple of other short range things. But none of the precision guided missiles under the longer range missiles, that's all, but that powder is dry. That's all for now. And I think Iran doesn't want those spent right now, and also doesn't want these to escalate to the point where the Israelis go ahead and try and take them out under the cover, or in the context of this current conflict.  So there's a strategic set of goals and they believe in, you know, the concept of muqawima, of resistance. There's this idea of muqawima patience, right? This, from their perspective is what God wants, it will eventually happen.  This past three months, this is a huge step on the road to resistance victory. This is a huge success in terms of galvanizing multiple forces to unite the fronts. Doesn't all have to happen right now. But they believe that this is very much a sign that they're on the right path, and it's a step in what they would consider to be the right direction. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Well, Matt, thank you so much. I appreciate you explaining who these terror groups actually are and helping our listeners better understand the headlines.  Matthew Levitt:   It’s always a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. And if you want more, there's plenty more at Thank you for the work you're doing and for having me on the show.
17:11 1/19/24
Unpacking South Africa’s Baseless Genocide Charge Against Israel
The International Court of Justice is currently hearing South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza. Professor Geoffrey Corn from Texas Tech University joins us to explain how we got here, the case’s significance, and why the claims of genocide are baseless.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Geoffrey Corn Show Notes: Explainer: What You Need to Know about South Africa’s Baseless Genocide Accusation Against Israel Go Deeper: 5 Reasons Why the Events in Gaza Are Not “Genocide”  Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War:  Countering the Denial and Distortion of the 10/7 Hamas Attack 4-Year-Old Hostage Abigail Idan is Free–Her Family is On a Mission to #BringThemAllHome What Happens Next: AJC’s Avital Leibovich on the Hostage Deal and Challenges Ahead What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Geoffrey Corn: Manya Brachear Pashman:   The International Court of Justice is holding its first hearings in a case filed by South Africa, accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. While it could take years for the panel of judges to rule on the genocide accusation, South Africa has asked the judges to issue a restraining order of sorts in the coming weeks that could among other things, call on Israel to halt its effort to root out Hamas and bring home the remaining hostages, at least until a verdict is reached. Here to explain what's at stake and the questions that the court will need to weigh is Professor Geoffrey Corn, Director of the Center for Military Law and Policy at Texas Tech University. Professor Corn. Welcome to People of the Pod. Geoffrey Corn: Thank you for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So you are an expert in international humanitarian law and the law of war, which to some those terms might seem contradictory, or are the? Are they actually one in the same?  Geoffrey Corn: No, they refer to the identical branch of international law, historically, we call this branch of law, the laws and customs of war. Before the end of World War II, it was referred to as the law of war. And then, of course, with the advent of the United Nations Charter, technically war was prohibited. And states engaged in armed conflicts.  And so the name evolved for many years to be referred to as the law of armed conflict, the Loack, that's still what it's called. And in official US circles, we have the Department of Defense law of war manual, and the army law of armed conflict manual, most of the world today refers to it as international humanitarian law. And that, as you know, it can be misleading because it suggests that it's really focused on human rights. In fact, IHL, or international humanitarian law is a synonym for the law of armed conflict. It's the law that regulates the conduct of hostilities, during conflicts between states or between states and non-state groups, and protects victims of war. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So let's cover another basic distinction or definition that will help listeners decipher all of this, the charges that I spoke of in the introduction, they had been brought in the International Court of Justice. And now that's the 15 judge panel of the United Nations.  Not the International Criminal Court, which is also in The Hague, but charges individuals with war crimes. So can you explain for our audience the purpose of the International Court of Justice? Geoffrey Corn: Sure, the International Court of Justice is part of the mosaic of the Charter of the United Nations, a treaty that was created in the aftermath of World War II, to manifest the international community's determination that wars not be the mechanism by which states resolve their disputes. So there are a variety of mechanisms built into the Charter of the United Nations, the one people are most familiar with is the Security Council, which is vested by the treaty with enforcement power.  So the Security Council has the authority to authorize measures for the restoration of international peace and security. So for example, in 1991, when the coalition conducted military action against Iraq to force it out of Kuwait, that was done under the authority of the Charter of the United Nations and the Security Council resolution to restore international peace and security.   One of the four components of the United Nations is the International Court of Justice. It is a successor to a prior international court that sat in the Hague, and its singular jurisdiction is over disputes between states, or to give advisory opinions on international law as requested by the Security Council or the General Assembly. But the primary function of the International Court of Justice is to serve almost like an arbitration mechanism when states have disputes so that they can resolve them in accordance with international law without resorting to force to resolve those disputes. And so it has no jurisdiction over individuals.  It is, as you know, very different from the International Criminal Court, which is a treaty based criminal tribunal, and its jurisdiction is dependent on whether or not the individual is a national of one of the treaty parties, or whether the alleged crimes occurred in the territory of one of the treaty parties is Israel is not a party to that treaty, nor is the United States. But Palestine is. They've accepted Palestine as a member of the court, which means the prosecutor for the international criminal court has jurisdiction to investigate and pursue charges for any alleged war crimes that he believes have occurred in Palestinian territory, which includes Gaza. So two very different courts, very different consequences for their assertion of jurisdiction. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So now, both Israel and South Africa are signatories of the 1948 Genocide Convention. That is precisely why these charges have been brought to the ICJ. It's because they are both signatories of that treaty. Geoffrey Corn: Yeah, so I wouldn't say charges, I would say accusation. Right, because when we say charge, we tend to think of a criminal accusation.  Let's remember that an accusation is just that. It's not proof, it doesn't prove anything. If you read the filing by South Africa, it really is an exercise in selective fact assertion and ignoring inconvenient facts, there's a lot more to this story that we're going to see when we see the Israeli filing in response. So the Genocide Convention says, if there's a dispute between signatories or contracting parties to the treaty, they agree to allow the International Court of Justice to resolve that dispute. So one of the aspects of South Africa's filing is that they alleged that they've made a number of diplomatic forays to Israel demanding that they explain how what they're doing is legal and asserting that it's genocide. And Israel has not responded to those diplomatic forays, and therefore, that's created a dispute within the meaning of the treaty. And one of the things the court is going to have to resolve is whether there is in fact, a dispute between two members of the treaty as a jurisdictional predicate to even reaching the question of whether they should impose preliminary measures. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And does that precede the ruling on provisional measures?  Geoffrey Corn: It will be it will be part of the ruling. In any in any court of law, there's always a question of jurisdiction. Now, in most cases, it's not complicated. If you commit a crime where you live, the state has jurisdiction over that crime, but in the international realm, it's often a matter of debate as to whether or not the tribunal that has been requested to adjudicate an issue is actually vested under the law with the power, that's what jurisdiction means the power to resolve that issue. So the first issue that the court’s going to have to resolve is whether it in fact, has jurisdiction pursuant to the terms of the Genocide Convention. And then if it says it does, then it will go to the question of whether there is a compelling case for preliminary measures. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So we know South Africa has a history of anti-Israel positions, it has historically sided with the PLO, Palestinian Liberation Organization and it now appears to be supporting the Hamas terrorists that govern Gaza. There also might be some political posturing going on here ahead of a national election. But how did we get here? A genocide claim against the Jewish state.  Geoffrey Corn: I think the answer to that is twofold. I mean, the first is that there is a widespread public perception that the level of carnage being inflicted as a result of Israeli Defense Force operations in Gaza is intolerable. And it's created a perception among many that the Israelis are actually not just trying to defeat Hamas’ military capability–they are trying to destroy in part the Palestinian population of Gaza, that that's their intent.  Now, I personally believe that that is a highly erroneous inference to draw from the facts on the ground. But this is part of Hamas’ information campaign. This should be unsurprising from the inception of this conflict, they know that they cannot defeat Israel in battle.  And this is one of the ironies of Israel's military struggle against Hamas. And I would say even if it occurs, Hezbollah. These highly capable organized military groups are under no delusion that they have the capability to confront the Israeli Defense Force and defeat it on the battlefield. For them, combat is not about defeating your enemy.  For them combat serves their information campaign. They use combat to create conditions to advance their strategic information campaign of delegitimizing Israel, but more importantly, in creating pressure both within Israel and externally to force Israel to terminate its operations before it achieves its combat objectives, which are much more traditional, which is to defeat your enemy on the battlefield.  So if you think about it, for Israel, what does operational success look like? It looks like Hamas’ military capability has been completely destroyed. The word destroy is a military doctrinal term, and it means that you are combat and effective without substantial reconstitution. What is Hamas’ is operational objective? It’s to be there when the proverbial and literal dust settles.  And that means they've got to do something that compels Israel to stop before it achieves its military objective of destroying Hamas. They can’t do that by force. They can only do that by getting the international community to pressure Israel to terminate its operations before they've achieved these objectives. And the best ammunition Hamas has to do that is creating the reality and the perception of the indifference to the human suffering that's occurring in Gaza.  So this is all connected to a strategic objective of Hamas. And that's why the most prominent statistic that we hear day in and day out is what? The civilian death toll in Gaza, which ironically, never apparently includes an enemy combatant. I guess the IDF is fighting shadows, because apparently they're not killing any enemy, because every casualty is asserted to be a civilian.  And I don't want to, in any way, minimize the tragedy of human loss and war. But you cannot find an enemy that's determined to create conditions where you have to inflict civilian casualties without doing so. And that's the strategy from inception that has snowballed into a public perception that Israel's objective is much more nefarious than simply defeating Hamas. That's one factor. The other factor to be to be candid, is the terribly bombastic statements of certain Israeli government officials that fuel this perception that you have an ulterior motive here that's separate from just achieving a legitimate military goal, and the failure of the Netanyahu administration to be more aggressive in sanctioning or isolating the officials in the government who make those foolish statements.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   To be fair, I should note that Prime Minister Netanyahu did post a statement to social media after this interview was recorded in which he insisted that Israel has no intention of displacing the Palestinian population from Gaza and permanently occupying the Strip, despite those calls from some Israeli government officials.  Israel’s legal team is quite likely going to emphasize the extensive precautionary measures taken by the IDF to minimize civilian casualities and they will also quite likely emphasize the ongoing humanitarian relief being facilitated by Israel since mid-October – tens of thousands of tons of medical supplies, food, water, shelter equipment. Still, that doesn’t change the level of carnage you mentioned, which is incredibly disturbing for all of us.  You predicted early on that the notion of proportionality would become an issue. You predicted that back in October, regarding Israel's response, and I'm curious if you could kind of explain the notion of proportionality, the misconceptions about proportionality when it comes to warfare. Geoffrey Corn: So it's a critically important question, because if you read the 84-page submission by South Africa, they make what they allege to be the indiscriminate nature of Israeli military action, a centerpiece of their proof of genocide. o when we talk about proportionality in war, there are two different aspects of proportionality we have to understand. The first relates to the right of the state to defend itself. And that really functions no differently than if you were walking down the street and somebody attacked you under the law of self defense. You are allowed to take self help measures to protect yourself, but those measures have to be proportional to the threat. It is a mistake to assume that that is only limited to tit for tat response. They fire a missile, you're allowed to fire a missile. If someone swung a punch at you on the street. The law doesn't say you're only allowed to swing one punch back and then wait for them to punch you again. You're allowed to take reasonable measures.  So if we think about Israel's action of self defense against Hamas, what do we know? We know Hamas represents an ongoing threat of significant military and terrorist violence against Israel. And the only way that Israel would be able to be confident that it’s restored its security, the security of its population, the security of its territory, would be to take military action to completely destroy Hamas’ military capability.  So the way that that self defense objective is translated into military terms, in the military as a whole, you need to do what is necessary to be able to come back to the political leadership and say, the people in southern Israel are safe again. And so the idea that Israel should just terminate operations and build a wall is unrealistic, because they tried that already. They've had more limited military action against Hamas in the past, and Hamas has demonstrated over and over again, an ability to bypass their defensive measures and inflict death and injury on Israelis.  Once you're fighting, there's another component of proportionality, which is the one that we're all focused on now. And that has to do with what we call the incidental or collateral consequences of attacking a legitimate target. So if I'm going to attack a building, because there's an enemy fighter in the building, and I know that in doing so, I cannot avoid killing civilians, I have to make a proportionality assessment under the law of armed conflict or international humanitarian law. For each individual attack, the commander has to make a judgment.  First, the commander has to assess the military value of attacking the target, then the commander has to assess the unavoidable civilian risks that will be created by conducting that attack. If the commander concludes that the risk, the harm to civilians would be excessive, compared to the concrete and direct military advantage, then the attack would be considered disproportionate and indiscriminate within the meaning of international law.  So if I were to put a question to your audience: you have an enemy commander, you identify him in a bunker, that's the enemy has put under a congregation of civilians deliberately, maybe the bunker is under a school. And he's a high-level enemy commander. And you've done everything you can to get civilians to evacuate. But you know that the only way you can kill that commander is to conduct an attack that will result in 20 civilian casualties.  If we took a poll right now, is 20 civilian casualties excessive in relation to the value of attacking that target–we’d probably have as many answers as we had participants. So the reality is that when we look at an aggregate number, even if we take Hamas as numbers at face value–23,000 civilians have been killed. And we say that proves all of the attacks were indiscriminate. It's a complete distortion of the process of analysis. Because you don't do an aggregate number, you look at the individual attack, you have to decide what was the value of the attack? What was the risk that was anticipated? What measures did the attacking side do to mitigate risks? What measures did the defending side do to exacerbate risk? And you put all that into the equation. So there's been a complete distortion of the way this is actually supposed to function. And what we've created and what South Africa has done in its filing is it's created, almost a strict liability standard. If you kill X amount of civilians, your attack is indiscriminate and it violates the proportionality rule. I always ask a question in response, if you tell me that killing 100 civilians as a consequence of killing a high level enemy commander is too much. How many are okay? Can you give me a number? Is 50 okay, 20,10. There's no book. There's no manual, there's no equation.  And that's why my view from inception has been the much better mechanism for mitigating civilian risks are the steps you take before the attack to reduce that risk. And when we look at that, we see no moral equivalency because you have the Israelis trying to figure out ways to reduce civilian risk, and we have Hamas deliberately engaging in conduct that exacerbates civilian risks. Manya Brachear Pashman: There’s been a longstanding concern that in the United Nations, Israel faces a double standard. Other nations don’t face this kind of scrutiny when they are involved in armed conflicts, though this court has taken up separate Genocide Convention cases filed by Ukraine against Russia and another filed by Gambia against Myanmar. So is this once again a double standard or is this different?  Geoffrey Corn: Here's one of the ironies, because the effects of combat had been so visible in Gaza. The assumption is we should be dwelling on whether or not Israel is conducting war illegally. Hamas has fired over 10,000 rockets at Israel, they don't even pretend to be trying to attack military targets. They're just firing rockets at the civilian population, which is the blatant first level of violation. Now, fortunately, Israel has prevented most of those attacks from achieving their intended objective. But that doesn't mean they weren't illegal, because the law doesn't focus on whether you achieve your illegal result. It focuses on what you're trying to do.   So when people like Bernie Sanders writes an op-ed in the New York Times and says, Okay, I can see that what Hamas did on October 7 was a war crime. Well, first off, that's, you know, I mean, that's self evident. But what's ironic is he doesn't acknowledge that what they've been doing ever since October 7 is war crimes. Every time they fire another rocket it Israel. They are the ones that are blatantly an indisputably violating the law of armed conflict. And yet it's the Israeli Defense Force that is the subject of international scrutiny persistently And it's no surprise because this is the nature of modern warfare. It's a bigotry of disparate expectations. And the Israelis know it, and they're not released from their obligation because they're fighting an illicit enemy. But it is it is corrosive to fail to acknowledge that the pernicious tactics of that enemy are largely responsible for the level of civilian suffering destruction, that is becomes unavoidable when you're fighting them.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   There are still more than 50 hostages still being held by Hamas, their well-being unknown. Does that change the equation for these court proceedings or the court’s decision on provisional measures? Or is that a variable for the International Criminal Court to take up? Geoffrey Corn: There's no doubt that Hamas’ has objectives and its stated purpose is to commit genocide of the Jewish people in Israel. There's not going to be but what about them argument. I don't see that happening. I think it becomes much more significant for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, because hostage taking inhumane deprivation of liberty or war crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. We know Hamas is not going to prosecute its own individuals.  And so the credibility of that court is going to, I think, demand that they investigate and prosecute the summary execution of civilians on October 7, the sexual violence against victims, the hostage taking, the deprivation of access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. All of these are blatant violations of the law of war, and are within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. So if I were the ICC prosecutor, and I would look at this as objectively as I could, I would look at the conduct of the Israeli Defense Forces and whether or not they've taken corrective measures against what I believe were violations of the law. No military is perfect. There have been examples of Israeli soldiers engaging in ill discipline and unjustified conduct in Gaza. And the Israeli Defense Forces have an obligation to investigate and discipline their own. I would look at how effectively that had been done.  I would look at Hamas’ actions. And if I believed there was credible evidence of a violation of the charter that was being ignored by the institutional leadership, I would indict. And if I never got them in front of the court, that's not my problem. My objective is to demonstrate that there have been violations that are worthy of being adjudicated. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Thank you so much, Professor Corn. I really appreciate you breaking this down for us. Geoffrey Corn: Thank you for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:   If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with Dr. Robert Williams, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation. He joined us to discuss the history and tendency to deny atrocities committed against Jews and the foundation’s added mission of collecting the testimonies of October 7 survivors. 
26:13 1/11/24
Countering the Denial and Distortion of the 10/7 Hamas Attack
Since October 7, the USC Shoah Foundation has added a new component to its mission: collecting the testimonies of those who survived the worst antisemitic attack since the Holocaust to counter those who deny it took place.  Dr. Robert Williams, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, joins us to discuss the history and tendency to deny atrocities committed against Jews, the importance of collecting testimonies, and how they help in understanding antisemitism in all its forms.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Belle Yoeli (1:44) Robert Williams Show Notes: Take action to bring all hostages home now. To support our work today, you can visit Or text AJC DONATE to 52886. Learn more: USC Shoah Foundation: Survivors of the October 2023 Hamas Terrorist Attacks Testimony of Shaylee Atary Winner Testimony of Maor Moravia  The Testimonies Archive The Testimonies Archive Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: 4-Year-Old Hostage Abigail Idan is Free–Her Family is On a Mission to #BringThemAllHome What Happens Next: AJC’s Avital Leibovich on the Hostage Deal and Challenges Ahead What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Robert Williams: Manya Brachear Pashman:   Since the Hamas terror attacks on Israel on October 7, the Shoah Foundation has added a new component to its mission: collecting the testimonies of those who survived the worst antisemitic attack since the Holocaust to counter those who have dare to deny it took place.  Dr. Robert Williams is the Advisor to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, where he served for four years as chair of the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial. In October 2022, he became the Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation. Dr Williams is with us now to discuss the history and tendency to deny atrocities, in this case, those committed against Jews. Thank you for joining us. Dr. Williams, if you could begin by explaining to listeners what Holocaust denial is, and how it's similar or different from Holocaust trivialization and distortion.  Robert Williams: Holocaust denial is a little easier for us to wrap our heads around, for better or worse. Holocaust deniers are essentially trying to tell people that the Holocaust didn't happen for one of two reasons. The most obvious reason is because they're antisemitic, they want to tell people that the Jewish Diaspora writ large has come together to invent this grand conspiracy to pull the wool over the eyes of non-Jews for all manner of dastardly purposes. So that's the first reason.  The second reason is also antisemitic, although in a slightly different way. That is to rehabilitate national socialism as an acceptable ideology. No matter which way you slice that cake, it still ends up being antisemitism. That's why, to echo the words of people like Deborah Lipstadt, and others: Holocaust denial is antisemitism. Full stop. And it's a problem. It's something we need to deal with. But in our parts of the world, roughly speaking, the northern hemisphere, the West, it's become fortunately a bit of a microphenomenon over the last couple of decades.  The bigger problem is the second part of your question: Holocaust distortion, and I use the terms trivialization and distortion interchangeably. I prefer to use distortion. But Holocaust distortion is in essence, rhetoric that minimizes, confuses, or otherwise misrepresents the Holocaust, both as something factual, and something that has relevance today.  And that can take on a variety of forms, it can be something obvious like minimizing the number of victims, to something that's a little less obvious like figure skaters dressing up like concentration camp victims for their routines.  Now distortion also brings with it a challenge: is somebody distorting because they're cynical antisemites? Sometimes the answer is yes. Other times, distortion of the Holocaust happens because people don't know the facts, or they think they know the facts and they don't, and they end up saying the wrong thing.  But again, the end result, no matter the motivation, becomes problematic. Because if you are misrepresenting the Holocaust, you are effectively doing two things. On an ethical plane, you are disrespecting the memories of the victims and the survivors, and that's wrong. And on a practical plane, you are opening the door. I like to say Holocaust distortion kind of acts like a gateway drug to outright denial, to conspiracy thinking, and to more dangerous forms of antisemitism. So you have to tackle distortion, but you tackle distortion often in ways different from that of denial.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   But rather than focus on the word Holocaust, I want to focus on the word denial. You mentioned Deborah Lipstadt, for example, and she recently expressed concern that people are denying that Hamas committed so many heinous crimes on October 7.  Is this a phenomenon, this denial of atrocities – do you see it more applying to atrocities against Jews? Or have we seen it in other instances?  Robert Williams: Well, we’ve certainly seen it in other cases of mass crimes and genocides. One of the most prominent cases that predates the Holocaust is denial of the genocide of the Armenian people in the early 20th century, something that persists in certain parts of the world and is part of official state policy in some countries. Denial of the Armenian Genocide is problematic for a whole host of reasons. First, again, it's immoral visa vie the victims and survivors of that particular genocide to deny their experience, to say it never happened, to minimize it. It also has inhibited global understanding of Armenian life, history and culture since the genocide happened.  So denial of mass atrocity crimes is something quite common when it comes to the denial of crimes against the Jewish people. You do see this over and over over and over again, though, you see, either excuses for the various pogroms that have claimed the lives of hundreds of 1000s of Jews over the centuries, or an attempt to minimize it, or an attempt to suppress that history. And that's separate from the denial and suppression of Holocaust history that we've seen through time. And we have seen, not just in the case of the October 7 attacks, but denial of other atrocities that were carried out against Jews through various forms of anti semitic terror violence. But we've definitely begun paying attention to it after October 7, in part due to the scale, you know, the largest act of anti semitic violence against the Jewish people since 1945. In the one place where it was never supposed to happen, people were supposed to be safe.  And the international community, you know, you're used to seeing these claims of exaggeration or outright denial from certain countries in the Middle East or North Africa, but this is become widespread. Think within, was it a week, nine days after that horrible series of attacks, with people asking to see photographs of the murdered children, because they didn't believe that. So engaging in very dangerous, I would say almost pornographic rhetoric, about violence against the most innocent among us. And engaging in it in a way that encourages denial encourages doubting the veracity of these crimes, or–and we've seen this in other corners as well since October 7 –rhetoric that in turn moves from denial to outright justification for the atrocities that were committed. It's very tricky. It's not black and white. Unfortunately. Mnya Brachear Pashman:   Does social media amplify Holocaust denial, and are we seeing that same trend now with the October 7 attacks? You talk about it being a post-truth world. Robert Williams: I absolutely think that's the case. Although I will say, outright denial on social media. Again, it's there. It's a problem, but it's less common than distortion and intentional manipulation. You know, I think even the term Holocaust distortion is potentially problematic, we're probably better served calling it Holocaust disinformation. And I think we're seeing some of the same dynamics at play in the post October 7, discussions that we see in online forums, including closed forums, in places like telegram or Gab or Discord, as well as in more public facing ones like X and Instagram and threads. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Before we leave the topic of denial, and move on to distortion, because I do want to explore that a little bit more. I do want to ask about the role of Holocaust denial in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, he wrote his dissertation at the University of Moscow denying the Holocaust happened to the Jews, that it was more of a product of the Jews’ collusion with the Nazis. Is that a belief that is common among Palestinians or pro-Palestinian supporters. What role does that piece of disinformation play in exacerbating the sentiments? Robert Williams: There's a lot to unpack in that question. I'm going to start with the caveat that I'm a specialist on Europe, not a specialist on the Middle East. So a lot of my understanding of dynamics around distortion and denial among non Israeli Palestinians is anecdotal, and based on secondary literature.  But it does seem that there is a current in some parts of the Palestinian culture where denial of the Holocaust is known to the degrees to which it's accepted, or probably vary from time and place. And it makes a certain amount of sense. Because if you can deny the reality of the Holocaust, you can then point to the State of Israel and say, the Jewish people who've never been victims were the eternal victim. It's much easier to be a victim when you’re in a complex political world anyway.  The more interesting thing is the origins of the Abbas dissertation, and how it's managed to spread across at least the Arabic speaking and Persian speaking worlds. To a certain degree, it's something that has been generated in Muslim society. But as scholars like Jeffrey Herf, have shown certain elements of antisemitism spread from Europe in the case of Professor Herf’s work, from National Socialist Europe to parts of the Middle East, and then those forms of antisemitism spread.  And as the works of people like Isabella Taparofsky have shown, particularly in the case of the Abbas dissertation, a boss wrote that dissertation in the Soviet Union and at a time when the Soviets promoted through international propaganda schemes and domestic propaganda, virulent, dangerous forms of anti-Zionist antisemitism, that also included trafficking and Holocaust denial.  So the origins of it came from the Cold War, policies and practices, to a certain extent, of the Cold War policies and practices of the regime that no longer exists.  A regime that sought to undermine democracy, sought to undermine solidarity in the western world sought to undermine the State of Israel, well throughout its history. And there's no acknowledgement of that.  So if we're going to root out Holocaust denial, no matter where it lies, we have to begin with its origins. And those origins vary from time and place. Some of the origins lie in the National Socialist experiment. The Nazis had all manner of terms and actual formal programs to cover up their crimes. Some of those origins lie with certain French intellectuals, certain origins lie with American public figures in the 1940s. And some of the origins lie in the Soviet Union. We need to know the enemy top to bottom if we're ever going to deal with. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I want to move on to distortion. And I'm curious if the kind of distortion that we're talking about that is common now on social media and in conversations, especially those around October 7, does it tend to be a far right phenomenon, far left, pretty universal?  Robert Williams: So Holocaust distortion, the trends have shown, cuts across all ideological, social, cultural, political and religious barriers. Now, certain forms are more common to certain groups at certain times, the forms of distortion that minimize the number of persons murdered during the Holocaust, for example, or claim that the Jewish people did something to deserve the Holocaust. Those have typically been more common on the far political right. And among some religious conservative extremists. Some of the forms that suggest that the Jewish people make use of the Holocaust for all manner of gain, everything from funding to guilt to special protections, to justifying the State of Israel – pretty much cut across the left, right divide. Certain leftist forms of Holocaust distortion through antisemitism that have emerged at least since the Second Intifada, take the form of the Jewish people using the Holocaust to justify the State of Israel or the policies of the Israeli government. But by and large, distortion of the Holocaust is unfortunately a phenomenon that is everyday. It even takes the form of particular types of commercial distortion, people engaging in it without any ideological agenda.  One need think of the unfortunate situation that seems to happen every couple of years where Anne Frank Halloween costumes go up for sale in the US or in the UK, or when Chinese made ornaments depicting Auschwitz Birkenau become up for sale on on Amazon or even I think it's still possible today to buy model kits and toys of Hitler and his inner circle. People who make the subject so blase and everyday that it loses its power. That's a different form of distortion, stripped of ideology.  Alright, October 7 distortion at first, and again, I'm an historian, so I like to have a wealth of evidence before me. But based on early observations and research, those forms of distortion and denial that emerged often enough were associated with in the Western world, largely the political left, and certain forms of protest movements that either had shared affinity with the Palestinian cause or would be affinity with the Palestinian cause.  But what we've seen over the last couple of weeks is that is no longer the plaything only of the political left. We have seen some people on the extreme right begin engaging in similar rhetoric. Now, there's no sympathy being given to the Palestinians in that rhetoric, but claims that the State of Israel is making too much use of this, or the Jewish diaspora is using this for all manner of bad things. So it is beginning to cut across those boundaries that we've seen. Manya Brachear Pashman:   The Shoah Foundation holds the world's largest video collection of Holocaust survivor and witness testimonies. And it has now begun collecting video testimonies of the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists against the Israelis on October 7. Why? Robert Williams: So I assumed the leadership role here at the Shoah Foundation about 13 months ago, and I was brought here to establish a robust initiative focused on antisemitism. The Shoah Foundation was created as a platform so that the voices of Holocaust survivors could echo for future generations, and moreover, lead to a better world. In a sense, we engage in wish fulfillment. Survivors gave us their testimonies to bring about the world they wanted. And when you get right down to it, survivors wanted only a few things. One of those things, I guarantee you, was a world without antisemitism.  So we have an obligation to those survivors to try, especially before the last of the survivors leave us, to create the conditions to bring about that better future. So we had been developing this laboratory, this multi-subject expert initiative that would deal with antisemitism as it’s existed since 1945.  And we were going to start, we are starting, with the development of a massive collection. Our minimum goal is 10,000 testimonies of antisemitic violence in a variety of forms. And we broke, we broke that into five categories. One of those categories was the survivors of antisemitic terror attacks. Several months ago, we thought, alright, we're gonna focus on this, our starting point is going to be the 1994 bombings in Buenos Aires. We're going to work our way forward.  And then October 7 happened. So we had to swing into action immediately. Within 12 days, we had secured the first testimony on the ground. This was possible thanks in part to our already existing work in Israel and our strong partnerships with Israeli institutions, including the National Library of Israel and Yad Vashem and others. The Ghetto Fighters House as well. And very quickly utilizing our on the ground teams, our partnerships, we began to acquire testimonies using the same methodology that we did in the 1990s when we started taking Holocaust survivor testimonies. And a few things became readily apparent to us. One is just the simple tragedy, and the painful irony of this endeavor. In the 1990s, when a survivor came and gave us her testimony, the first thing you would see is a sheet. The survivors name, the date of the interview, the interviewer’s name, some basic information. And we're seeing the same thing when we look at survivors of the October 7 attacks.  There's true tragedy there. We've secured as of the date, as of today's recording, a little more than 250 of these testimonies. They will be put online for free, I think we have about 70 or 80 online right now. We have a partnership with some media partners, including Tablet Magazine here in the United States to make them even more available, and they will be made available to our Israeli partners for use, because this is the history of Israel and its people now.  But our goal is to use these here, so that we can begin training people from a major university, how to understand antisemitism in all its forms and how to build resilience against it, how to research the subject on a deeper level, how to write better journalism around the subject, and how to respond and recognize that the victim of antisemitism is not some faceless person or somebody who lived eight or so decades ago. Somebody today, just like you, just like me, just like our children, or our parents. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Before we share a clip of one of the survivors from the Shoah Foundation's October 7th Testimony Collection, I want to give listeners a chance to turn down the volume or fast forward. These testimonies are incredibly painful to listen to.  This is a portion of testimony from Shaylee Atary Winner, from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, who hid for 26 hours with her newborn daughter [Shaya]. Her husband, Yahav, was killed. [Portion of testimony from Shaylee Atary Winner] Manya Brachear Pashman:   The voices and stories of the survivors are always so difficult to hear and even the bravery it takes to recount these horrors is so hard to fathom. We are talking about people who dare to deny these horrors happened. This collection serves to counter those attempts, right? Robert Williams: That's correct. There's a lot of, as we all know, the Israeli government pulled together GoPro and other footage captured from the terrorists. There's a lot of security camera footage. A number of teams have gone in, including a group at Reichman University, doing 3D scans of the atrocity sites. The physical record of this is astounding. So far, I've heard different numbers, I don't want to give a precise number, let's say tens of 1000s of videos have been made. And we're only just beginning to understand it.  Manya Brachear Pashman: We’re going to share another clip here. This is Maor Moravia, a 37-year-old father of two, on returning to Kibbutz Kfar Aza after the October 7 terror attacks.   [Portion of testimony from Maor Moravia]  Robert Williams That the best way to counter denial and disinformation is to hear it from those who lived it, to see their experiences. And will that convince everybody? No. Those who don't want to be convinced, those who have an agenda will always be a problem. Our job is to make sure that we have this content and are reaching audiences who are vulnerable to being radicalized, vulnerable to becoming extremists, before that happens. And we're seeing that happen in a variety of spaces right now. So we have a big job to do. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Rob, you mentioned being there at USC. Our December 14th episode was tied to the congressional inquiry of university presidents regarding antisemitism on college campuses. Have the students and faculty at USC taken advantage of The Shoah Foundation's presence there on campus?  It seems like such a great resource, as long as people are actually utilizing it.  Robert Williams: Yes, I'm very proud to be at USC, especially right now. You know, the university president has been in regular contact and dialogue not not just with us, but with Hillel, with Chabad, with the Jewish students, with the Religious Life Center, with faculty across this massive University of 22 schools. Beyond that, the Shoah Foundation has been in dialogue with different departments, including the School of Social Work right before we started this podcast.  Now it had been planned in advance of October 7, but a couple weeks after October 7, we here at USC, along with our partners, and Hillel International, AJC, the local Federation, brought university administrators from across the west coast to our campus, for one reason: to learn about antisemitism and how to respond to it within a university environment.  Now, we haven't crowed about this. We're just doing the work. But I think the fact that we have strong leadership from the top, we have a peerless institution in the USC Shoah Foundation here, literally in the middle of the campus, has protected us against some of the unfortunate trends that we've seen on campuses and other parts of the country. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I mean, I could see being in any kind of a protest environment and hearing vile things come from the students mouths and pointing to the to your facility and saying, look over there, go in there.  Robert Williams: Yeah, well, and to a certain extent that has happened. You know, we do have regular outreach to students over the summer is part of the build up to our anti semitism programming, we took a significant number of the student athletes from USC’s track and field team, a track and field team that has more Olympic gold medals than most countries, to our offices for a week of training on how to understand antisemitism in all of its forms.  And while they were here, they met with local Jewish community representatives, of course, our staff gave lectures as you would expect, we brought in virtual, or by remote, a very well known survivor of the Holocaust, Shaul Ladany. Mr. Ladany, for those who don't know, is one of the most remarkable and sweetest people I've ever met.  He's a survivor of the Holocaust, who made his way to Israel, became an Israeli athlete. As he told me, he felt he wasn't a fast enough marathon runner. So he became a speed walker, and entered and became part of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972. And he was one of the first athletes to escape the dormitories during that horrible, horrible tragedy. So he spoke to these athletes in his sport. After that, we took them to Poland, but we didn't take them to Poland just for the reason everybody would expect. We started in Krakow, where the students learned about a thousand years of Jewish life and culture, from its origins to its challenges to its almost Renaissance today. To learn about something more than just the Shoah.  They did, of course, visit Auschwitz Birkenau to learn more about the Holocaust. And they walked away from this program. more aware of the antisemitism in their midst. One student said something along the lines of, ‘I didn't realize I was engaging in distortion of the Holocaust until I took part in this program.’ And some of these students after October 7, started emailing us again, ‘I'm hearing this, I'm hearing that, how do I respond to my friends?’. So our staff is working with them. And this is an important leadership group. This is a program that we have to continue engaging in. It will have an effect now, but I guarantee in a generation, it will have such an impact that we might start turning the tide because things have gotten so out of control in every other way. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Rob, thank you so much for joining us and having this conversation. Robert Williams: I appreciate it Manya. Thank you. Manya Brachear Pashman:   If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with Liz Hirsh Naftali whose great niece Four-year-old Abigail Mor Idan, returned home during a pause in fighting in November. The youngest U.S. citizen to have been kidnapped and held by Hamas, Abigail and her siblings are now orphans after Hamas murdered their parents. Hear about her family’s continuing effort to bring the remaining 129 captives home to their loved ones.
32:30 12/28/23
4-Year-Old Hostage Abigail Idan is Free–Her Family is On a Mission to #BringThemAllHome
Four-year-old Abigail Mor Idan, the youngest U.S. citizen who was kidnapped and held by Hamas, returned home during a pause in fighting in November. But the whereabouts and well-being of 129 hostages are still unknown.  Abigail’s great-aunt, Liz Hirsh Naftali, joins us to recount her family’s harrowing story – including the murder of Abigail’s parents – and her relentless effort to bring the remaining captives home to their loved ones. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Shay Avshalom Zavdi (1:32) Liz Hirsh Naftali Show Notes: Take action to bring all hostages home now. To support our work today, you can visit Or text AJC DONATE to 52886. Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: What Happens Next: AJC’s Avital Leibovich on the Hostage Deal and Challenges Ahead What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? The Good, the Bad, and the Death Threats: What It’s Like to Be a Jewish College Student Right Now Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Liz Hirsh Naftali: Manya Brachear Pashman:   One hundred twenty-nine hostages taken from Israel by Hamas during the October 7 attack are still unaccounted for. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the effort to root out Hamas from Gaza will continue until every hostage returns home.  With us to discuss how her family is carrying both tremendous loss and tremendous gratitude for the return of one of their youngest family members, is Liz Hirsh Naftali. Naftali’s great niece 4-year-old Abigail Mor Idan returned to her siblings on November 26. Hamas terrorists killed Abigail’s parents.  Liz, who lives in New York, joins us from Israel where she has been spending time with her family and advocating for the release of the remaining hostages. Liz, welcome to People of the Pod.  Liz Hirsh Naftali: Hi, thank you for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Your family members were living on a kibbutz a half mile from Gaza. How did you hear about their fate? Liz Hirsh Naftali: First, I have two nieces with families that lived on the kibbutz, and my sister in law and her husband. My sister Mara has lived on this kibbutz Kfar Aza for over 50 years. And they raised four children and two of the children stayed, my two nieces. So on October 7, I happened to arrive on October 6 to Israel because my daughter lives in Tel Aviv. And I was coming to spend a week with her. And I was in my hotel early on the seventh when the sirens started, and we ran to the stairwell for shelter. And after like the second or third time very early in the morning, around 9, I started to hear there was something happening at the Gaza-Israel border. And so I called my sister in law who didn't answer and then I called another sister that lived on this kibbutz. And then I called another sister in law in Tel Aviv.  And she said, the first thing she said was that my niece and her husband and their baby Abigail had been killed by Hamas terrorists. That was what I first learned. And basically, that's the news we had all day. And it came from the 6 and the 10 year old sister and brother, who were in the house when Hamas terrorists came in and murdered my niece. Then they went outside, and they’re with their father and he was holding Abigail, their three year old, and they went to run for safety.  And Hamas terrorists shot and killed her husband, my nephew. The six and 10 year old thought that their little sister and the father both were killed. So they went back to their house, they locked themselves in a closet for 14 hours. And really, the news that we got that day was from a six and a 10 year old, who basically were locked in until they were rescued by soldiers and then brought to other family members that were on this same kibbutz. And so our news that day was incredibly terrible, which was that my niece, her husband, and their three year old, were all dead. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So how did you hear about what happened to Abigail, what actually happened to Abigail? Liz Hirsh Naftali: A few days later, we learned that actually, Abigail, as you refer to in the intro, had crawled out from underneath her father's body. She was covered in his blood. And she went to a neighbor that she knew. Most of the kibbutz at this time was locked down. Everybody was in their safety rooms, but they let in Abigail, they heard her voice. And they took her with their three children. And what happened is the husband decided to go out to try to defend the kibbutz. The mother and her three children and Abigail stayed hidden in the safe room, and he was injured, so he did not come back.  So what we learned a few days later was that an eyewitness on the kibbutz had actually seen this mother and her three children, Abigail, being marched off of the kibbutz by Hamas terrorists. So that was the last we learned. That was the only way we learned that Abigail survived. And we then for 50 days did not have any news about where Abigail or this woman and her three children were located. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What can you tell us about Abigail? We're talking about her in the abstract. But what can you tell us about that adorable little girl?  Liz Hirsh Naftali: All these hostages are people. And I'm glad you said that because they are loved ones. And they are special people. And they have big characters, but we sometimes just put them down to how many numbers there are, or a picture on a screen. And so I'm wanting to say that it's very important that we actually talk about their characters because they could be our child, our grandmother, our sister, our father, our brother, or our son.  Abigail turned four in captivity two days before she was released. She is this beautiful little girl who has lots of energy, big brown eyes, loves to play, loves to play with her big siblings. She is really smart. She is funny. She's just delightful.  And so, you know, when we talk about the thought that she was for 50 days a hostage. It's just inconceivable that any child would be a hostage, let alone a three year old for 50 days who just became an orphan. I mean, the thought of that is just something that I still grapple with. I can't understand how it happened, how people can do that, or what the experience is like for this child. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What have you learned about those 50 days about Abigail's time in captivity? I mean, has she been able to share anything about her experience, or have others who were with her? Liz Hirsh Naftali: You know, one of the things that we're very thoughtful of is, first, she is four years old. Second, there are still hostages. People are really very careful because one, they're asked not to speak a lot about the experience so that we don't get in the way of the future and hopefully very soon hostage release. But what I can tell you, which is, you know, common is that these hostages and Abigail herself are not fed properly. A three year old should be eating more than a piece of bread and some crackers and water. And that's what most hostages have come back and said they were eating.  And the one thing that we held hope was that Abigail would stay with this mother and her three children. The youngest of this woman's three children was Abigail's classmate in nursery school, they knew each other. And you've just really wanted to believe that this mother was holding and hugging Abigail, and she was, and that was one of the things that we did learn afterwards.  Other than that, we learned that they had moved around. And that they had been kept together because we've heard stories where hostage kids were separated from other kids and just terrible things. But in Abigail's case, she was with this mother and her three children.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Has there been a birthday party for Abigail since she returned?  Liz Hirsh Naftali: Yes, she had a birthday, I think every day for Abigail since she returned has been a birthday. I mean, think about a family that lost a mother, a father. And Smadar and her husband Ro'ee, were part of a big family, both in their personal families, but part of this big kibbutz family. And the two children lost their parents, the six and 10 year old, they also then found out their sister was alive, and they left her and they were in this closet. And I think that for them, that every day was just waiting for their sister to join them. And that just that moment where they were all together, was the greatest celebration, celebrating that these three children had each other and have each other.  And you know, one of the things people have asked is like, how was that reunion, and I wasn't at the hospital. But what I have heard, and which I think is just beautiful, is that when Abigail saw her brother and sister and her cousins come in, she lit up. You know, this was a child that was in the dark for 50 days, didn't have family. And when she saw them, just the light came back in. And they're very close. So when you ask about a birthday, I think every day is a celebration, and every day is appreciated. And in their case you know, every day is Abigail's birthday for this family. Manya Brachear Pashman:   That's beautiful. You also mentioned that you were in Israel, on October 7, you had just arrived in Israel to see your daughter. How long did you stay? And how is your daughter? Did she get called up to fight because I know that she served in the IDF at one point.  Liz Hirsh Naftali: I arrived on October 6 in the evening, I went to Jerusalem with a friend, had dinner, went to shul, went back to my hotel in Tel Aviv. And I was supposed to have breakfast with my daughter, she had been away for the holiday with her boyfriend and his family. And I was really excited, I was gonna have breakfast with her and spend the week with her. In the end, I basically stayed in the hotel, we all were locked in where we were, and what I learned throughout the day from family, friends, and people, were like you need to get out of here. You'll be more helpful for us back in America.  And so I basically got on a flight that Sunday, the next day on the eighth, and I came back to the States. And then I hit the ground running, one to tell the story of what happened on the seventh to our family, and what happened to this kibbutz, and what happened to Israel. So I started trying to do as much sharing of what happened because it was so atrocious. And little by little as we learned that there were hostages, and Abigail was a hostage. Then I started to do the advocacy work.  And my daughter, she did serve in the IDF. But her division and her area was not called in for miluim, for reserves. But what she did do was come and be with this family and be there for them during this really hard, hard time. You know, during which they buried my niece and her husband, so she was there for shiva, she was there to support them. A lot of her friends' husbands were called to miluim. So they came and stayed with my daughter. She helped them with their children. She just really put her heart out there, she and her boyfriend to really give support to each community and especially to our family that was in such a state of limbo and grieving and tragedy.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   You know, as you were talking, I was thinking I guess everyone has been called up to fight in some way. Everyone has. You don’t have to be serving in the IDF. Liz Hirsh Naftali: If you look at what happened in Israel, one of the things that we see is that people came and they volunteered, people came and made sure that soldiers had what they needed, whether it was equipment or food in the beginning, because the country wasn't ready for that. They made sure that these families that were all of a sudden taken from being in their safe rooms for 30 hours, they needed to be taken somewhere, they had no clothes, they had no food, they had nothing.  And you could just see the Israeli people rising to make this work. And these organizations that already were in existence, turning into aid and humanitarian organizations. And that is what is beautiful about Israel. And that is what is beautiful about these people: that in the darkness and in the greatest tragedy, many, many people really turned around and said, How can I help? What can I do to make people's lives better, and that is what is still happening. And I'm still seeing it here. And that's who the Israeli people are.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Let's talk about your fight, Liz, your advocacy to bring the hostages home. It’s reached across both aisles politically, you've been meeting with people both in as you said, Washington, DC, New York, Israel. Who have you been speaking with? And what kind of reception are you getting? Liz Hirsh Naftali: So when I learned that Abigail was a hostage, I got a picture of her. And I saw this picture and I put it on my mantel and I put it everywhere so I’d see it when I was in my apartment. And my daughter who was in Israel, she said, how can you look at that picture and just not be so sad. And I said, Oh, I'm sad. But when I look at that beautiful little girl, I am inspired to do everything I can to make sure that she comes home. And basically put everything else aside that I could and just made it my focus, which was to, one bring back Abigail. But what I shortly learned was, there were about 250 other families whose loved ones were all their children, Abigail's age and younger. And as I've said, people's children, their sons, their daughters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, mothers, fathers. And what I started to learn was that these people were coming from Israel to New York or coming to DC. And many of them were survivors themselves, and they were coming to tell their stories.  So one of the roles that I could play was to give them that love and support because I was in America, and I was already doing this work. And what you realize was you became this big family, you became a family that you never expected. And so what I continue to do is work with my family to make sure that their loved ones come back.  The advocacy work took on a few different levels. At first, there was a few interviews, but most of the work was basically going to Capitol Hill and talking with elected leaders, both sides of the aisle. We worked with groups that were evangelicals, we worked with Jewish groups, we worked with AJC, we worked with, as I said, Christian groups, we worked with anybody that was willing to help us set up meetings that were part of their network.  There was not one person on either side [of the aisle] that was partisan. Everybody understood then and understands now that getting back these hostages, these people, is our number one priority and that we are all committed to it. But what I will tell you is that early on, I went to this meeting, and it was a group of Republican senator women. And when they heard our stories, you could just feel their hearts were broken. These are mothers. These are women. And leaders.  And Susan Collins, Senator Collins, she listened to my story of Abigail and she took Abigail's picture, she put it in her purse. And about a week later she was in Israel meeting with leaders. And my daughter, Noa, who was in Israel went to this meeting with my brother in law, because they were already from the Israeli side advocating for Abigail. And Noa, my daughter started to explain to her about Abigail and she said, I have Abigail's picture and she pulled it out from her purse.  And then they did a press conference when they were leaving Israel and Senator Collins picked out Abigail's picture to show people what a child is like who has been kidnapped, and is a hostage of Hamas terrorists in Gaza. And one of the things that I learned from Senator Collins throughout this was that, that image, just like it was for me, that like marching like we're going to get this little girl and all 250 hostages, Senator Collins used this photo, and it was inspiring her. And I just love that story. There's not a person I have met in an organization, on the hill or anywhere that does not understand this is an issue about humans, and that humans need to be brought home to their loved ones. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So speaking of the humanity of the hostage crisis, there have been a number of pro-Palestinian protests around the United States over Israel's response. Many unfortunately have veered into anti Israel sentiments and antisemitism. Some people have torn down the posters of the hostages that are in captivity. And this has become in many cases a political or partisan issue. How are you navigating that or coping with that handling of the situation? Liz Hirsh Naftali: My role from the day one was to get Abigail back and quickly became to get back 250 hostages. So I would literally go and I would bring a poster and hand it out to political leaders, their staff, organizers, just to make sure they understood and they saw the faces of 250 people who had been kidnapped.  In addition, Abigail obviously was on that and I had to hand them a picture of Abigail to really put a human face to it. And to this day, I really believe the one lane that I want to stay in until they are all back is this lane of bringing back the hostages.  And as a result of that is, my telling Abigail’s story, my telling that niece and nephew were murdered by Hamas terrorists in front of their children. My story of the other people whose stories that I have heard and heard about the most grotesque catastrophe, terrorism, abuse, I mean, it's just, it doesn't end.  So for me, the story is what's so important. And I hope that through that story, we continue to keep the truth out there so that no matter, and I know what you've described, but no matter what the untruths are, or the convenient truths that people have done, or the historical revisionism they've done from two months ago, that those stories do not control the narrative, but the real stories of what happened to my niece and her husband, what happened to Abigail, and what happened to so many–and I say this–innocent people who are in their houses, in their neighborhoods, on the seventh, when Hamas terrorists broke a ceasefire, and came in and just murdered and savaged and raped and pillaged.  I mean, the worst atrocities that one can imagine in modern times that we could even understand. So the other stuff, it's noise, but the focus for me and for so many of us hostage families, is saying, we need to bring back our loved ones. And telling that story makes it really clear what happened. And nobody can change those facts.  Even if they tear down a poster, even if they say something else. Nobody can take away what really happened on October 7 in Israel, to innocent people from 30 nations, Israelis, Americans and 28 other nations, children, as young as nine, up till women and men in their 80s were kidnapped. And that doesn't even talk about the 1400 who were brutally murdered. And we don't need to go there today, but brutally murdered infants. I could cry thinking about the other atrocities that took place that day, young people at a music festival that could have been my children out there dancing in the morning to music.  But again, I go back to how we get back these hostages, and telling our stories, whether it's the Nova music survivors, or the families from the kibbutzes or my family story. Those are the truths and the truths are what will control the narrative. Because people have a right to their own opinion. They just don't have a right to their own facts. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Can you speak to the support that Abigail, her siblings and others are receiving now that they have been returned? Liz Hirsh Naftali: There are so many people that are through professional areas going to be and have been working with survivors, both survivors of the atrocities, and those who were kidnapped and have returned. And so you see throughout the country, programs, doctors, places for people to go. And within their communities, there are social workers and specialists that are there to work with children and adults to give them what they need.  But the thing that is hard to navigate is, there's not a rulebook for this, this isn't something that happened before. And that we can say, this is what we need to do. But what I can say is that the concern and the understanding, and the need for therapy, and the need for support is there. And that is something that is going to be developing and that these survivors are going to need for we don't know how long. How do you know what a three, four year old, internalized and how long it takes for that to come out. We hope and pray that Abigail has just a beautiful, normal life. And that this family, and this is the beautiful part, is that her family here, our family here is going to do everything to bring in the proper support, proper care, and the love. One of the things that we talk about is how important it is to have family to give you the love, the hugs and and just to be there for you. And Abigail has that. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Why are you in Israel now? Liz Hirsh Naftali: I am in Israel to visit our family to just sit there and to look at this four year old and play memory game with hers watch her play with her siblings and just to take a moment to breathe and realize that while we worked really hard, so many of us for 50 days, and many of you out there who are listening and AJC worked really hard to make it possible that a child like Abigail could come back to her family.  I thought it was important to come and have that moment. And to be here with my niece and my sister in law and all those that have, you know, lost sleep, none of us ate, none of us slept. And we were, you know, so far apart. But together in terms of what we were trying to do, which is to get Abigail back and to get these hostages back.  And one of the other things that I did, is that I also went to the kibbutz to see what it looked like to see what their homes look like. So that I understood, when I speak to folks, when they talk about the destruction that took place in these people's homes, and the grenades that were thrown, and the homes that were burned and the bullet holes and just the destruction and hate that took place on the seventh.  It wasn't something that I wanted to do, which was to go see this kibbutz. I needed to do it because I thought that to go and actually see what happened on this kibbutz, in my nieces home, in front of their house in other people's homes, was something to be able to understand so when I speak with people like yourselves, or people who might have a different vision of what happened on the seventh, that I can say from my own personal experience, what I saw, and what I saw was just terrible, and just devastating. But that is what happened on October 7, and we can't change that. But we have to be able to tell those stories so people understand what happened. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Was there a particular takeaway list from that tour and what you saw? Liz Hirsh Naftali: I just can't understand how people survived, endured what happened in their homes. You saw the safe rooms, you saw the bullet holes in the door where people were holding on from inside to keep themselves safe to keep their family safe. And you saw the bullet holes of Hamas terrorists that wanted to get into them. There were just so many bullets, so many, you could see remnants from the grenades, you could see the burned. And you just think to yourself, how could? How could society? How could life be like that? And you know that you can for a second separate from that it's your family that was murdered and your family that went through this. But just to look at this and think, How can humans behave like this? How could this happen? But it did.  And the other is how these people survived, how they were just surviving that day. And, you know, a ten and a six year old survived in a closet, my other niece, and her husband with their three kids, they were locked in a safe room in their home. And they heard the terrorists. But at one point, early in the morning, they heard a woman's voice and they opened up their safe room and there was another kibbutz member, a woman carrying a baby and holding a hammer. And they let this woman into their safe room. And you think about, it still gives me the chills.  And I saw their safe room and their safe room was there in their home. But they took a chance with an infant who could have cried, had no diapers, had no food. This mother, this woman, her husband had been killed. She had a hammer, which you just think to yourselves like, she was just this innocent woman.  On this day of destruction and catastrophe and such darkness, such grotesque darkness, people were fighting for their lives, and people were doing beautiful things to try to help each other. How does that work? How does that balance work? And I guess that one of the hopes is we try to keep bringing the light to this terrible darkness.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Liz, Abigail has been reunited with the rest of her surviving family. Thank God. When the world sees those precious pictures of your great niece, what are they looking at? What do you hope they see, and what’s the message you want them to take away from this conversation?  Liz Hirsh Naftali: Abigail is four years old. She is our hope. She is our resilience. She is our resistance. She is our peace. She is what we are all trying to do, which is to make this world a better place for our children and our grandchildren. But I do ask anyone who is listening to this to understand that Abigail is back and she is free, but whatever anyone can do to help support the release of these other hostages is really what is our call right now. And there's many different things to do. But please keep that as our focus. The political stuff, many of us want to be in charge and we want to fix but we know we can't. But what we can do is keep these stories alive and keep pressure on our leaders to make sure that nobody says okay, Abigail and the kids are home. But there are women and men and still a few little children that need to come home. So that is my ask, that is my call to action, if anything, that we all partake in. And that's really why I'm here is to really share our story and Abigail's story but to ask you all to keep helping. Thank you. Manya Brachear Pashman: AJC certainly shares your mission of bringing all of the hostages home. To learn more about how to help make that a reality, listeners can go to  Liz, thank you so much for joining us.  If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with AJC Director of Academic Affairs Dr. Sara Coodin, and AJC Director of Contemporary Jewish Life, Dr. Laura Shaw Frank about the fallout from a recent hearing on Capitol Hill about the current state of antisemitism on college campuses.
28:42 12/21/23
The Fallout from the University Presidents Congressional Hearing: What Does it Mean for Jewish Students?
As American colleges and universities struggle to foster discussions about the war between Israel and Hamas that don't veer into antisemitism and misinformation, three university presidents testified on Capitol Hill about the current state of Jew-hatred on college campuses. However, their testimony drew widespread outrage over their refusal to condemn calls for genocide against Jewish students. AJC Director of Academic Affairs Dr. Sara Coodin, and AJC Director of Contemporary Jewish Life, Dr. Laura Shaw Frank join us to break down the fallout and give us a broader view of how university leaders are handling this situation.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Avital Leibovich (1:44) Sara Coodin, Laura Shaw Frank Show Notes: Take action to bring all hostages home now. AJC has been working nonstop to support Israel, combat antisemitism, and safeguard Jewish communities worldwide. To support our work today, you can visit Or text AJC DONATE to 52886. Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: Global Antisemitism Report Part 2: The Impact of the Hamas-Israel War in Germany, Asia, and the Arab Gulf Global Antisemitism Report Part 1: What It’s Like to Be Jewish in Europe, Latin America, and South Africa Right Now What Happens Next: AJC’s Avital Leibovich on the Hostage Deal and Challenges Ahead What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? The Good, the Bad, and the Death Threats: What It’s Like to Be a Jewish College Student Right Now Learn: AJC Campus Library: Resources for Becoming a Strong Jewish Student Advocate Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Sara Coodin and Laura Shaw Frank: Manya Brachear Pashman:   Since the horrific October 7 terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas and the start of Israel's counter offensive, American colleges and universities have been struggling to encourage fact based debates and demonstrations that don't veer into antisemitism and misinformation. University presidents have issued and reissued statements that originally missed the mark, and presidents from three of the nation's top universities appeared on Capitol Hill for congressional inquiry that led one to resign and put another in jeopardy. Here to discuss that inquiry and give us a broader view of how university leaders are handling this crisis is Dr. Sara Coodin, AJC’s Director of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Laura Shaw Frank, AJC's Director of Contemporary Jewish Life. Laura, Sara, welcome to People of the Pod. Sara Coodin:  Thank you. Manya Brachear Pashman: I want to start with the testimonies by three university presidents last week: Claudine Gay at Harvard, Elizabeth McGill at the University of Pennsylvania and Sally Kornbluth at MIT. Since that, since their appearance on Capitol Hill, President McGill has resigned. And President Gay has survived a debate over whether to oust her from Harvard. For those listeners who didn't follow those hearings, Sara, you were there, right? Can you summarize for us what happened? Sara Coodin:   I was there, and I have to say I was really quite surprised that it went on for as long as it did. There were close to six hours from start to finish. And the kind of publicity that followed over their inability, all three of them to respond to those very pointed and basic questions by Representative [Elise] Stefanik, really happened in the 11th hour. And there was a lot that happened before. There were a lot of important questions and points that were raised before that kind of pivotal moment in the hearings. So I just want to say that, because for those of us who were sitting in the room and listening and watching, there was a lot to sit through. And there were a fair number of questions that emerged that were very onpoint.  And I think as direct as Representative Stefanik’s questions were, there were questions about the ability of these universities to access considerable resources. Harvard sits on a $50 billion+  endowment, 350+ years of history, and tens of thousands of faculty. So one of the questions that emerged was, why haven't they been able to address this up until now? What's new in the present commitment?  And I think for me, that was a really central question. Because these are some of the most recognized elite and well endowed universities, in a country that prides itself on excellence in higher education. These are the most excellent of the excellent. So what gives? When they've suddenly decided that this is a huge problem, they're devoting their considerable resources to addressing it.  But you know, to do that, convincingly, I think they have to respond to the fact that this is not something that emerged overnight. This is not something that happened simply in the wake of October 7. It's been brewing for a long time. So why the institutional silence, or turning away from these questions and issues up until now? I think that for me, it was one of the key takeaways before that moment where they were not actually able to respond in any kind of real way to that question about codes of conduct, which in a way is a very limited, very specific question. But I think their inability to come up with a convincing set of arguments and proposals for how they're going to address antisemitism on their campus, either programmatically or through structural innovations, like codes of conduct. You know, people left with very little to take away, there were very few takeaway moments for me in terms of convincing, really proactive measures that they were willing to take that could address the culture problems on their campus.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Of course, you mentioned the pointed questions by Representative Stefanik. You’re talking about her question about, does a call for the genocide of Jews violate the university's Code of Conduct? The presidents really stumbled to answer those questions kind of unequivocally and unequivocally denounce the mass murder, or calls for the mass murder of Jews.  They kept turning back to free speech, right, and academic freedoms on campus and prioritizing that instead. Was that your takeaway? Sara Coodin:   I think that they had prepared for a series of responses that were very suitable for a court of law. And I think they weren't prepared to respond to the court of public opinion, which is essentially what happened. I mean, enough people were paying attention to that hearing, and have their eyes on these universities and on this particular set of problems that's made national headlines.  Before this December hearing, they should have been prepared, frankly, they should have spoken to members of the Jewish community, including representatives from AJC to address what the concerns really are, from our side of things. They seemed very well prepared to defend a very narrow, legalistic notion of what free speech is, of where it starts and where it begins. That is not incorrect. It's not an inaccurate description. But it's one that really misses the larger point.  And I think the directness of those questions by Stefanik, and others, was really a kind of shot, where it where it hurt, you know, because they they weren't able to respond to those basic queries that I think really picked up on some of the basic questions that we have for the schools and for these leaders. What are you doing? And why are you so unable to draw a basic line in the sand that condemns something with a degree of moral clarity that seems convincing? Why can't any of them do that? So I think that's what that question became.  Manya Brachear Pashman: Did you feel like the journalists who covered this hearing also got that? I mean, you talked about six hours of discussion, and really the stories about the hearing focused on that 11th hour, those really, very pointed questions. But did you feel like the coverage really got to the heart of this issue? And perhaps could lead to some constructive conversations going forward or not necessarily? Sara Coodin: I mean, there were some interesting moments. All three university leaders condemned antisemitism at the outset of the hearing, they were asked in a very direct fashion, Do you condemn antisemitism? Yes, yes, and yes.  They were asked whether they stood in support or opposition to BDS resolutions, or to BDS full stop, and two of the three had time to answer and said, we do not support BDS. So that's also significant that they expressed that to hear a top university leader actually say those words is meaningful. Because we've seen, of course, last year with the Harvard Crimson editorial, where, you know, they came out and support of BDS. So to hear the leader of Harvard actually condemn it, and say, This is not represent our position, our perspective. That's significant.  That being said, you know, having sat through the first three hours, or whatever it was, before they broke for a recess, what were the key takeaways up to that point where they had nothing to say and just sort of stumbled? Not terribly many, they seem to be sticking to a very set number of talking points, very clearly focused on saying, you know, free speech matters on campus, which means something that can include hate speech, and unless it turns into conduct behavior, there's nothing we can do. There's nothing we’re willing to do.  That was the line and they repeated it and they kept doubling down on it up to the point where they continue to double down on it in response to Stefanik’s question. There was a lot of it, too much of that and not enough of the kind of responses that I think we were all wanting and needing to hear from these university leaders. Laura Shaw Frank:  I wanted to just note that the first headline that I saw about the hearings is from the New York Times, which said, Republicans tried to put Harvard, MIT and Penn on the defensive about anti semitism. And to be honest, I just was like, they're really going to make this about a political fight, and not actually engage with the anti semitism question itself. And I actually found that to be quite a horrifying headline.  It felt so egregiously ignorant, and also ignoring the substance, the very real substance of what was trying to happen and what people were trying to get at in that room. So I was really upset by that. And then afterwards, shortly afterwards, there was another headline, which I guess they noticed themselves that they had missed the mark and published another article, some of the same journalists, were the authors of that article, the second piece called college president, the headline was college presidents under fire, after dodging questions about anti semitism. So I thought that was a pretty big turnaround, where they all of a sudden realized, Oh, we really can't make this into a Republicans versus Democrats thing here. This is actually about something much more substantive, much deeper, and much more bipartisan. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You said Sara that the hearing the leader of Harvard denounced that BDS is significant. These are kind of influencers, if you will, these three elite schools, they're influencers in academic circles. But can you give us a broader view about what's happening? You know, we've spoken to Jewish student leaders about what they and their peers are experiencing, but you work with administrators and faculty. I'm curious, from their point of view on smaller liberal arts campuses, state schools, community colleges, what are you? What are they saying? What are you hearing from their point of view? Sara Coodin:   I think the schools that think of themselves as being part of the Harvard Extension orbit, you know, they're not quite Harvard, but they're aspirants to Harvard, they maybe have some of the same students that also applied to Harvard. They've really got their eyes fixed on public perception right now about university leadership. So they're scared frankly, I think they're worried that the next incident that's going to strike their campus is going to produce a moment that may may result in their their ouster, you know, in their being kicked to the curb, because if it can happen at the University of Pennsylvania, it can happen anywhere. And we're dealing with a large cohort of incoming presidents, all three of the presidents who testified before Congress, we're in the first year of their presidency. And that's actually not as unusual as it sounds, there's been a kind of a revolving door syndrome for about a decade now, where these positions used to be for, you know, 2030 years, you'd have presidents sitting in these positions, no more. And so we're seeing a rash of new, I will say, an experience, but new to their roles at their current campuses, university president at a lot of schools, including places like GW, where I think there's a real concern about this being a kind of formative moment for them that shapes the perception of who and what they are about as university leaders.  So I think there is an awareness now that in the post-statement moment, where everyone was called upon to make these amazing, pointed, clear statements, and most university presidents failed, that this, this is potentially, you know, a series of tests for them, where there there can be real failure, you know, and they've seen what that looks like on the public stage.  I think when it comes to very small colleges, they tend to operate in their own little worlds, right, their own little bubbles. And there's often a perception that the kind of media focus is not an important factor. But I think we've seen enough lawsuits being filed, enough title six complaints, to know that that's just not the world that any of these campuses are functioning in anymore. And there's more and less resistance to that as part of the new landscape. The fact is, you know, the media attention to these issues means that no one is really free to operate in an insular bubble anymore.  So I think that in itself might create a kind of extended series of real deliberations on the part of administrations before they issue statements before they jump into the fray. I don't know that that's a bad thing. Thoughtfulness is good. Thoughtfulness, with a concern about messaging, you know, maybe that'll be good for the university community, maybe not. There's an argument that maybe that's not the best thing to actually solve the problem, because the problem can't be solved with messaging. It has to be solved through innovative programming through looking at things like student codes of conduct. And some schools, to be perfectly honest, seem very content to remain exactly the kinds of anti-Zionist microclimates that they've been for years now.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Can you give us a couple of examples of those campuses, but also some encouraging examples as well? Sara Coodin:   You know, a lot of the smaller liberal arts schools in the northeast and Massachusetts, in New York State have had that reputation for a long time, including schools where the leaders themselves are actually really committed to trying to do something. So Wellesley is a perfect example of that. And the President of Wellesley, Paula Johnson, traveled to Israel with us this last summer. She's wonderful. She's incredibly thoughtful. She was such a formative figure to have on that trip, wouldn't you say, Laura? Laura Shaw Frank: Absolutely. She's an incredible president to have on the trip, who took in everything that we did with such humility and wisdom and an eagerness to learn. And she's an incredible partner for us, and at the same time for campus is a really tough place to be a Zionist. A president can't control fully, and certainly can't overturn in a minute of campus climate. Sara Coodin:   They're under a title six investigation now. There's a set of ingredients there, and a pretty recent history of a bit of an echo chamber syndrome on that campus. It's really tough when you have a small school where already there's a concentrated number of voices, and they don't include a kind of diverse range of questions about Israel and Zionism.  So that's not a very good recipe for inclusion, or for Jewish students who want to go and be themselves and represent their identities as Zionist fully. By all accounts, there are a lot of schools–small ones, particularly–that can foster those kinds of climates that are really not great for Jewish students. And it's a bit of a puzzle when you have a small institution where every voice matters, but there's too much agreement about Israel and Zionism. So there's no real conversation. There's no way to kind of generate real dialogue because there's no one willing to give voice to an unpopular position. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And are there heartening examples? Sara Coodin:   You know, there are and I’'m going to name another school whose president we took to Israel this summer, Julio Frank of the University of Miami. I want Laura to speak to this particular example because she has a personal connection to that school now. Laura Shaw Frank:  Absolutely, I would love to speak about the University of Miami. So Julio Frank was just also such a wise and present member of our trip to Israel this past summer. He just drank it in with such depth of character and thought, and has kept the University of Miami as a campus that– look, I don't know what it was like before. My personal connection to it is that my son is a student in their very wonderful bachelor of fine arts conservatory program in musical theater.  So I hear from my son all the time, about how things are on campus. How does he feel as a Jew on campus? And he says, it's totally fine. Peaceful, wonderful. There is an SJP-like group, but it is a moderate group. It is a fairly quiet group. It has not interfered with Jewish students' ability to get everything they need to get out of their education. The Hillel and Chabad are both very active. And President Frank has spoken very, very clearly, both in his initial statement after October 7, and also in joining the Yeshiva University coalition statement, as one of the founding members of it, which was a very, very strong statement.  He's also made a point of speaking on panels together with pillow leadership, like Adam Newman, who's the CEO of Hillel, and has just been a real partner to the Jewish community. He is Jewish himself. He's a Mexican Jew. He's also just a very moral person, he thinks very deeply about morality. He's actually a public health person and in his scholarship. And the University of Miami, I would say this has been a real model campus in terms of keeping the atmosphere, free of harassment, against Jews, and really with clear moral leadership from the top. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You know, Sara, you mentioned having very few takeaways after three hours of congressional hearing largely because it was political theater versus talking points. I am curious, what kinds of thoughtful conversations are unfolding on campuses? Is there any kind of dialogue healthy, open, maybe sometimes angry, but thoughtful dialogue, to move the needle somewhat? Sara Coodin:   There is. We focused on hate speech so much as the one segment of speech that we should all be concerned about. And we should, but there's so much more to campus speech than just hate speech. There's constructive dialogue across difference, which is a term that anyone working in student-facing administrative roles is familiar with. They're familiar with dialogue across difference, and how crucial it is in today's pluralistic student community. If you want diversity on your campus, you have to figure out how to stage and model those conversations. And they have to be constructive.  So schools like GW have been, you know, slowly starting to implement that kind of programming with the aim of showing incoming students what it looks like. I was part of a panel discussion this fall before, you know, before October, that tried to do exactly this. And it was an amazing model, and it was one that they've done before.  And Laura was part of that rollout, which was for student-facing staff. This was for incoming students. And we just went right into it with different perspectives, different identity positions, and addressed questions about antisemitism and Zionism. And they had a parallel session going on about race and racism, that was equally, forthright, they were not saying let's talk about some version of this as watered down and irrelevant, they went straight for it. And they brought in people who could actually speak authentically to difficult questions. And we didn't agree, we didn't all agree, we didn't have to agree. That's sort of the point.  So I think when it comes to programming, that's the model, is to find ways to bring people into dialogue. That model is something other than just shouting matches, reductive talking points, polarized discourse, all the stuff that's happening in the streets, or, you know, in kind of public spaces of campus. But it's probably not happening enough when it comes to these issues. And I think administrators have been loath to address this in a direct way, in many cases, because they feel like it's too hot. You know, it's too likely to inflame existing tensions, which may be true. But I think showing students through creative programming, what it means to engage on these issues. And if you're really skilled, you can create programs to actually get them involved in ways that make them take ownership of the issues and ownership of their own knowledge.  Laura Shaw Frank: I want to note that the person behind the GW programs that Sara was talking about is a PI alum as well. And it's Vice Provost Colette Coleman, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, who went to Israel with us in the summer of 2022. And has been an incredible thought partner. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Some terms, you and Laura were talking about how some terms just don’t have a place on a college campus. Walter Russell Mead, also a previous guest on this podcast, had a column in the Wall Street Journal recently in which he argued this generation of college students has never experienced the toll of a world torn by war. And frankly, this generation of college presidents has largely been spared that experience. Claudine Gay was born four years after teach-ins protesting the Vietnam War began at the University of Michigan. Do you think that has led to a lack of moral clarity or a situation where maybe the administrators are listening to the students but the students aren’t listening, and aren’t learning, and aren’t fully comprehending consequences of words and actions? Sara Coodin:   There's always a generational divide in these conversations between faculty, you know, senior faculty, junior faculty, and then students who've grown up with different experiences, their worldview has been shaped by things like new technologies, which simply weren't even a factor, you know, 20, much less 50 years ago.  I think part of the issue that we're seeing is that there is a kind of moment, a very brief one, in the larger context of Jewish history, where were American Jews have experienced a golden age where they haven't, haven't really directly confronted antisemitism, at least not in the overt ways that are so much a part of our history. A lot of American Jews consider themselves to be a pretty seamless part of the fabric of American life and culture writ large. That alone goes quite a long way to understanding some of the issues that we're dealing with on college campuses, where Jewish students might feel like they have no one to turn to, as far as Jewish mentors are concerned, on college campuses, because there's a generation in place, who achieved amazing things.  But I think there was a widespread assumption that there was really no problem that this was a new golden age for American Jews where we could stop thinking about antisemitism as the central defining principle of our culture. And I think we're seeing now, which is something that we've seen many times before, if we take the long view, that antisemitism goes into a kind of dormancy, and then it it resurges, and what is old becomes new again, some of the old tropes attach themselves to new social languages, and they acquire a kind of currency that allows people to invest in them and keep promoting them.  We’re dealing with a generation that I am sorry to say in terms of the people who are the permanent residents of campus–the tenured faculty members, the people who are there for life–who seem insulated from the realities that the younger generation are actually dealing with in their social lives and their social interaction with their peers. I think there is a kind of awareness of it on the part of some faculty where they know that there are certain opinions on certain topics that they can't really opine about. Because there's a risk there that the social lubrication that's required to gain acceptance in their field or to have the kinds of conversations they want to have about their subject areas can't happen if they foreground Zionism, if they talk about Jewish identity in certain ways, if they express a certain range of opinions about Israel, so they kind of saw silence, and they see that as a reasonable price to pay.  But I think right now, with the generation of students that's coming up, we're so invested in identity politics as a cornerstone of our identity, that that seems like an unfair trade off, it seems insane to walk into a space that's defined by identity politics, and not be able to talk about yourself as a Jew, and to talk about your relationship to Israel and Zionism, which is such an important part of that for most American Jews.  So I think there is a disconnect there. I think the generation that is older, maybe it's an understanding quite the predicament that young Jews are actually in, because they've found ways to gain advancement in an era where identity politics was not really the current thing. And it's so much is for this generation of students, that they need other tools and better tools to navigate those spaces, conversations, and relationships. Manya Brachear Pashman: I want to go back to teach-ins for a moment. We've seen many promoted in recent weeks as educational events and opportunities for dialogue. Are you finding that is indeed the case? Are they spaces for open and constructive conversations, or do they have open and shut agendas? Are teach-ins not what they used to be?  Sara Coodin: There was one at NYU just this week that was being promoted on other campuses as a zoom event, a must-attend kind of event to help make sense of the conflict in the Middle East. There is nothing balanced or even fact based about the kinds of conversations that are happening in those spaces. And I think it's incredibly dangerous for these kinds of events to be masquerading as educational opportunities for students to learn about a very challenging and very difficult set of geopolitical questions and circumstances. These are not educators who are providing balanced fact-based opportunities for exchange. A lot of these events have taken place and have actually prevented any questions from being raised by people who are sitting on the sidelines and tuning in. Laura Shaw Frank:  I think that side by side with free speech, our universities need to start focusing on what is responsible speech? What does it mean to use this wonderful right of free speech in a way that's going to be productive for our society, without restricting it necessarily.  Where we can have conversations that are so difficult about verge topics, that are rooted in facts that are rooted also in listening across difference, that are rooted in empathy. And that are rooted in lacking in the opposite of ideological silos that are rooted in ideological diversity. And that's something that we've spoken about on this podcast about how much ideological diversity is lacking, how much reading and facts is lacking, and how much dialogue across difference, the skills for dialogue across difference is lacking. And all of those things in our minds are critical for the future of university campuses, not just just for Jews, but the project of higher education in this country.  And the last thing I would say is, we have to wrap our minds around the fact that there is no quick fix here. We have to dig into some serious work. The campuses have to do it. The administrators have to do it. We are here to partner with them to do it. But this is not going to go away quickly. It took decades to sort of create the toxic situation that we're in, and it's going to take a little bit for us to get out of it. So we have to understand that. Manya  Brachear Pashman Well, hopefully some progress will have been made by the time my children get to college. Sara, Laura, thank you for joining us. If you missed last week's pair of episodes, be sure to tune in for a roundup of reports from some of AJC's experts around the world. They shared what efforts are underway to protect Jews and counter the hate that has erupted since the October 7 massacre of Israelis by Hamas.
30:55 12/14/23
Global Antisemitism Report Part 2: The Impact of the Hamas-Israel War in Germany, Asia, and the Arab Gulf
“I cannot recall a moment where we have seen this kind of openly expressed antisemitism.” Dr. Remko Leemhuis, AJC Berlin Director, sums up the state of antisemitism in Germany post-October 7 with this chilling statement. Hear from Leemhuis, along with Asia Pacific Institute (API) Assistant Director Hana Rudolph, and AJC Abu Dhabi Director Marc Sievers, on how the October 7 Hamas massacre of Israelis has impacted Jews in Germany, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the United Arab Emirates. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Hana Rudolph (7:18) Remko Leemhuis (15:20) Marc Sievers Show Notes: Take action to bring all hostages home now. Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: Global Antisemitism Report Part 1: What It’s Like to Be Jewish in Europe, Latin America, and South Africa Right Now What Happens Next: AJC’s Avital Leibovich on the Hostage Deal and Challenges Ahead What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? The Good, the Bad, and the Death Threats: What It’s Like to Be a Jewish College Student Right Now Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Learn: Debunking the False Equivalency Between Israeli Hostages and Palestinian Prisoners How much do you know about Hamas? Try to ace our quiz and expose the truth about the terror group today. Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Hana Rudolph, Remko Leemhuis, and Marc Sievers: Manya Brachear Pashman: American Jewish Committee has 14 international offices around the world. This week, we checked in with some of those offices to learn what they're seeing and hearing on the ground since the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. In an earlier installment, we took you to Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Our journey continues today in Asia, Berlin, and Abu Dhabi.  We started in South and East Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Since the director of the Asia Pacific Institute (API) [Shira Loewenberg] was en route to Indonesia, we caught up with Assistant Director Hana Rudolph. Hana, let's start with Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, the country with the world's largest Muslim population. In fact, where AJC has made tremendous inroads in recent years engaging with faith and political leaders. What has the response to the October 7 attacks been there? Hana Rudolph:  The Indonesian government doesn't have ties with Israel, though it does support a two state solution. So we don't expect there to be a vocal kind of support for Israel. But the anti semitism and the conspiracy theories, the false narratives happen incredibly alarming. There was a rally on November 5, a pro Palestinian rally, and rally organizers think that there were 2 million people who turned out for that. So we're talking huge numbers.  The prevailing narrative there is really that Israel is the indiscriminate aggressor, they are just killing women and children for no reason in Gaza. There's very little mention of Hamas’ massacre on October 7, and that's the narrative.  AJC has taken several delegations of Indonesians to Israel for our Project Interchange. A lot of our alumni had been receiving death threats. And we're not talking about death threats for posts that they're actively making right now in support of Israel. We're talking about death threats because, you know, some long time ago, when they were on this delegation, they posted something that was seen as something pro-Israel, and now they're receiving this kind of pushback and hate and condemnation for it. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You mentioned the dominant narrative. Are there other narratives developing? Hana Rudolph:  One of the most, I think, notable and disappointing reactions across our region has been China. China refused to condemn Hamas’ terrorist attack on October 7. And there has been a notable uptick in antisemitic rhetoric across Chinese social media platforms, which, as you know, are heavily censored when the government chooses to do so. So here the government is choosing not to censor. And in fact, several state-run institutions are actively promoting radically antisemitic content. So I'll give you a few examples. CCCB describes Jews as accounting for 3% of the US population and manipulating and controlling, in their words, 70% of the country's wealth. The China Internet Information Center compared Israel to the Nazis.  And these are, of course, narratives that, you know, once they're once they're put out there, they're being actively promoted and popularized by other social media influencers. So the content that's being generated, you know, as a result goes far beyond even those examples. We've noticed that there are several major Chinese map platforms that are no longer labeling Israel as a country, you know, they'll demarcate the borders, they'll identify cities, but you don't see Israel labeled.  Most likely, China is seeing the current conflicts within the context of the US versus China and this whole conflict is just another opportunity to champion itself as the leader of the developing world. You know, it's a continued strengthening of the China, Russia, Iran, North Korea bloc of malign actors.  It's just very laughable, really, that China is maintaining what is described to be a position of neutrality, when one, it won't condemn Hamas’ attack; two, it won't condemn antisemitism. But instead, it'll explicitly denounce Israel for quote, going beyond self defense, and, again, in the foreign minister’s words, collectively punishing the Gaza people in its counterstrike.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   What are we seeing in Australia, where the Jewish community numbers about 100,000? I know historically, antisemitic incidents per capita have remained low there.  Hana Rudolph:  The Australian government has, by and large, really supported Israel in the same way that the US has. But the politics and public sentiment also look a lot like here. So there's been growing pressure for the government to call for a ceasefire, things like that. The uptick in antisemitism also looks a lot like here. It's been very alarming. There's actually a very sizable Jewish community in Australia. It's about 100,000, and Australia has the largest number of Holocaust survivors per capita, just to give some context.  Since October 7, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry has documented 221 incidents of antisemitism, so we're just talking about one month. This includes threats to Jewish schools and synagogues, property damage, even a few physical assaults. There has also been large pro-Palestinian demonstrations. I think the one that probably everyone signed in the news is a demonstration on October 9. So we're talking just two days after the attack. Outside of the Sydney Opera House where pro-Palestinian protesters were chanting ‘Gas the Jews.’ Manya Brachear Pashman:   Remarks and resolutions coming out of the United Nations General Assembly have shown little support for Israel since the beginning of this conflict. There was a resolution calling for a truce this week. There's one calling on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, the buffer between Israel and yet another hostile neighbor, Syria. How have the nations in the Asia Pacific voted on these resolutions?  Hana Rudolph: I would say that the most kind of encouraging signs coming out of some of these countries have really been in terms of the government's position. So I want to especially highlight Japan, South Korea, and India. These are all countries that have joined the U.S. in condemning Hamas’ attack on October 7, affirming Israel's right to self defense. They all abstained from a recent UN General Assembly resolution that called for an immediate humanitarian truce. And the reason why they abstained is because there has been a Canadian amendment to unequivocally condemn Hamas terrorist attacks and demanding immediate release of hostages.  This amendment was backed by the U.S. but was rejected by the resolution. And so these three countries all abstained. We see it as a positive. The Marshall Islands and Micronesia Islands, both Pacific Islands, voted against it. They have always been strong supporters of Israel. We're incredibly grateful for that relationship. …. Manya Brachear Pashman: Since October 7, AJC Berlin director Remko Leemhuis has taken two German delegations to Israel to speak with hostages' families, to see the homes raided by Hamas, and understand the military operation underway there. Remko joined us from Berlin to speak about those missions, but also to talk about what he's seeing and hearing back home. Remko Leemhuis:  We had an attack on a synagogue here in the center of Berlin that was attacked with Molotov cocktails, even though there was police protection. We had the homes of people marked with a star of David. You know, where members of the Jewish community live. And these are the things that happened sort of outside of demonstrations–we had people that have been threatened, because they were wearing a kippah or are visibly Jewish. And when we look at the demonstrations, we see what we've seen, this is nothing too new. All sorts of expressions of antisemitism beginning with, from the river to the sea. People chanting that. We're also seeing that they compare what's happening in Gaza with the shoah, so, Holocaust trivialization.  Again, we see attacks on police officers, and thinly veiled, classic antisemitic stereotypes. You know, they're not saying the Jews but saying, you know, the Zionist. And that’s also something not too new, but the how forceful these things press.  We're also seeing attacks against the press, and saying that the press is lying, and they're always, you know, portraying them in the wrong way and using chants that are hard to translate, but that, up until now, we've mostly seen right wing manifestations. So it's very weird to see how they're now using the same slogans.  We've seen it across the board, in every region in every major city. We don't have numbers, over the past month or so. But I can tell you that, for example, in the first week, after October 7, we had 202, antisemitic incidents that were recorded by a different NGO. And that was just the first week after, after October 7.  And we had until the end of October, 80 antisemitic crimes that have been registered with the police and the authorities. So we've seen it across the board and online, but especially during demonstrations, so called pro-Palestinian demonstrations, where we have seen violence–violence against the police, but obviously also expressions of antisemitism and very clear expressions of antisemitism. That's been frightening, to be honest, because we have seen, you know, these kinds of before during other rounds of conflict between Hamas and Israel, but this time, it's just the sheer number and the openness is pretty stunning. And I cannot recall a moment where we have seen this kind of openly expressed antisemitism. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Are you also hearing it from government leaders? Remko Leemhuis:  I have to say that, especially for Germany, that the government, the ministers, they are all very clear in their support for Israel. And this is obviously not a winning theme for them, oftentimes, but the chancellor is very straightforward in his support for Israel, on numerous occasions.  The Economy Minister Habeck, has put out a video that got a lot of attention, where he very clearly addresses antisemitism. Antisemitism coming from the left, so sort of his own, he's from the Green Party. So when he's talking about antisemitism from the left, he's sort of talking about where he is coming from. And I think that's always a good starting point for people when they talk about antisemitism always, start by addressing it in your own sort of political spectrum and not pointing fingers at others.  And so I think that this is a very good sign. And today, we're weeks after October 7, and they're still very forceful in their support for Israel, which, again, given the pictures that we unfortunately see coming out of Gaza, I wouldn't have imagined that it would be the case, but it still is. So that is, that is good.  What is still lacking, in my opinion is, or something that we've seen over the past years, and now seeing much more, that there's a gap between sort of the political class, if you like to call political class and or politicians and mainstream society.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   But then again, government leaders have had the opportunity to see the battleground firsthand, right? I mean, you've taken two delegations now, can you tell us what they've seen, what they've heard?  Remko Leemhuis:  I was on two missions. The first mission, this was a delegation with members of parliament, members of the European Parliament and other national parliaments in the European Union, including two German Members of Parliament. That was my first mission to Israel since October 7.  And I can say that, obviously, seeing it firsthand among, you know, we had obviously political meetings and meeting with lawmakers in Israel, members of Knesset, but we also went to Kfar Aza, one of the kibbutzim that was attacked on October 7. And we met with survivors' families from there, with families whose loved ones have been abducted, and are now hostages in Gaza. And I think that seeing this firsthand, hearing it firsthand, from the families there's nothing that can substitute for that.  You can read a lot, you can watch everything that's in the news or on TV, but being there yourself really has really an impact on people and gives them a better understanding of what Israel is facing and what the enemy is that Israel is facing. My second trip was with the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and again, it's someone to be there and be able to go into one of these, you know, small houses which seem like frozen in time. And I mean, nothing has been touched and it looks like it looked on this Saturday morning and in some houses you think, the inhabitants or the people who live there are just out for a while and will come back. Then you go through these houses and then you get to the safety room or the security room and bomb shelter. And you see what happened in that house and that obviously people have died there. And then again, speaking to the families, to the survivors, and seeing how desperate they are.  It's something that no one will ever forget who was there and will impact everyone going forward and obviously will also have an impact on how they view the ongoing military operation in Gaza, differently than somebody who's just seeing it from the news. …. Manya Brachear Pashman:   In addition to its Jerusalem office, AJC also has a Middle East presence in Abu Dhabi. With us to discuss how Israel’s Abraham Accords partner United Arab Emirates has been reacting to the news is AJC Abu Dhabi Director Marc Sievers. Marc, welcome to People of the Pod.   Marc Sievers: Hi, Manya. Great to be with you. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You are right there in the region, in the neighborhood, if you will. Tell us what you're seeing or hearing and do you feel safe? What's top of mind there? Marc Sievers: Certainly there's a great concern about the potential for escalation. We hear that, it comes up in almost every discussion. Certainly, it's bad enough to see the combat and the situation in Gaza. But there's been concern from the beginning that it could spread to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, with Syria, even potentially, to Iran directly, although I think that's quite unlikely. But it's not entirely out of the realm of the possible.  But I think the US military presence in that sense, in the two aircraft carrier groups that are in the waters in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. There is a significant US military presence that's been brought into the region to help deter an escalation, an expansion of the fighting to Lebanon and Syria. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Does the tiny Jewish community there feel safe? Marc Sievers: First of all, threatening or commenting in a hostile manner toward people here because of their race or their religion or their nationality is a crime. It's taken very seriously. There have been a few cases of Jewish people. Not anyone I'm directly involved with, but I heard about who took some complaints to the police and the police took legal action. So there is a legal basis to ban any expression, public expressions of antisemitism. The messages we've received are to keep a bit of a low profile, you know, avoid being obvious or provocative. But other than that, everything's normal. I walk around the city, I drive myself, I go to a lot of public places. I feel perfectly comfortable. I don't feel any particular tension. I'm sure if there were any threats, specific threats that we would be notified. I'm not aware of any.  Look, it's a difficult period and emotions run high. And certainly emotions are high in Israel, but they're also high across the Arab world. There is a lot of, as I said earlier, a lot of concern for Palestinian civilians. I think, to some extent, Hamas has managed to project itself, particularly through social media, as the embodiment of the Palestinian people in a way that's kind of hard for us to understand, but it's out there. And that is a factor.  Here the Israeli embassy is open and functioning. And there's also a consulate in Dubai that is open and functioning. My understanding is that at least Israeli ambassadors in the other countries, including Egypt and Jordan have been asked to come home, not because they've been kicked out, but out of security concerns. So I think it also speaks highly of the environment in the UAE, that the Israeli diplomatic missions are still here. Manya Brachear Pashman:   But will the relationships that AJC has built, that Israel has built through the Abraham Accords, are they strained? Or is your work continuing through all of this? Marc Sievers: As I keep saying this is a difficult period. But I think we're all hoping that we'll all get through this together and that there will be a new situation after the military campaign is completed, that we want to see the hostages released safely. And that's very much on people's minds.  A number of people here have family or friends who either died on October 7, or in some cases were kidnapped or they know somebody who was. So we share that concern and hope with all of the Jewish people around the world. That's certainly on our minds, but I'm very hopeful still that we will get past this and that there will be new opportunities to rebuild some of what's been disrupted. And there's no question that things have been disrupted, that's just a fact. Manya Brachear Pashman: Marc, Remko, Hana, thank you all for joining us. Be sure to listen to our previous episode from earlier this week featuring updates from Paris, Latin America, and Africa. And last week, before fighting resumed, we spoke with AJC Jerusalem Director Avital Leibovitch about Israel's efforts to root out Hamas and bring the rest of the hostages home.   
21:12 12/6/23
Global Antisemitism Report Part 1: What It’s Like to Be Jewish in Europe, Latin America, and South Africa Right Now
Following Hamas’ October 7 massacre of Israelis Jews around the world have experienced a  surge of antisemitism. We checked in with some of AJC’s global experts  to learn what they’ve been seeing and hearing on the ground and to understand what efforts are underway to protect Jews and counter this hate. In the first of two installments, we hear from AJC Europe Managing Director Simone Rodan Benzaquen, AJC Africa Director Wayne Sussman, and Dina Siegel Vann, Director of AJC’s Belfer Institute on Latin American Affairs. Take action to bring all hostages home now. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Simone Rodan Benzaquen (7:09) Wayne Sussman (14:54) Dina Siegel Vann Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: What Happens Next: AJC’s Avital Leibovich on the Hostage Deal and Challenges Ahead What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? The Good, the Bad, and the Death Threats: What It’s Like to Be a Jewish College Student Right Now Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Learn: Debunking the False Equivalency Between Israeli Hostages and Palestinian Prisoners How much do you know about Hamas? Try to ace our quiz and expose the truth about the terror group today. Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Simone Rodan Benzaquen, Wayne Sussman, and Dina Siegel Vann: Manya Brachear Pashman: American Jewish Committee has 14 international offices around the world. For today’s episode, we checked in with some of those offices to learn what they're seeing and hearing on the ground since the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. Today, we take you to Europe, Africa and Latin America. We start in Paris, where years of work to combat rising antisemitism has seen a serious setback. For more than two decades, since the Second Intifada, antisemitism has been on the rise on the European continent. In fact, it was that ripple effect that prompted AJC to ramp up its advocacy there. AJC Managing Director of Europe Simone Rodan Benzaquen joined us from Paris. Simone Rodan Benzaquen: What we have seen, I think, in Europe is more or less what we've seen, everywhere, what can only be described as an explosion of antisemitism across the European continent, I would say, mostly in Western Europe, here in France in particular, but also in the United Kingdom, we have seen the same. In Germany, we have seen similar things going on in Sweden and Denmark. But of course, here in France, where antisemitism has existed for at least two decades, or at least this contemporary form of antisemitism, for the past two decades with high numbers of antisemitic hate crimes. The situation is very, very serious. We've had basically three times the number of antisemitic hate crimes, since October 7 of what we had during the entire year, last year.   We have desecration of cemeteries, we have antisemitic tags. We have intimidation, we have spitting on people. It is as if the sheer horror, the violence that happened on October 7, unleashed an antisemitic passion, an antisemitic violence across the world. As if the horrible images that were filmed by the Hamas terrorists on October 7 sort of was a legitimization. Manya Brachear Pashman: So what does that mean for the Jewish community and daily life? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: We’ve reached a point where people are hiding every single aspect of their Jewish identity. People are changing their names on their delivery apps, people are changing their names on their doorbells, if they believe that they sound Jewish. People are hiding every single aspect of their Jewish identity. On Uber apps, on taxi apps, myself, you know, I go on TV and do interviews quite a bit and so I give a different name to the taxi, and I give a different address a few blocks down the street is to be sure that you know, just in case, the taxi driver doesn't know where I actually live. So everybody takes precautions. It’s gotten to a point where we just don't live the same life as everybody else. Manya Brachear Pashman: Has the work you’ve done over the past two decades made a difference? For example, since the Second Intifada, there have been a number of conflicts between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza. Do you see progress? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: We in Europe have felt like we've been doing a little bit of the work of Sisyphus over the past two decades, where we have moments of hope and things are getting better. And we say to ourselves, oh, maybe this is a wakeup call. And sort of, then we go back to, you know, before. And I hope that this this time around, given the level of violence, given the level of antisemitic hate crimes, given the number of sheer antisemitic attacks.  When you actually take it down, you come to on average about 40 antisemitic acts a day. I mean, that's huge for a population that represents far less than 1% of the entire French population. I hope this will serve as a wakeup call. But there is the question of what does it mean, how do you translate it politically? How do you translate it into government action? I mean, Europe has come up with different plans, action plans against antisemitism, but it's not enough and more needs to be done. I think one of the things that we as Jewish communities were very wary about was the fact that  over the past sort of two decades, there was sort of a lack of how can I say, solidarity from other French people. Again, we've had antisemitic hate crimes for the last 20 years, people have been murdered. But every single time, when you look at the demonstrations, at the marches after something horrible happened, you would mostly have a few hundred, or maybe a few thousand Jews in the streets.  And so there was sort of a feeling that within the French Jewish community that they were a little bit abandoned by the rest of society. And so we know from our surveys, AJC does a survey every two years where we know that, for example, French people, and Germans as well, are convinced about the fact that antisemitism is not the problem of Jews alone, but that of the entire society.  So both in Germany and in France, 73% of the population say that it is not the problem of Jews alone. But despite that number, it has never sort of translated into something concrete. So we would never have marches. We would never have like sort of big shows of solidarity with the Jewish community. And I think, since, if there's one good news, and there's not a lot of good news these days, if there's one good news is that last Sunday there were massive demonstrations across France, against antisemitism with basically the entire political class were present, with 20 government ministers who were present, with a prime minister who was present, with three former prime ministers who were present, two former presidents, plus a lot of people on the streets. We had over 180,000 people in the streets of France, basically expressing solidarity with the Jewish community and saying that they want to fight against antisemitism. So I think that was a sort of a very important sign of hope for many French Jews. …. Manya Brachear Pashman: Now we go to the continent of Africa, where AJC Africa Director Wayne Sussman joins us from the South African city of Johannesburg to explain how the war that began on October 7 affects Israel’s relations with African countries.  Wayne Sussman: I would say the tensest of the relationships right now is between Israel and South Africa. The Ambassador of Israel to South Africa received a démarche.  So when the first two countries to recall their ambassadors were South Africa and Chad. When it comes to Chad, that was more unexpected than South Africa. Because relations were recently increasing between Chad and Israel. Sadly–and one's got to remember that the largest Jewish community in Africa by a country mile is in South Africa. But sadly, the government of South Africa has had a very adversarial relationship with the State of Israel over the last few years. And this has manifested in the last few weeks. Manya Brachear Pashman: Because of this antagonistic relationship with Israel, has the South African Jewish community faced quite a bit of antisemitism? Wayne Sussman: Even though the current government of South Africa has had an adversarial relationship with the State of Israel, levels of antisemitism are extremely low–far lower than Europe, far lower than Latin America, far lower than the United States of America, far lower than Canada, far lower than Australia.  So we are working off a very low base here in South Africa. But over the last few weeks, antisemitic incidents have increased. For the time being, levels of violent incidents have been low. A turning point was on Sunday afternoon in Cape Town on the Sea Point Promenade, just to zone in on Sea Point, where the majority of Jews in Cape Town live. And the promenade is a beautiful public space, which all residents of the city use.  And what we saw the day before was a pro-Palestinian demonstration through the streets of the City of Cape Town. It was a largely peaceful protest. There were pockets of the protests, which had hateful slogans and made concerning threats against the main Jewish Day School in Cape Town.  And then the next day, a group of Christians at the Sea Point Promenade, which I referred to earlier, which is in the Jewish neighborhood of Sea Point, were going to have a prayer vigil for the State of Israel. They had a stage set up, microphones, etc. And a group of 200 to 300 pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas supporters sympathizers came and disrupted it. And the police had to get involved and use water cannons. It's very rare for us to see sights like this in South Africa, particularly in Sea Point. Manya Brachear Pashman: So what I’m hearing you say is the antagonism toward Israel doesn’t normally translate into antagonism that targets the Jewish community there? Wayne Sussman: One of the worrying sides we see is our threats against, first of all, multinational corporations. I think these threats will not be impactful. But what is more concerning are privately owned Jewish businesses. And we have seen specific targets in this regard. Because of  the CEOs of these businesses purporting to support and stand with Israel. But I think we need to see how successful these are going to be.  But I think the community is incredibly united right now. They are standing strong. And it's vital because this is a very important Jewish community in South Africa. A rich history, this community has made a remarkable contribution to the fight against apartheid, to building this economy, to creating jobs in the field of medicine and law, to arts and culture, and even some in sport. Manya Brachear Pashman: There was a United Nations resolution calling for a truce. I believe 35 African states voted in favor of that resolution but Cameroon and Ethiopia abstained. Can you shed a little light on where other African countries stand? Wayne Sussman: I would say the overwhelming amount of countries have adopted a neutral position that might change when we come to the United Nations and a multinational forum on the African continent like the African Union. But countries like Kenya, who under the new president have stood firmly and strongly with Israel. Countries, like Zambia have shown a lot of empathy towards Israel. That's a version relationship. And then we look at countries in the west of Africa, Togo and Cameroon. They've historically had very strong ties with Israel, those ties remain. And then you have countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, those countries have stood firmly with Israel at this time. An interesting development. And again, this is a very fluid situation. But Indian Ocean islands like Mauritius, and Seychelles, where I was, I've been surprised at their even-handedness on this particular situation.  Ethiopia is a fascinating country. It’s a country which for many years had remarkable levels of economic growth, a very young population, one of the largest populations in Africa, also the center of the African Union, and also the hub of African air travel. And, of course, a country where many of Israel’s citizens hail from and still maintain deep personal ties to. So I think that Ethiopia abstaining was very, very interesting in that regard. And that ties will be stronger between the two countries after this. Manya Brachear Pashman: I should note that Sudan and Morocco, two signatories of the Abraham Accords, did vote in favor of a truce. Do you see those ties weakened by all of this? Wayne Sussman: I think universally, it's going to be a challenging time for Israel. But I think once the dust settles, that you will see countries like Morocco return to embracing normalization. You'll see countries like Zambia, who are not part of the Abraham Accords, but are deepening ties, I think they will continue to do that. So I think the next few days and weeks will be very difficult. But again, back to what I was saying earlier, from a bilateral level, I think African countries are pragmatic.  Those which were considering the Abraham Accords will see the benefit with regards to Israel, agritech Israel in fintech, Israel in rural health care, Israel in rural development. I think countries have seen a great benefit in deepening those ties. So it is going to be tested, certainly in places like the United Nations, certainly in forums like the African Union.  What's very interesting, there was an interview in a Saudi Arabian newspaper recently with the president of Somalia. And he was very bullish, saying that if Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a two-state solution, that it would be right for Somalia to engage in peaceful relations with Israel.  So even though we're in a very difficult and dark time, and it's unclear what's going to happen, we’re seeing signs from Somalia, which is obviously in Africa, and also signs in Saudi Arabia, that even once the dust settles over here, that diplomatic doors will still remain open. …. Manya Brachear Pashman: In July 1994, terrorists bombed the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring more than 300 others. From that point on, the Argentine capital became known as the site of the worst and most fatal antisemitic attack since the Holocaust. That distinction changed on October 7 when terrorists breached the border between Israel and Gaza and murdered more than 1,200 people. As the Director of AJC’s Belfer Institute for Latin American Affairs Dina Siegel Vann explains, it has not been an easy time for Jews on the South American continent or other Spanish-speaking regions.  Dina Siegel Vann: Some of the countries that have really concerned us the most, are countries like Colombia, which in the past used to be the most steadfast ally of the United States and of Israel. But since the arrival of President Petro, who is a leftist ideologue, I would say, this has changed. And since October 7, we have seen really the country go in a totally different direction, which is really endangering the relationship not only with Israel, but with the United States.  Colombia, President Petro has tweeted on October 8, he was already tweeting, where he was comparing Gaza to Auschwitz, where he was talking about international bankers, and he was talking about, the media, international media being on the side of those who commit genocide.  So, you know, that has already made for a very rarefied environment, in terms of relations, as I said, both with the United States and what Israel. He also threatened through his foreign minister, the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador who was responding to his attacks, and now he has recalled his ambassador to Israel. Manya Brachear Pashman: Chile also has been unfriendly, but that’s been the case for a while. It is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Middle East, and leaders of that community have expressed support for Hamas. But AJC will hold its annual strategic forum for Latin American and Iberian leaders in Santiago this month. Can you give us the lay of the land there?  Dina Siegel Vann: So what has happened since is that President Boric, who, you know, who identifies with those positions of the Palestinian community has also had very hostile attitudes towards Israel. Number one, you know, he has not met with the Jewish community, he has not expressed his condolences, he hasn't expressed his condolences to Israel, and to the families of the victims. And he has also spoken, you know, mostly about what is going on in Gaza, and has characterized Israel's efforts to defend itself as genocidal as crimes against humanity, etc. And that also has created a very very vulnerable sense in the Jewish community in Chile that feels, you know, totally alone when it comes to this development. So I would say that Chile and Colombia have been the most egregious cases. Particularly because we're not talking about insignificant countries in the region, we're talking about Colombia, which is the third largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel and Egypt. And we're talking about a country like Chile, who has always been or considers itself a paragon of human rights, not only in the region, but around the world. So their voices count, and that's why, you know, it concerns us a great deal. Manya Brachear Pashman: As I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, until October 7, the worst antisemitic attack since the Holocaust had taken place in Argentina in 1994, carried out by Iran’s terror proxy, Hezbollah. And just recently, Brazilian police detained a couple of Hezbollah operatives who were in the country with plans to attack Brazilian Jewish institutions, correct?  Dina Siegel Vann: It underscores the really, really dangerous role that Iran plays in the region. And we know firsthand about it, because of course, the attacks in 1992 and 1994. But we know about it also, because of the tri-border area, where we know that Hezbollah and Hamas are very active, undertaking all kinds of money laundering activities. It's very important that we keep a focus on that. I think the U.S. is very, very keen on following very closely what's going on in that area, and in other areas in other areas of the region, including Venezuela, which has been the gateway to Iran in the region. Iran is very well positioned in that country and has ties to President Maduro. Started with President Chavez and it has continued with President Maduro.  So we need to keep in focus, when we talk about, you know, potentially dangerous scenarios, not only from lead for Latin America, but for the United States for the whole hemisphere., this, you know, Iran is quite  active. And is really, you know, thinking about how to create mischief, you know, whether in Brazil or elsewhere.We don't remember that, you know, that we have really a dangerous situation very close in our own neighborhood. Manya Brachear Pashman: You have told me that 30% of the hostages hail from Latin America: Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, 15 from Argentina.  Dina Siegel Vann: Yes. Well, I have to say that Argentina, for example, President Fernandez published in the New York Times a half a page with a letter an open letter demanding that the hostages be brought home and talking about their own hostages their own citizens. So yeah, absolutely. I mean, the hostages are traveling, there's some hostages from Latin American families that are traveling all around the region, meeting with members of Congress meeting with government officials and others and the media to raise more awareness about the issue and pressure the governments, their own governments to to speak up, you know, on on on, on behalf on to bring that these hostages home.  Manya Brachear Pashman: Since recording this episode, many of those hostages with Latin American citizenship have been able to return home. Of course, there are still so many hostages– nearly 160. To push for their safe return, listeners can head to or follow the link in our show notes.  Dina, take us back to Europe–tell us about the situation in Spain.  Dina Siegel Vann: Spain has been a mixed bag, because you have President Sanchez and Foreign Minister Alvarez has come out from the very beginning with very strong signs of support towards Israel, recognizing Hamas as a terrorist organization recognizes Israel's right to defend itself. But they they were in the process of creating a government and they need some of the more radical parties, independent parties, and, you know, some other parties like Soomad, who are very anti-Israel, they needed them to form coalition's and this parties were speaking, you know, in very vile terms regarding Israel, and really indulging on some antisemitic themes, and President Sanchez, didn't come out publicly as well as, you know, Foreign Minister Robotis to denounce them. But at the same time, they made clear that everybody understood that in foreign policy, what counts is the voice of the President and the voice of the foreign minister.  They met with the Jewish community, they expressed their their their solidarity, they express their concern about antisemitism, they met with the families of the kidnapped. So they have really tried to, you know, to keep a very balanced and very difficult position, vis a vis, their current situation. They formed a government yesterday, the government was finally formed. And maybe at this point, they will be more, they'll have more leeway to come out to protest this type of discourse.  But at the same time, you know, in Spain, you have seen some vandalism, you have seen some intimidation in schools against Jews and Israelis. So as I said, it's a mixed bag. And we are still monitoring this very carefully. Spain wants to be a leader, wants to be a convener when it comes to negotiating some sort of peace deal, they did it in the Madrid Conference a while back, they see their role, once again, as you know, as as a liaison, as a bridge between both worlds and therefore, you know, they always try to keep a very careful stance when it comes to both communities.   
24:58 12/4/23
What Happens Next: AJC’s Avital Leibovich on the Hostage Deal and Challenges Ahead
From the frontlines of the Israel-Hamas War, Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich, director of AJC Jerusalem, joins us to discuss the current pause in fighting between Israel and the terror group Hamas, the release of hostages, the significance of international support for Israel, and the challenges the Jewish state faces in the West Bank. Leibovich also provides insights into the humanitarian conditions of the hostages and the broader implications of the conflict.  Take action to bring all hostages home now. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? The Good, the Bad, and the Death Threats: What It’s Like to Be a Jewish College Student Right Now Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Watch – Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich’s War Diary How All Israelis are Affected by the Israel-Hamas War How October 7 "Changed the DNA" of Israelis Forever How Volunteers are Stepping up to Support the IDF Learn: Debunking the False Equivalency Between Israeli Hostages and Palestinian Prisoners What is Known About Israeli Hostages Taken by Hamas How much do you know about Hamas? Try to ace our quiz and expose the truth about the terror group today. Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Avital Leibovich: Manya Brachear Pashman:   As the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas terrorists nears its expiration on Thursday, Hamas continues to hold hostage 160 people. 80, including 61 women and children have been released during the pause. In exchange, Israel has freed 180 Palestinian prisoners. Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, Director of AJC Jerusalem joins us from Israel now for an update. Avital, welcome to People of the Pod and how are you? Avital Leibovich:   Thank you for having me. I am doing well, considering the fact that we are in a war here in Israel. My biggest concern at this time is the well being of my family. My son is in the army, my daughter is on reserve duty. So that's my number one concern. And of course, the well being of Israel, the safety and security of Israel.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   So Avital, what does this pause mean? What is being accomplished during this time? Avital Leibovich:   So the pause is something that Hamas pressured Israel. It pressured Israel because the military pressure was quite significant. The pause allows a few things to happen. Number one, we, Israel will receive hostages, and in return, Israel will free from prison, women and youth that were involved in different planning of terror attacks or executed themselves terror attacks. And that's one thing. The second thing I would say, is time for Hamas to regroup. That's for their benefit. This pause allows them to regroup, rearm, reposition themselves. The third thing and I'm going back to Israel also allows Israeli army to better prepare to rearm to place itself in the right positioning and then be ready for the next stage, which is resumption of the fighting. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And do you expect that fighting to resume right away? Or do you think that Israel would like to extend the pause as long as possible in order to get as many hostages back as possible?  Avital Leibovich:   Yesterday, there were meetings between, actually was a very interesting meeting in Qatar. In the meeting, we had the head of the Egyptian intelligence, the head of the Israeli Mossad, and the Qatari representative, and the American head of the CIA, the American CIA. And in this meeting, the discussion evolved on a few more days of pause, and in return, Hamas will release a few more hostages.  So right now Israel has said that it agrees to a few more days of a pause. But we're only talking about a few more days. The ultimate goal of this war is to eliminate Hamas government in Gaza. And in order to change that government, in order to bring some sort of a new future to this region, to Israel, to Gaza, to the Palestinians living in Gaza, this takes time.  So the fighting I assume will take a long time. It's going to be a long time because Gaza has been built underground and above the ground in such a way that requires inch by inch, very careful work a lot of the time other facilities are booby trapped. There is a huge array of tunnels underground, which are very long. With junctions. Some of the tunnels can even have cars inside. So this has to be a very, very careful job. We have a lot of soldiers inside Gaza right now. And so this pause I would say is temporary. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What are we learning from the hostages who are being released? Avital Leibovich:   That's the most heartbreaking issue. We're learning a few things. The first thing is they had to speak very, very quietly among themselves. Of course, I'm referring to those who had other hostages with them. But those who had other hostages with them had to whisper. And how do we know this because some of the kids are still whispering today, some of the kids that have been held as hostages and just returned from captivity, they're still whispering. Another thing we know is that they had very little food, very little quantities of food, which also brings a lot of worries here in Israel, because there are many elderly people held. There's still a baby inside the toddlers and a few other children. And so the nutrition issue obviously is quite critical.  The third thing we learned is that some of them were held in complete seclusion. One of the children that returned two days ago is a 12 year old boy, by the name of Eitan Yahalomi. His father was murdered, his mother is still alive. And he actually was in a room by himself for at least two weeks. And imagine for a 12 year old to be in this kind of hostile environment, on his own without anybody to communicate, underground, most of the time, that's quite scary.  We also know that they had very poor hygiene conditions, no running water, very, very minimal toilet facilities. We also know they never received any medical care and attention, no medicine, no doctors, nothing of that sort. And the last thing we know is that most of the time they were held underground, in an underground facility, different sizes of rooms. And all of these things are just a small indication of the cruelty of this terror organization called Hamas. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Congress is debating whether to send aid to Israel to support Israel in the war. How important is it at this point? Avital Leibovich:   I think it's very important. First of all, I do want to say that the support that Israel received from the US until now, it's unbelievable. The fact that there are, on the military side the fact that there are our aircraft carriers here in the region, and planes filled with different kinds of ammunition. That sends a very strong message of both deterrence and strength to the enemies in the region. And second, on the political, more strategic level. The voting, the vetoing of the different proposals on the Security Council in the UN, the multiple visits starting from President Biden to Secretary of State Blinken, which he’s supposed to arrive here tomorrow. And also appointing a special envoy to this specific situation that we have here in the region.  So all of these things speak volumes. So yes, I think it's very significant to Israel, and also the future decisions will be significant. Look, being at war for such a long time and 53 days have passed already has serious precautions on different issues. Economy is one of them. Obviously, tourism has stopped, small businesses have been affected and many other sectors as well. So aid would be very, very significant to Israel. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I'm also curious about the security situation in the West Bank. We were so focused on terrorism coming from the West Bank before this happened. What is the situation there now, especially as hostages are being released? Avital Leibovich:   It's a good question, because from where I'm sitting, the West Bank at this point of time is another front that Israel has to deal with at this specific moment. We have a serious challenge with the fact that the Palestinian Authority does not really have governance in many areas in the West Bank. And as a result of that, there are different kinds of terror groups, Hamas is one of them. But it's not the only one, trying to recruit Palestinians to commit different terror attacks. The second side of it is a lot of incitement, which is really flooding the social media platforms, and also has an effect on the mood on the streets on the mood of young people and others as well. So the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, actually almost on a daily basis, needs to enter certain areas where there is no prisons, unfortunately, have any Palestinian policemen, and actually arrest those terrorists on the ground. And I think in the last 50 days or so the IDF has arrested more than 1000 people that have been suspicious and with some kind of planning or plotting terror attacks against Israelis. And this does not seem to quiet down I have to say so I am concerned of this front.  At this point of time Hamas is though, by the way, investing a lot of time and effort because Hamas is interest is of course, to create lack of stability here in Israel. So part of that is the instability is trying to influence what's going on in the West Bank and trying to get people out to the streets, either protesting against idea for committing some sort of terror acts against Israelis so that's really an issue of concern for us. Manya Brachear Pashman:   We talked about the importance of American aid, are there other countries that are showing significant support that have been really vital in this war? Avital Leibovich:   I think that we've seen some very important gestures of support by European leaders from the Czech Republic, from Bulgaria, from, from the UK, from France, from Japan, from other countries. But I think the number one country in Europe that really stood up and is still standing up supporting Israel very, very strongly, is maybe Germany. And yesterday, the President of Germany visited Israel and visited one of the kibbutzes, a kibbutz called Be’eri. And a lot of the houses there were burned and dozens of people were murdered and others were kidnapped. And he was so touched and moved. And he said that the government of Germany intends to donate 7 million euros just for the rebuilding and renovating of this community.  But there are other countries as well, and I think Israel has been well supported by the international community. However, the challenge still lays ahead, because we are not at the end of this war. And in order to eliminate Hamas, we need more time. And as this time progresses, there will be a lot more pictures which are not pleasant because pictures from wars are not pleasant pictures. And this may have an impact on different kinds of world leaders. So we have to continue and explain and gain that legitimization so that Israel could complete its goal and continue to defend itself. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I know in conversations with AJC's, Berlin's director Remko Leemhuis, he brought delegations of German officials to Israel. And that has made quite a difference, I think, to see it firsthand. Have there been other delegations from other countries? Avital Leibovich:   So we have hosted here in Israel four delegations with very short notice. I have a great staff in the office, and they were able to create an itinerary, which I think is very experiential on one hand, but on the other hand, is also quite touching. Because how many people in such leadership positions really have the opportunity to really be on the ground and see the situation as it is. So we had here three parliamentary delegations from European countries, East and Western Europe. And we also had here the head of the, the chair of the Foreign Affairs security committee of the German parliament. And I met those three parliamentary delegations, and I briefed them.  And I have to say that with all the information that is out there today in 2023, via the internet and platforms and social media, still there is not a full understanding of the situation. So taking these participants on the ground, showing them those areas, those communities that have been affected, and taking them to a base that has been turned into a morgue. Where, even today, more than 80 bodies and body parts still remain unidentified because of the terrible condition that they came with. And I explained to them the extent of the atrocities. You can only really get it when you're on the ground.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Avital, once this pause expires, and I know it's unclear when that will be, but you've made it clear that it's inevitable – what comes next? Avital Leibovich:   I think we are heading into a very difficult time ahead. Because once we finish the hostage exchange kind of agreements, then Israel will have to return to the actual fighting part. And Hamas, which is a very bitter psychological warfare enemy will continue and try to stop this fighting in different psychological ways. Israeli leadership will have to make here tough decisions, whether the country agrees, for example, just I'll give you just one idea of such a dilemma.  Let's say Hamas tomorrow morning, or in three days time says, complete and finish the fighting altogether. Stop for the next five years, hold your fire for the next five fears, and in return, we will return all the hostages. Then what, then what do you do as a country? What kind of decision will the government take? Will it still continue with the fighting to eliminate Hamas? Or will it say okay, the life of the hostages are more important and therefore, we are canceling the original goal and stopping the fighting. I don't think that will happen.  But those kinds of dilemmas, I think will escort Israeli leaders in the next couple of days. I think they will be tough, very tough questions ahead that Israel will need to deal with. Another issue that we haven't discussed, is the northern arena. Hamas is a tough enemy. is a cruel enemy. It possesses something like 20,000 rockets, which they used more or less half, maybe a bit more. Because Hezbollah is a totally different ballgame in terms of capabilities in terms of military capabilities in terms of ammunition, precise ammunition and so on. And what will be the policy visa vie Hezbollah. And this is also a question Israel will need to ask itself and I'm sure that the next week or two will have an indication where this country is heading. There's one thing that it's clear to all of us here in Israel, that we cannot go back to the same situation that existed here on October 6–53 days ago. That situation must be changed. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Avital thank you so much for joining us and giving us an update.  Avital Leibovich:   Thank you for the opportunity.
19:10 11/29/23
The Good, the Bad, and the Death Threats: What It’s Like to Be a Jewish College Student Right Now
Delve into the unsettling rise of antisemitism on American college campuses, focusing on alarming incidents at Cornell University and Columbia University. Our guests, Molly Goldstein and Elliot Sadoff, both members of AJC's Campus Global Board, share their experiences of Jewish students being targeted in the classroom, physically attacked while raising awareness about kidnapped babies in Gaza, and facing death threats for merely speaking Hebrew. Join us as Molly and Elliott share their perspectives on this surge of antisemitism following the October 7th Hamas attacks, and the solidarity and Jewish pride they are seeing on campus. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Molly Goldstein and Elliot Sadoff Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: Jewish U.S. Military Veterans’ Message to IDF Soldiers Fighting Hamas: “We’re With You” What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? Renana Gomeh’s Sons Were Taken Hostage by Hamas: What She Needs You to Do to Bring Them Home Now What Biden’s Wartime Visit to Israel Signals to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Learn: What is Known About Israeli Hostages Taken by Hamas 7 Ways Hamas Exploits Palestinian Civilians in Gaza How much do you know about Hamas? Try to ace our quiz and expose the truth about the terror group today. AJC Campus Library AJC Campus Global Board Donate: Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Molly Goldstein and Elliot Sadoff: Manya Brachear Pashman:   Throughout her studies at Cornell University, junior Molly Goldstein has become passionate about the intersection of international relations, human rights and conflict resolution. She joined AJC's Campus global board last year to develop her Jewish advocacy skills on and off campus. But nothing could have prepared her for what has unfolded this year on Cornell's campus, where nearly a fourth of the students are Jewish. An arrest has been made after a number of posts on an online discussion board threatened extreme violence and death to Jews on campus, specifically identifying the address of Cornell's kosher dining hall.  Likewise, Elliot Sadoff also joined AJC's Campus global board last year. He is a dual degree student at Tel Aviv University and Columbia University, where an Israeli student was physically attacked while hanging posters of kidnapped babies trapped in Gaza. And Jewish students have received death threats and been spat upon for speaking Hebrew. Molly and Elliot are with us now to discuss what they've witnessed as antisemitism related to the Israel Hamas war has emerged at an alarming rate on a number of American college campuses across the country. Elliot, Molly, welcome to People of the Pod. Molly Goldstein:   Thank you for having us.  Elliot Sadoff:   Yeah, thank you. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So I first have to ask, how are you both doing? And how are you coping with the intensity of all of this? Elliot Sadoff:   I mean, I think you can ask anyone how they're doing these days, and it's hard to answer. But definitely holding in there. I've been very lucky the past few weeks because of the program I'm in where I have a lot of students with me who are studying at Tel Aviv University. So we've really formed a tight knit community that's able to support each other throughout these times. With everything going on on campus and around the world. It's a very good support system to have that I don't think a lot of students do. It's not easy to go to class and be looking around you thinking what's going to happen, what are people going to say, what does this professor think? But to have a support system like that is very helpful.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Molly, how about you? Molly Goldstein:   Over the past month, it's definitely progressed to feeling more and more afraid to be a Jew on campus. But something that doesn't make it to the media, I believe the media likes to portray, you know, all the horrible things that are happening on campus, but the Jewish community at Cornell has really come together, in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen during my time at Cornell. We've had the Shabbat dinners with filling capacity of the kosher dining hall. We've had, you know, Jews from Monsey coming and bringing us food for a barbecue for 200 people. We had never met them before in our entire lives. And they just decided to come up and do this wonderful, wonderful, good deed for us. And there's nothing more I could have asked to be proud of as a Jew. And I hope that Jews on campus know that, although it's scary, we will get through this time. And we should be proud and continue to be Jewish. Manya Brachear Pashman:   That's really comforting to hear. And I'm sure your parents find that really comforting to hear, especially as they watch the news and wonder how their children are doing. What are you hearing from them? How are they doing? Molly Goldstein:   Yeah, parents are definitely more scared than I have ever seen them before. I mean, I had people's parents coming up to get their kids and take them home. People's parents like requesting that we have to sue the University and we have to get these kids off campus and we have to take really harsh actions. And it's because they're scared, they don't know what to do. They're far away from their kids. And, you know, it's up to us to make sure that their parents know that we'll be safe and, and for them to know that everything that needs to be done is getting done for Jewish students. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Elliot, anything to add to that? Elliot Sadoff:   Yeah, I mean, I can just echo what Molly was saying about kind of uniting around this and being proud of, like being Jewish and rallying around the community and that my parents are scared, a lot of parents are scared. But there's also been a lot of people working together to change that environment, to change the narrative to to help students be proud of who they are. I don't know if you've seen recently there's a large Facebook group, Mothers Against College Antisemitism, which I think now is hundreds of 1000s of people. I could be mistaken there. But it shows that there are people who care about us, there are people who care about protecting their identity and supporting students and I think that's really meaningful. That's very helpful to see on campus. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Molly, can you walk our listeners through what has happened at Cornell? I mean, how did you first hear about the threats that I mentioned in the introduction? And what precautions did you and other students take? Molly Goldstein:   Yeah, absolutely. So I was sitting in my room actually in the Center for Jewish Living, which was the place that was threatened by a bomb threat, as well as it's right next door to the kosher dining hall, which the student threatened to shoot up. And I was sitting, you know, doing homework in my room, and all of a sudden, there's a Cornellians for Israel group chat that now has 1000s of people in it. It's progressed over the month since the war has started. And we just get a link from one of the students that found it, and said, like, look, what we have posted online, and all of a sudden, all the threats started coming in. My immediate reaction was genuine fear. I'm sitting in the building, I did not know what was going to happen to me or my fellow community members. And pretty quickly, we got Cornell Police Department on the case, we got the FBI, Homeland Security, Ithaca police and New York State Police, everybody showed up and was at the dining hall and kosher spaces. And that night, the President of the University and vice president of the university came to our house, to see how we were doing and make sure that we know they're doing everything they can to ensure our safety.  And, you know, they would not have come if they really thought their lives were in danger. But it was scary. I had students, you know, weren't sleeping in the house that night. They found other places to go, whether that was other friends who had apartments or relatives, family, friends in Ithaca. And as the day went on, we had New York Governor Kathy Hochol came the next morning, the next morning, within just 12 hours was at our doorstep, talking to us, ensuring that New York State was going to do everything they can to condemn antisemitism to ensure our safety for not just Jewish students at Cornell, but Jewish students at all New York State campuses, which includes Columbia, and you know, CUNY schools, which are having a really difficult time with anti-Zionism and antisemitism. And as time went on, we were getting, you know, news media coverage. And we never went on lockdown. But we were doing everything we could to keep people safe. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Did you feel that the university was doing enough to respond? It sounds like people from across the state were doing enough, or doing a lot. But was the university doing enough in your opinion? Molly Goldstein:   In my opinion, yes. I think the fact that the President and the Vice President came immediately to make sure we're doing okay, they released a statement that night, and the next day they were updating their social media with everything that they were doing. And they just released actually that they are changing their antisemitism in their DEI training, so that it's more prevalent and that education can be better on that front.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Eliott, can you walk our listeners through the atmosphere at Columbia, I know a student was attacked, but there have also been smaller acts of aggression. I won't say microaggressions because there's nothing micro about a swastika on a wall. But can you walk us through the general atmosphere there? Elliot Sadoff:   Yeah, so I think throughout the past month, the atmosphere on campus at Columbia has generally felt unsafe for Jewish students. Obviously, there were the incidents where the physical safety of students was was under threat where the Israeli student was attacked for putting up posters of those that were kidnapped, but also reports of people yelling on campus, f the Jews or people being spit on and I think either one or two now swastikas being drawn on campus. But it just kind of fits into the broader rhetoric on campus. There seems to be the downplaying of anti semitism and anti Zionism and in class on campus, Jewish students aren't feeling safe. They aren't feeling welcomed by the professors, by their peers, by people in New York City. And the rhetoric for me from what I've seen and what my friends have seen from what I'm hearing from the pro Israel groups is that it seems the real effect and a real threat, antisemitism is being downplayed. There's an anonymous app that, obviously, it's an online platform. I think a lot of schools are dealing with this, where students sign up, can post whatever they want without consequences.  And for the past few weeks, it's been riddled with antisemitism. There seems to be no consequences for anyone. People are saying again, like F the Jews, Israel should be demolished. Lives of Israelis don't matter. And there's an anti semitic incident someone posted and all the comments are saying, This is not real. It's over blasted. This isn't a real threat to Jewish students. And that I think that doesn't that doesn't help anyone. It doesn't help the Palestinian cause to do this. It doesn't help the Israeli cause to do this. It's just it's making everyone feel unsafe. Manya Brachear Pashman:   What is this app that you mentioned, where there is no accountability?  Elliot Sadoff:   So the apps called Sidechat, but I think other campuses have different ones-Sidechat, YikYak, some other ones where you have to log in with your student university email to verify that your student at Columbia, or then you get access to a Columbia on the message board where there's posting, you can upvote or downvote, you can comment, post images. And this entire month, the app just every day, you can't scroll through it. 75% of the posts are completely antisemitic, saying Jews don't have a right to live, Jewscan't do this, that, downplaying antisemitism, minimizing it saying it's not happening, saying Jewish lives don't matter. And these things have been brought up, from my understanding, this has been brought up to the university. And obviously, it's hard for them to control. We want everyone to be able to have free speech and speak their mind. But it seems that there's a line that's been crossed here, and Jewish students feel unsafe because of this, and it continues to this day, even this morning. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And who runs this app? It's not a university run app. It's a company, right? Elliot Sadoff:   It's a company, but they advertise at the club fair, they're on campus, they have tables, you need your university email to log in. So it seems there should be some way to provide accountability. And obviously, it's not an official university platform. But it's an atmosphere that's not safe for Jewish students. That's part of what's going on on campus. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You said that there is a feeling of danger in the classroom that you have. Have you personally encountered hostility in the classroom? Elliot Sadoff:   In a lot of my classes, it's that I don't want to spark hostility. And I don't want to say what my thoughts are, I don't want to say that I might feel unsafe as a Jewish student, I don't want to tell people that I went to school in Tel Aviv. And that's the program that I'm part of.  I mean, if I see some of my professors that I've had in the past signing a petition that says Hamas’ actions are legitimate military action, how am I supposed to feel safe on campus? My professors are signing this, ones that I've had, they know who I am, I've had conversations with them. And this is what they're signing. And that just adds into the fact that in some of my other classes, people are kind of using free speech as a guise to promote antisemitism and that one professor at Columbia described awe and joy at Hamas’ attack on Israel. And this is a pretty well known case that this professor has been espousing these ideas. And in my class, people are saying, this is free speech. You can't criticize him, you can't. You can't deny that you can't take action against him when there's a difference. It's clearly adding to a rhetorical atmosphere that's making Jewish students feel unsafe. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And what about you, Molly? Has there been any hostility in classrooms at Cornell that you've, you've come across? Molly Goldstein:   There are many students who have been coming out and reporting professors and other students in their classes, who are spewing anti-Israel, anti-Zionist views. And it's really toeing the line between anti-Zionism and real antisemitism. And it's scary. I mean, I know a student who has family who's in the IDF right now fighting in Gaza, and one of their cousin's just was killed and they tried to get accommodations from the professor and they weren't accommodating. There's another class on you know, colonialism and a writing seminar for first year students. So this is exactly what they're going to introduce to the university. And when they were first asked about their opinions on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, they said, you know, we feel bad for everybody, like innocent lives, nobody should be killed. This is not right. And the professor's reaction was to then say all the horrible things that Israel is doing, and tried to convince the class that they should be on the side of the Palestinians. And then they ask the question again, and almost nobody wants to talk because they were scared of disagreeing with the professor, or they were confused. And it's real propaganda that's being pushed through the university and people aren't able, people aren't able to make the distinctions and be able to freely express their opinions, their problems or opinions or their pro Jewish opinions for that matter. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Has there been any kind of constructive dialogue either facilitated by faculty by students? Has there been any evidence that people are willing to understand other points of view or embrace the complexities of the conflict. Molly Goldstein:   So the only experience I've had with true constructive dialogue was at the beginning, I'm like October 10, or 11th, or something like that. There was a student assembly meeting where SJP on campus, I proposed a resolution to condemn Cornell University for not speaking out for the Palestinian people. Their statement had only mentioned: Hamas is a terrorist organization and didn't say anything about the innocent Palestinian lives that are being lost. And in addition to that resolution, it was you should divest from Israel, you should deem it an occupied apartheid state. And a whole bunch of SJP people and a whole bunch of pro Israel, people came to the student assembly meeting.  And after everyone showed their views, the person who had originally proposed the resolution, wanted to amend it. And they said, You know what, I can understand why this was very harmful. Let's try to change and have constructive dialogue. And at the end, we all came together. And we were all talking about our views and our notions. And that was probably the last time that there was constructive dialogue on campus. Unfortunately, that was like three weeks ago. Since then, you know, the university has had panels and other talks led by professors, but the academics are not in favor of Israel. They do not like to show both sides of the narrative. And it's always from an anti-Israel voice. And it's scary and hard to see. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Elliot, how about constructive dialogue on Columbia's campus–any at all? Elliot Sadoff:   I know that the School of International and Public Affairs has held a few meetings, but it hasn't been student dialogue at all. It's just been webinars from what I understand. And since a month ago, October 7, I haven't seen anything with students that's been constructive, that's been meaningful. And I think that's really the issue that I see with that, and I think a lot of other Jewish students do with that is that it doesn't help us it doesn't help anyone that there's no constructive dialogue. If someone wants to sit down with me and discuss the Israeli Palestinian conflict, I'm happy to do so. I know that there's a lot to discuss. But I haven't seen any of that. All I've seen as Israel's bad. Israel's done this. No actual discussion, and how does that help anyone? I can't sit here and, and feel safe and feel safe to discuss this. If people won't condemn Hamas. People will say: the resistance lives, I support them, they're not a terrorist organization, they didn't behead babies. Then there's no room for discussion. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You know, I keep using the word constructive. But I guess really, another word is compassionate. I mean, has there been compassionate dialogue? And I think one, they are one in the same in this situation. Would you characterize any of the conversations you've had with individual students as leaning toward compassionate, even if not really all that constructive? Elliot Sadoff:   Personally, I've not. And I think that's what's so hurtful is that I would love to have a compassionate conversation. Recognize that right now, both Israelis and Palestinians are suffering. It's the sad truth. It's the reality. But if you can't acknowledge that, if you can't recognize that Israelis are suffering, too. There's no room for compassion. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So AJC has developed an action plan for confronting campus antisemitism. It's a toolkit for students. It closely follows the US national strategy to counter antisemitism that was unveiled by the White House in May. The final step in that toolkit is recruiting and forming a task force to address antisemitism on campuses. Do you see that happening at Cornell or Columbia? Elliot Sadoff:   Fortunately, Columbia, about a week and a half ago, announced that they're launching an Antisemitism Taskforce, which is welcomed, I'm very happy that you're doing it. It's something that is necessary to protect Jewish students and to protect everyone on campus. Personally, though, it is a little upsetting that it took this to happen for there to be an Antisemitism Task Force as antisemitism is not a new problem. This anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment is not a new problem on campus or in the world. And the fact that it's being launched, investigated and addressed as a result of a lot of bad stuff happening as opposed to proactively protecting students on campus is a little upsetting. Obviously, it's a welcome step, it's a step in the right direction. But I don't know if I feel any safer now than I did last week before it was announced. Manya Brachear Pashman:   College is hard enough. And so I'm really impressed that both of you joined us, that both of you are confronting this problem and this challenge and doing so with such bravery and such poise. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us and we're gonna be rooting for you and fighting for you every step of the way. Molly Goldstein:   Thank you so much.  Elliot Sadoff:   Thank you for having us.
20:25 11/16/23
Jewish U.S. Military Veterans’ Message to IDF Soldiers Fighting Hamas: “We’re With You”
In honor of Veterans Day, explore the unique experiences of Jewish U.S. military veterans with Dave Warnock, U.S. Army Veteran, and Andrea Goldstein, U.S. Navy Veteran and Reservist. Our guests share what inspired them to join the military, how their Jewish heritage played a significant role in shaping their service, and what advice they have for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers fighting now against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Warnock and Goldstein are members of AJC’s ACCESS Jewish Military Veterans Affinity Group, a space to convene young Jewish professionals who have served in the American military. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Dave Warnock, Andrea Goldstein Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas? Renana Gomeh’s Sons Were Taken Hostage by Hamas: What She Needs You to Do to Bring Them Home Now What Biden’s Wartime Visit to Israel Signals to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Learn: What is Known About Israeli Hostages Taken by Hamas 7 Ways Hamas Exploits Palestinian Civilians in Gaza How much do you know about Hamas? Try to ace our quiz and expose the truth about the terror group today. Donate: Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Dave Warnock and Andrea Goldstein: Manya Brachear Pashman: This episode pays tribute to our nation's veterans. Guest hosting is my colleague Dr. Dana Levinson Steiner, Director of ACCESS Global at AJC, where she oversees an international program to engage young professionals. In that group are a number of Jewish military veterans who have served in the American Armed Forces. Dana, the mic is yours.  Dana Levinson Steiner: Thanks, Manya. I'm so happy that we're here today. It was just over two years ago that we formed the ACCESS Jewish Military Veterans Affinity Group, which is a space for us to convene young Jewish professionals who had served in the American military. And here we are now recording our first People of the Pod podcast episode in honor of and commemorating Veterans Day.  With us today are: Dave Warnock, U.S. Army Veteran, joining us from his home in Seattle, Washington, and Andrea Goldstein, U.S. Navy Veteran and Reservist, who is based in Washington, D.C. Dave, Andrea, thanks for joining us today. Dave Warnock:   Happy to be here, Dana. Andrea Goldstein:   Yeah, I’m glad to be here.  Dana Levinson Steiner: To kick off the conversation, please tell us a little bit about your journey as an American Jewish military veteran. What inspired you to join the United States Armed Forces? Dave, let’s start with you. Dave Warnock:   For me, there are two kind of main things when I look back on what propelled me to join the US Army. The first one was my great grandfather, Saul Fink. The family legend is like he emigrated over from the shtetl. His family settled in Harlem. And when he heard about what was going on in Texas at the time, and 1916 and 1914 with the Pancho Villa incursions, he felt so propelled by patriotism and love of America that he had to run away from home and enlist at 16 years old. Which he did. Joined the Horse Calvary, a proper Jewish cowboy chasing after Pancho Villa in New Mexico, in a forgotten war. And he made sort of a career out of the army. So that's the legend that he was propelled by patriotism, maybe hated the tenement, maybe just wanted to get out of Harlem, get some fresh air, see the American West, I don't know.  But his service propelled him forward in American society, through the US Army in a way that I think would have been unavailable to a lot of Jews at the time. It's not to say that it was an easy journey. He was certainly discriminated against; he shortened his name from Finkelstein to Fink for reasons that are not kind of lost to history. One joke is that it couldn't fit on the nametag. But through this service, he was elevated in society, he became an officer in World War I. He served through World War II and in the army of occupation in Germany. And his stature, sort of the patriarch of my family, loomed large. My middle name is Solomon, I'm named after him. So that kind of tradition was part of it. Another part was, I enlisted in 2004. So three years after 91/1 when I was a freshman in high school, and that terrorist attack really did propelled, cemented my decision to serve you know, if that didn't happen, I don't know what I would have done differently. But those are the two main reasons that propelled me to join. And I joined the Army and I volunteered for the infantry because I wanted to be a soldier.  Dana Levinson Steiner: In a lot of ways, it is our family that inspires us to make these kinds of decisions and we learn so much from our family history and our family lineage. Andrea, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your journey too and I'm curious if family played a role in your decision to join the Navy. Andrea Goldstein:   My family decision to do the military was much more related to growing up in the United States, growing up in New York at a time actually, probably when we didn't have the NYPD outside of synagogues. I didn't really think about being Jewish, at least in New York in the 90s. But my family came here in mostly two waves, most in the early 20th century, and then another wave right before the Holocaust, and found everything they were looking for. And depending on which wave, either second generation or third generation where a sense of precarity and being American was gone. We just were American Jews. And I am currently sitting in a home that has embroidery on the wall that was sent to my great-grandmother, by family members who ended up–who perished in the shoah. This country really gave us everything and I wanted to give back to that.  The value of tikkun olam is very central to everything that I do. And so serving my country and wearing the cloth of the nation to me felt like really the only way to do that.  9/11 was not a motivating factor for me, despite growing up in New York City and being in New York City on 9/11. My desire to serve in uniform predated that, in fact, 9/11 led me to really not so much reconsider, but really give even more thought to my military service, because I knew I would be serving in conflict zones, which, with the peacetime military of the 90s, that wasn't clear. But I ended up joining through an officer program. I didn't initially have any family support, because it was such a shocking choice. I had great-grandparents who'd served during World War Two great-uncles, but not from a military family at all. And what became very understood by my family, because it was, what was motivating me was, this desire to serve my country and wear the cloth of the nation, no matter what. Dana Levinson Steiner: I want to pivot a little bit, I want to get back to questions of Jewish identity in a moment. But when we're thinking about American Jews serving in the US armed forces, while there isn't a ton of data, the most recent-ish data suggests that just about 1% of the US armed forces, or the US military, is made up of American Jews. It's tiny, only 1%. And that 1% is of an already really small number of American Jews who already live in this country.  So, you know, thinking about this statistic and also acknowledging American history in serving in the military. What do we make of this small number? And what would you like to tell young American Jews who may be considering joining the military but may have doubts or concerns? Andrea Goldstein:   So there are a couple of things I would say to that. I would comment on that data–first of all, that's only commenting that that only includes self reported numbers because we don't collect demographic data on, it’s seen as completely religious affiliation. The military does not collect demographics on Jews as being an ethnic group. So it's actually quite difficult to self-report your religion. So there's going to be an undercount, there are people who are Jewish, who may even practice privately, who are not reporting. And it also doesn't capture Jewish families.  So it doesn't capture the number of people who may be not Jewish themselves, but their partner and spouse is Jewish, and they're raising Jewish children, and they're observing Jewish holidays with their families. So there's a lot that we really don't know. What I would also say is, if you were to overlay where the military struggles to recruit from, with the parts of the country where most Jews live in the United States, you would see probably some very interesting geographic trends.  The military has become a family business. There has also been, there have been some comforts that the military has had in where they recruit from. And that typically is not New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Washington, DC. So in addition to being one of the very few Jews that I know, in the military, I think I know probably even fewer people from New York City, especially officers. Dana Levinson Steiner: Dave, I'm curious, your thoughts on some of these numbers? And also maybe what you would tell–you and I have talked about this before about wanting to really engage in conversation with young American Jews about this experience and what it can mean for them, you know, acknowledging this number a while not perfect, I would imagine it's not so massive. So tell us a little bit about what you think and also maybe what you would tell a young American Jew who might be considering enlisting. Dave Warnock:   Sure. First off, my mom was also very surprised when I joined, perplexed, flummoxed, aggrieved, perhaps she would have much rather me not join the army. But I just have to get that out there because she's certainly going to listen to this. Yeah, so, you know, I don't know where that number comes from, you know, the infantry's a different representation, I would say Jews were less than 1% of the infantry. But when I was at basic training, like for one station unit training, as they called it back then, after your red phase, like your hell phase, or whatever you want to call it, you are allowed to go to religious services on Sunday.  So I went to Jewish services on Sunday, because, you know, it is the army. And I want to do it, like in my basic training company, there were no other Jews. So the company’s like 200 guys, and then when you go to religious services, they're all of a sudden, like, 200 guys, they're like, Oh, my God, why so many Jews all of a sudden in every company in Fort Benning, except for mine? And then I realized is because they serve Kiddush lunch and you could get snacky cakes after services. And it turns out there were like three actual Jews at the services. Andrea Goldstein:   I had a completely different experience in officer candidate school where we were allowed to leave on Friday nights. Dana Levinson Steiner: Oh, interesting. Dave, what was your experience?  Dave Warnock:   So again,, this is like 2005, things might have changed. But when you joined a Combat Arms significant you just went to one station unit training and it was a fairly intense experience. Think about Full Metal Jacket, whatever, people screaming at you, doing lots of push ups. And all your time is blocked out and accounted for. So you've trained on Saturdays and religious service time was Sunday morning. That's the time you got, so if you want to go to services, you  had to do that. Something to consider if you join certain aspects of the military is, religious accommodations will be difficult. You know, I served with guys who were vegetarian. And there's one vegetarian MRE. You ate that a lot, like our rations for the field. So you eat that vegetarian ration a lot. Get real used to it.  Certainly that is a consideration and it would be difficult to be religiously observant. In the infantry. I actually there was one guy in my company on the latter half of my service who was a religious Jew. And he basically got a lot of exceptions by his rabbi to serve. Because it was hard. The army would accommodate him to an extent, like, for example, we had to shave every day. And so he was allowed to use an electric razor. But it's something to consider if you are religious, that serving in the US military will be challenging.  But you know, I encourage people to consider it. I don't regret my service, it's difficult to imagine my adult life without it. I'd say, I'm proud of it, too. But it carries costs. You know, when I was 19, on my first tour in Iraq, I was wounded, it took me six months to recover and get back to the line. The, almost five years I was in, I rarely saw my family because I was stationed in Germany and deployed to Iraq twice. So I was overseas, essentially, for the entire time of my service. And that's something to consider, but this is all my perspective.  But the experiences you get, that will propel you forward in life in a way that I don't think you get through other things, certainly, when you're 18, or when I was. That being said, you know, a lot of soldiers in my unit did die in combat. A lot of guys, when they got out, they did struggle with PTSD and suicide. So it's not all sunshine and roses. But for me, it was the right decision. Andrea Goldstein: Military service is really incredible. My field does have more Jewish folks, especially in the reserves where I'm still serving. What's been very interesting is as an intelligence officer, the active duty component doesn't have a lot of Jewish people, but the reserve component, my last unit, we had enough people to have a minyan in a unit of 50 people. And I have found, similarly to just living in society. I mean, your exercises are not–you’re going to have exercises that take place during Rosh Hashanah, you're going to be deployed around Christian holidays so that people can be home for Christmas. Maybe you'll be lucky if that's around Hanukkah.  But I've also found people to who I've worked with to be incredibly accommodating up until, up  to the extent that they can. So maybe I was going to be away for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. But people would change their shifts with me on watch so that I could run the service because I was the lay leader, or so that I could break my fast at the end of Yom Kippur war.  And I experienced people being really curious and asking a lot of really good, in good faith questions. And I've had incredible experiences that range from serving with a lot of incredible, not just our military, but partner militaries. The most rewarding was my time with NATO where I got to teach in Norway and Greece and in  Sweden and get to have these incredible experiences with people as the people who– actually the Germans all notice my last name, which was really interesting. And that's a whole other story. But you also see things you can't experience anywhere else. And it's not just the–I saw a meteor shower in the middle of the ocean, on my 26th birthday from the middle of a ship. Like there are certain experiences that you don't think about when you're going into the profession of arms. But you will get to experience these incredibly vibrant experiences just because you've, you've made this choice to go where no one else does. And so it's incredibly rewarding.  I've also found that as a millennial, I mean, there are some very realistic things about the economic environment that we graduated into. And because of my military service, I have no debt, and I own a home. I have a master's degree that the GI bill paid for. So there's some other things. Dana Levinson Steiner: You talked about sort of the things that you learned and the experience that you got as a young person. Dave tell us maybe a little about some of the more rewarding experiences or things were really profoundly important to you in your service. Dave Warnock:   I got out when I was 23. So 13 years ago now and memories once so vivid that I thought I would never forget him kind of faded away a little bit. One thing that I'll never forget, that was quite challenging, because after I was wounded, I was kind of serving in the rear just like in a limited duty capacity, like back in my garrison. And it was a tough tour, you know, lots of us got wounded, we had lots of members of our battalion killed. And I was asked by chain of command, as much as one can be asked in the military to escort a soldier's body back to his parents and to his burial in Arlington Cemetery. And I did that, and that was, I can't even describe just what that moment felt like to do that to be present there. It's kind of like a unit liaison. I didn't know the soldier, we were in different companies. But that was something I'll never forget. Actually escorting a soldier back to his parents.  Another memory I'll never forget is like, because I have a photo of it. And it's on the wall in our living room is, the photo of me and my fire team. I was a sergeant on my second tour. And so I led like a small unit of four guys. And I have a picture when we were leaving Iraq for the last time. And just that sense of accomplishment of, everyone came home safe from my team on that tour. And that's why it's hung up on my wall. It's you know, we're smiling. We're happy. We're leaving. Yeah, so those are two things that tend to stand out in my service.  Dana Levinson Steiner: So Andrea, you started off by saying that the value of tikkun olam, repairing the world is one of the things that really guides you. And what I want to ask both you and Dave is how has your identity as a Jew, also shaped your experience as a veteran, we talked a little bit about, you know, in the beginning about your experiences as Jews or maybe your family, being involved in the military not being involved, being surprised. But tell us a little bit about how your identity as a Jew has shaped your experience as a military veteran and as someone who served in our armed forces. Andrea Goldstein:   So I left active duty in 2016 and stayed in the reserves but left full time service because I felt like I had reached a ceiling on what I could really do for others and that be my full time job. I wanted to keep serving, I wanted to keep serving my country. But a lot of that actually had to do with the way that I saw a lot of my teammates being mistreated by systemic issues, whether they be cultural or policy. And I wanted to spend a lot more of my time actively putting putting more good into the world versus preventing bad things from happening. Because that's what you do in the military, especially if you’re in intel, you try to stop the bad you don't do anything that actively promotes the good. And so I've spent the last seven years in my civilian career, either in nonprofit or public service, doing just that.  And about half of that time has been active either actively helping veterans, particularly women veterans, and people who have experienced sexual violence or other kinds of institutionalized harm, and currently serving members of the military. And I also firmly believe that our institutions need to live up to the ideals that we profess. And  I want our nation to represent the ideals that my family came here believing it had.  And so that's what I've been doing with my time. I spent two and a half years on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and helped write over 100 laws that particularly supported women veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, sexual trauma survivors, people living with PTSD, to help them get improved access to healthcare and benefits. And I'm also very proud that I've also had the opportunity to work with the IDF and provided some insight into the way that we've made some policy changes here in the US. Dana Levinson Steiner: Dave, tell us a little bit about your Jewish identity and how it plays into this experience. Dave Warnock:   Well, my unit was very diverse in many ways, not gender, because the unit was closed to, or  at the time that the MLS was close to females, so the unit was,  the job was all male. And, you know, part of the pipeline and being new and being a private is your identity is kind of like stripped away and melted down, you're built up as part of this team, your individualism is kind of knocked away. So when that process happens, you know, whatever is the more like forefront of your identity kind of consumes it. In a sense that, like, if you have a very pronounced southern accent, everyone's going to call you a country guy, or whatever. And if you're from New York, there's a guy from Queens, so like, everything about him became like, you're the New York guy.  And for me, it was like I was the Jew. Because that was the most forefront and center thing of my identity. Also, when you shave my head, I have a really big head. So it was all like, all my nicknames were either about having a big head or being a Jew. And then eventually, when I started to grow my hair back and settled more on the latter.  So it was always very central to my service, because that was me, I was like the company's guy who was Jewish. And that was not  meant in a derogatory term was more of like a statement of fact. And I think the only thing I really had to overcome was like, in 2005, when you're serving with people, like when I said it was diverse, you could be serving with people from all over the country, the US territories and guys from parts of the South I’ve never heard of, guys from the center of the country place have never been soldiers from Puerto Rico and Guam, like all over the world are serving in the US Army and then we have immigrant soldiers from, you know, Colombia, Nicaragua, Vietnam, like it was a very wide swath of representation and not very many of them had even met a Jew before.  So in a way I was like the first Jew a lot of them had ever met. And I think, you know, rewind back 2005. If you know anything about Jews you probably know like Woody Allen and  Jerry Seinfeld, which are exactly like pictures of guys you want in a foxhole with you. So I had to sort of maybe work a little harder to prove myself in the basic soldiering tasks, but like that didn't take very long. A lot of guys asked me questions about Judaism, because they genuinely didn't know. And I think one of the benefits of my service is, these guys take back their experiences with me, which I hope are positive, and then like, go back to wherever they're from. And they're like, if Judaism or Jews comes up, they're like, Hey, I served with a Jewish guy, he was pretty cool.  But I think that was very important to me, and why it's so important for Jews to continue military service, because you just meet people from all over the country that you never would have met before. And it broadened my experiences too, serving with those guys.  Dana Levinson Steiner: I think, hearing the story about how in many cases you might have been the first few that these folks have met is really important. I think in a lot of ways it helps to demystify, or in most important cases, maybe even act against antisemitic ideas or stereotypes. So I think that that's really important. And Dave, you and I have talked over the years, about how sort of the term of calling you a Jew was like a term of endearment. It wasn't in terms of a term of antisemitism. And in spending a lot of my time with this ACCESS Military Veterans Group, I've gotten to learn some of the interesting elements of how you communicate and what that can look like.  So I have just one more question for us. And I think it's really important to acknowledge this moment that we're in. On October 7, Israel experienced one of the most horrific tragedies in its 75 year history. It was and continues to be a horrific day for Israelis and the Jewish community around the world. As of today's recording, over 300 soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands have been called up for active and reserve duty.  So a question I have for both of you is, what is a message that you have, or that you can share, Jewish veteran to Jewish veteran. And I should even say just veteran to veteran because one of the amazing things about Israel is that there are many who serve in the IDF and who've been called up for reserve duty or who are in active duty who are not Jewish. They're a part of the Druze community. They're Arab Israelis. I think that's really what makes Israel such a remarkable country.  So tell us a little bit about perhaps your reactions to that day. And also a message that you have for your fellow soldiers in Israel. Andrea Goldstein:   I'm struggling to react because – the horror, rage, I'm just going to start crying on this podcast and not be able to actually give words. I was actually in touch on WhatsApp with several women who I've had the opportunity to work with who are veterans and reservists in the IDF. And there's definitely this kind of secret community of women around the world who have served in combat roles. Even if they weren't in combat, occupational specialties in their countries, where we know what we did, and our service has often gone unacknowledged and erased. And that service is also particularly called upon during the most desperate times, which we are in now. And the message that I have is we see you, we’re with you and we want to run towards chaos with you.  Dana Levinson Steiner: Thank you so much, Andrea. Dave? Dave Warnock:   I mean, I can't say anything that hasn't already been said. You know, shock, anger. My wife and I are expecting our first child soon. And I didn't think we'd be having a daughter, be worried about like, I just thought, ignorantly, that these sorts of things were perhaps in the past. All I can say to those who are going to go serve is, keep your head on a swivel. Watch out for your battle buddy. All the things we used to say to each other then are still true now. Dana Levinson Steiner: Thank you. I think just knowing that you are in community with them, and that they have love and support is so powerful. And as I think both of you know, our ACCESS chapters are all over the world, including in Israel, where a huge number of our ACCESS leaders have been called up for active and reserve duty. So we're thinking of them in this moment.  And we're thinking of all soldiers as we approach Veterans Day, and we're so grateful for the two of you sharing your story with us and sharing your time with us and giving a voice to the more than 1% we will hope of American Jewish veterans and perhaps even encourage some folks who may have been thinking that this is something that's been on their mind, maybe perhaps it might be the moment for them to lean into that into that journey as a Jewish member of our armed forces. So thank you both for joining us. Wishing you a restful and restorative weekend. And Shabbat Shalom. Dave Warnock:   Shabbat shalom, thank you.  Andrea Goldstein:   Thank you so much, shabbat shalom. Manya Brachear Pashman: What would you do if your son was kidnapped by Hamas? In this heartfelt conversation with Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, the parents of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg Polin, they shared what they know about their son’s abduction from the Supernova music festival on October 7th and the challenges they face in trying to secure his rescue.  Hamas terrorists are holding hostage more than 240 people from over 30 countries, which the couple describes as a global humanitarian crisis that world leaders are not treating as such. They shared ways that we all can keep the hostages’ stories alive and bring them home. Go to to do your part.
28:29 11/9/23
What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas?
In this heartfelt conversation with Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, the parents of 23-year-old Hersh, who is among the over 240 hostages held by Hamas terrorists, they detail what they know about their son’s abduction from the Supernova music festival on October 7th and the challenges they face in trying to secure his rescue. They also describe their dismay that world leaders are not doing enough to bring the hostages home and share ways to keep their son and all the hostages’ stories alive.  Take action to bring all hostages home now. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Jon Polin, Rachel Goldberg Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: Renana Gomeh’s Sons Were Taken Hostage by Hamas: What She Needs You to Do to Bring Them Home Now What Biden’s Wartime Visit to Israel Signals to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Learn: What is Known About Israeli Hostages Taken by Hamas 7 Ways Hamas Exploits Palestinian Civilians in Gaza How much do you know about Hamas? Try to ace our quiz and expose the truth about the terror group today. Donate: Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg: Jon Polin: This is a global humanitarian issue. And every day, I wonder why is the world not speaking in that way? Why is the world shoving this into a simple black and white box of Israeli-Gaza, Israeli-Palestinian? Why are 33 foreign ministers around the world not holding hands and screaming about the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis? Manya Brachear Pashman: On October 7, Hamas terrorists broke into homes and raided a music festival, murdering more than 1400 civilians and soldiers and kidnapping at least 245 from more than 30 different countries. Almost four weeks later, only five hostages have returned home. Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg say it doesn’t matter where this happened. It is an international atrocity carried out against innocent lives and families around the world, including their own. But no one is talking about the hostage situation in Gaza in those terms. Why not?  Jon and Rachel are with us now to talk about their quest to bring home their 23-year-old son Hersh and the other hostages. Jon, Rachel: Welcome. Thank you for joining us.  Jon Polin:   Thank you.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Can you tell our listeners what you know about your son's abduction and the circumstances? It is a widely known story I think by now but just for those few that have not heard. Rachel Goldberg: So, I'll give you a sort of quick version because as you said, I think a lot of people already are familiar with Hersh's story. But he and his best friend who were at the music festival when the massacre started, they escaped in a car with two other friends and started to try to head north to get out of harm's way.  But the road was blocked by Hamas gunmen who were just shooting at point blank range anyone who even got near them. So Hersh and his friends, and many other of the young people who were also in cars trying to escape, just stopped the cars, flung the doors open, and went running to these outside, roadside bomb shelters.  Hersh and his friend Amer ended up with 29, a total of what we believe to be 29 of them smushed into this cinder block reinforced windowless small bomb shelter, which Hamas started to descend upon and threw in initially, hand grenades, which Hersh’s friend Amer was standing by the doorway and manage to actually retrieve, pickup before detonating and throw back out at least seven of them. Three did detonate inside causing a lot of carnage.  And then Hamas brought in an RPG which they fired directly into this small room of young people. And then they sprayed the room with machine gun bullets.  After a couple of minutes of the dust settling, most of those young people were dead. Many of them were severely wounded, some were trapped under the dead bodies and the dying bodies and it is from those witnesses that we heard what happened to Hersh.  Which is, he was slumped with three other boys against one of the walls and they were all somewhat injured but they still appeared alive. And Hamas walked in and said, everybody you know you four stand up and come outside. And when they stood up, the eyewitnesses told us that Hersh's left arm from around the elbow down had been blown off. He had somehow managed to fashion some sort of bandage or tourniquet, and he walked out.  They all walked out calmly. I'm sure they were in deep shock and dazed and traumatized by what they had just seen take place in front of them. And they were boarded onto a Hamas pickup truck which headed toward Gaza. And Hersh's last cell phone signal was found inside of Gaza at 10:25am, Saturday morning October 7.  We subsequently did get a video from CNN’s Anderson Cooper who had come across it in research he had been doing on a documentary about the music festival. And he shared that with us.  So we've actually seen Hersh walking out of the bomb shelter using his less dominant hand. He is left-handed and now doesn't have a left hand. He uses his right hand to board the pickup truck and he turns around to sit down and it's in that moment when he turns that you can see the stump where his left arm used to be. And he sat down and that's the last that we have seen him, heard anything about him in the last 26 days. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I did watch that interview with Anderson Cooper, where they showed that footage and I'm curious what your takeaways were from that video, what were your observations, and also, did it give you hope to see him? Jon Polin:   So on the one hand, as you can imagine it is a video that nobody would ever want to see of their loved one, their child. So basic answer is it's horrendously terrible to see it.  On the other hand, I have been in a position where we need to just look for optimism and hope anywhere we can find it in the last 26 days. And so when I saw that video, my lens on it was, and especially since I know what had preceded it for the 90 minutes before that: the carnage, seeing his best friend killed, etc.  I looked at the video and I saw Hersh looking composed, walking on his own two feet, using his one remaining hand, which happens to be his weak hand, to pull himself onto this truck. And clearly in shock, as one would expect. But I took some optimism from seeing what kind of shape he appeared to be in. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You said 26 days, I cannot believe it's been 26 days that they've held these hostages with no word. And Rachel, you're wearing a 26 on your shirt I saw. What kind of support are you getting? What kind of conversations are you having with policymakers, negotiators, anyone, that indicates progress? Rachel Goldberg: Well, it's kind of a two pronged question. Because what are you doing to walk through these days is, we are surrounded by a team–beyond angels, beyond friends, beyond professional people who are dragging us along when we can't drag ourselves, and they're very talented, and they're very smart and tireless and tenacious. And so that helps us.  And in the bigger picture, I mean, we've had a lot of conversations with both sides in terms of, you know, we are American-Israeli, so we right away that first Saturday turned to the US Embassy. They were extremely responsive right away, partially because they could be. They weren't at war, you know, Israel, I do cut them some slack for being slow in the beginning, because I mean, there were still terrorists running around killing people in their homes. When we first heard about what happened to Hersh. So we were spread very thin. There were things happening up in the north, there were things happening down south. I mean, I understood why there was a sort of short start to that end of things. On the American side, we've had incredible conversations with you know, as high up as you could get with President Biden, with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, with 15 different senators. They don't care, they said, this isn't a Republican-Democrat issue. This is an American hostage issue. We don't care what stripes you're wearing, people being real adults, which is refreshing and felt very good and supported. And that is a very excellent first step.  We are now on day 26. And I need a little bit more actually, information, maybe action. I'm never one of the people in this that has said tell me what you're doing and tell me what the plan is because I always think that's ridiculous. Obviously, we can't know about that stuff. But because of Hersh’s grave injury, it's different, I think, than if I had known he was just kidnapped and healthy, because I have a very primal fear that maybe he didn't get the treatment he needed, and maybe I'm here on day 26, but Hersh died on day one. So that's very difficult. Or maybe he did get treated and then three days afterwards, they said, well, we don't have any more antibiotics and then he died of sepsis. You know, so there's a lot of different kind of constellations of what ifs that, you know, run through our minds, and that make it very difficult to kind of feel trust and kind of know everyone said it's gonna take a long time. And it's a process. And I feel like well, that, unfortunately, we don't have that. And it's very concerning.  When we were in America, we've had conversations with ambassadors from different countries who were, I think, trying to be helpful. In Israel, we've tried to have conversations with who we can get to, and we're doing what everyone would do, I think, if they were in our situation, but this isn't our world that we're used to. And we haven't found a playbook for this situation yet. There are playbooks for lots of other situations, but we haven't found one for this yet. Manya Brachear Pashman:   There have been reports that hostages with dual citizenship or foreign hostages may be released first. Considering Hersh is a dual citizen, what have you heard? Rachel Goldberg: I don't think it'll make a difference for him. My personal pontificating is that they probably will release some of these poor Thai people who were swept up in this chaos. Or the Nepalese people, there are, you know, 33 different countries that have citizens that are currently being held. And I think I would be thrilled and elated if Hirsch was released. But I would be also shocked, because my impression is that the people that they're talking about are not people like Hersh. Jon Polin:   We both, Rachel and I, are elated for the hostage for their family, for the country, for the world. Anytime a hostage is released. We celebrate for a moment for all of them, and then we get back to work.  The broader point here is, of course, we are most concerned about our son who's wounded. But if Hersh walked in the door five minutes from now, we'd hug him, we'd rejoice and we'd get back to work because there are 239 hostages that must be released.  And the second part of that is, as Rachel talked about, these hostages represent something like 33 countries. This is not an Israeli-Palestinian, an Israeli-Gaza, an Arab-Jewish issue. This is a global humanitarian issue. And every day, I wonder why is the world not speaking in that way? Why is the world shoving this into a simple black and white box of Israeli-Gaza, Israeli-Palestinian? Why are 33 foreign ministers around the world not holding hands and screaming about the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis? Manya Brachear Pashman:   Rachel said this isn't our world. I'm curious if you could share a little bit about Hirsch's world. How long has your family lived in Israel? How did you end up in Israel to begin with? And talk a little bit about Hirsch. Jon Polin:   Rachel and I should say are both born and raised in Chicago, still have our mothers and other family members living in Chicago, products of the organized Jewish world in Chicago, and are feeling a lot of support from Chicago.  Rachel and I moved to California, where Hirsch and one of our other children, we have three kids. Hirsch and his sister Leebie were both born in California. And then when Hersh was three or four, we moved to Virginia where we lived for four years before moving to Israel as a family. We moved to Israel because Rachel and I felt like, it's an opportunity. This is something that our great-grandparents and their parents and their parents longed for and didn't have the opportunity and we do, so how do we not join this ride, as Rachel said. Hersh is a quiet, I always say he doesn't walk in a room and make a lot of noise. But once he's been in the room for 15 minutes, he's gotten into the hearts of a lot of people. He's a really quiet, likable guy with a sharp, very smart, quick witted. Very curious, he's always been a voracious reader. He sweeps categories. When he was seven or eight, he swept the category of US presidents and knew every detail of every president and their years and their administration and so on.  Not much after that he got into atlases and maps and globes, and that has been a constant in his life. He's been fascinated by the world and by traveling the world, every opportunity, including on his own dime, working, making money and taking trips. In high school, he and Amer, and a few other friends had the chance to go to a few different countries, as 17, 18 year olds on their own traveling. He's been dreaming about this around the world trip for which he has a ticket booked for December 27 to India. Rachel keeps saying, you only need one arm to travel the world so he can do it. That's who he is. I mean, it hit me over the last 26 days as people started to ask us about Hersh. And I really mean this, in 23 years of life, he's never upset me. He's super respectful. It doesn't mean he's a perfect angel, because he's not. But he's just got a very tasteful way of being mischievous with his family, with his siblings, with his parents, with his teachers. That's who he is. Manya Brachear Pashman:   There was a piece written by Shoshana Gottleib for Hey Alma. Shoshana has never met Hersh in person but long before all of this came across Hersh’s bar mitzvah bencher at a friend’s apartment in Jerusalem and felt a real connection to him. So she instantly recognized his name when she heard he was among the hostages. Did you see that column? Rachel Goldberg: We did. It's very funny. Our family tradition is that for each of the kids' bar or bat mitzvahs, we would make a prayer book that had all of the grace after meals, the birkat hamazon. And in the covers, we had the grandmothers make up songs about that kid, to popular tunes. And as you know, sometimes these prayer books, these benchers, they're called, get sprinkled around, and somehow someone ends up with one in their apartment that isn't theirs. They don't even know the people who it belongs to.  And this young woman had come across his bench, his bar mitzvah bencher years ago. And at that Shabbat table, she started to sing all the songs because the songs are to popular songs that people know. And she got a real kick out of it. And that became her whole crew’s tradition Friday night, were to sing the songs from the Hersh Goldberg-Polin bencher.  He tried to explain this to his grandmother to Jon's mom, and she said, doesn't this girl have anything better to do than to sing the songs from your bencher? So anyway, she wrote, since hearing about Hersh, when she heard his name 26 days ago in the news, she immediately knew who he was, because she's been singing his bencher songs for years, even though she's never met him. So she wrote a cute piece about that. Manya Brachear Pashman:   There have been really intense retaliatory strikes on Gaza and the IDF has sent troops and tanks into the Gaza Strip. But the ground offensive has been limited in order to avoid endangering any efforts to free the hostages. Are you hoping for any change in approach in terms of this offensive or these retaliatory strikes? Jon Polin:   It's such a hard one because we are parents of somebody who is held hostage. We are part of the family of people of 239 families who are now together in this. But even as we tried to separate ourselves from it, and we understand that there is an Israeli national interest here, and we understand that the consensus seems to be building or is already built that we must eliminate Hamas for the sake of Israel's ability to exist and to move forward.  But we don't get involved in the military strategy or the military planning. We obviously are highly concerned about the safety of hostages. But we are equally concerned about the safety of all the soldiers. We've got a house full of people since October 7, who are parents of soldiers on the front lines, and starting to hit closer and closer to home as we start to see the first few names of soldiers killed coming in.  And we also should say that we're concerned about innocent civilians on all sides, on the Gazan side. So it doesn't really answer your direct question other than we are hopeful that this gets resolved in minimum loss of life on all sides. I've contemplated—should they have waited longer, should they still wait longer to go in at all, and I understand both sides of the argument. But I keep coming back to: Hamas isn't going anywhere, they're holed up in there. And so if we can go very judiciously, and still try every other possible channel to get people released, I’m for it. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Every Friday night on Shabbat you stand out on your porch, you face Gaza, and you bless your son. Can you tell a little bit about how that restores you, how that connects you to Hersh? Rachel Goldberg: Well, I feel like now more than ever, he probably needs a blessing. You know, and this is the traditional blessing that all Jewish parents give to their children on Friday nights. And I feel like he needs it more than ever. And I think I need to give it more than ever. And ultimately, you know, it's saying like, let God lift up God's face toward you and give you peace, which is so desperately needed. So desperately needed every single place in the world. But certainly when I picture him somewhere, you know, I don't know what to picture and I feel like I am privileged to be able to give that blessing to Hersh. I think all of us who have children, your first child is what changes you in the world. And you go from becoming a person to becoming a parent. And that's what Hersh did for me. So I will always be a different person in the world because of Hirsch.  The first time, that first Shabbat when he was just a newborn baby, to give him that blessing was such a privilege that I feel like until I am told otherwise, it is my privilege to give it to him and if I have to scream it to him, because he's far away, then I will do that. And I will keep screaming that to him until he comes home or until I am told otherwise. Manya Brachear Pashman:   AJC and my colleagues here at AJC, of course, have been working with your family to bring Hersh and the other hostages home. Listeners can go to to urge Congress and the United Nations to release all of the hostages. But Rachel, Jon, what more can we do to help you? Jon Polin:   Well, first of all, now that you mentioned it, and it was on my mind to squeeze in as well. It's not just platitudes, like our gratitude to AJC is tremendous. CEO Ted Deutch, on down, we've been in touch with members of your team. They've been supportive. They've been guiding us. And we cannot thank AJC enough for their involvement not only for us, but for all Americans and all hostages. In terms of what people can do, we keep saying we wish we had better answers because we feel the outpouring of support from around the world and people asking us that question. We can give a few answers. And those are as follows.  Number one, if this is your thing: pray. Hersh Ben Perel Chana, or Hersh ben Perel Chana v’Yonatan Shimshon. Have him in your prayers and have all the hostages in your prayers.  The second thing is: awareness. We think it's critical to keep telling the story of all the hostages. In our case, it's Hersh, but it's all the hostages. News cycles in the world happen quickly, news cycles in Congress and in Washington happen quickly. And we need listeners of this podcast, we need the American Jewish community, we need everybody who can to keep this story alive, keep it front and center. When the world starts to move on from the story, don’t let them. This is a global humanitarian crisis. We cannot forget these people.  The third is outreach. We, in our case, put up Bring Hersh Home social channels, turnkey templates, talking points, emails that people could copy and paste, a spreadsheet of elected officials and their contact information.  We are trying to make it as easy as possible. We know that it matters, it matters for your elected officials to hear not just once but to hear every single day about important issues, in this case, the importance of releasing all the hostages. We've been telling people, set your alarm for the same time every day, and take one minute and reach out to your elected officials and just don't stop hounding them. Rachel Goldberg: I think that counting is something that's very easy. I think in the Jewish tradition, we are very obsessed with, you know, we count the Omer between Passover and Shavuot. We count days of the month to make sure that we're, is it a 29 day month or 30 day month, we're very conscious. Even the days of the week, we count as the first day, the second day, the third day, we don't have names of it. We count.  And I think that that one minute call to your person who can be on autodial to say, Hi, it's day 25 and the hostages are still not released, goodbye. Hi, it's day 26 and the hostages are still not released, goodbye.  Now, it sounds ridiculous. But if you have 1000s of people making those calls every single day, that is annoying for the person who's getting the call. And we want to be annoying. My mother always said the squeaky wheel gets the oil or whatever.  I'll say also, being distracting, I now realize, is a great thing. When we were in New York. You know, since this whole thing happened, a lot of stuff falls right into perspective. You know, I haven't worn makeup. I haven't worn jewelry. I just put my hair back. We don't sleep very well.  When we were at one of the news outlets, the anchor, not even the makeup woman, the anchor said, Can we put some makeup on you? And I said no, I'm a distraught mother. And he said, Yeah, but maybe it's a little distracting. And I said, Yeah, I want to be distracting.  And so I feel like I would beseech people to go out and be distracting, go out and bug people that it's day 26, and we know nothing.  And you know, we get requests on this social media stuff that we're doing. People are saying can you give us updates? Yeah, the update is they're doing nothing. That's the update from today. And tomorrow–I hope I'm wrong–but the update for tomorrow might be, they didn't do anything today. Like we're working our butts off and we're trying every possible angle we can. And for people to just make a call saying: it's day 26 and I'll talk to you tomorrow if he's not home. If they're not all home. I think is a one minute ask. And I think the impact is great. Because I do think, we're a David, a mini mini molecule of David fighting a mammoth Goliath here. And I appreciate all the people that keep coming up to me and saying, he's my son too, and I believe it. So do it. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Jon, Rachel, thank you so much for joining us and sharing this story. Rachel Goldberg: Thank you for having us, and I also just want to give a shout out because honest to God, I don't know what we would have done without the support of AJC so far. I mean it. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. So really, that community will always be with us, no matter what happens.
26:30 11/2/23
Remembering Pittsburgh Part 4: AJC CEO Ted Deutch On the Jewish Community’s Resilience After Pittsburgh and Hamas Attacks
AJC CEO Ted Deutch joins us to discuss the significance of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting at the Tree of Life and its aftermath, the anniversary, and what it means to Jews around the world after the October 7 attack on Israel, when once again Jews were murdered just for being Jewish. In the final episode of the Remembering Pittsburgh series, Ted reflects on what being Jewish in the United States feels like at this moment, and how the Jewish community is uniting to overcome yet another challenge. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Ted Deutch Show Notes: Listen: Remembering Pittsburgh Part 1: Behind the Scenes at the Reimagined Tree of Life Remembering Pittsburgh Part 2: What the Family of Tree of Life Victim Joyce Fienberg Wants You to Know About Her Legacy Remembering Pittsburgh Part 3: How the #ShowUpForShabbat Campaign Drew Global Solidarity Amid Tragedy Take Action: Urge Congress to Stand Against Rising Antisemitism Music credits: Hevenu Shalom - Violin Heart Fire Tree (Violin Version) - Axletree Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and review us on Apple Podcasts. Episode Transcript: Manya Brachear Pashman: This month, AJC set out to mark the five-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting at the Tree of Life with a series of episodes exploring this turning point for the American Jewish community. Our first installment aired October 5. Two days later, the Jewish people faced another unprecedented deadly antisemitic attack, this time in Israel. Synagogues stepped up security and families tamped down their fears to take their children to Hebrew school or attend Shabbat services. In the second episode of our series, we sat down with Howard and Marnie Fienberg, who paid tribute to their mother Joyce. In the third installment, we looked back at how the horror drew people to solidarity.  For this closing episode of the series, I sat down with AJC CEO Ted Deutch, who served as a congressman at the time of the Tree of Life massacre. We discussed this anniversary and its parallels to the October 7 attack on Israel, when once again Jews were murdered just for being Jewish. Manya Brachear Pashman: Ted, where were you on the morning of October 27, 2018 when you heard about the Tree of Life?    Ted Deutch: I was a congressman who represented Parkland, where the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas took place. And the morning of Tree of Life, I spoke to a group of high school students from all around South Florida, who participated in a program about how they can become leaders in the community. I spoke with them about what had happened a few months before in Parkland, and what I had seen from high school students in Parkland and how they responded and how you stand up to violence and try to stop it and how you respond to evil and how important it is to use the power that you have as young people. That was literally what I was doing right before I walked out of the Florida Atlantic University auditorium and saw my phone start to buzz with news of Tree of Life. Everything that I had said to the students in the discussion, that really difficult conversation we had with these students who shared with me their fears of violence, their fears of going to school–those fears hit home really hard for me and for the Jewish community.  Manya Brachear Pashman: Did you view this as a significant turning point for the Jewish community in America or worldwide? Ted Deutch: This was something that we dealt with in Europe, we feared, we stood AJC's stood with the Jewish community across Europe as they, as they were attacked over years. I was a member of Congress when we had vigils with the ambassadors from European countries, in memory of lives lost, Jewish lives lost as a result of antisemitic attacks. And here, that morning is a turning point for all of us in the Jewish community, and how we respond, how we view the threat of antisemitism now as a deadly threat to the Jewish community in America, and for the rest of America to see another example of what happens when antisemitism, hatred are running rampant and where it can lead and how dangerous it is. Manya Brachear Pashman: From your vantage point as a congressman, what shifted on Capitol Hill, if anything, after October 27? Ted Deutch: Well, I was a member of Congress, but I focused so much of my work on the Jewish community. And we had started a Bipartisan Task Force to Combat Antisemitism in response to what happened in Europe. We never could have imagined something like that happening in our own country, especially in this place. I mean, this is the most idyllic, suburban, lovely neighborhood. I mean, it is, as everyone knows, it is literally Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, right? He lives just a stone's throw from Tree of Life. And so our work became that much more urgent. And we immediately refocused our efforts and those of us who were committed to fighting antisemitism, to ways that we could ensure the security of the Jewish community, and we immediately started looking at ways to find additional funding for security and and we dug deep into FBI reporting and research into what else is out there and what else they're tracking and what the fears are. And, unfortunately, whether in Congress, now at AJC, that hasn't stopped since. Manya Brachear Pashman: Did the members of Congress who are not Jewish respond differently? Ted Deutch: There was real support, and support not just for me and my fellow Jewish members, but for the Jewish community overall. Lots of members of Congress, most, know the Jewish community, many of them have Jewish communities they focus on in their own districts, sometimes large, sometimes very small. But the security concerns became real for every one of them – whether they had a large thousand-family congregation in a major city or a tiny synagogue somewhere in a remote part of the country, everyone felt it, everyone was put on edge, and every member of Congress felt an obligation to respond to that. I just remember having conversations with colleagues who were people of faith, who went to church. They were so struck by the fact that they came and went every Sunday, walked into their churches, doors were wide open. And the contrast to synagogues where you really need to be committed in so many places to get in so many places to go to synagogue, because you have to go through security, and sometimes you have to check in with the police, and in some places, you have to go through metal detectors. That really, really hit them and I think continues to, especially now. Every time something happens in Israel, we see a need for greater security at home. In the aftermath of the horrific attack by Hamas. It’s affected Jews, obviously in Israel and around the world and how we view Israel, but we all fear for what could happen in the United States. Manya Brachear Pashman: You left your job on Capitol Hill and became CEO of AJC just last year. I’m curious whether the horror in Pittsburgh so soon after the Parkland shooting was an inflection point for you and your path? Ted Deutch: I wasn't thinking about leaving Congress. But when a friend reached out and asked if I'd be interested in being considered for the AJC job, I started reflecting upon the issues that I worked on, and what I had been through. And this fits into a very specific part of that thinking it was. It was the whole series of what happened, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, and the impact that that had on the community. Then almost in immediate succession, quick succession, this horrific shooting at Tree of Life. First, there was the trauma in our own community, then there was the real trauma in the broader Jewish community. And then, not that they're directly related, but on January 6, when I was sitting in my office with the lights off, and my electronics silenced as the Capitol Police told us to do, and I was sitting in a dark cubicle in our staff office … watching what was happening in the Capitol and listening as people ran by my office and not knowing who they are. Everything was, everyone was so concerned about violence that day and my first thought that day was how grateful I was that I had just moved into this new office and had not yet had an opportunity to hang my mezuzah. And, right, so where does this fit in? I didn't decide to come to AJC because of some series of traumatic events. But just in terms of a turning point for me, what happened at Tree of Life and how that informed the remainder of my time and I was in Congress and the way I thought about my work, and, and then those fears on January 6, and realizing again, how at risk I felt even in the U.S. Capitol as a Jew. I suppose there is probably a straight line that I didn't see that started that day that led me to where I am now. Manya Brachear Pashman: So, you’ve been here a year now. How have these events shaped your work since you arrived? Ted Deutch: AJC's is to enhance the well-being of the Jewish people in Israel, and to advance democratic values. If we go back to Tree of Life, and think about what's transpired since and the rise in antisemitism as we saw it around the country, and on social media, and the many ways that the community has felt at risk.  The week I started, Kanye West went on his antisemitic rampage on social media on Twitter. The Jewish community is not well if antisemitism is running rampant. So it's why we worked so hard with the White House, it's why we encouraged them to create a national strategy. It's why we brought in special envoys from around the world to meet with the White House to help inform the process. It's why we celebrated the release of the National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism and put together, really devoted a large part of our resources over the past six months, helping to implement the national strategy. And it's why we continue across the country here to look for ways to engage further in fighting antisemitism. By strengthening the relationships we have with others–it’s why we're doing so much more in our intergroup work and interreligious work.  I just recently visited a new Hindu temple in New Jersey, I think it's the largest, certainly the largest in the United States, one the largest in the world. And it was really meaningful to spend the afternoon with leaders of the Hindu community who, who very much recognize that in many ways our fates in America are intertwined.  Manya Brachear Pashman: So in our first episode of this series, our producer Atara Lakritz and I went on the last tour of the Tree of Life building. You also walked through the building back in June, before many of the artifacts had been removed. Would you mind reflecting on that experience? Ted Deutch: When I walked up to the synagogue, I couldn't help but think of my synagogue where I grew up on the other side of Pennsylvania in a lovely community, like Pittsburgh. I was struck that, forget that this was a synagogue, I really couldn't stop thinking that it was inconceivable that that kind of horrible tragedy could happen in a community like that.  And walking through the synagogue and seeing the site where hatred, and antisemitism, and manifestations, the worst manifestations of antisemitism were brought to this lovely place, in this wonderful synagogue. It was overwhelming to think about what was happening that Shabbat and the fear and terror that people felt as that was happening. That was number one. Secondly, I walked into the main auditorium where they were gathering all of the things that hadn't yet been taken away to be used in the museum and the memorial that's going to be constructed, that haven't been given back to families.  There were lots of things that are just not identified, they don't have families to return them to. And to see tallaisim and tefillin and all kinds of items that are used for Jewish rituals and Jewish customs just sitting on this table where they didn't know what they were going to do with them because the synagogue that existed there, the life that existed there, that simple, wonderful community, that was gone. It was gone.  That community will never be the same. And I think for our community, for the Jewish community, we're really never gonna be the same after what happened there. Manya Brachear Pashman: You were telling me before we started this conversation that they gave you something during your visit. Ted Deutch: As I walked through, and they saw how moved I was by this massive display. They came over and made such a kind gesture to me. And of all of the gifts that I've received in all of my travels, as a member of Congress, and now as CEO of AJC, I don't think there's anything that’s as meaningful as the tefillin that they gave me. I don't know, obviously, I don't know whose it was. And it may well have been someone that was a synagogue member years and years ago. But the connection that I felt at that moment to that community at Tree of Life and the connection that I felt thinking about, not just Tree of Life, but tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout our history.  And knowing that I was going to return to New York, I was going to have the opportunity to join the Jewish community around the world in overcoming these tragedies, and making sure the world understands why these kinds of attacks will never, they'll never work, they'll never, they'll never defeat the Jewish community. As we endure this really challenging time now in Israel, I've been thinking the same thing. We've gone through a lot in our history, and we've constantly, constantly overcome, and have grown and have learned and have continued to enrich the world. As Tree of Life rebuilds and will help shape a national and international conversation for years to come about fighting antisemitism. And as we continue to do our work and as Jews around the country and around the world go through whatever security measures they have to to go to synagogue and to drop their kids at day school and Hebrew school and for people to show up for programs at the JCC, there is a defiance that I felt at that moment that is perhaps the most important thing I took away from that day. Because it was awful. But I'm not going to dwell on how terrible it was. We're going to think about every way we can to honor the memories of the lives that were taken, and to strengthen the Jewish people in their memory as we go forward. Manya Brachear Pashman: We planned this series and invited you to speak before the October 7th terrorist attack in Israel and the war with Hamas that has unfolded since. At first we wondered whether we should even proceed with this series. How could we focus on anything other than Israel at this moment? Of course, the parallels between the Tree of Life and October 7th are all too stark– Jews are once again being targeted simply because they are Jewish. Can you share your thoughts on this difficult moment for the Jewish people? Ted Deutch: That sense of unease that all of us felt when we heard that story, like how could that possibly happen in the United States, really, it's an unease and fear that we feel when we've watched what's happened in Israel and when a horrific and brutal and barbaric attack takes place against our family, our brothers and sisters in Israel, we feel that here, and especially when it was, it was unthinkable what happened with this Hamas attack. Just as somebody shooting up a synagogue was unthinkable in America, it again, it puts us on edge, and it makes us redouble our efforts. Not just to fight antisemitism, but to really bring the community together. What I've really been proud of since this terrible time in Israel began is the way that AJC has responded, not just in putting out meaningful information to help people get the facts and get through this, and to fight back against lies. But the way that we've really worked to bring the community together.  There are 16 million Jews in the world, out of eight and a half billion people we need to stick together. Moments like Tree of Life remind us of that, and what's been happening in Israel absolutely reminds us of that. That informs so much of what AJC does, and has done in response to Tree of Life and certainly is doing in response to the current situation.
19:31 10/27/23
Remembering Pittsburgh Part 3: How the #ShowUpForShabbat Campaign Drew Global Solidarity Amid Tragedy
In the aftermath of the slaughter of 11 Jews inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, American Jewish Committee (AJC) drew up a plan to galvanize Jewish communities and their allies across the world in an expression of unity and defiance: #ShowUpForShabbat. The campaign, which reached hundreds of millions of people, urged those of all faiths to attend synagogue services during the Shabbat following the attack to show solidarity with the Jewish community. In this third episode of our Remembering Pittsburgh series, hear from some of those who showed up to that Shabbat five years ago on what the experience meant to them and how the events of that week altered their perspective on antisemitism in America. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Belle Yoeli, Anne Jolly, Rachel Ain, Sharif Street, Jennifer Mendelsohn Show Notes: Listen: Remembering Pittsburgh Part 1: Behind the Scenes at the Reimagined Tree of Life Remembering Pittsburgh Part 2: What the Family of Tree of Life Victim Joyce Fienberg Wants You to Know About Her Legacy Take Action: Urge Congress to Stand Against Rising Antisemitism Music credits: Shloime Balsam - Lo Lefached Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and review us on Apple Podcasts. Episode Transcript: Manya Brachear Pashman:  This month, AJC set out to mark the five-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting at the Tree of Life with a series of episodes exploring this turning point for the American Jewish community. Our first installment aired October 5. Two days later, the Jewish people faced another unprecedented deadly antisemitic attack, this time in Israel. Synagogues stepped up security and families tamped down their fears to take their children to Hebrew school or attend Shabbat services. In the second episode of our series, we sat down with Howard and Marnie Fienberg, who paid tribute to their mother Joyce. In this third installment, we look back at how horror drew people to solidarity. May we see that same solidarity today.  Belle Yoeli: We saw hundreds of thousands of people show up. And we saw pictures later, after the fact, and videos, and people making speeches, and just so much solidarity. This was captured on the news. I think it really stands out as one of the most amazing responses to antisemitism that we've seen in modern history. Manya Brachear Pashman: On October 27, 2018, Americans witnessed the deadliest antisemitic attack in this nation’s history. Eleven worshipers inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were murdered just for being Jewish. The senseless slaughter inside a house of worship devastated and shocked American senses because it was simply unAmerican. But the aftermath of the atrocity became an American moment when so many people showed up – showed up with hugs, showed up with flowers, showed up with prayers for their Jewish neighbors.  The most visible expression of this came a week after the massacre with the unprecedented turnout of people of all faiths at synagogues across the nation as part of AJC’s #ShowUpForShabbat campaign. Together, Americans sent a message that hate will not prevail. Belle Yoeli: Everyone wanted to do something, and the entire Jewish community mobilized to make this happen with the understanding that as AJC has always said that antisemitism is not just about the Jewish community. It starts with the Jewish community, but it's a threat to democracy, and the murder of Jews in their religious institution is such a breaking, a fracturing of everything that the United States stands for, everything that democratic society stands for. Manya Brachear Pashman: Today, Belle Yoeli is the chief advocacy officer for AJC. In 2018, she worked as the chief of staff for then AJC CEO David Harris. David had spent nearly 20 years counseling European leaders on the rise of antisemitism in their midst, calling their attention to violent crimes against Jews when conflict erupted between Israel and their Arab neighbors. Belle was on her way to a nephew’s birthday party when she got the call on October 27 about what had happened in Pittsburgh. She remembers sobbing in the car on the phone with colleagues as they all grappled with the reality that whether they were regular shul-goers or had just happened to go to synagogue to celebrate a friend’s bar mitzvah that day – it just as easily could’ve been them. For many, what they needed now was to go to shul and not be afraid, and to see others, not just their own community, but others of all faiths in the pews alongside them. What they needed most now was to know they were not alone. So they drew up a plan. Belle Yoeli: A couple members of our staff actually kind of simultaneously came up with a similar idea, which was that we need to, more than anything, rally non-Jews to come and support the Jewish community at this time, and what better time to do that than the following Shabbat. Manya Brachear Pashman: Dubbed #ShowUpForShabbat, the social media-based campaign called on both Jews and those of other faiths to flock to synagogues that coming Shabbat on the weekend of November 2 in support of the Pittsburgh Jewish community and all of American Jewry. The response across 80 countries was astounding. More than 250 million people spread the message on social media, including celebrities Andy Cohen, Itzhak Perlman, and Mayim Bialik, and politicians Paul Ryan, Kamala Harris, and Sadiq Kahn. And hundreds of synagogues across the country and around the world, from Tokyo to Santiago to London to San Francisco, welcomed people of all faiths into their sanctuaries. Those who walked through the doors included diplomats from dozens of countries, federal, state, and local elected officials, and Christian, Muslim, Hindu clergy. Synagogues across the country reported massive crowds rivaling or exceeding those seen at High Holy Day services. Belle Yoeli: There are some times, I think before Pittsburgh, and before Tree of Life and after, where the Jewish community doesn't always feel like we are seen, and that we need defense too. When it comes to antisemitism, because Jews are viewed as white or for other reasons, or when it comes to us attacks against Israel, we don't feel like our partners are necessarily always there for us, although many are. Seeing with such clarity how people were showing up for the Jewish community, we all really needed that. And honestly, society needed that and to see that. That we will not let this stand. I think it shook everyone to their core and not just the Jewish community. That's what struck a chord with people that could have been me, that could have been hatred towards African Americans, that could have been hatred towards the Muslim community. Every single community who has a piece of them, an identity that’s so strong resonated with that. Manya Brachear Pashman: We connected with people who showed up that Shabbat five years ago, and asked them what the experience meant to them, whether the events of that week altered their perspective on antisemitism in America, or changed how they show support to their Jewish neighbors. Anne Jolly: An important part of what we proclaim is love God, love your neighbor, change the world. And so we believe that means we show up for each other. We can't love each other without being present with each other. So we have to be together. You have to show up. Manya Brachear Pashman: Episcopal Bishop of Ohio Anne Jolly was serving as the rector of St. Gregory Episcopal Church in Deerfield, Illinois in October 2018. A former hospital chaplain, she was sitting in her office when she heard the news break that Saturday morning. Her first call was to her friend and colleague Rabbi Karyn Kedar down the road at the Reform temple commonly known as Congregation BJBE. Rabbi Kedar had recently preached at St. Gregory and then-Pastor Jolly was scheduled to deliver the guest sermon at BJBE the following Friday night. Anne Jolly: I called her and we talked and we prayed. And I said to Karyn, I think probably you need to preach on the Shabbat following the shooting at your temple and she said, ‘I want you to do it.’ She said ‘I think I think we need to hear your voice and that the congregation needs to hear you. Rabbi Kedar I think thought that to hear a voice of someone who is not Jewish saying aloud, We love you, we care for you. We believe we are all created in God's image together. And that means we need to show up for each other. It means we need to be present with each other, that to hear that from someone who was not part of their community might be more powerful, more impactful, and more important for the community here at that time. Manya Brachear Pashman: When Bishop Jolly arrived that following Friday she did not expect her sudden sense of fear when she encountered armed guards. Anne Jolly: I didn't realize I was afraid until I walked in the door. And I stopped and had to take a deep breath and realize that I was afraid because I was entering into a space of people who have long been afraid. And that I had never had to experience that before in that way. And I wasn't really afraid for my congregation the same way I was for my beloveds in the synagogue, that they had more of a reason to be afraid than I did. And that was all the more reason for me to be there, and to be present with them. Manya Brachear Pashman: Bishop Jolly credits that night at BJBE for the deep connection that formed with the congregation. In fact, she returned to BJBE many more times to celebrate Shabbat. Precisely a year later, the members of the Jewish congregation showed up at her door after a pumpkin patch at St. Gregory had been destroyed by vandals. Anne Jolly: There were a bunch of them that came to our patch and we were talking about it and they said, ‘We just wanted to show you that we are supporting you. And they were worried that that vandalism had been an act of aggression against us. And I just thought it was kids. And that was a really clear distinction of how our worldviews are different. For them, a vandalism thing would, of course, of course, be something hateful against them. In this case, it was children, it was just teenagers being dumb. But it reinforced that understanding that for them, fear is always in the background because of the violence perpetrated to them – again and again and again. Rabbi Rachel Ain: It was not a wake-up call that hate existed and already the hate was being felt. And at the same time, the love with my neighbors was being felt. So I was able to hold on to both emotions. But really, as I look back at these five years. Pittsburgh to Poway to Colleyville to Jersey City. I mean, I can sort of think back to all of these moments. It's here. And we need to both be proudly Jewish, and strongly protected. Manya Brachear Pashman: For Rabbi Rachel Ain, the spiritual leader of Sutton Place Synagogue, a conservative synagogue in New York City, the massacre at Tree of Life was not her first encounter with antisemitism. She knew it was simmering. A year earlier, almost to the day, vandals had spray painted swastikas across the entrance of her synagogue on the East Side of Manhattan. She knew how powerful it had been to have members of the wider community come support the congregation after that incident. Whether to invite members of the community to #ShowUpForShabbat was never a question in her mind. Rabbi Rachel Ain: It's not only that I felt supported by my neighbors, especially those that weren't Jewish. But more than anything, it was that so many of our congregation members who were not, let's say Shabbat regulars, felt the importance and the value of showing up for Shabbat and they knew that they had an address to come to both physically and spiritually to place their pain and their needs. Manya Brachear Pashman: That same weekend marked the bar mitzvah celebration of a young man in the congregation. Rabbi Ain wrestled with how to balance the sadness and shock of the prior weekend with the joy and celebration of his milestone. And a few years later, that same young man and his brother stepped up to lead the synagogue’s Holocaust Remembrance event, in which teens interviewed the children of Holocaust survivors and shared the stories that have been passed down to them. She wonders if that moving show of solidarity when he was 13 and the formational years that followed had an impact. Rabbi Rachel Ain: What I really keep thinking about is how some of our teenagers who at that point, were in sixth grade or seventh grade. And now here they are seniors in high school and freshmen in college, how their teen experience has been shaped by showing up for Shabbat and showing up for shul when bad things have happened. So what I've also tried to do is, how do we ensure that our young people's experiences aren't only about the challenges of being Jewish, but the joys of being Jewish? Sharif Street: I just remember the massive amount of people that showed up and the diversity of the folks. I mean, I don't think I'd seen that many people show up for an evening Shabbat at Rodef Shalom in, well, maybe ever.” Manya Brachear Pashman: Pennsylvania State Sen. Sharif Street had been in Pittsburgh the day before the shooting at the Tree of Life building. When he heard the news that Saturday morning, he scrambled to find out if his friends and colleagues were OK. He was not oblivious to hatred and its potential to lead to violence. His father had been active in the civil rights movement and Sen. Street had sponsored legislation to curb hate crimes, but he had hoped to get ahead of the trend. This seemed unfathomable. Sharif Street: I didn't really contemplate that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it was within the realm of reasonable possibility that someone was gonna walk into a synagogue, and commit such a vicious, horrible act of hate. I didn't see that.” I thought we had moved beyond that stage of antisemitism and bigotry. And I was reminded of what my friends, older folks, and black and Jewish community always said, which is, we have to remain constantly vigilant. Because these things have a way of coming back. It took on a new air, a new level of seriousness to me. Because this is not the idea that people could be killed because of antisemitism in America. It’s not just something of a bygone era. But I realized we were living in that era today. Manya Brachear Pashman: Sen. Street accompanied a friend to Temple Rodef Sholom in Philadelphia a week later and he has a few indelible memories from that night.  Sharif Street: People from every walk of life. Some people who were obviously maybe were not Jewish, who just wanted to express their support and their solidarity. And the look on the faces of people who are members, who were just, who felt so troubled, so shaken. And to see all the support from people, I think, made people feel like even in this world that seems so cruel in that moment that there were many people who are good, who stood with them. And I think a lot of times, folks who are doing these kinds of acts of hate and terror want to make folks, in this case Jewish people, feel isolated and alone. And I think that the service allow people to recognize you're not alone. And that people from all walks of life stand with you and stand against these horrible acts of hate. I think those of us who were, I would say the under-50 crowd and the younger you got, the more there was a level of shock, found it more disturbing because I guess we were further removed from an era when things like this when vicious acts of violence against people for antisemitism, racism and other forms of bigotry were more commonplace. People were wanting to make sure that this is not the beginning of a new chapter. Hopefully in our lifetimes we’ll remember this as a disturbing outlier, not the beginning of an era. Jennifer Mendelsohn: What really struck me about it was how simple it was, all we asked people to do was quite literally show up. You didn't have to wave a protest flag. You didn't have to donate money somewhere. You didn't have to go on a march. It was literally just saying, ‘Come be with us this evening. We're hurting. And to have that answered so resoundingly was incredibly inspiring. Manya Brachear Pashman: Jennifer Mendelsohn helped create the DNA reunion project at the Center for Jewish History, which uses the power of genetic genealogy to reconnect Holocaust survivors and their children to relatives from whom they were separated. While she did not regularly attend Shabbat services, she and her husband thought it was important to show up at Fulton Street Synagogue in Baltimore on November 2, 2018.  Jennifer Mendelsohn: I walked in, and there's just no way to express what it was like. There were probably 300 people there. And you know, we normally do a potluck dinner. And I looked and there was, you know, there was no room to put down all the food, there was no prayer books, there were people, you know, just packed in. And I remember seeing the faces of neighbors of ours, non Jewish neighbors, and I immediately just got so overcome, and they just sort of smiled at me. And just to know that they had taken the time on a Friday night just to say, we care, and we're here with you. It was unbelievably powerful. Manya Brachear Pashman: Clergy and congregants from across different religious traditions helped light memorial candles for the 11 victims in Pittsburgh and the congregation sang “We Shall Overcome.” Jennifer Mendelsohn: I feel like every time I go back, I remember how nice it feels to be at synagogue. You always think like, Oh, it's so much easier to just, you know, sit on your couch with your fuzzy slippers. But it's, you know, it's always nice to be there. And all of the rituals are so familiar, you know, lighting candles, and, you know, welcoming the Sabbath bride and all of that, and the songs and it just reminded me that, you know, I'm not a particularly religious person in terms of practice or ritual. But it reminded me that, you know, that's where I come from, those are my people. And it was just very comforting to be in that environment at a time of such tragedy to just be around familiar sounds and smells and sights and all of that.” Manya Brachear Pashman: For Mendelsohn, 2018 had already been fraught and eye-opening, as she had become the target of online antisemitism because of a political project on Twitter. As someone who deals with the Holocaust on a daily basis, her shock surprised her. Jennifer Mendelsohn: This event sort of crystallized the sense that, you know, antisemitism was still around and perhaps, you know, coming back with a new fearsome edge… It was very hard to fathom. You know you you spend this much time thinking about the Holocaust and dealing with families shattered by genocide that was, you know, spurred by just hatred. And you think, ‘Well, surely this will never happen again, because everyone understands, and clearly people don't. So it was a very sobering experience to feel threatened again, as an American Jew. Manya Brachear Pashman: But #ShowUpForShabbat also crystallized that regardless of ideology, color or creed, most of America stood beside the Jewish community in this moment. Jennifer Mendelsohn: The crowd inside that synagogue was exactly the America that my ancestors came to the U.S. to be a part of, you know, they escaped political discrimination in Eastern Europe, and that's really for me what it was all about and to reinforce that that America exists that helping, kind, inclusive America, in the face of this horrific act of violence and hatred was just really the balm that my soul needed at that moment.  
22:21 10/26/23
Remembering Pittsburgh Part 2: What the Family of Tree of Life Victim Joyce Fienberg Wants You to Know About Her Legacy
Join us in a tribute to the memory of Joyce Fienberg, one of the 11 victims of the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In this touching second installment of our series on the events of 10/27 , we sit down with Joyce's son, Howard Fienberg, and his wife, Marnie, as they share their  journey of mourning and resilience. Joyce was not only a dedicated member of the Tree of Life synagogue but also a retired university researcher, a devoted mother, and grandmother. Howard and Marnie open up about their extended period of mourning due to trial delays, offering a glimpse into the emotional toll of such a traumatic event. Marnie details how she turned her grief into 2 for Seder, an initiative to honor Joyce and push back against the hate that creates antisemitism. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Howard Fienberg, Marnie Fienberg Show Notes: Listen: Remembering Pittsburgh Part 1: Behind the Scenes at the Reimagined Tree of Life Take Action: Urge Congress to Stand Against Rising Antisemitism Music credits: Tree of Life by Nefesh Mountain Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and review us on Apple Podcasts. Episode Transcript: Manya Brachear Pashman:   After her husband and mother died in 2016, Joyce Fienberg started each day at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, to recite Kaddish, the mourner's prayer. Even when she was no longer officially considered a mourner as Jewish tradition prescribes, 11 months, she continued to attend services each morning at the synagogue.  That's why Howard Feinberg knew his mother Joyce was at Tree of Life when he heard there had been a shooting there on the morning of October 27, 2018. It would be more than 12 hours before he learned she was among the 11 killed that day.  Howard and his wife Marnie are with us now from their home in Northern Virginia to talk about their prolonged mourning period and how they have held onto and channeled that grief. Howard, Marnie, thank you so much for joining us. Howard Fienberg:   Thanks for having us. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Howard, you followed your mother’s example and recited kaddish for 11 months. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? That experience of saying Kaddish and mourning for your mother, and also can you share with our listeners why it felt like the mourning period was extended? Howard Fienberg:   I felt a huge amount of support everywhere I went, in order to be able to say Kaddish every day. Which for someone who was not the most observant of Jews, it was a big lift to be able to do that every day. In fact, even when traveling in disparate places, that I could always find, somehow, be able to pull together 10 people to be able to say Kaddish was a big deal. And I wanted to make sure that no one would struggle in similar circumstances as well.  Obviously, initially, in Pittsburgh putting together 10 people was not a particularly big lift. Because the community support in that first week of Shiva was phenomenal. But it's not an easy thing in many congregations, and I think we are fortunate in mine that we always seem to pull it out every day. But I want to make sure that it happens. So in practice wise, that's one of the biggest things, my involvement with the synagogue, and prayer.  The broader extension of the mourning period, in a way, was a result of the constant delay of the trial for the monster that committed the massacre. And that was a result of both just the general usual procedural delays that you would expect, combined with COVID excuses that dragged things out during the trial. And once a new judge took over responsibility for this case, things suddenly snapped into gear and it moved forward. And we're particularly grateful for the judge in this case, just for his very no-nonsense approach moving forward. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Can you talk about whether the guilty verdict once it did take place, and a verdict was delivered, how that verdict changed anything for you and your family? Howard Fienberg:   It was a matter of relief, to a great extent. I sat through almost the entirety of the trial, heard and saw all of the evidence. A lot more than I expected to and ever wanted to, but I felt duty to do so. From an outside perspective, looking at it all, you would say this is a slam dunk case, lined up for all the federal hate crimes that were involved. And at the same time, I was in doubt until the jury came back and said, all said guilty. It's just the nature of things. I was on pins and needles. Massive relief afterwards and the same thing with the final verdict and sentencing. Massive relief for us and our families.  And that did allow…nothing's ever closed. You don’t finish feeling the loss of somebody, especially when they're taken in, you know, horribly violent terrorist circumstances. But you move from segment to segment. So the same as we do in the year of mourning, you're moving from shiva, which is one kind of thing, to the 30 days, and then to the end of the mourning period. And this was moving to yet another period. And what exactly this is and how long it will be, I don't know. But we're figuring that out as we go. I certainly feel a lot more relaxed. Marnie Fienberg: Feels a little lighter. Howard Fienberg:   Yes, definitely lighter. Manya Brachear Pashman:   That's good to hear. That's good to hear. I am curious, you said you felt a duty to listen to those details, even though you didn't want to. Can you explain why you felt that sense of obligation? Howard Fienberg:   Part of it is, somebody in our family needed to. And it wasn't something that I wanted everybody to sit and hear and see. And I specifically told friends and family as much as I could, to stay far away and said, as much as you want to know, I'll let you know. But otherwise, it's horrific. And it wasn't anything that I would wish for anybody to see and hear. But at the same time, it's the reality of how my mom died. And what the circumstances were, what was going on with the antisemitic conspiracy theories that drove the monster that killed her. And what did he have in mind, and what was his intention, what did he plan, what did he do? These were important things.  And the bigger picture, which I didn't even know going in, was the extent to which the police in Pittsburgh were so heroic. And while they were not able to save my mom, they saved other people, including friends of ours, and people who are now friends, who would not be alive if those cops had not tried to charge at the front door trying to charge the building and getting shot. And then the SWAT teams going into the building, and in a couple cases getting almost murdered themselves, trying to rescue the people that were inside. And they did rescue some people. And those people would most likely be dead if the SWAT had not rushed in. Equipment wise, they were not ready ordinarily for this sort of situation. But they went in anyways because they knew they needed to, and they didn't hesitate. And that's the kind of thing that you can only understand, having gone to the trial and learned what went on.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Marnie, I want to turn to you. You quit your job as a federal contractor and started a nonprofit initiative called 2 For Seder. What prompted this sudden shift in your career? Marnie Fienberg: Well, I think that I was so upset about what happened with my mother-in-law, I did take a leave of absence initially. And I wanted to volunteer. Being a Jewish woman, and having all this anger and grief and all the support that we had received from people, literally all over the world. I just couldn't sit back and do nothing. So I wanted to do something that was really in honor of Joyce, but also something that would help every single Jewish individual if they so chose to be able to take some small tikun-olam-style action, and push back against the hate that creates antisemitism. And I think 2 For Seder really accomplished that, especially that first year. And we were really on track to grow quite enormously, except for COVID. COVID stopped us in our tracks, because it is about inviting 2 people into your home, who have never been to a Seder before and really educating them and immersing them in that Jewish joy and intimacy that you create every year at Passover.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   So I'm really curious about the seder connection. Was Joyce known for putting together really elaborate Seders? Was she just always at the Seder table? Why Seders? Marnie Fienberg: So this is a two part sort of explanation. So one is the sort of graduation to being allowed to hold the Seder. So my mother-in-law, really for 15 years we actually had done where we started at her house, and I helped her and I learned as we went and then we flipped it. And we came to our house and she would help me and make sure that I was doing things the right way and guiding me the right way. And there's, I mean, there's so much to do, putting on a Seder and trying to of course fit, you know, 30-35 people into a house that really should only have about 20 people in it is, of course, part of the tradition. And she never blinked an eye, it was never too much.  It was really mostly about making everyone at the table, regardless of their background–she always had students over, she always had people who had no place to go–every single person needed to feel like they were home. So if you had some sort of dietary restrictions, or any sort of an allergy or anything, my mother-in-law would bend over backwards, she bend herself into pretzels to make you feel 100% comfortable. And every single person who ever graced her table felt like they had never been more comfortable before. They felt like they were at their mother's house. And they commented on that many times. It was a wonderful thing. And I have to tell you, it's very hard to live up to. She was one of a kind. Howard Fienberg:   If I might add in, part of this comes from looking at photo evidence. I've been going through all of the family photos, last five years, trying to digitize and you can see the progression. So early on, there are pictures of Passover seders that clearly they've invited friends and other professors at the universities, students that were Jewish, they'd invite to Passover on a regular basis. And I think there's a turn somewhere in the early 80s, my brother and I would start inviting our non-Jewish friends to the Passover Seder.  And probably around about the late 80s was when it became not just bringing in Jews and my brother's friends and my friends who had never been to a Seder, it was their friends and fellow faculty, visiting graduate students from far-flung countries who knew absolutely nothing about Judaism. Certainly nothing about Passover. It was a way for them to have a comfortable introduction to what we're all about. And in all the context that my mother wanted to provide of it being a welcoming taste of being at home. Manya Brachear Pashman: We talked about how the Jewish tradition provides the process of formula, you know, the shiva and the 30 day mourning period. But this, the length of time that families have been mourning has been extended, delayed, slowed down. And I'm curious if on top of the Jewish traditions that guide people through the mourning process, if the Jewish community helped fill in some of what was missing, helped comfort you in certain ways? Marnie Fienberg: We live in two Jewish communities right now. We live in Northern Virginia, and we have our community here. And then we live in Pittsburgh, in a sense, and we have the community there. And we have been back and forth many times. The community in Pittsburgh, regardless if you were a family member, if you were a member of one of the three synagogues, or if you were a member of the greater community. There were so many ways that there were supports. And even from here we were always invited to participate in them. And some of them were done virtually actually when COVID hit which actually was very helpful for us. I don't know if the larger Jewish community is aware, but the FBI actually has a whole series of people, an entire division that's just there to support families and the communities that are affected from mass shootings, which also includes a grant to stand up an actual group that that is going to help the community at large. And that's the 10.27 Center for Healing in the Pittsburgh case, and that group is still standing and still running, still helping everyone.  So there's the Jewish side, where we all still pray together, where we get together for our commemoration once a year, the families always get together in Pittsburgh. And then here in Northern Virginia, there have been a variety of commemorations, but mostly our own local community at our synagogue is extremely supportive. They’re, of course, another family to us. And this has only really brought us all closer, which has been wonderful. Howard Fienberg:   We've had a lot of different kinds of support structures, I wouldn't identify anything as where there was a failing, other than the broader problem that people thought it was over. The presumption on the part of everyone, when they found out that there was a trial for the monster that killed my mom, was: wasn't that done already? Manya Brachear Pashman:   I want to ask you both this question, what has given you hope in the last five years? Howard Fienberg:   I haven't had the time and strength to go through all of the letters and cards that we received in the month or two after mom was killed. But some of the ones that really impacted me the most, outside of people that we knew, or that knew my parents, I mean, I think we have a whole box of correspondence and cards from people who never met my mother or us. And a lot of those were from non-Jews, who were deeply impacted by this, and were moved.  I mean, it's one thing that we had large groups of Jews that came to our Shiva, for example, that wanted to be there to support and during the Shiva period. There were groups of students that came from universities outside of Pittsburgh, like Ohio, and from Massachusetts, they wanted to come and be a part of it, and they weren't Jewish. They just, they felt a need to support. And that's the kind of thing that gives me great hope. Part of why we look at projects like 2 For Seder as so important, that it’s not just that we're Jewish, and we're other. So I see a great load of hope there.  But at the same time, the fact that, you know, trailing back to the trial, the fact that the Justice Department was willing to pursue the trial, and not just take a plea bargain, but actually present evidence and pursue a case involving such rampant antisemitism, and lay out the facts and prosecute them. That gives me great hope as well. It's not something that is an easy thing. The most reasonable response on their part probably would have been to, no matter what we wanted, would have been to pursue a plea bargain and make it all go away. Because it's expensive, and it doesn't make anybody feel good. Why would you do it? Manya Brachear Pashman:   So I have to ask, if the trial had happened a century ago, do you think the jury would have reached a guilty verdict? Do you think the prosecution would have pursued the hate crime charges as they did? Marnie Fienberg: So there would never have been any hate crime charges. Hate crimes did not enter the American laws until 1964, which is when the Civil Rights Act was enacted. This is why I think that we always need to be so thankful for Martin Luther King Jr. and to be proud that we were part of that. So a century ago, would this have even been considered an anti-Jewish crime, an antisemitic crime? No.  I think that you can look at Dreyfuss’ case and you can say very clearly, this country, this part of the world was not ready for something like that. And they would have looked the other way. Would they have convicted as just a general murder? I don't know, there's a lot of those murders that just disappeared 100 years ago. But would it have been because it was antisemitism? Absolutely not. I would be very, very interested to learn of some other way that that would have happened. But we're very grateful that the same laws under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that is what this was all held under. Howard Fienberg:   And the other angle is that the monster that killed everybody, he killed 11 people, he was not an upstanding part of the community, he did not have a whole segment of the community cheering him on, helping him, encouraging him, protecting him. That's not the way it worked. And the reactions and the killing of my mom was part of the demonstration of that, that people were horrified and they were supportive of us. And, you know, the Justice Department pursuing the case to the fullest extent of the law, as they should, would that have happened 100 years ago? No, but again, not just because of the lack of statute, but you know, our place in society was not what it is today. And society was not the same.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   I know we've sprinkled details about your mother throughout this conversation, but is there anything in particular in there anything in particular that you want listeners to know about Joyce? Howard Fienberg:   She twisted herself into knots and did whatever she could to help others, that starts with the rest of the family, and the amount of time and energy that she put toward helping us and helping my brother and sister in law and all of her grandkids, which were a huge focus of her life. The fact that she was able to also shoehorn in a lot of volunteer time at multiple different projects in Pittsburgh, as well as being the connector of our family and multiple sets of families, both email and letters and phone calls on a regular basis. It's an amazing thing that she was able to do that on a daily basis and still sleep and function. Not to mention, make sure that she was at minyan at Tree of Life early every morning. It was an amazing balancing act, y’know, it's a hard thing to pull off. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And she picked up someone each day for minyan as well, right? Howard Fienberg:   Yes, so unfortunately, he passed away. Late, late last year.  Manya Brachear Pashman:  May his memory be for a blessing. You know, I should ask, what does that mean to you, when this phrase, May her memory be for a blessing. What does that mean to you when someone says that about your mother?  Howard Fienberg:   I generally have an appreciation. Because, not just of what she meant to me, but the recognition from other people of the loss. And for some of them, they understand what that loss means. For others, they don't really, but they're trying to support. I do take comfort in that. I'm not certain that I did, certainly in the first week, I was too shell shocked to be able to appreciate all the people that were saying it to me. But, you know, over time, it makes a big difference. And I appreciate being able to do that for others, even complete strangers. If I'm supporting a minyan at someone's shiva, I like to be able to do that. Marnie Fienberg: Joyce was such a gentle, loving and caring person and to have her loss be through such an act of hate is where I think we all struggle. And I think whenever anyone talks to Howard or myself or any of the families about their losses, that they can feel that, that they can feel the shock that these people who just wanted to make the world a little bit better, a little bit of a better place, that they would be taken in such an act of hate, for no reason. I think that being able to say May their memory be a blessing really emphasizes the loss that we feel and the hope that we can fill in this space. Howard Fienberg:   And I will say it's very awkward to talk to somebody who's in mourning. Just the nature of it. The fact that we have what almost a rote saying that carries so much weight is a huge benefit. And I deploy it regularly with non-Jews. They're partially taken aback, and they're very touched, because they're used to getting the awkward, Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss, which doesn't make anybody feel particularly good. We can argue about the way Judaism approaches all sorts of things. I happen to think the Jewish way of death, you know, as depressing as it may be to think about, is very practical in a lot of ways. And it's designed to be helpful. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Has the rest of your family embraced that? Have they turned to the Jewish faith to cope with this, to try to make sense of it?  Howard Fienberg:   My brother was already what is called traditional in France, traditional Judaism, he embraced that much more fully, and is much more on the Orthodox range than he was before. And that was a huge part for him as well in coping, and coming to grips with our new life, after my mom died. And that is a piece of it for all of the family in different ways.  One of the positive things along these lines, my brother dedicated a Torah in memory of my parents. And by weird twist of fate, or God's hand, in choosing a date to dedicate that Torah in Pittsburgh, the date happened to land a couple of days before the final sentencing in the Tree of Life trial. So we had just a few days before, this whole ceremony and huge celebration that my brother orchestrated, to not only involve the local community and a huge celebration and things that I've heard about, but never seen.  People marching in a parade down the street, not far from Tree of Life, to introduce the new Torah to its new synagogue, but also in the final writing of the letters, finishing off the Torah, to be able to include some of the law enforcement officers that were injured in trying to rescue people at Tree of Life, as well as all of the families of the victims and the survivors. That everyone was able to participate from our family and our extended family. It was an amazing sight to behold and the simple fact that it landed right before the sentencing was kind of amazing, because there's this amazing positive outgrowth that you might not have expected. And the fact that it perfectly coincided with the darkness of the trial. It’s an amazing thing. Marnie Fienberg: He had been planning this for three years. When Howard says that it was an amazing coincidence to bring them both together, to bring the one of the most Jewish things you could possibly do, dedicating a new Torah, creating and dedicating the Torah, right before the sentencing. There was never a plan for that. It just, it just happened. And it was very healing to the community. But it was also, I mean, the message of the shooter was to stop Judaism, to make us so afraid that we would never go back into the shuls, that we would never go back and be Jewish. And not only in the days right afterwards, where people flocked to go to shul. But this was just one more incredibly powerful expression, that each of the families has done so many different things, to focus on Judaism, focus on making the world a better place in memory of their loved ones. But this is just one more extraordinarily powerful example about how just being Jewish, just doing what we do best, it keeps us going. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Marnie, Howard, thank you so much for joining us and sharing part of your journey with our listeners, it's really a valuable conversation to have. Marnie Fienberg: Thank you for having us. We appreciate it.  Nefesh Mountain, from the song Tree of Life [singing]: O sweet friends, come and dry your eyes And hold each other by this Tree of Life I’m angry and tired of this great divide But I sing, nonetheless, with love on our side Manya Brachear Pashman: This episode is brought to you by AJC. Our producer is Atara Lakritz. Our sound engineer is TK Broderick. You can follow People of the Pod on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and learn more at The views and opinions of our guests don’t necessarily reflect the positions of AJC.  You can reach us at If you appreciated this episode, please share it with friends and family and write a review on Apple Podcasts.  
27:09 10/25/23
Renana Gomeh’s Sons Were Taken Hostage by Hamas: What She Needs You to Do to Bring Them Home Now
At 6:30 a.m on October 7, 2023, Renana Gomeh’s life changed forever when Iran-backed Hamas terrorists stormed her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz and took her two sons, Yagil and Or Yaakov, ages 12 and 16, hostage. She has not heard from them since, knows nothing about the conditions they're held in, or whether they're still alive. Listen to Renana’s painful account, how she is coping, and her mission to bring them home.  American Jewish Committee (AJC) and more than 110 Jewish organizations have urged the United Nations and all governments to secure the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages. Update: This conversation was recorded on October 19. On November 27, Yagil and Or Yaakov were released as part of a temporary pause in fighting. Take action to bring their father, Yair Yaakov, and all remaining hostages home now. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40)  Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: What Biden’s Wartime Visit to Israel Signals to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Learn: What is Known About Israeli Hostages Taken by Hamas  Donate: Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. ___ Transcript of Interview with Renana Gomeh: Manya Brachear Pashman:   Over 200 hostages are being held by the Iran backed terror group Hamas after its terrorist attack against Israel and the massacre of over 1400 Israelis on October 7. American Jewish Committee and more than 110 Jewish organizations from more than 40 countries have urged the United Nations and all governments to secure the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages. The condition of many of the hostages remains unknown, yet we know some are in dire need of urgent medical care. With me to discuss her efforts to bring back her 12 year old and 16 year old sons is Renana Gomeh. Renana, thank you for joining us.  Renana Gomeh:   Thank you so much for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Now, your two sons were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz by Hamas terrorists on October 7. You were on the phone with your sons, as Hamas terrorists were breaking into your home. I cannot imagine what you've been going through over the past 2 weeks. Could you please tell listeners what happened that morning at 6:30am? Renana Gomeh:   Yes, I was on another kibbutz that Saturday morning, with my spouse. I have a partner living on another kibbutz in another community near the Gaza border, which is 15 minutes drive away. And I'm divorced, and my ex-husband lives 400 meters away from me. He's also a member of my kibbutz, of my community. And the boys just usually sleep at my place. You know, this is how they prefer it. And since they're not very young children anymore, we let them choose. So they were alone at home.  And he was at his place with his girlfriend, with his partner, who I love to bits. And about 6:30 in the morning, we all woke up to the red alert, which is unfortunately something which became a routine and we're used to. Since I was also on our kibbutz on the Gaza border, all communities at the Gaza border had red alerts and rockets flying over, hundreds of rockets flying over on a completely surprise attack. We just didn't see it coming whatsoever. I called my boys as I was running to the safe room at the place I was in to make sure that they're in the safe room at my place. And as the safe room is the eldest son's bedroom, he was there but he made sure that his little brother was also there. So they were in the safe room. And every couple of minutes I spoke to them to see that they were okay.  At a certain point they said they're starting hearing gunshots outside the house and I could hear gunshots outside the house I was in. Again, it was a completely well-planned and well-executed attack on all communities at the same time. So no one could go outside.  And I told them it was probably the army defending them. You know, they’re keeping us safe. 30 minutes later or so I can't remember. I've lost track of time to be honest, of that morning. We started getting text messages from other members of the community saying terrorists are walking outside freely, breaking into houses, trying to get people out. I was begging neighbors and people from the community to go and see, to go and see them, go and be with them. You know, try and help them. But no one could go outside. And there were probably over 100 terrorists walking around, getting into houses. So there was not a chance that anyone could help.  At a certain point I asked my elder brother, who's also a member of the community, to call my eldest [son] and tell him how to lock the door. The doors don't lock in a safe room because the safe rooms were planned against missiles and rocket attacks and against earthquakes. So they actually want you to have the door been able to open from the outside, so they can take you out. So they don't lock. But you know, there's certain technical ways to try and keep them locked. So I asked him to call my eldest and tell him how to do it. And then I later found out that he held the door like hell. And he fought for that door. But it didn't make it. And about an hour later, about two hours after the attack started, they called me and said, they hear someone breaking in. Breaking the door, breaking in, walking in the house.  And a couple of minutes later, I could hear Arabic speaking outside. The door opens. And my youngest said, Please don't take me, I'm too young. He was always good at manipulation. This time it didn’t work. And they took them. That was the last I've heard from them. It's almost two weeks now. And I've nothing, I've heard nothing. I know nothing of their whereabouts. I know nothing about the conditions they're held in, whether they eat, whether they sleep, and whether they're still alive. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I'm so sorry to make you relive that. But I also know that it's important that you share your story with the wider world.  Renana Gomeh It is, it is. I know. This is all I can do at the moment, you know. And so it means a lot to me that you're actually giving me the platform. Because what I need your audience to do is to enlist to the effort to get them released now. To get my boys home alive now. They shouldn't be there. They take children hostage, 80 people out of our small community, which only is about 400 people. 80 people were taken hostage from the age of six months to the age of 86. People who need medicine, people who need medical care. It's just plain children that need a mother.  I later found out that my ex-husband and his girlfriend were also taken hostage from their house. My hope is that they've met and they’re together. As 80 people were taken my hope is that someone that they know is with them, to support them and to help them. That's the story you know. As a mother to other mothers, just trying to imagine it was your child being kept there. Just for one hour, let alone 13 days. My heart goes out to every mother even in the Gaza Strip. You sometimes get in the news in Israel, you sometimes get news like a 14 year old terrorist was killed tonight at a terror attack and I always my heart goes out to them and I say you know he's 14, he’s someone's child. But what kind of a mother raises such monsters? Manya Brachear Pashman:   Of course, listeners who are hearing this can go to to send a letter to the United Nations, send a letter to Congress to demand swift action to release the hostages. I know that you are pushing for swift action to release your sons and the other hostages. Who have you met with, who have you talked to about bringing your sons home and what can be done?  Renana Gomeh:   Well I’ve met anyone who was willing to meet me. I was mainly trying to get the media, international media to hear my voice and to get people around the world to hear us. I think the international community has a lot of tools and there's many ways you can help by just by putting pressure, as you just suggested, by putting the right pressure in the right places, in order to release them. Obviously I want all of them to be released, there’s over 200 people kept in the Gaza Strip, as far as we know, I think there's more. But, you know, it's not for me to say. What we need you to do is to approach your governments. And ask them to release those civilians that are held. We don't even know, again, in what conditions and especially released those 40 or so children. Children under the age of 18, from babies to teenagers. They're not part of this game. I'm sorry. They are not bargain chips in the war game. Get them free now without any conditions whatsoever. I can't see how anyone can think otherwise. It's just plain and simple. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Renana, are you getting any explanations or theories from diplomats, people that you're speaking with, on why they're holding your sons and other children like this? Renana Gomeh:   To be honest, until two weeks ago, I saw us as neighbors. And I thought there was mutuality between us, you know, that we could have a future together. Those two people have a mutual economy, have mutual relations, even have mutual cultures. But I don't think we do. I can't even try and get into these terrorists' heads and the way they think, because what they did is not just taking soldiers hostages in order to bargain them, to trade them, for prisoners. What they did was to rape and decapitate and murder, just for the sake of fun.  They came in, had cameras, to have this horror filmed, and put on Facebook and on TikTok. So I can't even begin to try and understand but I reckon they probably want to bargain them for the prisoners, which as far as I'm concerned…I don't care. I think the actions they took cannot be justified in normal rules of war. I can't, I can't explain. It's not for bargaining. It's for fun.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Are you being told there are limits to what diplomats can do or is anyone telling you their hands are tied, or are you getting unequivocal unbridled assurance that everything is being done? Renana Gomeh:   I'm not really told anything at the moment, but I'm not an expert. I understand that not everything can be told. If there are efforts being done, which I hope there are, they can’t share it with 200 families. My hopes are that anyone with the right mind understands that this situation can not go on. And the children cannot stay held by terrorists for not even one hour, let alone a day or a month. And that has to be over, no matter what. I don't care if the war still goes on after. I don't believe there's any other way to get them released, but diplomatic pressure. I think this is the way to do it. But I'm not sure there’s anyone to negotiate with. So you know, the other side is so different to us. And their morales are so different from ours, apparently. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Are you traveling places to meet with government officials, and do those government officials include Israel, America, beyond that? Renana Gomeh:   I'm willing to do anything to get my kids back home. And to get everyone's kids back home. I have another daughter, my eldest, who's 21, who was also in Nir Oz at that horrible, horror day. And who's traumatized. Thank God, her boyfriend was around and held the door. And luckily, they got out alive but very, very deeply scarred. And I have to take that into consideration while making decisions about traveling far away. But I'm doing my best by Zoom. I'm trying to get my voice heard in any way I can, under those conditions. And I still have her to think of, she's all I have at the moment. So she deserves her mother to be around. Even [if] she's willing for me to do anything to get her father and her brothers back. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Where are you staying now? Renana Gomeh:   We've been evacuated to a beautiful hotel suite in Eilat. My boys love Eilat. I was here with them two months ago on summer vacation. It took me years after I got divorced to get to this point where I can take them to a summer holiday on my own. So it was very meaningful also. So I'm finding it very very hard to walk around in Eilat. But everyone from my–what's left of my community of what was Nir Oz–everyone were evacuated to this hotel and we found it very important to be together.  This community, you know, it's like a big family to us. This is why we decided to stay here with them. It's very hard because it's very far away from everywhere in Israel. I know for people in the States internal flights seem like a normal bus. But for us, it's not. But at least it feels safe-ish. I don't think anyone who's now staying here could bear even one more alarm.  People ran for their lives, people fought terrorists. People jumped out of burning houses, people fell out of windows, people were hiding in bushes, people were faking themselves dead. There's not even a… I can't even start to describe, you know, for me, the horror was the fact that my children were taken away. But other people experienced horrors themselves. So we're here with our big family, the kibbutz, trying to recover from ashes. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Much of the world's attention is on what's going on now in Gaza. What do you have to say to journalists who are covering this war? Renana Gomeh:   The last thing I want, as a human being, as a mother, as a woman–if we were to run the world, it wouldn't happen. Just saying. But the last thing I would have wanted is war. You know, we've had so many in the last few years. This is the last thing we need. This is the last thing the Gaza people need. People in Gaza are used as human shields, even their children, like I said, terrorists who are 14. Terrorists, they’re children, why are they carrying guns? Why are their summer camps, teaching them how to use guns and to become terrorists? My heart goes out to every mother there. And I wish we didn't have to have a war. And I wish we could live a better life. And I think the people in Gaza had that chance. We walked out of the Gaza Strip 20 years ago, took villages, complete villages out. And it was a very difficult action to do in Israel. Which, you know, we still bleed on it nowadays, politically and socially.  And we gave them the opportunity to become an independent state. And they gave the keys to a terrorist organization, which uses all the money that the EU and whoever is giving them in order to weaponize themselves and in order to become terrorists and to educate their children to become terrorists.  I used to tell my children all the time: your life is so much better than children in Gaza. You have education, you have running water, you have electricity. And you have the morals that the Jewish world gives to their children: of equality, of mutuality, of giving away from yourself and no wish to get something in return.  The other side does the opposite. We treasure life as Jews and they treasure death. So I'm sorry, but my sympathy is gone. I want my children back home, now, alive. Afterwards, we can speak about having a war or not having a war, the conditions they’re in, the humanitarian solutions. But the world should know that what happens there is not an independent state. It's a terrorist organization, holding civilians, hostages. Their own civilians. My heart goes out to every child and every mother there. It's not their fault. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, sharing your family's story. And I am praying and we are all doing everything we can to help you get your sons and the other hostages home. And I pray that that happens very soon. Thank you so much for joining us. Renana Gomeh:   I just want them–I just want my boys back home alive now and I want you to help us do it in any way you can. Thank you so much for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:   If you would like to help make a difference, go to There you can urge the United Nations and members of Congress to secure the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages being held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza.  
20:29 10/20/23
What Biden’s Wartime Visit to Israel Signals to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah
Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer, joins us to break down U.S. President Joe Biden’s historic wartime visit to Israel and his message to Iran and its terror proxies Hamas and Hezbollah. Jason also shares his take on the fast-moving situation, including the fallout from the explosion at the Gaza hospital, the announcement of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and the growing antisemitic attacks in the Middle East and Europe.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Jason Isaacson Show Notes: Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War: Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now Learn: What Everyone Needs to Know About Hamas’ Lie About a Rocket Strike on a Gaza Hospital  Donate: Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Transcript of Interview with Jason Isaacson: President Joe Biden: October 7th, which was a sacred Jewish holiday, became the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.  It has brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by a millennia of antisemitism and the genocide of the Jewish people. The world watched then, it knew, and the world did nothing.  We will not stand by and do nothing again.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. To those who are living in limbo waiting desperately to learn the fate of a loved one, especially to families of the hostages: You’re not alone. Manya Brachear Pashman:   On October 18th, 2023, President Joe Biden became the first American President to visit Israel during wartime, demonstrating his unequivocal support for the Israeli government. Here to talk about President Biden's visit is Jason Isaacson, AJC's chief policy and political affairs officer, joining us from Berlin where he's witnessed some of the European response to the crisis. Jason, welcome back to People of the Pod. Jason Isaacson:   Thank you, Manya.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   I am always shocked when the President goes to a war zone like he did go to Ukraine in February, or in this case, Israel. What did President Biden's visit signal about his support for Israel during this time? Jason Isaacson:   This is a president who has long identified himself as a strong supporter of Israel, who has spoken again and again, throughout his political career, from the time that he was a young man serving in the US Senate, of his support for, his identification with Israel.  But to hear him speak, as he spoke on Wednesday, in Tel Aviv, after meeting with the Israeli war cabinet that Prime Minister Netanyahu assembled, after other meetings that took place as well, to hear him speak with such passion, such conviction about the priority for the United States, of standing by Israel, of identifying with the struggle that Israel now faces against Hamas terror.  To hear him talk about “the nations of conscience,” as he referred to the US and Israel together. The struggle that the Jewish people have had over the centuries, the fight against antisemitism, his references to the Holocaust. All of that, and to say that the United States was standing by Israel, in the fullest possible way, the deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group to the eastern Mediterranean. Another aircraft carrier battle group, steaming to the eastern Mediterranean as well to provide additional support. The package of additional military assistance. He described it as an unprecedented package of military assistance that he is asking Congress to approve, to help Israel through this difficult time.  All of these statements and his just physical presence in Israel, in the midst of war, spoke volumes of the support that the United States has for Israel. And he also spoke frankly, about the tragedy that occurred the night before he arrived, at a hospital in Gaza. And the fact that all the indications are that this was caused by the fire of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the rocket that misfired. It wasn't, as so much of the media and so much of the region, frankly, has alleged that it was somehow the work of Israel.  Very clearly from the evidence that has been accumulated by U.S. surveillance and other means of data collection. This was something that was a misfire from the Palestinian side. All of that, packaged into a single presentation by the president at the old American Embassy in Tel Aviv, just spoke volumes of the support that the United States has for Israel, that the US is standing by Israel in this very difficult time. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Let's talk about people who immediately assumed that it was an Israeli airstrike that caused that explosion at that hospital. Many did jump on board with that argument, including Jordan and Egypt. And those are countries with whom Israel has had peace agreements for quite some time, but they seem to embrace that story right away. What is going on with the the Arab nations? What has their response been to this violence? Jason Isaacson:   It's profoundly disappointing. Lies have velocity and in the age of social media, enormous power, and circulation that really just can't be turned back without a huge effort to introduce the truth into the narrative. The lies that have been told about Israel for decades, have saturated the region and frankly, the world, and a lot of the international media as well, quite regrettably. Even in our own country.  So it's easy to believe that if you've been told for decades, that Israel is a colonizer, Israel is an oppressor, Israel is heartless in its treatment of its Palestinian neighbors, then you see pictures of people carrying wounded people or bodies strewn about a courtyard in Gaza, knowing that Israel is attacking Gaza, because it's trying to root out the Hamas terrorists have attacked Israel just a few days before. It's easy to believe if you've got that background, and you've been hearing this and been raised on this kind of media saturation, that Israel is to blame.  And it is only later that the facts come out, that the imagery that we have been now seeing on social media from a few sources, highly credible sources, what the United States government has now found through its own quite formidable means of data collection, that that this was not Israel, targeting a hospital or firing on a hospital. It was a Palestinian rocket that fell on this hospital while they were sending a barrage of rockets into Israel. There have been hundreds of Palestinian rockets and missiles that have fallen in Gaza and have killed Palestinians. This was the latest incident. It's horrible.  The people of Gaza are suffering. The Palestinians are suffering because of the rule of Hamas. And the more that the region talks about that openly–instead of talking about it privately.  AJC knows from our many years, including recently, of traveling across the Arab world and speaking to Arab leaders who know better, know the reality: that Israel is fighting ruthless terrorists, funded by, supported by, armed by Iran. And waging this war that is really their war, against these kinds of extremists who are hijacking a great faith and fighting in the name of a great faith when they are actually doing everything they possibly can to damage the reputation of and the standing and the principles of a great faith.  And Israel is fighting this fight not only for itself and for its people, but frankly, for the possibility of peace and stability and prosperity in that region. I'm hopeful that at some point, it will be possible for the leaders of that region to step forward and say publicly what they have said so many times privately that they know that Israel's struggle is their struggle. And there have been a few assertions of this, I have to point out, in the last week and a half, there have been some statements that have identified by name, Hamas.  I was struck by a statement made by the UAE ambassador to the UN. Statements that were issued on Twitter, by the Kingdom of Bahrain and by the United Arab Emirates a few days after the October 7 atrocities in Israel. But so many of the statements that we've seen in the last week, have been profoundly disappointing and hypocritical.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   You mentioned the actual threat of Iran to Arab nations. I'm curious what message Biden's visit sends to Iran and its terror proxies on the border with Lebanon? Jason Isaacson:   Well, I very much hope that having the USS Gerald R. Ford in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on its way as well. There was also, I believe, a fighter squadron that was being repositioned to the region. There are enormous military assets that were already in the region.  But the US has made it very clear, President Biden, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin, in their visits to the region as well, have made it very clear that the US is telling the region as President Biden said, again and again, you know, my message to the region is: don't. Don't even think about the possibility of adding to this fight against Israel of joining this fight against Israel. The US will step forward.  Whether the US will not only provide additional military hardware, as the President has offered, and there of course are many friends in Congress who are stepping forward right now to provide for that as well. But the US could also enter this fight, depending on the circumstance, on the possibility of a widening of the war. Should Iran make the tragic blunder of deciding to somehow enter into this fight in a more direct way, there would be a powerful response. I think the President has made that quite clear. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Do you think Biden's visit will deter Hezbollah? Or are Iran and Hezbollah one in the same? Jason Isaacson:   Closely connected, maybe not exactly one of the same, but clearly, Iran would like to see Hezbollah take a more, it appears, take a more aggressive posture. There have been some incursions that have been conducted by Hezbollah, or by people from the Hezbollah controlled territory of southern Lebanon into northern Israel, there have been the firings of certain missiles and mortars. Some of them are not the full scale kind of attack that Israel would need to respond to forcefully and that and that would actually represent a second front that hasn't happened. As of the time that you and I are speaking, let's hope that that doesn't happen.  Let's hope that the messages that have been sent by the President, clearly messages sent by Israel, that it is prepared for any fight and will not allow its citizens of the North and the country as a whole to be invaded by by Hezbollah, it will resist powerfully and it will punish any incursion, any attack in a way that Israel has had to do in the past–at great cost. But Israel will defend itself, Israel will stand strong. And the United States will have its back as the President has said repeatedly and demonstrated by his latest visit, and the announcement that he made when he was in Israel this week. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You know speaking of Iran, I want to go back to that, they have called for an oil embargo on Israel, how likely is that to happen? Jason Isaacson: I'd say pretty unlikely. I think that Iran's threats are hollow, and will be met by the oil suppliers from not only the region but from elsewhere, including Europe, including Azerbaijan. There are energy supplies that Israel produces, as you know, on its own through an abundant supply of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. I'm not concerned about a cut off of energy to Israel.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   In Tel Aviv, President Biden announced that humanitarian aid – food, water, medical supplies – would start to flow to Gaza from Egypt. Prime Minister Netanyahu then added that Israel would prevent any aid from reaching Hamas. Why this turn of events, Jason?  Jason Isaacson:   My assumption is, in the early days of the fight against Hamas, there was a sense that by putting pressure on Gaza as a whole, Hamas could be induced to release the hostages, some 200 hostages that it is holding, that the Palestinian people would put pressure on Hamas, to do so, to save themselves. I believe that there was also a concern that providing anything, allowing anything to flow into Gaza, would provide the wherewithal for Hamas to continue to build the rockets and missiles and make other preparations, build out its infrastructure, and fuel its fight against Israel. So I think the idea was, as in many war situations, you know, cut them off, then move in and try to surgically, as surgically as possible, take out the leadership and, and dismantle the infrastructure of terror. But as the situation evolves, and as it's clear that the Palestinians are, are suffering from a lack of, of food or water power, I think the thinking has shifted with, with the United States and other countries offering to provide additional assistance. I think it's very clear that Israel feels also that their intention is not to harm the Palestinian people, their intention is to eliminate Hamas.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   So, Jason, I am speaking to you, actually, you are in Berlin right now. Can you tell me a little bit, tell our listeners a little bit about what you're hearing, what you're seeing there on that side of the ocean. Jason Isaacson:   Of course, Manya. Before I came to Berlin, I was in Paris, briefly as well. And I know the Jewish communities in Paris and Berlin, elsewhere in Europe, are on edge. There have been large street demonstrations in London and Brussels, in Paris and elsewhere. There was a firebombing the night before you and I are having this conversation at a synagogue in Berlin. There was a teacher who was stabbed to death outside of Paris, a couple of days ago. There were two people who were shot to death in Brussels, as well. There have been other acts of violence. Also within a day of our conversation, Manya, there was a firebombing of a synagogue in Tunisia, which has a small Jewish community that's been, in that country for 2000 years.  So there are Jewish communities that are feeling the fallout, the impact of the propaganda that has raced across the world, about Israel being responsible for the suffering of Palestinians. And supporters of the Palestinian cause have come to the streets. And some of them have come to the streets with knives and Molotov cocktails, and have expressed their anger, and targets have been Jews, not just Israelis.  And this is dangerous, and it needs to be confronted, extremely directly and forcefully as it has been, for the most part, I would say, by police authorities, by federal authorities as well across Europe. AJC is very concerned about the well-being of Jewish communities in the diaspora as a result of what's happening in Israel and Gaza.  We were seeing in the first hours and days of the attacks of October 7, expressions of sympathy from across the planet, striking expressions, powerful expressions. I will not forget the statements by Prime Minister Modi, for instance of India, the most populous nation on earth, expressing solidarity with Israel. But then in the days following that, really attention has shifted entirely, the narratives have changed. And now, what we're seeing more, are demonstrations in the street. There were demonstrations in the streets of solidarity with Israel in the first day or two, including here in Berlin. But, now we're seeing a very different and a very ugly, and a completely misplaced set of priorities and angers and prejudices against Jewish communities. So we need to do what we can, working with Jewish communities, with governments to provide protection to Jewish communities that are vulnerable. And we need to hear expressions of support, solidarity, and truth from governments around the world: what really is happening, what the threats really are, and standing by Jewish communities as we stand by the State of Israel as it recovers from the trauma of October 7. Manya Brachear Pashman: Thank you so much Jason, for joining us. Jason Isaacson:   Thank you. Always a pleasure, Manya. Take care. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week’s episodes – listen to: Yotam Polizer, the CEO of IsraAID, on how Israel’s leading international humanitarian organization is responding to the immediate and long-term needs on the ground.  And Mai Gutman, a 28 year old graduate student and member of AJC's Campus Global Board, who planned to join her friends at the Supernova music festival near Israel's border with Gaza on Saturday, October 7. But when relatives came to visit, she decided to celebrate Shabbat and Simchat Torah in Jerusalem instead—a change of plans that saved her life.   
17:53 10/19/23
Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week
Mai Gutman, 28, a graduate student and member of AJC's Campus Global Board, had planned to join her friends at the Supernova music festival near Israel's border with Gaza on Saturday, October 7. But when relatives came to visit, she decided to celebrate Shabbat and Simchat Torah in Jerusalem instead—a change of plans that saved her life. At least 260 young Israelis and people from all over the world were brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists at the festival. Mai, an IDF reservist who was just recently called up, joins us from her base to talk about waking up in Jerusalem the morning of October 7, the harrowing messages that she received from friends, and the four days since.   *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Mai Gutman Show Notes: Donate: Learn: Song credits:  Pond5:  “Hatikvah (National Anthem Of Israel, Electric Guitar)”; Composer: Composer: Eli Sibony; ID#122561081 Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. ___ Transcript of Interview with Mai Gutman: Manya Brachear Pashman: The techno music festival near Israel's border with Gaza was billed as the essence of unity and love in a breathtaking location. At least 260 people were brutally killed by Hamas terrorists there on Saturday morning, October 7th. 28-year-old Mai Gutman was supposed to be there and had already joined the WhatsApp groups of friends and fellow concert goers to keep in touch. But she did not go. Mai, a member of AJC's Campus Global Board and a reservist who was just recently called up, joins us from her IDF base to talk about waking up in Jerusalem the morning of October 7th and the four days since.  Mai, welcome.  Where are you now? Mai Gutman:   I live in Herzeliya. Currently, located in a place that I can't exactly disclose, but I am in the north of Israel. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Are you able to share what you're seeing and hearing all around you? Mai Gutman:   Currently where I am I mean, we can hear the news, we can hear what's going on around us in the South as well. Even though we are stationed in the north. Today [October 11, 2023] was a pretty hectic day in terms of developments on the northern border. We had a day pretty much full of running to the bomb shelters and staying there, which indicated some sort of an escalation. I can't go into too many details, obviously. But we can feel the escalation coming and we're prepared for it. Manya Brachear Pashman:  So you were born in Israel but grew up mostly in Melbourne, Australia. How did you end up back in Israel? Mai Gutman:   I moved to Australia with my parents when I was only 18 months old, and I had grown up in Australia. But I had always felt a very strong connection to Israel. Something that really I couldn't put into words, I couldn't explain, it was just an inherent feeling. And when I was 18, I just decided that I'm going to go to Israel, I'm going to make Aliya and I'm going to draft into the army just because I think, you know, for me, it was important, if I'm going to live there, then I definitely need to carry the burden and be a part of society in that way and contribute. Because I find it difficult to comprehend living here, and not being a part of that very fundamental part of people's lives. It's a very crucial part of people's lives around here. And I feel like I wouldn't really be able to fit in and understand, you know, Israeli society, and also the Israeli mentality without having that experience. And I also just think that it's important, all in all, just to contribute. And that's I guess, how I got into the army. And I served for almost three years in a combat unit in search and rescue. For me, at the time, when I first drafted it was really the first years of women going into combat units. So it was a very kind of still a new idea. And I was really eager to jump on that and see how I go. Manya Brachear Pashman: So with no immediate family there, does that qualify you as a lone soldier? Mai Gutman:   Yes, absolutely. So I enlisted with Garin Tzabar, which is a program that brings young adults from all around the world who want to make Aliyah and specifically to draft into the IDF, but don't have any immediate family with them. So Garin Tzabar provides that network of family and support, I guess, to deal with, first of all, all the bureaucracy that comes with moving to another country and drafting into the military. But also, you know, you get put on a kibbutz and you get given a host family, which is really nice. And it's just nice to have that initial support network because it might feel a little bit lonely when we first arrive. But now we're really like a one big family and we still keep in touch to this day, even though it was I think, 10 years ago, almost that we were all together on the kibbutz. Manya Brachear Pashman:  So where were you when this escalation first began on October 7? Mai Gutman:   I want to preface this by saying I was in Jerusalem on October 7, I was celebrating the chag of Simchat Torah, and the Sabbath with my family with my cousins. And also I had cousins that actually came from America, to join us in Jerusalem was a very big occasion. And that's really, I think, the only reason why I decided to come to Jerusalem and spend time with family because there was a very big music festival happening that weekend. And I was very keen initially, to go to that music festival. I had initially planned to go with my friend. And I joined, you know, the WhatsApp groups to try and find a good crew to go up with and find a means of transportation and all that. And then yeah, literally, you know, I think it was a couple of days later that my aunt had called me and she said, Hey, listen, you know, your cousins are coming. We're all going to be in Jerusalem at the same time. Like, let's, let's all do hog together, we really want you to come and be with us. And I said, Well, obviously, I mean, I'd rather be with family on such a unique occasion, I can go to a music festival any other time.  So you know, I just kind of dropped those plans and ended up doing it in Jerusalem and ended up spent spending that weekend in Jerusalem, which was, I think the decision that ended up saving my life. And the morning of October 7, I had woken up to the sound of sirens, of Red Alert sirens, which is the sirens that go off when there's a rocket that's approaching an area in Israel, which was quite confusing to me. It was about 8am. And it was quite confusing to me, because in order for rocket sirens to be going off in Jerusalem, for me, I had to put quickly two and two in my head and say, well, that means that there's a lot more going on down south.  So I you know, being a Sabbath day being a chag day as well in my family being, you know, Orthodox and observant of that day, we didn't have our phones at the ready. We didn't have the news on or anything like that. So I had decided to quickly jump on and see what was going on. Because obviously it was a lot more serious than what I thought.  And I opened my phone and I'm reading the headlines in absolute disbelief, in shock. Terrorists had infiltrated into Israeli territory, they had massacred people on the streets, innocent civilians. They had burned houses, they'd gone into bomb shelters and literally just gunned people down. I think the most shocking part, though, was when my phone started pinging with those WhatsApp groups that I was saying earlier that I was part of a music festival. And the messages started coming through saying Help us help us You have no idea that here they're gunning us down. They're shooting at us. I'm bleeding, I'm hurt. Can someone call the police, call the army. My friend’s dead. I think someone help me, someone help me. And other people are texting like you know some people went some people did it's pretty big Whatsapp group. What's going on? Who do we call? No one at the police station is answering. Nobody in the army bases are answering–why? Because terrorists had already commandeered their bases. They had murdered everyone. Almost everyone in those bases in order to get through. And they've made their way to this music festival of peace and love where people were celebrating. Young people my age, young people, my friend’s age, my friends as well, who were there who came to have a good time. And you see them in this footage that they're sending through in the early hours of the morning, sending through footage of, of running of bullets, and they're dressed in their costumes, their beautiful faces made with colorful face paint.  And you can see that they were just having a good time and tears streaming and screaming and running and shooting in the background. And it's like a war zone.  It was like a scene from Armageddon. It looks apocalyptic. And I was just shaking, holding my phone shaking. What do I do? How do I feel helpless, I have nothing that I can do. And in the meanwhile, there are sirens going off in the background rocket rocket attacks on Jerusalem, rocket attacks down south. And you just feel like, Oh, my God. And you've just woken up just so you understand. Like you've just woken up. It's so overwhelming. Manya Brachear Pashman: Oh, Mai. I can’t imagine your struggle in those moments to really distinguish between nightmare or reality.  What did you do to try to make sense of things?  Mai Gutman: I turned on the news. And on the news, they're saying, Oh, we think that, you know, there are rocket sirens. And we think that there might be something going on in the South that maybe terrorists have entered. We're not sure. And nothing about the music festival. The music festival, I think was only broadcasted the news about the music festival. In the late afternoon. It started being broadcasted. And I from the morning, I've already known about this, the people are literally bleeding out people are dying, as we speak while we're hiding in bomb shelters, people are dying. And and what do you do? What do you do? What do you do in that situation? You feel completely hopeless. And that is, I think, until now, the feeling that most Israeli civilians, if not all, are feeling we are feeling helpless, almost betrayed by a colossal failure on the part of the Israeli military on the part of the Israeli intelligence, that how could this happen? Without you know, we brag we say, you know, we've got the strongest military? And how could this possibly happen, with the most deaths–the most Jewish deaths to occur in a single day, since the Holocaust? Unfathomable. Manya Brachear Pashman:   How has your IDF service impacted your connection to Judaism and your connection to Israel? Mai Gutman:   It definitely changed me, it definitely strengthened I think, my Jewish identity and my Zionist identity. It gave me immense purpose. Also, as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, especially one of the largest families of Holocaust survivors, in Melbourne, that really, I think established the community in terms of, you know, our schools, our shows, our youth movements, we had a very family has a very big part to play, and I'm very privileged to be part of that family.  But for me, it was, you know, to draft into the army. It's something that I felt as something of an obligation almost because I knew, and we can really take this situation as an example. But I knew that if I don't do something, if I'm not part of the solution, or the help, I guess, then we might not have a country, which means that we may have a Holocaust again. Ad we saw the effects today, of the very real existential crisis and threat that we face in Israel, along our borders. And if anything was to happen, if we let our guard down for even a second, this is the result. We don't have an alternative. We don't. We have a purpose.  And my purpose, I feel everyone has a purpose, but my purpose that I genuinely feel, and I this was really strengthened in the army was when I swore allegiance to the army and to the state. I felt within myself that this is something that I won’t only interpret in terms of my service and my physical military service, but I'll take with me to my grave I will do this in any capacity that I can.  I work in Hasbara. It's my passion to defend the state because I just know that we have no other alternative without it, the alternative that we have is persecution, as the Jewish nation has faced for many years. And that's not an alternative we can accept. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Do you feel like you're at home right now?  Mai Gutman:   Absolutely. I feel at home. I've never felt more at home than I have in Israel. When I come to Israel, it's an immediate relief, a sense of relief in my heart. It's like something when I live abroad, or when I'm abroad, there's a constant sense of yearning, that I can never shake, doesn't matter what I try, it doesn't matter how many good people are surrounding me and my loving family, as much as I love them so much. It'll never fill that void that I have that's really only filled when I'm in Israel, and I can't explain it sounds–I don't know, spiritual, I guess, but that it is what it is. And I feel very comfortable here. Despite the chaos that's going on around us this is I know that I am where I need to be. Manya Brachear Pashman:  But you’re not just living in Israel. You’re serving your nation, you’re now defending it during one of its most dire moments in modern history. Mai Gutman:   I mean, until I got called up, I was sitting on shpilkes, I couldn't even imagine like I was just what can I do, I went to go to the supermarket and I bought a bunch of like a huge carton worth of stuff, for the soldiers that were already serving that were already called up.  I went to go help pack boxes, I felt so helpless, though I really was just waiting for the call. I had been on standby already from Saturday. Standby, obviously is just when your bags have to be packed, don't know when you're gonna be called. And it could be at any time, it could be never at all.  So I am happy to just be part of a very strong nation, a very strong military. Despite what's happened recently, I do still believe that our nation is strong and our military is strong. And we will get through this, we will overcome this. Because as we can see, I mean, you know, this whole year, we've been crying over internal division over the judicial reforms in Israel. And it just goes to show you know, what  tragedy, unfortunately, that it has to come to tragedy and to bring us together.  But at the end of the day, when it comes to real stuff, when it comes to the existential threats and the the things that affect us all, it shows that we are bound together and we are strong together. And everybody doesn't matter what your religious political affiliations are. We are all in this together. And everybody's banding with us together. And it's so special to see and it's only in Israel that we can see such a special and unique form of unity. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Is there anything else that you want Americans or Australians to know, people who are outside of Israel– anything that you want them to know about what's happening there? Mai Gutman: I just want you guys to know, whoever's listening here. I know that it's, it seems very, it is very hard, doesn't just seem, it's very hard. The situation is unlike anything that we've seen before. We've never experienced anything like this, especially not in, in our recent history. But I want you to know, and I know it feels difficult being so far away, because I've been there. It's difficult to report on things so far away, but your support, and your raising awareness, your hasbara, your social media engagement. It means a lot. Your thoughts and prayers mean a lot.  We feel your prayers, we feel your presence with us, we feel you standing behind us and it's like a whole other army standing behind us. It might feel like you're not doing enough or you're not doing anything at all, really. But honestly, it's more than what you think, it's more than what you believe. So just stand by us. And don't give up hope because we certainly aren't. And we can't, we don't have that luxury of giving up hope.  Our entire nation is built on hope. And that's where our resilience comes from. So be strong. We will win this, we will get through this. By hook or by crook. We'll make it through as long as we all stick together as long as we make sure that we count what's important. We remember what's important, who's important to us, hug your loved ones. Because currently there are so many there are over 1300 families around Israel that are currently grieving and mourning and they don't get that opportunity.  So make sure to tell your parents you love them. Tell your kids you love them, your sisters, your brothers, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins, your friends, because not everybody has that luxury. And, and yeah, we'll do what we can over here so you do what you can over there. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Mai, thank you so much. Stay safe. Thank you for your service, and we will certainly be praying for you.  Mai Gutman:   Thank you.Manya Brachear Pashman:  American Jewish Committee's Israel Emergency Campaign has already raised more than $1.5 million. Funds that have already gone to Israeli hospitals, efforts to evacuate the elderly, NGOs such as IsraAID, providing support for children, and friends of the Israel Defense Forces. If you would like to donate, go to Israel.  
18:36 10/12/23
Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now
We’re joined by Yotam Politzer, CEO of IsraAID, to discuss how Israel’s leading international humanitarian organization is responding to the immediate and long-term needs on the ground in the wake of Iran-backed Hamas's barbaric terrorist attack in Israel. Politzer shares how American Jews can step up to support Israelis through this incredibly difficult time. American Jewish Committee (AJC) has launched an Israel Emergency Campaign to support Israeli relief organizations. Their first grantee will be IsraAID, AJC's longtime partner, which has responded to emergencies worldwide, but never before in Israel. Until now.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Yotam Politzer  Show Notes: Donate: Learn:  Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts.  ___ Transcript of Interview with Yotam Politzer: Manya Brachear Pashman:   On the morning of October 7th, Hamas, the terror group governing Gaza and backed by Iran’s regime, launched a brutal assault against Israel, invading towns and cities across the southern border aiming to kill as many people as possible and taking more than 100 captives to Gaza. By the time of this recording, the death toll had reached 900. Thousands more are wounded.  In response to this atrocity, American Jewish Committee has launched an Israel Emergency Campaign to support Israeli relief organizations. The first recipient money raised will be AJC’s longtime partner IsraAID, which has responded to emergencies in more than 50 countries around the world, but never before in Israel– until now.  Yotam Polizer, CEO Of IsraAID, joined us in Tel Aviv earlier this summer. He is joining us again now from New York, where he was visiting when the war broke out. While Yotam is unable to return home at the moment due to lack of flights to Israel, he is working hard to coordinate emergency response from here and is with us to discuss the efforts underway. Yotam, welcome back to People of the Pod.  Yotam Politzer:   Thanks for having me.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   It must be so difficult not to be there with your team.  Yotam Politzer:   Thankfully, our headquarters and our emergency response team is already in full speed. So I think it's also important for me to be here for two reasons, one, to coordinate the support, and not less importantly, to communicate to people here, both in the Jewish community and in the general community, what we're seeing and hearing in terms of the humanitarian needs on the ground. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So what are you hearing from your people on the ground there? What are they reporting? Yotam Politzer:   I don't think I need to elaborate on the horrors because I think we've all been following the news and saw all the horrific images. But for us, as Israel’s leading international humanitarian organization, we have never had a full-scale humanitarian response in Israel. This is the first time we're actually doing it. And we're doing it because the situation is indeed dire and extreme. The biggest need that we identify right now is related to mental health. And because, of course, we are not a humanitarian organization, we're not involved in the security and the military operation. And of course, there are many needs related to the operation that's going on. From a humanitarian perspective, the whole country is traumatized.  I don't know of a single person who doesn't know anyone who either was murdered or kidnapped or both. And the number of people who have an immediate family member, or neighbor, who was murdered, or unaccounted for and probably kidnapped by Hamas is so high, talking about hundreds of 1000s of people. Specifically, what we consider the most vulnerable are obviously the people who lived on the frontline, the villages, the moshavim, and the kibbutzim surrounding Gaza. They have lost on average 10-20% of their population in each of these villages. In Kibbutz Be'eri, just an hour ago, it was published that they found 108 bodies– that's probably much more than 10% of the population there. And many more again, are kidnapped. So these communities who suffered the worst atrocities a person could think of are now in different shelters around the country. So supporting them in these shelters in any shape or form is the most important humanitarian mission of our time.  Many of them have been evacuated specifically from this kibbutz to the Dead Sea, to the Dead Sea hotels, because it's one of the safest places in Israel. If God forbid, we will have another frontline on the north border, that's still safe enough for these people. And these hotels are now operating as shelters and evacuation centers. And the government and the local regional council and the hotel owners are currently providing the food and shelter. So there are less needs on that front. But again, when it comes to mental health support for everyone there, this is crucial. So that's what our team has been focusing on.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   You’re also operating what are called Child Safe Spaces, which you describe as “a place for the kids to be kids.” Tell us more about that.  Yotam Politzer:   We can't imagine what these kids went through. And we just want to give them some sense of normalcy. And let them be kids again, and let them play and let them express themselves and let them release their stress and allow their parents or whoever is left from their families a chance to finally maybe get some sleep, try to reorganize, regroup and deal with everything else that they need to deal with. Try to, you know, start thinking about rebuilding their life after these horrors, which again, will obviously take years. So when we look at the humanitarian needs, I think we need to look at the immediate needs. But even more important, we need to understand that there will be long term needs for these people, and for everyone that is related to them. And so as IsraAID it's very important for us to be first on the ground, wherever it is, in Israel, or in anywhere else in the world. In fact, our team who was responding to the earthquake in Morocco, is now on its way back to Israel to join our team that's already responding in Israel. So that's in short. Manya Brachear Pashman:   In fact, some of the services that you are describing, I believe, you described to me when we spoke earlier this summer, regarding the war in Ukraine, right, many of these similar services were provided there as well, as well as other places around the world. Can you elaborate a little bit about where else around the world you have offered the same services that you're now offering everywhere? Yotam Politzer:   I mean, I started my humanitarian career in Japan, again, another developed country, following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, that killed more than 20,000 people. And they're there, the local government, the local community was very well equipped to support with infrastructure, but they didn't have any kind of emotional mental health support and trauma care. So we actually brought therapists from Sderot, who was working with children who are traumatized in Sderot and develop these models. We brought them to Japan, and we worked with the Syrian refugees with Arabic speaking therapist from Israel. We worked we work in Ukraine in partnership with the First Lady doing mental health and trauma and resilience. And, now we're in Israel. And yes, there are many great professionals doing that in Israel, but many of them were affected. And the level of trauma is so big, that we have to do it in Israel, too. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So what can people here do Yotam? How can they help? Because there's certainly a feeling of helplessness as we watch these images from abroad.  Yotam Politzer:   Yeah and I totally understand and I think being in a position of doing is very important. Look, I think the two main things to do right now, from here from the other side of the world, which is what I'm trying to do as well, while I'm here, is supporting initiatives like IsraAID, like many other organizations who are responding, and they are great organizations, from Magen David Adom, MDA, that people know, and United Hatzalah, and many are focusing on medical services, some of the hospitals, which is very important.  The other thing, which is very, very important, and I think each and every one of us can do, even if we don't have the financial resources, is to be ambassadors for the people of Israel. And we need it more than ever. And it means to do it in the Jewish community, outside the Jewish community, on social media, in synagogues, in schools, in the supermarket, everywhere, there are so many ways to become ambassadors for Israel. And this is something we can all do using our phone. And, and it's very, very important.  And for the people of Israel, and especially the people who are worst affected. There's so much anger, so much frustration, so much fear, and anxiety. And showing our solidarity, in every shape or form, has a huge mental health impact on Israel. I mean, these pictures of cities, the Eiffel Tower or the Brandenburg Gate. In Kyiv. More than 20 places were displaying the Israeli flag as solidarity. I saw it shared so widely in Israel. I mean, knowing hat we have friends. And a lot of them have a huge impact, not only on the Hasbara, and advocacy, which is important, I'm not against it, but also for the mental health and well being of the people of Israel. So it's very, very important.  What is less helpful at the moment, I'm not against it in general. I don't think we need to send supplies from here to Israel. I know a lot of people want to send supplies, but we can purchase supplies in Israel and support the local economy. And there's also a lot of donations going on or so I think that's less helpful. In terms of volunteers, people who want to go from here to volunteer in Israel, that may be needed in the long run. At this very specific moment. I don't think that's a big need. I think supporting organizations on the ground is more important. If you only have limited resources, rather than paying on a very expensive flight, that may or may not go, I think it's important to support organizations who are on the ground and are based there. But it may be needed in the near future, especially as this become a more long term operation. And then we will need people with specific skills and expertise. Manya Brachear Pashman:   In terms of the response, what are you seeing that is giving you hope? What are you seeing that is discouraging?  Yotam Politzer:   I see a lot of things that are reassuring. I see the tremendous support we're getting from many, so many. Not all of them are our typical friends. And, you know, whether it's mainstream media or political leaders, political leaders. I also see some people who are not supporting or trying to paint it, you know, try to be diplomatic on both sides. I don't think at the moment that that makes any sense, to be honest. So that is disturbing. But I also don't hear enough focus on humanitarian needs. I mean, again, I'm not I think the political consequences, the security and safety are very important, but the people there and how to help them and what their needs are, are not being highlighted enough.  Because maybe it's less sexy in the news, I mean, we do hear a lot of horror stories, but the people who are alive and survived and lost their loved ones and went through the worst trauma a person could think of are not being highlighted. Also the incredible story of resilience and heroism from so many people. I have seen some of these in the Israeli media, but not enough in the foreign media and not enough on social media here. So I also think we need to celebrate the resilience of the people there that have been the most resilient people before this crisis. But considering what they're going through, we need to celebrate these people, these heroes, these communities, we need to support them in whatever way we can, we need to be there for them. We need to so I don't see enough of that. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Is there a particular story that comes to mind that you would like to share with our listeners of such heroism? Yotam Politzer:   There are so many actually, but personally, again, and I've been following this news of so many. So many actually, not one person, hundreds of people who were you know, pulled out their sleeves and went in and pulled out people under fire. And these are people who are not in active duty. And they went in and risked their lives in these first 24 hours and pulled out people and some of them lost their lives who are doing that. I was also very touched by stories of Arab nurses and doctors who came in at even higher percentage than they are, to volunteer and to support in the hospitals. I just heard a story of this woman who was not young. But when terrorists came into her house she was so resilient, and she was able to offer – she was so smart and sharp and resilient. And she was able to offer the Hamas terrorist cookies. And to set them down until her rescuers actually came and were able to rescue her. So you know, it’s unbelievable. Among the horrors, there are so many of these heroism and resilience stories and I think we should talk about them more. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Yotam, thank you to IsraAID for all you’re doing on the ground. AJC has been so proud to call you a partner and is so grateful that we can rely on you to help us channel our heartbreak, constructively.   Yotam Politzer:   Thank you so much, first of all, and we're so grateful for AJC. For everything we do together, especially now. AJC has supported us in more than 20 countries. So we have never imagined that we will need AJC to support us in Israel. But here we are. So that's number one. Number two, I do think that myself and all of us here in this part of the world have an important role to play to be the voice for the voiceless and to bring more support. Thank you very much. Manya Brachear Pashman:   In less than 24 hours, AJC’s Israel Emergency Campaign has raised more than one million dollars. 100 percent of which will be distributed to hospitals, trauma centers, and frontline Israeli NGOs starting with IsraAID. If you would like to donate, go to
15:26 10/10/23
Remembering Pittsburgh Part 1: Behind the Scenes at the Reimagined Tree of Life
This month, we mark the five-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting at the Tree of Life. On October 27, 2018, 11 worshipers were murdered solely for being Jewish, in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. As the first installment in a four-part series, we take you inside the Tree of Life building before it is demolished in the coming months to make way for a new complex dedicated to Jewish life and combating antisemitism. Hear from Carole Zawatsky, the CEO behind the reimagined Tree of Life, and Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh Jewish Archive, as they explain their mission: to preserve artifacts and memories so that the story is preserved forever. Carole shares her commitment to honoring the victims, and Eric discusses the challenges of documenting an ongoing tragedy. Together, they emphasize the power of bearing witness to history and the healing strength of remembrance. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Eric Lidji, Carole Zawatsky Show Notes: Music credits: Relent by Kevin MacLeod (,  Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 Virtual Violin Virtuoso by techtheist is licensed under a Attribution 4.0 International License Fire Tree (Violin Version) by Axletree is licensed under a Attribution 4.0 International License. Al Kol Eleh (backing track), with Yisrael Lutnick Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Episode Transcript: Eric Lidji: Pittsburgh definitely is not forgetting. It’s ever present here. There are people who are healing and doing so in ways that, at least from the outside, are remarkable and very inspiring. And there are people who I'm sure have not fully reckoned with it yet. Carole Zawatsky: It's all too easy to walk away from what's ugly. And we have to remember. We can't walk away. Manya Brachear Pashman: Five years have gone by since the horrific Shabbat morning at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, when eleven congregants were gunned down during prayer – volunteers, scholars, neighbors, doing what they always did: joining their Jewish community at shul.  This is the first installment of a series of episodes throughout the month of October devoted to remembering and honoring the lives lost that day and reflecting on how the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history changed those families, changed us, and changed our country.  Today, we take you to the Tree of Life building that stands on the corner of Shady and Wilkins Avenues in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood to hear from two people in charge of preserving the artifacts and memories of the vibrant Jewish life that unfolded inside those walls until October 27, 2018. In early September, our producer Atara Lakritz and I visited the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Squirrel Hill, where Jews have settled since the 1920s, is quite literally Mister Rogers’ neighborhood. We were there to interview those touched by the events of October 27. But it didn’t take us long to figure out that everyone there had been affected in some way.  All along Murray Avenue, in 61C Cafe, at Pinsker’s Judaica Shoppe, at the Giant Eagle supermarket, when we told people why we were there, they all had a story, an acquaintance, a connection.  Later, walking through the glass doors of the synagogue felt like we were stepping through a portal, traveling back five years, when life stopped, and the reality of the hatred and terror that unfolded there began to haunt every step.  Atara and I were invited to accompany a final group tour of the building before it closed in order for preparations to begin for the building’s demolition. The tour was painful, but we felt it necessary to share with our listeners.  As we left the lobby, we were told to take the stairs to the left. The stairs to the right were off limits. Someone had been shot there.  We were led to a small, dark storage room where chairs had been stacked for guests. A handful of people had hidden there as the shooter continued his rampage, but one man walked out too soon, thinking it was safe. When first responders later came to get the others, they had to step over his body.  In the kitchen, there were still marks on the wall where the bullets ricocheted when he shot two women hiding underneath a metal cabinet. The calendar on the wall there was still turned to October 2018 with a list of activities that were happening that week posted alongside it.  And in the Pervin Chapel where seven people died, pews punctured with bullet holes and carpet squares stained with blood were no longer there. No ark either.  But remarkably, the stained glass windows remained with images and symbols of Jewish contributions to America, the land to which the ancestors of so many worshipers once inside that synagogue had fled to and found safety. Those windows will be carefully removed by the son of the man who first installed them 70 years ago. And they will return, when the reimagined Tree of Life rises again.   Carole Zawatsky: The tragedy is a Pittsburgh experience. But it's also every Jew’s experience. It shattered for so many of us our sense of security in America. This is our safe haven. This is where we came to. Manya Brachear Pashman: Carole Zawatsky is the inaugural CEO of the reimagined Tree of Life. Since November 2022, she has overseen the development of a new complex on the hallowed ground: an education center dedicated to ending antisemitism, including a new home for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh; a memorial to the lives lost that Shabbat morning; a dedicated synagogue space where the Tree of Life congregation can return. Carole Zawatsky: What can we build to enrich Jewish life, to remember this tragedy, and to show the world that we as Jews should not be known only by our killers and our haters, we should be known by our joy, our celebrations, our rituals, our resilience. Manya Brachear Pashman: The founding director of the Maltz Museum in northeast Ohio, Carole has spent the last 30 years developing programs and education around the Holocaust and genocide, and overseeing projects that explore Jewish heritage from a national perspective and through a local lens. She led our tour. On October 27, 2018, the congregations of Tree of Life, New Light, and Dor Hadash, which all met in separate areas of the large, multi-story building, had just ushered in the new Hebrew year of 5779. Young students at the Hebrew school had written their own personal Ten Commandments that the teachers had hung on the walls of an upstairs classroom. Carole Zawatsky: Don't egg your neighbor's house, respect your parent. Every one of them said: Thou shalt not murder. Thou shalt not kill. And those 10 commandments that they wrote in their little student handwriting were thumbtacked up on the wall in the very classroom where the gunman was apprehended. Manya Brachear Pashman: Before the rebuilding of Tree of Life begins, Carole’s no. 1 priority has been preserving the artifacts and remnants that bear witness to what happened. Artifacts include the ark, damaged by bullets, the Torah scrolls, which were remarkably unscathed but for the handles. The list of whose Yahrzeits fell on that day, still on the podium; and, of course, the children’s artwork and the wall behind it. Carole Zawatsky: In the work happening here, and in my role as the CEO, I constantly ask: ‘Am I doing it right? Am I doing enough?’ And preserving the evidentiary material was incredibly important to me, that we have the physical evidence to bear witness. And as that drywall in the classroom in which the gunman, the murderer, was apprehended, was coming down, I found myself asking: ‘Have I saved enough? Will this story be preserved forever? Have we done everything we can?’ Manya Brachear Pashman: Helping Carole with this Herculean effort, is Eric Lidji, the director of the Rauh Jewish Archive at the Senator John Heinz History Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, in downtown Pittsburgh. Eric has been collecting documentation and evidence for the archive since October 28, 2018.  Painted stones left in memory of the victims, hand-made signs, pamphlets, and prayers from vigils, sermons from interfaith services. But also a pair of tennis shoes, a guitar, a framed leaf from the Raoul Wallenberg Tree planted in Israel, a cross affixed with Stars of David -- all individual expressions of a community-wide anguish. Eric Lidji: Even before I entered the building, we knew that there were going to be pieces of the building that had historic value. Since late 2018, I've been in the building numerous times, dozens of times, doing work there. And it sort of culminated in this opportunity in early June, where we were allowed to go in and identify pieces of the building that became historic that day, and figure out how to get them out. Manya Brachear Pashman: This is no simple job for anyone involved, no less for Eric, who is accustomed to handling archival materials from generations past, not the present. Eric Lidji: It’s hard for me to disentangle the work of pulling these things out of the building with the knowledge that these families that I've come to know and love, that this is sort of directly related to their loved ones passing. Pittsburgh definitely is not forgetting, it’s ever present here. There are people who are healing and doing so in ways that, at least from the outside, are remarkable and very inspiring. And there are people who, I'm sure, have not fully reckoned with it yet.  The stories that we're used to telling at the archive, they move much slower. You know, when you get records from 75 or 100 years ago, that's in motion too, but it's moving very slowly. And you can kind of sit there and watch it, and understand it. And get some sense of what it might mean. But when you're living through something, it's changing constantly, all around you. And it's responding to things in the world. And it's responding to people's internal resilience and their ability to grow. When I look out at the community, I see a lot of different stories. People are in a lot of different places. And it's going to be different on a month like this, where we're saying Yizkor. And it's going to be different in the early stages of the trial versus the late stages of the trial. It's assimilated into our lives now, it's a part of our lives. Manya Brachear Pashman: In 2019, Eric and journalist Beth Kissileff assembled an anthology of raw reflections by local writers about the Tree of Life massacre. It included only one essay by someone inside the building that day: Beth’s husband, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light. Eric also contributed his own essay. He wrote: “I have no special insight into why this attack happened, or why it happened here. I don’t know what would have prevented it from happening here or what would prevent it from happening again somewhere else. I don’t understand the depth of my sorrow or the vast sorrow of others. I asked him if four years later he would still write those words. Eric Lidji: I feel the same way. You know, there's a second half to that paragraph, which is that, I do have the materials and I can describe those. The premise of an archive is that at some point, we'll all be gone. And when we're all gone, our things are what speak for us. And at the moment, there's a lot of witnesses here, emotional witnesses, I mean, who can testify to what this means.  But there's going to come a time where they won't be there. And our job, I say our, I mean everybody's, our job in the present is to document our experience. So that when we're not here anymore, people in the future have the opportunity to have access to the intensity of the feelings that we had. That ultimately is how you prevent complacency. And so I don't claim any, I don't understand anything in the present. But I do understand the records. And I hope that we're being a good steward and custodian of them so that in the future, people have the opportunity to have access to real human feeling and so that they can really understand what this experience was like for people who were alive today. Manya Brachear Pashman: The Rauh Jewish Archive has collected and preserved thousands of artifacts and documents, but no physical or intellectual access has been granted yet. Cautious care has been taken to make sure families and survivors are ready and know what’s involved in making the materials available to the public. Once that happens, a trove of electronic materials will be uploaded to the newly launched October 27 Archive, which will become the public face of the collection. The electronic catalog will help individuals, schools, and institutions such as Tree of Life to tell the story they’re trying to tell.  Carole Zawatsky: We're the only generation to bear witness to this. The next generation will not bear witness. Their children will not bear witness. We have a moral obligation to ensure that these lives are remembered and memorialized, and that we as Jews and as citizens of this earth remember what hate looks like and work toward a better world. It's all too easy to walk away from what's ugly. And we have to remember. We can't walk away. Manya Brachear Pashman: The Tree of Life building is now a shell of what it once was. The stained glass windows will soon be removed for safekeeping until the new building is ready to welcome them back. As the demolition crews arrive to remove what’s left, Carole’s focus has shifted. Carole Zawatsky: Our focus now is truly on working with our architect, working with the exhibition designer, and forming a new institution. This is an incredibly special moment for us, as we come together and continue to crystallize our mission, our vision, and form this new institution that will be a significant part of the Pittsburgh community, along with the national community. Manya Brachear Pashman: The architect for the project, Daniel Libeskind, a son of Holocaust survivors who is renowned for his redesign of the new World Trade Center site, has described the spiritual center of the Tree of Life as a Path of Light, which connects and organizes the public, educational, and celebratory spaces. Carole Zawatsky: We can never as Jews allow ourselves to be defined by our killers. And I'm delighted to be working with Daniel as our architect and his concept of bringing light into the darkness. Vayehi or, let there be light. We have to bring light back to the corner of Shady and Wilkins. And side by side with tragedy, as we have done throughout all of Jewish history, is also celebration. To have baby namings and B’nai Mitzvot. Celebrate Shabbat and celebrate holidays side by side. That this is the most Jewish thing we can do. When the temples were destroyed in Jerusalem, what did we do? We recreate. And that is the strength and resilience of the Jewish people. Manya Brachear Pashman: Carole also continues to build a multifaith donor base, comprised of foundations and individuals from Pittsburgh and across the country, to raise the $75 million needed to make the reimagination a reality, ideally by 2025. The reasons why donors give vary, but in most cases they’re deeply personal. Carole Zawatsky: The events of 10/27 are personal for everyone. For those people who tell us: I heard the gunshots from my kitchen. I was with my children. From people across the country who experienced a sense of loss of safety. To non-Jews who say: I have to have something to tell my children why some people don't like their friends. What did I do? How did I help be a part of the solution? Manya Brachear Pashman: For generations, the Jewish people have confronted antisemitism in its many forms. But through it all, the Jewish calendar continues to guide the community through celebrations of life and beauty and wonder. Carole describes it as the bitter and the sweet.  Carole Zawatsky: I've had on occasion, a Rabbi, a funder: ‘How are you doing? How do you get through this?’ And for me, there's often a soundtrack in my head. And one of my favorite Hebrew songs is “Al Kol Eleh,” and through the bitter and the sweet. To me, it is the definition of Judaism. And it's the definition of what we're doing. Manya Brachear Pashman: Do you mind sharing a bit of that song with us now?  Carole Zawatsky:  Al hadvash ve'al ha'okets Al hamar vehamatok Al biteynu hatinoket shmor eyli hatov Al kol eleh, al kol eleh. Manya Brachear Pashman: This podcast is dedicated to the 11 lives lost on October 27, 2018: Joyce Fienberg,  Richard Gottfried,  Rose Mallinger,  Jerry Rabinowitz,  Cecil Rosenthal,  David Rosenthal,  Bernice Simon,  Sylvan Simon,  Daniel Stein,  Melvin Wax,  Irving Younger.    May their memories be for a blessing.
20:11 10/6/23
What Jewish Students at Penn Want You to Know About Antisemitism and the Palestine Writes Event
All eyes have been on the University of Pennsylvania and the Palestine Writes event, a gathering meant to give voice to Palestinian art, poetry, and literature on campus. However, a number of the speakers, including Roger Waters and Marc Lamont Hill, have well-documented histories of antisemitic statements.  Maya Harpaz, Vice President of Israel Engagement at Penn Hillel, and Jonah Miller, a reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian, take you through what unfolded, growing campus antisemitism, defining free speech on campus, and the responsibility of university administrators to protect Jewish students.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Maya Harpaz, Jonah Miller Show Notes: Watch: Live from Penn: Maya Harpaz of Penn Hillel on Palestine Writes Read: Everything you need to know about the Palestine Writes event at Penn and antisemitism.  AJC Campus Library: Resources for Becoming a Strong Jewish Student Advocate Listen: What the UN Needs To Do To Stop Iranian and Russian Aggression Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Maya Harpaz and Jonah Miller: Manya Brachear Pashman: Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman, AJC's Senior Director of the Alexander Young Leadership Department, guest hosts this week’s conversation with two Jewish college students about a situation on their campus and how they responded. Meggie, take it away.  Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:   Thanks, Manya. This past week, it seemed like all eyes were on the University of Pennsylvania in the lead up to the Palestine Writes event. The event was meant to give voice to Palestinian art, poetry, and literature- all of which are quite appropriate and indeed valuable to have on a university campus. However, a number of the announced speakers strayed from the event’s purpose and instead have well-documented histories of antisemitic statements. These include Roger Waters, who was recently described by the U.S. State Department as having a long track record of using antisemitic tropes, after he desecrated the memory of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, compared Israel to the Third Reich, and recently paraded around a stage wearing an SS Nazi uniform during a concert in Berlin. It also included Marc Lamont Hill, whose public remarks as a CNN commentator called for Israel’s eradication. At play were questions around growing campus antisemitism, free speech on campus, and the role of university administrators in preventing such bigotry–particularly with the release in May of the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, and its outsized focus on how antisemitism affects Jewish students on campus.  To help us break down these events and what unfolded are two Jewish students who experienced this all firsthand and helped drive the course of events.  Joining me are Maya Harpaz, a junior at Penn, and Vice President of Israel Engagement at Penn Hillel, and Jonah Miller, a junior at Penn, and a reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student newspaper. Maya and Jonah, thanks for joining us on People of the Pod.  Jonah Miller:   Thank you so much for having me. I'm really looking forward to our discussion. Maya Harpaz:   Yeah, thank you for having us. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  Great. So with that, let's jump in. So there are many chapters to what happened at Penn, and I think a great deal of misinformation. So let's go back to the beginning. When did Jewish students first hear about the Palestine Writes event, and particularly its speaker lineup? And upon initially learning about it, what were the specific concerns that Jewish students had? Jonah Miller:   I think that when I learned about the Palestine Writes event, I learned about it simultaneously with who some of these speakers are. Penn is a large university and institution that has countless events each day, hosted and co-sponsored by numerous different departments and facets of the university. If I had learned about this festival, solely, just about the festival, I would say, you know, great, it's great that this culture, and these literary items are being amplified on campus. Everyone and every culture should have a space on this campus.  But to learn about at the same time as concerns of antisemitic speakers, that's when I as a Jewish student, started to get a little nervous. Nervous, because how could Penn allow antisemitic speakers to come speak on a campus that is close to 20% Jewish? And even without that high percentage, how could they be invited to speak at all? Maya Harpaz:   Yeah, I can touch on that as well. In my role as VP Israel, a big part of that is seeing what events are going on, whether it be related to the Middle East at large, Israel, Palestinians, all of that combined. So I learned about this event A while ago, late July, early August. So before it was really even being spoken about on campus. I was having conversations as the speakers were still being finalized, as marketing materials were still being put out and discussed with a lot of the other student leaders and Hillel staff, about what our approach was going to be to handle this event.  And how we were going to relay that to the Jewish community at large. So similar to what Jonah said, Jewish students definitely learned about the event and the problematic speakers hand in hand after Hillel started sending out emails about it. And after we sent our letter to the administration and after the DP coverage. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  So Maya, I want to dive into that approach in the letter that you just raised. At least from the outside, one of the first steps seemed to be a letter drafted by Penn's Jewish student leadership to President Magill, of which you were a signatory, outlining specific steps the community wanted the university to take on. So can you give us some background of how that letter came into being and can you share for our listeners what it outlined for the administration? Maya Harpaz:   Yes, so this letter came to be sort of as we were having these conversations over the summer. And then once we got to campus, we all sat down with the presidents of PIPAC, SSI, Tamid, presidents of Chabad. And we sort of sat down and we were like, we know why these speakers and why this event could be problematic for our community. How do we outline that to the administration in a way that is logical and not also attacking of another group's culture. Because that's not what we wanted to do. It wasn't our goal to get this event canceled, it wasn't to blow it up in their faces. It was really just, we have specific concerns, and how do we articulate that?  So we wrote this letter addressed to the president, the provost, and the dean, and sent it to high-level members of the President's administration, specifically referencing Roger Waters and Marc Lamont Hill. And we asked them to have a meeting with us so we could really sit down and have a conversation, and to make a statement about this event.  And from my perspective, it was definitely a productive meeting, we voiced our concerns about the speakers, we asked them a lot of questions about what was the process of this event being welcomed on our campus, and they explained how they rented out the space and the head of the NELC department explained the process of co-sponsoring, and we really had an open dialogue about what really happened and how we can improve on that in the future. And then shortly after that, the President released her statement about the event. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  So Maya, I want to dive into a number of things that you just got at. So one is, and you alluded to this, the letter specifically did not call for the canceling of the event. And from my understanding, that's not something that Hillel was asking for. Can you talk about why that is? Maya Harpaz:   Yes. So as Jonah also said, when you learn about just the event as the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, it sounds perfectly normal. Sounds like it's just a group wanting to celebrate their culture and their literature. And our goal was not to cancel that. There was over I think, 120 speakers. And our goal was to call out the ones that were problematic towards our community, not cancel their right to speak, their right to celebrate.  I'm a big believer in free speech. And I didn't want to ask anyone to cancel something. I know that, I'm sure that we at Hillel and Chabad have events with proud Zionists that have maybe done questionable things or said questionable things in the past too, that maybe even some of our own Jewish students don't agree with.  But Roger Waters definitely crossed the line for us. And we ended up asking for him to be uninvited and even though he was on Zoom, we were definitely very, very concerned about that, because it definitely crossed the line of our threshold of comfortableness in terms of hate speech, but it wasn't our goal to get this event canceled. And we knew it wasn't a reasonable ask either. It was a huge event that's been in the planning and in the works for a year. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  And then I want to touch on kind of the tail end of what you just described. So what did come out of that initial letter is President Magill, and her administration, indeed issued an initial statement following that letter, following what you had articulated. And that statement did have a clear condemnation of antisemitism, but it left some unsatisfied with what may not have been in there. So I'm curious from both of you, what was your interpretation of that initial statement? And can you describe what came next, particularly as the national attention started to build around Penn? Jonah Miller:   Yeah, I can take this one. So in President Magill's letter, she described antisemitism as antithetical to the values of the University of Pennsylvania, which as a Jewish student was very comforting, reassuring to hear that the president of our university is very clearly against antisemitism. At the same time, she also explained how this is an event that is not being promoted or organized by the university. And at the same time, she also wrote how the university supports the notion of free speech and the free exchange of ideas.  So I think what you're getting at is that, definitely a condemnation of antisemitism, which is a win. But at the same time, it doesn't really seem like there was much action that was going to be taken from the letter. It was more an acknowledgement that the Jewish voices on campus who have concerns with, as Maya said, a few of the many speakers of this festival, were being recognized, but they were not being acted upon.  Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  So Jonah, I mentioned at the start that you are a reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian. So from a different lens, shortly before Shabbat and Yom Kippur, it was reported that a member of the Penn community entered Penn Hillel and in essence somewhat ransacked the lobby while also screaming antisemitic vitriol. So Jonah, can you share, first of all what we know about that, and also what it was like reporting on something that so directly affected your community? Jonah Miller:   That's a great question. So in order to walk you through this timeline–to my knowledge, this is still under a form of investigation by the university, and we'll see what comes out in the next few days or weeks. But in terms of the timeline: so last Thursday morning, The Daily Pennsylvanian received information that an individual entered Penn Hillel, so all of a sudden our journalistic gears start turning, and we wanted to reach out to as many sources that have some relation to Penn Hillel, which for those of you listening is kind of the epicenter of Jewish life and culture on Penn's campus.  So from what we understand now, an individual entered Penn Hillel, as someone was opening the door for early morning services, a member of the Orthodox community at Penn. Entered in to Penn Hillel a few minutes before the building officially opened for the day at 7am. So there was no security guard posted, to my knowledge. And entered the lobby, smashed a podium, flipped over a table, all while reportedly shouting antisemitic speech.  So that's kind of what we understand was happening. And in terms of how it affected me, as someone who was writing it, I was really passionate and driven to make sure we have the full story. And I think as a journalist, or as an aspiring journalist, it's really important. But at the same time, as someone who I know, people from my community on campus, chances are people from my family or the extended Jewish community, in the Philadelphia area, and across the country might be reading something like this. It was really important to make sure that we had all the facts as strong and robust as possible.  But at the same time, it was hard typing those words, it was hard typing how someone entered a place that I like to call a home, for me and for the rest of my Jewish community here on campus. So kind of finding that balance was definitely difficult. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  I can only imagine. And I want to turn to I guess to yet another lens, again with your journalistic hat on. Roger Waters, who Maya alluded to earlier, has a long history and well documented history of antisemitic speech, has, in recent days, basically lashed out at the paper and its coverage. I'm curious what your thoughts are about that and how that is being received by the paper. Jonah Miller:   I think that, as campus journalists, it's our duty to be non biased as much as we can. And like I said, really just stick to the facts. We wrote how Penn Hillel was entered by some individual and he was yelling antisemitic speech in a clear and vivid example and trend of rising antisemitism, without a doubt. Roger Waters took this, he actually, I know the video that you're talking about, he said that he was on his way to Penn State, which first of all is not the university that we attend. But he said that he was on his way to Penn State for the Palestine Writes Festival and how the Daily Pennsylvanian commented on his history of antisemitism.  But like you said, this is well documented, this is not something that we pulled out of thin air and labeled him as having a history of antisemitism. It's there, it's online, for everyone to see. And it's unambiguous. So for him to lash out at student journalists, you know, all students who are trying to do their best and maintain this journalistic integrity and share facts with our campus community members. For him to lash out at us, it's disappointing, but at the same time, we don't want to respond and kind of promote this behavior of his in any way. Maya Harpaz:   And something else I'll just add is, he also mentioned in that video that he came to Philadelphia ready to speak, and then was just informed that he couldn't come to campus and posed this whole idea that Penn isn't allowing him to come on campus. And this just happened. And he came all the way here and he's ready to be here. And he wants to show his support for the Palestinian community. But as I mentioned, I've been following this event since over the summer. And I think Penn also commented this in a new article in the DP, that he was never speaking in person, it was always planned that he was going to speak on Zoom.  So for him now to twist the facts and frame it as our school is his canceling him just as he arrives to speak here was definitely very misleading. Because it was never the intention of the university to have him come in person on our campus due to his extensive history of antisemitism. And he ended up coming onto our campus and rolling his window down, as I'm sure many people saw on the video, to actually articulate to participants of the conference that Penn isn't allowing him to speak. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  So I want to try and turn to something more positive, which really stems from both of you. I think, to me, what really was so inspiring to see is that instead of simply focusing on the pain, and there was tremendous pain that this caused, Jewish student leaders took a completely different path, rooted in celebrating the vibrancy and the pride of the Jewish community. And this led to the creation of Penn Unity Shabbat, which our own CEO, AJC's CEO Ted Deutch attended in solidarity.  How did that come into being? And importantly, what was the feeling like in the room on Friday night?  Maya Harpaz:   Yeah, so this was sort of in the works from that initial meeting we had, at the beginning of the semester, when we were talking about how we want to respond to this, it was definitely always an idea that we want to have a big gathering. It's right before Yom Kippur, it's right before a very holy weekend for us. Regardless of what's going on on campus, it's important for us to feel that togetherness, and definitely because of that event, even more so.  So it's been in the works for a bit and then sort of as media attention progressed on the Palestine Writes event, and as we were getting more inquiries from people about what was going on, it became really clear that this needed to be a big event and it had to go beyond just our campus community. We needed to invite leaders like Ted Deutch and leaders from Hillel International to really come and join us and to speak with them and to have their support. And the actual feeling of being in there was really awesome. I've never seen Hillel so packed before. The entire building was full, the first floor and all the rooms on the second floor. I've never seen so many people there. So it was really special. Jonah Miller:   To add on, from the perspective of someone who did not have a hand in planning it, but was a proud attendee of this event, you could really feel, like you said, the vibrancy in the room and the energy where you know, in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur students from all different parts of the Jewish community were really excited to be there. I've been to my fair share of Penn Hillel shabbats. But you know, this time I had seen people who I might not have seen before at one of these events. So I think it was really, you know, I was really proud to be a member of the Jewish community at Penn and to really see people, you know, really just come together. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  What a way to bring joy to a moment that really could have just focused on the challenge, so that–it's really unbelievable.  Zooming out, now that you're a few days, just a few days, away from everything. So campus issues affecting Jewish students do get press coverage, but often it is simply within Jewish news outlets, and rarely in the wider press, and certainly rarely for such an extended period of time. What we saw at Penn felt unprecedented, both in the national interest and in the last in coverage. Why do you think it led to such significant coverage? And how did that affect the campus environment at Penn?  Maya Harpaz:   I think one reason for that is because of Penn as an institution, as an Ivy League institution, and also as a well-known Jewish institution. Penn has a long history of a very strong Jewish community that's actually been decreasing in size pretty steadily over the years. So I think that was a big reason why we got so much attention.  I also think because of the way that we responded to it, I think if we decided that we weren't going to say anything, and we were going to let antisemites come onto our campus and spew hate, and we just put our hands up, that there wouldn't have been so much attention. But I think because we pushed back on it, it became this discourse that got a lot of attention.  I don't even know how to describe it still, because I'm still processing everything that's happened over the last few weeks. But me personally, I'm not a journalist. I'm not usually someone who's ever in the news or speaking to the press. But the amount of attention that that's been on us has really, really been unprecedented. As you mentioned, it's definitely been a bit overwhelming too but I'm also grateful that we've been given a platform to share what's been happening and to bring awareness to it.  Because we've seen this happen at many other schools that have large Jewish communities and very strong Jewish communities. And I never thought that an event like this would or could happen here. So I've definitely been very appreciative of all of the support that we've gotten. Jonah Miller:   At the same time, I think that the incident at Hillel follows a long lasting and unfortunately, growing trend of rising antisemitism. And I think that news outlets picked up on that. Secondly, to give some credit to my amazing team of reporters and copy editors at The Daily Pennsylvanian, I think that our quick and trustworthy coverage at the paper allowed news outlets, national news outlets, to cite us in their own articles. So for instance, this incident that happened at Hillel, I noticed that within 12, 24 hours, it was picked up by Fox News, and CBS News, both of which cited interviews that I myself conducted with students who were at the scene, in their own articles. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  So connected to that, in addition to the media attention, I think, many Jewish organizations, some of which had little to no relationship with the Jewish community on campus, came to campus with their own ideas of how the situation should be resolved. What advice can you give to Jewish organizations who want to help when a situation arises on campus? Maya Harpaz:   The biggest advice that I can give is just talk to us. No campus is the same and although unfortunately a lot of antisemitic incidents happen on a lot of universities, the climate of each campus is very different and the wants and needs of students are very different based off of their campus. So it's definitely important to speak to students before you make an assumption about what they you think they want or make a plan for what can be done and how to solve this issue because it's really us who have a stake in this, obviously the Jewish community at large cares, but it's it's us who have to live this as our reality. Penn is our school. It's also our home. It's our social lives. So it's our everyday lives, we can't escape that. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  So while the particular event itself may have passed for right now, there is a great deal to do on Penn's campus in the wake of these events. The President has committed to implementing much of the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, of which dozens of AJC recommendations were included. And Penn Hillel itself has dedicated time and resources to educational programming around antisemitism. So as student leaders, what do you want to see next? And importantly, what advice do you have for other Jewish students should something like this happen on their campus? Maya Harpaz:   So something that we talked about with members of the administration and things that we want to see next is more–and this is something that President Magill mentioned, as well–is more oversight when hosting events on our campus. When this event came through, it was just listed as the Palestine Writes Literature Festival. And they were like, cool, literature festival, fine.  But there definitely needs to be more work done to make sure that the lineup of any event is not including someone that is not in line with, as President Magill said, our institutional values. Something else that we discussed is further training for Penn faculty, whether that be residential advisors, or professors, to be trained on how to combat antisemitism and how to identify antisemitism and really introducing that into the other forms of training against hate that faculty go through. And a big longer term goal that I think at some point, maybe in the nearer future than I initially anticipated, is implementing the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Jonah Miller:   Hopefully, an incident like this does not happen at the campuses of other Jewish students. But should something happen, my recommendation would be to just remember that our unity can overcome the hate and the vitriol being spouted at us. At the Shabbat together event at Penn Hillel, a Penn alum and someone who's very involved with the Penn community and with the Jewish community, Stuart Weitzman, spoke about how Jews have triumphed over hundreds of years and 1000s of years of banding together. I think that message remains ever-important, to remind ourselves about today. That we really as a community are stronger and can overcome this adversity when it comes right on our doorsteps. Meggie Wyschogrod Fredman:  What a beautiful note to end on, and I have to say for myself, for us here at AJC, and certainly for the Jewish community at large, the reason we feel so hopeful about the Jewish future is because of Maya, your leadership, Jonah, your leadership, and both the courage and joy and thoughtfulness that you brought to this situation. So for all of us, I just have to say a big thank you. Jonah Miller:   Thank you so much, and thank you to AJC for all the work that they're doing for students like us on campuses. Maya Harpaz:   Thank you so much for having us. It really means so much to both of us to be able to have our platform and to share what's been going on at Penn. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week’s episode, we went behind the scenes at the UN General Assembly with Simone Rodan Benzaquen, the Managing Director of AJC Europe. 
27:00 9/28/23
What the UN Needs To Do To Stop Iranian and Russian Aggression
This week, Simone Rodan Benzaquen, Managing Director of AJC Europe, joins us to discuss AJC’s leading role in the Jewish community’s diplomatic efforts at the United Nations General Assembly. Simone highlights key areas of advocacy, including countering the Iranian threat, addressing antisemitism and anti-Israel bias, advancing the Abraham Accords, and supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression. We also explore the impact of addresses from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, who have used the UN platform to spread antisemitic and anti-Israel narratives. Simone sheds light on the challenges and progress in shaping international policies on these critical issues. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Simone Rodan Benzaquen Show Notes: Test your knowledge: About the UN, Israel, fighting antisemitism, and AJC's role Read: AJC Advocacy at UN General Assembly 2023 Top 5 Things AJC is Tracking at the United Nations General Assembly Five Things to Know About President Raisi and Human Rights in Iran and Beyond Key Takeaways From President Biden’s Address to the UN General Assembly Mahsa Amini Protests One Year Later: What is the Current Human Rights Situation in Iran? Listen: Deborah Lipstadt on the Abraham Accords’ Impact and the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Simone Rodan Benzaquen: Manya Brachear Pashman:    All this week, leaders from 193 nations have gathered in New York, addressing the United Nations General Assembly. But there's a lot of action on the sidelines as well. That's where policy experts from the American Jewish Committee do their diplomatic outreach, urging leaders to expand and strengthen ties with Israel, and counter rising antisemitism and extremism. With us to discuss what's been happening on those sidelines is Simone Rodan Benzaquen, Managing Director of AJC Europe. Simone, welcome to People of the Pod. Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   Thank you. Thank you very much for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman:    So I'll start with Iran. How are we pushing leaders to address the threat from Iran this week? Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   So Iran, as you rightly point out, is a really priority issue for us in all of the meetings we've had in particular with on my end with the European leaders, and it's, and our objective is really to make sure that we are countering Iran on all fronts. Of course, there's the nuclear file.  And so our objective is to push leaders to be aware and really understand that, if that was to happen, we are entering an entirely new world. If we think that the war that Russia has been waging on Ukraine was a game changer for the stability of the world, we have not seen anything yet. So our objective is to really push European and international leaders to really address the issue.  The second issue is, of course, human rights. We are now a year after the murder of Mahsa Amini, and really the horrible repression that the Iranian regime has committed against its own people. And there has been a time when European international leaders were very, very clear in their support for the Iranian people, and in condemning the Iranian regime and the Islamic Republic.  But these past months, we've heard a little bit less of that. So our objective is really, has really been to reengage them on that commitment.  And then third of all, and this is really a very specific issue, particularly in Europe, is the Iran Revolutionary Guard. And so the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council, the IRGC, is not listed as a terrorist organization in the EU. And that is obviously not normal. First of all, because they have been committing horrible crimes in their own country, because they have been committing terrorist acts across the world. Because they are obviously a key sponsor of terrorism across the world, because of their role also in Ukraine. They have armed Russia with Iranian drones, they have trained people on the ground. And lastly, and this is for us, very important as the Jewish advocacy organization, they have been threatening Jewish communities across Europe. There are a number of cases that are now very clear, which include in Germany, in the United Kingdom, but also in Greece and in Cyprus, where it's very clear that Iran is threatening Jewish communities and Israelis on European soil.  Now, Europe for the past years, has made it very clear that it's a key priority for itself to combat antisemitism on the ground and in Europe. And that's a very important commitment. Now, if they're very, very serious about that commitment, they also have to act against the IRGC, which is today a key threat to Jewish communities on the ground.  So we have been pushing European leaders to take steps to list the IRGC as a terrorist organization. As always, this will take time; it's not going to happen just during the UN General Assembly. But we've made some progress. We have had some very good conversations with a number of European countries and I hope down the line that we will be able to get there. Manya Brachear Pashman:    So now what about Hezbollah? Because I know for many years we have pushed leaders at the UN General Assembly to designate Hezbollah, a terrorist organization in its entirety. This campaign has been going on for many years. Is that campaign changing in any way this year? Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   No, it's not changing, it continues to be a key priority for us. By the way, the issue is linked, of course, I mean, what is Hezbollah, if not a proxy of Iran, an Iranian state within Lebanon, that is threatening, of course, Israel, but also has been committing terrorist acts across the world.  So no, it has not changed. We are just trying to link the dots and explain to everybody that everything is linked. We're not there yet. There are a number of countries, as you know Manya, who have taken individual steps in Europe to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, because it is blocked on the EU-wide level.  But you know what, we just celebrated Rosh Hashana. You know, at the end of the day, there is always hope,  particularly for the Jewish people. So we will not be giving up on it and eventually we'll get there. Manya Brachear Pashman:    You mentioned the IRGC's role in Ukraine with providing weapons and we heard from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky this week, warning that Russia was weaponizing essentials like food and energy, not only against Ukraine, but against every country. And I know the UN Human Rights Council created, with AJC's urging, an independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which has already determined that Russia is responsible for war crimes. So how are we advancing that conversation on the sidelines this week? Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   Listen, on the European side, I would say the conversation is very easy, because Europeans understand that if Russia is allowed to strategically win this war. That means that, though, that they, their countries, that the European Union, as such, will be threatened by Russia. Russia will not stop with Ukraine. President I hesitate always to call him president, but Putin has made it very clear that for him, the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century, is the fact that the Euro that the Soviet Union fell apart. And so he wants to go back to that scenario.  So Europeans are aware of it, their commitment to Ukraine, is very much there, actually, surprisingly, because many people, when the war started, were very much afraid that that, at the end, you know, there will not be European unity, that there will not be unity in the international community and in the West, in their support for Ukraine, and finally, you know, a year and a half later, we're still there, the United States is committed in supporting Ukraine, the European Union is committed in supporting Ukraine.  But more needs to be done. We need to be able to provide more help to Ukraine. And again, as you said, especially as Russia is weaponizing every single possible way, whether it's energy, whether it's food, to exert pressure, to make sure that at the end, we are faltering. Manya Brachear Pashman:    So I want to switch the focus a little bit from international diplomacy and war to the IHRA working definition. This has been an ongoing conversation with the UN. AJC has been urging the UN and its member countries to use it to develop plans to counter anti semitism. How is that coming up on the sidelines this week?  Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   So we've had some very constructive conversations, first of all, a majority of countries now have adopted the working definition of antisemitism. And they've recognized how much an important tool it is to not only to recognize, to define, but also to apply and to combat antisemitism. So it's a very constructive conversation. But we have also had conversations with countries who have not yet adopted the working definition, who would say, we don't have a problem of antisemitism, we don't really have to do it. And after explaining to them how important it is, and what an important tool it has been for countries, and what an important signal also it would send to the world, if they were to adopt the working definition of antisemitism. I can tell you now, in advance that in a few days, a couple of countries will be announcing that they will be adopting the working definition of antisemitism because of the conversation that we have had with them. Manya Brachear Pashman:    The conversation you've been having this week with them, or ongoing over a matter of time? Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   Over a matter of time, but that was concluded, specifically here at the UN General Assembly this year. Manya Brachear Pashman:    And what about anti-Israel bias? Has that come up? Because I know that has been a blockage for a lot of countries who won't adopt the IHRA working definition, they want to leave the door open for criticism of Israel, but there has been some pretty blatant anti-Israel bias at the UN. And that has really been a priority for AJC to address. How have you been trying to eliminate that kind of chronic one-sidedness that targets Israel?  Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   This is, I have to say, Manya, a complicated conversation that we've been having, obviously, for years. As you rightly point out, Israel is treated in a way that no other country is. There is a permanent agenda item at the UN Human Rights Council. There is a disproportionate number of resolutions against Israel compared to any other country in the world. Many countries we are speaking with acknowledge that fact. But often their excuse is that they are working in a multilateral environment and that is therefore complicated, because you always have to come to some sort of compromise. But I have to say that nevertheless, I think we are making progress.  If you and I had had that conversation 10 years ago, most European, most countries would not have even acknowledged that that was a fundamental problem. That situation today has changed. Many countries do recognize that there is something profoundly discriminatory in that disproportionate targeting of Israel. They just are very slow in finding solutions to that approach. Manya Brachear Pashman:    We also heard from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week. What do you fear he is communicating? What do you fear that members of the United Nations are hearing from him and taking as truth? Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   For years, I think Muhammad Abbas has been really in an endeavor to distort history by denying the link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. He has engaged on a number of occasions in historical revisionism. He has been engaged in a number of occasions in Holocaust denial and antisemitism, in stereotypes and conspiracy theories. And I think the world needs to wake up to that reality. I mean, if any other world leader had had that kind of discourse, take away the face of Muhammad Abba, take away the voice of Muhammad Abbas and just neutrally look at what he's been saying over the years, we would not accept that. The world, the Western world, the European Union, the United States, we would not accept that, and rightfully so.  So why is it that we should continue to accept these kinds of words? European leaders were right, the United States was right, to criticize Mahmoud Abbas, as they have, after his recent antisemitic remarks. But that needs to now apply all the time, we sort of have a bigotry of low expectations on Mahmoud Abbas. I mean, why is it that we consider him somehow not capable of living up to the same standards as everybody else? So I hope that the world will, at some point, wake up, and just expect of the Palestinian Authority and of Muhammad Abbas himself, to accept to have certain rules. He cannot continue to have these kinds of statements. He cannot continue to do the pay for slay, meaning to pay the families of convicted terrorists. He cannot continue to incite hatred in Palestinian schoolbooks. We have to set the same standards for everybody, including for Muhammad Abbas, including for the Palestinian Authority. Manya Brachear Pashman:    And do you think the member states realize that or comprehend that and are kind of seeing through his narrative? Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   There seems to be the beginning of a process. I don't know if we're there yet. But there seems to be a beginning of the process. I mean, when you have the mayor of Paris, for example, who took away the honorary medal of the city of Paris to Muhammad Abbas, when you have statements that you have never had before, by leaders of the Western world, criticizing Muhammad Abbas. I think we're maybe at the beginning of something new. I just really hope that we're not walking backwards from that, because we just simply cannot go back to that just behaving as if, you know, this wasn't happening.  Some of it has to do with the fact, with this delusional idea that, you know, if the Palestinian Authority was to fall apart, if Muhammad Abbas was to fall apart and not be president anymore, there would be worse. But still, I mean, this cannot be an argument in not having the same expectations of a leader than of any other leader in the world. Manya Brachear Pashman:    So speaking of narratives, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi spoke to the general assembly as well, this week. His narrative was that Iran is the model of human rights and justice. Did that surprise you? What surprised you about his sermon, if you will, to the UN? Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   No, there is nothing that surprised me, the Butcher of Iran, who is president, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has been lying to everybody's faces, of course, for many years.  Iran is committing human rights abuses, Iran is imprisoning young people. Every single human rights organization has spoken about it. Every single western country knows it and has said it. They are committing rapes of young women in their prisons. They're abducting the families, including by the way the family of Masah Amini just a few days ago, every single day, and the fact that he is lying once again to the world is despicable.  What is equally despicable is that the Council of Foreign Relations has intended to host Ebrahim Raisi. There is no way even with people who are asking difficult questions or having difficult conversations with him. That it does anything else then legitimize him and legitimize this terrible, murderous regime. So the only thing that should be done is, really be as tough as possible with this regime, and clearly impose sanctions, condemn, walk out of the room, ignore, but certainly not welcome him with open arms. Manya Brachear Pashman:    And do you think the world is buying his narrative?  Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   Well, it depends what you mean by the world. But I don't think the western world is buying his narrative at all. I think everybody knows, you know, the reality of things. They know everything that is wrong with the regime. There might be differences in how they think they should be approaching that and they might, by the way, also be differences in perception between some Western countries and ourselves on how we think things should be approached. But nobody is naive about what is actually going on in the country. And the way this person, the Butcher of Iran, is treating his own people. Manya Brachear Pashman:    Simone, thank you so much for joining us, and giving us a glimpse of what's been happening there. Simone Rodan Benzaquen:   Thank you. 
19:03 9/21/23
Deborah Lipstadt on the Abraham Accords’ Impact and the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism
Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, joins us to discuss how she’s settled into her new role and shares insights on the development of the new U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, for which AJC has long advocated. Lipstadt, a renowned Holocaust historian and one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People of 2023, also delves into the ways in which the Abraham Accords have contributed to the fight against antisemitism in the Middle East. Additionally, she provides an insider's look into the challenges and progress associated with addressing antisemitism and how the National Strategy factors in.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Deborah Lipstadt Show Notes: Go Deeper:  Test your knowledge of the National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism  Read: Everything You Need To Know About The U.S. National Strategy To Counter Antisemitism And AJC's Task Force Honoring International Antisemitism Envoys AJC David Harris Award Listen: People of the Pod: Hear from America’s New Antisemitism Envoy Deborah Lipstadt Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Deborah Lipstadt: Manya Brachear Pashman:   Deborah Lipstadt, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism is a renowned Holocaust historian, recognized earlier this year as one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People of 2023. She has written eight books, and four years ago, advised the United Nations on its unprecedented report on global antisemitism. In fact, she joined us on this podcast shortly after the report's release. Since then, she has joined the US State Department in a role that for the first time carries the rank of Ambassador. She joins us again this time in our popup Tel Aviv studio. Ambassador, welcome to People of the Pod. Deborah Lipstadt: Thank you. Manya Brachear Pashman:   America's National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism was adopted in May. Your job primarily deals with US Foreign policy to combat antisemitism. But how does this new domestic strategy affect your work? Deborah Lipstadt: Well, it affects our work and that certainly I was consulted and worked closely with the White House in the shaping of it, my team played a part in helping to shape it people to reach out to and things like that. And there are over 24 agencies involved including the State Department, we're now looking at all the other national strategies to see best practices, what America could possibly adopt. And of course, informally, I'm the administration's most knowledgeable person on antisemitism. So they turned to me quite often for advice, for ideas, etc. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Okay. All right. Well, so as I said, your role is more international. Do you need a domestic counterpart? Does the United States need a domestic antisemitism czar? Deborah Lipstadt: I'm not sure. It's a lot on–the strategy is really run out of the Domestic Policy Council, which until about a week ago, was headed by Ambassador Susan Rice, who was greatly responsible for seeing this thing come to fruition. And we'll see how it works. It's up to them to decide how they want to do it. But I think it's also good that each agency from the usual suspects, as I like to say, homeland security, education, FBI, law enforcement, are involved, but so are so many others. Small Business Administration, Veterans Affairs, Smithsonian, all looking at ways to counter antisemitism, make sure there aren't barriers that are there, whether because of antisemitism or just ignorance. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And second gentleman Doug Emhoff has been certainly-- Deborah Lipstadt: Even before I was sworn in, after I was confirmed, I was in Washington and he asked me if I would come in and visit with him. We had a wonderful visit. We’re in touch all the time. And he really feels this very deeply. And I give him great credit because he could easily have said, Look, I'm the first Jew in this position. First second gentleman. We put up a mezuzah for the residence. We have a Hanukkah party. We have a Seder. We do other things. Don't ask me to take the lead on this. But he's taken the lead. He's traveled all over, he traveled with me to Poland and Germany, where I coordinated a meeting for him with other special envoys, just to give him a sense of what other countries were doing.  And I think when he and his staff and other people in the White House who were with us saw that, it sort of energized them to say, my God, other countries have taken this really seriously. They're way ahead of us. We have to do something serious as well. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You know, with that in mind, I mean, if you think about it, your predecessors in this position have kind of made it their business to monitor, sound the alarm about antisemitism in Europe, elsewhere around the world. AJC helped convene that group of envoys at the White House. And so in many ways, the table's turned a little bit in terms of, you know, instead of the United States monitoring and sounding the alarm, these envoys came and advised the United States. Has this kind of mutual mission actually improved the relationship with some of these countries?  Deborah Lipstadt: It's improved the relationship tremendously. We really work as a team, not as a team–each one has its own you know, position, certain things one can get involved in certain things. You know, I lurk and watch what's going on, but I'm not involved in it. But one of the first things I did in fact, it was the same day as last year's AJC Global Forum, which was in New York, I think, at Temple Emanuel. And I was on the stage with Katrina von Schnurbein, the amazing EU envoy on Countering Antisemitism and Enhancing Jewish Life. And then she and I left the meeting with Mr. Lottenberg, Fernando Lottenberg, who's the OAS Special Envoy, and we met with a group of us of special envoys met to talk about how we could work together.  And so we've been meeting and convening. Katrina convened something that the EU others have convened, and then we meet, you know, sometimes we'll meet through the auspices, let's say, we'll be meeting here because many have come for AJC. But it is a government to government when we meet, it's not, convened by someone else. But it's people who speak for their governments coming together, which is quite amazing.  I've had great predecessors in this job. They're all terrific. And were strong supporters of me taking the position, very excited about it from both sides of the aisle. And I'm very grateful for that. But there are differences. First of all, Congress elevated the position to an ambassador before I was in the picture.  So it wasn't for me. And that carries weight in the world of protocol. That means you speak for the President. I see what weight it carries. In fact, I was just in conversation with a Republican senator, around the time of the rollout, because I was briefing him about the national strategy.  And he had been one of those who had pushed for the elevation of it to be an ambassador. And I said, you know, when I first heard you were doing this, I said, Oh, doesn't really matter. I said, I was wrong, you were right. It really enhances the importance, and it shows how America takes this seriously. But my predecessors, certainly amongst the earlier ones, we were the first country to have a position like this. So when something happened in France, and Belgium and Germany, whatever, they would go, and they would say to the government, you know, we take this very seriously, and we think you should take it seriously. Or if they were taking it seriously, we take this very seriously, and what can we do to help you take it seriously, and say, you have a problem, we've got to address it. And now first of all, I go and I said, we have a problem, because we have acknowledged that exists in our country. And sometimes I don't have to go racing as they might have had to, because there's someone else there. There's a local person, there's a national person there, too. So the fight has become much more coordinated, enhanced, and really raised to a government level in a way that it hadn't been previously. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Are there particular lessons that you can recall from any of your predecessors? Any of the envoys that you’ve taken to heart and realized. Deborah Lipstadt: I spoke to virtually all of them before I took the position. And they each had different advice, and I won't say one or the other, etc. But one the reasons–and I've only been in the job a year, but – building alliances in the State Department. And I'm worried a little bit not because of anything anybody tells me, just natural inclination to worry to be a pessimist so that we can be happily surprised when good things happen or the bad stuff doesn't happen.  But, would I find compatriots in the State Department, would people see me as you know, an add-on, a niche? Would I be operating off by myself? And that hasn't happened. And it's really been quite amazing. Partially thanks to the advice I've gotten, partially, I think, my own interpersonal connections, but I have built really strong alliances. And I'm not saying I have personally, but people in other offices with other portfolios, see this not as a niche issue. But as a central element of American foreign policy. Manya Brachear Pashman:   We hear a lot of statistics of incidents of hate crimes each month each year. And I'm curious if that's what matters most. In other words, does the perception of a community also matter whether it's a Jewish community or any other minority community, if that community perceives a rise in hatred against it? Is that enough to amplify our response? Deborah Lipstadt: The perception of a community is important, perception of an individual. Sometimes, any community, any individual can see things more dire than they are. But I think if anything, the Jewish community has become more aware of certain incidents and more aware of certain things. Give you an example, New York. I think there were a lot of Jews in New York who didn't take seriously some of the antisemitism encountered by Haredi, Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, you know, who would walk down the street, get their hat knocked off, or get spat upon. And you could say, Okay, what's the big deal?  Well, if you're walking down the street, especially walking with your kids and your hat gets knocked off, suddenly you're looking at your father, or your mother gets a little nervous because she's in, you know, other people that she sees people come in and might be dangerous or whatever. And I think now they take that much more seriously. Have that been happening on the Upper West or East Side. We would have been quicker to respond. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Do you think that that is enough for a government, for example, to amplify a response? Deborah Lipstadt: Well, certainly a local government, this was happening in New York, but as it became more national, and there's something else in the strategy addresses this. That government can't really deal with, but it can call out. And that's the normalization of antisemitism. And the strategy speaks very directly in the beginning, when it's something I'm paraphrasing, when politicians, when actors, when rap stars, when sports figures engage in anti semitism and amplifies it in a way that it hasn't been before. Government can't stop them. We have that pesky thing called the First Amendment and we all treasure it.  Even though sometimes it can make us gnash our teeth, the good comes with the bad, or the bad comes with the good. But the normalization, so with the strategy. And when the strategy was rolled out, I spoke from the podium of the White House, one of the things I said: government can do a lot.  Congress is already doing a lot and is willing to do more. But it calls for an all hands on deck and it has to be a public, the broader society has to be involved in this fight, not just because of protecting fellow American Jews, fellow citizens, but because as I think as listeners to People of the Pod know well, antsemitism is a threat to democracy. I've been talking about it now someone even said to me, the cliche, and I realized that I had been the one to really popularize it, as the canary in the coal mine of democracy. But it's a warning, it's a warning. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You began your tenure with a tour of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, right? Deborah Lipstadt: And Dubai. The first stop was Riyadh. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Oh, right. Okay. And in fact, you were just in Abu Dhabi again just a few days ago. Deborah Lipstadt: I was for a second time, right. And where I encountered an AJC's delegation. But AJC has been present in Abu Dhabi in the Emirates for a very long time. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I want to talk a bit about those visits and the Abraham Accords, which is another circumstance that has changed. I mean, your immediate predecessor got to benefit a little bit from the Abraham Accords. But I'm curious if those Accords are removing barriers, helping foster relationships. And you know, that will only continue to improve the relationship between Israel and Muslim majority countries but also, their receptiveness to your message for combating antisemitism.  Deborah Lipstadt: The Abraham Accords are of prime importance. And they've been wholly embraced by the State Department, this administration, and not only embrace, but I've been encouraged to build on them, in part because we see them as a good thing in terms of fostering relations in the region between Israel and these other Muslim majority countries, but also because we see them as enhancing the Middle East enhancing the economy. I mean, it's a great thing when we all go into Ben Gurion Airport and we look up and there's the flight to Atlanta and right in front of it's a flight to Abu Dhabi, you know, or the flight to Detroit, Dubai , you know, it's some people say it's Mashiach, it's the time of the Messiah in that sense.  The Abraham house in Abu Dhabi, which is a mosque, a church and synagogue is magnificent, of course, that's not part of the Abraham accords. So that wasn't, that was generated in 2018, with a visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi, who said, Let us build the church and a mosque, and it was the leadership of the Emirates that said, let's build a synagogue, to make it a complex of the Abraham House, of the Abrahamic faith. So and then of course, Morocco, which refers to its normalization because it's been doing this for quite a while, Morocco that expects 400,000 Israeli tourists this year. I think last year it had 225,000. And then it's just you know, everywhere. And all those things are good things. And then there are countries which are not yet and I've used not yet euphemistically, part of these things, but see them as working and see them as operating. And I think they're very important. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And do you do feel that they are perhaps more receptive to your message and to listening to what you have to say?  Deborah Lipstadt: Yes, of course, I mean, I think even you know, when I went to Riyadh, to Saudi Arabia, I had meetings with high ranking officials, now you can show up and you can meet with the Minister of, I don't know, keeping the paint dry or something like that. Or you can meet with higher level ministers and I met with high level ministers, very productive meetings. And one of my messages was, look, there is a geopolitical crisis in this region, we're well aware that, my country is well aware of it. I work for a government that has hundreds of people actively engaged in addressing this issue.  But that's something in many respects separate and apart from prejudice, and from hatred. And the example, I had this interesting encounter in either Riyadh and Jeddah with an older imam who knew what was meeting with me and he knew what my, what my status was on my remit, was my portfolio was and he said, If Israel solved the Palestinian crisis, there'd be no antisemitism.  So there was a part of me that thought, I think there was antisemitism before there was a Palestinian crisis, I think there was antisemitism, for those in Israel, I think there was antisemitism, Zionism, you need to go back and back and back. But I didn't think that was going to get me anywhere, you know, putting it on my professorial hat, my mortar board as we do at graduation and lecturing him on that. So instead, I said to him, after 9/11, in my country, there was a surge, not of Islamophobia, but Islamic hatred. And as you will remember, I'm sure, there was an attempt at one point to build a Muslim community center, opposite Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center had been.  And in fact that the group that was building it consulted with the Jewish community center of Manhattan, you know, how, what's your experience? What room? Did you build enough? Should we have a gym, swimming pool, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And whatever body whether it was the city council or whatever in New York. New York, the polyglot capital of the United States, refused permission, because they said to build the Muslim community center, adjacent to Ground Zero, when it was Muslims that had destroyed the buildings and murdered the people there, would be an insult. And many of us thought that was wrong. That was prejudice. And I said, why should Muslims in lower Manhattan, a woman who wants a good place for her children to learn about their tradition, or to have an Iftar or whatever it might be a man to go to pray or whatever?  Why should they be denied that right, because other Muslims had destroyed and attacked the buildings? And the man said to me, you're absolutely right. It was prejudice. I said, well, to say that antisemitism is solely dependent on what Israel does or doesn’t is the same thing. And he got very quiet. I don't think I changed his mind. But he stopped arguing.  Manya Brachear Pashman:   Do you see any progress toward people understanding it more as a territorial conflict? Deborah Lipstadt: I think so. I hope so. I think it's a continuing, it's not like you get to a point and then well, we're at this point. Now we get to the next point, you know, like I used to lift 20 pounds, I can lose 30 pounds, you know, it goes back and forth. It goes back and forth, depending on the situation. It's a volatile process. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Do you think that getting them to understand it as a territorial conflict would actually fulfill part of your role in terms of combating antisemitism? Deborah Lipstadt: Yes, absolutely. But I think it's also necessary not to do things that are going to aggravate or not to do things that are going to make it harder for some of these countries to follow through with the Abraham Accords, so it cuts both ways. Manya Brachear Pashman:   In May, you and Ambassador Hood attended the annual Lag Ba’omer Festival at the El Ghriba synagogue. Deborah Lipstadt: In Djerba, Tunisia. Manya Brachear Pashman:   The island of Djerba. Tunisia is one of dozens of Arab countries where Jews were forced out and displaced. And I'm curious if you could reflect a little on the situation of Jews in the Middle East and North African countries. Deborah Lipstadt: Tunisia is a different story than Morocco, different story than the Emirates, then Bahrain. In that it does have a very small Jewish community. I think there are 1300 Jews in Djerba, been there, hundreds, thousands you know, years. And it's much more a community in Tunis than in a number of other places. But this festival has been going on for quite a while. And it was really reasserting itself after COVID, after an attack about 20 years ago on the festival. And it was so promising. And when I heard that Ambassador Hood, our American ambassador in Tunis was going, I said, you want company, he said, I'd love it. So we went together.  We visited the school there that is funded by and supported by the Joint American Jewish joint distribution committee, the joint, the JDC, one of the little students showed them how to draw an aleph. It's was very poignant. And we had a wonderful time. And then we went to the festival that night. And it was joy. The night before the deputy minister from the government catered a kosher meal for us, a kosher feast for many of the foreign representatives who were there. And we went to the festival and it was just joyous and we just loved it. We were so happy and meeting people and seeing people and meeting old friends and etc.  And people are the American ambassadors here, which was very exciting. And we stood in a place and I noticed that our security guards were pretty tight security because of course Americans and back to two ambassadors and personnel from American Embassy in Tunis. We're getting nervous I said, it should relax. 24 hours later precisely in that same place, there was a shooting and two guards were killed. Two Jewish one French, Tunisian and once one Israeli Tunisian, were murdered. So it's very sober. Very, very sobering. And Tunisia was that in the beginning, what we say reluctant to acknowledge this as an anti semitic act they talked about as criminality, they talked about it as terrorism. So Ambassador Hood and I together, not together with, but also with president Macron, and the German Foreign Minister, all said this is antisemitism plain and simple. Manya Brachear Pashman:   And swayed them, turned? Deborah Lipstadt: Oh, well, I don't know if we swayed them, but we got them to, he met with the President and met with the chief rabbi. And they changed a little bit, but sometimes it's criminality. Sometimes someone gets mugged on the street, and doesn't matter what they are who they are. But when this guy shot, he was on guard at a naval base. He shot his fellow guard, took a car and drove half hour across the island, to the synagogue, to attack the synagogue. And he didn't say, Oh, they're a crowd of people. I mean, he knew where he was going. And he knew what he was doing. Manya Brachear Pashman:   My last question is, some listeners might not realize that there is actually a separate Special Envoy for Holocaust issues. Deborah Lipstadt: That's right, Ellen Germain. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Your colleague Ellen Germain. Given the rise of Holocaust distortion, trivialization, your candidate, the loss of survivors, how much of what you do now intersects with her work? Deborah Lipstadt: Well, we're very careful. I mean, she's really handling Holocaust reparations issues, property reparations, not that we get directly involved, but in urging countries to address these things. But there's not that much overlap. But there’s a great deal of cooperation with us, you know, times traveling together, working together, the more the more. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Are their priorities that you can see for implementing the National Strategy since we started talking about it. Deborah Lipstadt: I think there are so many things in there that can be done large and small. I urge people to download it. Maybe you can put the link on your website. It's downloadable. It's 60 pages, read the whole thing. thing. I have to tell you, I knew it as it was emerging. But at one point when I saw a draft of it, and they asked me to go over it, I was abroad doing it in another country. So complicated. But of course, as I began to read it without going into the specifics even have different issues. I was deeply moved.  Because I don't like to correct my boss, otherwise known as the President of the United States. But when he spoke about it at the White House, he called it the most momentous comprehensive plan the American government has ever addressed and he was wrong. It was the first comprehensive plan that the American government has ever addressed.  Of course, when there’ve been tragedies and presidents from both sides of the aisle, from all perspectives have condemned, have responded, America has responded. Law enforcement has responded. But this is the first time that the United States government is taking the bull by the horns and saying, What can we do to address this scourge?  And as I said, from the podium of the White House when it was rolled out, probably making history because it's the first time a mishna was quoted from the White House or talmud was quoted from the White House. I quoted from the verse from ethics of the elders, pirkei avot – lo aleicha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben chorin livatel mimenu. You're not obligated to complete the task, but you're not free from starting, from engaging in it. The United States government has now seriously engaged in it. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Well, thank you so much, Ambassador. Deborah Lipstadt: Thank you. 
24:21 9/14/23
Sen. Joni Ernst Reflects on the Abraham Accords and the Future of Arab-Israeli Engagement
As we mark the third anniversary of the Abraham Accords, significant progress has been made in deepening Arab-Israeli engagement. With us this week is Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a founding member of the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus. Ernst joins guest host Benjamin Rogers, AJC’s Director for Middle East and North Africa Initiatives, to reflect on the achievements of the landmark deal, its importance to the United States, speculation over Saudi Arabia, and the crucial role of the Senate in advancing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Joni Ernst Show Notes: Engage: How much do you know about Abraham Accords? Take our quiz and put your knowledge to the test! Read: The Abraham Accords, Explained Listen: Meet 3 Women Who are Driving Change in the Middle East 'Golda': Behind the Scenes with Israeli Director Guy Nattiv on the 1973 Yom Kippur War Noa Tishby on the Abraham Accords: The Middle East Realizes Israel is Not the Enemy Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Joni Ernst Manya Brachear Pashman:   As an organization, AJC has been engaged in the Middle East for more than 70 years. In fact, a senior AJC delegation first traveled to Morocco in March 1950. Since then, there have been several more milestones. AJC's own Jason Isaacson participated in the Madrid Conference in 1991, a historic effort by the international community to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; and AJC opened its first Arab world office in Abu Dhabi in 2021. This week, Benjamin Rogers, AJC's Director for Middle East and North Africa Initiatives, explores one of the most significant developments in the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict – The Abraham Accords. The conversation marks the Accords third anniversary on September 15. Benjy, the mic is yours.  Benjamin Rogers:  Thank you so much, Manya. And I remember the day well, I had been in the Gulf just a few months prior December 2019, talking about these issues, talking about normalization, talking about cooperation. But to see the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Israel, the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain, on the White House lawn, signing an agreement of friendship, an agreement of cooperation. It was an electrifying moment. As we prepare to celebrate the third anniversary of what is possible,when Israelis and Arabs come together and set aside their differences. I can think of no better person to help us reflect on this moment than our guests today. It is my honor to welcome Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, founding member of the Abraham Accords Caucus to our program today. Senator, thank you so much for being here. Joni Ernst:  Of course, it is an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to be with you today. I'm celebrating as well, I think it's a phenomenal achievement for the United States and for our friends in Israel and those Arab nations. Benjamin Rogers:  And I think that's a great starting place for our conversation. Share with us a little bit about your story. What was your reaction when you learned of these agreements? How did that translate to saying, Hey, I'm going to work with my colleagues. I'm going to sit down with Senator Lankford, Senator Rosen, Senator Booker, and we're going to be the founding members of the Senate Abraham Accords caucus? Joni Ernst:  And it goes back quite a ways. My own personal journey, I had served in the Iowa Army National Guard and had deployed to the Middle East for Operation Iraqi Freedom and, and having that experience serving in our United States Armed Forces, we have the great privilege and honor of serving with many members from other countries as well. And we have an understanding of those nations and what they're trying to achieve and how we can promote stability in certain regions. So from that basis, then I served in the Iowa State Senate, and when you think of Iowa and Israel as maybe not a natural connection, but we have a huge Christian community across the state of Iowa that is very supportive of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel. And so from that platform of the Senate, I was able to move into the United States Senate with a broad basis, not only the military perspective, but then also how Iowa and Israel can come together collaborate on things like agriculture, cultural exchanges, and with that basis, then finding other members of the Senate that had similar goals and objectives. And that came together really, with the incredible, really the incredible advent of the Abraham accords. And so we were able to start the caucus, those of us that have very strong feelings about stability in that region and partnership in that region. So coming together with senators, Rosen and Volker and Lankford, it was a really wonderful way for us to celebrate the Abraham Accords, and bring others from the United States Senate and House into that fold as well. Benjamin Rogers:  Amazing. I was struck by what you said, you don't necessarily think of commonalities between Iowa in Israel. But the interfaith component, the agriculture cultural component, I know you're also you talked about a little bit of security, I know, energy is a huge issue. Can you walk us through how these issues that are, you know, seemingly local, actually have larger, regional and international importance? How cooperation could maybe help your average person in Iowa City say, hey, look, this makes sense to me. I get what we're trying to do here. Joni Ernst:  Right. And we exist in a global economy. Of course, we, as the United States are blessed with an abundance of resources. But when we're able to partner with other nations around the globe, we find new ways of using the resources that we have at virtually at our fingertips. And what we have seen just in the exchanges and the ideas that are shared between entrepreneurs and Iowa, entrepreneurs and Israel, Israel being a huge startup nation. It has been a fascinating journey for me just explore from the realm of agriculture, the types of irrigation methods that are used in Israel. One of the visits that I had to Israel is visiting with a young entrepreneur that had developed left, a type of bandage, skin type bandage a liquid that could be applied on the battlefield. But the source of that one of the sources for that bandage, that liquid bandage that would seal the skin together, actually comes from hogs that are sourced from Iowa. So I mean, it's it. We're all connected in so many interesting and fascinating ways. But when you talk to Iowans about this, they get it, they understand how connected we are, through our everyday activities. And I love it that we've been able to work strongly and partner with Israel, now expanding that opportunity as well, and to the other narrow Arab nations of that region. It's just an incredible time period of time that we're witnessing right now. Benjamin Rogers:  So that's great to hear it. Can you say a little bit more? What, when you found her the caucus? What were the hopes? As you know, we've been, as we're about to celebrate three years on what are some of the successes, AJC has been engaged with you a lot on bills like the defend act, MARITIME Act, the Regional Integration Act, what, how, what is the role of the caucus? What is the role of the US Senate in saying, Hey, we're here to support the Abraham accords? Joni Ernst:  Well, you outlined a number of those goals and objectives. But the first reason bringing us together, one was to celebrate the great accomplishment of the accords. That was the baseline. But then we built off of there because between the four of us in the United States Senate that founded the caucus to Republicans to Democrats, understanding that this is an extremely bipartisan move, and how do we not just celebrate the existence of the accords? But how do we become tools to further engage with those nations, maybe expand the chords? And, you know, what we'll say is normalization of relations. And maybe sometimes that's not the right word, but just this incredible collaboration between those countries? How can we be a part of that, and really sphere, the legislation that we're working on in Congress to benefit the United States, first and foremost, always, you know, looking for ways that we can, can protect ourselves further articles. But also do that with our friends, Israel, and other Arab nations that have joined the courts or are considering joining into the courts. So we have been able to focus primarily from my perch on the Armed Services Committee then on things like the defend act, where we are working with Israel, the members of the Abraham Accords, and integrating air and missile defense systems, giving these nations a common operating picture, where they can literally save minutes seconds on an impending attack coming from, of course, main adversary in the Middle East Iran. So if we can all work together and save lives on the ground, so much the better for all of those nations. So we did have the main parts of that bill, the defend act, it was passed through the National Defense Authorization Act, last year. This year, Senator Rosen and I also have the MARITIME Act, which is yet another step forward for our caucus, our objectives of securing that region. And it does basically the same thing that you'll see with the defender Act, which was primarily focused from the air protecting from the air. Now we are focusing on the maritime domain, and making sure that as we see naval traffic through that region, that they are protected as well. So we just continue to take steps to protect that region protect buses as United States citizens, but always looking for ways to further our goals through the Abraham accords. Benjamin Rogers:  That's remarkable. And in reading the legislation, being engaged with the region. You hear all these things about the Middle East, there's the Middle East is disconnected, the Middle East is not united. But then you look at some of the sources and you look at the potential and you look at the ability for all these countries that maybe would be traditional adversaries are now saying, hey, we need to worry about things like heroes. We need to worry about things like security, we need to worry about things like stability, we're going to come together, we want to work with a larger architecture. And it's been remarkable from our standpoint, to see the US as a major driving force for that. Joni Ernst:  Yes. And you mentioned security, stability, they go hand in hand, and what I have witnessed and in traveling through that region, and of course, getting to know leaders throughout that region, is that they are so interconnected, they really are. And the Abraham accords really provided a path forward for them to do more together. There has been a lot of work in this area for decades now. But we're finally seeing a real breakthrough, rapid advancement of cooperation between these nations. And because of a number of these nations coming together in the Accords, we say that, maybe there's a little bit of competition now as well with some of the other nations and in the region. And I say that and maybe top of mind, we should be thinking, What about Saudi Arabia, you know, so I, I do want to say, we hope that they will join in more, and I hope that they are on that glide path to get there.  It is something that I have spoken with, with many of the leaders in Saudi Arabia. And we hope that we'll continue to see that really positive movement forward. But we want to see a strong foundation to build upon and which is what we're doing right now. But it can always improve. And that's what we want to see is continuous improvement, not just with the United States. And its existing allies and partners right now than many others that we hope to bring into the fold as well.  Benjamin Rogers:  So, since you brought up Saudi Arabia, and that's been top of mind on the news, can you share a little bit more with us. What does it mean, from your perspective, to have the Saudis as part of this process? What does it mean, from a US security standpoint? What does it mean from Chinese influence in the region? What are some of the pitfalls there? But where are the opportunities, that clearly, there seems to be a lot of hope for? Joni Ernst:  Well, let me start with the pitfalls. And I think it's pretty obvious that the largest pitfall is if we ignore Saudi Arabia, if we don't engage with Saudi Arabia, they will find another partner, and that partner is China. And so we don't want to see that happen. I think the natural alignment is for the United States and Saudi Arabia to come together. And I have always been of the thought that the Abraham accords would not have happened, if behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia had not given a signal that it was okay. So I do believe they had somewhat of a role in the Abraham accords. And I hope that they will continue working on a relationship with Israel, while maybe they won't come fully into the courts, but they will lend their leadership to the accords. And so I think that as we look forward, on the flip side, you know, that if we can avoid the pitfall of Saudi Arabia engaging completely 100% with China, we can avoid that we can move ahead in this region and have the participation of Saudi Arabia. I want them to look to the west for their partnerships. I think that's incredibly important. So I do engage heavily with leadership from Saudi Arabia, I do engage with the ambassador to the United States Ambassador Rima. We have had many, many phone and in person conversations in the US in Saudi Arabia, just continually working on the areas that we can't work on. There are things that we disagree on. But one thing I find with Ambassador Rhema is that we can be very blunt and upfront with one another and have those discussions respectfully. I have the greatest respect for Princess Rhema. And the position that she is in in negotiating in the best interests of her country. I am always going to talk and negotiate in the best interests of the United States. And the best interests of the United States are that we continue to be The best ally for Israel, and find a way for us to work with Arab nations as well, again, going back to having strong security and strong stability in that region and all partnering together against a common adversary Iran. Benjamin Rogers:  This has been an absolutely fascinating discussion. We're three years out, and we're talking about Israeli Arab relations, as if this was commonplace as if this was how it's always been. If there is, you know, you do have to stop yourself. And I think an anniversary is always a good moment to say, Things did not always used to be this way. So with that reflection of the past, I know you spoke a little bit about the future. But where do you see the future of the Senate Abraham accords caucus going? If you were to look, you know, three years out, what position do you hope we are? The US, its engagement with Israel, its engagement with the Arab world and its engagement in trying to create a more interconnected Middle East? Joni Ernst:  Well, I'm incredibly pleased with where we are today on this third anniversary. And if we look another three years, what are my hopes Senator Joni Ernst, from the state of Iowa, you know, co founder of the Abraham accords caucus, where do we want to be? My vision in three years is that we will have all of this, those military type protections put into place that the defend act is fully implemented, the maritime act is now passed and implemented, and that we are integrating our military resources with one another. So this is a step forward, if we can bring Saudi Arabia into this fold, that we can start working with them on military platforms, as well, the Saudi Arabia of the sides, want to engage with these platforms, if we can get them to move away from China, and really work more with the United States, I can see greater sharing of this technology, with the Saudis. And I do think that that's important. We have to have checks and balances, no doubt about it, we have to have those discussions. But if I can just say three years, this is what I want to happen. I want to have us all fully integrated, to make sure that the region is protected. And in turn, that makes us stronger in the United States, we know that we'll be protected as well for my brand. If we all are partnering together, I do want to say additional, you know, trade with that region as well. I think it's been incredibly important.  As you look at UAE and Israel, the types of activities that they have been able to engage in whether it is just travel, education, and trade opportunities, there are so so many areas that are yet untouched, where we can go. And I hope that we see that in three years where we don't really differentiate ourselves as this group or that group, but that we're just common friends and partners. So I think that we've got a long ways to go. But I can act, I can, you know, actually say with this caucus, and the founders of the caucus, both in the Senate and the House, because the House members are really punching above their weight as well, is that we continue to bring members into the fold focus on this region and our opportunities there. And that we have a much more stable world because of the actions we have taken. Benjamin Rogers:  Well, Senator, thank you, thank you so much for your time. It goes without saying our AGC has a huge appreciation for the work that you're doing, for the work that your colleagues Senator Rosen, Senator Lankford and Senator Booker have been engaged on. We're grateful for your house colleagues and everything that they've been doing on pushing and securing the Abraham Accords as well. AJC's shares your vision of a more interconnected region of a stronger USA of a more united front against adversaries. And we are your partners in this and we look forward to working with you to realize the vision you just spelled out. Joni Ernst:  Well, I appreciate it so much and to you Benjamin and the entire team at AJC. Thank you so much for being such incredible advocates for the Abraham Accords, of course for Jewish communities all across the United States, and the work that we can all achieve together. It's pretty impressive. When we lean on each other and we move with a purpose. So thanks so much for all of the wonderful support. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with Academy Award winning film director Guy Nattiv about his latest film Golda, which opened in American theaters last week. The film examines the Yom Kippur War, a transformative moment in Israel’s history.
20:57 9/7/23
'Golda': Behind the Scenes with Israeli Director Guy Nattiv on the 1973 Yom Kippur War
This week, Academy Award-winning director Guy Nattiv discusses his new film 'Golda,' which follows the journey of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir as she navigates the tense 19 days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Nattiv delves into how Helen Mirren, who portrays Golda Meir, expertly embodied the role. He also shares why, being a child of '73, he felt so compelled to tell this story. Tune in to hear the poignant anecdotes from the set and learn about the involvement of war veterans in the filmmaking process. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Guy Nattiv Show Notes: Watch: ‘Golda’ opens in US theaters starting August 25th from Bleecker Street / ShivHans pictures–find theater and ticket information at Read: Tough Questions on Israel Answered Listen: Matti Friedman on How the 1973 Yom Kippur War Impacted Leonard Cohen and What It Means Today The Rise of Germany’s Far-Right Party and What It Means for German Jews AJC Archives Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Guy Nattiv: Golda Meir [from AJC Archives]: We’ve suffered because of our stance, which is not just obstinacy, not just because we liked it this way. But I think it has been accepted more and more that we have something at stake, and that’s our very existence. Whether the borders are such that we can defend them or not, is a question of to be or not to be. Manya Brachear Pashman:  That's the late Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir speaking with AJC about fighting wars to defend Israel's existence. The movie Golda premiering in American theaters this week tells the story of one such battle: the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against the Jewish state. Here to talk about the movie and why it's an important story to share with the world, especially through Golda Meir's eyes is its Academy Award winning Director Guy Nattiv. Guy, welcome to People of the Pod.  Guy Nattiv:  Hi, Manya. Manya Brachear Pashman:  So Guy, as we just heard from Golda Meir herself, Israel has been defending its very existence since its creation, in war after war after war. Why did you want to direct a film about this particular war, which turned out to be quite a turbulent moment in the life of the Jewish state?  Guy Nattiv:  Well, I was born into this world, in a way. I'm a child of '73. My mom ran to the shelter with me as a baby, my father went to the war. And I grew up on those stories, of Golda, of the war, and I really wanted to know more, but there wasn't any way of knowing more. And I think that 10 years ago, protocols came out and gave a sense of what really happened, protocols from the Agranat Committee, from the war rooms, from the government. All those declassified documents. And that shed a different light on what really happened there, and on Golda. And doing the research on Golda  and talking to people who really knew her, gave me a sense of why we needed to tell the story. It's for my generation and for the generation of my fathers’ and mothers’.  Manya Brachear Pashman:  So who made the decision to cast Helen Mirren as Golda Meir?  Guy Nattiv:  I wasn't the one who casted Helen. When I came on board, Helen was already attached. I think that Gideon Meir, the grandson [of Golda], he was the one who thought about Helen first, he said, I see my grandmother in her. And when I came she already read the script, and it was only meeting me to close the circle.  Manya Brachear Pashman:  And what did she bring to the role? Guy Nattiv:  Humor, humanity, wisdom, charm. It's all there. But she brings a lot of human depth to the character. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Were there conversations off camera during the making of the film about Israel, about its history, about the lessons learned in this moment in its history, with Helen Mirren, or other cast members? Guy Nattiv:  Yeah, but the problem is that we don't really learn, right, because look what happened now in Israel. It's the Yom Kippur of democracy. So I don't think we learned enough. Where we are basically in the same situation, as '73, with a leader that is so disattached. At least Golda believed in the judicial system, she believed in High Courts, she was a humanist. She believed in democracy, full democracy. And I think the situation now is so dire. And when I went to protest in Israel, I went to protest with a lot of veterans from the war, who had the t-shirt 'This is the Yom Kippur of democracy.' We're fighting, they're almost fighting again, but this time not because of our enemies, because of ourselves. We're eating ourselves from within. Manya Brachear Pashman:  I'm glad you mentioned the veterans of the war because this was such a painful conflict for Israel. Such a tragic blow to the nation’s psyche. More than 2,600 Israeli soldiers were killed, 12,000 injured, nearly 300 taken prisoner. What do you believe this film offers those veterans? Guy Nattiv:  I think it brings a lot of humanity to Golda, who they saw as just the poster, as just a stamp, as just a statue, right? She was somebody who's not human. And I thought that Helen in the way that the film is structured is bringing Golda in a human way. And they see her struggle. And how she cared about those veterans. How she cared about every single person, every single soldier that died in this war. She wrote every name. She took it to her heart. And I thought that was something that veterans would respect. And also what I did is, when I edited the film, I brought five veterans from the front, a lot of them watched the movie in the first cut, the really first offline cut, and they helped me shape the narratives and bring their own perspective to this movie. So I thought that was very cool. Manya Brachear Pashman:  You've made it clear that this is not a biopic about Golda Meir. This is really about this moment in history. Guy Nattiv:  No, it's not your classical biopic, if you want to do a biopic about Golda Meir, you'll have to have a miniseries with eight episodes or more. This is an hour and a half, on a very specific magnifying glass on the requiem of a country. The requiem of a leader. The last of Golda. The last days. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Let’s listen to a clip from the film that really shows why Golda Meir was known as the Iron Lady of Israeli politics. Here’s Helen Mirren as Golda Meir, sitting across the table from Henry Kissinger, played by actor Liev Schreiber.   Clip from ‘Golda’: Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): This country's traumatized. My generals are begging me to occupy Cairo. And Sharon is, is like a dog on a leash. Henry Kissinger (portrayed by Liev Schreiber): If you do that you will be on your own. Israel's long term interests will not be served by a fracturing of our relationship, Golda. Sadat has already agreed to the terms of the ceasefire. Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): Of course he has. He's on the brink of defeat. It will give him a chance to regroup. You are the only person in the world who could possibly understand what I'm going through. Henry Kissinger (portrayed by Liev Schreiber): Yes, I know how you feel, but we need a ceasefire. Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): I thought we were friends, Henry. Henry Kissinger (portrayed by Liev Schreiber): We will always protect Israel. Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): Like you did in ‘48? We had to get our weapons from Stalin. Stalin. Our survival is not in your gift. If we have to, we will fight alone. Manya Brachear Pashman:  So Guy, what would you include in a mini series, if you produced a mini-series instead? Guy Nattiv:  I would go to her childhood in Ukraine, probably, I would show her family in Israel. I would show more of her relationship with Lou Kedar, they were really close, her assistant. There's a lot of things that I would do, but not in the format of a feature. Although if you want to do something like you know, a four and a half hour feature, like, used to be in the 80s or the 70s. They were massive, like Gone With the Wind. This is something else. But this is not this movie. This movie is really a specific time in history. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Through her eyes, basically. Guy Nattiv:  Through her eyes. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Yeah. Guy Nattiv:  Under her skin. Manya Brachear Pashman:  I'm curious, if in the making of the film, there were any kind of surprising revelations about cast members or their perspectives, their opinions, or revelations about the history itself. Guy Nattiv:  One of the guys that was a stand-in, he was an extra in the movie. He was at the table of all the ministers. Ephri, Ephraim, his name is. I played the siren in the room. So everybody will get the siren, and the long siren. And he started crying. And he said, I'm sorry, I cannot really stay here for long. And I asked him, why not? He said, because I'm a veteran of the war. I was 21 when I went to the tunnel, and I fought. And he lives in the UK. And we shot the film in the UK and he came and it was amazing. And he came to Helen and me and he showed us photos of him as a 21 year old from the war. It was very emotional, it was surprising, he's only this extra. Who is a war veteran, who's playing a Minister. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Wow. Did he explain why he tried out, or auditioned to be an extra, why he wanted to do this? Guy Nattiv:  He’s doing a lot of extra work in the UK. You know, he moved to the UK and is an extra in a lot of movies. And when he saw that this movie exists, he said, I must come, I must be one of those ministers. And we needed a desk full of ministers, you know, and he was the right age. So he's just an extra. That's what he does. I don't know if he thought that he would be in the same situation. I don't think that he thought that. Because he didn't read the script. It was a very emotional moment. And a very emotional moment for Helen. Manya Brachear Pashman: So this was filmed in the UK? Guy Nattiv: It was filmed in an Indian School, outside of London. The Indian abandoned school that was basically huge, like, massive. Arad Sawat, who is my production designer, he basically created the entire kiriya [campus/city], and war room and all the bunker and Golda's kitchen, he built it from scratch, exactly like it was in Israel. And it was crazy. It's just like walking into the 70s. Me, as a grown up, you know, and seeing Helen as Golda. And the commanders. It was surreal. Just surreal. Manya Brachear Pashman:  And how did you gather those kinds of personal details about her life? In other words, like, did you have pictures, plenty of photo photographs to base that on? Guy Nattiv:  My two sources were Adam, her bodyguard, that gave me all the information, and her press secretary, who's 91, who told me everything about her, and books that were available for us, and protocols. It was very specific protocols that showed us how everything went down. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Did Helen spend a lot of time with those people as well to really get a sense, and I'm curious how else she prepared, if you know, how else she prepared for this role, to really embody the former prime minister? Guy Nattiv: It was her own private process. I didn't get into it so much. But I think that she read all the books. She worked with a dialect coach to understand how the Milwaukee accent, to talk in the Milwaukee accent. Walk the walk. I think she prepared also with an animal coach. There's a coach, every actor becomes, every role it's a different animal. And you behave like this animal. You take the physiques of this animal. I think she was a turtle. I think that Golda was more of a turtle. The way she spoke. Everything was so slow. So I think that she became, she did, the way she carried herself like a ship  into this. So it was a lot of metaphors, a lot of stuff, a lot of tools that help actors get into the role. But when I met her, and that was after like three and a half months we didn't talk, she was Golda. It's almost like she got into the trailer as Helen and she came out as Golda. We didn’t see Helen, we saw Golda. Even when we spoke and we ate lunch with her, we saw Golda. And so at the end of the 37 days of shooting, I was like, you know, I don't remember how you look like, Helen. And only in Berlin Film Festival, when she gave us Helen Mirren, is where we really saw her. Manya Brachear Pashman:  So you mentioned Berlin, the film has premiered there in Berlin, also has premiered in Israel. I'm curious how audiences have received it in both places. Has it hit different chords in different countries?  Guy Nattiv:  When non Jews see the movie, I mean, they have lack of emotional baggage. And they see it as something foreign in a way. But for Jews, for Israelis, there's a lot of emotional aspects to it. So it's, yeah, it's different. It's a different view. But a lot of people that are not Jews are still really like, this is such an interesting, we didn't even know about her. You know, a lot of people are learning who she was. And they didn't know. It's like she paved the way to Margaret Thatcher. And to Angela Merkel. So they see now what's the origin of that. Manya Brachear Pashman:  That's a really wonderful point, it being filmed in the UK and premiering in Berlin. Guy Nattiv:  [Angela] Merkel said that Golda was her inspiration. Manya Brachear Pashman:  So how do you expect it to resonate here in the United States? Guy Nattiv:  I really feel that it's just starting out right now, we had an Academy screening, and I'm getting amazing text messages from people from that generation. But I also would love for younger generation to know about that and explore Golda. Yeah, I mean, I'm interested to know, to see how it is. But I know that it's very emotional for the Jewish community. I can feel that. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Do you think this film will change how people view Golda Meir and Israel’s leaders in general? Guy Nattiv:  I hope it will spark a nerve in a way that we are in the same situation now. And people will see that history repeats itself, in a way. It's not the same exact situation. But it's the blindness that our leaders are in right now. And I hope it will bring a different narrative to the character of Golda, and who she was, not just the poster, not just the scapegoat. Because she was the scapegoat of this war. It was easy to blame her for all the faults of her commanders and all the other human intelligence commanders and what happened there. But it's just, she's not the only one. She's not the scapegoat. She was actually very valuable for Israel, because she brought the shipments from the state, of the planes and the weapons. She was in charge of it. And I think without that, we would probably find ourselves in a different situation. Manya Brachear Pashman:  Golda was the first female head of government in the Middle East. Do you think her gender had something to do with her being blamed or the being labeled the scapegoat, as you said?  Guy Nattiv:  Absolutely. Absolutely. I truly believe that with more female leaders in this world, the world will be a better place. I feel that men proved us wrong. You know, I want to see Tzipi Livni leading Israel again. I want to see more women in key roles and leading countries. I think the world would be a better place.  Manya Brachear Pashman:  Guy, thank you so much. Really appreciate you sitting down with us. Guy Nattiv:  Thank you. 
16:27 8/25/23
The Rise of Germany’s Far-Right Party and What It Means for German Jews
Polls in Germany suggest the far-right political party Alternative for Germany, or AfD—with its antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-EU, and other extreme views—has support from a fifth of German voters. Hear from Felix Klein, the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism, and an AJC Project Interchange Alum, on what has contributed to the rise of AfD, why the party threatens German Jews, and the danger it presents to Germany’s democracy.  *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.  Episode Lineup:  (0:40) Felix Klein Show Notes: Read: A Roadmap for America: AJC’s Experience in Europe Is Helping the U.S. Fight Antisemitism German Antisemitism Czar Says Calling Israel 'Apartheid' Is Antisemitic Listen: What the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism Means for Jewish College Students Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at You can reach us at: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Felix Klein: Manya Brachear Pashman:   Polls in Germany suggest the far right political party Alternative for Germany has support from a fifth of German voters. In some states, such as Thuringia, the AfD has the support of more than a third. This past weekend, the party met to select its candidates for the European parliament, where it has joined a far right bloc that will boost EU funding for the party.  Here to discuss how that affects Germany's Jewish community is Felix Klein, Germany's first Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism. Felix, welcome back to People of the Pod. Felix Klein:   Hello, it's a great pleasure to be here again with you. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So tell us a little bit about Alternative for Germany or AfD, as it's often referred to, and explain for our audience why it was founded 10 years ago? Felix Klein:   Well, AfD was founded in light of the big financial crisis. It was at the time, about 10 years ago, it was questionable at all whether the euro, as one of the most prestigious and most important European projects, could continue as a currency, as a common European currency, because countries like Greece were heavily indebted. And there was a big discussion whether to, to kick Greece out of the Euro system, or, and it was differently decided. O  r to keep it in the EU, of course, and in the Euro system.  And the then-Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is no alternative to that. No alternative for the solution suggested by the government. And there were many people in Germany that were not happy with that, saying, Oh, yes, there is an Alternative for Germany. And that was also the title of this new party, the Alternative for Germany. So it started really, with people who were not happy with the policy towards the European Union and the European solidarity. It didn't start so radical as it is now. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So how did it become as radical as it is now? And why are we seeing a bit of a resurgence? Felix Klein:   Well, in times of crisis and uncertainty people are unfortunately, I think that happens when many democracies are more open to populist ideas and parties. And that happens, many countries, including Germany, and AfD, was successful in getting support of those who were not happy with the decisions of the government in Corona, pandemic, from 2020. And now, last year, with the War of Russia, attacking Ukraine, again, we had a strike of uncertainty, energy prices went up in Germany, people are uncertain of what to do, many are not satisfied with the way the government deals with all these issues. And this is another explanation why AFD was able and successful to catch support, particularly in Eastern Germany. Manya Brachear Pashman:   But it sounds like it also has values that go beyond fiscal responsibility or the economy.  Felix Klein:   Yes, it's beyond the economy. So as I told you, AFD started off with economic issues, but unfortunately, it was attracted by people who have very, very problematic views. And to people who would deny or distort the Holocaust. People will say it was for a long time anyway, Germany was dominated by foreign powers by the EU, and you hear what they're saying this is antisemitic thoughts and narratives. And those people became more influential by the party over time. And what we've seen now, where this party really now chose candidates for the European elections who actually are in against the European Union. Many of them want Germany to leave the EU. There you see how radical it has come, they're also anti-Muslim. This is maybe the most important narrative, anti-migration, anti-Muslim, anti-EU. And of course, with all of that comes also antisemitic narratives. So this is why I'm very, very concerned about the success of this party. And I've expressed it openly in an interview that was published in Welt am Sonntag last Sunday. Manya Brachear Pashman:   You just mentioned that this party appeals to those who deny or distort the Holocaust. How so? Felix Klein:   Holocaust distortion is a very common idea in this party. Up to 20% of the Germans think that we should not talk so much anymore about the atrocities committed by the Nazis, that we have to look forward, etc. So, it is not a big surprise that, of course, anything that downgrades, if I may say so, the horrors committed by Germans in the Holocaust, and in the Second World War, in general, is very common.  Very prominent figures of the AfD call really for a cut, which is illogical anyway, you cannot cut yourself off of your own history as a country. But many of these voices call for a different remembrance culture, that it is a shame for Germany that it constructed the Holocaust Memorial in the heart of Berlin. Germany should not be so shameful with itself. And unfortunately, many people agree to this kind of ideas. So holocaust distortion is a big thing. Holocaust denial, it's not so much of a problem. But of course, anything that kind of makes the Holocaust less, less cruel or less incredible, as it was, is welcomed by this party. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I want to go back to the topic of the European Union, because one of the reasons why Alternative for Germany joined this far-right bloc was to boost EU funding for the party, but yet it's calling for the dissolution of the EU, or at least for Germany to withdraw. Can you explain that calculus? Felix Klein:   Well, it's, of course very contradictory. On one hand, you call for European funds. And anyway Germany is, I think, the one of the countries that really is taking advantage of the most of the European Union, our industry is heavily export-oriented. One out of four workers in Germany depend on international trade, and of course, it would be very much against German interest to leave the EU. On the other hand, it is a very common narrative in Germany to blame the EU for many developments and decisions taken by the government and they do not have a problem calling these two things at the same time. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So besides Holocaust distortion, is there other antisemitic rhetoric coming from this party that you see, or fear threatens Jewish life in Germany?  Felix Klein:   Yeah, one of them, clearly I see conspiracy theories being very popular within the AfD voters and a very concrete danger for Jewish life is a motion the AfD has tried to introduce into our parliament that would have banned kosher slaughtering. And fortunately, it didn't go through of course, but if you ban kosher meat, with the argument for animal protection, then of course, you violate the basic right of religion. Because the way you would like to eat is a part of the freedom of religion and fortunately, the motion didn't go through but you'll see that the AfD is really in that very concretely threatening Jewish life in Germany.  Another thing is, of course, they are on first hand very anti Muslim, anti migration. But it is a common fact that anti Muslim hatred is very much linked to antisemitism actually and the way they also talk about Israel as being a big and important factor against the Muslims shows the whole narrative of, to say that Israel is there also to keep Muslims out, is very dangerous. Because I think we all agree that Israel is not against the Muslims, or it's not an anti-Arabic country, as such, but this is what the AfD would like people to believe. Manya Brachear Pashman:   In other words, championing Israel, for motives that don't belong to Israel, in other words, assigning motives to Israel that don't even exist. Felix Klein:   It triggers a discussion about Israel, which is absolutely bad, not only for Israel, but also for the Jews living here, because they then have to have an opinion about Israel. And it is complicated enough anyway for the Jews who live in Germany, to explain to non Jews that they are not ambassadors or representatives of the Jewish state here, that they are normal German citizens, and of course, they might have an opinion about Israel. But they are by no means representatives of Israel. I think you have the same discussions in the US, where many people think that American Jews represent the Jewish state. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So you have also warned that there are not just antisemitic forces, but anti-democratic forces at work in this party. What do you mean by that? I mean, is that in reference to how they denigrate the EU? Or are other other things in play? Felix Klein:   I refer to the conspiracy theories I already mentioned, which are as such anti democratic, because anybody who believes in a conspiracy theory thing has a problem with democracy. And I would say 99% of the conspiracy theories have an antisemitic content in the end. Because the theory is that a small group of privileged people, in brackets, the Jews, take advantage and profit from a uncertain and difficult situation at the expense of, of everybody, a small group gets an advantage. And this is what leading figures in the AfD also emanate. And of course, this is not only antisemitic, but also anti-democratic. Manya Brachear Pashman:   They really are one in the same. If you're anti democratic, then you're probably anti semitic and vice versa. Felix Klein:   Once again, I cannot reiterate enough, that shows that antisemitism is anti-democratic as such, and if you turn it around, every success we have in the fight against antisemitism is a fight for our democracy. It is really directly linked. I think it’s like a litmus test we have in our society. Manya Brachear Pashman:   So what other questions should people ask to measure a candidate or a party's democratic ideals? Certainly listening out for conspiracy theories or antisemitic rhetoric? Are there other litmus tests? Felix Klein:   Yeah, of course, well first off, particularly in Germany, every politician should make it clear that he or she distances himself or herself from the horrors of the Nazi past. I mean, our democracy is the answer to the horrors of the Third Reich. And if you don't make that clear, or if you leave it uncertain, then you have a problem. And this is what voters should actively ask candidates: do you really think that the Holocaust is singular in history? Or is it an atrocity, like any other atrocity that was also committed by other people in history? This has to be made very, very clear. And I hope that in the coming elections, people will ask these questions. Manya Brachear Pashman:   I love what you said about how every victory against antisemitism is a victory for democracy. They really do go hand in hand.  And I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about the EU's Digital Services Act, which takes effect this month in fact. Now for our audience members who aren't familiar with this, this is a new law that will require internet platforms like Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, to not only delete unlawful content, but also provide information about those publishing that information, to the police. Some people would say this is not democratic. Others would say, Oh, yes, it is. So can you speak to that, to that criticism and whether you think this law will make a difference in the fight for democracy and against antisemitism. Felix Klein:   The main number of antisemitic crimes committed in Germany happens in the internet. Holocaust distortion, particularly, but also incitement of the people. More than two thirds of all antisemitic crimes are committed there. And if you look at the antisemitic incidents below the threshold of crime rate, it's even more. So we have to get and develop new instruments in combating antisemitism online. And the idea is very simple. Whatever is punishable offline should be also punished online. So any sentence you could be punished for, like an incitement of the people in the real world should also be punishable when you do it on the internet. It's very, very simple. And that is, this is a very simple idea of the EU Digital Services Act.  And in the past, of course, it was very difficult for police and prosecutors to trace the perpetrators and the main people now we want to involve, or big organizations, is the internet platforms because they have access to the IP addresses of those who spread antisemitism and hate speech. And we have to make them responsible.  So I think this is a very, very good instrument in fighting antisemitism online, I would even say it is a game changer. We have had pilot projects in Germany, where prosecutors who actually then found out with their means the perpetrators who spread antisemitism and will then get counter pressure from the state. So for instance, when the police car is in front of their homes, and the neighbors are watching, these people do not spread antisemitism anymore, they are impressed that the states can defend itself or defend its citizens and go against hate speech.  I think this will be very effective. And we I'm very happy that the federal police office here in Germany has now founded offices to and departments to be ready for the new law. And as you said, yeah, it is getting affected soon. And this is, I think, a very good example, that democracy is not self-evident. It has to defend itself. And freedom of speech has its limits, at least in our European concept. You cannot say anything you would like if you violate the rights of others. And this is a clear case. Manya Brachear Pashman:   The White House just recently released the US national strategy to counter antisemitism. And you and other envoys traveled here to the United States to advise the officials who were developing that strategy. In fact, the last time you were on this podcast, it was to talk about that trip. Did you talk about the limits on free speech during that trip with officials, the need to hold social media platforms accountable? Because what the EU is doing is not happening here. Not yet, at least. Felix Klein:   We talked about this, of course, but I'm aware of the legal situation in the US where you have a different concept of the freedom of speech, that the First Amendment of the US Constitution is, there problematic in that case to limit that. I hope that US administration finds ways nevertheless to go against, or  to be effective against hate speech and antisemitism online and I think the right way is to talk to the internet platforms, to provide us– many of them have their headquarters in the US and earn much money in the US. So, there should be ways in getting them to limit or to do their responsible share of maintaining the US democracy too. Manya Brachear Pashman:   Felix, thank you so much for joining us.  Felix Klein:   It was a pleasure. All the best, and it's always great to be together with AJC.
16:52 8/17/23

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