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Jewish governor, Muslim activists pitch in to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery

The Jewish governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens, said he will volunteer to help repair a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery where at least 170 gravestones were toppled over the weekend.

Meanwhile, two Muslim activists have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 for repairs. The launchgood drive started by Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi had brought in $17,750 as of Tuesday afternoon.

They said any remaining funds after the cemetery is restored will go to fixes for other vandalized Jewish centers.

“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” the activists wrote. “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.”

Greitens in a news release Tuesday cited the concept of “tikkun olam,” or repair of the world, and asked helpers to bring rakes, garbage bags, wash rags and more cleaning supplies.

People walk through toppled graves at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. Authorities in Missouri are investigating after dozens of headstones were tipped over at the Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. (Robert Cohen /St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

People walk through toppled graves at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. Authorities in Missouri are investigating after dozens of headstones were tipped over at the Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. (Robert Cohen /St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

“My team and I will be there tomorrow, and I’d invite you to join us,” he said.

The governor had previously condemned the vandalism on the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City and called on people to “fight acts of intolerance and hate.”

“Disgusted to hear about the senseless act of desecration at the cemetery in University City. We must fight acts of intolerance and hate,” Greitens wrote in a tweet Monday evening after the vandalism was discovered.

Disgusted to hear about the senseless act of desecration at the cemetery in University City. We must fight acts of intolerance and hate.

— Eric Greitens (@EricGreitens) February 21, 2017

The attack on the cemetery took place sometime between Friday night and Monday morning, when the damage was discovered.

Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery Executive Director Anita Feigenbaum told The New York Times that between 170 and 200 headstones were toppled, with some being broken and damaged.

The headstones are in the cemetery’s oldest section, dating from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, she told the Times.

“I just am quite shocked — it affects so many people, so many families, so many generations,” Feigenbaum told the newspaper. “This cemetery was opened in 1893.”

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Lt. Fredrick Lemons of the University City Police Department declined to classify the vandalism as a hate crime.

“Right now, everything is under investigation,” Lemons said. “We’re looking into all possible leads.” The police are reviewing cemetery surveillance cameras, according to the report.

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL whose military awards include the Bronze Star, was elected the first Jewish governor of Missouri in November.

In a post on Facebook he called the vandalism a “despicable act of what appears to be anti-Semitic vandalism.”

“We do not yet know who is responsible, but we do know this: this vandalism was a cowardly act. And we also know that, together, we can meet cowardice with courage,” he wrote. “Anyone who would seek to divide us through an act of desecration will find instead that they unite us in shared determination. From their pitiful act of ugliness, we can emerge even more powerful in our faith.”

Immediately following the announcement of the vandalism, the Chesed Shel Emeth Society, which owns the cemetery, posted a message on Facebook informing families with relatives buried there that it is “assessing the locations and damage and will post names that are affected as soon as we are able. Many monuments are facing down and we won’t be able to read the names and see if there is any damage until we lift the stones.”

In an update Tuesday afternoon, the society said a local monument company had begun to replace the monuments on their bases. It said it would try to have a comprehensive list of the toppled monuments posted by Wednesday.

A local church, the All Nations Church, launched an appeal to help repair the damage caused by the vandals. The church said on its website that it would match up to $500 in donations to the cemetery.

“Destruction of Jewish headstones is a painful act of anti-Semitism,” said Nancy Lisker, director of the American Jewish Congress in St. Louis. “We feel the pain of the families whose grave sites of loved ones were desecrated and look to the authorities to apprehend and bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act.”

Le Pen backtracking on dual citizenship?

Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front party and a presidential candidate, appeared to backtrack on Tuesday on her proposal to abolish dual citizenship in France.

Le Pen, who was on a two-day visit to Lebanon, spoke in a lengthy interview with the French-language Lebanese paper L’Orient-Le Jour and was quoted by Haaretz.

In the interview, she said she believes dual citizenship holders must decide which country is their real homeland, “but I’m not locked into abolishing dual citizenship.”

She added that she would permit dual citizenship if France and the other country in question had signed an agreement related to the matter.

Le Pen was criticized several weeks ago after she said in an interview that, if elected president, she would move to prohibit dual citizenship for citizens of non-European countries.

Relating the case of Israel, where as many as 250,000 first and second generation French immigrants reside, Le Pen said no exception would be made.

“Israel is not a European country and doesn’t consider itself as such,” she told France 2 TV.

“I’m asking the Israelis to choose their nationality. It doesn’t mean that if they don’t choose French nationality they have to leave. France can certainly accommodate foreign people on its soil long-term… as long as they respect French laws and French values, which is often a problem on the immigration issue. It’s really not a problem with Israel on this topic,” she continued.

French MP Meir Habib responded to Le Pen’s remarks by saying, “Besides the illegal aspects of this initiative, I would like to remind Mrs. Le Pen of the enormous debt Europe owes the Jewish nation. I would like to remind her that Israel is a kind of ‘life insurance’ policy for Jews everywhere in the world.”

“Even if you don’t like it, we will never demand that French-Israeli citizens choose between France and Israel,” Habib stressed.

Former MK Shmuel Plato Sharon later estimated that if Le Pen is elected and indeed abolishes dual citizenship, as many as half of the Jews in France would likely leave the country.

“Le Pen would be a catastrophe, but good for Israel because the majority of Jews will come here. It would be difficult because it’s not simple for an established family with a livelihood to uproot and move to Israel, but they have no choice,” he told Arutz Sheva.

‘Israel must not waste Trump’s presidency’

Yoram Ettinger, the former Israeli consul in Washington, DC, on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to take advantage of President Donald Trump’s time in office to carry out meaningful moves.

Speaking to Arutz Sheva, Ettinger said Trump understands that a Palestinian state would be a “great burden” and is thus open to other alternatives.

“Israel must leverage these next four years and not spend the credit on being cautious and tiptoeing around so as not to offend the president,” he said. “We have to understand that the American president works using American considerations and he understands that a Palestinian state would be great burden, so he is going down a completely different path.”

“The question is whether Israel will leverage this to bolster its national and security needs in Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights or if it will waste it on excuses of caution and tiptoeing around,” added Ettinger.

The former consul praised UN ambassador Nikki Haley’s speech, in which she blasted the UN for its obsession with Israel and vowed to work to end the UN’s biased treatment of the Jewish state.

“This is truly a new era of an administration that represents the trend of anti-establishment and anti-political correctness regarding Israel. And one manifestation of this is, of course, the recent statements by the United States and the speech we heard yesterday from the new ambassador. It is important that this change will be reflected not only in words but also in action. For example, reducing the United States’ financing of the United Nations,” said Ettinger.

Ettinger also referred to Trump’s disputes with the mainstream media which has continuously covered him in a negative manner, and predicted that the media would eventually learn to live with the new president.

“Trump is doing everything to make clear to the American public that he is acting against the media outlets that are wrongly referred to as the ‘elite,’” he said.

“The U.S. system of government, unlike here in Israel, guarantees the president at least four years in the White House. There aren’t any no-confidence votes or a parliamentary majority. Therefore, it is assumed there will be at least four years of Trump at the White House,” added Ettinger.

Muslim group reward for information on JCC bomb threats

A Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who made false bomb threats to Jewish community centers.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, made the offer Monday, hours after bomb threats were called in to 11 JCCs across the country, leading most of them to evacuate their buildings while police and FBI searched for explosives.

The threats — the fourth wave in about five weeks — targeted JCCs in Birmingham, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Paul, Tampa, Albuquerque, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville and Buffalo.

“It is the duty of American Muslims to offer support to the Jewish community and any minority group targeted in the recent spike in hate crimes nationwide,” CAIR’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, said in a statement. “We hope this reward will aid in the swift apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators.”

Awad noted the “tremendous level of support” offered to Muslim Americans by the Jewish community when Muslims have been targeted by hate in recent months.

Hotovely: Two-state solution ‘impossible’

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely on Tuesday told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ Leadership Mission that a two-state solution is “impossible.”

“The Palestinians are not interested in a state, they want Israel not to exist and that is their main goal,” she said.

“We need to delete the word ‘occupation’ and we need to redefine the term ‘refugee’, they are the fourth generation but their parents are handing them keys to refugee camps,” added Hotovely.

The Deputy Minister praised the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s recent speech in which she asked why the UN obsesses over Israel.

“This is the spirit the Prime Minister hopes from Washington,” said Hotovely.

Pointing to Israel’s housing crisis, the Deputy Minister said the young generation needs to build homes in Judea and Samaria. “Definitely, in the era of Trump we should be able to build in these regions, this is not an on obstacle to peace,” she pointed out.

Asked about the possibility of the U.S. Embassy in Israel moving to Jerusalem, Hotovely said there is nothing that would make her happier.

On the issue of UNWRA schools and teaching a culture of hate by Palestinian Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, she said “it is important for us to put the issue on the table.”

She also said the Palestinians need to be given a better education. “They need the ability to be Nobel Prize winners. This is a long-term goal.”

Hotovely’s comments on the two-state solution come one week after President Donald Trump’s comments at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in which he would not commit to the two-state solution as the only way to solve the conflict.

Haley later tempered this stance, saying Washington “absolutely” supports a two-state solution but wants new ideas on how to move forward.

“Anybody that wants to say the United States does not support the two-state solution, that would be an error. We absolutely support a two-state solution, but we are thinking out-of-the-box as well,” she said.

On Sunday, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, echoed Haley’s statement.

“The Prime Minister spoke of the two-state solution, Nikki Haley spoke again about a two-state solution, the President said he’s for it but they’re open to out-of-the-box thinking. And probably that is the answer, that we need out-of-the-box thinking and not just these trite terms,” he said.

“Two-state, one-state, half a state, three-quarters of a state – that’s not the issue… We want to see a negotiated solution, we want to see Israel live in peace with its neighbors, we want to see Israel secured for the long-term future, not short-term, and that any deal that Israel makes has to take that into account,” added Hoenlein.

Jewish groups seek action from Trump to match his words on anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON (JTA) – He hates it, he really hates it. Now what’s he going to do about it?

President Donald Trump on Tuesday culminated three weeks of missed opportunities to condemn anti-Semitism and doubling down on missed opportunities to condemn anti-Semitism with a statement unequivocally condemning anti-Semitism.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community at community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said Tuesday after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Message back from a Jewish community longing to hear these words: Great. Now how do you plan on dealing with the problem?

“Glad @POTUS stated #antisemitism is horrible,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, said on Twitter, using the acronym for president of the United States. “Now need @whitehouse to share plans on how to ‘stop’ it. ADL ready to help.”

Greenblatt’s “whaddya got” posture pervaded the organized Jewish community.

David Harris, the American Jewish Committee CEO, explained why Jewish groups that might otherwise have welcomed a simple statement of intent to combat anti-Semitism were sounding a more skeptical tone.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. (Courtesy ADL)

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. (Courtesy ADL)

“To date, the administration’s response has been disappointing, to say the least,” Harris said in an email to JTA.

“We’ve only just reached the stage today — thankfully, if belatedly — of hearing President Trump acknowledge the issue and call it by its rightful name — anti-Semitism,” he said.

“For reasons that escape me, until now it’s been about generic words like ‘hatred’ and ‘intolerance,’ or about the President defending himself against non-existent charges that he’s an anti-Semite. It’s elementary: to combat a problem you first have to define it, and the definition of this particular problem is anti-Semitism, pure and simple. Then you need a robust plan of action. Let’s hope it will be forthcoming — and soon.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has been supportive of Trump, called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to establish a task force to track down the perpetrator of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, and said Trump must “outline his Administration’s plan to combat surging anti-Semitism.”

Of the major groups who commented, the Orthodox Union seemed the most inclined to declare “case closed.”

“We appreciate that President Trump spoke directly to this matter. The words of a President of the United States carry great weight and it is important that Mr. Trump addressed the American Jewish community and all our fellow Americans at this time,” the OU said in a statement about Trump and the bomb threats. “We appreciate that the FBI and Department of Justice are investigating these incidents and the ‘possible civil rights violations’ they entail. We also appreciate the work of the Department of Homeland Security that supports the safety of our Jewish community institutions.”

Illustrative: Police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennesee after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot/The Tennessean)

Illustrative: Police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennesee after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot/The Tennessean)

The Jewish community has been grappling with how the new president deals with anti-Semitism since Jan. 27, when the White House marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a statement that noted “victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” but did not mention the Jews.

What at first seemed like an oversight soon calcified into suspicion that it was part of a worldview, as White House officials doubled down on the omission, condescending to explain to their critics that one must be inclusive in marking an event that uniquely targeted Jews for elimination.

Officials calling critics of the statement “asinine” and “pathetic” didn’t help, nor did the revelation that a bid by the State Department to mention Jews in a statement was rebuffed by the White House.

Fueling suspicion that there was more to the omissions than clumsy oversight was the presence on Trump’s staff of top advisers like Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka, who emerged from a political culture of European-style nationalism that rejects what it terms “identity politics” and argues that minority complaints about discrimination are overstated.

The White House visit last week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented an opportunity to make amends, and at first it seemed Trump was game.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

“The State of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression,” Trump said in prepared remarks at a joint Feb. 15 news conference with Netanyahu. “I can think of no other state that’s gone through what they’ve gone — and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.”

So there it was: “genocide” and “Jewish people” adjacent. All was good.

For about 20 minutes.

An Israeli reporter asked Trump about the spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, and whether the president believed it had anything to do with Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump replied by noting the breadth of his Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton and a statement expressing love for his Jewish daughter, Ivanka; her husband, Jared Kushner, and their children.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrive for a joint press conference by US President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrive for a joint press conference by US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

It became weirder the next day at a news conference when a friendly reporter, Jake Turx from the haredi Orthodox Ami magazine, reassured Trump that no one in his community thought the president was an anti-Semite.

Turx proceeded to ask what Trump was planning to do about the waves of bomb threats against Jewish community centers that have severely disrupted Jewish life in North America.

Trump would not allow Turx to complete his question and launched a broadside against the baffled reporter and anyone else who suggested that he was anti-Semitic. Trump called Turx “a liar” and said he hated the question.

What turned Trump and led to his statement Tuesday morning?

His spokesman, Sean Spicer, would not say, except that Trump thought a tour of the African-American museum was an appropriate occasion to expound against hate and discrimination. Trump’s remarks were prepared.

Two precipitating factors may have been the fourth wave of bomb threats on Monday against JCCs, coupled with massive vandalism at a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery. The White House may have wanted to head off a new round of criticism that it was ignoring anti-Semitism, especially as Jewish groups were heading to Twitter with impatient calls for a strong denunciation from the president.

Another factor may have been Ivanka. Whereas the press office’s initial statement Monday night on the JCC threats again omitted any mention of Jews, Ivanka Trump followed it up with a tweet that at least alluded to Jews, adding to her call for religious tolerance the hashtag “JCC.”

Trump’s erstwhile targets also sensed an opportunity to hit back: Clinton, who infrequently pronounces on issues of the day – and has been oblique when she does pronounce – directly challenged Trump on Twitter to speak out. Muslim groups, targeted by Trump’s rhetoric, raised funds for a reward for the perpetrator of the threat and to repair the toppled headstones at the cemetery.

Calls by Jewish groups for actual plans, and not statements, were not the only sign that Trump’s remarks were unlikely to allay tensions.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Spicer opened his briefing with reporters on Tuesday by repeating Trump’s words, and delivering an impassioned plea for Americans to visit the African-American museum and its National Mall companion, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. He then turned combative.

“’Is he going to denounce this one, is he going to denounce this one?’” he asked, mocking reporters. “At some point the question is asked and answered!”

(Spicer also responded to the US-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, which issued a statement mocking Trump’s statement as a “pathetic asterisk of condescension.” He said of the group: “I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area. And I think that hopefully as time continues to go by they recognize his commitment to civil rights, to voting rights, to equality for all Americans.”)

Trump’s Democratic critics weren’t letting go either. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, peppered his Twitter feed with follow-up questions for Trump.

“Why has it taken @realDonaldTrump so long to even say the word ‘anti-Semitism?’” Ellison wondered. “Perhaps it has something to do with placating his base?”

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-New York, whose bid earlier this month to force a vote on his resolution emphasizing that the Holocaust targeted the Jews was blocked by Republicans, said Trump needed to be more consistent in his condemnations.

“Trump’s statement is long overdue and doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what needs to be done,” he said in a statement.