Mazel Tov, Trump. You’ve Revived the Jewish Left.

From The New York Times:

By Michelle Goldberg
Aug. 24, 2019

On Aug. 11, more than 1,000 people marked Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, by occupying an Amazon Books store in Manhattan, protesting the technology behemoth’s technical support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sitting on the floor, they read harrowing accounts of people in immigration detention and recited the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning. One of their signs said, “Never again means never again.”

According to organizers, 44 people, including 12 rabbis and a member of New York’s City Council, were arrested. It was one of over 50 Jewish-organized demonstrations against ICE held across the country that day.

A few days later, a corrections officer drove a truck into a row of Jewish protesters who were blocking the entrance to a private prison in Rhode Island where migrants are being detained. Two of the protesters were hospitalized. That demonstration was one of at least 38 organized this summer by Never Again Action, a decentralized group formed two months ago to engage in nonviolent direct action against immigrant detention.

Donald Trump might have thought he was going to lure Jewish voters to the Republican Party with his lock-step alliance with the Israeli right. Instead, by attempting to use American Jews as mascots for an administration that fills most of them with horror, he has spurred a renaissance on the Jewish left.

New progressive Jewish groups are forming. Older ones, like New York’s Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, one of the forces behind the Amazon action, are growing; once-sleepy organizing meetings have become standing room only. Jewish Currents, a left-wing Jewish publication founded almost 75 years ago, was reborn last year with a new cadre of writers and editors who speak to the millennial socialist zeitgeist.

Obviously, American Jews have long leaned liberal, and have always been overrepresented in progressive movements. But there’s a difference between leftists who happen to be Jewish and explicitly Jewish left-wing activism. “People who may not have been that close to Jewishness, they feel suddenly like it’s very important to express who they are as Jews in the context of their activism and in the context of their collective memory,” said Arielle Angel, the editor of Jewish Currents.

Alyssa Rubin, a 25-year-old organizer with Never Again Action, told me that in college, she had little interest in Jewish communal life, much of which seemed to revolve around support for Israel. But in the months leading up to the 2016 election, as Trump spouted rhetoric that smacked of fascism and white nationalists grew giddy at their new relevance, “I had never thought about my Judaism more,” she said. For the first time, anti-Semitism seemed an immediate, urgent threat.

For Jews on the left, fear has been magnified by insult as Trump, the man who helped unleash a new wave of anti-Semitism, posed as the Jews’ savior because of his devotion to the Israeli right.

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Donald Trump and the ‘Disloyal’ Jews

From The New York Times:

A president loyal only to himself uses my community as a political weapon.

Aug. 21, 2019

The major debate tearing apart the American Jewish community on this particular Wednesday is whether or not the 45th president of the United States just accused them — us — of disloyalty to Israel and the Jewish people or of disloyalty to the Republican Party and the man who has remade it in his image.

“Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they are defending these two people over the state of Israel?” President Trump said on Tuesday, referring to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, Democratic congresswomen who support the boycott movement against Israel. “And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

As my people say: Nu?

What do you hear in the president’s statement, which, like many things he blurts out, manages to be both opaque and outrageous at once? If you’re pro-Trump or Trump-curious, you’ll generously hear an assertion that Jews should be loyal to Israel. If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but hear echoes of the sinister charge of dual loyalty.

I’ve been around enough tables with pro-Trump Jews to strongly suspect that this is a riff on a theme Mr. Trump himself has overheard at many dinners with Ivanka and Jared, the favorite daughter and dauphin: dismay that even those Jews who have appreciated the president’s Israel policies — moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, cracking down on Iran — will never pull the lever for him.

It’s easy to imagine what they say: Look how much you’ve done. More than any other president. They should be grateful. Why can’t they see that? Why can’t they see that the Democratic Party has abandoned them? Meantime, you’re more pro-Israel than most American Jews! Indeed, on Wednesday afternoon at the White House, Mr. Trump clarified as much: “If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”

Brace yourself for further presidential Twitter rants on the matter because I do not believe that Mr. Trump is capable of higher-order thoughts about loyalty — loyalty to the office in which he sits, loyalty to the Republic, and, above all, loyalty to the idea of keeping America united. Fealty to him is the only litmus test.

Indeed, if we have learned anything about the former host of “The Apprentice,” it is that he looks at the world in the exact way he looked at those contestants. You’re a winner or you’re a loser. You’re for him or you’re a turncoat. In his small mind, if you’re on Team Jew, you vote for his party because Republicans are pro-Israel and, therefore, pro-Jew. If you’re on Team Anti-Semite, well, then you vote for the other guys.

All of which is why I have zero doubt that if the prime minister of Israel criticized Mr. Trump on the wrong day or in the wrong way, the president would dump Israel at that very moment. And it is why anyone with a shred of knowledge about Jewish history should be extremely concerned.

If 2,000 years of diasporic living has taught the Jews anything, it’s that an existence that is contingent upon the kindness of strangers is never too safe or too long lasting. A president with authoritarian tendencies who cares about nothing more than lock-step loyalty is not one American Jews, let alone anyone, can rely on.

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See Also:

The Forward: Trump Doubles Down: Jewish Democrats Are ‘Very Disloyal To Israel’

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‘I refuse to regret waking up a day older’: Ashton Applewhite’s fight for age pride

From The Guardian UK:

The activist on her manifesto to empower older people, how to challenge age prejudice – and why she dyes her hair grey

Amelia Hill
Mon 17 Jun 2019

When Ashton Applewhite hit 55 years old, she dyed her hair. So what? That’s what women the world over do, you might think: dye grey hair to hide their age. But what Applewhite did was different: she dyed her hair grey. Not Kim Kardashian-platinum grey, but defiantly uncool, bog-standard grey.

“I went to a matinee, so it was all old people,” she says, grinning widely as she absentmindedly tousles her hair, the brown roots showing. “When it finished, everyone left via an escalator. I looked down and there was not a grey head to be spotted. I suddenly thought: ‘This is one way we collude, en masse, in making ourselves invisible as older women – and that’s a real problem, because when people are invisible, so are the issues that affect them’.”

When Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, gave a TED talk titled Let’s End Ageism in 2017, it was an unexpected hit, with 1.5m views to date. In the video, the audience gives Applewhite repeated standing ovations as she talks about how it is not the passage of time that makes it so hard to get older, it’s ageism: a totally illogical prejudice that pits us against our future selves. “Ageing is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured,” she exhorts from the TED stage, to shouts of support. “It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.”

But back to the matinee: “I stood at the top of that escalator,” Applewhite, now 66, says, “and I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to have the year of letting our hair go grey, so the world can see how many of us there are and how beautiful we are and how diverse we are?”

Applewhite, who is based in New York, inherited her mother’s no-grey-hair gene. But she decided that if she was going to talk the talk, she needed to walk the walk: “The big, if shallow, surprise is how much I liked having grey hair, because I didn’t expect to,” she says. “But other people’s reactions varied. My manager at work said: ‘You don’t look older’; my friend Mer said: ‘You look older’; and her husband Josh said: ‘You look hot!’”

“But what was most interesting was a contributor to my blog, who said: ‘Fine for some, but my hair doesn’t look good grey.’ OK, no judgment, but I wonder how much of her opinion is coloured by what the grey signifies to her – because that’s what we need to work on, in ourselves and in the culture: decoupling ‘older’ from ‘undesirable’ and ‘old’ from ‘ugly’.”

This is the elevator pitch for Applewhite’s exuberant, thoughtful and surprisingly entertaining book. “My call to action skews towards the first and foundational step of confronting internalised ageism,” she says. “But that is only the first step. It is clear that upending discrimination on the basis of age will require fundamental changes in the way society is structured.”

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For trans people, birth certificate battle is a fight against discrimination

From The Guardian UK:

After years of resistance, Kansas will finally change its anti-transgender birth certificate policy – and it will be life-altering for many trans people

Fri 26 Jul 2019

Luc Bensimon’s mother knew early in her child’s life that he would struggle. For a start, he was black in America. Then he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy on his right side, necessitating years of operations and physical therapy.

But there was something else that Bensimon’s mother only came to recognise years later: she assigned her son as female on his birth certificate because that is what his physical appearance told her.

Bensimon, who is now 47, says he was “born with three strikes. Being African American. Being physically challenged. And being assigned female. My mother told me those are three things that you’re going to battle your whole life.”

His mother was right. But for all the racism and physical struggle he endured, it is the fight to be recognised for who he is that has been the most demanding.

“I had a very strict religious upbringing. My uncle was a Baptist minister. My mom and my dad and I went to a Pentecostal church. My mom would dress me up for Easter in those ugly little dresses and I would just be angry,” he said.

Then there was puberty.

“I had to go get the training bra. I was just not OK with it. I guess my mom thought I was just rebelling and that was a teenage thing. So I told her in so many words that I’m pretending to be something I’m not comfortable being. My mom was, ‘I’m not OK with this’,” he said.

Much has changed. Bensimon began to transition in his 30s. A diminutive man with a neatly trimmed beard proudly wearing a sash proclaiming him “Mr Black Trans Kansas 2019”, he now has a name reflecting his gender. He describes his mother as very supportive in recent years.

But to this day, his Kansas birth certificate says that he is female.

For Bensimon, having the state effectively deciding who and what he is was an intolerable position. When he goes for a job, he’s required to prove he is a US citizen. The birth certificate he has to give to HR outs him in what is all too often a hostile world.

“You’ve got the dead name [the name before transition] and then the gender. You might have been living for God knows how many years as the gender you were meant to be. But you turn in that birth certificate and they’re just like, ‘Who is this?’,” said Bensimon.

That is finally about to change in Kansas. Earlier this month, Governor Laura Kelly said it was time for the state “to move past its outdated and discriminatory anti-transgender policy”. After years of resistance to change by Republican governors, the Democrat elected to the state’s top office last year withdrew opposition to a lawsuit by Bensimon and others seeking the right to say what is on their birth certificates.

“People say I’m just trying to erase the past. No, I’m not. But I can’t play a role I’m not meant to play. I’m a bad actor,” said Bensimon. “It’s important. Maybe not for some people but it is for me.”

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a lawyer at Lambda Legal who has fought an array of cases on behalf of LGBT people, said Kelly’s decision leaves only Ohio and Tennessee as the outliers in refusing to allow transgender people to amend the record of their birth (Gonzalez-Pagan has filed lawsuits against both remaining states).

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Before Stonewall, decades of West Coast queer activism helped build a movement

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

Ryan Kost
June 25, 2019

This is how we tell the story: On a warm summer night, 50 years ago, almost to the day, a Greenwich Village bar rowdy with hustlers and queens and queer people of all sorts got rowdier still when police came to raid the place. A crowd gathered outside. There were 100 people, and then 200, and then 500 or 600, each new person adding to the tension. A woman in handcuffs shouted at them all. Why don’t you guys do something? And so they did. Bricks went flying, or maybe it was shot glasses, and riots raged at the Stonewall Inn for two nights.

This, we say, is how the modern gay-rights movement began. And now this year, we celebrate the riot’s 50th anniversary as we celebrate Pride.

But that’s not really how history works, all nice and neat with clear-cut beginnings and endings. Stonewall was not the first riot like it, and neither were the organizations that grew from it the first of their kind. Stonewall was more like “the crest of the wave, rather than the beginning of a wave,” as historian Susan Stryker put it. The movement had been gathering itself up for decades before that.

A couple of weeks ago, queer historians made their way to San Francisco for a queer history conference. Historian Marc Stein spoke at the event. He’s written much about Stonewall, and for this occasion, he hoped to tie that event to California, in part, by contextualizing what came before it. The Berkeley Barb, an underground newspaper, wrote about Stonewall not long after it happened, he said. They congratulated New York City on “joining the revolution.”

“You know every year at Pride, we hear the narrative that everything began with Stonewall,” Stein said later over the phone. So it’s been an annual ritual for historians, at least as far back as the ’70s, he said, to push back on that. To talk about a movement that began in the ’50s, and one that could also trace its roots to Europe decades before that.

“Social movements are complicated, right?” he said. “And understanding the longer history of LGBT resistance and activism, I think helps us appreciate that the struggle is a long one, and it’s one that takes many shapes and forms over a long period of time.”

Before Stonewall, there were protests at the Black Cat Tavern on Sunset Boulevard (’67); and before them a riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, an all-night diner in San Francisco’s Tenderloin (’66), and before that a protest outside a restaurant called Dewey’s in Philadelphia (’65); and before that a riot at Cooper Do-nuts in downtown Los Angeles (’59).

Each of these is a piece of a “bigger more complicated story. We can’t sew things up neatly,” says Stryker, the historian who is credited with rediscovering the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. “I’m also weary of ‘Stonewall wasn’t the first, it was actually Compton’s. Oh no, it wasn’t Compton’s it was Dewey’s. Oh no it was Cooper Do-Nut, oh it wasn’t Cooper Do-Nut, it was this thing we never heard of.’

“So firsts are not significant for me. For me what we’re seeing in the post-World War II years is this really different way relating identity to bodies politic to rights and citizenship, there’s new ways of thinking about the kind of person you can be.”

Much of that thinking began in San Francisco.

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Trans Mossad Spy Identifies Neo-Nazi ‘Konrad’ From Tablet Article

From The Tablet:

Agents disguised as German skinheads intercepted and disarmed bombs intended to harm Munich Jews in 1986

By Andrew Rosthorn
June 28, 2019

Tablet’s birthday picture of the German neo-Nazi Karl-Heinz Hoffmann has led to his identification by a former Mossad double agent as the man who strapped two radio-controlled bombs on her body in a 1985 attack on the homes of Jews living in Munich.

Olivia Frank, now 63, had just published her life story in England on May 24 when she saw Tablet’s picture of the German extremist she had known only as “Konrad.”

Her book describes how the British-born Israeli diplomat and spymaster David Kimche, leading a team of Mossad agents disguised as German skinheads, intercepted the man she now recognizes as Hoffmann and disarmed the bombs at night in a Munich street in 1985.

Karl-Heinz Hoffmann was jailed later that year for running a criminal organization from his castle in Bavaria. He was never charged with bombing offenses.

In May 2019, Hoffmann posted a YouTube video of a retirement interview. In what he called his “final public appearance” he is seen talking to the German author and journalist Andreas Förster in Hoffmann’s medieval manor house, Schloss Ermreuth near Nuremberg. The video of Förster questioning Hoffmann over coffee in a baronial dining room was referenced in a Tablet article by Sam Izzo, which was seen in England by the former Mossad “combatant” who had spied on him 33 years ago.

Widowed, and now living alone in England, Frank had just published the story of her life as a transgender spy, titled The Mossad Spy, when she saw the Tablet article and then watched the Hoffmann interview, dated by Hoffmann as May 2019, on her home computer.

“My blood ran cold. The Hoffmann in the video is the man I knew as Konrad, a man who might have killed me with the flick of a switch,” she said.

She added: “The grubby flat where Hoffmann took me to fit the bomb and the residential block where I was told to plant it were both very ordinary places. Everything happened at night and I was unfamiliar with the areas. Hoffmann drove me to them in his BMW. He always drove very fast. I was blindfolded on the last occasion.

“I think he leased the apartment and always showed up at night, always keen to hide his prominent beard and always in a great hurry. He always wore the same suit and tie and a scarf to hide his beard.

“He always parked his car well away from where I lived in Schellingstrasse, in the Maxvorstadt university area of Munich.”


Olivia Frank’s 491-page paperback, The Mossad Spy, tells the story of how she was born to a Jewish family in Manchester, England, and raised as a boy but left the city as a teenager on a woman’s passport to join the Israeli Defense Forces as a soldier. After being wounded as an IDF officer, she was selected by David Kimche for training at the Mossad’s academy near Herzliya.

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