Colors: Blue Color

This week’s parshah begins with the verse, “Behold, I set before you today blessings and curses” (D’varim 11:26). Moshe Rabbeinu was conveying a simple yet profound message to our ancestors. Life is filled with choices and there are blessings and curses. If you follow in the way of Hashem, blessing awaits. If you ignore your spiritual responsibilities and engage in negative behaviors, there will be consequences. Each and every day, these two paths are in front of us and we must choose which one to travel.

Shabbatons have always been essential experiences that the educators at Emet Outreach provide for college students, young adults, and young couples. The Shabbos programming is hands-on, personal, and impactful. It is designed to enable participants to delve into the beauty of Shabbos, disconnect from technology for 25 hours, and truly feel what it is like to be an observant Jew. Over the past few months, these meaningful weekends of spirituality and solidarity were put on hold. With safety a top priority, Emet’s team monitored the protocols and waited for the right moment to resume. That moment recently arrived for a small group from Emet’s women’s division. Gone were the days when the biggest concern before a weekend was what clothes to pack. Now, the weekend kicked off with COVID-testing for all interested participants a few days before departure.

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias was felt throughout New York City this past Tuesday afternoon. Twigs, branches, and other debris lay scattered across city streets. Larger tree limbs of decimated oaks, Norway maples, and catalpas were sheared off longstanding trees, landing atop parked cars and against homes from tree-toppling winds; over 2,000 trees fell throughout the city, and over 210,000 families were still without electricity as nightfall arrived.

On the eve of Tish’ah B’Av, as many in our community were preparing for the solemn day ahead, the Fazilov family of Kew Gardens Hills was dealt a terrifying ordeal. Video from a home surveillance system depicts a bearded African American man entering the family home just off 71st Avenue and 137th Street as if it was his own. Clad in a gray sweatshirt, jeans, and a tan beanie, the man brazenly attempted to rob the dwelling as the homeowner was present.

The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) Monday called on Twitter to duly employ a uniform no-tolerance policy when it comes to anti-Semitic tweets and other inflammatory posts aimed at Israel and the Jewish community.

In addition, the NCYI reiterated a call it has made in the past for Facebook to take immediate steps to bar Holocaust deniers from its site. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, has defended people’s rights to publish posts denying the Holocaust, even though he has claimed that he finds their positions “deeply offensive.” The NCYI noted that Facebook has deleted numerous odious posts after Germany enacted a law several years ago that banned online hate speech, and that while anti-Semitic posts may not be illegal in the United States, there is no question that they epitomize hate speech.

The NCYI questioned how and why Twitter failed to remove anti-Semitic posts by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that called for the destruction of the Jewish people, as well as anti-Semitic tweets by celebrities, such as American rapper and actor Ice Cube and former NFL running back Larry Johnson, while at the same time taking steps to regulate other miscellaneous tweets by certain individuals, including President Trump, that it deems in violation of its “Hateful Conduct Policy.”

The NCYI also pointed to a recent incident in which the rapper Wiley posted a number of anti-Semitic tweets that failed to generate a swift response by Twitter, and which were allowed to remain online for at least 12 hours before the company took any action. The episode led to a call from British Home Secretary Priti Patel for Twitter and other social media companies to “act much faster to remove such appalling hatred from their platforms.”

The NCYI’s call comes on the heels of a statement it made last month in which it urged Twitter to enforce its policies relating to hate speech and to take a tougher stance to keep anti-Semitic rhetoric off of its platforms following a flurry of racist, anti-Semitic posts by prominent athletes and celebrities.

In response to a formal written request by Israel’s Minister for Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash-Hacohen to remove Khamenei’s anti-Semitic tweets in accordance with Twitter’s own rules, the company replied that the Ayatollah’s tweets did not violate their rules. “Presently, our policies with regards to world leaders state that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on current affairs, or strident statements of foreign policy on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” Sinéad McSweeney, Twitter’s Vice President of EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) Public Policy, wrote in response. “Our assessment is that tweets you have cited are not in violation of our policies at this time, and they fall into the category of foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues of our approach to world leaders.”

Furthermore, US Deputy Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Ellie Cohanim recently criticized Twitter for taking steps to regulate some of President Trump’s tweets, while letting Ayatollah Khamenei’s tweets remain on the social media platform.

“Advocating the obliteration of the Jewish people and the State of Israel is inflammatory and incites a degree of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel animosity that has no place on Twitter’s platform,” said NCYI President Farley Weiss. “By allowing open calls for Israel’s destruction and permitting Holocaust deniers to perpetuate their misguided and hate-filled myths about the murder of six million Jews, Twitter and Facebook are turning a blind eye to the dangers of anti-Semitism and disregarding their own guidelines relating to hateful conduct on their respective platforms. Ignoring anti-Semitism while cracking down on other types of questionable posts is arbitrary and capricious and signifies a double standard that cannot be allowed to continue.”

“We call upon social media platforms, such and Twitter and Facebook, to use the international working definition of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016 and is utilized by the US State Department, and which includes various anti-Israel activities,” Weiss continued. “Their current interpretation of ‘hate speech’ leaves a lot to be desired, and the haphazard application of their own guidelines when it comes to hateful conduct is disingenuous. Claiming that you are committed to combating hatred and prejudice on your platform is hypocritical when you in fact provide a public forum for anti-Semites to spew their hatred, and Holocaust deniers and Israel-haters to post with impunity. You cannot purport to be condemning hate speech when you in fact condone it by willfully allowing it to fester on your site.”