January 8, 2024

Flags and Safety

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

I was interviewed on Friday on PBS about the West Orange flag-raising issue. You can see the piece that they screened here. Frankly, I was a little annoyed (but not surprised) that they interviewed half a dozen pro-Palestinian flag supporters, but only one person – me – to give a counter-argument. I was even more annoyed (but not surprised) that they cut the main piece of what I said, which was this:

I did oppose the flag-raising. And I want to explain why.

I don’t have a problem – I don’t think most people would have a problem – with a Palestinian raising a flag in support of his or her national identity, to celebrate culture and pride. I think that’s great. You should be proud of who you are.

But that’s not what happened here, in West Orange.
What happened in West Orange was very different.
A small group of political activists tried to make a blatantly pro-terrorism and anti-peace statement. And they lied, and they deflected, and they misled, about their intent.
But their intent was very clear – in their own words, they said, they wrote in their fliers and posters, that this was intended to celebrate, quote, “joy is resistance.”
Resistance is coded language here. It means armed struggle.
And I think that any decent person, any American, any person who believes in democracy and freedom and sanity in our civic discourse, would say, hang on, if after October 7th when Hamas broke the ceasefire and came over the border and killed, injured, tortured, raped, and kidnapped thousands of innocent people, if after all that happened in the name of “resistance” you’re using that term, then at the very least we get to ask you – well, what kind of resistance, exactly, are you referring to here?

And if you’re lying about your motives, or deflecting, or double-speaking, and ignoring the real pain and hurt that you’re inflicting on people who live there and here, in New Jersey, with your hate-speech, then, really, you’re not standing up for Palestinian identity, you’re just a rape-apologist and a massacre-denier. You’re not standing for Palestinian independence; you’re a bigot and a Jew-hater.
And I think that free speech means that you get the right to wave your flag, in the name of your hate-speech and cruelty, but decent people who don’t support a shabby, twisted and warped sense of “resistance” get the right to say that this is wrong. And that’s what happened here.

I’m meeting with colleagues from around the country this week to discuss the rise of Jew-hate in our campuses and communities, to share strategies on how to respond to the rise of hate, and to share best practices on how to keep our communities safe and connected. With this in mind, I’m particularly proud that the New Jersey nonprofit security grant process awards were just announced, and over a dozen Greater MetroWest synagogues and agencies received grants for security personnel and/or target hardening. This was an extremely competitive and heavily-subscribed grant, more than ever in the past. Our Federation’s Community Security Initiative was either directly involved with each grant application process or assisted by facilitating relationships with county risk mitigation planners. So I’m really grateful to see Federation at work, boosting our safety in our schools, buildings, and synagogues.

As we mark three months since the October 7 Hamas attack and subsequent war, these are the latest numbers:

  • 1,300 Israelis have been killed. Of these:
    • At least 35 were children.
    • 509 were IDF soldiers (and of these, 177 were killed in the ground operation). See details of all the fallen soldiers here.
    • 14 were in the country’s north.
  • 11,594 Israelis have been injured.
  • An estimated 218,000 Israelis are currently internally displaced, including from 67 towns that have been officially evacuated. (Some 40 of the 67 towns have been permitted to return in the coming days).
  • Around 12,500 rockets (and other projectiles) have been fired at Israel since October 7. Of these:
    • About 10,500 were fired by Hamas and other terrorist groups from Gaza
    • 14 by the Houthi rebels in Yemen
    • 2,000 by Hezbollah from Lebanon and Syria.
  • Thousands of rockets were fired by Hamas on October 7, and hundreds of rockets per day in the weeks that followed. By the week of December 1-7, as IDF ground operations restricted Hamas’ capabilities, the terror group still managed to fire 75 rockets per day, but by December 8-14, the number had dropped to 23. From December 15-27, the average number of rockets dropped to 16 and is now below 10.
  • There are 130 hostages in Gaza, but at least 25 of these are believed to be no longer alive (that number could be much higher). 109 hostages have been released; and the IDF has rescued one hostage, recovered eight bodies, and accidentally killed three hostages.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Operations

  • The IDF says that it has completed “dismantling Hamas’ military framework” in the northern part of Gaza.
  • Meanwhile, intensive fighting took place in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis overnight, with the Israeli Air Force carrying out strikes on some 30 Hamas targets in the area, including underground sites, weapons depots, and other infrastructure belonging to the terror group. At one point, commando troops spotted a group of more than ten Hamas operatives at a rocket launching site in Khan Younis and directed a drone strike, which killed all ten.
  • Over the weekend, Israel’s security cabinet met to discuss “the day after” the war, for the first time.
  • The IDF Chief of Staff announced that he had appointed former Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz to head an inquiry into the errors made by the IDF leading up to the October attack.


  • Hamas rocket attacks on Israel have been reduced to a trickle.
  • In the north, Hezbollah has been slowly increasing its level of rocket and other fire against Israeli targets. Earlier today, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned the Lebanese-based terror group against further escalation, saying that “Israel can easily copy and paste the war in Gaza, to Beirut.” Yesterday, Hezbollah anti-tank rockets hit the Israel Air Force’s Meron Air Traffic Control base near the northern border. Nobody was injured, but undisclosed damage was made to the facility, which continues to function as normal, possibly using backup systems.
  • In the Red Sea, Israel and the United States military continue to shoot down missiles and UAVs fired at Israel and commercial shipping vessels, by Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen.


  • Qatar and Egypt continue efforts to reach a new deal that could see the release of some hostages. Over the weekend, the Qatari prime minister met with Israeli hostages’ families.
  • It is believed that 136 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during the weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released before that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 23 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

International Response

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will arrive in Israel later today on his fifth trip to the Jewish state since October 7. Blinken was in Jordan and Qatar on Sunday at the start of a five-day diplomatic effort in the Middle East, he is seeking to avert a wider war in the region. He is also due to visit the West Bank and Egypt this week.
  • Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the northern front and met with IDF soldiers over the weekend. In a strong statement supporting Israel, Pence said that although he doesn’t speak for the American Administration, he does represent the sentiment of the American people, who stand by Israel.
  • The INSS think tank reports that since October 7, there have been 7,557 protests against Israel around the world, compared to 602 pro-Israel gatherings. This report covers only the first two months of the war.
  • This week, South Africa filed a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute genocide.
    • Under the Court’s rules, Israel has the right to appoint one judge to the 15-justice panel. Earlier today, Israel announced it would send retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. Barak, a Holocaust survivor, is one of Israel’s foremost jurists and a world-renowned expert in international law and how the legal system interacts with security and defense decisions. The decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Barak surprised many commentators due to Barak’s background as the instigator of judicial reforms that the current coalition had been trying to overturn for most of 2023. Nonetheless, the decision has been universally praised by legal experts and others, who say that Barak is the best-suited person for the role.
    • British international law and human rights expert Prof. Malcolm Shaw will defend Israel before the court.
    • Israel’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi stated, “The Jewish people have experienced genocide more profoundly than any other nation, with six million of our people brutally slaughtered. A similar cruelty was inflicted on Israeli citizens in the massacre of October 7th, but this time we can defend ourselves against those seeking our destruction. The absurd petition against the right of the victim to self-defense is disgraceful, and we expect all civilized nations to stand with our determination.”
    • In response to the South African case, U.S. National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby this week described the filing as “meritless, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact.”
    • The defined concept of genocide is relatively new, coined by a Polish lawyer in only 1944 to describe actions taken by the Nazis, including attempts to eliminate the Jewish people. The legality of the concept was established by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
    • The key element in the convention is that in order for killings to be described as genocide, there must be “a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
    • Israeli military and government leaders have repeatedly declared that the country is at war with Hamas and not with the Palestinian people. Furthermore, the IDF does not target civilians and has established multiple measures to minimize civilian casualties by international law, including civilians ahead of attacks and establishing safe zones.
    • In contrast, Hamas’s charter calls for the annihilation of Israel and the murder of Jews, and Hamas leaders repeatedlyincite violence against Israel and vow to repeat the October 7th attacks until Israel is wiped off the map.

Stories 0f Heartbreak, Heroism and Hope

  • A young couple who survived the massacre at the Nova Music Festival, returned to the site this week to get married at the location.
  • Under expert eyes, objects retrieved from rubble help document October 7’s horrors.
  • The city of Ashdod in Israel’s south has suffered some 275 sirens since October 7, meaning that residents have had to run to shelters an average of three times per day for the last three months. Some residents recorded this song of hope for a better future: A great version of “We Are the World.”

Further Reading

May it be a week of peace, and may the hostages be returned swiftly.