February 20, 2024

There Is Nothing Permanent Except Change

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

It’s my birthday. I have some birthday reflections, which you can read here. It includes peanut-butter-and-American-cheese sandwich references, so, fair warning for the faint of heart (stomach?).

I hope you got the chance to read several awesome and inspiring articles from community leaders this last week. This, deeply inspiring piece by the wonderful Marjorie Feinstein on her recent Federation mission to Israel, and this powerful and important piece by the terrific David Rocker. I also really appreciate this article about what’s going on at Rutgers, about my great colleague Lisa Harris Glass, who is doing a vital job in our state university to make sure that Jewish students are connected and protected. We’ll stand with her, and with our kids on campus, because that’s what counts.

Social media, I hear you ask? I got annoyed at the hypocrisy of the pro-terror demonstrators and felt the need to speak out, as well as the blatant awfulness of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Hamas). Oh, but I did get to march with some wonderful people in the “March for Their Lives” in Westfield, and I’m grateful for them.

One other important note of gratitude: for NJ State Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who has introduced a three-bill package to create a statewide definition of antisemitism as well as recognize both swatting and doxxing as crimes in New Jersey. Assemblyman Schaer says that he’s motivated to introduce the legislation by the disturbingly rapid rise in antisemitism over the last several months on college campuses, K-12 schools, houses of worship and online. This is a really important initiative, and we’re very supportive.

So. Here we are. Yesterday, an IDF soldier died of wounds sustained last week, bringing the total number of soldiers who have been killed since the ground operation began to 236, and 568 since October 7. See details of all the fallen soldiers here. The IDF has now withdrawn its last reserve brigade from the Gaza Strip, as the military says that it has neared the end of its offensive in Khan Younis. The IDF has been withdrawing much of its reserve forces from the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, leaving the standing army to continue the fighting. Government officials say the IDF aims to release reservists to help Israel’s economy, and to give troops a break before they are likely called up again, as lower-level intensity fighting in Gaza is expected to last for another year.

Background: Hamas’ strategy is founded on hiding under and within civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, in order to maximize civilian casualties and cause international pressure to prevent Israel from rightfully defending itself. Hamas has systematically exploited hospitals as cover for its tunnel system and to store weapons, launch rockets, shelter terrorists, operate command and operation centers, and hide hostages. Hamas has been conducting terror operations from hospitals for many years. In 2009 the IDF reported that during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh operated a command and control center out of Shifa hospital and took over a ward of the hospital, believing that the IDF would not attack the hospital due to potential harm to civilians. Hamas isn’t the only terrorist group to use hospitals as cover for military operations. The Al Salem hospital in Mosul was used by ISIS as a base for its attacks and was bombed by American troops. Earlier in the war, much attention was placed on Shifa Hospital. This week, the New York Times reported, “Hamas used the hospital for cover, stored weapons inside it and maintained a hardened tunnel beneath the complex that was supplied with water, power and air-conditioning.” The director of the Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza admitted that up to 100 Hamas terrorists hid there and that some even had their own offices. The IDF uncovered a tunnel under the Rantisi Hospital where it believes Hamas hid hostages. The IDF said today that it has “credible intelligence” that Hamas held hostages at Nasser Hospital in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, and there may be bodies of hostages currently hidden there. Hamas terrorists continue to operate from and around Nasser and Al-Amal Hospitals, which includes launching a rocket from within Nasser.

The US corroborated Israel’s position about the misuse of hospitals by Hamas, stating in a Pentagon release that, “We do have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad uses some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including the al-Shifa hospital, as a way to conceal and support their military operations and hold hostages.” International law stipulates that medical facilities lose their protected status if they are used for military purposes, and that the defending military must provide warnings and consider other protections before attacking a hospital. According to International Law expert Michael Schmitt, “The IDF appears to have taken numerous measures to fulfill the obligation, such as by providing the requisite warnings, including medical teams and Arabic speakers when operating near hospitals, facilitating the evacuation of medical facilities, and maintaining dialogue with hospital authorities.”

Today, the IDF said it is conducting a “precise and limited” operation inside Nasser hospital. As it has done with other hospitals, the IDF has liaised with the staff of Nasser to ensure that the hospital can remain operational. The IDF spokesperson said, “Our message to them is clear: We seek no harm to innocent civilians. We seek to find our hostages and bring them home. We seek to hunt down Hamas terrorists wherever they may be hiding.”


In the north, Hezbollah continues to fire at Israeli targets, triggering significant Israeli retaliations. The number of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remains very low, due to Hamas’ significantly diminished capabilities. In the Red Sea, the US, the UK and Israel continue to defend against attacks by the Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen. Similarly, the US military continues to strike at pro-Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq.


Perhaps the most famous of the hostages is the Bibas Family, particularly following widely-viewed video footage from October 7 of the young mother being kidnapped along with her two infant children. The two children are the last remaining minors to be held captive, and many believe they are no longer alive. Yesterday, the IDF released video footage (see herehere and here) that it had captured, showing the mother being led by gunman on October 7, while she tried to shelter her children. The Government of Israel has said that this is concrete proof that the family were alive when kidnapped, and that Hamas is responsible for their safety and well-being.


Israel’s President Isaac Herzog published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, heavily criticizing the case brought by South Africa against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague, and in particular noting how the case manipulated the President’s own words and failed to recognize the true magnitude of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hamas. At the ICJ hearing, the South African Government claimed that Israeli ‘apartheid’ against Palestinians was worse than the crimes committed in Apartheid-era South Africa.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva accused Israel of carrying out genocide in Gaza and fighting only against women and children. “What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people has no parallel in other historical moments,” he said, before adding, “In fact, it did exist when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.” In response, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz summoned the Brazilian Ambassador to Israel to meet him at Yad Vashem, where the Ambassador was reprimanded. Brazil’s President has now recalled his Ambassador home for consultations.


JTA: Jewish teens are looking at a new factor in their college search: antisemitism. See also this terrific blog from my colleague Avi Siegel, our Jewish Federation Director of Teen Initiatives.

Former Chair of Israel’s Bank of Israel (Federal Reserve): On Moody’s credit downgrade: Economic policy change cannot wait.

See this article by international law expert Michael Schmitt on Hamas’s misuse of hospitals for terror purposes and the legal implications as dictated by international law.

Why the conflict on Israel’s northern border is growing more intense.

Watch haredi Rabbi David Leibel on the changing role of labor in the ultra-Orthodox world since October 7, and why haredim must join the workforce.

Israel on the international legal docket

Jewish Federations’ Israel Emergency Campaign has now raised a total of more than $780 million and allocated close to $350 million. For details, click here.

With prayers for peace, and for the swift return of the hostages,

(The quote in the subject line is from Heraclitus, who also is credited with the theory of flux, mainly that you can’t step into the same river twice.)