👋 Good Tuesday morning!
The expectation of a quiet long weekend was shattered on Saturday morning, when a British national took four hostages at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. What ensued was an 11-hour standoff between federal agents and the gunman, who was calling for the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman serving 86 years in a Texas federal prison on terrorism charges.
Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel traveled to Colleyville this weekend to speak to congregants and community members about the aftermath of the attack.
We also spoke to Imam Abdullah Antepli, who following the attack made an impassioned plea on Twitter for the Muslim community in the U.S. to rethink antisemitism in their midst on a special episode of JI’s “Limited Liability Podcast.” Listen to the episode here, and read more below.
JI’s Gabby Deutch talked to a senior Biden administration official who worked closely on the national response to the standoff about what Saturday was like in the White House — and the need for a “careful calibration” of informing and comforting the public amid an armed hostage situation.
Three civilians were killed and six others injured yesterday in an explosion in Abu Dhabi. The Iran-backed Houthis claimed responsibility for the drone strikes, which came as a senior Houthi leader was visiting Tehran. The UAE on Monday asked the U.S. to re-designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, a senior Emirati official told Axios.
In the aftermath of Colleyville attack, Imam Abdullah Antepli has a message for fellow Muslims
Following the hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, on Saturday, Imam Abdullah Antepli issued a blunt wake-up call to his own community. In a tweet thread on Sunday afternoon, Antepli, an associate professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, urged the North American Muslim community to “have the morally required tough conversations about those ‘…polite Zionists are our enemies…’” rhetoric espoused by some Muslim thought leaders in recent months. On Monday, Antepli joined Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast” to elaborate on his comments and to send a message of solidarity to the Jewish community.
Sending love: “Well, first of all, my deepest condolences and love and sympathy and prayers of strength and resilience to Jewish communities, not only in the Dallas area, but globally,” Antepli remarked. “I can only imagine the shock waves of fear and terror and anxiety [that] has enveloped hearts and minds of many of my Jewish brothers and sisters.”
Promoting hatred: Explaining his Twitter post, Antepli noted, “I love my community” before adding, “But this community is increasingly becoming vulnerable towards various forms of subtle and unsubtle antisemitism in the name of pro-Palestinian activism.” Antepli said that he himself identifies as pro-Palestinian — it’s “one of the very few labels I feel comfortable putting on myself.” Antepli faulted what he described as “many bad faith actors” who “are taking and desecrating Palestinian suffering, solidarity with the Palestinians, and in the name of their suffering, are promoting irresponsibly, antisemitism, anti-Jewish hatred, and they are trafficking in the good old antisemitism that the Jewish community and others have suffered for the last two millennia.”
Calling it out: In his tweets on Sunday, Antepli referenced recent comments by Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) San Francisco chapter in which she called “Zionist synagogues,” Hillels and the Anti-Defamation League “enemies.” Shortly after her comments became public, Billoo announced she was going on sabbatical. “If this is not antisemitic and if this is not flaming the fans of antisemitism, what is? And here, a few weeks later, we are having these kinds of incidents.” Antepli told podcast hosts Jarrod Bernstein and Rich Goldberg. “It is a moral call. The Muslim community has all they need to activate the Golden Rule and empathy, because we are facing a similar kind of hatred.”
Sleeping majority: Antepli added that groups such as CAIR and American Muslims for Palestine “don’t represent the Muslim community. They represent 10% of the Muslim community.” The challenge, Antepli argues, is “they are the only products in the market; they are the only public voices and faces in the American discourse.” Antepli expressed his frustration with the silent majority. “As angry as I am at CAIR or these irresponsible, hateful people, I am more angry with the 90% of the sleeping, inactive American Muslim majority. Enough is enough.”
on the ground
A dispatch from Colleyville following the Beth Israel hostage crisis
COLLEYVILLE, Texas — With the exception of a few police cars and a smattering of local and national news reporters, the scene was almost eerily tranquil on Sunday afternoon outside Congregation Beth Israel, the small Reform synagogue where Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three of his congregants had been held hostage the night before by an armed assailant for 11 hours, reports Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Across the street, a local Little League team was holding a casual baseball practice, and locals strolled down the idyllically named Pleasant Run Road — which, as a sign up the street revealed, had been “adopted” by the synagogue — in this affluent suburban enclave about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth.
But even after the hostages had escaped safely, the synagogue remained an active federal crime scene as law enforcement officials processed the site where the suspected gunman, identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, had been shot to death while perpetrating what the Biden administration labeled an “act of terror.”
Stacey Silverman, a congregant at Beth Israel who lives near the temple, said the community had been on high alert since the deadly synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway in 2018 and 2019, respectively. “I don’t want to say I can’t believe it happened here because, honestly, we’ve all been on edge,” she told JI. But nothing could have prepared her for what unfolded on Saturday as she tuned into the synagogue’s livestream to watch Shabbat services.
behind the scenes
Inside the White House during the Colleyville standoff
Early Saturday afternoon, several hours after Malik Faisal Akram took three worshippers and their rabbi hostage in Colleyville, Texas, senior national security officials at the White House were notified of the situation by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. In a conversation with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutchon Monday night, a senior Biden administration official who worked closely on the national response to the incident detailed the complicated calculus of an administration that wanted to reassure frightened Americans while not further agitating the hostage-taker.
On a tightrope: The White House had to think through, “as the situation evolves, what should and should not be said publicly, because getting that right is its own careful calibration,” said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing law enforcement matters.“There’s a balance between reassuring the American people that White House leadership is all over things like this and following them closely and prepared to offer support as needed — and ensuring that we’re making clear that those who have operational capacity and operational expertise are the ones making those types of operational decisions,” the official said.
Call the chief: “Thankfully, active hostage-takings on U.S. soil are themselves relatively rare, so that alone would have made it something that I think they wanted to make sure we were aware of,” the official told JI. Given the location of the incident — at a synagogue — and Akram’s demand that a federal prisoner charged with terrorism be freed, it became clear that the president and top aides outside the national security space needed to be notified about the federal response.
The president’s duties: After he was briefed on the situation, President Joe Biden was not involved in any decisions that had to do with the ongoing negotiations.The role of the president, said the White House official, was to allow those law enforcement officials to do their jobs. “I think the president has really wanted to acknowledge those who rose to the occasion, and kind of used the moment to signal how much he wants his administration to address these types of threats to houses of worship going forward,” the official explained.
Next steps: Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was held hostage along with three congregants, told reporters that he drew upon training he received from the FBI, local police officers, the Anti-Defamation League and the Secure Community Network to bring him and his congregants to safety. “I’m obviously encouraged to hear that, that he felt support and education he had received proved useful, but I think we all want to learn more about that, so that we can continue to refine and enhance and augment those sorts of programs,” said the official.
Paul Packer calls early dismissal from U.S. commission ‘shocking’
On Friday, President Joe Biden announced that he had selected the lawyer and TV personality Star Jones Lugo to lead the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, the government agency responsible for identifying and protecting historic sites in Eastern and Central Europe, including those connected to the Holocaust. But Paul Packer, until last week the commission’s chairman, said in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel that the high-profile appointment came as news to him.
Surprise dismissal: Just hours before the announcement, Packer said he received a letter, written on behalf of the president, requesting that he resign from his position or face termination by the end of the day. The missive from the White House, reviewed by JI, was a surprise to Packer, who had been appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2017 and expected that he would remain in the role until his term was set to expire on Feb. 27.
Request denied: Packer wrote back to Gautam Raghavan, the deputy director of the White House presidential personnel office, that he was “shocked” to receive the letter, according to correspondence he shared with JI. It was “incomprehensible” why the administration “would act this way,” he said, adding, “While I can understand your desire to appoint a new chairman when my term ends in February, I ask that you reconsider today’s threat.” He says he has yet to receive a response.
‘Inconceivable’: “To be fired two weeks before Holocaust Memorial Day, I think, is inconceivable,” Packer told JI. For months, Packer, who is Jewish, said he had been leading efforts in coordination with foreign officials and senior leaders at the State Department to launch two projects tied to the occasion on Jan. 27 — commemorating mass graves in Poland and cemeteries in Lithuania. His departure, he said, jeopardizes such efforts.
‘Disappointing’ conclusion: Packer, who is a Republican, suggested that his dismissal was politically motivated, not least, he said, because the Biden administration had also terminated the other Trump-appointed board members on the commission. “This administration took a bipartisan issue and made it very partisan,” Packer charged, “and that’s what’s disappointing.” A White House official confirmed that a similar letter was sent to seven members of the board on Friday but did not respond directly to Packer’s allegations.
💸 Fruits of Abraham: Mubadala Investment Co., a major sovereign-wealth fund in the United Arab Emirates, invested $100 million in the Israeli technology sector amid deepening business ties between the two countries, the Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones and Dov Lieber report. “A year and a half since the deal that normalized diplomatic ties between Israel and the U.A.E., business is growing, with trade between the two counties forecast to reach $2 billion this year, up from roughly $250 million annually before the accords, according to the U.A.E.-Israel Business Council, a trade body representing 6,000 Emirati and Israel businesspeople. Israeli companies are investing in new offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and moving staff from Tel Aviv. Emirati sovereign-wealth funds are making direct investments into Israeli technology companies, and U.A.E. firms are positioning themselves as partners for Israeli expansion into the rest of the Middle East.” [WSJ]
✡️ Do Jews Matter? In Common Sense, Bari Weiss reflects on the national reaction to the events in Colleyville, Texas, and to past attacks on Jewish communities in the U.S. “What I now see is this: In America captured by tribalism and dehumanization, in an America swept up by ideologies that pit us against one another in a zero-sum game, in an America enthralled with the poisonous idea that some groups matter more than others, not all Jews — and not all Jewish victims — are treated equally. What seems to matter most to media pundits and politicians is not the Jews themselves, but the identities of their attackers. And it scares me. The attack in Texas, the reaction to it, and the widespread willingness in our culture to judge violent acts based on their political utility, augurs a darkening reality for the six million Jews living in what the Founders insisted was a new Jerusalem. And for that new Jerusalem itself.” [CommonSense]
💔 Bad Romance: In the Intelligencer, New York magazine’s Jesse Barron dives into the acrimonious, high-profile lawsuit involving mogul Barry Diller and Tinder co-founders Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, which Barron likened to a bad divorce. “The single-mindedness of Rad’s hunt and his refusal to take a settlement — most commercial cases are resolved without a jury entering the picture — had the unrelenting quality of a revenge quest, in which the protagonist doesn’t give up until he confronts the antagonist and kills him (or is killed by him). The only difference was that instead of shooting and dismemberment, the action took the form of witness testimony and courtroom motions by lawyers from white-shoe firms.” [NewYorkMag]
📽️ Hollywood Headache: Rolling Stone’s Tatiana Siegel looks at the controversy surrounding the newly opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which eschewed highlighting the Jewish refugees who pioneered the film industry in Los Angeles while focusing on contemporary individuals and highlighting minority contributions to Hollywood. “‘It’s sort of like building a museum dedicated to Renaissance painting, and ignoring the Italians,’ says Hollywood historian and Brandeis University professor Thomas Doherty. ‘That generation of early moguls — Carl Laemmle, Jack Warner, we know all their names — is a terrific story of upward mobility, living the American dream. It’s one of the great contributions of American Jews to American culture.’” [RollingStone]
Around the Web
😶 Word Choice: Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is challenging Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, compared the governor to Adolf Hitler in a recent interview.
👩 New Rep: Rep.-elect Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL), who won the special election to succeed late Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) will be sworn in this evening.
🖼️ High Court, High Art: The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over a Pissarro painting that was looted by the Nazis during WWII.
💼 Head Honcho: Rob Derdiger was named the new CEO of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.
🏫 Campus Beat: University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel was fired on Saturday over his relationship with a subordinate, with emails detailing their correspondence — including an effort by Schlissel to “lure” the woman with “the promise of a knish” — released to the public.
🏨 Unpaid Tab: The attorney general for the District of Columbia seeks to use an unpaid $49,000 Loews Madison Hotel bill as evidence that the Trump Organization should remain part of a lawsuit that seeks to seize money it deems was misused.
🏖️ Wrecking Ball: Miami Beach’s famed Deauville Beach Resort, shuttered since 2017, is facing demolition despite efforts from preservationists looking to protect the area’s history.
🌎 The Art of Recycling: The New York Times spotlights the work of Israeli artist Beverly Barkat, the wife of Knesset member Nir Barkat, whose upcoming work, a gigantic globe composed of plastic waste, will be permanently housed at Ground Zero in Manhattan.
📘 Anne’s Betrayer? An upcoming book claims that the location of the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family was provided to Nazi officials by a Jewish notary using the information to keep his own family safe.
👨⚖️ French Fine: French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour was convicted by a French court of inciting racial hatred for his comments about unaccompanied child migrants and fined €10,000 ($11,400).
☢️ Tehran Trouble: Iran is pushing the U.S. to guarantee that it will not again withdraw from a nuclear agreement with Tehran, despite U.S. claims that it cannot legally tie the hands of future administrations.
🚑 Conflict Conflicts: Israeli and Palestinian officials are offering conflicting reports related to the death of an 80-year-old Palestinian-American man found dead after being detained by Israeli security forces.
✈️ Signed Check: Israel approved additional financial aid to airlines hit by the most recent surge of COVID-19.
🕵️ Suspicious Spies: The Israel’s police use NSO’s Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of citizens, according to a report published today by Calcalist.
🕯️ Remembering: Rabbi Israel Dresner, a Freedom Rider who fought for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King Jr., died at 92. Cancer researcher Beatrice Mintz, who discovered alternative treatments to chemotherapy and radiation, died at 100. Pharmaceutical head Howard Solomon, whose company Forest Labs licensed antidepressants such as Celexa and Lexapro, died at 94. Ed Schoenfeld, who helped popularize regional Chinese cuisine in New York City in the 1970s and ‘80s, died at 72. Biographer and essayist Terry Teachout died at 65. Former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs died at 87.
Pic of the Day
Congregation Beth Israel held a “Community Healing Service” last night at White’s Chapel UMC in nearby Southlake, Texas.
Baltimore-born basketball player, dubbed by Sports Illustrated the “Jewish Jordan” in a 1999 feature, Tamir Goodman turns 40…
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