Forward Thinking

Ruby Rivlin Is This Palestinian Boy's New Best Friend

By Mira Sucharov

When it comes to Israeli-Palestinian relations, there’s much to be cynical about lately. The 50-day long carnage resulting from Operation Protective Edge this summer, the frozen peace process, the dueling speeches by Netanyahu and Abbas at the U.N. — and then there’s the festering issue of Israel’s minorities.

This week, Israel’s new president has come out with a touching video demanding that Israeli society replace racism, intolerance and thuggery with unity, tolerance and empathy. According to the president’s Facebook page, President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin approached 11-year old George Amira after seeing a video the boy had created from his own experience at the hands of schoolyard bullies. The president invited the young Jaffa resident to his office and suggested they collaborate on a similar video with a country-wide message of hope.

“Speaking up against violence is everyone’s responsibility,” the president’s Facebook posting said. “We can see it intensifying in our society, and we must stop it,” he continued.

I could be cynical while watching President Rivlin’s video. But I’m not.

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Why Yom Kippur Tells Us To Fight Ebola

By Ruth W. Messinger

A newly arrived patient suspected of suffering from the Ebola virus sits on the ground at Island Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia./Getty Images

As Jews around the world prepare for Yom Kippur — a day when we pray to be “sealed in the Book of Life” for the year to come — the people of West Africa are struggling to save the lives of their loved ones from the Ebola outbreak, one of the most desperate crises of our day.

In Liberia, the country hardest hit by Ebola and one I last visited just two years ago, people are dying outside overcrowded hospitals. The bodies of those who have succumbed to the virus lie in the streets for days, awaiting burial. Ebola has already claimed the lives of more than 2,600 people in West Africa, and the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other authorities have estimated that it might infect between 20,000 and 1.4 million more before the outbreak is contained. Clearly, the book of life is closing far too early for many West Africans.

The virus is spreading like wildfire, in part because many people don’t understand how it is transmitted. Some communities view Ebola as something caused by evil spirits; others think it’s a government conspiracy. In some parts of Liberia, Ebola is inadvertently spread by traditional healers.

Fear is also fueling the epidemic. Neighbors are accusing neighbors of inflicting a curse. Not surprisingly, those who fall ill — and the families they leave behind — are marked with stigma and shunned. The epidemic has also sparked violence, as the Liberian government has sent armed soldiers to cordon off slums and impose quarantines — often with no warning.

As Jews, these developments are chilling. We know too much about human suffering as a consequence of panic and fear, dating from Medieval times when Jews were blamed for the spread of the plague—and from Nazi Germany, when we were depicted as vermin-like carriers of illness.

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Netanyahu's Convenient Lies About ISIS and Hamas

By Nathan Brown

Benjamin Netanyahu, left; anti-ISIS fighter, right / Getty Images

Speaking at the General Assembly this week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu repeated a refrain he has sounded for three decades (since his days as Israeli ambassador to the U.N.) — that all forms of terrorism are different sides of the same coin and have civilization as their target:

So when it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas. And what they share in common all militant Islamists share in common. Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Al-Nusra in Syria, the Mahdi army in Iraq, and the Al-Qaida branches in Yemen, Libya, the Philippines, India and elsewhere.

The startling assortment of groups; the lumping of a Shiite movement (Hezbollah) with those that can treat Shi‘a as apostates; the linking of Israel’s enemies with those now targeted by the United States — all this is politically convenient. But is it accurate?

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9 Sephardi Dishes That Won’t Make Buzzfeed Gag

By Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel


If your signature dish can be mistaken for cat food, you’ve got a problem.

Or that’s what Buzzfeed’s most recent experiment would have you believe. They got “random people” (aka non-Jews) to try classic Jewish foods for the first time and recorded their reactions. The response to gefilte fish? Gag. To kugel? Gag. To matzo ball soup? Yum! To chopped liver? “This is poop.”

One problem: what Buzzfeed considers to be traditional Jewish food is actually just Ashkenazi food. This is not surprising: America has long made the mistake of thinking “Jewish” is limited to Ashkenazi. From bagels to Woody Allen, Eastern European traditions reign.

And so, as two Sephardic Jews raised on a very full stomach, we humbly present these alternatives — they won’t make you gag. Promise.

1) Moroccan Cigars

Fried rolls of meat? ‘Nuff said.


2) Salade Cuite

This cooked Moroccan salad is really easy to make, if you have three hours to spare watching peppers and tomatoes simmer in oil. The end result is worth it. Trust.


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No, Pamela Geller, the Qur'an Is Not Anti-Semitic

By Reuven Firestone

Pamela Geller, left; Qur’an, right / Getty Images

Soon you will see ads, courtesy of Pamela Geller, in the New York City subway system that state, “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Qur’an.”

Is she right?

It’s easy to understand why many Jews might think so. Anti-Semitism has become a frightening force in much of the Muslim world, and a recent Anti-Defamation League study has shown that anti-Semitism is more common in Muslim majority countries than in any other region identified by religion, culture or geography. Muslims need to address this problem for many reasons, not least of which is that anti-Semitism reflects deep ignorance and a willingness to be manipulated by simplistic propaganda that is harmful to Muslims as well as Jews.

But anti-Semitism is not found in the Qur’an.

This may be difficult to fathom given the recent heated public discussion. Some people cite what appear to be obviously angry and seemingly hateful negative references to Jews in the Qur’an. Others argue that these verses are taken out of context. They cite counter-verses from the same Qur’an that appear to respect Jews and even refer to Jews using the same positive language reserved for followers of Muhammad.

So what’s the real story? As usual, the issue is not so simple, and many on both sides of the debate do us all a disservice with their hyperbole and naïve arguments.

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Is the Israeli Left Anti-Democracy?

By Brent Sasley

In Haaretz, Moshe Arens has accused the Israeli left of not accepting, first, that Israeli democracy is working fine, and second, the specific “verdict of the electorate.”

Arens’ framing of Israeli democracy is flawed because he leaves several important points out of his description. To begin with, the Israeli left doesn’t wonder why the system isn’t functioning; they know perfectly well that it is. It’s the incentives they’ve identified driving the vote that they want to change, not the system itself.

They’re worried about the apathy that characterizes recent Israeli voting patterns. In addition to a declining voter turnout rate — from between 70% and 90% from 1949 to 2003 to under 70% since then (though it has risen slightly since 2009) — the default pattern has for some time been the right-wing parties, particularly as the economy has been doing well. Israeli leftists understand that the voting public needs to be made aware of the price of maintaining that pattern — mostly occupation and settlement expansion and the moral, political, financial and security costs associated with them. They also know they need a stronger message than the right’s playing on general security threats and efforts to instill fear of those with different political ideologies and backgrounds.

Arens is right that the electorate has held the left accountable for Oslo, the withdrawal from Lebanon and even the withdrawal from Gaza. He might have added that the left-wing parties themselves haven’t been able to get beyond the old slogans that “ending the occupation” and “negotiated withdrawals” would make everything immediately better. But he might also have added that the right-wing parties haven’t gotten past their own outdated ideas.

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How This Summer Made Me a Racist

By Leah Bieler

Israelis hide in a concrete pipe used as a shelter during a Palestinian rocket attack / Getty Images

This summer, I heard the word “we” over and over as Jews around the world (appropriately) condemned the horrific murder of Palestinian youth Mohammed Abu Khdeir. “We Jews don’t do this,” they claimed, even as empirical evidence to the contrary mounted. Some Jews do do this. But they are clearly the exception. Jews know what it’s like to be persecuted. That means we don’t hate Arabs because of who they are, but we hate how some Arabs behave. We are most certainly not racists. Okay. If you say so.

Until recently I felt proud of the manner in which my whole community handled questions regarding race. Then last month, I found myself becoming one. A racist, that is.

As sirens blared, we experienced the physical stress that comes with even the few runs to the bomb shelter that we had in Jerusalem. The rush of adrenaline that washes over you every time you hear a siren.

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News Quiz: Which Politician Just Put Their Foot in Their Mouth?

By Lenore Skenazy

Robert Ransdell’s campaign slogan on view in Kentucky / WLWT

Naked pictures! Brisket! How to pick up girls! We are starting this new year in style, here at your weekly news quiz. Dive in!

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Do Jewish Actions Ever Cause Anti-Semitism?

By Raphael Magarik

Jewish graves daubed with anti-Semitic slogans in a German cemetery / Getty Images

Is anti-Semitism ever a response to things that Jews do?

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks saying “Jews… Jewish organizations, or the Jewish state” ever cause anti-Semitism amounts to blaming the victim. Thus he attacked Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, for tweeting, “Germans rally against anti-Semitism that flared in Europe in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza war.”

Goldberg is right to highlight and condemn anti-Semitic violence in Europe, which is horrible and scary. But he’s wrong about Roth, because he’s thinking fuzzily about anti-Semitism.

First off, denying that Israel’s behavior has any causal role in anti-Semitism is deeply counter-intuitive. This summer, Israel fought a war and anti-Semitism surged in Europe — are those two facts supposed to be a coincidence?

Social scientists like to say that you cannot explain a variable with a constant. That is, there’s plenty of “irrational hatred” of Jews in Europe, but there always is. To explain changes in anti-Semitism, we need to discuss things that change — current events. And that’s why, as Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin noted, in 2002, the esteemed Jewish sociologist Nathan Glazer not only attributed contemporary anti-Semitism to a reaction to Israel, but further claimed, “hostility can be reduced and moderated by [Israel’s] policies.” When you approach anti-Semitism as a detached observer, rather than a polemicist who has a beef with Human Rights Watch, this is obvious.

Goldberg gets mixed up because he conflates two very different questions. Glazer and Roth are just describing, totally without moral judgment, what causes what. Goldberg, who excoriates Roth for “accept[ing] these [anti-Semites’] pathetic excuses as legitimate,” confuses causality with moral responsibility. As an example: Surely when the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s motorcade ran over a black child, that was one of the causes of the Crown Heights riots, but that does not in the least justify the subsequent rioting. Israel bombing Gaza may cause upticks in anti-Semitism, without detracting one bit from the moral culpability of the anti-Semites in question. German neo-fascists and Jew-haters are contemptible. There should be no argument about that. But their strength and virulence vary over time, and Israel’s actions can help explain those changes. Explaining isn’t justifying.

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'With Jews We Lose' Candidate Robert Ransdell in His Own Words

By Sigal Samuel and Anne Cohen

Robert Ransdell’s campaign slogan on view in Kentucky / WLWT

“With Jews We Lose”? No, this isn’t a poster from Nazi Germany. It’s a campaign placard currently on view in Kentucky, where write-in candidate Robert Ransdell is running for U.S. Senate. His party, The White Guard, “seeks to show White people the facts regarding the Jewish role in America’s decline as well as highlight the destructive effects that multiculturalism, diversity, and political correctness have had on this country.” (He details his whole platform in this incredibly rambly video.)

We here at the “Jew Media,” as Ransdell calls it, had a few questions about his views. And so we emailed him. To our surprise, he answered back. Highlights of the interview, which has been edited for style and length, include: his belief that Christian Zionists should relocate to Israel, that no Jews are white, and that there’s only one group out there more arrogant than members of the tribe.

Ladies and gentlemen, Robert Ransdell in his own words:

1) Nowadays, many American Jews consider themselves white. Why don’t you share that view?

I don’t share that view because Jews themselves don’t share that view, it is absurd and a fantasy that Jews in America do not make a distinction between Jews and Whites, I won’t even bother quoting the numerous statements made by Jews, past and present, that affirm this fact. Most Whites falsely see Jews as White because they are never given an in depth and accurate portrayal of Jewish solidarity, unity, and identity which would go to show, again through the actions and statements of Jews, through the prolific number of Jewish interests organizations, that Jews regard themselves as what they are, a separate group.

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VIDEO: Making the Holiday Sweet — With Bees

By Martyna Starosta

Sweet Tradition from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

As we are getting ready to dip our apple slices into honey for a sweet new year, beekeeper Liane Newton ensures that the precious queens and worker bees make it safely through the winter.

Newton runs nycbeekeeping.org a nonprofit that provides resources and a support system for urban beekeepers across the five boroughs. She is especially interested in using beekeeping trainings to connect the concept of ecological sustainability with hands-on science education.

She relishes the role that bees play in Rosh Hashanah. But what she values most in Judaism is the focus it puts on learning.

“I had the opportunity from a very young age to discuss ethical issues with the rabbis and challenge them and be challenged in return,” Newton said, “I love the tradition where we put a drop of honey on the tongue of a child who’s beginning to learn.”

Read about colony collapse disorder and the threat to your Rosh Hashanah honey in a review of “Queen of the Sun.”


How Brooklyn Book Festival Can Avoid Boycotting Israeli Artists

By Lisa Goldman

Courtesy of Assaf Gavron and Brooklyn Book Festival

The Brooklyn Book Festival is a highlight of New York City’s early autumn cultural lineup: a bibliophile carnival with back-to-back panel discussions featuring prominent authors from the United States and around the world.

This year Assaf Gavron, a critically acclaimed author who grew up in a moshav near Jerusalem, participated in a panel called “A Sense of Place: Writing from Within and Without.” This particular panel caught my attention because the four participating authors were all male. But the controversy that ensued, as reported by Uri Blau for Haaretz, was not over the panel’s gender imbalance. Instead, it was over Israel: Apparently rather more people reading the description of the event noticed the provenance of its sponsorship — the Israeli foreign ministry.

In response to the program note that the panel was made possible “…with the support of Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in New York,” Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign to Boycott Israel, published an open letter on its website, calling it “deeply regrettable” that the organizers accepted funding from the Israeli government just weeks after Operation Protective Edge. They note that Israel’s latest assault on Gaza “involved numerous potential war crimes.” Among the hundreds of signatories are Junot Diaz, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, and Anand Gopal, the Wall Street Journal correspondent whose book on U.S policy in Afghanistan has won wide critical acclaim.

Also in the Adalah-NY letter is this important bit: “This is not, we emphasize, a call to isolate or boycott individual Israelis, but an effort to renounce business as usual with a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights with impunity.”

I do believe that Adalah-NY is absolutely sincere in its insistence that it is not calling for a boycott of individual Israelis. I also believe that boycott is a legitimate means of non-violent protest. The problem is not the intention, but the potential repercussions. A ban on accepting Israeli government sponsorship would mean, de facto, that Israeli authors, dancers, filmmakers, artists and even academics would be unable to participate in international cultural and academic events.

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When Will Orthodoxy Be Ready for Me?

By Amram Altzman

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade / Getty Images

I’ve written about the successes and shortcomings of my fourteen years of Modern Orthodox day school education before, from religious, secular, and Zionist perspectives. I’ve also written about the thought processes behind my decisions to leave the Modern Orthodox world and join — at least for now — egalitarian communities that fall more in line with my (ever-evolving) vision of what my Jewish community should be.

The way I saw (and still see) it, my decision to leave the (Modern) Orthodox world was not one of choice, but of necessity. And, perhaps, it was also a reaction to the ultra-Orthodox community of my youth, a community which ultimately cut off all ties to my family after I was outed as queer, a community which had, previously, told my mother, a pediatrician, not to answer pages from non-Jewish patients on Shabbat, and where I was ridiculed for attending a co-educational high school and not wearing a black hat. Yet I still find myself inexplicably drawn to the Modern Orthodox world.

My decision to leave came not out of choice, but out of the realization that, right now, I do not and cannot exist in the context of Orthodox Judaism. As a queer person, most Modern Orthodox rabbis would not allow me to marry another man. Orthodox Judaism is nowhere near close to finding ways to include (or even recognize, despite the fact that the Talmud readily does so) the existence of those who identify outside of the gender binary. It allows for less, if any, literary criticism of the Bible and historical contextualization of rabbinic codes of law, and is frightened to think critically about God.

When I posed these questions to Orthodox rabbis, I felt shut down. The conversations I needed to have, particularly in high school, were not ones that I could have with my Orthodox educators. And so I chose to ask those questions elsewhere. I’ve begun to answer some questions, but others remain unanswered.

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What Islamic Art Museum Can Learn From Jews

By Mira Sucharov

Courtesy of the Aga Khan Museum

North America just got its first museum devoted to Islamic art, a $300 million project in Toronto made possible by the Aga Khan. The “over one thousand artefacts and artworks” spanning “over one thousand years of history” are meant to capture “the artistic accomplishments of Muslim civilisations from the Iberian Peninsula to China,” according to the foundation’s website.

With 3.5 million Muslims in North America, it’s high time that Islamic art took its place in the sun. After all, Jewish museums have long occupied an important spot in the broader cultural imagination.

For now, the Aga Khan museum’s collection appears to be focused primarily around traditional Islamic art forms like calligraphy, illuminated Qu’ran manuscripts, and ceramic and architectural ornamentation. Given the obvious connection between religion and state across the Muslim world, where regimes have long demonstrated their reach through public displays of art and decoration, this emphasis is not surprising. And given the breadth and beauty of this centuries-long contribution, the focus is deserved.

Still, it will be fascinating to see whether the museum eventually follows the lead of some of North America’s most notable Jewish museums in injecting a playful — and perhaps even subversive — twist on ethno-religious concerns.

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Gay Party Organizers Use ISIS Imagery in Ads

By Sigal Samuel

Drek’s ISIS-inspired party poster / Facebook

Advertising is a tough business. People are busy. Getting them to come out to your event can be hard. But does that justify using ISIS imagery to gain publicity for your party?

Tel Aviv’s popular gay party organizers, Drek, apparently think so. In recent advertising, they used imagery from the gruesome ISIS beheadings — an executioner swathed in black hovering over a kneeling victim in an orange jump suit — to draw crowds to their Haoman 17 Club last Friday.

Wow. Just wow.

Someone actually woke up one day, went to work, and decided it would be a good idea to borrow infamous execution imagery — even as ISIS is going around grabbing chunks of Syria, and even as the group’s victims are being mourned by their families. Including one Jewish family — that of slain journalist Steven Sotloff.

You’d think the organizers would have been a little more sensitive, considering that this victim is one of their own.

But they weren’t — and they still aren’t. Amiri Kalman, one of the Drek’s founders, stands behind the design choice: “We are trying to react to current events. We have been doing it for a number of years. But we reject violence in any form and that includes the (execution) videos intended to scare the world.

“Therefore we also refuse to participate with this fear and refuse to become hysterical. This is satire, and our way of showing our contempt of them and their videos,” he told Ynet.

Kalman also pointed out that the party itself did not feature any ISIS-inspired imagery or props.

Oh good. Everyone feels better now. Right?

Wrong. Oh so very wrong. On social media, Israelis are furious.


Oh, and by the way, “Drek” means “s***” in Yiddish. Pretty perfect, huh?


Should the Holocaust Get Preferential Treatment?

By Josh Tapper

Courtesy of the website for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

(JTA) — On the fourth floor of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, visitors will find a gallery called “Examining the Holocaust,” which is devoted entirely to the story and lessons of the Shoah. On the same floor, in a smaller, adjacent space, a gallery called “Breaking the Silence” examines a cluster of five genocides officially recognized by the Canadian government: the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia; the Armenian and Rwandan genocides; the Holodomor, or the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s; and, once again, the Holocaust.

“Examining the Holocaust” is just one of 11 galleries at the $351 million human rights museum that opens in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Saturday. It is also the museum’s thorniest.

The permanent gallery has long been a source of controversy for the institution, which has fought accusations from a handful of Canada’s ethnic communities, ranging from Ukrainians to Armenians, that allowing the Holocaust its own space downplays the significance of the other human rights atrocities confined to a single room.

In interviews with JTA, museum officials defended their decision by asserting that the Holocaust is in fact exceptional, both as an act of 20th-century genocide and a pedagogic tool. As the trigger for international human rights legislation in the aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust is deserving of its own gallery, the officials said.

“It’s one of the most studied, most well-documented atrocities,” said June Creelman, the museum’s director of learning and programming. “One of the ways to educate is to start with something familiar and move to something unknown.”

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News Quiz: Seth Rogen is Quitting Acting to do What?

By Lenore Skenazy

Getty Images

Kate Hudson, Leonard Cohen, Seth Rogen and Mayim Bialik? It’s either this week’s Jewish News Quiz or a list of who’s sponsoring the Rosh Hashanah kiddush.

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Would Talmud Approve of 91 Lashes for Iranian ‘Happy’ Dancers?

By Sigal Samuel

A still from the Iranian version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” music video / YouTube

It’s a weird aftereffect of a Jewish day school education that, when I see a headline like “Iran Court Sentences ‘Happy’ Dancers to 6 Months and 91 Lashes,” I immediately ask myself: WWTDD? Or: what would the Talmud do?

You might remember that back in May, seven young men and women were arrested in Iran for recreating Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” music video and posting it on YouTube. Now a Tehran court has sentenced the dancers to six months in prison plus 91 lashes each. Luckily, the sentence was suspended, meaning that the verdict won’t actually be carried out unless the dancers repeat their “crime” in the next three years.


Still, it’s a harsh verdict, and everyone from Pharrell Williams to Iran’s own President Hassan Rouhani seems unhappy with how these kids have been treated. “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness,” Williams wrote on his Facebook page. “Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy,” Rouhani wrote in a May tweet widely seen as expressing support for the dancers.

Likewise, my initial response was: Ouch! 91 lashes? Even the ancient rabbinic texts I studied in school didn’t recommended meting out that many! Then, to make sure my impulse was correct, I did a bit more digging into the wide world of rabbinic whipping.

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Haredi Meets Hollywood in Anti-Vaccine Debate

By Sigal Samuel

A health worker administers a polio vaccination to a child / Getty Images

If you had to guess which neighborhood — Boro Park or Beverly Hills — the following quote applies to, which would you pick?

Parents in these schools are submitting a form called a “personal belief exemption,” which states that they are not vaccinating their kids due to “a diffuse constellation of unproven anxieties, from allergies and asthma to eczema and seizures.”

If the “personal belief” language has you thinking Boro Park, the Brooklyn neighborhood known for its large ultra-Orthodox population — sorry, but you’re wrong.

The quote is actually taken from yesterday’s article in The Atlantic describing the rise of the anti-vaccination movement in wealthy Los Angeles schools. Believe it or not, the vaccination rate there is as low as in South Sudan. That’s thanks to Hollywood actors who — in between “forbidding processed food and dragging their offspring to baby yoga” — explain that they’re against any medications that aren’t strictly “natural” and that not vaccinating makes “instinctive” sense to them.

But don’t worry: You could easily be forgiven for thinking the above quote applies to an ultra-Orthodox community — because the anti-vaxxer argument there runs along very similar lines.

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VIDEO: Satan and Jewess Give Birth to ISIS

By Sigal Samuel

Well, this is weird.

Iraqi TV is rolling out a new satirical series, “Superstitious State,” that portrays the leader of ISIS as the spawn of Satan and — you guessed it — a Jewish woman.

In a promo for the soon-to-come anti-ISIS show, broadcast several times daily on Al-Iraqiyya, we meet a Jewess adorned with a big Star of David necklace. “I hope to get a ring on my finger by someone who will destroy the country,” she says, then points to the red-clad devil, who says, “We will name our child ISIS.” The subtext here is a conspiracy theory, currently circulating in Iraq and elsewhere, that suggests Jews and/or Zionists created ISIS with the intention of ruining Islam.

So, this Jewess is supposed to be the mother of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi — but she doesn’t give birth to him the good old-fashioned way. Instead, “an egg hatched — and an ISIS-ling was born.” Why?

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