Sarah Silverman got slammed for supporting a Palestinian teen — and she stayed strong.
Photos by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Turner, Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images.

Sarah Silverman has never exactly shied away from the outrageous, whether in her comedy or on Twitter. But when she stood up for a teen activist last week, the backlash was intense, even for her.

On Feb. 15, Silverman tweeted out a link to an Amnesty International petition to free 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi accompanied with the following message: "Jews have to stand up EVEN when — ESPECIALLY when — the wrongdoing is BY Jews/the Israeli government."

Pro-Israel advocates tweeted that Silverman should stick with comedy and "stay out of politics,” while others accused Silverman of being complicit in pro-Palestinian terrorism. You read that right: For some, supporting an outspoken young girl = terrorism.


If you’re asking yourself what the big deal is, buckle up: Silverman tiptoed onto the internet’s third rail.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been deemed one of "the world’s most intractable conflicts" and continues to be a polarizing issue among many Americans. While the region is highly significant to three major Abrahamic faiths, to some, the conflict raises questions of who belongs in the Holy Land, as well as the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state in Palestine.

So what does Tamimi have to do with all this? She became the face of the global Palestinian solidarity movement when she was arrested in December 2017 for slapping an Israeli soldier.

Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images.

The moment in question came just minutes after another Israeli soldier shot her 15-year-old cousin Mohammad in the face. He was unarmed and engaged in peaceful protest against President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

After Mohammad was shot, two Israeli soldiers forcefully invaded their home with the intention to use their yard as a base to shoot at other activists protesting. The armed soldiers refused to leave, and when they attempted to force their way into their home, Tamimi slapped one of them. For her, this was an act of resistance.

In addition to her cousin being shot, Tamimi spent much of her childhood witnessing her relatives shot, tortured, imprisoned, and killed by Israeli soldiers and police. Her mother was shot in the leg and imprisoned four times, her father has been imprisoned three times, her 12-year-old brother was choked and beaten by an Israeli soldier, her uncle was fatally shot in the stomach, and one of her other cousins was shot in the head and killed.

Ahed Tamimi, A Teen in Search of Freedom

Tomorrow is Ahed Tamimi's 17th birthday and she will be spending it in an Israeli prison. Her trial is set for February 6th. There are currently more than 300 Palestinian children, as young as 13-years-old in Israeli prisons.

Posted by Institute for Middle East Understanding ( IMEU ) on Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Despite being a teenager, Tamimi has been denied bail and is currently undergoing trial for what some believe was merely defending her home.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for her release. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, there are currently more than 300 Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons. Furthermore, there are no basic fair trial protections and Palestinians face a 99.7% conviction rate in Israeli military courts. Tamimi is a part of that statistic.

No matter where you fall in the Zionist conversation, the fact is that this is daily life for the native inhabitants of Palestine. And it’s brutal.

Since the War of 1967, Israel gained control and occupied Palestinian land — the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

Under the occupation, Israel has built more than 500,000 illegal settlements, eventually forcing many Palestinians to flee their homes. In fact, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees worldwide and about 5 million of them are eligible for humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

In their June 2017 report, Human Rights Watch said that Israel has violated multiple international human rights laws. These include "forced displacement, abusive detention, the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement, and anti-Palestinian discrimination." It also referred to instances where a child was "imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably," and checkpoints that bar Palestinians exclusively.

Silverman is not alone for standing behind Tamimi. More than 25 celebrities and civil rights icons have signed a letter supporting the imprisoned teen activist.

Dream Defenders, a civil rights group associated with the Movement for Black Lives, released a letter this month condemning Tamimi's detention and their public support for Palestinians "in their righteous struggle." "The Tamimi family stands up to Israel's brutality because they believe Palestinians, like ALL people, should be free," the letter read. "Dream Defenders stands with them and all Palestinians in their righteous struggle."

Some of the signees include entertainers Vic Mensa, Talib Kweli, Jesse Williams, Tom Morello, and Rosario Dawson; scholars Cornel West and Michelle Alexander; and civil rights icons Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Patrisse Cullors, and Alicia Garza.

Image via Dream Defenders.

The letter highlighted the parallels of the Palestinian community and the black community, both of who've notably been on the receiving systemic violence and social injustice:

"While our struggles may be unique, the parallels cannot be ignored. US police, ICE, border patrol and FBI train with Israeli soldiers, police, and border agents, utilizing similar repressive profiling tactics to target and harass our communities. Too many of our children quickly learn that they may be imprisoned or killed simply for who they are. From Trayvon Martin to Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Khalif Browder to Ahed Tamimi — racism, state violence and mass incarceration have robbed our people of their childhoods and their futures."

The letter also endorsed a revolutionary bill introduced by U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum that calls on the protection for Palestinian children from "widespread abuse by Israeli forces." The signees urged congressional members to join the other 22 cosponsors and sign the bill.

If you’re moved to support Tamimi too, there are other ways you can show your support.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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