On May 22, the B’nai B’rith World Center, together with the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, held a symposium under their joint Liaison Committee forum entitled “Radicalization and Purging of Minorities in the Middle East: How should the West Respond?”
The speakers at the event were Dr. Qanta Ahmed—a British-educated medical doctor, author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom,” and frequent commentator against radical Islam—and Michael Widlanski, Bar-Ilan University Arab affairs expert and author of “Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat.”
The symposium, chaired by World Center Director Alan Schneider and Ecumenical Fraternity Director Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt, was held at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem with an overflow crowd.
On her first visit to Israel, Ahmed—an Ahmadiyya Muslim whose parents moved to Britain via Pakistan after fleeing India when the subcontinent divided into Muslim and Hindu-majority states in 1947—decried the persecution of Christians and other minorities, chagrined that this phenomenon is not getting the attention it deserves in the media. Ahmed, currently an attending physician in New York, insisted that Israel does not fit the description of an apartheid state; the media ignores the real problem, which is in the Muslim world. “Israel is the only place in the region where I can give this talk and go home afterwards,” Ahmed said.
Widlanski asserted that modern Muslim society is more intolerant than in antiquity. He said that because Muslims see the failure of the Islamic world when compared to the power and technology of the West, their search for scapegoats often affects relations with minorities.
Ahmed also discussed her experience working in Saudi Arabia. Her book documented the rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in the country and the lack of women’s rights.
News coverage of the event was carried in the Jerusalem Post.
Dr. Qanta Ahmed
B’nai B’rith was well represented at the 4th International Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, held on May 28-30 in Jerusalem under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.
B’nai B’rith’s 10-member delegation included Executive Vice President Dan Mariaschin, Director of Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn, B’nai B’rith Canada CEO Frank Dimant, Honorary B’nai B’rith France President Jacques Jacubert, former Vienna Lodge President Raimund Fastenbauer, B’nai B’rith Canada Senior Counsel DavidMatas, National Director for Legal Affairs for B’nai B’rith Canada Anita Bromberg, Sofia Bulgaria Carmel Lodge President Solomon Bali, former Prague Lodge President Tomas Kraus. B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider participated in the workshop on "Interfaith Dialogue as an instrument to mitigate anti-Semitism".
The B’nai B’rith delegation made important contributions to the 10 working groups whose deliberations constituted the heart of the conference. The main feature of the conference, which last convened in 2009, was the development of an action plan for combating anti-Semitism in 2013 and beyond based on the findings of the workshops, which will serve as a blueprint for future action.
Opening the conference in a recorded message, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that although anti-Semites took a respite after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is becoming fashionable again. Anti-Zionism, he argued, is inseparable from anti-Semitism. Israel Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said that just as de-legitimization of the Jews preceded the Holocaust, so too is the de-legitimization of Israel today a precursor to an attempt to destroy the Jewish state.
Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin called on world governments to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. Other featured speakers included Lithuanian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Neris Germanis, Greek Deputy Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Konstantinos Karagounis, Hungarian Secretary of State Dr. Bence Retvari, Deputy Albanian Chief Mufti Gazmend Aga, Brighton Islamic Mission Mufti Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and eminent Holocaust historian professor Yehuda Bauer.
Speaking at the opening of a plenary session he chaired, Mariaschin praised the government of Israel for organizing the conference, noting that “even in the Internet age, there is no substitute to meeting and networking with so many leading activists in the struggle against anti-Semitism and sharing knowledge, experience and best practices.”
Delivering an opening lecture to the Anti-Semitism in Latin America working group, Kohn said that today demonization of Israel is central to promoting anti-Semitism. “The false analogy that is promoted goes as follows: If Israel is the State of the Jewish people, and Israel is supposedly evil, cruel, imperialist, aggressor, a power which occupies lands of other people, then the Jews must be evil. And if websites, dailies, radio and TV stations repeat these insults, the audience points their fingers to those who are close to Israel: Jewish communities.”
The Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism is an active coalition of parliamentarians, statesmen, NGOs and scholars from around the world and is the largest and most inclusive platform of its kind. Some 500 participants from over 100 countries, communities and organizations participated in the conference.
B’nai B’rith Canada’s 2013 President’s Mission to Israel took place on May 20-29. Participants included President Eric Bissell, CEO Frank Dimant, Director for Community Action Pearl Gladman, former President Ted Greenfield and other board members.
As in the case of past B’nai B’rith Canada missions to Israel, the B’nai B’rith World Center was instrumental in devising and implementing a varied and engaging itinerary including meetings, briefings, tours and site visits. Among other things, the group met with newly appointed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in his Knesset chambers and with Knesset members Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Moshe Feiglin (Likud Yisrael Beitenu) and Elazar Stern (Hatenua). They also held a working meeting with Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau. The group was briefed by top Israeli diplomats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
At Yad Vashem, the group held a special ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at which President Bissell spoke of his own experience during the Holocaust and conducted an in-depth tour of the historical museum. The group also visited the cities of Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and the town of Beit El in Judea and Samaria where they met mayors and senior municipality officials. In Hebron, the group toured significant archeological findings from the time of Abraham, Jewish residential enclaves and the Tomb of the Patriarchs with Jewish community spokesman David Wilder. During the visit Wilder presented Dimant with honorary citizenship of Hebron in recognition of his long-time support for the community and a certificate of gratitude to Bissell for bringing the mission to Hebron. They also met with Sheik Jaab – a local Moslem leader – who presented his plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, including his opposition to the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian Authority.
Another day was dedicated to touring Sderot and the Gaza border area where the group met with Sderot Mayor David Buskila, visited the Yiftach forward IDF base and heard a security briefing from Gaza Division spokesperson Lieutenant Sharon Banian. They also visited with representatives of the Gaza evacuees in Nitzan. While in Sderot the group visited the Keren Or community center that specializes in alternative schooling for alienated youth that B’nai B’rith Canada has supported. The group also enjoyed bathing in the Dead Sea, visiting the Tel Aviv Museum and tasting wines at the award-winning Psagot winery. They had a unique Shabbat experience in Jerusalem where they welcomed Shabbat at the Kotel and had morning prayers at the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem where the group received a VIP welcome. The highlight of the mission was a tour of Temple Mount with Temple Institute Director Rabbi Haim Richman.
Katz, Abbot Colins, and Schneider (L-R)
B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz and Director Alan Schneider visited Dormition Abbey adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City, to express their outrage at last week’s graffiti attack against the Benedictine monastery and church and express solidarity with Abbot Gregory Colins.
The ugly Hebrew-language graffiti is alleged to have been painted as part of a “price tag” action in reaction to the murder of Evyatar Borovsky by a Palestinian terrorist two weeks ago, although no arrests have been made yet. The Abbot also noted the recurring challenge faced by him and other identifiable Christian clergy who continue to be the target of personal assault, mainly spitting by ultra-orthodox Jews encountered randomly on the streets of the Old City. Katz told the Abbot that B’nai B’rith’s decades long commitment to interfaith dialogue would not allow the World Center to sit idly by when a house of worship is vandalized in united Jerusalem, whatever identity of the assailants.
Katz and Schneider also pledged to raise again the matter of personal assaults against Christian clergy with ultra-orthodox community leaders as they have in the past, insisting that they denounce such repulsive and harmful behavior.
Colins – a Belfast native who has served as Abbot of Dormition Abbey for the past two years – assured the World Center delegation that he and the other monks at the monastery recognize that the attacks are perpetrated by a fraction of the population and do not reflect the general peaceful atmosphere in Israel, so that is so different than the cataclysm engulfing the entire region.
Schneider recalled that the World Center had held an important event at Dormition Abbey some twenty years ago that became an impromptu memorial for dozens of Israelis who were murdered and injured the previous day in one of the first Palestinian suicide bombings of the Second Intifada. The three also discussed Jewish-Catholic relations and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and agreed to seek out opportunities to cooperate in the future.
The B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem held a unique Holocaust commemoration ceremony in conjunction with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) on April 8 - Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day.
The ceremony is the only one dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the years of torment in Europe. The ceremony – in its eleventh consecutive year - took place at the B'nai B'rith Martyr's Forest Scroll of Fire Plaza with some 900 people in attendance including hundreds of Border Patron cadets and high school students. This year's event memorialized the rescue activities of Otto Komoly, president of the Zionist Federation in Hungary during the Holocaust, chairman of the Hungarian Jewish community’s clandestine.
Assistance and Rescue Committee and later also director of the International Red Cross “Department A” responsible for rescuing Jewish children. Komoly oversaw the rescue of 5,000 Jewish children through the establishment of 52 shelters that were staffed by members of the Zionist Youth Movement and protected by Red Cross sponsorship. He also supported the legal—and later the clandestine—escape of Jews from Hungary to Palestine via Romania through which an estimated 15,000
Jews were saved. Komoly was the Jewish community’s principle interlocutor with Hungarian leaders and with the neutral foreign entities that operated in Budapest. On Jan. 1, 1945—barely two weeks before the liberation of Pest by the Red Army— Komoly was kidnapped from his Red Cross offices by agents of the Arrow Cross fascist regime and never heard from again. He is assumed to have been murdered, along with thousands of other Jews, on the banks of the Danube. Over 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, the vast majority in the months leading up to the end of the War.
A “Jewish Rescuers Citation”, sponsored by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center, was conferred at the ceremony on a group of some 30 rescuers who operated in the underground Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary. 40 citations have been presented to date to rescuers who conducted rescue activites in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary. The award was presented to Otto Komoly's granddaughter and grandson, Orna Barnea and Oded Furst, in in his name.
Speakers at the event included outgoing Minister of Science, Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz (whose grandfather worked in partnership with Otto Komoly in the underground), Hungarian ambassador Hon. Zoltan Szentgyorgyi, KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz, Border Police Training Base Commander Ronnie Ochana and Komoly granddaughter Orna Barnea.
In his address, Ambassador Szentgyorgyi said that at the time of the Holocaust, Hungarians were not up to the challenge to resist the wave of anti-Jewish violence promoted by Nazi Germany. In his message, Haim Katz called on the ambassador to convey to the responsible leadership of Hungary not to remain silent in the face of increasing anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism in his country. Efi Stenzler declared that every Israeli should see himself as having survived the inferno and serve as a messenger of the victims of the Holocaust. Minister Hershkowitz declared that Jews did not go to slaughter like sheep, as is popularly held. The Assistance and Rescue Committee, led by Otto Komoly alongside Israel Kastner and Yoel Brand, that did not enjoy the backing of a state, an army or assests, were endowed with unimaginable daring and even negotiated with the devil in order to cease the extermination. They did not go like sheep to the slaughter.
Prior to the ceremony, an emotional meeting took place between soldiers and survivors during which personal testimonies were presented by the survivors.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe are yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance. Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that some Jews survived the Holocaust in Europe or assisted them in escaping to a safe heaven and by doing resisted the Nazi murder machine. The few rescuers who are still alive remain reluctant till today to recount their stories, satisfied in the knowledge that they were able to overcome the German tormentors and their collaborators.
Considering the fact that many of the rescuers were young at the time of their activity, the organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to the phenomena of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
News of the event was carried widely in the Israeli and international media including IBA news in English and Hebrew, JTA
, Jerusalem Post
, Arutz 7
, Times of Israel
, Israel National News, Israel Radio, European Jewish Press
and the Australian Jewish News
A “Jewish Rescuers Citation”, sponsored by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center, being presented in Israel.
“Jewish Rescuers Citation” - Oded Furst, grandson of the late Otto Komoly, Alan Schneider, director of the B'nai B'rith World Center, Haim Roet Chairman of the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewis Rescuers During the Holocaust, Orna Barnea, granddaughter of Otto Komoly .
Prof. Virginia Echinope, Head of the Electric Energy Department in the National Directorate of Energy at Uruguay's Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining, and winner of the B'nai B'rith Uruguay "Light and Truth Award” for 2011, visited Israel on March 13-22 as a guest of B’nai B’rith Uruguay. The “Light and Truth Award” is presented bi-annually to outstanding Uruguayan experts in the sciences and hi-tech and carries an all-expenses paid trip to Israel.
Like past winners, Prof. Echinope was hosted in Israel by the B’nai B’rith World Center. The B’nai B’rith Uruguay has been presenting awards to outstanding artists and scientists for over 25 years to recognize excellence in various artistic and scientific disciplines in Uruguay. Winners receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel where the B’nai B’rith World Center is responsible for preparing and implementing an intensive itinerary combining tourism with professional interchange, site visits and high-level briefings geared to fostering ongoing professional ties between the two countries.
During her visit, Prof. Echinope, who also serves as an associate professor of electrical engineering at the Universidad de la Republica, met with a broad range of Israeli academic institutions, government officials, professional associations and industry trend-setters. These included: "Yissum" Research and Development Company of the Hebrew University, Energiya Global, Renewable Energy Association of Israel, Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour, Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, Nation-E, Redivivus Energy and others. She also toured the country extensively including the Old City of Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, Masada, the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa and the historic hydroelectric power plant at Naharayim.
B’nai B’rith World Center director Alan Schneider said that the visit itinerary showcased Israel’s status as a scientific and innovation powerhouse, strongly anchored in ancient tradition, openness and democracy.
Pictured: Prof. Echinope and Schneider with Energy Global co-founder and CEO Yosef Abramowitz
B'nai B'rith World Center director Alan Schneider and B'nai B'rith International Board of Governors member Paolo Foa represented BBI at the 14th World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly, held in Budapest May 5-7. The gathering of 500 delegates and guests representing Jewish communities and organizations in more than 70 countries world-wide was held under
unprecedented security and exhibited support for the some-100,000 Jews living in Hungary today who are threatened by growing blatant anti-Semitism.
Delegates re-elected Ronald Lauder for as second four-year term as WJC President, David de Rothschild from France as the new chairman of the WJC Governing Board and Chella Safra from Brazil as new WJC treasurer. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, as elected as chairman of the WJC Policy Council and Mervyn Smith from South Africa as his co-chairman.
The gathering was addressed by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, who said that “Anti-Semitism today in Hungary is unacceptable and we will show zero tolerance in regards to it.” Introducing Orbán, Ronald Lauder called on Hungary and the government to do more against growing anti-Semitism, notably coming from the extreme-right Jobbik party. Representing the
government of Israel, Minister Silvan Shalom urged Orban, in his presence, to support the proposal to add Hezbollah to the EU's list of terror groups.
Jewish community President Péter Feldmájer said in his speech: “I believe that the Jews of the world must unite their forces. This day also shows us that we are not alone, we are all listening to each other no matter where we may be living across the globe. The task we have is no little one to handle.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in his keynote address: “Anti-Semitism has no place neither in Berlin, nor in Budapest, nor anywhere else in Europe or in the world… We are firmly committed to protecting and nourishing Jewish life in our societies and to countering anti-Semitism across the globe. We have to tackle the root causes of anti-Semitism.”
The Plenary Assembly also discussed effective ways to combat the rise of neo-Nazi parties in Europe and adopted a resolution which called on Hungary “to recognize that Jobbik and its subsidiaries “pose a fundamental threat to Hungary’s democracy” and that “decisive action … must now be taken to take effective measures including by enacting and enforcing legislation, for the protection of all citizens and residents of this country, in particular vulnerable minorities such as the Roma and the Jews, against threats of violence, racist hate and insults and the denial of the Holocaust.”
The WJC also urged national leaders and legislators in Europe to join the 125 legislators from more than 40 countries in signing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism.
In another resolution, the delegates urged the international community to recognize the legitimate rights of Jewish refugees in the Middle East who were forced to flee their countries after 1948.
B'nai B'rith International representatives Paolo Foa and Alan Schneider at the World Jewish Congress Plenary in Budapest (L-R)
Schneider with members of the B'nai B'rith Budapest lodge – second from left, President Magda Vadasz; right former president Viktor Hajos.