B’nai B’rith International supports Israel’s decision to expand its national heritage list to protect religious sites central to Jewish history.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has added the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to the list of about 150 national heritage sites. These sites, sitting in the heart of the biblical landscape, anchor Jews in their religion and ancestral homeland. The Cave of the Patriarchs is where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are believed to be buried. Rachel, another of the biblical matriarchs, is buried in Bethlehem.
“Israel’s survival in part depends on its historical connection to the land,” said B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick. “Affording these two sites national heritage designations ensures they will be preserved and protected for all religions in the region. This continuity is vital to the Jewish homeland.”
These sites are held to be holy by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Inclusion on the heritage list will promote education about the sacred places and help ensure that they are preserved. More than any prior custodian of the Holy Land, Israel, a democracy, has enshrined freedom of religion and access to diverse places of worship.
Officials at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other U.N. bodies have criticized Israel for adding these sites to the national protection list. Israel has never denied non-Jewish ties to the sites in question, yet Palestinians rioted in Hebron this week and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned Israel of a “religious war.”
“The Jewish people’s roots are integrally tied to these two sites. The history is undeniable—but it is regularly denied across Palestinian and Arab society,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “The real impediment to peace in the Middle East is this delegitimization of Israel and incitement to hatred and violence.”
B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin have sent letters to members of the United Nations General Assembly urging them to reject a resolution that would extend follow-up on the skewed report produced by the Goldstone mission, formally known as the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.
The Goldstone report, whose claims and recommendations have been widely criticized, studied the December 2008-January 2009 conflict in and around Gaza, particularly the military operations known in Israel as Cast Lead. The report’s conclusions reflected the biased mandate it received from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which asserted in advance that Israel committed severe violations of the laws of war.
The report placed the majority of the blame for the conflict on Israel, while giving limited attention to the decade of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians that prompted Israel’s defensive operation.
In the letter, Glick and Mariaschin wrote: “If given further focus and standing, these conclusions would embolden terror groups by setting a dangerous precedent of censuring the most legitimate, restrained and responsible of counterterrorist efforts, while also further harming prospects for stability in the Middle East. Similarly, conformity with the Goldstone report would further divide and distract the UN membership at a time when foremost international challenges and crises require unified attention, and when the credibility of the UN as a fair and constructive contributor to Arab-Israeli reconciliation is already impaired.”
The letter also notes, “…the Goldstone report not only suggests moral equivalence between terrorist entities and a sovereign state’s defense forces but even employs unsubstantiated assertions to accuse Israel of ‘deliberate’ violations. Israel has long avoided, and regretted, any casualties among non-combatants – while the Hamas rulers of Gaza consistently celebrate indiscriminate killing in Israel, whose destruction is its explicit objective.”
In light of Israel’s demonstrated readiness for self-scrutiny as a strong democracy, the letter particularly deplored as a “dangerous injustice” suggestions that Israeli personnel be subject to international prosecution or that Israel be “singled out for scrutiny” by a conference of the parties to the Geneva Conventions.
B’nai B’rith urges the General Assembly to vote down any efforts to sustain the Goldstone mission’s report.
Click here to read the letter:http://www.bnaibrith.org/Goldstone_22410.cfm
B’nai B’rith International is hopeful that the Feb. 25 meeting between President Obama and lawmakers from both parties will push the issue of health care reform back on track. B’nai B’rith has long been an advocate for comprehensive health care reform to help more than 47 million uninsured Americans get vital access to health care.To be effective, any reform needs to meet the goals set forth in the 2008 B’nai B’rith International health care reform principles. Satisfactory health reform must make real health care coverage accessible, affordable, and sustainable for all Americans. We must also take this historic opportunity to plan for a consumer-funded long term care insurance method, and be careful to find ways to control costs, while ensuring fairness in insurance access and financing. In practice, this means that we must address reform comprehensively to make sure that all the interdependent pieces on which success relies are present.
Reforming our system cannot come down to either starting over or sticking blindly to what is already proposed. A workable plan exists. The parties must gather around it and make it work. We hope to see the best ideas for comprehensive reform from all sides incorporated into a final plan that would be approved soon.
“It is encouraging that all sides in the debate will sit together to review their concerns,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “We are well past the point of starting over because much of what has already been passed is really very promising. It’s time to stop the rhetoric and take action, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room to incorporate additional ideas.”
Proper reform of the ailing health insurance system must include lifelong access to health care. Being a healthy senior actually begins decades earlier. Long-time access to preventive medicine, diagnostic testing, and maintenance of chronic conditions could lead to lower health care needs for older Americans.
The age rating that forces older Americans to pay more for coverage simply based on their age is unfair and harmful, and needs to be re-worked.
“It’s now time for the president and lawmakers to get back to the urgent business of reforming our health insurance system,” B’nai B’rith International Director of Aging Policy Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D., said. “We must regain lost momentum to help those who cannot see a doctor when they need it, who cannot afford a life-saving prescription drug, who must choose between food and medicine.”
B’nai B’rith International is outraged that French and Spanish foreign ministers are calling for European Union recognition of a Palestinian state outside of Israel-Palestinian negotiations.The declaration by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos that the European Union should not wait for negotiations between the two parties is outrageous and unacceptable. While there can be a role for outside parties to encourage negotiations, they must be part of face to face discussions between Israel and the Palestinians. Outside parties must work in conjunction with Israel and the Palestinians.
“Calls to recognize a Palestinian state absent negotiations are a non-starter,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “Such a proposal puts counterproductive pressure on the Israeli government.”
It is imperative that negotiations not exclude Israel from the process and any agreement must not be in contravention to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which call for a negotiated settlement.
The Kouchner-Moratinos plan also minimizes threats to Israel’s security. “Israel’s very real and very legitimate security concerns must be addressed at the negotiating table,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “A unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would not adequately account for the security threats Israel faces every day and in the future.”
The challenge of negotiating a two-state solution grows ever greater as the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected every overture Israel has offered. The only way a two-state solution will work is for Israel and the Palestinians to sit down together.
B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin sent a letter to the chancellor of the University of California, Irvine, expressing “deep dismay at the severe and persistent anti-Semitic harassment experienced by Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine.”The letter was sent following recent anti-Israel demonstrations at a campus appearance by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, where students repeatedly disrupted his remarks. Such heated protests contribute to a persistent atmosphere of hatred and intimidation for Jewish students at the school.
B’nai B’rith also provided Chancellor Michael Drake a copy of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency’s working definition of anti-Semitism that has been in worldwide use since 2005, in the hope it will be used to help students and faculty better understand and identify all forms of anti-Semitism. B’nai B’rith helped develop this description as an essential tool for educators, government officials, journalists, and others to understand contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism.
The letter to the chancellor notes: “Sadly, the hate-filled demonstrations surrounding the appearance by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UCI on February 8 were merely recent examples of the anti-Semitic animus that has resulted in the intimidation of the school’s Jewish population for many years.”
And later: “Too often, anti-Israel messages propounded on the UCI campus have far exceeded the line separating legitimate policy criticism from anti-Semitic polemics. B’nai B’rith therefore calls on your administration to recognize these manifestations of anti-Semitism as precisely that and to condemn them as such.”
The letter asks the university to make combating the insidious anti-Semitism on campus a high priority.
“The university’s leadership must make clear that denial of the Jewish right to self-determination—to peace and security for Jews in their homeland—is, very simply, anti-Semitism. And to intimidate and incite against Jews—in speeches, sermons, placards, demonstrations, and publications—is most certainly anti-Semitism. We implore the UCI administration not to turn a blind eye to intolerance.”Click here
to read the entire letter.
B’nai B’rith International condemns Iran’s cynical ploy before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to divert attention from its serious human rights abuses.In an outrageous display of distorted reality, Iran told the council on Feb. 15 that promoting and defending human rights are a national priority. History proves just the opposite.
“The Tehran regime undertakes horrendous human rights abuses against those who challenge it, as demonstrated by violent efforts to suppress protests over June’s stolen election,” said B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick. “Rather than a defender of human rights, the oppressive Iranian government takes every opportunity to quash dissenting voices.”
And it’s not just political dissenters who are targeted. The government’s pervasive denial of basic rights to women and juvenile offenders also proves its non-existent support for backing human rights protections.
The United States and some European democracies should be commended for challenging Iran’s claims during this first review of Iran’s human rights record.
“For too long, the Human Rights Council has been complicit in tolerating Iran’s extensive human rights violations,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “The council, which has demonstrated an intolerable myopia when it comes to some of the most flagrant abusers in the world, must not let Iran off the hook on its claims.”
Perhaps equally as egregious as its claims of promoting and defending human rights is Iran’s quest to sit on the Human Rights Council, which holds elections in May. The 47-member council is already populated with too many nations that have horrible human rights records.
The Human Rights Council must take this opportunity to apply significant pressure to the Iranian regime in an effort to stop its abuses.
B’nai B’rith International, along with a coalition of 25 religious, education, and civil rights groups, sent a letter to President Obama on Feb. 4 calling for changes to the Faith-Based Initiative program overseen by the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The letter from the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination expresses concern that promised changes to the Faith-Based Initiative program begun under President Bush have not taken place. B’nai B’rith and its partners contend the fundamental concerns expressed when the program began—that it could lead to government-funded religious discrimination and subject beneficiaries of services to proselytizing—are still valid.
In the letter to the president, the group wrote: “We urge you to act now to restore the constitutionally-required safeguards and civil rights protections governing partnerships between government and religiously-affiliated institutions—standard operating procedures that had been largely in place for decades prior to the creation of the Faith-Based Initiative.”
B’nai B’rith recognizes that a vital role of the government is to provide social welfare services to the neediest citizens. But those services cannot come with a catch. The rules put in place by the Bush administration, and followed by the Obama administration, do not properly safeguard those seeking services from undue influence.
The coalition urges the Obama administration to move quickly to reverse some of the most egregious rules regarding how federal grants may be used. A rule-change is also need to ensure that religious institutions that receive federal money can only use those funds for secular programs.
There are three major areas in which the coalition is calling for changes:
“The Administration should prohibit religious organizations from discriminating in hiring on the basis of religion within federally-funded social welfare projects.
“The Administration should adopt in full the recommendations of the Reform of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Taskforce on which a consensus was reached.
“Whether the Council ultimately adopts the most vitally-needed Reform of the Office recommendations or not, the Administration should amend existing Executive Orders, rules and regulations and make uniform guidance resources for federal agencies.”Click here
to read the full letter.
B’nai B’rith International is pleased to see that the White House Fiscal Year 2011 budget preserves foreign aid at a robust level. The fiscal blueprint raises funding for international programs by about three percent next year and would double foreign aid over six years.While B’nai B’rith has expressed concerns about low-income senior housing funds on the domestic side of the budget, we recognize the United States is in an economic crisis and we appreciate efforts to shore up foreign aid.
The president’s budget proposal is strong on international affairs, offering increasing amounts in key areas that are often the most vulnerable to cutbacks. “The United States is making an important investment in America’s interests abroad with this budget funding,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin.
The U.S. international affairs budget helps strengthen the economies and political systems of emerging democracies and demonstrates a solid investment in such critical issues as global health and disease prevention around the world.
“This federal budget plays to America’s strength as a global leader,” Eric Fusfield, B’nai B’rith International director of legislative affairs, said. “In crisis and in calm, the world looks to the United States to set an example. U.S. foreign aid employs the smart-power tools that add to America’s effectiveness on the world stage.”
B’nai B’rith International is deeply concerned that a major funding freeze for a vital housing program for low-income seniors could have devastating consequences for millions of older Americans.The president’s 2011 budget provides no construction funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 202 program, which helps build and subsidize housing for low-income elderly Americans.
There are positive aspects in the budget for seniors and their families, including funding for home and community-based services and increased funding for caregiver support programs. But even in a fiscal crisis, we are seriously concerned about the long-term consequences of eliminating construction funding for an entire year—currently there is a 10 person waiting list per unit of subsidized housing. In previous years, 6,000 to 8,000 new units were built each year.
“This is an area that simply cannot sustain such a profound level of cuts and still be effective,” said B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick. “The long waiting list for housing demonstrates how the program is indispensable. For too many, Section 202 could be the difference between a safe, independent way of life and homelessness.”
As the largest Jewish sponsor of federally subsidized housing for the elderly, B’nai B’rith has worked closely with HUD for more than three decades. Seniors who qualified for the program based on meeting federal low income standards, no matter their race, color, religion, gender, handicap or national origin, have access to safe and affordable housing that allows them to live independently at rates they can afford.
“While we are not opposed to making the program more efficient, we are extremely concerned over the dire consequences of a fiscal year with no construction, when the waiting list is already so long,” said B’nai B’rith International Associate Executive Vice President Mark Olshan. “As our population ages, demand for subsidized housing will only grow. There must be some middle ground for desperate seniors-in-need.”
B’nai B’rith recognizes the difficult fiscal times we face and that tough choices must be made. But it is precisely because of these difficulties that programs such as Section 202 are perhaps more essential than ever.