Human Rights Council Condemnation Sets Needed Precedent
B’nai B’rith International welcomes the unanimous vote of the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 26 that will impose military and financial sanctions on Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and his most trusted advisors.
The arms embargo included in the sanctions package could help prevent Gaddafi and his loyalists from restocking the supplies it has used in a deadly force campaign against opponents.
“For 41 years, Gaddafi brutally suppressed the people of Libya and waged a terror campaign around the world,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “People need protection when their own government turns on them. In using deadly force against his own people as they rose up to protest his repressive government, Gaddafi has once again, but perhaps for the last time, proven he is unfit to lead Libya.”
The Security Council sanctions came a day after the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) condemned Gaddafi and his government for the crackdown. B’nai B’rith spoke out last year when Libya won a seat on the council, noting that only those with a satisfactory record on human rights should be considered fit to serve on the council. B’nai B’rith has long maintained that UNHRC members should demonstrate respect for universal human rights—values Libya did not display then and certainly does not exhibit now.
“It was always an affront to human rights that Libya held a seat on an international panel meant to protect human rights,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “Though long overdue, the council’s action is a welcome move that could finally focus attention on some of the other obviously questionable members of that panel.”
A B’nai B’rith International delegation will be in Geneva for UNHRC meetings the week of March 7.
As events continue to unfold in Libya, B’nai B’rith, active at the U.N. since its inception, will continue to urge the U.N.to stay on the top of the situation and pressure Gaddafi to end the brutality he has visited on his own people.
B’nai B’rith International has chosen Nuno Wahnon Martins as the new director of its Brussels-based Office of European Union Affairs. The EU Affairs Office is part of the B’nai B’rith European Affairs Institute, a joint venture of B’nai B’rith International and B’nai B’rith Europe. Wahnon, who joined B’nai B’rith in early February, will monitor the EU’s actions and represent the rights and interests of Israel and European Jews in the governing body as part of B’nai B’rith’s global mission.
Wahnon, a lawyer, also has experience in political studies and European affairs. He previously worked as a European affairs officer at European Friends of Israel, which aims to improve the relationship between Israel and European countries. He is also a political commentator for RFI Radio France Internationale, Portugal.
“The EU Affairs Office is an essential part of B’nai B’rith’s commitment to protecting the interests of Jews in Europe at the center of European policymaking,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “We are proud to welcome Nuno to his new role.”
Wahnon studied law at Catholic University of Portugal, where he later received a master’s degree in political science and international relations, security and defense. In 2008, Wahnon received the university’s academic prize “Infante D. Henrique” at the Institute for Political Studies.
“Nuno is supremely qualified, through his vast experience in legal and European affairs, to advocate for Israel and Jewish issues within the network of EU policy makers, diplomats and Jewish community leaders,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said.
Since 2006, B’nai B’rith’s EU Affairs office has advocated before EU institutions on behalf of Jewish concerns.
B’nai B’rith International is concerned that funding cuts proposed on Capitol Hill threaten a new agency designed to protect consumers, including seniors, from scams and financial predators.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created by the financial reform bill last year, is funded by fees the Federal Reserve receives from banks. Under the statute, much consumer protection regulatory authority over such things as home mortgages, credit cards and Truth in Lending is moving from Treasury and other federal agencies, to this new clearinghouse.
“These are especially important areas of protection for seniors because they are frequent targets for financial scams and predatory lending,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said.
With a long commitment to senior advocacy, B’nai B’rith has created and sponsored programs for seniors on such issues as preventing identity theft and other scams. Though such community programs are invaluable, a regulatory agency of this magnitude is vitally necessary to disseminate information to consumers and to regulate and enforce rules on industries in which a few bad apples can decimate retirement security for thousands of families.
In fact, one of the Bureau’s statutory mandates is to conduct a comprehensive study on reverse mortgages, which can be immensely helpful to financing long-term services for seniors, but can be abused by predatory lenders.
B’nai B’rith is fully aware of the need to trim budgets, but proper attention to the potential negative impact needs to be heeded. Perhaps now more than ever, in tough financial times such as these, we need an agency with a focus on protecting consumers, including seniors, from scams and financial predators.
We urge Congress to reconsider changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has the potential to educate, regulate and enforce rules that are meant to protect people.
B’nai B’rith International denounces the United Nations Security Council resolution considered on Feb. 18 condemning Israeli settlement construction. Fourteen nations voted in favor of the measure. The United States was the sole vote against. The U.S. veto defeats the measure.
The Palestinian Authority, with the sponsorship of Arab countries, proposed the myopic resolution, which appears to be a pretext to avoid the direct negotiations with Israel necessary to create a two-state solution.
The resolution assigns Israel with blame for a deadlock in the peace process by subjecting Israeli policies alone to scrutiny and censure. Certainly, Jerusalem, Israel’s sovereign and historic capital, cannot be considered off-limits to Jewish or other citizens of Israel. Attempts to avoid negotiations by employing the United Nations to endorse Palestinians’ posture in negotiations can only provide false hope that political terms can be imposed on Israel by the international community.
In the midst of the chaos currently enveloping the Middle East, to inject this issue now is a misguided impediment to the peace process.
“This biased resolution has no place in the peace process,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “The Palestinian Authority needs to fulfill its obligation to engage in direct, bilateral peace talks as the only way to reach an agreement with Israel.”
B’nai B’rith strongly commends the United States for blocking this resolution through its veto. Without outside interference and delay tactics, peace can and must move forward between Israel and the Palestinians. Another approach would only frustrate a successful negotiation process and common hope in achieving lasting peace.
“The United States has taken the right step in rejecting this harmful resolution,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “It is time for both parties to return to the table without preconditions to enable progress in the Middle East.”
B’nai B’rith International is troubled by recommended cuts to South Carolina’s Holocaust education program.
“Holocaust education teaches valuable lessons about the past that can be applied to the future,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “It is necessary to educate our youth about the atrocities of the Holocaust to ensure such evil is never repeated.”
The $31,000 program cost goes to vitally important Holocaust programming implemented through the volunteer group, South Carolina Council on the Holocaust. The funding cuts recommended by state Superintendant of Education Mick Zais would put field trips to Holocaust exhibits, hosting speakers, providing Holocaust exhibits for the public and teacher workshops in jeopardy. B’nai B’rith lauds state lawmakers who oppose these cuts and supports their commitment to preserving funding for the program.
“With an increasing number of attempts to deny and trivialize the Holocaust in the world today, Holocaust education cuts remove important lessons and experiences from the curriculum,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “The programming enriches students’ understanding of the horrors faced by Holocaust victims, and increases the impact of the lessons promoting tolerance and fighting bigotry of all kinds.”
B’nai B’rith urges Zais to reconsider his recommended cuts, and retain this essential Holocaust education program.
B'nai B'rith International is deeply concerned about a variety of both foreign and domestic cuts President Obama is proposing in the budget plan he unveiled on Feb.14. Though mindful of the very real need to rein in the massive deficit, the president's budget proposal could have a severe, negative impact on some of the most vulnerable population sectors in the nation, while proposed cuts to foreign aid could hurt America’s standing in the world.
The budget represents the president's funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
B'nai B'rith recognizes the need to carefully address the deficit during what is still a difficult economic time in this country. But the impact of some of the proposed cuts could have devastating, long-term consequences both inside and outside this country.
On the domestic front, a five year proposed freeze could eventually jeopardize a range of aging services programs, especially as the baby boomers begin to retire, and older Americans continue to have a difficult time finding work.
Cuts in the president's proposed budget, including much more limited funding for programs that help the very poor and elderly like subsidized housing and home energy assistance (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP) could have troubling consequences.
"We respect that tough times call for tough decisions," B'nai B'rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. "But we object to budget cuts that will have disproportionate consequences for people who have no other resources for some of their most vital needs."
B’nai B’rith was encouraged to find that Social Security—which is self-funded and does not contribute to the deficit—is not on the chopping block.
Investments in international affairs only make up about 1.5 percent of the total budget, but the returns of good will and international standing are priceless. Proposed cuts could jeopardize this vital investment.
We are pleased that aid to Israel will remain at levels agreed to in a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Israel.
We are hopeful that aid to Egypt (the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid) will remain at current levels, which will be essential in ensuring an orderly transition to democracy there.
“We know the president has difficult choices to make and bringing down the deficit should be a priority for the country,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “But investing in America’s name and reputation abroad pays off in priceless ways.”
The president’s 2012 budget comes out just days after the new House leadership proposed harsh cuts to the remainder of the 2011 budget.
B’nai B’rith is hopeful that in the weeks and months to come, the understandable interest in deficit reduction does not push out reasoned discussion of the real world consequences of cuts on a global scale and to essential social services and programs for the most vulnerable.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International watched with great interest over the last few weeks as historic events unfolded in Egypt, culminating in the resignation of long-time President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11.
We watched as the Egyptian people’s call for a new, more representative form of government was heard. B’nai B’rith is hopeful that these first steps toward a new government will include a focus on maintaining and building upon the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Much time and effort will be spent in the coming weeks and months analyzing the movement that lead to this moment. But we must also carefully focus on the new beginning this uprising launched.
Upon Mubarak’s resignation, weeks of protest and disaffection transformed to the prospects for democracy and civil rights for the Egyptian people. Free and fair elections are the next step in this new era. The people of Egypt have tough choices ahead. They must now determine how they will build their nation as they move to fulfill the promise of their demands.
As the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, Egypt’s stability is vital to Israel’s future. Regional security is a global concern. The step toward democracy in the largest state in the Middle East must not be diminished by a step backward in Egyptian-Israel relations.
B’nai B’rith International has partnered with the Jewish Disabilities Network to promote the third annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month, an initiative aimed at increasing inclusion of people with disabilities and their families within their communities. B’nai B’rith is co-sponsor of a briefing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 15 to help lawmakers better understand the challenges faced by the disabled. The event, titled “Nothing About Us Without Us: The Disability Community’s Legislative Priorities in the 112th Congress” focuses attention on congressional legislation affecting the disability advocacy community.
As the largest Jewish sponsor of senior housing in the nation, B’nai B’rith knows the challenges the disabled population faces. Many B’nai B’rith housing facilities are home those with disabilities. B’nai B’rith continues to work with members of the disabilities community to improve the quality of life for our residents, and promote healthy community connections for all disabled people and their families.
As a member of the Jewish Disabilities Network, B’nai B’rith participates in monthly roundtable discussions of disability issues.
By Alan Schneider
Director, B’nai B’rith World Center, Jerusalem
Like Fidel Castro for Americans, predicting the political or physical demise of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has been a pastime of Israelis for years, particularly after speculation about the 82-year-old’s questionable health and medical treatments abroad became public and the unmistakable efforts to identify his son Gamal as heir-apparent came into view.
So long as Mubarak—loyal vice-president to Anwar Sadat when the latter was assassinated by Islamic extremists in retribution for signing a peace treaty with Israel—was in power, Israelis could reasonably assume that military hostilities between the countries would not break out. Although the Camp David Accords envisioned much more than the non-belligerency that ensued (benevolently described by some as a “cold peace” or by less-kind others as Cold War) over the past 32 years, the vast majority of Israelis viewed their government’s concessions—including the complete withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula, the resultant destruction of Yamit and 15 other Israeli settlements and the loss of strategic depth that these provided—as well worth the price.
While speculation is still rife about who is actually behind the ongoing violence in Tahrir Square now that Mubarak has pledged not to seek re-election and his newly appointed deputy, Omar Suleiman, has vowed that neither will Gamal, no one can predict how the dust will actually settle and Israelis are bracing for the worst. The dangers of the current situation—too close for comfort to the onset of Iran’s1979 Islamic Revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini (who coincidentally returned to Iran exactly 32 years ago this week) and the genocidal Iranian President Ahmadinejad to power—is not lost on any Israeli observer.
Despite the contention of Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the opposition to Mubarak, that the Muslim Brotherhood is not an extremist organization and would command only 20 percent of the votes in a democratic election, the specter that the Brotherhood would sooner or later wrestle control away from any other opposition forces seems realistic, since it is the largest and most well organized opposition group in Egypt today.
Mohammed Badi, elected last year as the Supreme Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, made his position very clear last April, saying that the Camp David Accords are “a failed agreement” and that “it lost all of its conditions. It does not fit Islamic law and does not serve the interests of the Islamic people. This agreement brought only corruption and tragedy. Thirty-one years after the Camp David Accords were signed, the espionage wars against us never ceased. The Palestinian lands were not returned. Instead, we are witness to the destruction of Palestinian homes, building of settlements and the Judaization of Jerusalem. The reason I demand the abrogation of the accord is because the Zionists have emptied it of meaning through continuous war, vicious aggression against Gaza and killing of leaders of the Palestinian resistance movements.”
Journalist Yossi Klein Halevi hit the right chord when he wrote: “[T]he grim assumption is that it is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power. Israelis fear that Egypt will go the way of Iran or Turkey, with Islamists gaining control through violence or gradual co-optation. Either result would be the end of Israel’s most important relationship in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has long stated its opposition to peace with Israel and has pledged to revoke the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty if it comes into power. Given the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas’s control of Gaza and the unraveling of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, an Islamist Egypt could produce the ultimate Israeli nightmare: living in a country surrounded by Iran’s allies or proxies” (“Israel, Alone Again,” New York Times Feb. 2, 2011).
If, indeed, the ascension of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to Egyptian leadership would lead to the abrogation of the treaty and the infusion of Egyptian troops into Sinai, something proscribed by the accord, Israelis would not only be concerned about the outbreak of war, but would most surely permanently shelve proposals for further territorial concessions to the Palestinians, Syrians or any other party in the future.
In essence, this would mean the end of the peace process and the necessary transformation of Israel into a virtual fortress state forced to protect herself on all borders and with no reasonable hope for normalization in the foreseeable future.
A takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood would also force major changes upon the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Due to the peace with Egypt and Jordan as well as the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the IDF has spent the last decade focused on fighting Palestinian terrorism, countering Hezbollah in Lebanon and preparing for potential wars with Syria and Iran. These scenarios did not envision the IDF fighting simultaneously on more than one front and Israel’s military buildup was performed accordingly. Regime change in Egypt—and if, as predicted by some, it occurs in Jordan as well—will pose an unprecedented challenge for the IDF: to protect an Israel surrounded by radical regimes.
Halevi also observed that “Israelis want to rejoice over the outbreak of protests in Egypt’s city squares. They want to believe that this is the Arab world’s ‘1989’ moment. Perhaps, they say, the poisonous reflex of blaming the Jewish state for the Middle East’s ills will be replaced by an honest self-assessment. But few Israelis really believe in that hopeful outcome.” Unfortunately, this prediction was confirmed on Thursday by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who blamed the recent turmoil in Egypt and a number of Muslim countries on “frustration and desperation” with the failure of efforts to solve the Palestinian issue, alongside the domestic situation in those countries. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad also seems to think that he can continue to use the Israel card to continue to abuse the Syrian people and maintain the constraining state of emergency that has been in force since 1963, saying this week that he fears no Egyptian-style upheaval because he, unlike Mubarak, has been “resisting Israel.”
Journalist Amotz Asa-El argued that Mubarak’s downfall actually started in 1989 when he failed to respond to geo-political changes in Eastern Europe (“It Started in 1989,” Jerusalem Post Magazine Feb. 4). “Back then he remained unperturbed the morning after the fall of the Berlin Wall and even after the violent removal of his friend Nicolae Ceausescu in live broadcast. The entire world understood that freedom was marching globally. Not only the East Bloc, but also Latin American soon shed despotism, and much of sub-Saharan Africa was also parting with its dictatorial post. History, therefore, begged an Arab choice, and more than anyone else’s the choice was to be Mubarak’s, as the leader of the largest and strongest Arab nation. Mubarak didn’t flinch. He chose despotism, running repeatedly in fake elections, muzzling opponents, distributing political booty, controlling the media and abandoning the masses to the destitution that the whole world has now finally come to discuss. And what Mubarak chose, the rest of the Arabs followed. That is how the Arab world emerged from the Cold War as the entire world’s political black hole.”
One pertinent question for Israelis is whether copycat Intifada-style violence could erupt in the disputed territories and east Jerusalem. In a precautionary measure, Israeli authorities just announced that only Muslim males over the age of 50 and holders of Israeli identity cards would be allowed to attend Friday prayers on Temple Mount in Jerusalem which in the past has been a hotbed for Muslim unrest in the city. Although Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyadsaid that the Authority does not feel threatened by demands of democracy and reforms in the Arab world, the PA announced a ban on demonstrations in the West Bank in support of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The ban was reportedly instituted after several hundred Palestinians staged a protest against Mubarak in Ramallah, while hundreds of Palestinians marched in the streets of Gaza in protest against Mubarak and in solidarity with the Egyptian uprising.
What is seen by some as the abandonment of Mubarak by the United States has come in for heavy criticism in Israeli policy circles. Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, determined in a Jan. 31 Jerusalem Post article that “[I]f the regime does what Obama wants it to do, it will fall. And what is going to replace it? And by his lack of support—his language goes further than it might have done—the president is demoralizing an ally. And it is all very well to believe idealistically that even if Egyptians are longing to be free, one has to define what ‘free’ means to them. Also, the ruler who emerges is likely to be from the best organized, disciplined group. People in Russia in 1917 were yearning to be free also and they got the Bolsheviks. In Iran, where people are yearning to be free, the Obama administration did nothing. No matter what the United States says or does at this point, it is not going to reap the gratitude of millions of Egyptians as a liberator. For the new anti-regime leaders will blame America for its past support of Mubarak, opposition to Islamism, backing of Israel, cultural influence, incidents of alleged imperialism, and for not being Muslim…Without the confidence to resist this upheaval, the Egyptian system could collapse, leaving a vacuum that is not going to be filled by friendly leaders. That is potentially disastrous for the United States and the Middle East. There will be many who will say that an anti-American Islamist government allied with Iran and ready to restart war with Israel ‘cannot’ emerge. That’s a pretty big risk to take on the word of those who have been so often wrong in the past.”
Ultimately, it will be the responsibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet to decide how Israel will respond to the unexpected violent end of the Mubarak era.
Speaking Feb. 2 to the Knesset, Netanyahu argued for a reality check, pitting the scenario that seems to be favored by President Obama and other western leaders—of a transition into democratic government that will lead to stronger foundations of peace—against a sinister scenario promoted by Teheran: “The Iranian regime is not interested in seeing an Egypt that protects the rights of individuals, women and minorities. They are not interested in enlightened Egypt that embraces the 21st century. They want an Egypt that returns to the Middle Ages. They want Egypt to become another Gaza, run by radical forces that oppose everything that the democratic world stands for.” Alluding to a concern here that Western government might recognize a new Egyptian government that reneges on the Camp David Accords, Netanyahu added that “We expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace. Moreover, we expect the international community to expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace. This must be clear, along with the discussions about reform and democracy.”
The coming days, and perhaps hours, will determine the outcome of these developments, all fraught with dangers for the State of Israel.
B’nai B’rith International strongly urges the United Nations Security Council to reject the biased resolution recently proposed by the Palestinian Authority that would single out Israeli settlements as a focus of condemnation. If necessary, the United States should employ its veto power to defeat this harmful resolution.
In previous remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "We don’t see action in the United Nations or any other forum as being helpful in bringing about that desired outcome," and went on to note that the United States is "working to keep the focus where we think it needs to be, and that’s not in New York.”
The Palestinians’ eagerness to force this resolution on the world body represents an attempt to further isolate Israel and, if passed, will circumvent direct, bilateral peace talks toward a secure two-state solution. The Palestinian Authority’s resistance to engagement in direct negotiations, and its reliance on outside parties to impose terms on Israel, will not bring lasting peace to the Middle East.
In a letter sent to members of the Security Council, B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin called for the Palestinian Authority to end its obstructionism, and warned of the impact of this detrimental resolution on the State of Israel:
“For the Israeli public, the passage of this kind of resolution will only further confirm the concern that the United Nations is not willing to approach the conflict in a fair and constructive manner.”
The letter also outlined the negative result of this vote on the fragile peace process:
“On the Palestinian side, the passage of this resolution will encourage the leadership to continue to avoid negotiations by providing the false hope that resolution of all of the complicated final-status issues will simply be imposed on Israel by the international community.”
It is only through dedicated and deliberate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, conducted with willingness to compromise, that peace can be truly and effectively achieved. Any attempt to force the issue on the parties by the United Nations can only further exacerbate tensions and distrust, and provide obstacles to future peaceful relations.