Jewish Broadcasting Service: B'nai B'rith Delegation Visits United Nations Human rights council in Geneva, Switzerland
The Jewish Broadcasting Service covered the annual visit by B'nai B'rith International's delegation to Geneva, Switzerland, where delegation representatives met with ambassadors and other leaders to discuss the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
JNS.org cited B'nai B'rith International's response to the announcement that CIA Director Mike Pompeo would be nominated to replace Rex Tillerson as the United States Secretary of State.
Major American Jewish organizations are pleased by the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo to succeed Rex Tillerson as U.S. secretary of state, and some are expressing hope that Pompeo will reverse Tillerson’s recent decision to side with the PLO in a lawsuit by victims of terrorism.
Pompeo “has had close ties to the Jewish community and is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS. “We look forward to working with him on the many international issues and challenges he will be addressing. We hope he will review the State Department’s position on the terror victims’ lawsuits.”
Sarah Stern, president of the pro-Israel advocacy group EMET (Endowment for Middle East Truth), said she worked with Pompeo when he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. “He genuinely appreciates Israel’s unique role as America’s only reliable, democratic ally in one of the most volatile regions in the world,” Stern told JNS. She also pointed out that it was Pompeo, together with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who exposed the fact that the Obama administration signed a series of secret side agreements with Iran that gave Tehran additional benefits from the nuclear agreement.
Stern said she was “deeply disappointed” by the State Department’s decision to side with the PLO, which is currently being sued by terror victims under the terms of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The department recently submitted a brief in the Sokolow vs. PLO case, urging the Supreme Court to decline to hear the suit, primarily on technical grounds.
EMET will urge the new secretary of state to reverse that position, she said.
In a statement to JNS, B’nai B’rith International said it is “encouraged by Mike Pompeo’s record of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” and “shares his concern about the Iranian nuclear threat and his view of the need for continued pressure on Iran.”
Regarding the lawsuit against the PLO, B’nai B’rith said: “The Anti-Terrorism Act is intended to deter terrorist acts against the U.S. and to give recourse to victims who seek justice. B’nai B’rith supports victims of terror and their families.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JNS that in his view, President Donald Trump “has two key foreign-policy challenges he wants to tackle: North Korea—with China an associated challenge—and Iran.” With Pompeo as secretary of state, “it seems the U.S. will actively try to deal with both. This is a big development.”
Debating the pros and cons
Conservative and Reform groups did not respond to requests for comment on the nomination. Several Orthodox groups, however, strongly praised the choice of Pompeo.
Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, to which more than 100 Orthodox synagogues belong, said he was “very pleased” by the choice of Pompeo, “who has a strong track record of support for Israel and clearly understands the threat from Iran.”
He contrasted Pompeo with outgoing secretary Rex Tillerson, who reportedly opposed U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“We also received reports of some concern about Tillerson’s position regarding a land dispute between Lebanon and Israel,” said Weiss, “and we hope that [incoming] Secretary of State Pompeo will take the right position on the issue and support the position of Israel.”
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, which represents several hundred Orthodox rabbis, told JNS that his group “would like the State Department to reverse its decision not to fight for victims of the PLO terrorist organization, a decision which eviscerated the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992.”
He also expressed hope that under Pompeo and in the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem decision, “the State Department will list ‘Jerusalem, Israel’ as the birthplace of my newest granddaughter.”
Left-of-center American Jewish groups, however, are not pleased by the nomination.
Paul Scham, president of Partners for Progressive Israel, told JNS that Pompeo is “a dangerous hawk” who “seems to believe war is a handy solution” to diplomatic conflicts.
Americans for Peace Now this week distributed an “Action Alert” calling on its member to urge senators to vote against confirming Pompeo. APN said it opposes Pompeo because he is “an ultra-hawk on Iran and fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal,” and has “close relationships” with what it characterizes as “Islamophobic organizations.”
Kol HaBirah mentioned B’nai B’rith’s interview with singer Idan Raichel in an article on his recent performance at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2016, the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem conferred a citation on Idan Raichel for his contribution to fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts.
No stranger to foreign dignitaries, the Greater Washington community welcomed an ambassador of a different sort on Feb. 22. In an intimately stripped-down performance, Idan Raichel, the famed international music icon from Israel, focused on the original essence of his songs during a solo piano concert at the 1,976-seat concert hall at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland.
For over 15 years, through his work with his band, The Idan Raichel Project, Raichel has shared the diversity of Israeli voices and culture through music with the rest of the world. Raichel became well-known internationally with his breakout song in 2003, “Boee,” which has been described as an “entrancing blend of Ethiopian voices and lush global pop.” His songs have been written and performed in collaboration with over 95 artists from across the globe, so watching Raichel perform alone on the stage was a departure from his typical show. Instead of sharing the stage with fellow artists, Raichel created his own percussions and accompaniment by recording his own beats, playing them on a loop, and then layering his live piano playing and Hebrew singing over that.
David Goldstein, owner of SMASH Productions of Silver Spring, said it “was amazing to see Idan Raichel after four or five years. As a solo artist, he is a very talented musician. The rhymes and beats he creates are one of a kind. The way he was able to take his old songs and put a solo, singer-songwriter feel on them was really amazing to see.”
Ahead of the concert, Raichel met with B’nai B’rith International to discuss his own Jewish identity.
“For me, to be Jewish is to feel connected to a whole big chain — a chain of history, of the past, and also to the future. To feel connected to one big family, a big mishpachah around the world,” Raichel said. “You can feel welcome in Hillel in the States or Beit Chabad in India or Colombia or some village in Africa. Always you can take a rest, once a week, to feel welcome in Shabbat dinner, always to find an open door for you and someone to make you feel at home.”
Many attendees arrived at the venue early for a discussion on “Arabic Music and Israeli Identity” by Haim Malka, deputy director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
JTA mentioned B’nai B’rith in an article on Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In January, we honored Morales with our Human Rights Award, for his decision to move the embassy.
Guatemala’s highest court for civil law rejected an attempt to call off moving the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The Constitutional Court of Guatemala’s five magistrates turned down a request from local attorney Marco Vinicio Mejia, who argued in a petition filed in January that the embassy move was contrary to international law, spokesman Santiago Palomo told the French news agency AFP on Saturday.
President Jimmy Morales wants to move Guatemala’s embassy in Israel from its current location in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, as the United States plans to do.
In his brief, the lawyer argued among other things that an order issued over social media such as Facebook carried no legal standing. The court said in its ruling that “the circumstances” did not make it “advisable” to grant an injunction, though it suggested that the matter was not definitively resolved.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday thanked Morales for his support on the Jerusalem question. Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said she has received calls from the Palestinian Authority asking for Guatemala to reconsider its stance. But the country’s position, she said, was irreversible. Last month, President Donald Trump thanked Morales in Washington for his support of the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Morales said that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is “the right action to take legally and historically.” He added that Guatemala is “the United States’ strongest ally” in combating and preventing terrorism in America.
In January, Morales received the Human Rights Award from B’nai B’rith for his decision to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem and for his unwavering support of Israel.
Morales announced the embassy move on Dec. 24. In a Facebook post, he said that he had instructed his country’s chancellor “to initiate the respective coordination so that it may be.” The decision followed a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Days before, the U.N. General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting any recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in reaction to President Donald Trump’s pronouncement on Dec. 6 that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin taking steps to move its embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Guatemala is home to about 1,000 Jews out of a population of 15 million.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) mentioned on its website that it was in the process of unpacking and photographing our art collection at the Skirball Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Our partnership with HUC-JIR began in May 2015, and the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection encompasses about 1500 works of art.
Since May of 2015, the staff of the Skirball Museum has been hard at work unpacking, condition reporting, cataloguing, and photographing nearly 1500 works of art from the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection, now a part of the Skirball’s holdings. Ten treasures from the collection remain on view, giving visitors a sneak peek at the breadth of this remarkable collection as the Museum prepares for a permanent display. This group of treasures includes antique and modern Judaica as well as 20th century paintings
The Times of Israel ran CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin’s op-ed on the 75th anniversary of the remarkable story of Bulgarians uniting during the Holocaust to save their Jewish population from deportation, and the special relationship Bulgaria held with its Jewish population.
In March 1943, Nazi Germany demanded of its Bulgarian allies that it deport the country’s 48,000 Jews. For months, the Nazis and their Bulgarian collaborators had discussed the means for the transfer of Bulgarian Jews to the death camps that already had taken the lives of millions of other European Jews. Two years before, the Sofia government adopted the anti-Semitic Law for the Defense of the Nation, which foreshadowed the ultimate decision to deport Bulgaria’s Jews.Indeed, there was even a Bulgarian Commissar for Jewish Affairs, Alexander Belev, who had been in place for precisely this kind of operation. The plans included the deportation of more than 11,000 Jews from Northern Greece and Yugoslavia, areas under Bulgarian military administration. Jews in both places were forced to wear the yellow star, and many young men in the Bulgarian community served in forced labor details.
For those Jews inside Bulgaria’s borders, the plans for their round-up and demise were thwarted by an unlikely coalition of leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, members of parliament, intellectuals and everyday citizens, whose sense of justice and revulsion over the notion of sending their neighbors to their deaths was unacceptable.
The reaction of the Church leadership set it apart from religious figures elsewhere in Europe, who either through indifference, self-interest or outright anti-Semitism turned away, or were complicit as Jewish community after community was destroyed.
Led by the metropolitans (prelates) of Sofia and Plovdiv, Stefan and Kyril, the church leadership – not all in agreement at the outset – came to the conclusion that it must deplore the deportation orders. First, they agreed on protecting the few hundred Jews in the country who had converted to Bulgarian Orthodoxy (many thinking it would save their lives), but that grew into a campaign to speak out for the entire endangered community.
In a letter to the government on May 4, 1943, the Holy Synod noted that “Our people, by its soul and conscience, but its mentality and conviction, cannot bear lawlessness, repression and atrocity against anyone. Our human, as well as our Christian conscience is embarrassed. Hence, the Holy Synod is asked spiritedly from many sides – by good and loyal Bulgarian public figures, by well-known people of culture and patriots, by Bulgarian mothers – to insist on justice and humane attitude for the Jewish minority in the country.” The Synod met with both King Boris III and with the prime minister to convey its opposition to the deportation orders.
Metropolitan Stefan of Sofia denounced Hitler from the pulpit, calling him “the miserable and insane Fuhrer.” Metropolitan Klement of Stara Zagora insisted “we cannot stay indifferent to the fate of the persecuted Jewish minority because we would be condemned by God…”
In the secular realm, the protests against the deportation orders were led by Dimitar Peshev, the deputy speaker of Bulgaria’s National Assembly. Peshev, who came from the small provincial city of Kyustendil, was moved by the deportation of Jews from Bulgarian-administered areas outside the country and by reports of Jews in his home town being told to gather their belongings in anticipation of round-ups by the authorities. His tenacity and persistence in pressing government leaders – the prime minister refused to meet with him – was a key element in arousing public opinion about the planned deportations.
On the people-to-people level, many Bulgarians had close relations with their Jewish neighbors. Fifteen years ago, I was in Kyustendil for the 60th anniversary commemoration of the rescue of Bulgarian Jewry. Following the program, which was held in the town square, an elderly woman ran up to the then-Bulgarian foreign minister, and quickly engaged him in animated conversation. She then did the same with an Israeli government representative, who had also participated in the program. Curious, I asked both what the conversation was all about. The woman, I was told, had Jewish classmates who had left for Israel after the war, and now, she wanted to know if anyone could help her track them down. For nearly 60 years she had no one to ask, and this commemoration, with its attendees from Israel, gave her the opportunity to find her friends.
The deportation orders were never carried out. The exasperated German Ambassador Adolf Beckerle, in a cable to Berlin, wrote: “The Bulgarian government, despite its efforts in relation to the final solution of the Jews, is attached to the mentality of the Bulgarian population…this one, does not find any drawbacks in the Jews, that would justify actions against them.”
The role of Bulgaria’s King Boris III in the deportation story has been subject to much speculation, but it is clear that the pressure to resist the demands from Berlin came from outside his circle.
Ironically, Belev, who was ultimately dismissed from his job near the end of the war, fled to Kyustendil, where he was captured and ultimately shot on the way to Sofia to be tried.
Peshev, whose friendship for the Jewish community eventually earned him the honor of being among the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, was tried by the post-war Communist government, charged with collaboration with the Germans. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and released after serving a brief time.
Tragically, for the Jews of Northern Greece and Yugoslavia, there was no similar rescue effort. Many actually had relatives in Bulgaria, who were powerless to save them. Most were deported across Bulgarian territory, to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
At a time when defiance in any form ran tremendous risks, those who helped the Jewish community – the Orthodox Church, Peshev and those who joined him and friends and neighbors who found it unconscionable that fellow Bulgarians would be sent to their deaths – stood their ground. In a demonstration of both conscience and justice, these courageous human beings stood apart in a continent bereft of moral principles.
In that, 75 years later, there is an object lesson for us today.
Jewish Insider "Top talker": "Malcolm Hoenlein stepping aside as Conference of Presidents chief" by Ron Kampeas
The Jewish Insider quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin regarding the announcement that Malcolm Hoenlein is stepping aside as the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is stepping aside after more than three decades. An email from the current conference chairman, Stephen Greenberg, said Hoenlein… was timing the move to coincide with the search for a new chairman… He will remain with the conference in an as yet undetermined capacity… In an interview, Hoenlein said the process could take a year.”
“Greenberg sent a second internal memo on Wednesday insisting that Hoenlein was “not stepping down,” and that the transition process would take “one to two years.”
B’nai B’rith CEO and Executive Vice President Dan Mariaschin tells us… “Malcolm’s imprint on the Jewish community here and abroad is immense. He’s written the definitive book on how public diplomacy and pro-Israel advocacy intersect, and in the process, has won the respect and admiration of a succession of U.S. administrations and international political figures for over three decades. Malcolm’s special feeling for the Jewish people has made him both an effective and passionate spokesman. He will continue to be a powerful, and needed voice, going forward.”
AJC’s CEO David Harris said in an emailed statement: “Malcolm Hoenlein’s dedication, talent, Rolodex, and energy are legendary, even as he’s had one of the more difficult jobs in balancing the often wide-ranging interests and views in the Conference of Presidents. Fortunately, he’s not entirely leaving the CoP, so his political and diplomatic skills will continue to benefit our collective efforts.
The Jewish News Service published an article about B'nai B'rith International's conference titled "Strategic Challenges in Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Gulf," which B'nai B'rith organized with the Begin-Sadat Center of Strategic Studies (BESA) and the Center for Righteousness and Integrity at Bar-Ilan University.
After years of bloody warfare, Syria has become a “Shi’a colony of Iran,” a Syrian professor who lives in Germany told an Israeli conference in recent days.
Addressing the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Bassam Tibi, professor emeritus of international relations at Georg-August University of Gottingen, said: “They have killed our clans. They have killed our family. The Alawites of the Assad regime have killed our Sunni identity of Damascus.”
Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top storiesTibi, a secular Sunni scholar born in Damascus, said the Syrian conflict has been transformed into a sectarian-religious war, adding that this core fact has been missed by many Western observers.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran has been filling the vacuum “created by the removal of [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein. Ever since, Iran has been expanding its power,” explained Tibi.
“Today, there are two blocs in the Middle East: the Sunni and Shi’a blocs. The strongest bloc, even though Shi’as are the minority, is the Shi’a bloc. The Saudis are unable to meet the Iranian challenge. Iran now controls Iraq, Lebanon and Syria,” he warned.
‘Sunni eyes are opening’
Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president and CEO of the B’nai B’rith, who had recently met with Persian Gulf leaders in the United Arab Emirates, said at the conference that due to the Iranian threat, Sunni Arab leaders no longer fear Israel and are potential allies to stop Iran.
“Sunni eyes are opening to the fact that Israel poses no threat, but that Shi’a Iran . . . aspires to dominate far beyond its borders,” stated Mariaschin. He added that significant potential exists for Sunni states to cooperate with Israel on shared concerns.
Despite this positive development, Tibi forewarned that Saudi Arabia, which today is considered to be the leader of the Sunni Arab world, lacked a policy to effectively push back Iran. “Saudi Arabia is not likely to win. But one should support them against the Iranians,” he argued.
Professor Hillel Frisch, a Middle East expert who is a member of BESA, said the term “Arab-Israeli conflict” is no longer relevant to describe the region. “It’s basically an Israeli-Iranian conflict or an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only Arabs that are confronting Israel today are proxies of Iran.”
While non-Arab regional powers—Israel, Iran and Turkey—are on the rise, the Arab states are in dramatic decline, he added. “Of course, this was aided by the Americans when they destroyed the Sunni state of Iraq, which was replaced by a Shi’a state,” said Frisch.
The Shi’a corridor: Tehran to Beirut
According to Tibi, Iran works with state and non-state actors to take over the region, saying the governments of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon were all under Tehran’s control, while non-state armed groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and the Shi’a militias of Iraq are also members of Tehran’s radical alliance.
“There is an axis of power coming from Iran to the Mediterranean, and from Iran to central Asia, and from Iran to the Red Sea,” said Tibi. “All of the people who talk about the conflict in Syria do not acknowledge Iranian power. They do not acknowledge that the nature . . . of the conflict is between Sunnis and Alawites [who are seen as an offshoot of Shi’a Islam].”
Professor Benjamin Miller, an expert on international relations from the political-science school at the University of Haifa, also told the conference that Tehran has gained significantly by constructing “a corridor from Iran to the Mediterranean.”
He added that introducing democracy to Iraq has “made Iran a key broker” in that country, which has a Shi’a majority of 60 percent.
In Syria, the Alawites, “who are kind of offshoots of Shi’as, are threatened by the 70 percent Sunni majority,” he explained. “Iran is their natural protector and ally. This led to the corridor’s formation.”
The common threat posed by Iran to Israel and Sunni Arab states has “helped to transform relations” between them, maintained Miller.
Meanwhile, the Russian-Iranian alliance—formed to assist the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad and rescue it from collapse—is narrowly built on shared interests, but with no shared identity. Miller believes it’s most likely going to end.
The failure of the West
In his address to the conference, Frisch also expressed concern over America’s withdrawal from the region, calling it “the major threat that connects between Trump and Obama. From that point of view, they’re equal in seeking to withdraw from the role as the world’s policeman.”
Frisch described Iran as “truly a radical imperial state. The best proof of that is that it’s the only state in the Middle East . . . that projects power above 1,000 kilometers from its border,” using it to attack Israel, which harbors no ill will towards Iran.
Iran “keeps teaching us, together with Hezbollah, that they won’t do business with us,” he added.
Tibi agreed with Frish’s assessment, saying the West is failing to meet the Iranian challenge, while also leveling heavy criticism of the 2015 nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran, under which “inspectors can’t enter military sites. … This must be fixed.”
“Iran continues to be successful,” he said.
Looking ahead at the future, Tibi shared a bleak picture, saying, “Syria, my home country is bleeding . . . there is a term to describe this conflict, which cannot be solved. The diagnosis for the Syrian conflict is: intractable. In the next five years, there will be no solution. Sunnis and Alawites—and the protectors of the Alawites, the Iranians—cannot live together.”
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