The European Union started Passover on a sour note, announcing that the much-anticipated upcoming conference on combating rising anti-Semitism in Europe will not share equal billing with Islamophobia.
While B'nai B'rith International has been an outspoken global advocate of diversity and worked to combat prejudice and discrimination of all kinds, the concern is that adding other issues to the discussion of anti-Semitism allows government officials to avoid real action.
B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield spoke on behalf of the organization to the Jerusalem Post, highlights of which can be found below:
Jewish organizations worldwide expressed shock and dismay over the weekend following the announcement that the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency is planning on holding a conference that implies an equivalence between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
It will focus on the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment and violence across the continent and the “growing evidence in many European countries, especially in the past two years, of very high rates of anti-Muslim incidents, including acts of verbal and physical violence,” according to the organizers.
Jewish community leaders in Europe and elsewhere told The Jerusalem Post that despite being largely supportive of the FRA’s work, they believed it inappropriate for it to juxtapose hate directed against Muslims with anti-Semitism as if both were one and the same.
“The challenge of combating anti-Semitism would be better served by a stand-alone colloquium fully focused on the problem,” said Eric Fusfield, the legislative affairs director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy.
“Opponents of anti-Semitism have tried for years to promote greater understanding of anti-Semitism as a distinct phenomenon with unique dimensions sometimes requiring unique solutions,” he said.
“It is true that some strategies for combating anti-Semitism may apply to other forms of intolerance as well, but the fact is that, for too long, the tendency of governments and international organizations to conflate anti-Semitism with other social illnesses has served as a means of avoiding the problem rather than addressing it head on, even as the crisis facing Jewish communities has intensified in Europe and elsewhere,” he added.
With contested Israeli elections, the framework of a nuclear deal in place between the west and Iran, and a tenuous peace between Israel and the Palestinians, there is much political fodder for discussion at this year's Passover Seder tables.
The International Business Times featured quotes from B'nai B'rith World Center Director Alan Schneider in an article on the topic. Read highlights from the wide-ranging piece, below:
As much as Mia Warshofsky is looking forward to spending time with her family this Passover, the Florida college student is already bracing herself for the political arguments that she knows will break out over the Seder table on Friday. The subject of Israel has become a point of contention between Warshofsky and her grandparents, following Israel’s 50-day offensive in Gaza last summer, and she anticipates that these disagreements will be further inflamed by more recent political events.
“I would like my Seder table to not be a political minefield,” said Warshofsky, 20, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and a critic of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians. “But all of my grandparents have recently picked up this really wonderful habit of bringing up Israel every time they see me… I don’t like to start debates, but they always seem to steer the conversations toward the hot-button issues.”
Warshofsky’s family will not be the only one navigating potentially charged political discussions this year. Passover comes in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s contentious elections and just after the announcement of a preliminary agreement over Iran's nuclear program, a process Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned will endanger the Jewish state.
These sensitive issues mean that for many U.S. Jews, regardless of political or denominational affiliation, the rituals of the Passover ceremony, which commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery, will be particularly charged this year.
The implications of the election, which saw the incumbent Israeli leader sweep to a landslide victory after a tightly contested campaign, will be a particularly prominent topic at Seders in Israel, said Alan Schneider, the director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. However, Schneider argued that for most Israelis, intense debates about Middle East politics are nothing new and that this year’s Passover would not necessarily be a departure from previous year’s holidays.
In addition to this historically significant prediction at the 1941 convention, Weizmann also appears in the B'nai B'rith history books alongside B'nai B'rith member Eddie Jacobson.
Jacobson, a long-time business partner and friend of President Harry Truman, arranged a secret meeting between Weizmann and Truman that is said to have turned the president's opinion in favor of the partition plan and recognize the state of Israel.
Read coverage of his 1941 speech via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's archive:
March 31, 1941
B’nai B’rith’s triennial national convention today heard Dr. Chaim Weizmann predict a Palestine Jewish commonwealth side by side with an Arab federation after the war and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace stress the importance of equality for all races and religions in the Western Hemisphere.
Addressing a luncheon session at the Drake Hotel, Dr. Weizmann asserted that “the floating and homeless five millions of Jews” could not survive without Palestine. “We have before us the greatest problem of salvaging the lives of Jews in the entire history of Jewish dispersion,” he said.
Speaking of the “difficult Arab problem,” the world Zionist leader asserted: “A solution to that problem must be found in order to achieve our objective. The Jews and the Arabs must live side by side as neighbors and cousins.
“After the victory of the democracies there must come a federation of the great Arab countries. This confederation will extend from the Euphrates to Libya. The democracies too, will realize the historic connection between the Jews and Palestine and that we are entitled to develop an autonomous Palestine, free from shackles, where we can bring these millions of our suffering people so that they can build a country that can fructify and revitalize the whole Middle East. It is possible to have a Jewish commonwealth side by side with this Arab federation.”
“The 500,000 Jews in Palestine who are ready to lay down their lives represent a great arsenal of human freedom as we stand sentinel at the entrance to the Suez Canal,” he declared. “Every man, woman and child in Palestine would rather die than to yield that frontier which is one of the most strategic approaches to the Western Hemisphere.”
Stressing the necessity of “unity of purpose as we prepare against the time when we shall have a word to say in the settlement of our destiny,” Dr. Weizmann urged that Jews be united “on two great purposes–on the restoration of the Jewish rights of which we are brutally deprived outside of Palestine and on the affirmation of a right to build our homeland, unshackled and unfettered, in Palestine.” Dr. Weizmann was introduced by Dr. Solomon Goldman.
Vice-President Wallace addressed 4,000 delegates and guests of the convention at the “inspirational session” at the Civic Opera House this evening. His speech was broadcast over a CBS network and rebroadcast in Spanish to Latin American countries. The subject was “Democracy and the Dignity of Man.”
“The cost of Nazi terrorism in terms of suffering to Europe is great beyond measurement,” he asserted, “but we in the New World owe a great debt of gratitude to the Nazis for forcing us to make clear our thinking about the meaning of democracy and the part which racial and religious groups must contribute if democracy is to be worthy of its name.
“B’nai B’rith, I know, has caught this vision and will work for it whole heartedly in all of the hemisphere. The New World is a chosen land, not for the Jew or the German or the Anglo-Saxon of the Spaniard or any other one people. The New World is a chosen land in which all of us, tolerantly living together, can allow the dignity of man to be expressed, free from the compulsions of the Old World, but with that sense of duty which is necessary to preserve that which is precious beyond life itself–an efficient yet tolerant constitutional democracy, free from the Gestapo and a greedy ruling class.”
A message was read from President Roosevelt, who praised B’nai B’rith’s splendid work in the fields of charity and philanthropy” and said “its activities in advancing education and promoting true Americanism are likewise widely known and appreciated.”
B'nai B'rith expressed optimism that Noah would be responsible and sensitive in his new role. Read highlights from the news coverage below:
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (and other outlets) highlighted B'nai B'rith's remarks, an excerpt of which can be found below:
November 3, 1957
Waterbury’s B’nai B’rith, whose venture into wrestling promotion several months ago drew a shiny $4,600 gate, hope to top that at their next mat project on Monday, Nov. 18.
And the prospects are bright, judging by the all-star program lined up for staging at Buckingham Hall and proudly labeled by Co-Chmn. Robert Kosowsky and Sol Bernstein as “good enough for Madison Square Garden.”
The Bras City lodge of the national Jewish fraternal order holding the show to raise funds for its charitable foundation, has a quartet of “big names” in a feature tag team match – Antonino Rocca and Ricki Starr vs. Prof. Roy Shire and Dr. Jerry Graham. This tussle will be two out of three falls, with a one-hour limit.
Rocca, from the Argentine, rates as America’s No. 1 grappling attraction via his unique form of acrobatic technique. Starr, a nimble onetime ballet dancer, delights fans with his clever maneuvers and elusiveness. The two will combine their varied talents against two of the game’s more notorious villains in the persons of Professor Shire and Dr. Graham.
A growing Puerto Rican fan element will have a chance to root for countryman Luis Martinez when he tackles another badman, Danny McShain, self-styled “world’s toughest wrestler,” in a semi-final set for two out of three falls, with a 45-minute limit.
Rounding out the slate will be a one-fall 30-minute opener and another bout set for the same route pairing two other well-known matmen, Sandor Kovacs of Hungary and Chief Don Eagle.
The New Haven Arena, running two mat cards a month on every other Saturday, has its next show coming up on Nov. 9.
The most recent Arena presentation finished up with a net gate of $4,400 (gross receipts minus taxes) as the New Haven offerings continued to enjoy prosperity.
Ninety-two years ago, The Independent Order of B'nai B'rith in Texas conducted a social experiment with Jewish immigrants that had landed in Mexico with the intention of crossing the border into the United States.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency vault revisits the experiment, which inspired many of the immigrants to put down roots south of the border. As of 2010, more than 67,000 Jews call Mexico home.
Read excerpts from the JTA Vault article, below:
Large numbers of Jews who entered Mexico with intention of crossing into the States from there are now prospering in Mexico and entirely contend to remain there. A report to this affect has been received by the Independent Order B’nai Brith from Rabbi Martin Zielonka of EL Paso who conducted an investigation for the Order.
In the last two years more than 800 of these Jewish immigrants have landed in Mexico, Rabbi Zielonka hears. “The only problem seems to be that all the young men want to get married and from all conversations with them they want wives of their own nationality, “writes Ed. Saunders of El Paso who has met the young men.
“The work of the B’nai Brith should convince the most sceptical that Mexico offers opportunity to immigrants willing to work, to suffer some privation and to settle in a strange environment. The opportunities are especially good for those whose relatives can give them a sufficient fund to start their business.”
With Israel's elections in the rear-view mirror, the debate over Israel-U.S. relations continues among American Jewish organizations, as noted in the Jerusalem Post on Monday.
B'nai B'rith International has reiterated its support for Israel regardless of its ruling party, and likewise calls upon the United States and Israeli governments to resolve any differences.
Read quotes from Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin in the New York Jewish Week, below:
With tensions between the United States and Israel running at a fever pitch, even the benign, ritually symbolic words of the Passover seder have suddenly become charged with divisiveness and political import.
At the State Department, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that the U.S. is now looking to Israel for “actions and policies that demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-state solution, not more words.”
And Obama repeated Tuesday that his dispute with Netanyahu is substantive and not personal.
Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said the “temperature needs to be turned down” and the U.S.-Israel relationship restored.
J Street came under fire Sunday after opening its fifth annual conference in Washington over the weekend with a call for Jewish organizations to distinguish between Israel and the West Bank, including in fundraising.
Several American Jewish organizations also came out strongly against J Street’s call, including B’nai B’rith International, which said: “We totally disagree. In essence this is a call for a boycott, which is destructive for the prospect for peace.”
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