One of the most anticipated programs of the Leadership Forum was a special edition of the B’nai B’rith Diplomatic Encounter Series. Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Spanish Ambassador Ramón Gil-Casares discussed the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Spain. In the diplomatic encounter series, B’nai B’rith regularly brings together diplomats and Washington policy experts for conversations with ambassadors on domestic and foreign policy issues.
On opening night of the 2016 Leadership Forum, B’nai B’rith President Gary P. Saltzman delivered his State of the Organization address. He detailed many of the programs and priorities of the 172-year-old organization, highlighting a long history on international human rights issues, a long-standing and steadfast support of Israel, B’nai B’rith’s commitment to safe and affordable housing for seniors and disaster relief efforts that date to 1865.
Nadell spoke of Hannah Greenebaum Solomon who took charge of reaching out to different congregations all across the United States, and about two dozen women, over the course of four days, spoke at the exposition. “These women showed that they were experts on Judaism, they were special experts on the history of Jewish women, but they were also discussing contemporary Jewish affairs, they talked about the influx of immigrants coming in, this is 1893 eastern European Jews had been pouring in since the pogroms of 1881, they talked about the worldwide specter of anti-Semitism…,” said Nadell. This led to the creation of the National Council of Jewish Women, which advocates for social justice and other rights pertaining to women.
On the second day of the forum, during his opening address, B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin tackled the issue of global anti-Semitism. He began his remarks by reading anti-Semitic college application and hotel rejection letters from the 1940s-1960s from the B’nai B’rith archives, as well as his own experiences encountering anti-Semitism. Then, enumerating the challenges of contemporary anti-Semitism, he conveyed his concerns over the BDS movement, and expressions of anti-Semitism originating in the Middle East and Europe. He also cited the U.N. as a deep source of concern, noting United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s executive board recent resolution which substituted the Temple Mount with its Arabic/Islamic name, “Haram Al Sharif.” The same resolution also replaced the name of the Western Wall Plaza with “Al-Buraq Plaza.” He also mentioned a recent World Health Organization resolution that also unfairly singled out Israel for denying healthcare to Palestinians in the territories.
“Each of us can play a role in combating anti-Semitism, through support for B’nai B’rith, an organization that advocates on behalf of our community interest, also by communicating with our elected officials up to the highest echelon, advocating where we can within our constitutional framework, hate crime legislation, monitoring newspapers and websites for anti-Semitic utterances, and by speaking with our neighbors and colleagues at work about Israel, and about pernicious charges against it and the Jewish people,” Mariaschin said.
A second town hall session, on domestic issues, included Mariaschin moderating and Fusfield again, along with Director of Aging and Health Policy Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D. Goldberg addressed concerns on how the upcoming presidential election will affect Social Security; however, she assured the audience that both candidates currently don’t want to cut the program. Fusfield spoke on the candidates’ positions on gun control and their immigration policies.
During lunch, Washington Post opinion writer, Charles Lane, shared his thoughts on the 2016 presidential election, offering his “view from the front lines,” and answered attendees' questions. That afternoon Senior Director for European Affairs Charles Kupchan, D.Phil. spoke on the current challenges facing Europe.
On the last day of the forum, B’nai B’rith had the opportunity to engage on the topic of free speech and social media. Featured speakers Nikki Usher, Ph.D., assistant professor at The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and Neil Potts, Esq., public policy manager of Facebook led a fascinating and lively discussion on how people use social media, to spread information as well as hate and fear.