U.S. Anti-Semitism Envoy Deborah Lipstadt Featured Speaker
Global anti-Semitism, Israel on the world stage, disaster relief efforts, mental health and aging, and domestic and international policy priorities in the next year were the focus of discussions at the B’nai B’rith International 2022 Leadership Forum, held virtually Dec. 11-12.
Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, joined B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin for a discussion on her role leading efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy to counter anti-Semitism worldwide.
Addressing how global anti-Semitism has changed and how it has stayed the same, she said what remains the same is the way anti-Semitism emerges in a society. She often compares anti-Semitism to a virus—something that can carry with you forever, that morphs and adapts and comes out at times of stress. Because of that, she noted, and the conspiracy that underpins anti-Semitism—that Jews control things from behind the scenes in a malicious way—anti-Semitism will emerge when societies are in times of stress and need someone to blame.
She suggested modern anti-Semitism differs because it takes on the attributes and characteristics of the society in which it is emerging.
“Anti-Semitism is the canary in the coal mine,” Lipstadt said. “It starts with the Jews—it never ends with the Jews.” “It may start here, but it is going to undermine your society in a very serious fashion,” she said.
Mariaschin, in an address delivered later at the forum, emphasized anti-Semitism—in particular the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in society—as a primary challenge facing the Jewish people today. Iran as an ongoing threat to Israel and the Middle East and beyond was also a focus of Mariaschin’s address, as well as continuing bias against Israel at the United Nations.
In his address, B’nai B’rith President Seth J. Riklin, who hosted the leadership forum, also emphasized the importance of fighting anti-Semitism, saying it is again rearing its head and growing, and that we must stand together to fight it.
Romanian Ambassador to the United States Andrei Muraru was also a featured speaker. In a discussion led by Mariaschin, Muraru focused on the relationship between Romania and Israel, U.S.-Romanian relations, Holocaust remembrance and education, and security in central and eastern Europe.
Muraru emphasized the efforts Romania has made in Holocaust remembrance and education in recent decades, such as the Wiesel Commission—the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania—and a new Holocaust education program that will be implemented in the country’s high schools. He also emphasized how much work there is still left to do to combat anti-Semitism in Romania.
“Anti-Semitism is not a relic from the past and we should not abandon our fight against it,” Muraru said.
Former New York Yankees star and pitching legend Mariano Rivera was also a guest, joining to speak about his experience partnering with B’nai B’rith in Panama. Together with the Israeli Embassy, Rivera and B’nai B’rith Panama donate school supplies to Victoriano Chacon Bilingual Educational Center in Puerto Caimito, Panama. Rivera also talked about his love for Israel.
“The Jewish community and Israel are deep in my heart,” Rivera said.
Day one of the forum concluded with the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy team looking forward to policy priorities, global and domestic, in 2023, featuring analyses from Alina Bricman, director for the B’nai B’rith Office of European Union Affairs; Adriana Camisar, special advisor on Latin American and U.N. Affairs, and Eduardo Kohn, B’nai B’rith director for Latin American Affairs; Rabbi Eric Fusfield, deputy director, International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and director for Legislative Affairs; David Michaels, director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs; and Alan Schneider, director, B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem.
On day two of the forum, Mariaschin spoke with Robert B. Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, about perils and opportunities in the Middle East, including the current civil protests and unrest in Iran and the Iran nuclear deal, as well as the Abraham Accords.
“We are now in a situation where more than half of all Arabs live in countries at full peace with Israel,” Satloff said, speaking on the success and significance of the Abraham Accords. “This is a different era. We should pinch ourselves a little bit, to recognize what has really happened. This is huge. I urge everyone to just recognize the enormity of this change.”
Rhonda Love, B’nai B’rith’s vice president of programming, introduced an overview of the organization’s disaster relief efforts, which date to 1865. A video showcased disaster and emergency relief work across 157 years, including the donation of funds and supplies to victims of the war in Ukraine and on-the-ground assistance to Ukrainian refugees.
Evan Carmen, B’nai B’rith legislative director of aging policy, joined to speak about current issues impacting seniors in America. He touched on the health care provisions benefiting older adults made in the budget reconciliation bill passed in the U.S. Congress in August and the announcement made by the FDA in September that hearing aids will be made available for over-the-counter purchase.
“Hearing loss has been related to social isolation, depression, anxiety… so getting hearing aids in the hands of people really should be able to combat these kinds of problems,” Carmen said.
Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services, then hosted a discussion on the challenges of aging and resiliency in older adults. She was joined by William F. Benson, president of Health Benefits ABCs and the International Association for Indigenous Aging; Gyl Wadge Switzer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Orleans; and Betty Tedesco, a board member of NAMI New Orleans.
Benson urged people to acknowledge the older population and to recognize that challenges only become more important as we age.
These challenges include physical and cognitive changes, and health and mental health challenges, which can become traumatic events for older adults, Tedesco said.
Doughten said other challenges can include hearing loss, vision loss and mobility issues.
Switzer noted how important it is to foster resiliency in older adults as these challenges carry a risk for depression, anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction and deterioration.
Riklin concluded the forum with a thank you and a look ahead to the 180th anniversary of B’nai B’rith, coming up in 2023.
“For nearly 180 years, B’nai B’rith has had its institutional ear to the ground in the Jewish community, alert to both its needs and its challenges and to the threats posed to it—in every generation,” Mariaschin said in his address. “Our mission statement, hinted over all these decades, speaks to our commitment to our people, ‘in advancing human rights, Israel advocacy, ensuring stability for older adults; diversity education; improving communities and helping communities in crisis.’”
Watch Leadership Forum programming here.