The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has just published a report “Democratic Institutions, the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Venezuela.”
The report addresses the human rights situation in Venezuela by analyzing the impact that the weakening of the country’s democratic institutions has had on those rights. This report is organized around four main areas of focus, which correspond to the IACHR’s core concerns with respect to Venezuela: democratic institutions; social protest and freedom of expression; violence and citizen security; and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.
It also includes a cross-cutting analysis of the specific harm done to individuals, groups and communities that are at greater risk and are victims of of historical discrimination and exclusion. These include women, children and adolescents, older persons, human rights defenders, persons deprived of liberty and migrants, refugees, or those in a similar situation, among others.
The IACHR report reveals severe restrictions to freedom of expression in Venezuela through censorship of media outlets, attacks on journalists, the criminalization of dissident opinions or of those who disseminate information contrary to government officials’ versions and the punishment of whose who spread what are considered hate messages on the internet. The report also examines the excessive use of firearms and tear-gas bombs against demonstrators, as well as the participation of members of the armed forces in controlling demonstrations.
The Commission expresses its strongest possible rejection of the harsh measures taken by the state in response to social protests, which left hundreds of people dead; thousands arbitrarily detained; allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and sexual violence perpetrated by state agents; and people unjustly tried on criminal charges in military courts.
Compounding the critical situation of democracy and political rights is a socioeconomic crisis characterized by widespread shortages of food, medicine, and medical treatment, materials and supplies. The rights to education and housing have also been seriously impaired. The rates of poverty and extreme poverty in Venezuela are alarming, as are the serious impediments to the exercise of people’s economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, especially for groups that have traditionally faced exclusion and discrimination.
Are there enough reactions before such a tragedy?
The Peruvian government, backed by 17 Latin American countries, has decided to ask Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro not to attend the Summit of the Americas in April (Peru will host it). Maduro challenged the resolution and threatened to attend “at any cost.”
Elected Chilean President Sebastian Piñera asked Maduro not to attend his inauguration because “he is not welcomed in Chile” (Piñera will take office on March 11).
The overwhelming report of the IACHR, the rejection of 17 countries to the Venezuelan dictatorship, the sanctions determined by the United States and the European Union against Venezuelan officials and economic sanctions too, nothing is enough to relieve the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
Venezuela’s close relation with Iran and Russia essentially protects the dictatorship. Almost 10 percent of the population has fled from the country, mostly to neighboring countries in South America and also to the United States. But proxies and indifference let the tragedy of Venezuela move forward.
Anti-Semitism is not forgotten in the official policies of the Venezuelan regime. A few days ago, Maduro announced that “he has ordered his envoys before U.N. to report the xenophobic campaign against Venezuela in different countries all over the world,” and also “Such campaigns are similar than those made by the Nazis against the Jews.”
It is not the first time that Maduro trivializes the tragedy of the Shoah. Some months ago he also said that “Venezuela is being attacked as Jews were attacked by the Nazis. We are the Jews of the 21stcentury,” he added.
This brutal way of banalizing the Shoah is not the only attack Maduro has recently made against Jews and Israel.
When the United States decided to announce the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem, Maduro made a speech before the Non-Aligned Movement and said that the U.S. decision is “a provocation and a declaration of war against the entire Muslim world, against the good people, one more in decades of ongoing aggression against our beloved historical Palestinian people.”
Several tragedies in history have been possible due to indifference, among other reasons. But indifference is very strong. We can watch it in the Syrian tragedy today. And we can also watch it in Venezuela.
If rogue governments which support those tragedies overcome indifference, hope is very little. So far, indifference prevails.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
A controversial Polish law signed into effect by President Adrzej Duda has stoked tensions on both sides of the Polish-Jewish relationship.
At stake is the examination of the country’s World War II-era past, a period during which both Poles and Jews suffered tremendous losses. As the first country invaded by Hitler’s Germany, Poland can lay claim to being the Nazis’ first victims. It was also home to more than three million Jews, the vast majority of whom perished during the Holocaust. Nearly two million non-Jewish Poles were also murdered.
The new law, which amends the existing Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, would severely punish false accusations against the “Polish nation” or “Polish state” of responsibility for the Holocaust. So, for example, anyone who describes Auschwitz as a “Polish death camp” rather than a “Nazi death camp” on Polish soil, could face up to three years in prison.
One problem, of course, is how does one define the Polish nation? There can be no dispute that the Nazis initiated and implemented a campaign of genocide against the Jews. But it is also clear that, while the Nazis murdered both Jews and Poles, some Poles participated in crimes against Jews. In fact, Polish-born historian Jan Grabowski estimates that more than 200,000 Jews were murdered by Poles during the war – Poles who did not by themselves constitute the Polish collective, but who certainly were members of the Polish nation.
The law purports to exempt historians and artists from punishment, but what about journalists, educators and others? Furthermore, how can one know how aggressively prosecutors will use the law to threaten or intimidate voices they might aim to silence? Princeton Professor Jan Gross’ 2001 history of the Polish massacre of Jews in Jedwabne in 1941 met with great resistance from a Polish public reluctant to accept the participation of some Poles in the murder of Jews.
The backdrop to this debate is the recent evidence that the anti-Semitism that has haunted Polish society since before the Holocaust persists until this day. In November, about 60,000 attended a rally in Warsaw that was replete with anti-Semitic chants, such as “Jews out of Poland” and banners such as “White Europe of brotherly nations.” The xenophobia and anti-Semitism on display that day are not new phenomena in Poland, a country that witnessed beatings of Jews in the streets before World War II and anti-Jewish pogroms after the war’s end.
The ruling Law and Justice party has provided at least tacit support for the neo-fascists of today, who carry the torch of these ancient hatreds. The passage of this law is such a form of encouragement – a sop to the party’s nationalist base. Whether it was the government’s intent, the law fosters the impression of a desire to cast Poles as blameless victims, which is a popular narrative in Poland.
What is missing both from the law itself and from the government’s unapologetic defense of the new measure is what is most needed – an honest and open discussion of Poland’s wartime history. A comprehensive, nuanced discourse on the most complex aspects of Poland’s past by the current president or prime minister could go a long way toward easing strains and straightening the historical record.
It is true that Poles were victims of the Nazis. And it is true that some Poles saved Jews or otherwise resisted the Nazis. But it is also true that some Poles shared responsibility for certain Nazi crimes, or committed crimes against Jews in their own right. Let the education and inquiry about the full history of this period proceed. This ill-conceived and inflammatory law is not a path forward to reconciliation.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
If someone asked you what your favorite song is, I am sure you would have an answer. You may have to say there are several and want to offer a favorite band or genre.
For me, I am particularly taken with “The Wheels on the Bus,” because it is a favorite of my grandson. It is also one he is singing to his new baby sister. Pediatricians tell new moms that singing to their newborn is one of the best ways to introduce language.
Prayers are songs. A particular tune connects us to the High Holidays or Sabbath service. Singing the words aloud is the delivery system for our prayers. As families gather on Friday night, they welcome the Sabbath with “Shalom Aleichem.” No matter where you may go in your travels, you will usually find something familiar in the prayers in synagogues around the world.
Music was used by the Daniel Pearl Foundation in response to the 2002 kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl by terrorists in Pakistan. The Foundation created Daniel Pearl World Music Days because of his love of music and asked people to remember him by sharing music during the month of October in honor of his birthday. You can post a concert or program to their calendar at www.danielpearlmusicdays.org.
Teams have their theme or fight song. Schools have their school song. Couples have “their song,” mine is Chicago’s “Color My World,” and Broadway musical numbers become ingrained in our culture as the lyrics become part of our lexicon. Radio stations have carved out music decades for their specialty, 50s, 90s, classics or a combination of it all, can be found at Sirius XM Radio. Public television brings us the groups of 50s and 60s for reunion concerts. Nostalgia floods our brains and the music transports us back to the days of when that song was new. We marvel at how well they can still hold the notes, and notice the changes as well. We are sad when singers announce farewell tours, recognizing that their health has impacted their ability to perform, or they just do not want to have to do it anymore.
Before there were television shows called “Name That Tune” or “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” there was party game with a music theme. The next time you have a group together try it as an ice breaker. People are divided into teams and themes for the songs are announced. Groups compete to name them. The team naming the most songs wins. Song categories such as girl names, boy names, colors, geographic locations are all possibilities. Try playing without using the internet as a real challenge.
As we get close to the preparations for Passover for our family and group Seders, we will be checking to make sure we have the song sheets and Hagadahs for the family favorites. The inclusion of these traditional medleys, are all part of the experience. This is also the time to introduce something new. There are many songs with Pesach content written to the tune of a popular song. In our house, it is “The Ballad of the Four Sons,” which is sung to the tune of “My Darling Clementine,” that keeps its honored place after the Four Questions are sung.
Popular Hebrew songs find their way into the international audience. In the spring of 1967, “Jerusalem of Gold (Yerushalayim shel Zahav)” was written by Naomi Shemer, a musician and poet at the request of the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek for the Israeli Song Festival. After the Six Day War that June, it became an unofficial anthem, expressing how Jews felt after Jerusalem was reunified, whether they lived in Israel or the Diaspora.
If Israel has sent a team to the Olympic Games we hope that we will hear “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem played on this international stage. We were angry to learn that Israelis at a competition held in Abu Dabi, UAE, were not treated equally. Tal Flicker, the winner of a gold medal in Judo, received his medal without the flag of Israel raised or “Hatikvah” played, but the world saw him singing it to himself on the podium.
Please share how music has impacted your life. You can reach us at the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity at email@example.com.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
We are delighted to report that Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) recently visited B’nai B’rith Covenant Apartments in Peoria, Illinois. This visit was a great opportunity for the Congresswoman to learn about the Section 202 program and see firsthand how seniors benefit from affordable housing. B’nai B’rith’s long history with Section 202 housing started in 1971 when we formed a partnership with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to sponsor housing for low-income seniors. The B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network in the United States comprises 38 buildings and serves more than 8,000 people. B’nai B’rith International is the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income housing for seniors in the country.
B’nai B’rith Covenant Apartments, like many of our sponsored buildings, are more than just apartment units. It is a residential community where seniors can age in place. The Congresswoman learned about the wonderful amenities the building offers such as low cost meals, salon, gift shop, grocery store, community rooms and libraries.
After taking a tour of the property, the Congresswoman gave remarks, took questions from residents and shared her positions on important topics that touch their everyday lives, such as Social Security, Medicare, rental subsidies and nutrition assistance. In addition, Bustos offered to help the residents with getting federal benefits from agencies like the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Bustos said, “I had a great discussion with the seniors of B'nai B'rith Covenant Apartments today about all of the issues affecting them and their families. Our seniors worked hard all of their lives and they deserve to retire with dignity, and that includes providing them with affordable housing options through the Section 202 program. I believe that all seniors should be able to retire with peace of mind which is why I'm fighting hard to protect the Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits they've earned.”
We thank Bustos for all her hard work to protect critical programs for seniors that enable them to retire with dignity. Too often Congress and the White House are debating policies that will inevitably cut important funding from federal programs that impact the lives of ordinary older Americans. Congressional visits like this allow B’nai B’rith residents the opportunity to be their own best advocate by speaking directly with the representative and making them aware of the human faces and stories behind federal programs that benefit seniors.
It was great that Bustos’ visit kicked off our 2018 congressional outreach efforts. We are thankful we were able to show off B’nai B’rith Covenant Apartments and most importantly all the great residents who call the building home.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
An esteemed neurologist, 72-year-old Harvard University professor Dr. Howard Weiner has devoted his life to the treatment of serious diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) — his primary area of expertise — both at the University and at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he directs the department of immunology. Given the life and death nature of his profession, the doctor was able to approach his next career move — that of filmmaker—with an attitude of nonchalance. His award-winning documentary “What is Life?” premiered in 2011.
Perhaps contemplating his own future scenario as one of the ranks of the elderly, Weiner began working on a literary treatment of what could be best designated as a “bromance,” the touching and funny story of the offbeat camaraderie that develops between two very different men who meet in a nursing home. Finally brought to fruition as a film script, the project and its potential for success were linked to two important elements, the portrayal of the yin and yang that drives the friendship, and the ability to convey an authentic experience of life in a nursing home, in its sometimes mundane, and often fearful, aspects. The location, inside and out, had to be a real one.
“If you look at old people from above, you make them children; if you look at them from below, you put them on a pedestal. These are real people. I mean, teenage boys talk like [the characters in the movie.] There’s nothing wrong with older people talking like that. Tolstoy said when he was 80, ‘I’m 80, but inside I feel 20,’” Weiner said when interviewed about the film, which was selected as a 2017 entry at the Tribeca Film Festival.
With a bit of tweaking from Weiner’s son, a successful screenwriter with well-known credits to his name, the script was polished, and in 2016 the filming of “Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game” commenced, directed by Weiner himself. Among its financial backers were a number of his medical colleagues, who stepped up to the plate even after being warned that they would probably lose their shirts.
Filmed on the premises of an assisted living facility close to Boston, the movie shines a light on the talents of its two seasoned co-stars, the late Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino, both of whom were able work with Weiner to enhance character development, and illuminate the metamorphosis of their onscreen relationship. Landau was cast as the home’s most recent inmate, retired physician Dr. Abe Mandelbaum, who is resigned to going gently into that good night, but whose plans are detoured by the life-affirming personality of his blue collar pal, lusty fellow resident Phil Nicoletti (Sorvino). The friendship they form provides each with a renewed perspective. After a new employee attempts to locate her long lost father at the home, the boys, both eager to indulge in the joys of having a daughter, jockey for the role. As to be expected, the narrative is greased with a pound or two of schmaltz, and is punctuated by a few over the top high jinks, and perhaps too much detail on the specifics of geriatric medical conditions. With Landau’s final performance reviewed by Variety as “a thing of beauty,” “Abe and Phil” can be described as one of a handful of brave and engaging films that compassionately recognize the emotional consequences of the losses inevitable to the aging process.
RECAP OF JEWISH FILM FESTIVALS
Co-sponsored with Manhattan’s Jewish Museum, The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s eagerly anticipated 27th annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which took place from Jan. 10-23, showcased a wide variety of offerings from around the world, many of which were announced as New York, American or international premieres. Catering to a diverse audience, the screenings included “Across the Waters,” a World War II drama about the ferrying of Danish Jews to Sweden, during the time of Nazi persecution, and a newly restored version of the haunting 1937 Yiddish classic “The Dybbuk.” The film festival also included “The Cousin,” an Israeli thriller in Hebrew and Arabic about a Jewish actor who comes to the defense of his Palestinian handyman, after he is accused of a violent crime. Sam Pollard’s “Sammy Davis Jr: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” a 2017 documentary about the life of the multi-talented entertainer who converted to Judaism during the height of his career was also shown.
Jewish film festivals will soon open in Atlanta and San Diego.
Movie Trailer: "Abe and Phil's Last Poker Game"
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
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