You wouldn't know it from the Human Rights Council -- which ritualistically adopted multiple anti-Israel resolutions last week, yet only lone ones on such scenes of unsurpassed carnage and deprivation as Syria, Iran and North Korea -- but the most elemental human right of Israelis, the right to life, has been denied and threatened in a particularly relentless and vicious way for about half a year now. The council was not even embarrassed to condemn Israel for its possession of, and human rights record on, the strategically vital and essentially tranquil Golan Heights at a time when religious minorities and the U.N.'s own personnel enjoy refuge there from the bloodletting by regime forces and terrorist groups alike across the border in Syria.
In a true manifestation of insult added to injury, and of abdicated political and ethical leadership, apathy in Geneva to Palestinian terrorism comes as little surprise, though, since the United Nations as a whole is all but explicit in its indifference to violence against Israelis -- unless and until Israel responds forcefully, at which point Israel itself is subjected to especially wild opprobrium.
A running compendium by the world body, "UN Response to Acts of Terrorism," lists its reactions to acts of violence against civilians globally -- from France to Lebanon to Mali to Afghanistan to Egypt to Turkey to Belgium and beyond -- and yet manages not to note even a single one of the stabbings, shootings or car rammings that have afflicted innocent Israelis on a near-daily basis over the last six months.
Forget solidarity marches by world leaders, the superimposing of the Israeli flag on social-media profile photos or declarations of "Je suis Jerusalem"; after all, even a fresh target of Islamist terror like Belgium continues to be among those denying Israel any understanding or decency in its voting at the Human Rights Council. Instead, the UN secretary-general recently rationalized Palestinian acts of terror as "human nature" -- and went as far as to respond to the subsequent objections of Israeli leaders by publishing an op-ed castigating them for "lashing out at every well-intentioned critic," among them "Israel's closest friends." When a few weeks ago I accompanied a group of diplomats on a visit to Israel -- one that was illuminating in its revelation of the country as a democratic, pluralistic haven amid upheaval, so humane as to be unassumingly treating wounded arrivals from hostile Syria -- UN officials stationed there did not let reality disrupt their relaying of a well-practiced narrative in which only Palestinians are associated with grievance and only Israelis are saddled with obligations.
For these bureaucrats, Palestinian suffering was worthy of detailing and magnification, while Israeli suffering was minimized or ignored completely. Indeed, with the UN never considering all those Israelis maimed or traumatized in terrorist attacks, the ongoing wave of Palestinian violence, we were told, does not rise to the level of a "political crisis." Meeting the same day with a non-religious Jewish girl and an Orthodox man who had been wounded in horrifying attacks -- by sheer randomness, in different areas that we ourselves had visited in Jerusalem that day, including the vicinity of the UN compound itself -- I found myself growing emotional in decrying the failure of UN data and officialdom to see any "crisis" in an untold number of Israelis whose scars, physical and otherwise, will permanently testify to their neighbors' conviction that their lives are somehow deserving of being brought to a cruel and arbitrary end.
Putting aside cruelty, today's multiplying Palestinian assailants, whose precursors had inaugurated in earnest the era of modern political terrorism, particularly the use of plane hijackings and suicide bombings, have again honed their brutal craft. Following phases dominated by cross-frontier rocket fire, hostage-taking and other tactics, ordinary Palestinians, endlessly incited to violent hatred not only by Hamas but also by the purportedly moderate Fatah, can now harm and terrorize Israelis with little training or resources, and little possibility for a decisive Israeli response. After all, will Israel deny all Palestinians access to steak knives or to automobiles that can then be exploited as weaponry? And whom can Israel effectively confront when any Palestinian youth rifling through a kitchen drawer is a potential perpetrator of warfare? Not least, by anonymously taking cleavers to Israelis one at a time -- without the dramatic footage and gore of ISIS decapitation videos -- Palestinians can broadly victimize Israelis, day after day for months on end, without the world's so much as taking notice, let alone discerning a crisis.
Which is why, if UN officials do actually care about peace in the region or at least about the stated aspirations of mainstream Palestinians, they must finally stop coddling the Palestinians, denying them all sense of responsibility or agency, and insist that they end the crude, ubiquitous incitement against Israel that inevitably results in the deaths of Palestinians.
The UN itself, for that matter, must stop serving as a global purveyor of such incitement.
A senior UN official, explaining in a New York Times essay this month why he was walking away from a long career at the organization, wrote: "If you lock a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again." At the UN, he acknowledged, "too many decisions are driven by political expediency instead of by the values of the United Nations or the facts on the ground." He concluded: "We need a United Nations led by people for whom 'doing the right thing' is normal and expected."
Serial abuse of Israel was not the subject of the former UN official's piece, and -- no surprise, since it is likely the most entrenched and politically untouchable of UN dogmas -- it was nowhere mentioned in it.
However, indifference to and complicity in the deep injustice that is bigotry against Israel are central to the departure of the UN from its intended purposes and from its real potential.
The UN will remain fundamentally corrupt, and most certainly a failure at peacemaking, until it is finally able to treat the deliberate murder of Jews as it does that of others among its constituents.
I've never been able to quite understand my Jewish identity. After all, I live in America, where many of my ancestors, in pursuit of benefits I now reap, assimilated into secular society. While no fault of their own, they have set in motion a decision that some say has slowly eroded the tenets of Jewish tradition for my generation. A transition has seemingly followed, forcing Jewish communal organizations to find new ways to engage an impatient youth drawn to immediate gratification and satisfaction — something antiquated religious practice does not seem fit to provide.
Such a haunting prospect has sent the Jewish world scrambling. Exemplifying these concerns, former World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman voiced one final rallying cry to the Jewish people just before he died. If Jewish peoplehood is to continue as it has for thousands of years, we must build and strengthen the everlasting bonds between not only Jews across ages, but also Jews across borders.
B'nai B'rith's Cuban Jewish Relief Project answers this call and then some.
The trip was as much time travel to a bygone era as a humanitarian mission to assist a community stricken with the trials of a collapsing economy, and a government unable to keep pace with the demands of population growth, globalization and modernity. A glance in any direction produced the blur of a flaming red 1958 Cadillac straight out of Philip Roth's pastoral America.
Yet, the time travel exposed something even more poignant: an infantile Jewish community birthing from its own ashes. Following Castro's 1959 revolution, Jewish identity effectively ceased to exist. Those who were able fled to Israel or America. Those who remained were stymied by the fear of punitive action against religious expression. Only until such restrictions were eased in the 1990s was the community— some descendants of Holocaust survivors, some survivors themselves — able to freely return to Torah. Slowly, they did, and slowly, they still are. Led by a charismatic cadre of young Jews, five synagogues provide a haven for unity and Jewish programming, of which B'nai B'rith has been instrumental, and even offers Holocaust education to a Cuban population unaware of the details. The Jewish community, though, is not immune to the nation's broader economic woes, and many Cuban Jews struggle to find meals and other necessities.
Perhaps most fitting then was our trip's final day. Following a week of delivering food, medication and other supplies to a community that so desperately needs it, we celebrated Havdalah with the same Cuban Jews who are so instrumental to the community's sustenance. Amidst prayer, song and gentle conversation, an intertwined Havdalah candle became an apropos metaphor to our realization that no matter what, Jews across all ages and borders are there in support of each other.
As the flame danced, Bronfman's call was answered. B'nai B'rith's Cuban Jewish Relief Project is doing truly transformational work, not only in maintaining a storied tradition and community, but also in engaging a future generation of Jewishness.
Matthew Caplan, who is also active with our friend and partner organization Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), has traveled with B’nai B’rith International before, including on a 2013 mission to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Caplan is a native of Pittsburgh. He’s a 2016 graduate of Georgetown University.
Caregiver Support Bills: Protecting Social Security Benefits for Those who Leave Work to care for parents, children, Relatives
Over the last few years there have been several bills that would expand or improve social security benefits. We believe this is important because Social Security is the most secure retirement income vehicle we have, and for the majority of retirees it is their primary or only source. Some of these bills have been broadly designed to close the Social Security funding gap while addressing inadequacies in the benefit structure while others are focused on specific issues, like the lack of credit given to family caregivers.
These are people who take months or years out of the workforce to provide unpaid care to their parents, children or other relatives. For a variety of reasons, those workers have traditionally been women (though that trend is beginning to show signs of change). By staying out of the work force for a few years to take care of kids early in their careers or doing it (again) later in their careers, women’s social security benefits are disadvantaged in several ways. First, leaving the work force for any period of time can impact the trajectory of your career. In fact, this pattern of leaving the workforce and being the one primarily responsible for childcare is often cited as one non-discriminatory reason that women earn less than men. By working for lower wages, women earn less in Social Security benefits.
So, people (primarily women) are likely to see reduced benefits—and this is a population that is already likely to live longer and have lower benefits anyway! That’s one reason to find a way to give people some Social Security credit for the years they are out of the workforce. Another reason is this: as a country we want—we need—to encourage family caregiving. As many of you know, as well as I, we do not have much of a long-term care system in this country. Families with a relative who needs help with daily activities have limited options. Most Americans do not have long term disability insurance, and it can be very difficult to afford it. Medicare doesn’t cover most long-term care expenses in a home or a facility.
For many families, the most cost effective—or only—option is for someone to take off from work to care for their parent. According to AARP’s public policy institute, family caregivers provide nearly half of a trillion dollars in care each year. Though they are generally not paid, they are working, and they are providing a service both to their families and the country as a whole.
Therefore, we should find a way to prevent this critically important caregiving role from diminishing the retirement security of caregivers. Americans overwhelmingly support the idea of a Social Security caregiver credit (click here to read more about it). The caregiver credit proposals in Congress (notably those from Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Nita Lowey) include giving credit for months out of the work force, based on a formula as if the person had earned a wage (generally a percent of the average wage). There are also bills emerging this year that would do the same, but only for parental caregiving for children, which is good, but not good enough. This would certainly not replace earnings credit an average or high wage worker would have achieved back in the work force, but it can at least prevent those $0 years from slashing benefits in a “high 35” formula.
B’nai B’rith International is very pleased to see these bills as part of the conversation in Congress, even though 2016 might not be the most productive legislative year, given all attention being focused on elections. As a nation we depend on family caregivers, and the least we can do is help make sure that the men and women who perform this service are protected in retirement.
Photos via Flickr (1) (2)
Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D has been the B’nai B’rith International director of health and aging policy since 2003 and the deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Senior Services since 2007. Before joining B'nai B'rith International, she taught politics and government at the University of Puget Sound and Georgetown University. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
Despite leading on Gender Equality Issues, Israel is Predictably Bashed by U.N. Commission on the Status of Women
This week the 60th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wrapping up in New York. Diplomats and NGO representatives have come from around the world to discuss gender equality and the fight against gender-based violence and discrimination. But, as is U.N. fashion, only one country will find itself on the agenda. Only one country is worthy of its own report, and only one country will be condemned in a resolution.
Though that country is situated in the Middle East, it is not one of the failed or failing states whose roiling violence is sending refugees fleeing to Europe. Nor is it one of the many dictatorships that oppress the entirety of its population, with a particular emphasis on arcane laws and rules that women must follow or face harsh punishments. There are plenty of good candidates for extra scrutiny on these issues in the Middle East, but CSW has chosen to focus, as it does every year, on Israel, the sole democratic state in the region that guarantees gender equality.
I point out the human rights records of other Middle East countries to illustrate the sheer absurdity of the situation, but Israel’s neighbors provide a low bar to pass. The truth is that on the issue of gender equality, Israel stands at or above its Western democratic peers. Israel was one of the first countries in the world to elect a female leader, Golda Meir. Dorit Beinisch was president of Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice. Women are serving as pilots in Israel’s air force and are securing Israel’s borders in combat roles in co-ed units. Women are making important contributions to Israel’s high-tech, cultural and medical fields. And Israel, in turn, is flourishing because of the freedom enjoyed by all citizens: Jews and Arabs, men and women, religious and secular, LGBT and straight. Of course, there are still many issues of inequality and discrimination and domestic violence that need to be addressed, as there are in every society. Israeli NGOs and a lively and free press, however, can be counted upon to hold the government accountable to continue to push for progress.
The singling-out of Israel at CSW is a symptom of the problem: the unending anti-Israel obsession at the U.N. This obsession produces dozens of General Assembly and Human Rights Council (HRC) resolutions yearly (compared to maybe a handful for the most egregious of abusive countries), an agenda item at the HRC dedicated solely for Israel and another one for all other countries.
The U.N.’s organizational credibility on Middle East issues, already near zero, is eroded even further with each of these biased resolutions, reports, and statements. But the work of vital organs like CSW is also degraded by the double standard imposed on Israel, as it is seen to be politicized.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
I, along with B’nai B’rith Latin America Chair Mario Wilhelm, represented B’nai B’rith at the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Plenary, held in Buenos Aires from March 15 to 17, which gathered 400 delegates from Jewish communities and Jewish international organizations from all over the world. B’nai B’rith is a longstanding member of the WJC governing board.
Attendees witnessed the warmth of the Argentinean government as the host country to the Jewish community and the State of Israel. President Mauricio Macri and Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra were very clear in their statements and reaffirmed the commitment of their government to fight terrorism, to dig deeper into prosecutor Alberto Nisman´s case and to try to find what happened when the Israeli Embassy was bombed in 1992 and when the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building was bombed in 1994.
Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes received the Shalom Award. Cartes did not sign a biased statement of Mercosur during the Gaza war in 2014. Cartes told Mercosur members that Paraguay is against biased statements which are not clear against Hamas terror. Since Cartes has been president, Paraguay has never voted against Israel in the United Nations and its agencies.
Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned vigorously the hate crime in Uruguay against a Jewish community leader in Paysandu, Uruguay and underlined the commitment of OAS to fight all forms of terrorism.
We had the opportunity to talk briefly with Cartes and with Almagro.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett was also keynote speaker at the Plenary. He said very clearly that Israel has all the will to achieve peace, but peace with security and peace with seriousness, not peace with incitement and Hamas terror.
The last day of the meeting there were two events. One, a tribute to AMIA victims in AMIA headquarters and the ceremony of remembrance of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires 24 years ago. Bennett was the keynote speaker in the tribute to those who perished in the bombing of the embassy.
We had a conversation with Argentine Defense Minister Patricia Bullrich about anti-Semitism and the terrorist killing of a Jewish leader in Uruguay. We also had a conversation about anti-Semitism, Nazi pages of hate on the internet and other issues with Argentine Secretary of Human Rights Claudio Avruj.
We had a meeting with Uruguayan Ambassador in Argentina Hector Lezcano, and we mainly talked about the anti-Semitic killing in Uruguay, and the reaction of the government and the civil society. We also talked about the concern of the Argentinean government of the killing in Uruguay and its eventual links in the region.
We had a conversation with Israeli Ambassador in Argentina Dorit Shavit and with Israeli Ambassador in Paraguay Peleg Lewi, who was in the delegation of Cartes.
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.
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