In an op-ed for The Times of Israel, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin has returned from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and he can report: It’s business as usual. Agenda Item 7 persists as the only country-specific item, maligning Israel year-in and year-out, while a number of regimes around the world violate their own people’s human rights. While in Geneva, Mariaschin spoke with a number of foreign representatives and diplomats, urging them to say “no” to Item 7.
Click here to read the op-ed on TimesofIsrael.com
It has been business as usual at the U.N. Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva this month.
Here’s why it matters.
Notwithstanding the need for urgent attention to such serial abusers as Syria’s Assad regime, which continues to barrel-bomb its own citizens in the midst of a destructive civil war, and Iran, which most certainly vies for the lead in any number of human rights abuses, including the execution of juvenile offenders, Israel is still singled out for special opprobrium.
If this sounds like a broken record, it is. Each year, all countries up for discussion are lumped together into one agenda item, while Israel is always separated out from the rest for individual scrutiny under Item “7” which applies solely to the Jewish state, the only democracy in the Middle East. Subsumed under that item this year are a basket of separate resolutions, as well as six reports. The resolutions, which make no pretence at being objective, hammer Israel for “the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” settlements, human rights abuses in the Golan Heights and a call for Palestinian self-determination.
The special reports include updates on the infamous Goldstone Commission Report, which was written in the wake of the 2009 Gaza war, and which suggested Israel might be guilty of war crimes. Judge Richard Goldstone, who chaired the group which wrote the report, ultimately backed away from its one-sided findings. In the U.N. system, however, vituperation against Israel has a life of its own, so the report lives on.
What does all of this have to do with the real world in 2016? The Middle East is not only in chaos, it is in meltdown mode in Iraq and Syria. Libya has now become the new ISIS target of opportunity. Iran, soon to be flush with cash from the nuclear deal with the P5+1, sends its Revolutionary Guards to Syria, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that has taken over control of Lebanon, to back the Assad regime. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in this conflict, Christians and Yazidis have been massacred and subject to humiliation, eviction and dispersal, with millions becoming part of the biggest refugee migration in decades.
This situation has received scant attention from a U.N. body “re-formed and reformed” 10 years ago to address real human rights crises. Its 47 members have really done no such thing. It is dominated by countries from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, and something called the Like-Minded Group of Developing Countries, said to represent 50 percent of the world’s population, whose worldview includes protecting many of those countries who are in the first line of human rights abusers.
This session, as a result of membership rotation, the United States is not on the Council. Nevertheless, it has spoken out strongly against the double standard Israel receives at the hands of the members of the body. Neither is Canada, which has been a staunch defender of Israel over the past decade. The EU countries choose not to participate in the debate on Item 7, though several of its member states, critical of Israel, find a way to do so. The EU could act more forcefully against this on-going diplomatic charade, but it refrains from doing that—another example of how its actions often don’t measure up to the values it claims to uphold.
As for the Palestinians it once again proves that, though largely crowded out of the news because of events in the region, their ability to manipulate the U.N. system continues. Whether it was attaining full membership at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), non-member state status at the General Assembly, or getting its flag flown in front of the U.N. in New York and other U.N. venues (including Geneva), they continue to plug away, not feeling any pressure to return to the negotiating table with Israel. And why should they? The Palestinians feel they have the international community’s blindly supportive wind at their back—even at a time when the Middle East neighborhood in which the Palestinians are based, is imploding.
One European diplomat I met in Geneva, after a spirited discussion about how annual denunciations of Israel only embolden the Palestinians and discourage the Israelis, told me point blank that if they were to say “no’ to Item 7, “the Palestinian door would be closed to us.” My rejoinder was that if the EU—which has often been the Palestinians’ friend in court and which has for years funded the salaries of Palestinian Authority (PA) civil servants—really sought to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, they would spend their time urging the PA to move to the negotiating table, rather than allow this yearly lacerating of Israel to continue.
So as the Middle East burns, Nero—in this case—the Human Rights Council, fiddles. An aversion to doubling down on real abusers of human rights, and a propensity to let the anti-Israel rhetoric flow in Item 7 and its accompanying reports, speaks to the hypocrisy and emptiness of the Council and the system that has produced it.
Living in a time where, from our smart phone screens we can learn, real time, about the abuses of human rights everywhere, a global conscience is AWOL. Each day it stays that way, real opportunities to help those who suffer, pass. Instead, at the Human Rights Council and elsewhere, there is always time to unfairly castigate Israel.
What a terrible waste.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the Executive Vice President at B'nai B'rith International, and has spent nearly all of his professional life working on behalf of Jewish organizations. As the organization's top executive officer, he directs and supervises B'nai B'rith programs, activities and staff in the more than 50 countries where B'nai B'rith is organized. He also serves as director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Human Rights and Public Policy (CHRPP). In that capacity, he presents B'nai B'rith's perspective to a variety of audiences, including Congress and the media, and coordinates the center's programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
B’nai B’rith International has made several connections with Japan via relationship building with Japanese diplomats who have served as representatives in Washington, D.C. or Israel. This relationship brought B’nai B’rith an opportunity to facilitate a mission to Japan to engage young people. This project is called the Kakehashi Project- Japan’s Friendship Ties, and has been designed to help build bridges between Japan and the United States, and strengthen the partnerships between these two countries via visits by schools and organizations.
The organizers of the mission requested young people. We were able to fill our ranks with the leadership of B’nai B’rith’s Young Leadership Network and chapter leaders of Alpha Epsilon Pi, an international Jewish fraternity and a long-standing partner of B’nai B’rith. Japan’s government was especially interested in connecting with the Jewish community in the United States, setting an agenda for a seven-night program for twelve participants. I had the opportunity to serve as the staff liaison, coordinating the application and preparations process and serving as the group leader for the trip.
Each day we were briefed by representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from various roles on the situation in the Middle East, the votes that Japan cast at the United Nations and the relationship it continues to foster with the State of Israel. For these young leaders, we have shown them the respect that these diplomats have had for B’nai B’rith, many because of their interaction with Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, as well as the access that B’nai B’rith can provide. We shared casual conversations over a dinner in our honor, hosted by a member of Parliament.
At each of the official briefings we presented the speaker with a gift from the group, as our thank you for their time with us. We chose the commemorative 170th Anniversary B’nai B’rith International pin (B’nai B’rith was founded in 1843). This gift was our means of sharing our long history and our pride in the role B’nai B’rith has played in civil society and on the international scene.
One goal of the program was to ask participants to think about the perception they had of Japan before the visit, and later report on their feelings after they had immersed themselves in Japanese culture. We went from big cities like Tokyo, to rural mountain areas. We went from hotel beds to futons on tamari mats. We ate Japanese food— fish and rice with consideration of kosher needs with the provision of fresh vegetables. We participated in a “home stay” visit at several farms as guests of families. Many did not speak English, but with phrase books, we were made to feel more than welcome. We decided that the woman of the house was definitely linked to our Jewish mothers, who wanted to make sure we were fed and comfortable. When we left, the guests and hosts both had tears in their eyes when we said goodbye. We also learned that you can get Baskin Robbins ice cream and Krispy Kreme donuts at the mall or a 7-Eleven.
A geopolitical triangle: Israel, Greece and Cyprus lay foundations for new level of regional cooperation
Over the last two months, B’nai B’rith International has been at the cusp of an important emerging diplomatic development in the turbulent area of the Eastern Mediterranean—the establishment of a regional geopolitical consensus among the only three stable democracies in the area: Israel, Greece and Cyprus.
As other countries in the area, including Libya, Syria and Lebanon, deteriorate into chaos and as the United States continues to reduce its footprint in the region leaving open a vacuum that is being filled by other state and non-state players, the emerging partnership among these three countries, nurtured by their respective political leaders—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades—holds out the prospect for ensuring a degree of stability and security in what has become the world’s most volatile neighborhood.
B’nai B’rith’s most recent contribution to this welcome development—after decades during which Greece and Cyprus were firmly in the pro-Palestinian camp—came on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 when it co-organized an international conference entitled “Strategic Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean” together with the eminent Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. While conference presenters also discussed broader historical, superpower and regional perspectives, the meeting provided a platform for leading Israeli, Greek and Cypriot figures—including Greek Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos, Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Israel Ministry of Defense Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, Former Israel National Security Advisor Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former Greek Minister of Internal Security Vasilis Kikilias and long-serving DCM at the embassy of Cyprus in Tel Aviv Michalis Firillas—to focus on the interplay between these three key countries.
The conference came on the heels of B’nai B’rith’s most recent engagement with the tripartite Israeli-Greek-Cypriot relationship when it organized the second Greek American-Jewish American Leadership Mission to the three countries held in January in cooperation with the Conference of Presidents and two leading Greek American organizations. Taken together, the mission, which included meetings with the leaders of all three countries, and the conference helped to buttress one of the few promising signs of good neighborly relations in a region overrun with strife and rivalry
In opening comments, B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin set the tone of the conference by correctly noting that the situation in the region is deteriorating quickly and that as possible solutions to stemming that tide seem far out of reach “some countries in the region are taking matters into their own hands, looking to forge joint efforts to stabilize the regional environment. The [historic] signal sent by the leaders of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus when they signed a joint cooperation declaration last month was unmistakable…The Tripartite Summit comes against the back-drop of chaos and uncertainty that it roiling the region. The list of challenges and threats is lengthening: ISIS and a coterie of Islamic radical and terrorist organizations, the break-up of Syria and Iraq, the problems in Sinai and Yemen, and the on-going presence and continuing militarization of Hezbollah and Hamas. And then there is the growing Russia factor. And casting a shadow over all of this is the re-entry of Iran into the international community, flush with cash as a result of the nuclear agreement, and which will surely increase efforts to advance its interests, and its hegemonistic aspirations in the region.”
In the absence of credible international initiatives to stem the tide of instability, the joint declaration stressed that the new trilateral cooperation is not closed to other countries with similar goals. Egypt and even Turkey—a country whose behavior and regional aspirations loomed over the conference—could find their way into the club, as could countries further afield in the Mediterranean, such as Italy.
Granted, Minister Kammenos and other speakers asserted that Turkey’s policies in this unstable region have been harmful to bringing about regional stability. However, Turkey is now seeking allies as its foreign relations with all bordering countries disintegrates, and as it faces a new superpower enemy, Russia, Whether that would open the door for Turkey to be part of this alignment in the eastern Mediterranean has yet to be seen.
While the two countries have been conducting a series of joint air and naval exercises annually, defense collaboration is just one of many new areas of cooperation between these new partners. Other dimensions include plans for joint development of the proximate significant natural gas fields discovered in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Israel and Cyprus that could be transported to an energy-hungry European market through Greece, the sharing of Israel’s impressive success in entrepreneurship and economic development and in the promotion of Greece and Cyprus as welcoming tourist destinations for vacationing Israeli who used to fill the hotels of Antalya until relations with Turkey went sour.
In the diplomatic field, Greece has already proven to be a reliable ally of Israel at the European Union, leading opposition to the EU’s initiative to label settlement products in a grossly discriminatory manner and to a resolution that would have committed the EU to continue to clearly and unequivocally differentiate between Israel and the disputed territories. Greece’s rejection of labeling and successful efforts to amend the resolution, later joined by Cyprus, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland, represent a sharp and welcome departure from past Greek policy within the EU.
With Israel now ranked as eighth most powerful country in the world (in a study published in late January by the prestigious Wharton School and U.S. News and World Report) this alliance also has clear benefits for Greece and Cyprus.
Mekel says that stronger tripartite relations may also serve to encourage Turkey to show more flexibility in negotiations regarding normalization of ties between Ankara and Jerusalem. He also believes that the hardiness of the relationships has already been tested, withstanding three changes of government in Greece—from Papandreou’s Socialists, to the Conservative government of Antonis Samaras and through to the two successive governments of current prime minister Tsipras from the Left-wing Syriza party that was very critical of Israel in the past. It also weathered unscathed the unanimous vote by the Greek parliament in December calling on the government to recognize the State of Palestine—a nonbinding resolution condemned by the Israeli government as being contrary to existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that rule out unilateral steps towards Palestinian statehood. In the case of Cyprus, the defense relationship between the two countries started under left-oriented President Demetris Christofia, and continues at full speed under current conservative leader Anastasiades.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the summit in Nicosia on Jan. 28, the meeting of interests between the three countries is indeed remarkable: “I believe this meeting has historic implications. The last time Greeks, Cypriots and Jews sat around a table and talked on a common framework was 2,000 years ago.” Coupled with reported engagement between Israel and some Gulf States in reaction to common fears of both ISIS and a nuclear Iran following the adoption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and plans to launch a major reengagement with African countries announced last week during the visit of Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta to Israel that reportedly include military dimensions to help these countries counter Iranian and radical Islamic expansion in the continent, it would seem that Israel is anything but isolated in today’s complex geopolitical environment.
While multiple threats remain the government seems agile in taking advantage of changing landscapes to position Israel as a pivotal country for all peace-seeking countries within a wide radius, not only because of its geographical placement but also because of its proven capabilities and success against all odds.
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