B’nai B’rith International is a proud sponsor of affordable housing for low-income seniors. Since 1971, working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), B’nai B’rith has made affordable rental apartments available for seniors, which currently assists about 8,000 older people with limited incomes. Between 1959 and 2012, the federal government with the help of nonprofit organizations constructed affordable housing for low-income seniors. B’nai B’rith and HUD have been able to make these rental apartments available through various federal programs, most recently through Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly. Currently, the Section 202 program is the only federal program that expressly addresses the need for affordable elderly housing for low income seniors (average income around $12,000).
These Section 202 buildings are able to provide a service enriched environment, often through the service coordinator program, which allows seniors to “age in place” and avoid moving to more costly institutional care. Unfortunately, in FY 2012 Congress stopped appropriating funding for the Section 202 Capital Advance Program that allowed for construction of new buildings. At the moment, Congress still appropriates funding for rental subsidies for the tenants who reside in existing buildings.
Recently, the White House proposed major reductions to the budget for HUD, and the low-income senior residents of Section 202 buildings unfortunately, might be the victim. Any proposed budget by the White House that reduces rental subsidies at the expense of affordable housing for seniors is an incredibly short sighted policy, and threatens to needlessly increase the federal budget. Long-term analysis demonstrates that 27 million older adults will be low-income in 2035, as compared to 15 million in 2015. Since the construction of new Section 202 buildings has remained stagnant since FY 2012, the demand for low-income housing is increasing while the supply of units is decreasing. According to the AARP, for every Section 202 unit that becomes vacant, there are 10 seniors on a waiting list. If additional affordable housing is not constructed, where are the 27 million low-income seniors supposed to live in 2035? Furthermore, cutting Section 202 rental subsidies only throws another log on the affordable housing shortage fire, for which the government has no strategy to extinguish.
According to HUD, 38 percent of Section 202 tenants are frail or near-frail, and consequently need help with daily activities, making them potential candidates for long-term institutional care. Section 202 community based services, like the service coordinator, have demonstrated a greater likelihood of retaining their residents and avoiding more pricey institutions. A HUD study from 2011, indicates, “the average age at which elderly households leave assisted housing is the highest for Section 202 residents compared to other housing programs.” Additional research concluded that housing programs like Section 202 are responsible for slowing the growth of Medicaid costs.
If the White House and Congress cut rental subsidies for Section 202 buildings it will only exacerbate an existing housing shortage. Members of Congress and the president should show political courage and demonstrate to their constituents that investing money in the Section 202 housing program allows seniors to “age in place,” and reduces unnecessary financial burdens on the federal budget.
During the recent U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session, the new American administration announced that they were re-evaluating U.S. participation on the council. As the administration decides on the course of action that the U.S. takes at the council, this is a good time to review the most pressing problems that still need to be addressed if there is going to be a serious reform of the UNHRC.
Agenda “Item 7”
Agenda “Item 7” is perhaps the clearest evidence of the anti-Semitism that is endemic within many parts of the U.N. system. “Item 7” is a permanent agenda item on the UNHRC schedule that is reserved only for the criticism of Israel; all other U.N. member states are examined under the “Item 4” of the agenda. This item ensures that Israel will be brought up for discussion at each and every council regular session in perpetuity. It is indicative of the obsessive singling-out of Israel that is a major defect built into the UNHRC from its inception. It also encompasses many of the other problems, as they are all housed under its umbrella (many of these problems, however, would still exist even without “Item 7”). “Item 7” is also hard to get rid of because it requires approval of the U.N. General Assembly, a body where anti-Israel voting blocs are also entrenched.
When Israel agreed to resume cooperation with the UNHRC and the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), European countries reportedly agreed to stop speaking during “Item 7” in order to point out the illegitimacy of an agenda item singling out one country. Since then, European adherence to this deal has been spotty. The first relatively small step to reform of the council must be the EU more consistently and steadfastly adhering to its commitments to refrain from legitimating “Item 7.”
OHCHR has had a highly strained relationship with Israel over the years, partly due to mandates forced upon OHCHR from the UNHRC (OHCHR acts as UNHRC’s secretariat), but also due to biased statements, press releases and reports from OHCHR itself.
By far the largest issue that will need to soon be addressed with OHCHR will be the creation of an UNHRC-mandated database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements. The UNHRC passed a resolution last March requiring OHCHR to compile a database of companies—likely to be made up of Israeli companies as well as international companies whose products helping bring security to Israeli communities on both sides of the Green Line. The database could then become a blacklist that anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists will draw from to wage campaigns. This discriminatory action must be stopped. OHCHR has sought (and received) approval from the UNHRC to delay implementation of the database, perhaps understanding the fraught nature of the task. But delaying bigotry is still bigotry, and the delay will not be forever. Only the council can reverse this by passing a resolution, which, given the council dynamics, could be a steep climb.
The UNHRC has a number of special rapporteurs that investigate either specific countries or more general human rights themes (such as the right to freedom of religion or belief). The special rapporteur on Israel is unique in that the mandate can go on forever, whereas all other mandates must be renewed every two years. The special rapporteur can also only investigate one side of this conflict situation—Israel, the lone vibrant democracy in the Middle East, but not Palestinian offenses (such as terrorism, incitement, or repression of those under Palestinian Authority or Hamas rule).
Since the conclusions are reached in advance, the council prefers to pick anti-Israel professors to report on an inherently biased mandate. The current office holder, Michael Lynk of Canada, is no exception to this rule. His predecessor, Richard Falk, was the co-author behind an outrageous report of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) that accused Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime” on the Palestinians. That report—an anti-Semitic smear commissioned by a U.N. agency—was rightly taken down by the U.N. Secretary-General and the head of ESCWA resigned. Lynk and Falk are veteran anti-Israel partisans whose reports the council knew would be a reliable attack on Israel.
In the earlier days of the council, Israel was targeted almost exclusively for condemnatory resolutions. In the past few years, the number of other country-specific resolutions has grown, so the imbalance is not as patently ridiculous as before (although many of these country-specific resolutions are not as critical as the anti-Israel resolutions, which never miss a chance to condemn Israel).
Still, at the last session, five anti-Israel resolutions passed with only the U.S. and Togo voting against all of them. Four were on issues relating to the Palestinian-Israel conflict; one was an absurd resolution on the Golan Heights (especially in light of what is happening next door in Syria). For other countries, all issues are rolled into one resolution, but for Israel each issue needs a detailed and harsh resolution with follow-up mechanisms that further clog the council’s and OHCHR’s time.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive; indeed, there are many other problems that contribute to the malaise at the council. Solving the above issues, as tough as they each may be, will not put an end to the anti-Israel hostility at the UNHRC, but they are the most important steps to reforming the UNHRC and OHCHR so that they can finally begin to live up to their promise—to be non-selective, universal human rights bodies.
It hardly mattered that few of the players representing Israel in the World Baseball Classic last month knew the Hebrew terms for balls and strikes. Nor did it cause concern that only two of them possessed Israeli citizenship.
What mattered was that the team, compromised mostly of American players of Jewish descent (persons who are eligible for Israeli citizenship could play for the team), willed and plucked its way to the second round of the international championship. In doing so, they captivated the baseball world and provided both Israeli and American fans with that most irresistible of all sports narratives: an underdog story.
Who were these guys? An compendium of has-beens and never-weres (only two of the team's players appeared on a Major League roster last year), Team Israel was ranked 41st in the world and tagged by ESPN as the "Jamaican bobsled team of the WBC." The ace of their pitching staff, 38-year-old Jason Marquis, hadn’t played organized baseball since June 2015. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway spent last season in the minor leagues with two different clubs, but as a Yale alumnus, he helped cement Team Israel’s place as the most educated squad in the WBC.
And yet they won—all three of their qualifying games, all three of their first round games, and a second round game against Cuba in the Tokyo Dome, witnessed by a visiting B'nai B'rith delegation waving Israeli flags and Purim groggers.
The players wore t-shirts that read "Jew Crew." During the pre-game playing of "HaTikvah," the Israeli national anthem, they would remove their game caps and don matching blue kippahs.
But what particularly captured the team ethos of cheekiness and unflappability was its designation of the kitschy life-sized doll "Mensch on a Bench" (the players called him Moshe) as the team's mascot. One player referred to Moshe as "a metaphysical presence" within the team.
They defeated more highly regarded squads from three different continents before succumbing to the Netherlands and Japan. What is also significant, though, is the fact that they competed on equal terms against teams who saw the matchup with Israel not as an opportunity to stoke Israel's political isolation—as is so often the case in international gatherings—but simply to play ball.
Israel's supporters view the Jewish state as blessedly unique, a source of intense pride. But what they want for Israel on the international stage is for it to be treated like any other country, subject to the same rules and standards. The WBC offered the Jewish community, and the world, a glimpse into a present and future in which Israel takes its rightful place among the nations and generates little controversy or backlash for doing so. No boycotts, no demonstrations, no extra security precautions. May the best team win.
Team Israel was a 200-1 underdog in 2017, but how can you not like their chances in the next WBC tournament, in 2021. 200-1? Feh. According to Mensch on a Bench creator Neal Hoffman, "We've faced worse."
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 Fusfield.
In Rome, an extensive collaborative museum installation and a significant archaeological find have illuminated fascinating aspects of Jewish history and traditions.
Slated to open on May 15 and running until July 23, 2017, “Menorah: Worship, History, Legend” is the result of the groundbreaking curatorial partnership forged by the Vatican Museums in St. Peter’s Square and the Jewish Museum, situated in the city’s main synagogue. More than three years in preparation, the show will be equally shared between the two venues, where visitors can come to see more than 130 artworks and artifacts.
Examining the history of the menorah—the Hebrew term for a seven branch candelabra—and its symbolism and iconography (important to both the Christian and Jewish faiths), the display will focus on its legendary prototype, the solid gold menorah, famously depicted on the Arch of Titus, which was removed from the Temple of Jerusalem by Roman troops in 70 CE. This monumental treasure of a conquered people was shown in Rome at a time when it impacted Christianity’s developing visual vocabulary. In 455 CE, pagan troops invaded and looted the city of its trophies, including the menorah, which then disappeared. The mystery surrounding its subsequent fate has fascinated scholars, who formulated both credible and fantastic theories concerning its whereabouts during the ensuing centuries. In Judaism, the specificity of what had adorned the temple gradually became simplified, and this image was used to represent that which was ineffable, like the emanation of divine light. The seemingly omnipresent motif appears in the murals which decorated sanctuaries, marked the tombstones of the deceased, embellished coins and other utilitarian objects, as well as in painting, sculpture, sacred manuscripts and books, Judaica and graphic works. Within the sphere of Christian worship, the menorah was employed as a liturgical object used during the rituals held in many churches and cathedrals, including those in Milan, Prato, Pistoia and other places.
The collaboration between the two institutions represents a milestone in relations between Catholic and Jewish peoples, first bridged in 1965 with Pope John XXIII’s issuing of the encyclical “Nostra Aetate (In Our Time),” a letter which both condemned all forms of religious prejudice, including anti-Semitism and exhorted the faithful to recognize that “The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant.” While the next popes, Paul, John Paul, Benedict and Francis, continued to advance inroads in ecumenical interaction during their reigns. The “Menorah project will finally transform longstanding dialogue into something concrete,” noted Ruth Dureghello, president of Rome’s Jewish community, during a public announcement about the initiative, where the dais was shared by notables of both religions, including among others, the city’s chief rabbi, Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations.
Coinciding with the public announcement about Rome’s Menorah exhibit was the revelation about a dig that was occurring in the city as part of a 6-year project involving the restoration of the Palazzo Leonori, in a section of the Trastevere neighborhood. The examination of historic maps of a section of the excavated ground near the Tiber River identified the site as that of the Campus Iudeorum or Field of Jews, a graveyard in use from 1363 until 1645, when the cemetery, but not the interred, was moved and new city walls were on top of the bodies. These nearly 300 years encompasses the period after 1555, when the anti-Semitic Pope Paul IV confined the community to a disease-ridden ghetto. Iin 1625, Pope Urban vented his wrath on the Jewish dead, destroying existing headstones, while new graves were ordered to be left unmarked. The archeologists working on the site unearthed wood fragments—coffin remnants—and, in the perimeters of the dug graves, 38 well-preserved adult skeletons, including two women with gold rings on their fingers and one man buried with a set of iron scales, perhaps to indicate his profession or to underscore his reputation as a just person. Confirming the information gleaned from the maps, these findings provided proof that this was a burial ground, further evidenced by stone shards bearing the Hebrew inscription “Here Lies.”
Daniela Rossi, the supervising archaeologist of the dig, said that tests on the bones showed signs of malnutrition indicating the consumption of the low protein diet common to the Roman poor. It was announced by Claudio Procaccia, the director of the Culture Department for the Jewish Community of Rome, that all the skeletons were removed for burial in accordance with Jewish law.
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