The following piece was originally printed in Algemeiner and can be read in its entirety below:
Daubing swastikas on walls has always been a deliberate way to convey hostility— a short-hand for inspiring hate, fear and intimidation.
A college fraternity at Stanford University was vandalized with swastikas and other written epithets in late April.
Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., also suffered recent attacks, with swastikas found in a campus library in April and one scratched into a student’s car in January 2014.
Reading of this vandalism, I was reminded of an incident I experienced in the fifth grade, some 55 years ago. Our teacher, Mrs. Kellom, called me over to the classroom doorway, and told me, in hushed tones, that a swastika was found on the wall in the boys’ bathroom. She assured me that the custodian had washed it off, and wanted me to know. I was the only Jewish student in that school, and even then I was astounded that Mrs. Kellom, in her own way, did not want me to think she took such things lightly. That was only 15 years after the Holocaust.
More than five decades later, anti-Semitic attacks are more prevalent worldwide than ever. And these odious incidents are manifesting in a variety of new and exceedingly disturbing ways.
In the Jewish community, we have to be vigilant on so many levels.
This wrenching reality is in our backyard. And here we must be citizen advocates to fight for justice.
In the United States, college campuses are at the forefront of a growing hatred of Jews and Israel. Make no mistake—these are not separate things.
Too often, the haters claim they are against Israel’s policies, not against Jews. Any suggestion that the anti-Semitism we are seeing is legitimate criticism of Israel is a false justification—it’s anti-Semitism masquerading as something else. But we are not fooled.
In Nashville, Tenn., in March, Vanderbilt University’s Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) chapter was vandalized; swastikas spray-painted in the basement and elevator of the fraternity house. B’nai B’rith has partnered with AEPi on a number of programs for the betterment of the communities in which we live. The maturity and fortitude of these young men is heartening, facing this hatred head on. It is shameful that college students have to face such indignity. But at the same time, we have an opportunity to recognize and commend our allies in fighting such hatred.
It is a testament to the school that hundreds of students came out to publicly support AEPi, and many fraternities and sororities publicly and loudly stood with AEPi against hatred.
Unfortunately, the vocal minority is loud and ominous in its efforts.
To be sure, swastikas are a sinister and potent, threatening symbol, telling Jews they don’t belong.
But there have been incidents that go beyond symbolism, and question the very foundation of what it means to be a Jew in America.
At the University of California, Davis, campus, epithets were hurled at Jewish students who opposed a boycott Israel resolution put forth by the student council. That campus also was hit with a swastika on a fraternity house.
At the University of California, Los Angeles, in March, when a Jewish student applied to be on the university’s judicial board, she was grilled about her assumed lack of objectivity due to her religion. Fabienne Roth, a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, asked Rachel Beyda during Beyda’s confirmation proceedings, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”
This line of thought is chilling and unacceptable. It is menacing to say to someone they can’t serve on a board because they are Jewish. This is eerily reminiscent of discriminatory systems in place in the middle of the last century, when the number of Jews in certain professions was limited or when Jews were not admitted to certain clubs or hotels.
At first, Beyda was rejected from the committee. A faculty adviser later helped lead the students to another conclusion and she was eventually accepted. But at what cost?
In its reporting on the situation, The New York Times wrote of the debate over Beyda’s ability to serve that the discussion “seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes—particularly about divided loyalties—that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries.”
College is a place to develop critical thinking skills. And in an educational setting, it is expected, and in many ways, a cherished tradition, that students will disagree. But “conversations” about Judaism and Israel are no longer dialogues in far too many places.
To fight anti-Semitism, we need allies; people of goodwill, like Mrs. Kellom, to be engaged. In the Jewish community, we have tolerance programs, such as our own Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge. In this education and awareness program, high school students write original books promoting tolerance, diversity and equality. Winning entrants earn college scholarships and have their books published and distributed to local school libraries, so tolerance and respect for others can be taught at an early age.
The virus of anti-Semitism is spreading. Partnerships are required to excise it. Mrs. Kellom clearly understood that people of goodwill need to act when confronted by these symbols or expressions of hatred. Now, 70 years after the Holocaust, together with friends and allies, we need to ensure that the passage of time doesn’t dull the collective consciousness to this scourge.
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.
On Wednesday, news reports from Rome heralded word that the Vatican was recognizing “Palestine” as a state. Coming from the world’s highest profile religious entity – focal point of 1.2 billion Catholics and the sovereign domain of a particularly popular pope – those monitoring the intersection of major-faith relations and international politics might have seen in the step a dramatic jolt to the Middle East status quo.
But the Vatican “recognition,” ill-advised prize though it is for the Palestinian leadership, is not exactly the path-breaking development some assume – and it is not likely to impact the actual circumstances of Palestinians and Israelis.
What press outlets have characterized as a treaty extending Vatican recognition to a Palestinian state – a state that doesn't yet exist and would of necessity have to result from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that Palestinians have spurned – was not so much an establishing of diplomatic ties between two countries but an agreement to protect “the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.” The wide-ranging institutional interests of Catholic communities, and assurance of their religious freedom, are, after all, primary concerns of a global church, not least in a region where the Christian minority is increasingly beleaguered.
To be sure, the so-called Comprehensive Agreement, negotiations over which were initiated with the Palestine Liberation Organization – precursor to the Palestinian Authority, and longtime claimant to recognition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” – will officially be signed by the president of the self-styled “State of Palestine,” Mahmoud Abbas, who also conveniently heads the PLO and the PA. And the addition of effective Holy See recognition of his “State,” beyond the similar nods he has collected across Latin America, Europe and beyond, will embolden Abbas in his explicit strategy of circumventing engagement with Israel and allow him to attempt to present a political achievement to his constituency.
Notably, the Palestinian nationalist movement has consistently sought to portray itself as the champion and rightful home of indigenous Muslims and Christians alike – and to portray a disfigured Israel as a usurper “apartheid” state bent on “Judaizing” Jerusalem.
But, for starters, the Vatican, little noticed by most, had already been referring to the “State of Palestine” even when Pope Francis visited the Palestinian territories, and neighboring countries, in 2014. The Holy See, itself an observer state at the United Nations, welcomed the UN General Assembly’s vote in 2012 to upgrade the status of “Palestine” – already privileged among the world’s nationalist groups with a PLO observer seat at the UN – to that of an observer “State of Palestine.”
Indeed, it was Pope John Paul II, beloved among Jews and others, who, beginning in 1982, helped legitimate the leadership of the PLO’s Yasser Arafat and to make more mainstream the Palestinian national cause. Maintaining a post existing since 1948, the Vatican has had an “apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine,” based in Jerusalem, and an apostolic nuncio (or ambassador) to Israel, seated in Tel Aviv; it also receives a Palestinian ambassador (thus far called “representative”) in Rome.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem – the Catholic archdiocese of the Holy Land, populated largely by Arab believers – has for nearly three decades been led by Arab patriarchs often outspoken in alignment with Palestinian political positions. Finally, Pope Francis himself – notwithstanding his warm friendship with Jews, particularly in his native Argentina – made waves during his 2014 visit by posing unexpectedly at an imposing section of Israel’s much-maligned security barrier. He also reserved comments addressed to “those who suffer most” from the conflict for the Palestinian portion of his pilgrimage, and forcefully affirmed support for Palestinian statehood alongside Israel.
The new agreement between the church and the Palestinians, which came on the eve of Abbas’s arrival in Rome for the canonization of two nuns who lived in Ottoman-era Palestine, does not, then, quite signal the novel event some assumed. It certainly will not hasten progress on the ground.
By joining in delivering unearned, unrequited returns to Abbas, the Vatican risks helping to remove incentives for Abbas, whose mainly symbolic victories have not bought him acclaim from his people, to pursue essential compromise rather than confrontation with Israel. Premature, unilateral foreign recognitions of “Palestine,” breaking with prior international insistence upon direct negotiation of peace, also suggest a disconnect from reality.
The circumstances of Israelis and Palestinians, and the non-existence of a Palestinian state, remain largely unchanged owing to the strength of Palestinian fanatics like Hamas, the Islamist terror group that seized control of the Gaza Strip from the PA. Vatican disregard for this disturbing fact is unfortunate at a time when the Holy See has taken an uncharacteristically, but entirely understandable, hard line on ISIS fanatics endangering Christians elsewhere in the region.
This said, Israel – which is accustomed to a sense that Palestinian positions are deemed infallible internationally, and which has worked to conclude its own complex agreement with the Vatican on tax issues related to church properties in the country – is not likely to react heatedly to the Holy See’s approach to the Palestinians.
If anything, it is particularly lamentable, though not cause for surprise, that the content of the Vatican agreement with the Palestinians reportedly includes the eastern part of Jerusalem in the territory to which it relates – when no part of Israel's capital has come to be Palestinian-governed under existing agreements.
Moreover, the deepening of Vatican ties with the “State of Palestine” coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council document that helped to positively transform the relationship between Catholics, as well as other Christians, and Jews.
The marking of that breakthrough, though, will continue – a breakthrough that, while arguably imperfect and incomplete, enabled a once-unimagined engagement between the church and not only the Jewish people but also their reborn state.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University.To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Webster’s dictionary defines "fiduciary" as:
adjective: "relating to or involving trust (such as between a customer and a professional)"
noun: "one that holds a fiduciary relation or acts in a fiduciary capacity"
I mention this because after literally years of effort, stops and starts, lobbying, delays, and controversy, the Department of Labor (DOL) has released its proposed Conflict of Interest Rule--Investment Advice a.k.a. the “Fiduciary Rule.”
While this has been much anticipated in the financial services community and by advocates for retirement security, it has been greeted in the rest of the country with, well, mostly silence. Most people probably haven’t heard about it, but it matters.
Here’s the 60-second, 30,000-foot explanation of what it is, and why it is important.
The DOL and the Internal Revenue Service share responsibility for making rules related to tax preferred retirement vehicles, including both individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and workplace-based retirement accounts (401K, 403b) and others. One of the DOL’s responsibilities is making the rules for how financial advisers and account managers have to behave.
This is particularly important now that so many people have their retirement savings in accounts over which they have a great deal of control. As a result, they may be seeking advice.
Does the person you are asking for advice have a responsibility to put your interests first and disclose to you any financial interest s/he has in products in which you might invest? Does s/he have a financial interest in different choices you can make? If so, s/he is called a fiduciary. Over the last 40 or so years (during which time the rules have hardly been updated) many more of us are seeking out advice, and getting it from financial professionals who do NOT fall into the fiduciary category. That means we are getting our advice from professionals who are not legally required to put our interests first.
Does that mean their advice is always bad? Of course not, and many give solid advice and disclose any commissions they might benefit from based on choices they advise you to make. But not all do, and those who are not classified as fiduciaries are not always obligated to do so.
In the coming weeks we will continue to review the new rule--it is complicated, nuanced, and long--and we will update you about what the changes would mean for investors and professionals in the field. The rule is currently in its “comment period.” To read more and comment, click here visit the Federal Register’s website.
And from the DOL, learn more about conflicts of interest and the proposed rule change by clicking here.
Finally, check out the DOL’s short video on the matter: “Are your retirement savings at risk?”
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.
Beginning with Moorish rule in the 8th century, the Iberian Peninsula became a magnet for world Jewry. The arrival of Jews to modern-day Spain and Portugal ushered in one of the most flourishing periods in Jewish history known as The Golden Age of Spain. The Jews of the region excelled, playing major roles in cultural and political life, and peacefully co-existing with Muslims and Christians for centuries.
That bright and prosperous history took a sharp turn with persecution and riots against the Jews taking hold in the 13th century. The forced conversions and public contempt for the Jews of Spain culminated with the Alhambra Decree of 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella called for the expulsion of all Jewish people. Thus began the dispersal of Jews to nearby North Africa, Italy, the Ottoman Empire and beyond, to the frontier edges of the New World. The exact number of Jews who left Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century is debated by scholars, but estimates suggest several hundred thousand.
Fast forward to the year 2015, where Spanish Jews number in the low tens of thousands—a fraction of the Jewish population in France, Germany or the United Kingdom. Today, Spain is attempting to rectify “the biggest mistake in Spanish history,” according to Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, with new draft legislation which would grant Spanish citizenship to descendants of Jews expelled in 1492.
The measure was presented to a visiting delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations a little over a year ago in Madrid, attended by B’nai B’rith President Allan J. Jacobs and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “Spanish nationality is a right, not a privilege,” said Ruiz-Gallardón, “The government will have no discretion in conferring citizenship once the law is passed.”
Modern Spain has made other attempts at making amends for a rocky past with its Jewish citizenry. The laws of the Inquisition were reversed with the 1869 constitution, proclaiming religious tolerance, and the Alhambra Decree itself was revoked in 1968. In 1992, in honor of the country’s quincentennial, King Juan Carlos proclaimed Sephardic Jews had a place in Spain, establishing the idea of granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews. But with no framework for implementation, a weak economy, and little political will, the proposal laid dormant.
The path to citizenship currently being debated would allow Jews outside of the country with ancestral roots in Spain to keep their current citizenship—a progressive move by repatriation standards—but places a burden of proof on a people whose lineage must be traced back over 500 years and often with a trajectory across multiple territories. The measure, which passed Spain’s lower house of Parliament at the end of March, awaits approval by the upper house, and is expected to become law this spring.
The early response by the Sephardic Diaspora has been enthusiastic, especially in places like the Balkans and in Latin America, and for vulnerable or otherwise isolated communities like those in Cuba. Others have responded more critically, wary that this may be somewhat self serving and an impractical conciliatory move.
In the traditional sense, Sephardic Jews draw their origins to the Iberian Peninsula—Sefarad is a Hebrew word meaning Spain. Today however the word Sephardim has taken a much wider meaning to include most all Jews who are not Ashkenazim.
Under the current language, applicants must be certified as Sephardic by Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, and thus traceable to Jews who resided in Spain before the mass expulsions. Then they must be tested, in Spain, by a government-approved notary on their knowledge of Spanish and Sephardic culture. If they pass, applicants would need to return to Spain at a later date, and at their own expense, for another procedure. The logistical standards to repatriation as established by the process alone could deter some candidates.
Estimates of expected applications range widely from 75,000 to over 150,000, though all may not qualify. The question remains whether or not Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities has the capacity to manage their newfound qualifying authority.
There are many practical challenges to unrolling and implementing this new legislation. Still, the uncertainty that surrounds the bill has done little to tamper expectations among the Sephardic Diaspora. For B’nai B’rith’s part, we remain cautiously optimistic that this important and sincere gesture of goodwill by the Spanish government creates an opportunity for Spain to compel the return of the Ladino language and its unique heritage, as well as the Sephardic culture to the land of its origin.
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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