United States Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken posed clear goals when he addressed the General Assembly:
“As Secretary General Almagro has emphasized, the OAS must adapt to these modern times and to the contemporary challenges that we face. We must strengthen responsible stewardship and good governance in our own national governments and within the OAS, including its associated and constituent offices. This means shaping a more focused and fortified secretariat that faithfully reflects the Strategic Vision statement, advances an agenda for reform, and refocuses on the OAS’s core thematic pillars. And it means taking a stand against corruption and acts of betrayal by public officials in our own countries that undermine democratic institutions and the sacred trust of our people.
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.
“The Disaster Relief Fund is open and needs support. Help us be ready by donating to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/bbi-disaster-relief.”
You may have seen that sentence in a news release or an appeal from B’nai B’rith. In a recent two month period, the fund was opened to support assistance to victims of flooding in Texas and the earthquake in Nepal.
Technically, the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund is always open—we gratefully accept donations to our general disaster fund that are not designated for a specific disaster, because we know that there is no date on the calendar to plan for when these natural disasters occur. Disasters that are man-made, such as terrorist attacks, will occur with no science to understand them.
Since the mid 1800s, B’nai B’rith got involved in responding to disasters with the creation of our Disaster Relief Fund. Domestically and across the globe, the fund provides money to assist victims of a disaster via partners in the community or for the first responders who travel there to provide their expertise for the emergency.
The impact of any disaster is devastating, but a disaster hitting poor, heavily populated areas makes the devastation more devastating as much of these locations already have overloaded services that are dealing with the underserved population.
B’nai B’rith is ready to respond once a disaster occurs. A committee comprised of volunteer leaders and staff reviews the information about the disaster that has occurred and determines the need to allocate funds. An appeal is made for donations to enable our response. We receive requests for funding assistance from local community leaders, or we seek out partners in the area that has been impacted.
We dedicate much of our response to “unmet needs,” which may not have already been provided by others. We also know that there are phases of a disaster that will meet our criteria, at the beginning of the emergency, during recovery efforts and finally, rebuilding.
Long after a disaster has been in the headlines, there is need for assistance. Some distributions are completed in a month, and some have taken up to five years for the project that has been allocated to reach completion.
B’nai B’rith’s history of providing disaster relief is part of our core mission of humanitarian aid. As anniversaries of major disasters come along, we often reflect on the impact of the funds provided by our donors.
For example, in April 1995 the B’nai B’rith Disaster Fund provided scholarships to the children of government workers who were killed in the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
Twenty years later, these children are grown, still missing a parent, but they have had assistance with their education by people who cared about them enough to make a donation.
Since that disaster, B’nai B’rith has supported many other projects in the United States and around the world, providing close to $3 million in assistance projects.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund is always open.
We cannot predict the future or know where help will be needed, but you can help us be ready to respond today.
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 B'rith 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.
A movement by European governments to label products made in the West Bank is gaining traction, even as Israel argues that such a policy would cause great economic and political harm to the Jewish state.
In April, 16 of 28 European Union foreign ministers signed a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini asking her to move forward on labeling goods that are produced in the West Bank and sold in European grocery chains.
“European consumers must indeed have confidence in knowing the origin of goods they are purchasing,” the letter said. If a product is made in the West Bank (which Europeans do not consider part of Israel proper), according to the argument, then anyone purchasing it has the right to be notified.
So is this simply a case of truth in advertising? Of course not. The same letter from the 16 governments revealed another motive. “We remain of the view that this is an important step in the full implementation of EU longstanding policy, in relation to the preservation of the two-state solution,” the ministers declared. “The continued expansion of Israeli illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…threatens the prospect of a just and final peace agreement.”
If the goal, then, is to advance the two-state solution by repudiating Israeli businesses in the West Bank, why does Europe bother to promote the tertiary argument about inspiring “confidence in knowing the origin of goods”? Because doing so allows European officials to maintain that they are not participating in the sinister Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS is a campaign to isolate Israel economically and politically through boycotts and other discriminatory tactics. Its aim is to delegitimize and ultimately cripple the Jewish state.
Germany, which was not one of the 16 governments that signed the letter to Mogherini, has nonetheless announced its intention to label goods manufactured by Israelis in the West Bank. Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to Israel, flatly asserted in the Jerusalem Post that his country is not “in the business of calling for boycotts. Germany decidedly rejects any such attempt.”
But to Israelis, the labeling of West Bank products is a blow to the economy not only of the region, but of the entire country. A labeling regime that is applied to West Bank products, some argue, could eventually lead to a broader and potentially catastrophic boycott of all Israeli goods, as Israel increasingly becomes tarred as an illegal occupier and a pariah state. As Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid told Mogherini in a phone call, the demand by the 16 European foreign ministers was “effectively a call for the de facto boycott of Israel,” one that could “bring disaster to the Israeli economy.”
The Palestinian economy would feel the effect, as well. The West Bank currently is home to some 800 Israeli business, which cumulatively employ about 15,000 Palestinians, whose wages are markedly higher than what they would earn working for Palestinian employers. The recent decision by the noted Israeli beverage company SodaStream to move its operations from the West Bank to the Negev will mean its Palestinian workers will face a much longer commute and need to apply for permits to work in Israel.
In the end, the implementation of labeling policies may significantly influence their impact. The European Commission is expected to publish advisory guidelines for EU member-states, but whether and how vendors will be required to label certain products will vary from country to country. A label such as “Made in the West Bank” may be perceived differently than a label that reads, “Made in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” for example. And whether Palestinian-owned businesses will receive similar treatment to Jewish-owned businesses will be a key consideration in evaluating the intentions behind the labeling regime.
Meanwhile, Israel, as it does so often, braces itself, while the Palestinians repose and wait for the EU and the rest of the international community to continue to apply pressure on the Jewish state, in lieu of calling for an end to Palestinian incitement and a return by the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table. If a two-state solution is indeed what the EU seeks, it would do well to hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and encourage direct bilateral talks, rather than devising new means of isolating Israel and undermining its existence.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been the B’nai B’rith International director of legislative affairs since 2003 and the deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He has worked in Jewish advocacy since 1998. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Recently, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) celebrated the 65th anniversary of its creation with an event at U.N. Headquarters in New York. The agency—whose regular budget is funded predominately from Western donor countries—serves only Palestinian refugees. All other refugees in the world fall under the care of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Unlike other refugees, Palestinian refugees can also pass on their refugee status to their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Instead of settling the refugees, UNRWA has exacerbated the problem and now claims to have 5 million refugees under its care.
It should not be forgotten that the Palestinians were not the only refugees of the period in the Middle East. A greater number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries were also in need of resettlement at the time. The difference, of course, was that the Arab refugees from the recently-declared State of Israel in 1948 were fleeing an active war zone due to the inability of Israel’s Arab neighbors to accept the nation-state of the Jewish people. Arab countries invaded the fledgling state of Israel while also kicking out their own Jewish populations. Most of the Jewish refugees arrived in the newly-emerging State of Israel penniless, but were integrated within the new state (albeit often in a far from seamless or ideal way).
The Arab world never took responsibility for the creation of both refugee situations: the Arab refugees by invading Israel in a bid to end its existence, and Jewish refugees by the mass expulsions of Jews from countries where they had been a thriving community for hundreds of years. The responsibility to care for the Palestinian refugees was transferred to the international community, where it festers to this day because they were never integrated into the neighboring Arab states. Worse, in some cases Arab states have put severe restrictions on the Palestinian refugees’ lives, most acutely in Lebanon which does not allow Palestinians to own property or to enter many professions. These laws were meant to ensure that the refugees could not integrate.
UNRWA is not just an aid agency, though. To be sure, UNRWA does provide medical care and education. One would not know it from the media portrayal of the Palestinians, but the health and education status of those under UNRWA care are actually among the highest in the Middle East (as UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl proudly stated at the celebratory event). But UNRWA also often strays from its humanitarian mission and moves into the political, pushing forward the Palestinian narrative. The agency’s media unit showed off a number of slickly-produced videos during the 65th anniversary event that could have been mistaken for something coming out of the Palestinian Authority, or one of the Palestinian propaganda units within the U.N. Secretariat (most notably the well-funded Department of Palestinian Rights or the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People).
UNRWA representatives also frequently take to the airwaves to bash Israel in times of renewed conflict. Hamas has fired from in and around UNRWA facilities, and when Israel is forced to respond, UNRWA condemns vociferously the Israeli counter-terrorism actions. During the latest round of fighting, rockets were found by UNRWA in its facilities in Gaza, but it is unclear what if any accountability measures have been put in place to make sure such a situation does not repeat itself. In reaction to the discovery of the rockets in three separate incidents, UNRWA could not bring itself to condemn Hamas by name. Needless to say, there is no such timidity when UNRWA has an issue with Israeli actions—the accusations are fast and the condemnations are furious.
Most fundamentally, though, UNRWA perpetuates and promotes the Palestinian narrative of the Palestinian claim to return. Generation upon generation of refugee is told the lie that there is a “right of return;” that they can remain a refugee until there is a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinian representatives that will allow them to return to within Israel’s borders. Of course, there is no “right of return,” only the politically-driven (and non-binding) U.N. General Assembly resolution 194, which Israel is under zero obligation to follow. When a Palestinian state emerges as an end-product of direct negotiations with Israel, the refugees will be expected to either settle permanently in the states where they currently reside or move to within the borders of the newly-formed Palestinian state. No Israeli government will accept a flood of Palestinian refugees (and their succeeding generations) en masse within its borders, to do so would be an end to the Jewish democratic state.
As UNRWA turns 65, there appears to be little will in the Arab world, especially in the Palestinian leadership, to address the root cause of the conflict: the inability to accept Zionism—the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty and self-determination in their homeland. As such, UNRWA will continue into the future to serve the ever-growing Palestinian refugee population on the dime of Western taxpayers. Donor countries must call for UNRWA reform so that the agency adheres strictly to its humanitarian mission and the refugee population is prepared for reality when a two-state solution is reached.
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.
Fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism: Will it Stem the Tide of Rising Hatred and Violence?
Spanning an unprecedented 1,200 participants from 80 countries and 7 religions, the fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism convened at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center on May 12-14 under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs Ministry. An impressive B’nai B’rith delegation, led by Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, took an active role in the forum’s deliberations and was noted by a number of key speakers as having made a significant contribution to the fight against anti-Semitism.
The gathering was arguably the largest-ever meeting of Jewish and non-Jewish experts, activists and government representatives single-mindedly dedicated to seeking ways to stem anti-Semitism. It took place in the foreboding shadow of growing anti-Jewish hatred and violence primarily in Europe, illustrated by three murderous, Islamist-motivated attacks in the past year against Jewish targets in Copenhagen, Paris and Brussels. The sheer magnitude of the gathering and the attention that it drew to the problem was the forum's initial success. A sense of urgency permeated the deliberations with the presentation of studies indicating that resurgent anti-Semitism is now at pre-Holocaust levels, with synagogues, schools, kosher markets, museums and other Jewishly-identifiable institutions coming under attack, along with individuals who are recognizably Jewish.
Two main themes—Confronting anti-Semitism and Hate Speech on the Internet and Social Media and The Rise of anti-Semitism in Europe’s Cities Today—helped to focus general discussion, but nearly a dozen other topics were tackled at the forum through a structure of regional and thematic working groups. Prior to the meeting, each working group submitted a well argued mission statement and they are now in the process of finalizing action plans based on intensive discussions held during the forum. As an example of the detail to which each of these groups delved, the working group on Internet and media, co-chaired by B'nai B'rith Canada Senior Honorary Counsel David Matas, formulated more than 65 recommendations for service providers, web hosting companies, social media platforms and search engines, governments and non-governmental organizations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the conference with a powerful warning that while many believed that after the Holocaust history’s oldest hatred would be discarded, “today there is no doubt that we are living in an age of resurgent anti-Semitism.”
“Jews everywhere are once again being slandered and vilified. This is taking place in the intolerant parts of the Middle East but it's also taking place in what otherwise would be expected to be the tolerant parts of the West. It's taking place in Beirut, in Damascus, in Tehran. But it's also taking place, violently so, in Toulouse, in Paris, in Brussels,” Netanyahu told the forum.
He cautioned, “contemporary anti-Semitism doesn't just slander, vilify and target the Jewish people. It first and foremost today targets the Jewish state … The demonstrations, the boycotts, the resolutions are all reserved for the Middle East's one true democracy, in fact it's the most beleaguered democracy on Earth, Israel … The sad truth is that no rational examination can justify the obsession with the Jewish state, and this obsession with the Jewish state and the Jewish people has a name. It's called anti-Semitism.”
Besides serving as a platform for devising a common plan of action for combating anti-Semitism for the participants and others devoted to this goal, the forum also provided an important opportunity for foreign political leaders to commit their countries and cities to the struggle. Tim Uppal, the Canadian minister of state for multiculturalism, said, “The anti-Semitism of old is re-emerging as human rights in an attempt to delegitimize Israel. This new anti-Semitism targets Jews by targeting Israel and attempt to make the old hatred and bigotry acceptable to a new generation. Our mission to fight the rise of the old and new anti-Semitism begins with acknowledging exactly what it is: racist, hate-filled and completely unacceptable. We as leaders must take a clear and unambiguous stand in support of Israel. For the government of Canada, Israel has an absolute and non-negotiable right to exist as a Jewish state."
Uppal ended by quoting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech to the Knesset in which he vowed, "Through fire and water Canada will stand with Israel.”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidlago reaffirmed that French Jews are French citizens and enjoy an inexorable right to live in France and to feel at home.
She declared that “without Jews, France would not be the same country and Paris would not be the same city. We do not want that to happen, ever. We will not tolerate any action against the security and religious freedom of the Jewish community. We will not tolerate anti-Jewish speeches and conspiracy theories. This is absolutely unacceptable. Violence against Jews in France calls for a national reckoning.”
Hiko Mass, federal minister of justice and consumer protection in Germany declared, “Although Hitler was defeated 70 years ago, his ideas unfortunately live on. 1,500 anti-Semitic criminal offenses were committed in Germany in 2014. Given our history, the fact that this sort of thing happens in Germany is a disgrace for our country.”
Speaking on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Nickolay Mladenov, recently appointed special U.N. coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said that the secretary-general wants to shine a torch on the problems of anti-Semitism, discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia and other challenges faced in today’s world.
Mladenov utilized his speech to announce that the United Nations will convene later this year a meeting of civil society leaders to confront anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. “We all share the responsibility to eradicate anti-Semitism and fight it at its roots …The U.N. believes that we must speak out against all forms of intolerance and stand firmly against those who deny the Holocaust. The denial of Israel’s right to exist is often a manifestation of exactly the same ugly bias. The pursuit of justice for all, including for the Palestinian people and the pursuit of peace in the Middle East must not be used to justify violence or hatred against Jews in their communities.”
He concluded by calling on communities to “close the empathy gap” between them and find common understanding.
Ambassador Szabolcs Takacs, Hungarian chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, warned that many forms of radicalism are on the rise in many European countries and societies. Takacs also called on every country to adopt rules and regulations that penalize anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Additionally, he stressed the need to adopt Holocaust education and to establish centers and museums that follow the internationally accepted narrative of Holocaust remembrance: "to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
And U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro pledged "You can count on the United States not to let up. You can count on the United State to be unequivocal wherever legitimate criticism of Israel degenerates into an excuse for anti-Semitism or incitement to violence. You can count on the United States to rally others to that cause and to pursue justice and accountability at home and abroad ant to speak truth in the face of anti-Semitic rhetoric, innuendo and conspiracy theories, no matter the source."
Notwithstanding the importance of these commitments by senior government officials, their significance was put into question by the doyen of the study of anti-Semitism, professor Robert Wistrich, head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of anti-Semitism and author of the most comprehensive book on the subject: A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad.
Wistrich asked: If things are so good and the Jews have so many strong supporters around the world, why are they so bad? He said that while traditional anti-Semitism in its various forms is still present, and in some places even resurgent, it is not the core issue today. Rather, since the beginning of this century, the focus of anti-Semitic attacks has been primarily directed against the State of Israel as the embodiment of collective Jewish existence and symbol of the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. This is the primary vector through which anti-Semitic ideas are expressed. And, Wistrich argued, it is radical Islam that spearheads this latest brand of Israel and Jew hatred around the world today. Professor Wistrich--who suddenly died of a heart attack while in Rome to address the Italian Senate less than a week after he spoke to the forum--stressed that his intention was not to attack Islam, but rather Islamism which constitutes the abuse or exploitation of one of the world’s great universal faiths for Jihad, with excesses the world can see.
“We cannot ignore the nexus that exists in recent decades between the most murderous, lethal forms of anti-Semitism and hostility toward other minorities that has spilled over into Europe,” Wistrich said.
Wistrich noted an axiom posited by many of the earlier speakers, that Holocaust education is an antidote to anti-Semitism. But he stated that Holocaust imagery and vocabulary are systematically abused today to brand Jews and Israelis as Nazis and Palestinians as victims of this new form of Nazism (“Holocaust inversion”).
Wistrich’s final point was that along with anti-Zionism and Israel-hatred as the central vector of contemporary anti-Semitism, a parallel phenomenon has emerged of Palestine as a kind of redemptive religion that can be realized only if it is fully liberated, completely supplanting Israel. Palestinian anti-Semitism can never be justified. Palestinian anti-Semitism becomes especially challenging as it takes the form of conspiracy theories of the most extreme and brazen kinds that are adopted to the needs of this political struggle. Wistrich urged the participants to confront this challenge, not ignore it.
The success of these deliberations on tamping down the rising tide of anti-Semitism will be tried in the coming weeks and months as each of the working groups submit their action plan to the forum. While no panacea for sure, the 5th Global Forum has the potential of serving as a major milestone in the fight against anti-Semitism, although the task remains daunting.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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