The main issues in the 49th Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, which just took place in Medellín, Colombia, have been the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the political crisis in Nicaragua.
The OAS is trying to find wide consensus to reverse the political, social and economic crises in Venezuela and face Maduro’s increasing contempt for human rights. The OAS is again approving strong resolutions and sanctions and calling the world to help oust Maduro's regime.
But Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mexico and Uruguay still recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Uruguay decided to abandon the assembly, arguing that the inclusion of the vast majority of the body of Juan Guaidó's representatives in the assembly is illegal. Although Maduro retains power, Guaidó is recognized as the president of Venezuela by many countries around the world, including the United States and most Latin American countries.
This is a division among state members, which is damaging the OAS. Even worse, the division calls into question the definition of democracy and the quality of democracy if countries like Uruguay and Mexico still believe that a dictatorship like Maduro's regime must be "respected.” The crisis in Venezuela, which is a serious issue for the Americas since four million Venezuelans have fled the country for neighboring countries in South and Central America, will remain the core challenge for the region. In this 49th assembly, the vast majority of states showed their determination to apply sanctions to Maduro’s regime and move forward with all possible legal tools. Uruguay, Mexico, Bolivia and Nicaragua were the only four of the 34 countries present that still supported the Venezuelan dictatorship. Five years ago, the division between countries that supported Maduro and those that did not was evenly split. Now, fewer than 10 percent of countries participating in the OAS General Assembly still support Maduro.
The violation of human rights in Nicaragua is also a difficult issue under discussion, because Nicaragua should be warned that it may be suspended under the Democratic Charter, but there are still conversations to try to ease the situation and secure the release of political prisoners. It is a challenge for the OAS, because Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, is not delivering on the commitments he made to release the prisoners and is challenging the OAS and the inter-American system.
B'nai B'rith participated in this OAS General Assembly and in sideline meetings with high officers, foreign ministers and ambassadors of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Panama, the United States, Venezuela, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Secretary General Luis Almagro and his staff, confirmed to B’nai B’rith that July 18th, which marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, will be designated as the Inter-American Day of Combating Terrorism.
The OAS Secretary General has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. B'nai B'rith discussed the issue in every meeting, and foreign ministers have committed to follow the decision taken by Secretary General Almagro. B'nai B'rith also met with the director of the Latin American Bureau of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Modi Ephraim. Ephraim attended the General Assembly as an observer.
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.
Last month, a B’nai B’rith leadership delegation visited two exceptionally important and also culturally rich countries: Japan, a key democratic ally of the United States, and China, the world’s most populous nation and a rapidly rising global superpower.
In both countries, the contingent met with senior officials, diplomats and experts responsible for implementing or guiding foreign policy, as well as with the U.S. and Israeli ambassadors and local Jewish leaders. The visit concluded with a meeting in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
By now, both a Democratic and a Republican president have shifted considerable focus to East Asia after years of particularly intense concentration on the Middle East – otherwise known as West Asia – in the aftermath of both the 9/11 attacks and the Oslo peace process, whose 25th anniversary passed with tellingly little celebration last year.
International fatigue over conflict in the Middle East – together with many regional states’ focus on internal stability following a decade of “Arab Spring” upheaval, and unprecedented Arab-Israeli alignment on threats from Iran – could yet prod Palestinians away from a maximalist posture in their standoff with Israel.
Although Japan and even more so China have long been supportive of Palestinian positions, both these countries have increasingly robust ties, especially in the critical realms of trade and technology, with Israel – and both will undoubtedly become more mindful of the extent to which engagement with Israel has lost its stigma in many Arab countries, at least at the government level.
Indeed, Japan has of late adopted a less unbalanced voting record on Israel-related resolutions at the United Nations – though China, a permanent U.N. Security Council member and a leader among the developing states that effectively represent a majority of the U.N. membership, is surpassing Japan this year as the largest contributor to the budget of the world body after the United States. This said, yet another Chinese rival and traditional leader in the “non-aligned” bloc, India, has also perceptibly softened its public stance on Israel in keeping with flourishing ties under Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. Even Russia, with which China is closely associated in the Security Council and which has also partnered in key ways with Iran, has strengthened its interaction with Israel.
Moreover, all concerned – including both the Chinese and the Japanese, who were visited by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif just after the B’nai B’rith trip, while a subsequent stay by Abe in Tehran was marred by an attack, blamed by Washington on Iran, on a Japanese tanker in the Gulf of Oman – certainly also want to ensure good relations with Saudi Arabia and other energy-rich Sunni states. Several of those states have worked with Washington on both containing Tehran and attempting a breakthrough on the Palestinian-Israeli impasse – this week, Bahrain even hosted the Trump administration’s initial conference on Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. Notably, at the start of May, the White House ended waivers on sanctions for oil imports from Iran, which had long been heavily patronized by Asian countries.
Beyond Middle Eastern issues, East Asia has dominated recent international attention more broadly. Intensely fought U.S. trade negotiations have been at an advanced stage with both Japan (where President Trump has just arrived for a summit of the G-20 in Osaka, after an official state visit to Tokyo only one month ago) and with China (whose President Xi Jinping is expected to again meet with Trump at the summit). Adding to the mix of geopolitical posturing and cooperation, Xi just concluded a visit in Pyongyang with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (who previously met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, also now in Osaka) after headline-making earlier talks with Trump. Right before the B’nai B’rith visit to Beijing, China also hosted a high-level international conference on the country’s monumentally expansive “Belt and Road Initiative,” which would embed China in a vast array of development and infrastructure projects globally. And, after a reign of 30 years, Japan’s Emperor Akihito abdicated – the first to do so in over two centuries – paving the way for the accession of his son, Naruhito.
B’nai B’rith has had longstanding ties to Japan – sending humanitarian aid in the wake of natural disasters, bringing several young leadership groups there and commemorating Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who defied his superiors’ orders by issuing thousands of life-saving visas to Jews in Lithuania during the Holocaust. B’nai B’rith can also claim a unique connection to China: in 1928, it established a lodge in Shanghai – a report two years later related that “When the Jews in Palestine issued their appeals for relief, the members in about fifteen minutes contributed $595,” then a significant amount, “which was later distributed through the agency of the Palestine B’nai B’rith lodge” – and soon afterward Shanghai become an exceedingly rare haven for thousands of European Jewish refugees during World War II.
Some nine decades after the founding of the local lodge, our B’nai B’rith delegation made a special stop in Shanghai to pay tribute to the welcome afforded to Holocaust-era Jews there.
Notwithstanding international rivalry and also disputes – some undeniably serious – engagement in and with Asia will be particularly vital in a century in which China’s political, economic and military ascendance will be an unsurpassed focal point. This rise will not be without challenges, but its reality and the potential to find common ground make critical the development of dialogue and mutual understanding across borders. In various Asian countries, this will be complicated somewhat by factors including cultural and ideological differences, as well as the small number of indigenous Jews. Jewish organizations more accustomed to interfacing with Christianity and Islam as religions closely tied to our own will have to seek greater familiarity with adherents of “non-Western” belief systems that do not necessarily utilize common categories and rigid hierarchies.
B’nai B’rith, however, is a uniquely global Jewish organization – and one with a record of uniquely broad service to people of diverse backgrounds. It is thus well-positioned to contribute both to the development of new friendships and to the bolstering of old ones in a most essential part of the world.
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. Click here to view more of his content.
The moon is celebrating an anniversary.
We are fascinated by the moon. It is referenced in song lyrics and featured in works of art called moonscapes. We look for the face of the man in the moon, perhaps recalling the opening visual of The Honeymooners. The distance from the earth to the moon is often used to define the depth of our love with the statement, “Love you to the moon and back.”
The moon will celebrate a 50th anniversary this year, recalling July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon. I remember watching the landing live on television, the words of Neil Armstrong (“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’’) and the reaction of the newscasters and the NASA engineers and scientists at mission control. This gives the event its place in history for me and many others. It was not to be the only news event of the summer of ‘69. I did not get to Woodstock, but I really love the music and the significance of what brought people together for that gathering.
Israel’s recent mission to the moon connected every Jew to Israel’s attempt to land the Beresheet robotic spacecraft this past April. Funded by private investors, it evoked the positive feelings we share about Israel and the challenge of space. Watching live coverage, this time online, the sign attached to the spacecraft defines the nation of Israel for many Jews: “Small Country, Big Dreams.” The landing turned into a crash, but this setback has not stopped the plans to try again. The investors are prepared to put in more money to make the next landing a successful one.
The moon is a celestial body that waxes and wanes. It appears each night, providing light in the darkness. It plays a role in Judaism as the regulator of the Jewish calendar. Each month begins with the appearance of the new moon and ends when the next moon appears.
There is a prayer to bless the new month called Kiddush Levanah. It is expected to be one that is fulfilled as early as possible when the new moon is visible at the end of Shabbat. The prayer is said under the night sky and provides the opportunity to acknowledge one of G-d’s creations. It also recognizes the importance of the community, as it is said with a minyan, and as the prayer ends, the participants greet the others they are with by saying Shalom Aleichem, wishing them peace.
Anniversaries of historic events are internalized as we remember our own experience when the subject is called to mind or what we may have heard about from a parent or someone from another generation. That is how history is taught as we share information about an event in history that is remembered. That memory is usually followed by where they were when they heard the news. This brings us closer together with the people we know, as well as with new connections as we share something about our own life experience.
Memories of experiences within B’nai B’rith help us keep and grow our collective memory. As B’nai B’rith continues to observe its 175th anniversary year, we hope to capture the memories that members and supporters have about their own experiences in B’nai B’rith. Please consider sharing your thoughts about memorable B’nai B’rith milestones, people or other influences on your B’nai B’rith experience with us. We will share them on the BB and I Blog page on the B’nai B’rith website, which brings these memories together for our B’nai B’rith community. You can even write them under a moonlit sky for additional inspiration.
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. Rhonda has served on the B'nai B'rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
The dust has settled, and final votes are in.
First off, the good news: Election participation was over 50 percent, the highest in over 20 years, and the much-feared landslide victory of far-right and Eurosceptic parties has been, at least in part, avoided. Only Great Britain, France and Italy saw them take the lead. Young people, especially, overwhelmingly voted for pro-European parties.
Overall, there was no clear winner, no comprehensive E.U. picture for the total of 751 seats in the European Parliament: Germany, Austria and Greece saw Christian democratic parties in the lead. Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Sweden saw the resurgence of social democratic parties. National-conservatives won elections in Belgium and Poland, and liberal parties won Estonia, the Czech Republic and Denmark. The Greens were able to gain significantly overall and increase their seats in the European Parliament to 69, as did the liberal parties.
At the same time, the Christian-democratic and socialist center lost a combined 80 seats. The consequent loss of the overall combined majority of their respective political groups, the European People’s party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), in the European Parliament is historic and will make the obligatory approval by vote in the European Parliament of either one of their commission presidential candidates, Weber or Timmermans, that much more difficult. This makes the stronger Greens and Liberals the kingmakers in the upcoming path to staff not only the office of commission president, but also other top E.U. institutional posts, such as foreign affairs high commissioner, parliament president and individual commissioner posts.
The new big coalition of far-right national parties, such as France’s Rassemblement National or Germany’s AfD, which had already been proclaimed during the election campaign, could make them the third-strongest group inside the European parliament, with up to 112 seats. If the existing conservative and Eurosceptic party ECR were to join, the new power group could reach up to 171 seats, thereby overtaking the EPP and S&D, which would be a serious game-changer. Fortunately, this is highly unlikely to happen.
When it comes to Jewish topics, both Timmermans and Weber would be good candidates and proven partners for the commission’s top job. Weber has been strongly dedicated to the fight against anti-Semitism as EPP group leader, even launching his current election campaign in Auschwitz to emphasize his commitment and historical responsibility to Holocaust remembrance and combatting anti-Semitism. Timmermans himself was responsible, as first vice president of the European Commission, for creating the crucial position of the E.U.’s Anti-Semitism Coordinator Katharina von Schnurbein, who was appointed by and reports directly to him.
But both might not make it, despite representing the two biggest political groups in the parliament, due to the lack of a combined majority. The current European commissioner for competition, the Danish Margrethe Vestager, who was also the lead candidate for the Liberals, has already started to strongly lobby and negotiate herself.
The impact on foreign policy, especially in regards to Israel and the Middle East peace process, but also Iran and the nuclear deal, is tough to predict at this point as well. There was overall strong support for Israel from right-wing conservative parties during the last mandate, and an often very critical, sometimes highly problematic position from Liberals and left-wing parties, including Greens.
The growth on both sides of the political spectrum could mean a further polarization on this subject matter. The Green Party, for example, has been pushing some troubling pro-BDS rhetoric and events during the last years. The only voices of reason within the group were often the group’s German members, who prevented these topics from tilting even further into one-sided bashing. The doubling in size of German members in the Green group gives way to hope that increased German representation will further affect the group’s Middle East agenda in a positive way down the road.
But ultimately, this is just the beginning of months-long backroom castings and negotiations between heads of states for the top E.U. jobs. Their predecessors will be officially replaced only at the end of October at the earliest.
Until then, we will see significant change in the political group landscape, with the Liberal Group ALDE being joined by Macron’s En Marche, and the far-right groups forming their new coalition. The question is whether the Hungarian Fidesz party will stay in the EPP group, or if the U.K.’s Eurosceptic UKIP party will be joining the new right-wing coalition. Both parties were the election winners in their respective countries, and their decisions about which groups to join could further significantly alter the outcome and fragile power balance.
All of this will further impact the distribution of not only the top commission jobs, but also the parliament president and relevant committee chairs, who can heavily steer the agenda-setting and legislation themselves.
Benjamin Nägele was named director of E.U. affairs for B’nai B’rith International in 2015. In this capacity he focuses on promoting EU-Israel relations and advocates for Jewish causes at the European institutions in Brussels. He previously worked as an EU affairs officer for B’nai B’rith International and as a policy advisor at the European Parliament. Click here to read more of his work.
Throughout my time working at B’nai B’rith, I have had the opportunity to tour a majority of our sponsored senior housing properties around the country. Recently, I visited B’nai B’rith Covenant House in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, helping to welcome Rep. Glenn Grothman to the building. Before the congressman visited, I spoke with residents of the building and noticed how eager they were to advocate for seniors programs like affordable housing. What impressed me the most was that residents were more concerned with building additional senior housing across the country, which would help more seniors, and less worried about current rental reform proposals that could negatively impact them. It was reassuring that their first instincts were to address the affordable housing crisis facing low-income seniors who did not already have the benefit of subsidized safe and affordable housing, as they did.
Over the past few years I have written numerous blogs detailing how policy proposals debated here on Capitol Hill, could impact older Americans. However, I thought it might be appropriate to highlight one of the faces behind HUD affordable housing for seniors. While visiting Covenant House, I had the pleasure of speaking with Evelyn Brazelton.
Evelyn has been happy to call Covenant House home since August 2018. While originally from Wisconsin, she never stayed in one town long enough to establish roots. Since her father worked on farms as a field hand, the family continuously moved around the state so her dad could find work. Evelyn said that because of the constant moving, coupled with her shy personality, she was never able to establish real friendships with other children. She always considered herself dedicated to family and at 19 married her high school boyfriend.
Evelyn was blessed to have five children and was a homemaker until she was 40, when she started attending technology school with a focus on math and banking. This allowed her to work as a commercial loan assistant for a bank and at a dentist’s office tasked with accounting and receptionist duties.
Prior to returning to Wisconsin, Evelyn lived with her children in California and Minnesota. Like so many seniors, she did not want to be a burden on her kids, and initially looked for HUD affordable housing in California. Unfortunately, while not surprising, the waiting list for senior housing in California was a year. Evelyn is no different than countless seniors in our country whose only source of income is Social Security, and who were unable to save enough for retirement and are placed on HUD senior housing waiting lists. Just look to B’nai B’rith housing communities across the country where waiting lists to get into our sponsored Section 202 properties can be a year or longer, or even closed.
Finally, while living with her son in Minnesota, Evelyn got the call that Covenant House had a vacant unit she could call home.
Evelyn has absolutely loved her time living in Covenant House. For instance, she adores the small community feel and, because of her bad back, she appreciates how the building is customized for older persons. Furthermore, she enjoys developing friendships with the other people in the building.
Evelyn has been sick with anemia and she raves about the support in the building from her fellow residents. She talks about how friends in the building go with her to doctor appointments and bring her food. In return, Evelyn tries to be supportive of others in the building who are dealing with health concerns and donates excess clothing to other residents.
Like many residents at Covenant House, Evelyn wants to know why additional HUD senior housing is not being created. With of the aging of the large baby boomers demographic, she doesn’t understand why our government is not prioritizing housing.
Every building in the B’nai B’rith community has someone like Evelyn. Her story, while interesting, is also common throughout HUD senior housing. She is someone who raised a family and had a professional career, but was unable to save enough for retirement. Programs like HUD senior housing make life just a little easier for older Americans. Consequently, Congress and the White House should be taking Evelyn’s advice, and do everything possible to create more affordable housing for seniors.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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