In the last days of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decided to discuss and vote on “issues linked to human rights violations”. However, the council did not say a word about violations to human dignity and human freedom in Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Somalia, Argelia, Turkey, Russia, China or Iraq.
The UNHRC passed very soft and useless resolutions on North Korea, Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Iran. These will be forgotten soon.
Ignoring the egregious human rights violations of countless other countries, the UNHRC devoted most of its attention to one single country: Israel. The council passed five resolutions on Israel; one on Friday, June 19, and four on Monday, June 22.
This situation is not new. Unfortunately, it will happen again in the short-, mid- and long-term. This council is not doing anything different than its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. In fact, it is worse. It has among its members the worst human rights abusers in modern times, and the council gives those countries the power to condemn democracies.
Last June 19th, the council decided to discuss one resolution against Israel. Some years ago, the council’s resolution used to focus on settlements; some short time ago, the council added to it the boycott of products made by Palestinian workers in Israeli factories. The goal of the resolution is to punish Israeli factories, but what would really be doing (if their resolutions were not toothless) would be leaving thousands of Palestinians unemployed.
Who cares that Palestinians become unemployed if the council can score points with a shameful resolution that attacks Israel? Almost nobody cares. The Palestinian Authority does not care; they promote the resolution. The “international community”?. It would be great to know what the term really means. What about the council, the high commissioner? Worst. The council is following dangerous paths on Israeliphobia and the high commissioner – believe it or not - has agreed to make a list of Israeli businesses which should be boycotted.
The resolution (not binding) passed with less votes than the Palestinians hoped. But there was more: the council decided to ask the high commissioner to present a full report on Israeli settlements…in March 2021. At a time when nobody in the world has a real idea when the pandemic and its consequences may end, in times of world economic recession and world unemployment, we can be sure that the UNHRC will ask for a useless report in nine months’ time.
The resolution had 22 votes in favor (which is less than half of the 47 members of the body), 8 votes against and 17 abstentions.
The Latin American members of the council overwhelmingly voted to unjustly condemn Israel.
Among the council’s 8 votes against the resolution, the only Latin American country included was Brazil.
The Bahamas and Uruguay abstained.
Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela voted for the resolution.
What are Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru thinking when they vote with undemocratic human rights violators like Qatar, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and, of course, Venezuela? That they are helping to achieve peace? That they are delivering a message of sanity to the Middle East? That they are really supporting and helping the Palestinian people? How is it possible that they do not see that pushing for boycotting Israeli products made by Palestinian workers is exactly the opposite of working towards peace?
Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Schechter was very clear: “This Council has an item which has been exclusively designed to condemn one state. Item 7 is a systematic mechanism of discrimination against Israel which is a feeling that is deeply rooted in the culture of this Council and several of its members. Let´s call Item 7 by its real name: it is the item of institutionalized antisemitism.”
Not one Latin American country answered the Israeli ambassador. Australia and the Czech Republic loudly and clearly rejected Item 7and the litany of votes against Israel.
Venezuela is ruled by a dictatorship which allies itself with Iran, violates human rights and has created a health turmoil in the region. We can expect nothing from such a regime, especially because it is also institutionally anti-Semitic. However, it is unacceptable that democracies join dictatorships and human rights abusers to single out Israel.
But it happens all the time in the U.N. agencies. It is time for those democracies to decide on which side of history they want to stand, because they can´t be in two places at the same time. If they keep standing together with Venezuela, Qatar, Somalia and others, it will be very difficult to see what differentiates these democracies from noted human rights violators.
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.
As COVID-19 continues to plague our nation, Congress has spent months debating the best way to respond to the pandemic. It has debated economic stimulus for individuals, small businesses, state and local governments and the private sector. In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide an economic jolt to a stalled economy.
While stimulus checks and small business loans got most of the publicity, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) senior housing also received financial resources to better meet the challenges from COVID-19. B’nai B’rith’s Center for Senior Services, as the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income, nonsectarian housing for seniors in the United States, is taking a keen interest in how stimulus legislation will impact senior housing. While the money in the CARES Act is helpful and appreciated, the virus is still impacting our country and requires further stimulus legislation.
Therefore, it was encouraging to see the House of Representatives pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which provided a financial boost for HUD assisted senior housing. This legislation provides $1.2 billion, which will enable buildings to hire more staff, purchase more personal protective equipment (PPE) and deal with decreased rents because of the virus. In addition, this money could help advance service coordination for buildings that have and don’t have a service coordinator. A service coordinator is a social service staff person that connects residents with services in the community.
Recently Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) and Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) introduced the Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act of 2020 in Congress. Like the HEROES Act, this legislation provides funding, but this bill specifically allocates $50 million in funding for increasing WiFi accessibility in senior housing. Additional funding for WiFi is crucial because it makes telehealth more readily available for older Americans and allows service coordinators to speak with residents while practicing social distancing.
As Congress deliberates further COVID-19 stimulus legislation, I hope the provisions from the Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act make their way into the final draft. During a time of national crisis, we are thankful that Rep. Porter and Chairwoman Waters are leading the efforts to ensure that senior housing has the resources in light of the pandemic.
B’nai B’rith has and will continue to advocate to congressional offices on how critical additional funding is for HUD assisted housing to combat the pandemic. The House has done their part passing the HEROES Act. It’s now time for Senate to do their own heavy lifting. Congress must reach a deal to ensure that senior housing and countless people, programs and state and local governments have the appropriate resources to meet the challenges of the day!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative 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.
Simon Barazin is an architect and interior decorator whose renovation of the 20-year old Barzilay Café in Tel Aviv’s Hashmal Garden district has elevated the standard coffee shop to a new level of design aesthetics, visually redolent of Donald Judd’s geometric sculptures and Dan Flavin’s light works. Installing specially treated glass windows that optimize the changing qualities of the natural light flooding the cafe throughout the day, Barazin reconfigured its three spaces—kitchen, roasting room and seating area—to exploit the reflective surfaces of made-to-order seating, brightly colored illuminated tables and gleaming metal countertops, for a Barzilay experience that is artsy, fun and inviting. Glass partitions allow for customers in the main room to see and smell the coffee being roasted.
The owner of his own firm specializing in design and spacial experience, Mr. Barazin studied at Israel’s famous Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, where he is now a teacher.
This month, Theater J, part of the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C. has enabled audiences across the country to register and enjoy free dramatic readings of new English versions of two early 20th century Yiddish plays at https://theaterj.org/yiddish-theater-lab/.
A finalist for the 2019 O’Neill Theater Center Festival in Waterford, Connecticut, Alix Sobler’s Miriam, is a reworking of Miryam, Peretz Hirschbein’s 1905 drama about a prostitute—a frequent subject for the Yiddish stage, strongly influenced by European Realist theater in that era—originally published in Hebrew. Known as the “Yiddish Chekov,” the prolific Hirschbein (1880-1948) is best remembered for his classic Green Fields. Featuring an all-female cast, it focuses on the lives of three women, who forge a bond as they reveal their unfortunate histories and look forward to a better life. Laley Lippard directs actresses Felicia Curry, Diane Figueroa Edidi and Kimberly Gilbert. Miriam can be seen live via Zoom on Sunday, June 7, at 5:00 pm, and will available from Monday, June 8 until midnight, Wednesday, June 10.
Allen Lewis Rickman has translated and adapted One of Those (1912) by Polish poet, playwright and author Paula Prilutski (1876-19??), which will air on Thursday, June 18 at 5:30 and will be streamed until midnight, Sunday, June 21. Its premiere performance in Warsaw was mounted by the legendary actress-manager Esther-Rokhl Kaminska, mother of Ida. Despite its grim narrative, this proto-feminist story of Judith, a rebellious young woman who suffers the dire consequences of her actions, is supposed to be very funny. Kevin Place will direct an ensemble, tba.
Alix Sobler’s play Sheltered won the 2018 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. A graduate of Brown University, she received her MFA in playwriting from Columbia University in 2017. Playwright, director and actor Allen Lewis Rickman has adapted, directed and written Yiddish supertitle translations for New York’s Folksbiene and New Yiddish Rep.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
Last week, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)—one of the main pro-Palestinian propaganda bodies housed within the U.N. system—hosted an event (virtually, of course) on the “threat” of “annexation” by the new Israeli government of the Jordan Valley and settlement blocs as part of the United States administration’s peace plan. This meeting was unintentionally revealing in that it showed that the issue is not really annexation at all.
The panel for this event was composed of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Hanan Ashrawi, former Israeli MK Yossi Beilin and president of the Arab American Institute James Zogby.
Beilin, a former justice minister and deputy foreign minister, is a veteran of the peace camp in Israel and is widely known as one of the architects of the Oslo process. Beilin is a Zionist who ardently opposes annexation. For him, it as a threat to the survival long-term of a state that is both Jewish and democratic. His fellow co-panelists also oppose annexation, but not for the same reasons. Zogby even criticized annexation critics in the U.S. for often couching it in terms of Israel’s security. Beilin, in seeking a way to prevent annexation (which could in theory come as early as July 1st), sought to put forward a deal to resume negotiations without preconditions or unilateral steps in exchange for shelving annexation.
Ashrawi predictably responded that the “last thing we need” is more negotiations; what is needed is “accountability” (i.e. processes like the proceedings at the International Criminal Court [ICC] to harass Israeli military and political leaders and citizens with lawfare) and sanctions. Zogby concurred, adding that Israel is like a “spoiled child” because the U.S. and the Europeans do not sufficiently punish Israel for every (and any) policy disagreement.
Why would Ashrawi be so adamantly against Beilin’s proposal? If annexation is the primary overriding concern of the moment (and it clearly appears to be so for Beilin, whether one agrees with his positions or not), why not grasp at an alternative plan to delay? Perhaps because Beilin is a self-described “retired” politician and the left in Israel is not currently a political force that has majority support to govern. Removing the considerations of practicality, though, Ashrawi, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority have no interest in negotiations without pre-conditions and with a halt to unilateral actions.
Unilateral actions are the basis of the Palestinian “foreign policy” of the last decade. It’s how they got to the ICC in the first place. As in many matters relating to Israel at the U.N., there is a great deal of hypocrisy regarding unilateral actions. The very possibility of an Israeli decision to apply sovereignty in some areas as part of the U.S. administration’s peace plan (so, not actually a unilateral action) is raising hackles at the U.N. But the Palestinian attempts to make an end-run around negotiations by asking for recognition of a non-existent state (very much so a unilateral action) raised little concern about the serious harm to peace prospects. CEIRPP, in fact, is a cheerleader for Palestinian unilateral actions. The European states who are now apoplectic over the idea of Israeli sovereignty over settlements blocs that will likely never be part of a Palestinian state were not similarly as dismayed by the Palestinian attempt to gain U.N. non-member state status. To the contrary, 12 EU member states voted in favor of that recognition (only the Czech Republic voted against). That U.N. status allowed the Palestinians an entryway to the ICC.
Further, the idea of attacking Israelis with either economic warfare or legal warfare is not tied to annexation. The Palestinians and their co-conspirators have been pushing this exact agenda for years—decades, really—regardless of Israeli policy or Israeli government. If the Israeli government took a decision not to apply sovereignty over settlements that will in all likelihood remain under Israeli rule even if there were a final peace agreement with the Palestinians tomorrow, would those individuals and countries at the U.N. that are targeting Israel with BDS or lawfare reverse course, or even pause the barrage? Unlikely.
Yossi Beilin may not have been setting out to do so, but he ended up revealing the true situation Israel faces in regards to dealing with the Palestinians and the U.N. Whether one agrees with the Israeli government’s plan (whatever that will end up being), the Palestinians are continuing to prove that they are not currently a true partner for peace, and the U.N. will continue to enable their worst ideas.
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. Click here to view more of his additional content.
By Richard Schifter and Adriana Camisar
Every year, around this time, numerous newspapers around the world publish articles that mark the commemoration of the Palestinian “Nakba.” The word Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic, and is used by the Palestinians to refer to the creation of the state of Israel and the beginning of the problem of the "Palestinian refugees."
The trouble with these articles, nearly identical versions of which are published by different international news agencies, and then replicated by newspapers around the globe, is that they repeat, and therefore promote, extreme Palestinian propaganda that is completely counterproductive to the beginning of any peaceful path between Israelis and Palestinians.
The vast majority of these articles contain a false account of the historical events that led to the creation of the state of Israel. According to this narrative, Israel’s creation was to the detriment of a “historic Palestine” populated almost exclusively by Arabs. And the ancestral ties of the Jewish people to that land are either ignored or denied.
There never really was a "Palestinian state" from which Israel took territory away. When the United Nations (U.N.), in November of 1947, recommended the partition of the area then called Palestine into two states, one Arab and the other one Jewish, all that territory was part of the British Mandate (and had previously been part of the Ottoman Empire). There never was Arab-Palestinian sovereignty over that territory and, in fact, back then, the Arab inhabitants of that area did not call themselves "Palestinians."
The U.N. partition plan, which had the approval of most of the nations of the world, was constructed on the basis that both peoples had a right to a portion of that territory, and it recommended that the Jewish state be established in those areas where the Jewish population was a majority. Even though the horrors of the Holocaust precipitated the decision to finally facilitate the creation of a Jewish state, the historical, religious and legal ties of the Jewish people to that land are ancient and well documented.
While the Jews accepted the partition plan, the Arab countries rejected it, even though the plan also provided for the formation of an Arab state, and despite the fact that numerous and vast Arab states already existed in the region. That was the first missed opportunity for the creation of an Arab-Palestinian state bordering the state of Israel.
Immediately after the establishment of the state of Israel, in May of 1948, five Arab states (Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq, whose armies were also joined by volunteers from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Libya), started a war with the declared intention of annihilating the nascent state. With enormous effort and the loss of 1% of its population, Israel was able to defeat the Arab armies, and a series of armistices were signed.
As a consequence of this war, Israel not only kept the area granted to it in the partition plan of 1947, but its territory expanded by 23%. The area known today as the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt, and the West Bank was occupied by Transjordan (later named Jordan).
During the conflict, approximately 700,000 Arabs left Israel. The majority of them did it of their own free will, because their leaders exhorted them to abandon the land in order to facilitate the killing of the Jews. On the other hand, starting in 1948 and continuing in the following years, around 800,000 Jews were unfairly expelled from the Arab countries where their ancestors had lived for centuries.
As we look back at this time period, across the years, there was a similar number of Arab and Jewish refugees. And there is no doubt that the problem of the Palestinian refugees was generated by an armed conflict initiated by the Arab countries against Israel. If the Arab states had not attacked the newly created state of Israel, there would have been no Palestinian refugees.
Inexplicably, though, the Arab countries have historically been exonerated from any responsibility in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. They also have not been held responsible for the expulsion of thousands of Jews from their lands.
It is important to note that the descendants of the approximately 160,000 Arabs who remained within the borders of the nascent Jewish state in 1948, currently number almost two million people, about 21% of the total population of Israel, and have full civil and political rights.
It is also important to note that the Palestinian refugees were treated differently than any other refugee group in the world. The U.N. created in 1949 the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to provide relief for all the refugees of the conflict. But since Israel absorbed most of the Jewish refugees, the agency was left to deal with the Palestinian refugees only.
As its name implies, UNRWA was to provide assistance and jobs. But it was meant as a “temporary” organization, which would make sure the number of refugees decreased over time. This is why it was originally intended to resettle the refugees in the communities to which they had fled. About 40% of them were in areas that had been a part of the Mandate of Palestine, namely Gaza and what came to be called the West Bank. Most of the other 60% were in Jordan and Syria, countries whose people were of the same ethnicity and religion and spoke the same language.
But the Arab countries refused to resettle the Palestinian refugees (because they wanted them to be available to return to Israel and continue to be of help in efforts to destroy it). Through clever manipulation of the U.N. system, UNRWA was turned into an organization that assumed the task of preventing the integration of the Palestinian refugees into the communities in which they lived. That was done by setting up, under UNRWA auspices, a segregated system of medical, educational and social services for Palestinian refugees. Children were taught in UNRWA schools that their home was Palestine, the place to which they were to return so as to end Israel’s existence. When the operatives who had changed the very objective of UNRWA’s existence recognized that their goal might not be reached soon, they succeeded in creating for UNRWA an exception to the general U.N. rule, by providing that Palestinian "refugee status" would pass from generation to generation (along the paternal line).
The Palestinians are the only people in the world whose refugee status passes from generation to generation. By virtue of this, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original refugees, who today number more than 5 million people, are still considered "refugees”, and the U.N. continues to promote the so-called "right of return" of these refugees to Israel.
This massive migration program is something that no Israeli government would ever accept, because it would imply the liquidation of Israel as a Jewish state, the only Jewish state in the world, to become yet another Arab state.
While the Palestinian leaders say that they are in favor of a two-state solution, by not giving up the "right of return," what they are really seeking is the destruction of Israel through demographic means. This is the main reason why so many attempts to reach a peace agreement have failed.
By constantly repeating a historically incorrect and radical narrative, instead of making a fact-based, objective analysis of the conflict, international news agencies are contributing to the empowerment of the most rejectionist factions, and the unnecessary prolongation of this painful conflict.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
Richard Schifter, Chairman of the Board of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), has had a distinguished career as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and in government. Since 2005 he has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of AJIRI.
President Op-ed in the Jerusalem Post: Germany can carry the banner of free expression without flag burning
When freedom of expression edges into flag burning in the United States, particularly as it concerns Old Glory, most Americans are offended and appalled, if not mortified. Despite the disapproval percentage for torching the flag ticking a few points above 60%, according to Gallup polling, burning the American flag is protected by the First Amendment.
So, when Germany recently proposed making the burning of the Israeli and other national flags illegal, the country’s anti-Israel protesters lost a popular and prominent tactic, one that plays vividly to television cameras for the world to see as it did in 2017 at the Brandenburg Gate.
Naturally, this news was fuel to the antisemites of the world whose default position is to protest the false notion of Jews controlling events or exercising power or buying influence. We know these tropes only too well. Many Americans learning about this news in Germany might reflexively wonder about free speech. In the US, flag burning as an expression of free speech won the minds the Supreme Court in the 1969 ruling Texas v. Johnson, (491 U.S. 397).
These days, Germany cherishes free speech and freedom of the press. Considering the history of antisemitism in Europe over millennia and the surge of antisemitism there in recent years, however, it’s clear that anti-Israel sentiment, including the BDS movement, is just one form of antisemitism. Legal precedent in America might be a good enough argument for some in defending flag burning, but much has changed since 1969. Flag burning no longer is reserved for singular events, the nightly news, a film or a front page.
Always staged, flag burning is a form of hate speech as it sparks violence, which typically exceeds free speech protection. In Europe or in most countries that can or are willing to identify Israel on a map, the Israeli flag rightly represents the sovereign Jewish nation, going back 3,500 years. The reason why people burn the Israeli flag is that they disagree with or ignore the facts of history, reject Israel and hate Jews for a myriad of blood libels, which have culminated in pogroms, expulsions and, of course, the Holocaust. This is a mere snapshot of a long, long timeline of sordid inhumanity.
Of course, what the Nazis perpetrated from Germany to poison Eastern Europe from 1933 to 1945 was to exterminate more than six million Jews and five million others. They also brought shame to many nations with hundreds of thousands of loyal Jewish citizens.
So as organizations like B’nai B’rith International confront antisemitism in all of its forms and work constantly to erase generations of hate through education and legislation, even by drafting and building consensus over a definition, one wonders how necessary it is to use inflammatory and incendiary tactics such as flag burning to make a point?
Clearly national flags set ablaze burn hotter and more destructively than speech or the printed word. Images filling television, computer and smart phone screens permanently scar memories. Words can and do raise the temperature among people, but those arguments can be debated in private quarters or public spaces. Thus, visuals are unforgettable; some words are unforgettable, too, but tend to evaporate far more quickly.
Could it be that one way to slow hatred, particularly antisemitism, would be to prohibit such a powerful act as flag-burning? Fires, like hate, are less likely to spread if they don’t burn in the first place.
Lest we forget how fire was used in Germany to spread hatred toward Jews. The mere mention of bonfires of books, grand synagogues, Jewish-owned storefronts, then millions of people conjure up powerful images that we’d just as soon forget, but we must remember and teach others so history won’t repeat itself.
Fire used to burn lives, livelihoods and flags that are all-encompassing, national symbols is not free expression. It is an affront, a weapon, an incitement for physical acts of hate. In this context, one can understand why Johannes Fechner of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), introduced this amendment recently in the German parliament. As Christine Lambrecht, Germany’s justice minister, told The New York Times, “The burning of flags in public has nothing to do with peaceful protest. Burning flags hurt the feelings of many people.” Well, the last part of that comment is an understatement, and one gets the feeling that something was lost in translation. But the fact remains that flag burning does far more than hurt one’s feelings.
Flag burning alone is a powerful image: That’s why people do it. It doesn’t only take place to whip people on the ground into a frenzy or even play to news cameras. Today, flag burning attracts a world of cameras – smartphones – for instant and continuous sharing. With recklessness on full display on social media, freedom of expression is under microscopic scrutiny.
Protests can occur without the burning of national flags. That demonstration is a far different expression and should be made illegal, and the equivalent of the Senate in the German government will have an opportunity in June to advance this measure into law. Perhaps other countries that espouse freedom and harmony, but where extremism is fomenting hate, should take note and follow suit.
Read Charles' expert analysis in The Jerusalem Post.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
With Hezbollah Unchecked, the EU Falls Short of its Own Security Aspirations
Much like most things in the European Union, the question of designating Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization is a thicket of conflicting political interests, bundled in opaque and sometimes burdensome bureaucratic mechanisms, all branded in the EU’s usual – laudable, inspiring, but often feeble – value-based discourse. While there is no doubt that Hezbollah, as one entity – inseparable between its military and political wings – is a terrorist enterprise, for the EU this has been an open and protracted question for nearly 20 years. Aside for the important milestone in 2013 – when, on the heels of the deadly bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, the EU decided to add the so-called military wing of Hezbollah to its terrorist list, there have only been few notable developments.
The recent decision – dating April 30th, 2020 - by Germany to join the Netherlands (2004) and the UK (2019) in banning all of Hezbollah, comes only shortly before the country assumes the presidency of the European Union, as well as the unanimous resolution in Austria’s parliament calling on their government to follow suit, must represent a vigorous new push in this slow, uphill struggle to take on the group. So what are the challenges and the processes to be triggered, if this is to become realistic?
Oh, the bureaucracy!
Listing individuals or entities as terrorist, which in practice means being subject to a series of restrictive measures, is a consensus process in the EU – i.e., it must be agreed upon by the 27 member states – a single country opposing listing is enough to block the whole process. Not only that, it is an 8-step procedure, with long built-in review slots, which involves nomination by a member state, consultations, recommendations, clarification periods and only then, a decision by the EU Council – the body that brings the member states together.
What’s more: the definition of what constitutes terrorism is itself disputed, and while a common text exists (under Common Position 2001/931/CFSP), this serves only as a guideline. This is reflective of competences in matters of security: while the EU has increasingly tried to synchronize policy on foreign affairs, defense and counter-terrorism – the issues remain still largely decided at the national level.
This is to say that, beyond the merits of the conversation itself and the inevitable political battles, the process too is no walk in the park.
Oh, the politics!
Many of the political considerations impeding stronger action against Hezbollah have been constant and long-lasting, while those that led to progress were rather the result of circumstance and bursts in advocacy efforts.
France, with its strong cultural and historical ties with the Lebanese Republic, has long been a major player in the anti-designation camp, based on the long-standing view that action against Hezbollah would contribute to further destabilize Lebanon, particularly now at a time when the country is struggling with a sovereign debt crisis and up until the pandemic, engulfed in large-scale protests.
This has reinforced the general discourse among EU foreign policy circles - that Hezbollah, as part of the ruling coalition in Lebanon’s government and together with its front as a “social” actor, is somehow instrumental to Lebanese stability, and that, on balance, it’s worth keeping ties with the organization in order to maintain communication channels open.
Proponents of this view, alongside France, include for instance Belgium and the Scandinavian countries. While this narrative remains steadily in place, it was certainly disrupted by the aforementioned July 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, in which Hezbollah operatives blew up a bus of over 40 passengers, leaving 6 dead: 5 Israeli tourists and the local bus driver.
The Burgas attack – a turning point
It took a terrorist attack on EU soil to trigger serious discussions about designation. Regrettably, what came out of this was a half-measure: artificially and nominally splitting Hezbollah into political and military wings and only labelling the latter a terrorist organization. This is of course a distinction without a difference – it is well documented that these two wings overlap and answer to the same command structure; Hezbollah itself does not regard its two alleged wings as separate entities. But what’s perhaps more noteworthy is that the EU countries now most in favor of maintaining the status quo were themselves the ones opposing this distinction prior to the 2012 attack. At the time, they were doing so to oppose a ban of any kind – even the limited one in place today – but I submit that their argument about a lack of substantive difference should stand.
Implications of the Syrian conflict
The turmoil in the Middle East makes it nearly impossible to speak about Hezbollah without touching on broader conflicts. Early into the Syrian civil war, the EU was reluctant to target Hezbollah, hoping to temper its operations in Syria on the side of the Assad regime. However, this failed and the atmosphere in Brussels started shifting, with mounting support for sanctioning Hezbollah one way or another.
The attack in Burgas was simultaneous to this changing approach. And while publicly, the partial designation came as a direct result of the attack, the developments in Syria were certainly a contributing factor.
The partial ban doesn’t do nearly enough to help
There is a clear dissonance in the EU’s approach between the short-term effects of not upsetting Hezbollah and its coalition partners and the long-term effects of continuing to lend legitimacy to a murderous paramilitary organization which continues to be the main source of instability in Lebanon.
Last September, the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted Hezbollah member Salim Jamil Ayyash of three bombings targeting Lebanese politicians. The tribunal is expected to pronounce judgment shortly on an earlier case against Ayyash, and four other Hezbollah fighters for orchestrating the bombing that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others and wounded 220 passers-by in 2005.
In addition, Hezbollah has continued in the past year to exert influence on Lebanese politics by questionable means, including assaulting demonstrators in Beirut and setting fire to their tents, intimidating and censoring journalists and buying votes. This is all in addition to its documented terrorist and organized crime activities abroad, including in the EU.
A Secure Europe in a Better World
A Secure Europe in a Better World - this is the objective and motto of the European Security Strategy of 2003. It was the first time, following 9/11, that the EU put forward a comprehensive plan to address its security needs. It promised to do so – in EU spirit - “based on our core values”.
In an increasingly polarized and tense international arena, the EU has positioned itself as one of the main moral, value-based actors. Yet its weak and politicized action – or rather inaction – has fallen short of this worthwhile objective. The calls to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization are dismissed as hawkish or even biased and avoided by some of the key national-level actors. While enough support for a ban could in the long run theoretically be garnered from certain member-states, the mobilization of the EU’s oldest, largest members – strong democracies that shape the discourse of the EU - is essential, if the criteria is one of core values.
This should particularly be the case since the EU-Lebanon partnership priorities for 2016-2020 pledge to work with Lebanon to promote the shared values of democracy and the rule of law.
It’s worth remembering that one of the leading voices in 2013, following the Burgas attack, to ban Hezbollah entirely came from then-Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans, of the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, a champion of progressive politics. His example, back then, ought to be followed.
The EU has, since 2003 and the adoption of the European Security Strategy, taken important steps in the fight against terrorism – from appointing a Counter-Terrorism Coordinator and reinforcing the Crisis Coordination Arrangements and the Civil Protection Mechanism, to increased data sharing with the US and other international actors. Yet without the political will to tackle the issues, we are not harnessing the full potential of these tools. The upcoming months are essential in maximizing the capital of the important decisions at the national level in Germany and Austria, and the EU must be sure to make use of the momentum.
Alina Bricman is the Director of EU Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. She formerly served as president of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) from 2017 to 2019 and worked for the Representation of the European Commission in Romania and for the Median Research Centre, a Romanian civil society NGO focused on civil engagement and combating xenophobia. She studied political science at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and at the Central European University in Budapest.
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