(June 27, 2021 / JNS) Young adults fresh out of school understand the anxiety associated with taking a test. The amount of preparation can be daunting. But when it comes to taking a test about anti-Semitism, Judaism or Israel, how much do young adults really know these days? I framed this question at the first B’nai B’rith Portugal European Young Leaders Program on June 21 at the new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the first such institution in the country.
The adults in the audience, young and older, certainly could relate to the universal pressures of taking an important test, whether their subjects were marketing, management or dentistry. But in a time when young adults generally are far less knowledgeable or savvy about such matters as Judaism and the Jewish state, one wonders more broadly how prepared the next generation is to handle the challenges facing them on college campuses or in the workplace, where Jews have felt pressures heaped on them recently by antagonizing and attacking anti-Israel/anti-Semitic forces.
Sadly, most students are woefully ill-prepared or ill-informed about such matters, leaving them vulnerable to believing whatever they are told by peers, and fearful as to what attacker may lurk around the corner. Perhaps students, armed with the truth, would be able to defend themselves.
Clearly the Jewish people have been tested through time. They have survived adversity through great civilizations, tyrants, impossible circumstances, expulsions, pogroms and gas chambers. Amid all of their wondrous achievements and successes, they have faced inexorable pain. Portugal witnessed 20 percent of its population evaporate in 1497 from the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews, and Europe lost at least 33 percent of its Jews from 1933 to 1945.
For thousands of years, Jews have absorbed being demonized, persecuted and subjected to blood libels that stripped them of their humanity. The defense in common libel matters of American jurisprudence is the truth.
So, the young adults in Porto’s Holocaust museum this day were advised that the truth is readily available, and that they must pursue it to counter—and hopefully reduce—damaging falsehoods. The test for which they must prepare will require time and commitment for study. They must have the mentorship and guidance of an older generation, thus making this process something that is delivered from generation to generation.
The Porto conference taught them about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism from Ambassador Luis Barreiros, Portugal’s delegation head to the IHRA committee. The definition has been adopted by more than 30 countries, universities, organizations, large businesses, even premier sports leagues.
However, some groups, even Jewish groups, have considered it “not perfect,” as it is “misunderstood and misused” because of its support for the existence and defense of the State of Israel. “But it is the best tool,” Barreiros said, “to fight the scourges of anti-Semitism, so let’s use it.”
He added that the definition helps identify warning lights and signs against Jew-hatred. “Half-truths are more dangerous than a full lie,” he said.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, whose organization endorses and promotes the IHRA definition, praised the measure and actually participated in the earliest meetings in Stockholm during the late 1990s.
“Israel’s enemies and those who seek to undermine it consistently hide behind the “free speech” argument,” Mariaschin said. “Theirs is surely not critical opinion; it is the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. Their language is that of incitement. When one says that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ that it engages in ‘state terror’ and that its security fence is akin to the Warsaw Ghetto, they are deliberately engaging in what amounts to anti-Semitic smear tactics.”
Other red lines crossed, Mariaschin said, included a U.N. resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism, suggesting that if you are a Zionist—someone who identifies Israel as the eternal homeland for the Jewish people—then you are a racist. The effects of that resolution are very much with us today. He said that Jews need to re-double efforts at educating ourselves about Jewish and Israeli history to counter the verbal assaults.
“We live in a time when historical context is deemed expendable,” Mariaschin said. “We mustn’t allow those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel to selectively put forth wildly biased narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why it is vitally important to know our own history, if we are to push back effectively in a time when Israel is demeaned daily, especially on social media.”
Raphael Gamzou, Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, reminded the audience that Israel was bombarded mercilessly with “moral equivalency arguments” in assessing responses to thousands of missiles raining down on Israel from Gaza.
“I never claim Israel is a flawless country, but the missile attacks were such a flagrant violation, and to follow up with comments about moral equivalency is outrageous,” he said. “There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF. Our enemies are going to complain that we have a weapon that not only keeps rockets from falling on its own people, but keeps rockets from falling on Palestinians. We wish we didn’t have to protect ourselves from missile attacks, but we do. This is war.”
Asked about the prospects of another Holocaust against the Jews and the rise of anti-Semitism, he said, “With Israel as a thriving nation, I see no option for another Holocaust against the Jewish people,” he said. “We will have to continue developing Israel as a moral and democratic country to encourage additional agreements, such as the Abraham Accords. And we will need to continue building bridges between the Diaspora and a healthy Israel. As for anti-Semitism, we’ve faced it for thousands of years, and I’m afraid it is here for the long haul … unfortunately.”
Jews will continue to be tested, so you are urged to study Jewish and Israel history very diligently. Only with such preparation will today’s and tomorrow’s generations be able to survive.
The conference concluded the next day with roundtable discussions and congratulatory messages from Porto community benefactors Michael Kadoorie and Jacob Safra.
Read President Kaufman's analysis on JNS.org.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
During my time working at B’nai B’rith my boss, Mark Olshan—associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith and director of the Center for Senior Services—references the “good old days,” in regards to affordable senior housing. Up until 2011, Congress routinely appropriated hundreds of million dollars a year for the construction of new units. In total about 400,000 senior housing units were built. Unfortunately, from 2011 to 2016 Congress stopped appropriating money for new construction. Fast forward to 2021, and Congress over the past several years has started allocating money again for new senior housing. While we appreciate the funding, it’s nowhere near the level of dollars from the “good old days.”
As politicos know, the White House and Congress are negotiating on infrastructure legislation, with the potential of making major investments in our country’s transportation systems, schools, high-speed broadband capabilities, affordable housing and more. As an affordable housing advocate, I appreciate the White House including housing as part of its infrastructure agenda. However, the White House and Congress need to ensure the final piece of infrastructure legislation signed by President Joe Biden includes money for senior housing.
The demand for senior housing is real and not going away. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies projects that in 2038 the population of older adults who are low-income will be 7.9 million, up from 5.3 million in 2018. Furthermore, the center reports that only about a third of older adults who qualify for rental subsidy receive the assistance. There are millions of older adults who need housing assistance and are not getting the help.
Aside from infrastructure legislation, every year B’nai B’rith requests money for senior housing as part of the annual appropriations process. Like previous years, we are asking for $600 million for the construction of 6,700 new affordable senior housing units. A modest ask, given the desperate need for more housing. If 6,700 new units hit the market tomorrow, they would be rented in hours. Major investments in senior housing won’t go to waste.
Funding senior housing is more than just brick and mortar, it’s the people and amenities inside. For example, infrastructure legislation must include money for additional service coordinators. Service coordinators work at the properties and connect residents with services in the community that allow seniors to “age in place” and not move to more institutional facilities that will inevitably cost the government more money. In addition, legislation must have a broadband internet component. The pandemic highlighted the importance of the internet allowing seniors to communicate with family, friends and health care providers from the comforts of their homes. Even once the pandemic is over, seniors are an age cohort which suffer from social isolation and mobility issues, making broadband access even more critical.
Thankfully, there is movement on Capitol Hill to include senior housing as part of infrastructure. Chairwoman Maxine Waters of the House Financial Services Committee introduced a discussion draft entitled “Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2021,” which appropriated $2.5 billion dollars for senior housing and addresses the priorities I discussed above. Think about all the senior housing units, service coordinators and broadband access the program could afford with that type of additional funding.
The White House’s motto is “Build Back Better,” and we are pleased to see that affordable housing is part of that mantra. Hopefully, Congress and the Biden administration can reach a deal to get this badly needed legislation to the President’s desk. Given the appetite in our nation’s capital to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure, if we don’t make a serious investment in affordable senior housing, “If not now, when?”
Two talented individuals from Israel channel their response to the natural world as the inspiration for their works of art. Raised on a kibbutz in Northern Israel, Zemer Peled is a maker of fine and decorative art who draws her imagery from the complex anatomies of fossils, flowers and marine life. French-born architect Ben Gitai incorporated raw materials from the Negev Desert to design and construct a shelter/observatory there intended for the contemplation of the night sky.
Dangerous, playful, brutal, sharp, soft, silky, furry, fibrous—all of these seemingly contradictory qualities can be used to describe Peled’s wildly colorful porcelain objects, plates and sculptures. In her hands, the shards, that fragment of glass or pottery unearthed at the archeological digs she often witnessed as a child, are transformed and enervated, becoming petals, leaves, tentacles, stems and thorns imbued with more than a hint of the animal or the human. From all this aliveness will eventually come decay and its aftermath, regeneration, a theme which Peled is constantly exploring.
In Peled’s temporary site-specific installations, process becomes inseparable from the environment that she envisions. For “Suspension” (2017), commissioned by the North Dakota Museum in Grand Forks, the artist built up dense tangles of tendril-like porcelain skeins and arranged them as cascading “spills” on the walls and near the ceiling of the space. The resulting effect of lightness and delicacy was an illusion that deceptively masked the precarious nature of the resulting constructions, all of which were in danger of toppling from their own weight. That the experience of “Suspension” was as ephemeral as music was demonstrated during a concert by Peled’s brother and collaborative partner, cello virtuoso Amit Peled, profiled in October 2018 during his concert “Journey with My Jewishness,” which was performed in the same space.
Peled studied at the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem and obtained a degree from London’s Royal College of Art. She is now based in the United States.
Words conveying the essence of Gitai’s work might include “transformative,” “elemental” and “pure.” He heads a team of architects and designers in Haifa and Paris who assume an interdisciplinary approach to the inside and outside of a space, conceived as a total aesthetic entity, and which is also mindful of the heritage and work of local artisans. These projects, according to Gitai, invite “us to think beyond the traditional frames of architecture, landscape and building models. This supposes us to be open to new perceptions of know-how and technologies that rely on life models, that is to say on exchanges between materials and their elements…”
Just large enough to hold two occupants, Landroom, commissioned by the municipality of Mitzpe Ramon, is the name of his 20-square-foot shelter/observatory in the Negev. Distinguished by an austerity, almost a naturalness, which seamlessly blends the structure with its environment, the building seems to have emerged organically from desert sand and rocky terrain at its location to the west of the Mitzpe Ramon Crater. It is made from “rammed earth,” a moistened mixture of sand, stone and other elements—which were taken from the Mitzpe Ramon Crater—that is forced into a mold.
Landroom has been situated to provide shade throughout the day, while its circular interior and roof opening offers an optimal view of the sky. Aside from the built-in bench, the only embellishment is a stone bell suspended from the top of the window, whose ring functions as an accompaniment to the sound and sensation of the blowing wind.
In recognition of the still-innovative thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright and other leaders of the early 20th century Prairie School, the Jaffa Roof House, completed by Gitai and his associates in 2020, envisions the surrounding land and sea views of the ancient port city as integral components of the apartment’s interior. Strategically placed glass windows and multiple balconies “create an in & out spatial experience, where the outdoor merges with the indoor to create a unique flow based on light and nature.” Both the exterior and interior of the apartment are constructed with soil, straw and lime plaster—building materials which were “sourced from the local area” and which continue to be associated with Jaffa’s history.
The following is a letter I’ve sent to Chad Nackers, editor of “The Onion.” Although directed to that satirical newspaper, its core message applies to many outlets now catering to politically minded young people, particularly online.
Let me volunteer that I’ve been a diehard fan of The Onion. “Our Front Pages” and “Our Dumb World” enjoy a more prominent place in my home than I probably should admit.
I also hesitate to approach you with a substantive concern. Writing satirists a serious response to their work might seem a questionable choice.
I do so, though, because I know that even satirical publications can have a conscience—and many aim to balance or even guide their entertainment with a sense of social responsibility.
I’m writing about multiple posts by The Onion during the unnerving 11 days of the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
With headlines like “Palestinian Family Who Lost Home In Airstrike Takes Comfort In Knowing This All Very Complicated” and “Israel Returns Occupied Territories To Palestinians After Running Out Of Targets To Hit In Gaza,” in practically all of these stories, Palestinians feature exclusively as victims and Israelis feature exclusively as aggressors.
A quick search of your website finds the same stark pattern over a stunningly long period—with criticism even of Palestinian radicals last surfacing only years ago. A biting piece like “Crazed Palestinian Gunman Angered by Stereotypes” goes back all the way to 1997.
To be clear, I recognize and am pained by the suffering of every innocent person. And under normal circumstances, I’d welcome the dishing out of smart, good-natured mockery on an equal-opportunity basis. But seeing humanity and suffering on only one side of a conflict isn’t fair, and it isn’t funny.
I’m not going to litigate the conflict here—not the causes of Israel’s specific military actions, its efforts to try avoiding civilian casualties or the reasons for higher losses among Palestinians nonetheless.
This said, over recent weeks—and this conflict, of course, is not limited to recent weeks--millions of Israeli civilians were terrorized by more than 4,000 rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza. Their lives matter, too. Other countries would be expected to exact a massive response to much less.
Now, a few words about me.
I’m a Jew. Almost all of my grandfather’s family was murdered in the Holocaust. I still have the bullet that entered my grandfather’s back in a deliberate attempt to end his life, and mine, too. When as a boy, I visited his native Poland—home now to perhaps 10,000 Jews, where there were 3 million before the genocide—I was greeted with ubiquitous spray-painted swastikas, Stars of David on a gallows and the words Żydzi, wydostać się z Polski (“Jews, out of Poland”) on a synagogue.
Years later, I went to Israel, to take courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—overwhelmingly a bastion of liberalism, where Arabs, Jews and others pursue higher learning together. That summer, the cafeteria of the university’s international school was bombed in an attack proudly claimed by Hamas. Nine people were killed, 100 were wounded, and countless more were traumatized.
Fast-forward to 2021, when my family members in Israel, including little children, have again repeatedly been forced to take cover from relentless assaults by fanatics who aren’t engaged in a limited territorial or political dispute with Israel but openly, doctrinally, pledge the destruction of the Jewish state in its entirety.
And now, in the United States, where I live, a spate of unprovoked attacks on Jews by pro-Palestinian extremists is being widely reported.
Well prior to the renewed hostilities in the Middle East, Jews—a small minority—were already by far the leading targets of faith-based hate crimes. In my community, some mothers now tell their children not to wear a skullcap or Star of David in public, even in America—far removed from the tensions in the Middle East.
One-sided “reporting” by a publication like The Onion might not seem to be the most critical problem today, and it’s not. But we could probably agree that your outlet can serve a vital role by giving readers a respite from the hardships they endure. Even more importantly, it can entrench prejudice or dispel it, exacerbate divisions or help ease them.
Young people in particular actually look to your “news” for just that—and this has implications in the real world. Even jokes carry a message and can imbibe assumed truths, especially when they are repeatedly reinforced.
Please ensure that your work does not erase the story and the experience of Israeli Jews.
Read David's expert analysis in JNS.
Remarkably few people know that the United Nations – with nearly 60 Muslim and Arab member states – condemns Israel more than it does all other countries combined.The only state routinely criticized by the Commission on the Status of Women? Israel.
The only state attacked by the World Health Assembly? Israel. The only state targeted by a permanent agenda item at the Human Rights Council? Not North Korea or Iran, but Israel.
One effort, though, to weaponize the UN against Israel was so offensive that it was repealed 30 years ago. In 1991, the General Assembly rescinded a resolution that singled out Jews’ self-determination movement, Zionism, for equation with racism.
Zionism simply means support for Israel’s right to exist in Jews’ sole historic homeland. Recognition of that right is almost universal.
As George H.W. Bush put it at the time, “To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history. To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself.... This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist.”
Only a decade after Zionism-is-racism was repealed, however, its specter rose again. The UN’s 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, perversely became the latest symbol of anti-Zionism as the predominant contemporary assault on Jews’ identity, legitimacy and equal rights.
With a backdrop of shocking antisemitic rhetoric and attacks on Jewish attendees, Durban’s outcome document implied that Israel alone was a racist state. Its forum of non-governmental organizations went even further, calling Israel alone a “racist, apartheid regime” and featuring calls for economic warfare against it. Even Mary Robinson, the conference chairwoman, later acknowledged, “There was horrible antisemitism present.”
Nonetheless, in 2009, the follow-up Durban Review Conference hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust-denier known for saying Israel would be wiped “off the map.” This September, the UN will “commemorate” Durban’s 20th anniversary.
And now, after the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas – a terrorist group whose explicitly antisemitic charter pledges Israel’s destruction – an unusual alliance between Palestinian activists and global progressives has not merely excoriated Israeli policy, but called it racist.
For these voices, Palestinian nationalism is embraced, but Israeli nationalism is demonized. Those who shun majoritarianism elsewhere, and would otherwise cry “no person is illegal,” overlook Arab conquests and discrimination, and stigmatize Jews as a “colonial” presence in the land from which they had been collectively exiled.
SINCE ISRAEL’S establishment, the number of Palestinians in the land has increased five-fold. In Arab countries, the number of Jews has plummeted from 850,000 to barely 5,000.
Of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with skin color, just territory and security.
No society is free of inequities or of prejudices. But in Israel – the Middle East’s sole democracy – Arabs, let alone Jews and other regional minorities, enjoy far more civil liberties than in any Arab country.
Moreover, Zionists span the political spectrum. On horrifying but exceedingly rare occasions when fringe Jewish fanatics have perpetrated lethal attacks against Arab civilians – in 1994, 2005 and 2015 – Israelis from Left to Right, including their national leaders, have reacted with nothing less than revulsion and denunciation.
During the same period, innumerable suicide bombings, rocket bombardments, shootings, stabbings, stoning attacks and hostage-takings have targeted Israelis. Not just do jihadists often celebrate this deliberate bloodshed by distributing candies on Palestinian streets, but mainstream Palestinian leaders regularly glorify the attackers as heroes and “martyrs.”
Over the past 75 years, Muslim citizens, mosques, Islamic schools and halal restaurants have not been attacked, by Zionists, as have Jews and Jewish institutions in the name of Palestinian nationalism across Europe and elsewhere. Such violence was repeated over recent days from Berlin to Los Angeles.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has now repeatedly called Israeli leaders “racist,” a label he hasn’t afforded Arabs or others. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, too, has smeared Israel alone as an “apartheid” state.
Jews and Arabs do not represent different “races,” and there is nothing more racist about Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, than the dozens of Christian, Muslim and other countries whose identity is reflected in their state symbols.
To call Israel – with its Arab justices, parliamentarians, diplomats, academics and business leaders – an apartheid state is to not know the meaning of apartheid. It also is to not know substantial Israeli attempts at peace with the Palestinians.
Martin Luther King Jr. and other luminaries of the civil rights movement recognized Jews’ disproportionate contribution to their struggle. In turn, they consistently defended Israel’s own right to acceptance and security. Said King, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews.”
On the hard Left no less than the hard Right, words matter and truth matters. The fight against racism is too important to be tarnished by ignorance, politics and bigotry.
Read David's expert analysis in the Jerusalem Post.
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