By Rhonda Love
Many people see the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a time to examine their life and reflect on how one can improve oneself. Becoming a better person, and living a life that is worthy of seeing a new year is at the top of our prayers and plans for the future. Much of our behavior is judged by how we deal with others. Being a better human being and making a difference because we have been given this chance and a place on earth.
As I look at recent events that stem from hatred and violence in our country, I think about the B’nai B’rith program, Enlighten America. This project was created in August 2000, in response to violent attacks against people because of their race, religion or ethnic origin. The decision to create a program at that time, came at a staff meeting, where we had just learned the news that a gunman had threatened a Jewish community center in Los Angeles. This event had followed several other attacks that were based on hatred and bigotry. We had no idea at the time that the largest attack on America was still to come on 9/11, just one year later. We recalled the two horrific murders of James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard, who were killed due their race and sexual orientation. They continue to live on in legislation that bears their name. The passage of the National Hate Crime Legislation was one of the action items of the Enlighten America campaign at that time.
Frustration and a feeling that we needed to do something, as individuals, and as an organization brought together staff and volunteers weighing in on what actions could be taken. Promoting the passage of a national hate crime bill was one agenda item and another was a very simple call for an individual’s action, promoting a personal pledge and sharing the Enlighten America message. Readings were created to accompany the pledge, encouraging individuals to do this for themselves and share it with their families.
We focused on Thanksgiving, a time when families come together, providing an opportunity to share life lessons. We encouraged promoting the pledge and asked families to leave a porch light on Thanksgiving night to symbolize that they had supported the project. The pledge provided a tangible way that an individual as well as B’nai B’rith groups could express this important message. You may not be able to change how others think and act, but you can do something to change yourself. The pledge was available to be used to promote this message to try to bring change in others. Individuals took the pledge to many venues in their community. It was posted in a Jackson, Miss. newspaper, saluting the B’nai B’rith unit there. B’nai B’rith created art and essay contests for communities to take to their schools and youth groups. Promoting tolerance, supporting diversity and inclusion, and combating bigotry, hatred and violence were spotlighted and continue to be agenda items for our organization via the B’nai B’rith Diverse Minds Writing Challenge.
Enlighten America has at its core one of the most basic concepts of life in the United States—freedom. This is our appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy in this country to live as Jews, and we remember the promise of President George Washington, to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, R.I. in 1790, that we are free to live as Jews. This right and appreciation for it, is not just a message for American Jews, but for all Jews wherever they may call home. Attacks on Jews around the world continue and as long as there are Jews that live in fear of attack we must speak out on their behalf.
Acts of hatred and violence fill the news, and we wonder if anything we do can make a difference. Hatred and violence in the U.S., has a long history, and Jewish people along with many other ethnic groups, have suffered because if it. Unfortunately, there are times when we need to remind the world that it is not acceptable and violence will not be tolerated.
The Enlighten America program is available for families to use to help deal with the horrific events around us. It is a message you can bring to your community to share your concerns about the events of the day. We have linked the Enlighten America message to many observances. There is an Enlighten America reading for Thanksgiving and one to be used for the Passover Seder.
Let’s think about the pledge as we start a new year and what we can do to make a difference to speak up about hatred and bigotry in our society. We encourage you to add your own thoughts to what you want to share with your family as you gather at the holiday table. Please send your thoughts to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We need to deliver this message now more than ever before to our family and friends to fight for the rights of others and celebrate our freedom to live as Jews. Click here to read more about Enlighten America.
By Eric Fusfield
A bipartisan breakthrough in Congress could help force a halt to the Palestinian Authority's practice of monetarily rewarding terrorism.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted by a decisive 17-4 margin this month to approve S. 1697, the Taylor Force Act, aimed at stopping PA stipends of up to $3,500 a month to convicted terrorists and families of deceased assailants. The bill is named after Taylor Force, a 29-year-old U.S. Army veteran and Vanderbilt University graduate student stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv last year. The family of Force's killer receives a monthly payment from the PA.
What would the Taylor Force Act do?
The legislation would suspend $300 million in annual U.S. aid to the PA until it stops paying terrorists and their families. It would not limit funding for security cooperation or assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The bill outlines steps the PA must take before U.S. aid can resume.
Who supports the legislation?
Among the bill's co-sponsors is Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the committee that passed the bill and a senator from the state where Taylor Force attended school. Another key backer is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who represents the state in which Force's parents live; Graham chairs the Senate subcommittee overseeing foreign aid.
While the bill's original supporters were primarily Republicans, a bipartisan mix of senators forged a crucial compromise that would exempt funding for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network and create an escrow account to hold humanitarian aid. These modifications enabled senators such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, to add their support.
How is Israel Impacted?
The Israeli government has long expressed wariness of reductions in aid to the Palestinians, for fear of stoking instability in the West Bank and Gaza. But Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer recently spoke favorably of the Taylor Force Act at a Washington gathering of pro-Israel Christians, signaling Israel's desire to end the PA's cash incentivization of terror. "Israel believes that the United States should end economic assistance to any government that pays people to kill Jews. Period," Dermer declared.
What happens next?
The bill must first be approved by the full Senate. The House of Representatives, where similar legislation has also been introduced, must pass it as well. The final bill would then go to the White House for signature.
What can I do?
Call the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your senators' offices. Tell them to end the PA's abhorrent practice of "pay for slay" by voting in favor of the Taylor Force Act.
By Oren Drori
Over the past few years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has fallen deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole by actively participating in the Palestinian campaign to delegitimize Israel at international institutions (see prior blog post on the subject here). In the UNESCO context, the Palestinians have been trying to erase immutable facts of history—specifically, the ties between the Jewish people to Israel, our homeland—through various libelous resolutions that either try to obfuscate the Jewish connection to holy sites (for instance, only using the Arabic name for the Temple Mount or putting “Western Wall” in quotes and giving preference to an obscure Arabic name for the site), and/or falsely claiming that holy sites are in danger. A shameful, albeit steadily decreasing, number of UNESCO member states have been far too willing to go along with these outright lies.
The events of this summer, however, are a warning signal to UNESCO on the perilous route that the membership is taking. Last month, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) voted to approve an anti-Israel resolution that, among other attacks, claimed that Israel had no sovereignty over Jerusalem—the eternal heart of the Jewish people and the capital of the State of Israel—and a second decision to add Hebron’s Old City (and the Tomb of the Patriarchs within it) as a Palestinian site to the list of World Heritage Sites in danger, even though the site is in no apparent danger.
Shortly following the conclusion of the WHC session, Palestinian violence flared up in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The cause of the violence? Metal detectors.
Following a terrorist attack in which the terrorists hid their guns in al-Aqsa Mosque and then murdered two Israeli policemen, Israel closed the Temple Mount temporarily, and installed metal detectors. Similar security measures are used at holy sites throughout the world—the Vatican, Mecca, and at the Western Wall, to name a few. These installations were added to ensure that all visitors to the Temple Mount are safe, regardless of faith.
The reaction was immediate and without any proportion to reality. Muslims refused to pray at the site if they had to deign to walk through measures designed for everyone’s safety. Violent protests followed, egged on by Palestinian and Muslim leaders. Both Hamas and Fatah called for a “Day of Rage” on the next Friday. That night, at a Shabbat dinner table, a terrorist went on a rampage, murdering Yosef Salomon and his children Chaya and Elad. The violence went on for nearly two weeks, and has only recently gone down, although one would be hard-pressed to call the situation “calm” yet.
This reaction was a direct consequence of the lies told by the Palestinian leadership to its own people (and the rest of the world) for decades—that holy sites, and specific to this case, al-Aqsa Mosque—were in danger. This, plainly, is fiction. Israel does not engage in activities that endanger holy sites. To the contrary, Israel has made extraordinary efforts to discover and preserve cultural, religious and historic sites throughout the country, while making them safe and open for visitors of any faith.
The world has seen, once again, who is truly creating the instability at the holy sites—it is the side that stored weapons in a mosque of significant importance to the Muslim world (a mosque which sits upon the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism), carried out a terror attack from that site, and then erupted in violent protests and further terror when common sense security measures were introduced following the murder.
The Palestinians know that this lie is a touch point that can lead to open conflagration when manipulated, as it has on previous occasions. The question is—how far is UNESCO willing to go to push the Palestinian narrative when real world consequences are at stake? When will responsible member states at UNESCO, which, incidentally, is tasked with creating peace in the minds of humanity, take a stand against extreme historical revisionism?
We’ve seen UNESCO bodies push forward a truly absurd narrative in many previous resolutions (once even complaining that Israel was planting fake Jewish graves at a cemetery in Jerusalem). But, claiming that Israel is putting holy sites in danger is a real threat to the peace and stability in region. When UNESCO bodies accept this destructive narrative, they make the world body complicit in the explosive violence that is then borne of this lie.
By David Michaels
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the prime minister of Georgia, visited Israel late last month.
Sadly, the visit was overshadowed by the violent attack on a security officer at Israel’s embassy in Jordan and tensions attributed to the short-lived introduction of basic security measures at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after the gunning down of two (non-Jewish) Israeli policemen there. Coming in the run-up to Tisha B’Av, the date marking the destruction of Judaism’s single holiest place, the crisis again encapsulated the deadly consequences of wild anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement. Mainstream Palestinian leaders have both denied Jewish history on the Mount and claimed Israeli designs to “Judaize” it, even as Israel has remarkably preserved Islamic clerical administration of the site for 50 years and disallowed Jewish prayer there.
If widespread international ignorance of this Israeli conciliation weren’t enough, Palestinians again set a new standard for chutzpah by warning that the use of metal detectors outside the site—ubiquitous at vulnerable places worldwide, including at the adjoining Western Wall—would intolerably violate Muslim worshippers’ rights. The Palestinians have already long rejected the presence of cameras on the Mount to further document the vile agitation by clerics that ensures unending warfare against and with Israel.
While foreign capitulation to the Palestinian-led regional saber-rattling has been as dispiriting as it has been unsurprising, the overlooked visit to Israel by Georgia’s head of government deserves positive attention disproportionate to the size of a Georgian citizenry less than half that of little Israel. The trip, one of repeated and reciprocal high-level visits between the two countries, testifies to the strength and significance of Israel’s bilateral relations with an increasingly diverse set of states, even as conditions in the Middle East remain so precarious.
Although Israeli ties to foremost world powers, above all the United States—but also now India, whose prime minister made his own historic journey to Israel last month—will always be considered vital, some less powerful countries, particularly in Israel’s near-neighborhood, offer distinct importance on account of their geographic situation, natural resources, intelligence capabilities, market potential and shared strategic concerns, to name but a few tangible assets.
And so, size doesn’t always matter most in international relations; where once “traditional” powers like France and Germany, their continuing importance notwithstanding, may have privileged them among foreign policy priorities, today Greece and Cyprus, far smaller and less affluent than their northwestern neighbors, take a back seat to no one as focal points of Israeli diplomats and policymakers.
Similarly, the measure of Israel’s relationship with other countries cannot be contained to those countries’ votes on rote motions on Israel at the United Nations—even as there is cause for hope that member states can pull loose from ossified patterns of bloc voting on biased U.N. resolutions related to the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—serving also as foreign minister—has sought positive voting trajectories in his broadening global outreach whose capstone undertaking, aside from the trailblazing alliances with India and the Aegean countries, has likely been the restoration of Israel’s long-dormant partnership with African states. Accordingly, now counted among Israel’s friends even at the inhospitable U.N. are not only the U.S., Canada and Australia but Togo and Burkina Faso. And these join Pacific island states like Micronesia and the Marshall Islands and such Latin American states as Guatemala and Paraguay, as well as central and southeastern European states including Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Albania. And Georgia.
Some of these countries are courageous enough to vote outright against discriminatory motions at the U.N., while others at least begin to pull their neighbors in the right direction by refusing to support texts that recklessly malign Israel’s record or even whitewash Jewish history, discrediting the U.N. itself in the process.
Last month, B’nai B’rith leaders concluded a visit to Georgia, where we met with Kvirikashvili, and also to Azerbaijan—which Netanyahu recently visited in a first for an Israeli premier. Georgia is a historic Christian land, while Azerbaijan is predominantly Shiite Muslim; both are home to substantial, well-integrated Jewish communities largely spared the anti-Semitism found elsewhere, and both Caucasus countries maintain exceptionally close, critical ties with Israel. Tbilisi, Georgia, and Baku, Azerbaijan, are rare world cities where a visitor senses genuine safety in synagogues—and, even rarer, these are places where, walking down the street, one might come upon an Israeli flag flying side by side with a Georgian or Azeri one. Such a display of genuine international pluralism would not likely be found today in Brussels or Stockholm.
The upshot of Israel’s relationship with Georgia and Azerbaijan, as with so many other countries of varied location and culture, is that comity between peoples is possible. Indeed, it is here, even across faith boundaries. Israel is proud and eager to cultivate bonds of friendship with fellow members of the international community, whether of Muslim, Christian, Hindu or any other stripe. All that is needed for the achievement of a mutually rewarding coexistence in the Middle East is for Israel’s neighbors to recognize that it is at home in the region just as they are.
By Rachel Knopp
College students have become emblematic elements of nonviolent resistance throughout the world. Perhaps most famous were the anti-Vietnam protests when college campuses in the United States transformed into hotbeds of political activity. Students would organize “teach-ins” to rally against the escalation of the war. In Europe, Serbian university students organized poster campaigns and satirical concerts against the oppressive Milošević regime. Just two years later, these ‘unruly’ young people had successfully overthrown a dictator.
Today, we see that same trend of student activism visit another country with a democracy on the brink of collapse: Venezuela. In Venezuela, supermarket shelves and pharmacies are virtually empty. Due to the lack of food, medicines and medical equipment, people are dying of easily preventable causes. The Venezuelan economy is heading in a nosedive, evident in a current unemployment rate of 17 percent and an inflation rate that is expected to hit 481 percent by the end of the year, per Ian Bremmer of Time.
The severity of the humanitarian crisis is felt by many, with two million Venezuelans taking refuge in neighboring countries throughout recent years. Yet, the dire situation continues to grow. The Maduro-led government refuses to accept humanitarian assistance from the international community. Refusals indicate a blatant disregard for human life, amid an increasingly tense political climate.
According to Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, President Nicolas Maduro has deliberately dismantled the democratic institutions of his country since his election in 2013. The Venezuelan constitution, which safeguards the most coveted freedoms of democracy, has overtly been disregarded. Maduro and the executive branch now enjoy a strong-hold over all key government institutions. The Supreme Court has stripped powers away from the legislature and the military has become government cronies in quashing opposition.
Maduro has explicitly stated his contempt for dissent. “Prepare for a time of massacre and death if the Bolivarian revolution fails,” he warned. Sadly, Maduro’s warning has come to fruition, with university students bearing the brunt of this burden. Of the 92 dissidents who were killed from April 1 to July 10, 31 of them were aged 21 or younger.
Even with Maduro’s grave forewarning and demonstrated commitment to stamp out opposition, many students have nevertheless left their lecture halls in favor of the streets. "We just couldn't sit calmly in class when down the road fellow youths were being killed in clashes with the security forces," Gabriela Sayago, a 24-year-old dentistry student at the University of Merida. told the BBC News. Students like Sayago have vowed to complete their studies, but only under a free and fair Venezuela.
To achieve that goal, student organizers have partnered with the opposition party to resist the regime and its grim promise to rewrite the constitution. According to David Gonzalez of The New York Times, the recent opposition-led referendum voted 98 percent in favor of rejecting Maduro’s efforts to rewrite the constitution, of nearly 7.8 million votes. These Venezuelans demanded that the current constitution be respected in order to prevent Maduro’s path to dictatorship.
The student activists are being credited with utilizing more sophisticated tools of protests, including psychological sessions and civil disobedience workshops on their university campuses. In conjunction, the opposition is organizing a nationwide 24-hour strike, which is expected to be a “massive, nonviolent protest.: In some areas, the movement has even adopted a database to track the safety of protesters who continue to take to the streets.
Almagro recognizes the grueling, historical struggle that Latin American countries have faced to achieve democracy. Many of the region’s most respected leaders have their own memories of participating in popular protest. Yet the case of Venezuela demonstrates the fragility of even an established democracy.
Still, the Maduro government claims to be a representative voice of its people on the international stage. Particularly, the Venezuelan government has used its position at the United Nations to criticize and condemn Israel. Venezuela uses the same institutions, in which it refuses to accept humanitarian assistance to save its own people, to turn the focus toward the State of Israel.
In May the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations raised in the Security Council whether Israel intended to “wage a final solution sort of solution [against the Palestinians] as was perpetrated against the Jews?” The comparison to Nazi-Germany was quickly condemned by the United Kingdom and the United States and distinguished as anti-Semitism by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Anti-Semitism has become a flagrant issue within the country itself. Since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, took power in 1999 nearly 50 percent of Venezuelan Jews have left the country. During that time, Chávez took steps to deepen relations with the Palestinian leadership and Iranian government. He viewed Israel as a Middle Eastern proxy of the United States and thus adopted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments in his rhetoric. Chávez’s rhetoric spilled over into government-sponsored media and local governments thus creating an intolerable space for Jews in the country.
The January appointment of Vice President Tareck El Aissami has reiterated concerns over Venezuela’s connections in the Middle East. From a testimony last year at the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Joseph Humire detailed the vice president’s complex financial network, which includes laundering millions of dollars on behalf of organizations like Hezbollah. Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terror organization, has called for the destruction of Israel since its founding. El Aissami’s financial dealings point to the infiltration of Islamic extremism at the highest levels of Venezuelan government.
In June U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for Venezuela to step down from its position at the United Nations Human Rights Council if it could not put an end to its own human rights abuses. Haley continued to express her frustration that not a single resolution had been considered by the council to address the Venezuelan abuses, yet five had been passed against Israel in March alone. This, she said, marked another example of the anti-Israel bias that has long plagued the U.N.
Various human rights violators of the world have used United Nations institutions to divert attention from their own records of abuse and shift the focus toward Israel. Venezuela has been a leader in this diversion tactic, yet the popular protests that ensue within the country suggest that these accusations do not represent the concerns of the people.
Those who follow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement have seen student activism as a tool to delegitimize Israel in the region. In particular Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East has answered the BDS call. Chile’s votes against Israel at the United Nations mirror the Pontifical Catholic University student body vote to reject ties with Israeli academic institutions. Not coincidentally, anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have risen within the country. Schools, synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalized and the president of Chile’s Jewish community has been provided police protection.
Observers of the BDS movement may regard university campuses as a battle to be lost, but that fear may not be warranted elsewhere in the region. The young people of Venezuela continue to carry out the fight of their lives, with July 9 marking the 100 consecutive day of protest in Caracas. This past Sunday marked the deadliest day yet, following the fraudulent election to move forward with the Constituent Assembly. The election results ensure that a return to democracy through traditional democratic channels is impossible, now making the protest movement indispensable.
Evidence from other countries in the region suggests that the students who are protesting in the streets today will become the key decision-makers of their countries tomorrow. We must look beyond the votes of diplomats and recognize the strength of the movements that are fighting against this phony representation. The current standoff between the government and its opposition may signify a change in who will speak on behalf of Venezuelans in the future—and how they will exercise that voice on the world stage.
Photo via Flickr
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