It has been known world wide in these last days that Human Rights Watch has accused both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas of routinely engaging in “systematic” unwarranted arrests and torture of critics, suspected dissidents and political opponents, and of developing “parallel police states” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In a 149-page report based on interviews with 147 witnesses, Human Rights Watch detailed a common method of abuse and torture known as shabeh — used both by the PA and Hamas — which causes distress and trauma to detainees.
The widespread occurrence of such brutality indicates that “torture is governmental policy for both the PA and Hamas,” Human Rights Watch stated.
According to the report, “Palestinian forces in both the West Bank and Gaza regularly use threats of violence, taunts, solitary confinement, and beatings, including lashing and whipping of the feet of detainees, to elicit confessions, punish, and intimidate activists.”
Saying the systematic use of torture could amount to a crime against humanity under the United Nations’ Convention against Torture, Human Rights Watch called on the United States, the European Union and other international powers to halt all aid to the Palestinian agencies responsible for persecution and “until the authorities curb those practices and hold those responsible for abuse accountable.”
As everybody could imagine, both Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority denied the accusations. For more than a decade, Hamas has maintained an iron grip on power and suppressed any signs of public dissent, including street protests and on social media.
On the other side, despite having Western backing, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has also silenced dissent in the areas of the West Bank he administers under past agreements with Israel. Last year, he clamped down on social media and news websites with a vaguely worded decree that critics say allows his government to jail anyone on charges of harming “national unity” or the “social fabric.”
In this regard, this news is not new. In spite of shameful silence, complicity and indifference, no U.N. agency, political leaders and media can say they do not know the reality of brutality and violation of human rights from Hamas and from the PA.
However, last June, when the United States gave the possibility to all U.N. General Assembly members to vote loud and clear that Hamas is a terrorist organization, the result was very modest.
And from Latin America, the result of the voting was disgraceful.
It was not surprise then, and it would not be today, that Venezuela and Cuba supported Hamas. Venezuela is a haven for Hezbollah, and its activities in drug trafficking, arms sales and money laundering.
But most Latin American countries abstained. How is it possible to “abstain” before terror? How is it possible to show such indifference before a clear and present danger? It is possible because Latin American countries do not see with clarity that their votes are harming the Jewish communities which are living in those countries and are always at danger together with the whole population if terrorist movements are free to move around.
Uruguay is an example of the mixture of wrong steps and unconsciousness. Uruguay voted “no” at the U.N. The meaning of such a vote is that Uruguay showed last June before the General Assembly that it does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Uruguay always declares in international forums that it is in favor of two-state solution and insists in peace accords and understanding. Where is the gap for such contradiction? That Uruguay is including Hamas as part of the Palestinian side who should be sitting at the table discussing with Israel.
All those Latin American countries which “abstained” in the voting of Hamas as a terrorist group and Uruguay going beyond and voting “no” are far from helpful to get some step forward in a road for peace. It is hard to believe that they do not know that Hamas is a terrorist organization because Hamas has claimed openly since its beginning that its goal is the complete destruction of the State of Israel. So, it is very dangerous and useless to believe that Hamas could be sitting at any table to deal with peace issues.
If there is going to be a slim possibility in the near future to restart conversations between Israelis and Palestinians, pushed by the U.S. administration, Hamas will not be at the table and Latin America will watch from far away what may happen because its behavior is also far away from reality and seriousness.
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.
An eight-member B’nai B’rith International delegation participated in meetings of the Zionist General Council that convened this week in Hadera, Israel under the title “Building One Nation.”
The meeting was launched in the Druze village of Hurfeish with a salute to the Druze minority for its contributions to the state, and included the adoption of wide-ranging constitutional amendments and discussion of the significance of the Declaration of Independence and new Jewish State Law for the future of the State of Israel.
Incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog addressed the body, noting: “The Jewish people are on brink of a disaster; simple mathematics show that in two generations, only a fraction of the current Jewish population of the United States will remain Jewish.”
Herzog argued that to confront the crisis in Jewish identify, the gates that have made access to Judaism arduous should be opened, warning that separation between Israeli and American Jewry would be a disaster for the Jewish people.
The meetings also included panel discussions on Israel-Diaspora relation with Members of Knesset and with chairman of the Zionist Federations, among them Honorary B’nai B’rith President Richard Heideman, who is chairman of the American Zionist Movement.
Heideman called for a less vociferous discourse when representatives of the various political parties and organizations that make up the World Zionist Organization convene at meetings of the Zionist General Council. Members of the B’nai B’rith Delegation included B’nai B’rith International Executive Board of Directors member Ira Bartfield; B’nai B’rith Europe Board member Valerie Achache; B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Board Member Dr. Baruch Levy; B’nai B’rith Israel mentor Michael Natan; B’nai B’rith Israel President Dani Gratz; former Young Leadership Network Chair Elana Heideman; Batsheva Schwartz, young delegation member; and B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider, who coordinates B’nai B’rith activities at the National institutions (WZO, JAFI and KKL).
During his remarks, Herzog also congratulated B’nai B’rith International on its 175th anniversary.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, click here.
Capitol Hill has been relatively quiet recently because members of Congress are back home pounding the pavement stumping for votes. With election day only a few weeks away, now is a great time for me to blog about the important role older Americans will play in the upcoming election. With a rapidly expanding senior population, politicians across the country will have to court seniors if they hope to be victorious. Consequently, older adults are in a great position to make elected officials take notice of the issues important to them, whether that’s Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security or affordable housing.
First, seniors are in an advantageous position to be heard because they are one of the biggest voting blocks in the country. According to the United States Census Bureau, 70 percent of seniors (65+) turned out to vote in the 2016 presidential election, and in a recently conducted poll, 74 percent of seniors say they plan to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. As statistics demonstrate, seniors keep showing up at the polls in large percentages, and the number of older Americans keeps rising. This translates to one important point; our leaders running for political office should be paying attention to the issues important to a good percentage of the electorate: A demographic group which continuously grows!
So why are the 2018 midterm elections so important for seniors? During the past two years our elected representatives in Washington D.C. have debated legislation with major implications for older adults. For example, in 2017 Congress and the administration put forth serious proposals that would have negatively impacted older Americans. These include repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, cutting affordable housing and the enactment of tax reform legislation. Fortunately, with the exception of the tax reform legislation, these bills never became law. On a positive note, the 2018 government funding bill included more than $100 million dollars for the creation of additional low-income seniors housing. These policies play a critical role in the daily lives of older Americans, and illustrate why seniors’ activism is so important.
One state where seniors can definitely make their voices heard is in Florida, home to about 4 million seniors and the site of a hotly contested Senate race. A state whose population is 20 percent seniors is in a great position to demand that candidates running for public office protect the needs of older Americans. In the 2014 Florida midterm elections voters 50 and over accounted for a whopping 67 percent of ballots cast. Furthermore, a recently conducted poll of Florida residents ages 50 and over revealed that 82 percent of respondents reported Social Security as a very important issue, coupled with 74 percent for Medicare. Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer said, “Candidates who ignore the issues that matter to voters age 50 and up do so at their own peril,” and “Older voters were decisive in the last two elections, and they will likely be decisive this year as well.”
Older Americans should take the time to learn about the positions of candidates running for office. Go to town hall meetings where candidates take questions from constituents. Ask the candidate if they are going to cut financial resources from important senior programs. Remind elected officials that your contributions to the Social Security Trust Fund were not intended to pay for other government programs.
When Congress returns from election day, lawmakers might feel more emboldened to make big policy changes to senior programs that impact healthcare, nutrition, housing and income security.
Now is the time when every American should make their voice heard, especially 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.
A sartorial vision in a black, edgy-looking suit, the cellist mounts the platform in the apse of the rural Virginia church, and is greeted by the warm applause of the fans who have braved a torrential Virginia rainstorm to be there with him. Wrapping his 6-foot, 5-inch frame — his hope was to play both the cello and basketball — around what now seems to have shrunk into a tiny version of an adult sized instrument, Israeli virtuoso Amit Peled draws his bow across the strings, a passionate launch into a sonata by Johannes Brahms. It must be said, however, that his ability to command and enthrall does not seem to be solely governed by his selections, spanning the Baroque to the contemporary; whether its Ludwig van Beethoven, Edward Elgar, Maxim Shostakovich or compositions by the 19th century Czech cellist David Popper, the team of Peled and Pablo hit it out of the park every time.
Named to honor its former owner, the legendary Pablo Casals, Pablo (the cello) was paired with Amit, as a match made in heaven, one which was orchestrated by Marta Casals Istomin, a dynamic musician, administrator and Casals’ widow, who headed Puerto Rico’s Casals Festival, served as artistic director at the Kennedy Center and then as president at Manhattan School of Music.
The masterpiece fabricated in 1733 by the Venetian Matteo Goffriller was Casals’ instrument, on which he played until his death in 1973, the year that Peled was born. Six years ago, Amit’s life was transformed when he was invited to Istomin Casals’ home and performed on Pablo for the first time in many years. He later wrote: My dream had come true; I was playing the most famous instrument in the world right here, right now and all I could think about was my mother being so far away in Israel, not able to see, hear and appreciate it with me. Imagining her eyes and warm touch, I dove into Dvorák’s Cello Concerto and woke up playing the last notes of Bloch’s “Prayer” from “Jewish Life,” hearing Marta’s approving ‘Now that was something!’ He captured these memories in his children’s book, “A Cello Named Pablo,” a sweet and fitting introduction to the world of music intended for the very young.
After the instrument had undergone major restoration for the better part of a year, it was inevitable that Pablo would come out of retirement and resume his previous globetrotting, with Amit as traveling companion. Curating his own concerts, he has developed “Journey with My Jewishness” showcasing both story-telling and the performance of material by both Jewish and non-Jewish composers including traditional songs and prayers and pieces by Max Bruch, Ernest Bloch and J.S. Bach.
Peled, who grew up on a farm and went on to study at America’s most prestigious music schools, has for many years been acclaimed for his work on stage and on numerous recordings as recitalist, a performer of chamber music for ensembles which he himself has founded and as a guest soloist with orchestras here and throughout the world. On the faculty of Baltimore’s Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, he regularly performs with students he teaches and mentors, most notably in his group Peabody Cello Gang. As one reviewer wrote: "One could hear in this the rich tone and phrasing of the master teacher, carried by his superb students."
Dedicated to passing on his knowledge of the Casals tradition to his students, now and in the future, Peled has authored a manual on the cello, “The First Hour” and is also ambassador promoting iClassical Academy, a music platform created by those who play offering high-quality Master Classes that provide access to those who want to learn, wherever they are.
After the concert concluded, the affable Peled remained true to his stage persona, as he signed autographs and kibitzed with his audience, telling me to “remember to write that I left early to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with my family.”
Hear Peled perform Schuman with the Tel Aviv Philharmonic.
New Architecture in Eastern Europe
Slated for four days of opening events commencing on October 18, Vilnius’ new modern art museum — housing the contemporary collection of Baltic art belonging to philanthropists Victor Butkus and Danguole Butkiene, is the product of a collaboration between native architects and engineers and the famed designer, Daniel Liebeskind. Known for his many, groundbreaking works including Berlin’s Jewish Museum and the World Trade Center Memorial, Liebeskind, the son of Holocaust survivors, has fabricated the museum’s cutting-edge façade in white plaster, a material that has been associated with the city for many centuries. The museum, conceived as a cultural landmark which links the newer and older sections of Vilnius, features a public outdoor terrace, and roof which can function as a gathering and performance space.
In August, the city of Warsaw, Poland announced plans for a new Jewish theater, a project spearheaded by its mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, which calls for the renovation and adaptation of a 19th century tenement, one of the few extant traces of the city’s pre-war Jewish presence. Warsaw’s former Jewish theater was demolished last year. The sum of $41 million dollars has been allotted for the building, which will include two theaters and facilities to be used for the promotion of Yiddish culture.
The designer will be chosen by competition.
It is envisioned that the project will take five years to complete.
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.
Op-Ed by CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in the Jerusalem Post: UN Funding Perpetuates Palestinian Narratives
The annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, with its dozens of speeches by presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries, has concluded. But there is trouble ahead relating to UN expenditures to fund various, notoriously biased bodies.
The UN will now return to its usual business, much of it devoted to perpetuating the Palestinian narrative, at UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris, at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, and others of its agencies. The politicization of the UN system, especially when it comes to defaming and delegitimizing Israel, continues to degrade the organization’s original mission.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration’s cutoff of funds to UNRWA (UN Relief Works Agency) pending the reform of that bloated and biased organization, has grabbed international attention. Over decades, it has exhorted Palestinians to see Jews and Israel through an antisemitic lens, and to believe that all Palestinians will one day “return” to the entirety of what is now Israel. And rather than promoting peace and reconciliation, it has cooperated with terrorist organizations, particularly in Gaza, that seek Israel’s destruction.
UNRWA does its business in the Middle East, but it is in New York where the brain trust of this effort is situated. In the wake of the infamous 1975 Zionism=Racism resolution adopted by the General Assembly, came the so-called Palestinian committees and division, specifically established and funded by the UN to advance the Palestinian political agenda. The Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR) exist for the singular purpose of promoting an anti-Israel message worldwide – in the name of the UN.
Indeed, CEIRPP sponsors conferences and photo exhibitions worldwide, which demean Israel and promote “the return” of all Palestinians. There are 26 countries that sit on the committee, including Malaysia, Bolivia and Venezuela. Twenty-four countries sit in as observer states, including many members of the Arab League.
The DPR, housed within the UN Secretariat (the only people to be so recognized), is staffed full-time by UN employees, and has been charged with assisting CEIRPP on a day-to-day basis to advance its mission. Its entire budget is paid by the UN for the purpose of engaging in the worldwide dissemination of Palestinian anti-Israel propaganda. So much for the UN being a member of the Quartet (together with the United States, Russia and the European Union), which was ostensibly organized to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and not be a partisan for one side over the other.
The DPR uses the UN’s Department of Public Information and its 63 information centers around the word to get its anti-Israel message out. Among the programs of the DPR, as listed on its website are: “[Organizes] international meetings and conferences in various regions and encourages the participation of all sectors of the international community. These meetings and conferences ‘are to mobilize international support for and assistance to the Palestinian people.’”
Just how the DPR uses the system is revealed in this point from the website: “Annual training programs are conducted for the staff of the Palestinian Authority, getting staff of the PA to acquire professional expertise in the various aspects of the work of the United Nations and multilateral diplomatic work.”
Is it any wonder, with this kind of infrastructure in the world’s most important multilateral organization, the Palestinians have no incentive to negotiate with Israel?
The annual budget for both CEIRPP and the DPR comes to over $6 million. But if you add in the value of the work done by the DPI to advance the agenda of these two bodies, the amount is substantially higher. Rather than an investment in peace, which the UN set up business to do in 1945, this financial support by UN member-states has exacerbated the conflict, not helped to resolve it. It has enabled and supported full-throated expressions of the most extreme positions on the Palestinian side, including intentionally misleading millions of Palestinians to believe that they will return to what is now Israel and demographically overwhelm its Jewish population.
Might it not be better to take the funds and channel the money into programs like micro-financing for Palestinian women, or other economic-empowerment projects that would give people a stake in a peaceful future?
The UN budget is approved for two years, with the next one to be presented in 2019. The General Assembly does, however, extend the mandates and the funding authorizations for the Palestinian committee and division annually, and that vote will come up in November. Over the past few years, it’s been a mixed voting bag. For DPR and CEIRPP the no votes went up slightly, as did the yes votes, while abstentions held steady. The special committee was most dramatic with a fall to only 83 yes votes last year.
But nothing would strike a more resounding note for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than eliminating these centers of rejectionism and hate. As long as the Palestinians feel they have the international wind at their back – including the use of the UN system as their private public relations mechanism – all talk of a serious “peace process” will continue to fall on deaf ears among Palestinians and their supporters in the international community.
Indeed, while the PA leadership speaks in one way about a two-state solution, its activity in the UN says something entirely different. UNRWA, CEIRPP and the DPR, by promoting the Palestinian “right of return” as the main element of their programs, suggest an objective of a one-state solution, in which the demise of the Jewish state is achieved by the mathematics of demography.
Many countries speak, oftentimes in rote pronouncements, about the need for peace in the region. Voting “no” next month at the UN on continued authorization of the Palestinian committees would be a good way for them to “walk the walk.”
The writer is CEO and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.
To read the original version on the Jerusalem Post, click here.
About a dozen masked figures attack the Jewish restaurant “Shalom” in Chemnitz, eastern Germany with stones, bottles and metal pipes. They damage the facade and windows and injure owner Uwe Dziuballa, while screaming “Get out of Germany, you Jewish pig.”
More than 100 demonstrators march uninhibited through the streets of Dortmund with imperial flags and burning flares shouting, “He who loves Germany is anti-Semitic.”
These are not scenes from the Nazi’s Kristallnacht in 1938, but incidents from the last two weeks in the German states of Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.
And once again, the right-wing political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is at the center of the public outrage and demonstrations that led to these two incidents. The episodes were triggered by the news that a German, himself with a migrant background, had been killed after an altercation with two asylum seekers at a village fair in Chemnitz a few days earlier.
The AfD not only refused to unequivocally distance itself from the racist and anti-Semitic violence happening during the mass protests that followed. Several of its leading members instead belittled the victims, publicly supported the perpetrators and even marched alongside neo-Nazis. For the first time, AfD representatives openly aligned themselves with the nationalistic and xenophobic PEGIDA movement (“Patriotic Europeans against an Islamization of the Western World”), as well as the radical far-right group Pro Chemnitz.
Unfortunately this has not been the only new coalition with the AfD causing outrage and sending shockwaves through the German Jewish community and the broader German society. A new group called “Jews in the AfD” announced its upcoming founding this very week. This new group is supporting the AfD despite the AfD’s anti-Semitic and Holocaust-belittling narrative and its opposition to Kosher butchering and circumcision. This previously unthinkable step has already been warmly welcomed by the AfD leadership, which had long tried to reach out to build official ties with German Jewish communities.
Many Jews and organizations all over the country have publicly opposed the new group, fearing that an official Jewish affiliation will be instrumentalized as a fig leaf to further mask the AfD’s unacceptable tropes of Holocaust-minimizing, anti-Semitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories embraced by many in the party. AfD narratives aim to polarize society by redefining majorities and minorities, along ethnic, political and religious lines rather than building consensus around the German democratic constitution.
How is it possible that a right-wing political group with such a simplistic ”us against them” narrative and discriminatory right-wing rhetoric, as well as clear opposition to kosher slaughter, circumcision and Holocaust commemoration in its current form, is appealing at all to Jews?
The only explanation must be the overwhelming fear of anti-Semitism from Muslim migrants and citizens that the AfD has so actively exploited to fuel hatred of Germany’s Muslims.
“The reduction of complex issues to a single group of people is the classic tactic of fascism. This has happened before in this house. It’s time for democrats to stand up and fight back” shouted Social Democratic parliamentarian Martin Schulz in the latest general debate in the Bundestag, accusing AfD leader Alexander Gauland of such behavior.
Denunciations such as these are important and reassuring. But if not followed up by concrete actions, these condemnations are just repetitive empty phrases, ultimately ineffective against the current political firestorm.
The restaurant owner in Chemnitz cannot repair his broken windows with grandstanding speeches, nor can professions of empathy alone protect Jewish communities.
The founding of the “Jews in the AfD” group despite the newly established ties with radical far-right groups such as Pro Chemnitz, previously taboo even for the AfD until now, is proof of how combustible hatred can be if mixed with fear.
The AfD has become a significant political force, sitting in 14 of the 16 state legislatures, as well as surpassing the Social Democrats in most recent polls, becoming currently the second strongest party in the Bundestag. The hysterical condemnations and #wearemore campaigns that followed the protests in Chemnitz are by their very nature polarizing themselves; they harmfully divide society and feed the AfD’s martyr and victim narrative.
Many forget that we already saw a wave of right-wing violence and open hatred on the streets of Germany in the early 1990s. But now, for the first time, it is being backed and partly fueled by politicians from within the country’s leading democratic institution.
We must finally understand that both elected governments and opposition parties, while catering to their own voters, also have a responsibility to address the needs of the whole society. So do individual citizens, whether they belong to the majority or a minority.
“Wehret den Anfängen,” (Resist the Beginnings): This is a popular German phrase about learning from history and opposing any National-Socialist tendencies and sentiments. But what if they are here, once again? What now?
The Parliamentary grand coalition still has not found many answers, pre-occupied as it is with its own political survival. The government has not addressed the underlying issues and fears that fuel hatred and populist votes, thus providing a combustion agent for social problems.
Those fears and uncomfortable truths must be addressed, while making clear that any hate speech and attacks, be they from the radical left or right, Muslim extremists or the so-often overlooked racist and anti-Semitic elements within mainstream society, are unacceptable and have no place in civilized discourse. Nor should they be tolerated within our own Jewish communities.
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.
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