This month, something positive and unusual happened at the United Nations, a body that was a source of hope for many Jews after the Holocaust and helped give rise to the revival of the Jewish homeland, but has since often been passive about, and sometimes complicit in, hostility globally to the Jewish people and their only nation-state.
This month, a person of stature within the U.N. system -- and within the notoriously wayward human rights apparatus at that -- took the initiative to prepare and deliver a report to the General Assembly on the problem of anti-Semitism.
Moreover, he adopted an exclusive focus on that problem, and on the whole did so thoroughly, seriously and professionally. And that author originally hails from a majority-Muslim country, where he previously had served as foreign minister.
Ahmed Shaheed prepared his report -- under the rubric of the "promotion and protection of human rights," specifically the "elimination of all forms of religious intolerance" -- in his current capacity as special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. While the especially politicized Human Rights Council and its designated experts are typically better known for animus to Israel -- Michael Lynk, the latest partisan rapporteur on Palestinian rights, a position whose very mandate testifies to the overt one-sidedness of the U.N. on the conflict with Israel, just affirmed a call to single out Jewish civilian communities in Palestinian-claimed territory for economic warfare -- Shaheed also previously served as special rapporteur on Iran. His reputation in the Islamic Republic was such that Tehran dismissed Shaheed, a diplomat and politician from the Maldives, as an agent "for the Zionist regime and also the CIA."
Shaheed's report on anti-Semitism, though surely not without omission or flaw, is largely unprecedented at the U.N. -- and especially important at a time when anti-Jewish bigotry, discrimination and persecution have again surged in many parts of the world, uniting extreme rightists and leftists, and those motivated by ideologies rooted in politics, religion and racial theory alike.
In his report, to which B'nai B'rith made contributions and in which we joined in advance consultation, Shaheed referenced these realities in considerable detail. After a period of soliciting input from Jewish communities, U.N. member states and others, he described antisemitic tropes, domestic and regional trends in antisemitic rhetoric and violence, the broadcasting of anti-Semitism on online platforms, various government measures that curtail Jews' religious rights and current "best practices" in monitoring and combating anti-Jewish hate. He added some of his own recommendations to states, civil society, the media and the U.N. system.
Critically, he explicitly framed Jewish rights as human rights, established anti-Semitism as a concern worthy of U.N. action and signaled that unchecked anti-Semitism bodes ill for society as a whole.
As B'nai B'rith did in a recent private meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Shaheed urged the designation of a high-level U.N. point person on the scourge of anti-Jewish prejudice -- and, vitally, he urged adoption by yet more parties of the indispensable working definition of antiSemitism of the intergovernmental International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). That definition encompasses the virulent and defamatory anti-Zionism that is likely the most prevalent contemporary form of lethal anti-Semitism.
While Shaheed noted the disingenuous assertion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that it is merely anti-Israel but not antisemitic, and he wrote that boycotts can be lawful, he "stresse[d] that expression which draws upon antisemitic tropes or stereotypes, rejects the right of Israel to exist, or advocates discrimination against Jewish individuals because of their religion should be condemned." BDS leaders routinely engage in all three, especially the latter two.
Regrettably, Shaheed did write at one point that claims that Israel's very existence is racist, requirements of Israel not applied to other democracies and the equating of Israeli policy with that of the Nazis are "not designate[d] as examples of speech that are ipso facto antisemitic" under the IHRA definition, when IHRA specifically does include those among examples that would be considered antisemitic under the working definition. This discrepancy, all the more so considering Shaheed's endorsement of the IHRA definition and his prior listing of the very examples mentioned, is confusing and might perhaps yet be remedied.
Additionally, Shaheed's not having called out by name various especially prominent international traffickers in crude anti-Semitism (merged frequently with anti-Israelism) is unfortunate. These might include Malaysia's self-described anti-Semitic Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, American-based Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, many ranking Iranian officials and their proxies in Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and especially Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as Yemen's Houthis, whose very flag reads "Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam." Sadly, international surveys have found shockingly ubiquitous antisemitic attitudes in many predominantly Muslim societies -- not just animus to Israel but to Jews.
This said, such a reality makes Shaheed's nearly 20-page report, with meaningful and accurate information far outnumbering the errors, all the more significant. His sincere and comprehensive treatment of anti-Semitism, including unreserved discussion and condemnation of anti-Israel extremists, reflects a moderate and pluralistic component of the Muslim world, one with deep roots that deserve cultivation. It also resists the broader tendency to obscure the pandemic of modern anti-Semitism, especially as manifested in hate for Israel or "Zionists," in the face of so much intercommunal strife and social upheaval globally.
Finally, Shaheed builds upon the notably positive example set by current U.N. chief Guterres -- a former prime minister of Portugal, with its history of devastating Catholic anti-Semitism, who has repeatedly not just deplored anti-Semitism but recognized the delegitimization of Israel as antisemitic. Guterres also recently launched efforts to combat hate speech and protect places of worship. His initiatives, though requiring further development and additional actions -- including, but not limited to, existing U.N. Holocaust commemoration and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) program for addressing anti-Semitism through education -- cannot be taken for granted.
Good next steps could include having the Alliance of Civilizations, referenced by Shaheed, not only build selective bridges between the "East" and "West" but not exclude Israeli Jews in the process. Israelis should finally be hired for senior positions in the world body and be given the chance to make the immense contributions of which they are capable. Now that, following the efforts of B'nai B'rith and our partners, the U.N. gave some recognition to one major Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, on its staff calendar (beginning in 2015), it could do more to avoid important international meetings, particularly those related to the Middle East, on such holy days.
And especially -- despite any political pushback -- U.N. leaders must more vocally and persistently call out the anti-Israel discrimination that makes the Middle East's only democracy the beleaguered sole Jewish member of the family of nations. Palestinian political narratives and goals should not be favored over those of Israelis through: a rapporteur on Palestinian rights alone; an international day of solidarity with Palestinians; exceptional, standing bodies such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, the Division for Palestinian Rights and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; an unparalleled would-be blacklist marginalizing only companies deemed associated with Israeli Jewish settlements; World Health Organization motions obscenely criticizing Israel (alone); a permanent agenda item at the Human Rights Council, Item 7, scrutinizing Israel (alone); and more condemnatory resolutions, "emergency" sessions, "fact-finding" missions and other measures targeting Israel than all other 192 U.N. member states combined. UNESCO resolutions should never again be allowed to whitewash or minimize Jews' eternal connection to their most sacred places in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Fanatic terrorists attacking Israelis should be, as others are at the U.N., described and combated as such.
In a word, the lives of Jews -- even when they are Israelis, even when they are Zionists -- should be valued like those of any other people. This alone can be the basis of any credible and effective effort to say no to anti-Semitism.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
On Sunday, Mauricio Macri failed to win re-election in Argentina’s presidential elections. Opposition leader Alberto Fernández, who was joined by former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as his running mate, won with 48 percent of the votes (against 40 percent for Macri).
The poor state of the economy was a decisive factor for Fernández's victory, but Macri obtained more votes than expected, which shows that, for an important sector of the population, the economy is not the most important factor (or the only one) when deciding how to vote. Institutional quality, the fight against corruption and drug trafficking, and a foreign policy that seeks to integrate Argentina into the world (and to distance it from the Latin American dictatorships of the extreme left) were some of the issues important to those who supported Macri.
While Macri lost the election, the large number of votes he obtained clearly maded him emerge from this election as the leader of a [strong] opposition. This will force the Fernández government to govern with caution, since it will not have the necessary majorities in Congress to approve its projects without negotiating with the opposition (unlike what happened during Cristina Kirchner's government).
Naturally, the election has implications with regard to Argentina's relationship with the rest of the world. Fernandez will surely have a softer stance than his predecessor with respect to Venezuela (in fact, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was one of the leaders who most fervently celebrated Fernández's triumph, as did Bolivia’s President Evo Morales).
On the contrary, relations with Brazil (Argentina's first trading partner) could considerably deteriorate, given the notorious ideological differences between President Jair Bolsonaro and Fernández. And the fate of the historic agreement recently signed between Mercosur (the economic bloc formed by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) and the European Union is a question mark, since Fernández expressed on several ocassions his opposition to it.
Argentina's relations with the United States could also suffer considerable deterioration, since “Kirchnerism” has traditionally been hostile to American policies and interests.
With regard to relations with the Jewish community and the State of Israel, these were very tense during the last years of Cristina Kirchner's government, particularly because of the pact that her government decided to sign in 2013 with the Iranian regime to “jointly investigate” the AMIA attack, and the “mysterious" murder of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in his apartment, a bullet to the head, a few days after denouncing the signing of that agreement. This is why an important part of the local Jewish community is concerned about this new political scenario.
It is still not clear how the new government will function, how much real power Cristina Kirchner will have in it, and what will be the profile that Alberto Fernández decides to have. We will have to wait until Dec. 10, when the new president takes office, to start answering these questions.
Las Recientes Elecciones Presidenciales en Argentina
El pasado domingo, Mauricio Macri perdió las elecciones presidenciales en Argentina. Alberto Fernández, quien tiene a la ex presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner como compañera de fórmula, ganó con un 48% de los votos (contra 40% de Macri).
El mal estado de la economía fue un factor decisivo para la victoria de Fernández, pero Macri obtuvo más votos de lo que se esperaba, lo que demuestra que hay un importante sector de la población para el cual la economía no es el factor más importante (ni el único) a la hora de votar. La defensa de la calidad institucional, la lucha contra la corrupción y el narcotráfico, y una política internacional de mayor apertura al mundo (y alejada de las dictaduras latinoamericanas de izquierda) fueran algunas de las banderas enarboladas por quienes apoyaron a Macri.
Si bien Macri perdió las elecciones, el gran número de votos que obtuvo lo posicionan claramente como el líder de una oposición fuerte. Esto obligará al gobierno de Fernández a manejarse con cautela, ya que no tendrá las mayorías necesarias en el Congreso para aprobar sus proyectos sin necesidad de negociar con la oposición (a diferencia de lo que ocurrió durante el gobierno de Cristina Kirchner).
Naturalmente, la elección tiene implicancias en lo que hace a la relación de Argentina con el mundo. En este sentido, seguramente Fernández tendrá una postura mucho menos dura que su antecesor con respecto a Venezuela (de hecho, el presidente venezolano Nicolás Maduro fue uno de los líderes que celebro con mas fervor el triunfo de Fernández, al igual que el boliviano Evo Morales).
Por el contrario, las relaciones con Brasil (el primer socio comercial de la Argentina) podrían sufrir un deterioro considerable dadas las notorias diferencias ideológicas entre el Presidente Jair Bolsonaro y Fernández. Y es una incógnita lo que ocurrirá con el histórico acuerdo recientemente firmado entre el Mercosur (el bloque económico formado por Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay y Paraguay) y la Unión Europea, ya que Fernández manifestó en varias oportunidades su oposición al mismo.
Asimismo, también podrían sufrir un deterioro considerable las relaciones de Argentina con los Estados Unidos, ya que el Kirchnerismo ha sido tradicionalmente hostil a las políticas americanas.
Con respecto a las relaciones con la comunidad judía y el Estado de Israel, estas fueron muy tensas durante los últimos años del gobierno de Cristina Kirchner, particularmente debido al pacto que su gobierno decidió firmar en el año 2013 con el régimen Iraní para “investigar conjuntamente” el atentado a la AMIA, y al “misterioso” asesinato del fiscal Alberto Nisman, quien fue encontrado muerto pocos días después de haber denunciado la firma de ese acuerdo. Es por esto que a una parte importante de la comunidad judía local le preocupa este nuevo escenario político.
Lo cierto es que no está claro cómo funcionará el nuevo gobierno, cuánto poder real tendrá Cristina Kirchner en el mismo, y cuál será el perfil que Alberto Fernández eligirá tener. El 10 de diciembre comenzarán a develarse estos interrogantes cuando el nuevo presidente asuma el poder.
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.
The European Commission - the European Union’s powerful executive body, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding E.U. treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the E.U. - is being confirmed this week by the European Parliament. Earlier in July, former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen was appointed commission president. Over the summer, she assembled a team of 27 commissioners nominated by the E.U.’s member states to be put forward to Parliament for approval. The U.K., currently in the midst of Brexit, has opted not to nominate a commissioner.
The team is gender-balanced, has an average age of 55.9 years and is mostly derived from Europe’s three largest political families (conservatives, social democrats and classical liberals). However, the proposed commissioners are not without controversy: At least four candidates are facing corruption allegations, and two of them, the Hungarian and the Romanian candidates, have already been rejected by committee in the initial rounds of hearings.
With eye-catching figures, murmurs and rumors in every corner, the question to keep in mind is, what does this mean for the issues important to us?
In short, three takeaways stand out. Two are good news, while one is not:
But before jumping to the implications of the new makeup of the commission, let’s open a bracket and look at the inventory the outgoing commission leaves for the new team.
The E.U.’s feeble, reluctant and occasionally one-sided involvement in the Middle East Peace Process was an object of criticism in the last mandate. Outgoing High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini has been herself a strong supporter of the Iran Deal, has withstood calls to add Hezbollah in its entirety to the list of terrorist organizations and has, consequently, often been deemed by Jerusalem as anti-Israel.
Beyond E.U.-Israel relations, though, much work has been done on combating anti-Semitism at the domestic level. While one could justifiably argue that it’s hard to speak of one thing without the other, the outgoing commission does deserve props on this front. Under the auspices of its first vice president, Frans Timmermans, and overseen by Jourova, Coordinator for Combating Antisemitism Katharina von Schnurbein, was appointed in late 2015 and since then has moved from success to success. Among other things, she pushed for the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti--Semitism, brought about the second and largest-ever survey of perceptions and experiences of anti--Semitism among European Jews and the first-ever report of perceptions of anti-Semitism among young Jews and put in place a Commission Working Group on Anti-Semitism. The working group was mandated by a declaration forwarded unanimously by the 28 E.U. member states in December 2018.
Beyond these necessary and important structural advancements, which signaled a significant change of pace in relation to past efforts, a strong narrative about Europe’s Jewish heritage and the place of the Jewish community in Europe today anchored the work on anti-Semitism.
What to expect next?
As Jourova assumes her role as commission vice president for values and transparency, she will be in charge of dialogue with religious organizations and communities, among her other duties, and thus is likely to continue her work on Jewish issues. She will oversee the Commissioner-designate for justice, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, a friend of the Belgian Jewish community who, by the way, on the day of his nomination attended a B’nai B’rith Rescuers Citation event. If the previous commission is any indication, the topic of antisemitism and the protection of Jewish life in Europe will fall under their purview.
Also of interest: Vice President-designate from Greece Margaritis Schinas, a former commission spokesman, was caught in a storm of criticism about the title of his portfolio, “Our European Way of Life”. While some appreciated the not-so-veiled concerns over migration, others - myself included - were left wondering what this even means, and whether this title included the Jewish way of life and that of all other minorities, or was just meant as reassurance for the right--wing Christian conservatives that form the political home of the new commission president. Vice President Schinas will oversee Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, who is known in Malta for pushing through marriage equality in one of Europe’s most conservative countries. She will lead the fight against discrimination and thus may also be dealing with issues of antisemitism, although it remains unclear how responsibilities will be split between the equality and justice portfolios. Without much background of work either with the Jewish community or on matters relating to Israel, it seems a clean slate awaits us for both.
On foreign policy, those hoping they could finally sigh in relief over Mogherini’s concluded term ought to think again. Borrell, a former President of the European Parliament, comes in as high representative-designate with decades of experience as an outspoken and often polemic politician, with some troubling baggage regarding Israel and the region.
Although Borrell lived in Kibbutz Gal On shortly after graduating, where he met his first wife, he seemingly holds on to no positive feelings about Israel - at least as far as his foreign policy positions go.
He has spoken with some praise of the progress made by Iran since the Islamic revolution and Iran’s own state propaganda has described him as tough on Israel and fond of Iran, adding that “the Zionist entity is “wary” of the incoming E.U. foreign policy chief.” A keen supporter of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he warmly welcomed Mahmoud Abbas to Strasbourg in 2006. We can only hope he will continue to hold the flimsy E.U. line on the conflict. It is worth noting that Borrell has met with B’nai B’rith leadership on the side of the U.N. General Assembly, which is hopefully indicative of his future receptiveness to our concerns.
So as the pieces of the puzzle start coming together and final confirmations of portfolios are announced, it’s sure that we’re entering a new chapter of Jewish and Israel advocacy here in Brussels. As the new B’nai B’rith Director of E.U. Affairs, I’m excited to tackle it all head-on.
Alina Bricman is the Director of E.U. 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.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the first primary/caucus for the Democratic nomination for president is still five months away. Politicos around the country have watched the candidates at debates, state fairs and on cable news. It’s not even Halloween and it can feel like we are in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 2020 election cycle, when in reality it’s probably the first inning. How many of us have heard the pundits give their opinion on the race, only to hear someone else give the exact opposite opinion! While it’s impossible to know who will win the Democratic primary, examining previous voting trends provides clues as to which type of candidates might fare better come next year.
As I mentioned in my previous blog “Seniors and Voter Participation,” older Americans can always be counted on to vote! For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 66 percent of seniors voted in the 2018 midterm election, compared to 36 percent of young people. However, voter participation amongst younger voters jumped 79 percent compared to the previous 2014 midterm election, (U.S. Census Bureau). In addition, in the previous two presidential elections voter participation hovered around 70 percent for seniors (U.S. Census Bureau) and 46 percent (U.S. Census Bureau) for young people. Clearly, older Americans are a more reliable voting block than younger voters. Still, young people have become more politically engaged.
Furthermore, what drives young and older voters to the polls to elect a Democrat presidential nominee? According to Yougov/HuffPost and Gallup polls, a person’s age can be an important factor in determining what traits they look for in a presidential nominee. For example, older voters are more likely to care about electability, while young voters want their party’s nominee to more closely share their ideological views.
State senator Dick Harpootlian from South Carolina told the Atlantic, “I think older voters would tend to be more pragmatic, and by that I mean simply the assessment going on is, What’s the goal of this election? The vast majority of Democrats, I think, are pragmatic about that. Who is our best choice to go toe to toe with Donald Trump in 2020?.” Conversely, Lauren Camera in US News and World Report wrote about young people, “They aren't party-ticket voters, they aren't impressed by electability, and candidates can't win their support by crafting specific policies on issues that matter to them. They respond instead to candidates they think share their values and vision for how the country should work and who it should work for…”
Who is more likely to vote in the 2020 Democratic primaries? Based on previous elections, I think it’s fair to say seniors will make up a good percentage of the primary voting electorate. How many young people vote remains to be seen. Young people are voting at higher rates, but will they vote in enough numbers to swing the race for one candidate? Voter turnout is generally lower in primaries compared to general elections. However, given how polarizing politics has become, it’s certainly possible that voter turnout throughout 2020 could hit record highs. At this point the only thing about the Democratic primaries I know for sure is that I am not sure who is going to be the party’s nominee.
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.
Another U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) General Debate session is in the books, and—as we have in years past—B’nai B’rith has been actively engaged throughout the week, meeting with presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other diplomats from over 30 countries. The countries we met with this year spanned the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and Asia. B’nai B’rith not only meets with these leaders, but also has the special role of coordinating many of the meetings for a group of major American and international Jewish organizations. We are not the only Jewish organization that meets with world leaders during that week, but we are distinguished by having this role during this time of year at the U.N.
Usually one of the Jewish holidays (either Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Sukkot) will fall during UNGA week. However, this year the Chagim started late, which meant that for the first time in a few years, we had a full, uninterrupted week of meetings.
The broad issues that are on our advocacy agenda for the week—Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, global anti-Semitism, and U.N. bias against Israel—are similar from year to year. However, within each issue area, the topics of discussion can change based on developments on the ground in the Middle East and around the world. The importance of the UNGA week is not due to a specific meeting that we may or may not have in a given year, but because it facilitates an ongoing dialogue with the leadership of an expanding list of countries, so that the specific concerns of the global Jewish community are understood. B’nai B’rith International’s reach, including our offices, units, members and supporters around the world, allows us to play this role.
Though marathon speechmaking of the General Debate has ended--as has our own diplomatic marathon--for the General Assembly (G.A.), the work is now just beginning. The G.A. is quickly moving to start its business for the year, as the G.A.’s committees convene and start negotiations on many resolutions that will be brought up to the floor of the G.A. for voting later this fall. B’nai B’rith will be monitoring the key resolutions that are annually voted upon each year at the G.A., including the resolutions that renew the mandate of the Palestinian propaganda bodies housed within the U.N. system (most notoriously, the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights) and the renewal of the mandate of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), among other important resolutions.
The start of the Jewish new year and the U.N.’s calendar year often intersect (and, as stated above, sometimes directly conflict). The start of a Jewish new year is a time for optimism and hope for good things to come; the start of a new year at the U.N., sadly, does not inspire the same feelings. At the U.N., we hope for slow progress towards having a world body that lives up to its own goals, and often prepare ourselves for a hard struggle to ensure that the U.N. does not backslide to even more absurd and dangerous positions.
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.
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