Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS GA) has been postponed from June of this year to October 2022. B’nai B’rith International is quite proud of its accreditation as a civil society organization from the OAS. As such, we were pleased to participate in a virtual version of the event this year
The three main issues on the agenda were the pandemic, the unrest in Nicaragua, and the humanitarian, political and economic disaster in Venezuela. Each was discussed intensely.
Even though the pandemic is destroying health and economies globally, Latin American countries are having and will continue to have major setbacks in every field for years to come. Unemployment, social unrest and political instability have grown. Serious research announced in OAS GA revealed that a best-case scenario would look something like a setback for the region’s economy to the early 2000s, but some countries in Central and South America will fall to numbers of the last century. And we all know that rising poverty and deep inequity lead to social unrest. Growth will fall at least 5.3% this year and trade will fall more than 15%.There will be 12 million more unemployed people in 2020 than in 2019, which will mean a total of 37.7 million people without a job in Latin America. According to the same estimates, there will be a rise of at least 4.4% in poverty, which means 28.7 million more people living in poverty and most, probably 15 or 16 million, living in extreme poverty.
Most researchers qualify Latin America as the most unequal region in the world. The pandemic, plus ideological and political divisions, plus the collapse of many of the health systems are combining now to create the worst quality of democracy in the region in the last three decades.
Solidarity and cooperation among the State members would help facing the pandemic with more tools and more successfully. This is the call made by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, and the call made by all economic researchers in the region. But political divisions are a great obstacle to achieve these wishes and goals.
The General Assembly approved a resolution on Nicaragua: “Restoring democratic institutions and respect for human rights in Nicaragua through free and fair elections.” It received 20 votes in favor, two against and 12 abstentions. Will it work in the field? It is not likely, but it is one of the worst political situations in the region, which is creating not only deep distress to its own population but also great political danger to neighboring countries, too. And it has to be denounced all the time.
The text establishes May 2021 as the deadline for the government of Daniel Ortega to implement the electoral reforms necessary to guarantee free, fair and transparent elections in November of that year.
Nicaraguan Ambassador Luis Alvarado classified the OAS resolution as an “unfriendly action.” Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada “firmly and categorically” rejected the inclusion of the proposed resolution on the General Assembly’s agenda, arguing that it violates the sovereignty of the countries and disrespects internal decisions. Likewise, Moncada warned that the Ortega government will not accept any resolution that involves “aggression against its sovereignty and “interference. No State or group of States has the right to intervene directly or indirectly for any reason in the internal or external affairs of another State,” insisted the foreign minister.
The voting proved again the political division in the region. Dictatorship, violation of human rights are unquestionable in Nicaragua. But Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala -among others – abstained. Nicaragua does not have an independent judiciary branch of government or free press. Human rights are undermined. But its Government believes that the attempt to join international efforts to let the Nicaraguan people return to freedom is a sort of “intervention.” It is the kind of language we hear from Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and other proxies. Venezuela was in the center of the debate twice. Maduro will celebrate “elections to Congress” on Dec. 6.., OAS will not recognize this other fraud which the regime will consider legitimate under the protection of Russia, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, Turkey.
OAS GA also passed a resolution on Venezuela with 11 paragraphs, which, as expected, Maduro has qualified as unacceptable.
The last paragraph is of the utmost importance. It states that the Venezuelan representation before OAS is the Ambassador of the opposition to the regime, and he will remain until Venezuela can hold real and democratic elections and not the charade of next December 6th.
The first paragraph of the resolution speaks for itself: “To condemn, in the most implacable terms, the actions of the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro that undermine the democratic system and the separation of powers through the control of the Supreme Court of Justice and by usurping the constitutional functions of the National Assembly to, inter alia, legislate on electoral matters and appoint the members of the National Electoral Council. This clearly compromises the minimum conditions for guaranteeing the organization of democratic electoral processes in keeping with international standards.”
Venezuela became a real political danger to the entire region many years ago and remains as such. The presence of Hezbollah, its alliance with Iran, its political and military support from Cuba, its political protection in U.N. and other agencies by Russia, China and Turkey, destabilizes the Americas.
OAS is trying to do everything this will allow: Denounce, ask for international help and impose sanctions. It is not enough, indeed. In this time of pandemic, danger increases. And not all countries are willing to defend democracy from the harassment of authoritarian regimes. This division weakens OAS resolutions, weakens the daily life in the region and weakens the possibility to properly fight the challenges of the pandemic, which will undoubtedly last for a very long time.
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.
The more scurrilous a lie, the more impervious it is to fact and reason. Such has been the history of the Israel/apartheid slander, which reached its apogee in 2017 with the release of a report by a United Nations panel. The study, published by the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, ignores decades of Middle East history in finding that the region’s only democracy was guilty of racial domination of Palestinians in the manner of White rule over Black people under the former regime in South Africa.
The use of the apartheid analogy has resonated greatly with racial justice protesters in the United States, who have found intersectional solidarity with the pro-Palestinian cause and consequently embraced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement because of its purported connection to the struggle against racial oppression, wherever it occurs. That this false narrative, built on calculated distortion, will do nothing to remedy racial inequality in America has done little to dissuade activists who are determined to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one driven by race, rather than by land and history.
What makes this myopic, race-based view of the Middle East not only misleading but also ironic is the relationship that Israel is steadily building with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. While Israel’s breakthrough peace deals with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have captured the world’s attention and invited a reimagining of the region’s future, the Jewish state’s burgeoning ties with Africa have gone largely unnoticed, with the exception of the recent Sudan agreement.
Since Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016 became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Africa in nearly 30 years, Israeli-African cooperation in areas such as agriculture, economic development, high tech, and military and cyber security have progressed throughout the continent. Israel’s recent opening to the Gulf states has hastened this development, as African countries have come to see Israel as an open and engaged partner, rather than as a nefarious object of the Arab world’s derision. Israel’s lack of imperial or territorial designs in Africa and the easing of pressure from the Arab and Muslim world to shun the Jewish state have enhanced the trust Israel is building with its African partners.
Israel’s areas of technical expertise have inspired field projects in Africa from agriculture to medicine. The combination of Israel’s hard power and soft power has strengthened the Jewish state’s strategic hand, as it has invested economically in Africa and provided arms and military and security training to some of its allies. But Israel’s eagerness to positively engage its allies, expressed through development projects and humanitarian assistance, has come to characterize these burgeoning relationships. One example occurred in February, when B’nai B’rith co-sponsored a conference in Rwanda marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre in that country and the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust; the gathering became a springboard for discussing future Israeli-led humanitarian activities in Rwanda. This positive tenor has largely withstood the controversy generated by the uncertain status of the approximately 40,000 African refugees in Israel, whose futures are a subject of intense debate among the Israeli public.
The emerging story of Israel’s relations with Africa continues to defy international perceptions of the Jewish state, not to mention directly contradict vile caricatures of Israel as a racist and imperialist nation. Deeper engagement by diaspora Jewry in the racial justice cause can and should strengthen relations between Black people and Jews, but for role models, inspiration and a glimpse of a brighter future, both sides need look no further than the growing ties between Israel and Africa.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
For the past several decades, the United Nations General Assembly has dutifully approved the funding of the so-called specialized “Palestinian committees,” each of which advances only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UN has an opportunity to cut off this funding supply by year-end, thereby righting a decades-long wrong and in turn, ending a long-standing charade.
Created in the aftermath of the infamous 1975 Zionism=Racism resolution, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR) are powerful, enduring vestiges of a discredited policy that has seen the world body largely aligned against Israel, not only in New York, but at UN agencies such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris.
The CEIRPP organizes conferences, photo exhibitions and other programs around the world aimed at undermining, discrediting and demonizing Israel. It does so with the active cooperation of the UN’s Department of Global Communications.
The DPR actually sits inside the UN Secretariat, giving the Palestinians a UN home no other people or sovereign state has. DPR sits alongside regional units such as the Asian, the African and Latin American, and the Caribbean groups of the UN system. The DPR works together with CEIRPP to organize an annual International Day of Solidarity for the Palestinian People, and maintains UN web-based information systems devoted to the Palestinian side of the conflict.
At the core of the work of these offices is the perpetuation of “the right of return” narrative that demands all Palestinians considered by the UN to be refugees have a right to “return” to pre-state Israel. Since 1949 the UN has, through the creation of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), aggressively advanced this position.
So why are millions of people classified as refugees? Because as “refugees” they maintain their claim to migrate to Israel in order to overwhelm the Jewish majority and thus end the existence of the State of Israel.
According to the UN, there are now 5.5 million such refugees, less than 1% of whom were actual refugees from the War of Independence in 1948. More than 99% are their descendants, now five generations on. The UN has endeavored to find solutions to nearly every other refugee crisis in the world over the years, largely by resettling people in the lands to which they fled.
Only in the case of the Palestinians has an infrastructure been established to perpetuate a crisis. Over these past seven decades UNRWA, through its schools and other services, and the UN system have held out the promise that all Palestinians will one day “return” to what is now the State of Israel.
In fact, 40% of these “refugees” already live on the West Bank and in Gaza among fellow Palestinians, yet they maintain a status of refugees, so they would be able to migrate to Israel under the “right of return.” Another 40% live in Jordan, where many acquired Jordanian citizenship. They, too, live among people with whom they share religion and language, but maintain their refugee status so as to qualify for a “right of return,” as do the remaining 20% who live in Syria, Lebanon and other Arab countries.
The recently signed peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and with Bahrain, and actions and public statements by other Arab states, suggest that the Palestinian program to end Israel’s existence is losing support among some Arabs. The world – and especially the region – have moved on. Other considerations, largely based on national interest, have taken precedence: the threat of Iranian hegemony, trade and investment and even tourism, are incentives to normalization.
The Palestinians have overplayed their hand, pressing for a zero-sum outcome to the conflict with Israel, and especially by its leaders missing opportunity after opportunity to conclude a peace with Israel in the 27 years since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.
The Palestinian reaction to the Abraham Accords has been a vehement reassertion of their position, including the “right of return,” made possible, in large part by the automatic reinforcement they receive at the UN.
It is the UN, created to “maintain peace and security,” that encourages the Palestinians to hold out for their one state solution: A “Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” a goal to be attained through a “right of return.
”The CEIRIPP and the DPR are the chief proponents of this campaign, but are aided by regional groups at the UN such as the Group of 77 (known for years as the “Non-Aligned”) and a raft of anti-Israel resolutions adopted by rote at the Human Rights Council and other UN agencies, including the World Heritage Committee, a sub-group of UNESCO.
The Palestinian claim of a “right of return” is simply an obstacle to peace; it has become the third rail of the conflict. No one dares touch it; no friends of the Palestinians – and there are several amongst the European countries – seem interested in persuading them that the idea is simply a non-starter. It is not going to happen. No Israeli government from anywhere on the political spectrum would sign its own national suicide warrant.
The vote count supporting funding of the Palestinian committees is dropping; the number of “no” votes to fund these committees is rising – slightly – with a large number of abstentions and those voting “absent.”
A new wind is blowing in the region. “Normalization” is in, and obstructionism is on its way out. Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and perhaps others to come are demonstrating that where there is good will to resolve more than seven decades of animosity, economic warfare and the absence of real human interaction, reconciliation can follow.
Spending millions of dollars on conferences that perpetuate the “right of return” mantra and the constant efforts to delegitimize Israel is both a waste of time and a sure prescription for the UN to become increasingly irrelevant when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
The responsible member states of the UN need to look out the window and see the dramatic, positive changes that are taking place across the region, despite attempts by Iran and its proxies and terrorist surrogates to perpetuate chaos and instability.
Depoliticizing “peacemaking” at the UN by eliminating the CEIRIPP and the DPR would send a clear message to the Palestinians and their friends that the free ride is over. That will tell us whether or not they are really interested in emulating their neighbors who have reached historic accords with Israel.
Until the UN ends its support of the “right of return,” we cannot expect meaningful progress toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Read CEO Mariaschin and the late Ambassador Schifter's expert analysis in The Jerusalem Post.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
Richard Schifter was Chairman of the Board of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI). He had a distinguished career as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and in government. He has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of AJIRI from 2005 until his passing in 2020.
President Op-ed in InsideSources: Facebook, Twitter on the Right Side of History With Bans on Holocaust Denial
Anti-Semitism’s lengthy history is built on ignorance and the perpetuation of lies by people who hate Jews. It’s a disease far more incurable than a pandemic.
Over the centuries, despots disliked a people whose theology introduced a code of morality and justice that flipped civilizations. From pharaohs to Hitler and too many others to name, rulers responded with force and power, mostly sentencing Jews to slavery, ghettos and death.
Today, people continue to foment hate fueled by ignorance and lies, and still targeting Jews. The weapon of choice for ignorance and lies is a platform of recklessness called social media. Oh sure, when used responsibly, social media is a very productive tool. Such responsible behavior is not common these days.
But on Oct. 12, Facebook, with its users representing one-third of the world’s 7.8 billion people, decided to do something really bold about this recklessness by simply acting responsibly — the social media platform decided not to allow people to lie about the Holocaust.
Days later, Twitter announced its “hateful conduct policy” issued its own prohibition of “attempts to deny or diminish” violent events, including the Holocaust. Twitter has taken aim primarily at white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Facebook’s Monika Bickert announced in a blog a hate speech policy update, specifically “to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”
The company’s decision was prompted by the recent rise in anti-Semitism, not just vandalism or insults, but shootings and physical attacks, and an “alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust.” Bickert noted a recent survey that showed that one in four American adults between ages 18 and 39 believed the Holocaust is a myth.
One might wonder how on earth is this ignorance possible in the United States?
For decades, survivors have made presentations. Newsreel footage starkly shows the horrifying, shocking images. Books on the subject fill libraries. Two-thirds (34) of the states in the U.S. mandate some form of Holocaust or genocide education.
About the same number of states have impressive museums, mostly in major population centers, or monuments seen by many others. The 16 U.S. states without such mandates have less population cumulatively than California.
There are 43 countries in the world with Holocaust museums or memorials. In Europe, Germany boasts 22 memorials and museums. France has 13 Holocaust memorials or museums. Greece has 10 museums and monuments. Those numbers don’t include memorials and displays in synagogues and temples.
Yad Vashem — The World Holocaust Remembrance Center — makes available “ready to print” exhibitions. Auschwitz-Birkenau is widely visited, but the solemnity of this hallowed earth is lost with eye-catching signage that welcomes tour buses.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has exhibitions ready for travel. Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation has created captivating holographic interviews of survivors that will give life to eyewitness accounts long after survivors take their final breaths.
The United Nations and its agencies, notably UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization), with all of its flaws, embraces Holocaust education with permanent displays of art and various publications.
In May, the latest Holocaust-related legislation passed in Congress was the Never Again Education Act. More than 30 countries have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
Despite all of the access to information, what has the world learned? It has learned that ancient hate thrives in the modern world.
So, Facebook’s banning of Holocaust denial is an important, courageous act of media leadership.
It’s been a long time coming and B’nai B’rith International has long advocated such a move. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is to be commended, though the company admits that enforcing the policy, policing the platform, will be quite a challenge.
Twitter’s announcement is equally welcome. But if the bright Facebook and Twitter coders can write algorithms and direct users with hashtags and other tools, they should be able to identify keywords that will curb the volume of hate posts before they hit the digital universe.
Germans worked hard to keep the Holocaust secret.
Rumors swirled as work camps becoming death camps — Dachau, Chelmo, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Auschwitz — were shockingly real. But the Nazi’s own record-keeping carefully lays out the horrific truth of the Holocaust.
Nazis even documented mass shootings, starvations, experimental surgeries, the crematoria, the piles of skeletal bodies. Thousands of camps dotted Nazi-controlled European countries. Eleven million people, more than six million Jews, were systematically murdered.
Of course anti-Semitism didn’t begin, or end, with the Holocaust, and rulers have been complicit in Jew hatred for thousands of years.
With the modern Jewish State of Israel maturing nicely at 72, the lies that generated anti-Semitism continue today from across the political spectrum, from extreme Islamists and with U.N. resolutions denying any ancient Jewish connection to the Western Wall, not to mention any Jewish roots there in general.
The United Nations could and should learn from the example of Facebook. Resolutions that deny undeniable Jewish history insult the U.N. mission. As for other media — all media — they should learn from the Facebook and Twitter examples.
For a media platform that could never police itself adequately from lies, rage baiting and hate — all things wrong — Facebook got this one right.
And Twitter followed.
Read Charles' expert analysis in InsideSources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
A lot goes on to keep the viewer spellbound in "God of the Piano," an award-winning and much talked about Israeli film written and directed by Itay Tal that’s currently available for viewing online. Anat, its protagonist, is a pianist from a musical family who gives birth to a deaf baby. Throughout the movie, her actions shock us. Almost as a contrast, she uses speech to hide rather than reveal. Information about her inner life is withheld from us. Few clues are provided, so God of the Piano is indeed a mystery. The assumptions we make about Anat’s motivation become a component of the narrative as we are compelled to understand what drives her recklessness.
Played by the beautiful Naama Preis, Anat may hope that her son’s talents will be the catalyst to reconnect with her detached, virtuoso father; if so, this plan fails. In the end, the identity of the god of the piano, if there is one, is still unknown to the audience, and perhaps to Anat herself.
The god referenced in the title may only exist in Anat’s imagination, but devotees of the instrument can attest that Israeli goddesses of the piano are quite real and we can hear them every day.
For the past two decades, Jerusalem-born Orli Shaham has received critical acclaim for her brilliant pianistic technique and her special affinity for classical composers of the last three centuries, particularly Mozart. She also enjoys a reputation as a musical commentator, on both NPR and on her own show, “Dial a Musician,” broadcast over the Classical Public Radio Network. As an educator, she has achieved recognition as one who has developed the concert experience to encourage the love of the classical repertory in children as young as four.
Shaham appears throughout the world playing with noted orchestras, in recital and in chamber music, often onstage with her equally renowned violinist brother, Gil Shaham. She has acquired a following through her acclaimed recordings. In 2019 she initiated The Mozart Project for Canary Classics, a series of CDs that will eventually encompass all of the composer’s works for piano. Shaham will finish the complete piano sonatas over the next year and releases a new excerpt each week via her website.
Inspired by her own twin boys, Shaham in 2010 founded “Baby Got Bach” (now called Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard), curated concerts she hosts for kids including stories, performances with youthful guest artists, hands on encounters with musical instruments and the playing of specially adapted pieces by the “Three Bs” and others. These special events have been produced in music venues nationwide. With the recent pandemic, the pianist has now brought her Bach Yard “play dates” to children who can view the concerts online.
Although on hiatus now, award-winning composer and pianist Dr. Orit Wolf will continue to provide an innovative approach to music for those who attend her twice weekly Tel Aviv Museum of Art series, “On a Personal Note.” Combining the visual arts and the concert experience with breezy and often impromptu dialogues with guest artists from many musical genres, Wolf interviews them about the creative process, curates the programming, joins them in performance and often does a solo turn herself.
Like Shaham, Wolf wants to see younger people connect with classical music.
Wolf, from Tel Aviv, also appears on stage with orchestras and chamber groups around the world, giving about 90 concerts each year.
Wolf is also known as one of Israel’s most creative thinkers, who often writes and lectures on the intersection between technology, creativity, business, leadership acumen and the arts. Watch her TED Talk on the matter here.
In 2010, she was named by Marker, the Israeli magazine, as one of Israel’s 100 most influential people. Speaking and writing about the positive aspects of failure, she has noted: “Do not strive for perfect balance. The greatest creativity occurs when we let ourselves meet imbalanced moments.”
Playing professionally by age 11, Wolf went on to study at the Tanglewood Institute and Boston University, obtaining two degrees by age 23 from London’s Royal Academy of Music, where she now teaches.
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.
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