The Organization of American States (OAS) met for its 51st General Assembly Nov. 10-Nov. 12, held virtually and hosted by the Guatemalan Government.
This year, three main issues were in the center of the debate: the pandemic, the elections in Nicaragua and the situation in Venezuela.
On Friday, Nov. 12, the assembly voted to condemn Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 presidential vote, saying the elections “were not free, fair or transparent, and lack democratic legitimacy.” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won more than 75% of the votes in Sunday’s election, but it was a farce—prior to the election, his government jailed seven of the leading potential opposition candidates.
Friday’s resolution instructs the OAS Permanent Council to draw up a report on the election by Nov. 30, in order to determine “appropriate actions” to be taken. The actions could be more sanctions on Nicaraguan officials, many of whom are already under U.S. and EU sanctions.
Twenty-five countries in the Americas voted in favor of the resolution, while seven—Belize, Bolivia, Dominica, the Grenadines, Honduras, Mexico, Santa Lucia and St. Vincent—abstained. Only Nicaragua voted against it. Cuba did not participate, and the representation of Venezuela before the OAS is from Juan Guaido, not from Maduro.
In a statement to the media, Alexa Zamora, a leader of the Nicaraguan opposition group Blue and White Unity, welcomed the resolution. “The fact that the OAS recognizes the regime as illegitimate gives us a powerful tool to demand the cutoff of outside financing for the dictator.”
On the other hand, Nicaragua’s OAS representative, Michael René Campbell, said that “the OAS does not have the authority to become our official vote counter … the OAS is not the arbiter or auditor of the elections.”
The OAS Permanent Council also voted last month to condemn repression and demanded the release of political prisoners in Nicaragua. At that time Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras and Mexico abstained. This time, under the framework of the General Assembly, Argentina decided to switch and voted in favor of the resolution.
The ruling Sandinista Front and its allies control the congress and all government institutions of Nicaragua. Ortega first served as president from 1985 to 1990, after the 1979 revolution that ousted the Somoza dictatorship, before returning to power in 2007. He recently declared his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, his “co-president.”
The statement of the Mexican representative was deplorable, and sought to have it both ways. Luz Elena Baños, Mexico’s representative at the OAS, said Mexico “has expressed our concerns to the government of Nicaragua about the political process carried out on Nov. 7, especially regarding freedom of expression and the right of citizens to participate in politics.” But immediately after, Baños said Mexico would not vote for any measure “aimed at intervention, isolating or imposing sanctions” in Nicaragua.
The political position of Mexico vis-a-vis Nicaragua is very concerning because, at the end of the day, it aligns Mexico with countries that have expressed openly their support of Ortega: Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Bolivia and Russia. Iran is taking this opportunity to move forward in finding more Latin American places to expand its influence and put Hezbollah terrorists on the ground. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said that “it is unacceptable to challenge the legitimacy of the elections in Nicaragua”.
The OAS General Assembly decided by an overwhelming majority to establish the illegitimacy of Ortega´s election, but the support of Iran and Russia is a global danger for the security and democracy for all Latin America.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela was also discussed during the general assembly. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has started the process of studying the violation of human rights made by Maduro´s regime as crimes against humanity. During the OAS General Assembly, only 13 countries signed a statement endorsing the ICC intervention. The countries that signed the statement are: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, the United States and Uruguay. Once again, countries like Argentina, Mexico and Peru send the wrong message, indirectly supporting a regime which is a haven for Hezbollah.
The pandemic has caused great damage in almost every Latin American country in its economic and social life. It has also shown, with few exceptions, that the health system was not prepared to face such a challenge. The OAS General Assembly adopted an extensive resolution, but it is uncertain how practical and effective the resolution can be when we are all watching the failure in providing vaccines from the World Health Organization and its system. The general assembly decided “To call on the member states and permanent observers to coordinate common positions in Multilateral Organizations aimed at jointly facilitating the post-pandemic recovery, paying special attention to the economic, productive, and financial difficulties aggravated by the pandemic.”
It also decided “To endorse the role of extensive COVID-19 immunization as a global public good and again urge member states and those permanent observers with the capacity to do so to take measures to facilitate the equitable distribution of vaccines in the Hemisphere, considering that accelerating the equitable and necessary access to safe, effective, affordable, and quality COVID-19 vaccines is a key element in overcoming this emergency.”
Except for Chile and Uruguay (which have more than 75% of the population vaccinated with 2 doses and are advancing to the third dose, even for children under 12 years old), other countries not only are advancing at a lower speed but are also dealing with the economic decline in the region, the increasing unemployment and poverty. All these issues make the pandemic even worse.
The OAS will insist on two immediate political actions: One, joining the EU and other countries outside Latin America to take all possible political measures to try to restore Nicaragua as a free country. Today it is under a criminal dictatorship and its alliance with terrorists puts the region in danger.
Two, to try to reach the largest possible consensus to face the violent Venezuelan regime and to help the ICC to condemn it.
A growing number of reports have recently emerged of missionaries targeting Jews for conversion. Some of these have even involved Christians disguising themselves as observant Jews in order to infiltrate Orthodox communities in the United States and Israel.
In one such case, in Jerusalem, a missionary passed himself off as a normative rabbi and kohen – or member of the hereditary biblical Jewish priesthood – performing ritual "services" that not only were founded upon false pretenses but deeply violated the spiritual life that religious people consider to be at the sacred core of their very existence.
Even for Christians who feel unable to completely disavow proselytism, such deceit should not be deemed acceptable. The ends do not always justify the means.
Some Christians may believe that targeted missionizing is an act of love, but such a belief needs to be recognized as just that – a Christian's own belief. Ultimately, true and meaningful love involves treating people as they wish to be treated, not as we insist upon treating them.
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" is a central pillar of both Jews' and Christians' sense of mission, and early sages paraphrased this injunction as "that which you would dislike, do not do to your fellow." Surely serious Christians would not want others aggressively seeking to part them or their children from their faith as they define it – especially if they were, like Jews, a small and recurrently vulnerable minority. The world today is home to only around 15 million Jews, but more than two billion Christians.
In a spirit of friendship, let us be honest: Jews agree on precious few things, but trinitarianism is as compatible with mainstream Judaism as denial of it would be with mainstream Christianity. Likewise, for virtually all Jews, proselytism aimed at their traditional faith and identity is experienced as hostile, just as physical attacks are.
For much of nearly two millennia, these two were in fact intertwined. Antisemites sought to bar Jews from practicing their faith, to aggressively convert them to other faiths, to enact discrimination against those who resisted conversion, and to impose torture and even death upon such resisters. Some preeminent figures, like Luther, signaled tolerance for Jews only to shift to vitriol upon realizing that many would not abandon their Judaism.
Indeed, countless Jews sacrificed their lives rather than renounce the religion of their forebears.
To be clear, as a believing Jew, the last thing I want is to insert myself in the internal theological considerations or religious practices of another faith community. I actually find the convictions of passionate Christians relatable, and I recognize that evangelism is particularly important to those who identify as evangelical.
But as with other cherished liberties, every person's religious liberty is inviolable only until it reaches another person's doorstep. It mustn't be exercised to the active detriment of others' ability to live securely and uphold their own commitments free of outside pressure or imposition.
Even more fundamentally: as students of history, we know that while faith offers immense blessing to human life, it can be used – when not stewarded with humility and care – to spur division and even persecution. Religious adherents are thus entrusted with balancing an impulse to share their own faith with a basic respect for fellow people, their rights, and sensibilities.
More often than not, we do more good in witnessing to our faith by fully living its values than by seeking spiritual conquests.
Of course, democracies like Israel proudly uphold religious freedom – enabling, in the case of the world's only Jewish state, the continual growth of the country's Christian and other minority populations, a rarity in the Middle East – but predatory or deceptive proselytism simply cannot be ignored. Camouflaging missionary solicitation as "Jewish" in order to attract Jews of weaker religious backgrounds, like the offering of social services to needy recipients on condition of exposure to a certain form of religious indoctrination, is a longstanding tactic in the efforts by some to capture the souls of others.
Fortunately, since the Holocaust – the physical cataclysm that capped centuries of religious contempt – unprecedented mutual closeness has blossomed between Christians and Jews. Various key church denominations have deplored antisemitism and eschewed active engagement in the targeting of Jewish people for conversion. And many Christians, recognizing the Jewish roots of their faith, are invaluable allies of Israel at a time when it continues to face not only relentless violence in its own neighborhood but demonization and even delegitimization abroad.
Without a doubt, many Christian supporters of the Jewish people are utterly pure in their friendship, with no motive other than solidarity as well as mindfulness of the biblical promise to Abraham: "I will bless those who bless you."
These friends deserve to be embraced, not feared. Let us ensure that the friendship of the many not be undercut by the overzealous actions of the few.
The rest is in God's hands.
Read Michaels' insights and analysis in Real Clear Religion.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International. He previously trained at the Foreign Ministry of Germany, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Embassy of Israel in Washington, Ha’aretz and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and 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.
Not being able to afford a trip to the grocery store is something nobody should have to worry about. But for millions of Americans their diets are tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); government assistance administered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and individual states that provides financial resources to people who need help affording food. According to the National Council of Aging Organizations, roughly 4.8 million older adults (60+) receive SNAP. To qualify households must meet income requirements, with benefit levels fluctuating depending on need.
Currently, SNAP benefits play a critical role by providing older Americans a more healthy lifestyle by ensuring they don’t lose strength and muscle mass, and reinforcing their immunity. A weakened immunity is particularly problematic given the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) published an article entitled "SNAP is Linked with Improved Nutritional Outcomes and Lower Health Care Costs” that reports benefits have a direct link to healthier outcomes for seniors and less spending on health care costs. The article said:
“SNAP is associated with a reduced likelihood of nursing home and hospital admissions among low-income elderly participants, compared to low-income non-participating counterparts. Researchers looking at over 60,000 low-income seniors in Maryland report that SNAP participants are 23 percent less likely to enter a nursing home and 4 percent less likely to be hospitalized in the year after receiving SNAP than non-participants… SNAP participation is also linked with lower overall health care expenditures and Medicaid/Medicare costs. An analysis of national data on overall health care expenditures links SNAP participation to lower health care costs. On average, after controlling for factors expected to affect spending on medical care, low-income adults participating in SNAP incur about $1,400, or nearly 25 percent, less in medical care costs in a year, including those paid by private or public insurance, than non-participants.”
Recently, SNAP benefits have gone through several changes. First the good news! In October, the USDA implemented benefit increases. On average, benefits increased by 25%, which comes out to an additional $36 a month, raising monthly assistance to $169. The increase occurred because the USDA, directed by the 2018 Farm Bill, reexamined, and modernized the formula for how SNAP benefits are calculated, with final approval from the Biden administration.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. Increases to SNAP due to the pandemic are starting to disappear. For example, federal statutory emergency provisions have expired and individual states have started to end emergency declarations. Though, SNAP recipients should receive a higher benefit level than prior to the pandemic because of the increases referenced above.
While it’s good that SNAP provides critical resources, the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) and the AARP Foundation report a staggering 5 million older adults qualify for the program but don’t receive benefits. Recently, the AARP Foundation released a report analyzing the low SNAP participation rate amongst seniors and what should be done about the problem. The report indicated that cognitive difficulties, social isolation, lack of information, the stigma associated with using government assistance and misconceptions about benefits all contribute to low participation. Consequently, the report suggests simplifying the application process, allowing people to apply for multiple government benefits (including SNAP) simultaneously through one document, establishing seniors call centers focused on SNAP issues, improving outreach, and simplifying the Standard Medical Deduction would provide greater access.
SNAP is a vital nutrition pipeline for countless seniors across the country. The program does more than simply provide meals for people—it ensures they maintain a healthier life by reducing older American’s health care needs and costs. Having said that, SNAP is underserving our senior population with low participation rates. More must be done to make SNAP benefits available to everyone who qualifies, because nobody should be going hungry.
Tuesday (Nov. 9, 2021) and Thursday (Nov. 11, 2021) the United Nations General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (the “Special Political and Decolonization” Committee) will vote on a number of anti-Israel draft resolutions that will then go on to the full General Assembly for final passage. Though this is a committee vote, it usually ends up mirroring the final vote at the GA, as countries rarely change their vote after the committee votes.
Though this is not the only avenue for anti-Israel votes at the UNGA (resolutions also come out of some of the other committees and are also occasionally brought straight to the GA floor, bypassing the committees entirely), the votes being taken at the Fourth Committee this week represent a chunk of the annual resolutions attacking Israel at the UNGA.
Among the important resolutions being voted upon are:
The “Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices…”
This is the most critical vote this week. The “Special Committee” is one of three pro-Palestinian propaganda bodies that are embedded within the U.N. in New York. The other two—the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)—were renewed last year for the first time with two year mandates, so they will not come up for a vote this year. Unlike most of the other GA resolutions, which are usually declarative in nature, these three have a special budget that come out of your tax dollars, and the Special Committee is the only one up for a vote this year.
B’nai B’rith and our affiliate AJIRI-BBI have been working throughout the year in New York, Washington, Israel, Latin America, Europe and around the world to advocate that countries move in more positive directions with their votes on these three resolutions. And, indeed, there has been a noticeable erosion on the vote in favor. Last year, only 76 countries voted in favor of the Special Committee (less than half of all U.N. member states), and the number of European countries turning from mere abstentions to “No” votes on CEIRPP and DPR is thought to be a reason that the Palestinians started making it a two-year mandate—to avoid having to take votes every year that were getting increasingly embarrassing. While it is great that the movement is in a positive direction, the situation is still bad—all three mandates still pass (and CEIRPP and DPR now for two years at a time) and cause damage to Israel and all who believe in the dream of a peaceful Middle East.
The Special Committee is perhaps less well-known than the other two bodies, but no less dangerous. It acts as an amplifier of talking points and lies spread by Palestinian NGOs, the Palestinian Authority and other actors hostile to Israel. It is part of the continual noise machinery of the U.N. focused squarely (and only) on Israel. The resolution calls on the committee to carry on doing what it is currently doing, especially “investigating” the conditions of (terrorist) prisoners. It also, with no small amount of chutzpah, demands that Israel—as a U.N. member state—cooperate with the committee whose sole purpose is to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. The resolution continues to fund the operations of the committee and gives it support staff through the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The resolution will pass, as always, but it will be interesting to see if the voting trends on this resolution improve this year when it is the only of the three “Palestinian committees” to get a vote.
This resolution seeks to put the onus of the moribund state of the peace process on Israel, claiming that the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria (or, if you prefer the term imposed during the Jordanian occupation of 1948-1967, the West Bank) are the main obstacles to peace. Whatever one may think about these communities, they are not the obstacle—it is the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to negotiate with Israel’s government that has consistently sidelined the peace process.
This resolution also obsesses (by devoting multiple operative paragraphs) over “settler violence,” which is not a phenomenon that is incredibly widespread, unlike Palestinian terrorism, which has been the ultimate foil of all peace efforts since the 1990s. To show what goes for balance at the U.N., acts of violence and terror on “both sides” are quietly condemned too, but the drawing of a moral equivalence in this case does not show balance—it shows the moral bankruptcy of the institution. Palestinian terrorism, after all, has led to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.
Finally, there is also a roundabout call for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS). The roundabout is necessary because only the Security Council has the power to enforce sanctions on entities. This resolution calls on the U.N. to abide by a UNHRC resolution on businesses in the settlements. Again, the UNHRC does not have the power to issue any orders on business activities, but the elements hostile to Israel at the U.N. are falsely trying to make it appear as if this is call is legitimate. It is not.
Unfortunately, this resolution—which, it should be underlined, is declarative and has no teeth—will also likely pass, and easily.
The Golan Heights
You might think that a resolution sponsored by the Syrian regime complaining about Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights—which Israel won in a defensive struggle in the Six Day War following years of harassment and threats to annihilate the Jewish state by invasion from the strategic area—could not possibly be taken seriously. But alas, this is the U.N. In fact, it will pass, however, the voting on this resolution has also turned a corner since Assad went on a genocidal rampage against his own people.
More countries recognize the absurdity of this resolution but not enough to have it banished forever, sadly. Adding to the absurdity—there are more annual resolutions at the UNGA and the UNHRC about Israel’s Golan Heights than about all of the horrors happening next door in Syria, committed not only by Assad, but also by his allies Iran and Hezbollah.
Assistance to Palestinian Refugees
This is a resolution praising the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). No mention is made of the longstanding issue of hate being taught at UNRWA schools, although there is a section that acknowledges (note: not affirms or endorses) UNRWA’s commitment to operate under the principles of “neutrality, humanity, independence and impartiality,” which is undoubtedly a nod to the scandals that have hit the agency in recent years, especially the blatant anti-Semitism in educational materials. This commitment is not really credible, though, given UNRWA’s history.
Operations of UNRWA
A companion resolution to the one above, this is a very long plea for donor countries to keep funding or even increase contributions to UNRWA, which claims its budget is in a big hole. The resolution does not address the causes of why countries might be pulling or holding back funding. UNRWA is not merely a humanitarian and educational agency, unlike UNHCR, which handles all other refugee situations. UNRWA regularly engages in politics and pushes a nonexistent “right of return,” in which all descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1948 would be allowed access to immigrate to Israel, thereby ending the existence of the democratic Jewish state. Beyond that and the incitement mentioned above, UNRWA facilities have been used by terrorists. During the latest conflict, a tunnel was found under an UNRWA school. Prior to that, rockets were found to be stored in an UNRWA facility. This resolution addresses that—as only the U.N. could—by calling on Israel to safeguard the security of UNRWA facilities, even though it is Hamas who actually puts those facilities in danger by using them for military purposes.
The resolution will, of course, pass by wide margins. But given the controversies surrounding UNRWA (those mentioned above and also, not insignificantly, a corruption scandal), it’s clear that there is a reason why donor countries have been holding back on funding this agency.
This week’s votes are important, but they are only the beginning of the annual Israel-bashing cycle at the UNGA. Another series of votes will be taken at the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Issues) next week, followed by final consideration of all of these resolutions (and any other resolutions brought straight to the floor) at the full General Assembly, starting after the observance of the U.N.’s self-declared International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People at the end of the month.
On Oct. 22, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz announced that six Palestinian civil society groups (some of them with significant backing from the European Union) have been designated as terror organizations, asserting that they worked on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, surrounded by dictatorships like Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Somalia and many others among the 47 members of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has again criticized and challenged the Israeli government.
Michelle Bachelet said that Israel’s blacklisting of six Palestinian organizations for their alleged ties to the PFLP terror group is an attack on human rights defenders, on freedom of association, opinion, and expression and on the right to public participation, and she called for the move to be immediately revoked.
The list of organizations: Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; ADDAMEER—Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Bisan Center for Research and Development; Al-Haq Organization; Defense for Children International—Palestine; and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
Bachelet said that these organizations are not terrorists, but defenders of Palestinian human rights, mainly of those who are in jail. But she did not say that most of those who are in jail have murdered Israeli civilians. On the contrary, she urged the Israeli government to prove the accusation. The Israeli government responded that there is ample proof of the connection of the organizations with the PFLP.
In 2019, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a report about several Palestinian organizations using the nongovernmental organization (NGO) label but in fact laundering money and recruiting young people for the PFLP, which has been designated as a terrorist group by many Western countries. According to the report, the Palestinian organizations have received 200 million dollars from the EU between 2014 and 2021. Why there has not been any investigation, or at least some serious checking, into where the money goes is a remaining unanswered question.
One of the six organizations, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, has a name that invites people to believe in serious civil work and assistance. Two main members of this “NGO,” Summer Arabid and Abd a-Razak Farage, are members of the PFLP. They have been identified and accused of being part of a terrorist attack that killed Rina Shnerb, 17 years old, in August 2019, while she was walking with her father along an Israeli road on their way to enjoy hiking.
ADDAMEER, another organization of the six named as terrorists by Israel, is linked with issues concerning terrorists in jail in Israel. Khalida Jarrar, the former President of ADDAMEER, is an active member of the PFLP.
Al-Haq says it is a defender of human rights. Ganz was very clear: the whole board of Al-Haq are members of the PFLP and all of them have taken part of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
An NGO must prove that its work really is the work of an NGO work. It is not a title—there must be facts on the ground. But if it receives funds and it is not held accountable, if the dictatorships that are members of the UNHRC support them unequivocally, if the High Commissioner shows trust to these organizations and publicly dismisses what a democratic state like Israel says, and—last but not least—if the main target of the UNHRC is to attack Israel and delegitimize its right to defend itself, the whole panorama is dark and very dangerous.
The Israeli Government is taking the necessary steps to defend its citizens from ongoing terrorism. It is unacceptable that the permanent denial of Israeli rights come out in an outrageous litany from the UNHRC. And it is also outrageous that real democracies accept sitting together with cruel dictatorships. This acceptance is destroying the credibility that still may remain.
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