In a blog for the Times of Israel, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin explores Israel's past efforts to create permanent ties to the Arab world with the news that the Jewish state will open an office in Abu Dhabi.
From the Camp David agreement with Egypt in 1979 to the 1991 Madrid Conference to the Israeli-Jordanian treaty of 1994, Mariaschin looks various points in time that seemed promising in opening relations, to the regression of those relations in the current day.
Could the Abu Dhabi office be the start of a new relationship between Israel and the Arab states?
Click here to the read the blog on The Times of Israel website.
Israel’s announcement that it will soon open an office in Abu Dhabi recalls a period in the mid-1990s which demonstrated some promise about the possibility of Israeli ties to the Arab world.
When considering those ties, the right place to begin the discussion would be the Camp David agreement and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt in 1979.The Israeli-Jordanian treaty of 1994 could be considered either the bookend of that effort begun in Jerusalem and Cairo, or the beginning of a second—and what appeared to be promising—stage in Israel’s relations with the Arab world. In the wake of the 1991 Madrid Conference, which openly brought Israelis and Arabs into the same room together, a number of Arab countries opened “offices” in Israel. Included among them were Morocco, Oman, Tunisia and Qatar. Little publicity surrounded the presence of these offices, which were not embassies or consulates, per se. They were billed primarily as “trade representations.”
The post-Madrid period produced other important results. India, which had diplomatic ties with Israel since 1950, upgraded its relations to full ambassadorial status. That “era of good feeling” also produced the relatively short-lived “multilateral talks” aimed at moving forward a nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Indeed, no less than 11 Arab states participated in these discussions, on such topics as economic development and the environment. In addition to the core participants—Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians—the multilaterals included 26 other countries (primarily from Europe and Asia) and several agencies of the United Nations.
I recall visiting Tunisia with a B’nai B’rith mission in December 1994 where, coincidentally, the Arms Control and Regional Security multilaterals were being held in Tunis. There was a real sense that a diplomatic and psychological Rubicon had been crossed, with Israelis and Arabs mingling and talking alongside diplomats from key members of the European Union and Asian economic giants.
Though Saudi Arabia participated in the multilaterals, I have always believed that had Riyadh not been a fence-sitter at a crucial moment, had it taken the leap and itself opened an “office” in Israel, we might have been much further along on the road to some kind of Israeli-Palestinian accommodation than we were then—or certainly are, today. Had the Saudis sent a clear message in that direction by actually opening an office or some other demonstration of cooperation, the Palestinians (who were certainly major recipients of Saudi largesse in those days), might have had to sit up and take notice.
Instead, the Yasser Arafat-led Palestinians pushed away intense efforts to strike a deal in the closing months of the second Clinton Administration. That rejectionism, in turn, fueled the Second Intifada, which took 1,000 Israeli lives in a paroxysm of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.
That then began a regression from the once-promising steps on a path toward normal relations with the Arab world, culminating in the abrupt closure of the Moroccan, Qatari, Omani and Tunisian offices in Israel in the wake of the Second Intifada.
The conventional wisdom at the time was that if the Israeli-Palestinian problem could be solved, all other Middle East issues would fall into place. But looking back, it suggests that the Palestinian leadership had no serious interest in any deal that was not zero-sum in its favor.
Fast forward to 2015. The decades-old Arab fixation on the Palestinians has faded rapidly in some quarters with an ascendant and threatening Iran and the rise of ISIS. Iran’s hegemonistic designs on the region have created palpable apprehension in a number of Arab capitals, generating an important commonality of interest between Israel and some of its Middle East Arab neighbors.
Hamas makes no bones about calling for Israel’s destruction. The Palestinians are divided into two warring camps, in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinian leadership in the latter seems unwilling, or unable, to move toward a free and fair negotiation with Israel. The shibboleth that solving the Palestinian issue would fix all of the region’s problems has given way to a Sunni-Shiite fight-to-the-finish in one country after another in the region. The Arab Spring has become a misnomer, now commonly derided as the Arab Winter. Big powers now compete in Syria, as the old World War I-era borders are erased in a blaze of religious-secular warfare. New definitions of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ are being written daily.
From all of that comes the announcement of the Israel office in the UAE. It will not be a diplomatic mission; instead it will be a representation among some 144 countries who sit at the International Renewable Energy Agency, which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi.
This is not something that was done in the dark; announcements about the office have appeared and have been reported on everywhere. Where this welcome development will lead is not clear; it may just end with this; or, it may foretell a return to the promise of the mid-1990s, which began with the Madrid Conference.
There is clearly now a realization in some places in the Arab world that, contrary to being a threat, relations with Israel can serve everyone’s interest, and not just on the threat posed by Iran. Arab states have squandered decades in which, had they widely accepted Israel, they could have created a different environment in the region. But that need not be the case going forward.
As chaos grows in the region, some important things, fortunately, seem not to be spinning out of control.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the Executive Vice President at B'nai B'rith International, and has spent nearly all of his professional life working on behalf of Jewish organizations. As the organization's top executive officer, he directs and supervises B'nai B'rith programs, activities and staff in the more than 50 countries where B'nai B'rith is organized. He also serves as director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Human Rights and Public Policy (CHRPP). In that capacity, he presents B'nai B'rith's perspective to a variety of audiences, including Congress and the media, and coordinates the center's programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
As the secular year winds down, the news and social media are filled with stories of acts of kindness toward those in need.
As we shared last time in this blog post, “Programming 101,” community action programs are the definite feel good things that we do for others and they are great examples of the acts of kindness B’nai B’rith brings to the communities. These community service programs find their home in the month of December and are often directed toward the larger community. They allow us to help others, express our thanks to those who have served our country and offer our appreciation for those who care for society in hospitals or other healthcare or community facilities.
Doing for others has its own reward, as it makes us feel good ourselves, as much as much as it cheers the recipient. We know that giving to and doing for others is also a way to "do Jewish" because it is considered a mitzvah to perform these acts.
B’nai B’rith’s community action projects are part of the important agenda items for the Center for Community Action and B'nai B’rith groups around the world. We are proud that B'nai B’rith members do the planning and implementation as well as raise or provide the financial support for many of these projects. None of these projects would happen without the dedicated men and women who make them possible. This is the time to share these activities and say thank you for all they do.
We are proud to share the good work of the coordinators of Pinch hitters from Atlanta's Achim Gate City Lodge as well as the volunteers at the West Essex Lodge in New Jersey who have had their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Operation Brotherhood and Snowflake community service project at their local hospital for 20 years. The projects involve volunteers who take over the jobs or commitments of non-Jewish workers or volunteers so that they can be home with their families on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
We also have volunteers who collect warm clothing for the homeless in San Francisco before the winter. Houston B’nai B’rith reported in about its annual first Sunday in December Schlep Sunday--collecting clothing and household goods in Houston for community charities. The group has just completed its 35th successful year.
We are also expecting the annual Christmas Eve B’nai B’rith volunteers at the VA Hospital in West Haven, Conn., where every patient gets gifts and visit from a B'nai B’rith volunteer and every nurse’s station gets thank you treats.
We are still getting thank you notes after the delivery of 600 B’nai B’rith Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge books to community and children's centers as part of the NBC Today Show's holiday toy and book drive. These books, written by high schoolers, teach children about tolerance and diversity.
The best part of all of these community service programs is that even if you did not get a chance to be part of the December 2015 activity, you can get an early start for December 2016. We promise you will feel good you did.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
The victory of the opposition in the legislative elections in Venezuela this past Dec. 6, has shown that the vast majority of the people (almost 70 percent) is definitively tired of a regime that has destroyed the economy, and has pushed most of the people to poverty. Some people have to live a great part of their day standing in very long lines, waiting for some food and basic goods.
President Nicolas Maduro had no other choice than accept the defeat, even though he had promised that if his party suffered a defeat “he would go to the streets to fight for the revolution.”
So far, President Maduro has not gone to the streets, but after admitting the triumph of the opposition, he immediately returned to the vitriol of his rhetoric and blamed an “economic war” waged by the right wing in Venezuela, and abroad for the ruling party’s loss.
Maduro is right to blame the economy for his extreme unpopularity. Triple-digit inflation is eating away salaries, and this crisis is of the government’s making, not the result of a “war” by “right-wing forces.”
It was a historic win: More than 74 percent of Venezuelans voted — up from 66 percent in the last parliamentary election — and according to the opposition (the Government has not yet given the final results) 112 of the National Assembly’s 167 seats went to the opposition coalition, giving it a key majority.
The opposition should be united and careful to watch what happened the last 17 years, since President Hugo Chávez’s death, and when Maduro took spower.
The “Chavistas” have proved again and again that they are not democrats. Judiciary Congress has been under their fist. Opposition media has been closed. Political leaders are in prison, and there almost 100 political prisoners, including a very popular leader like Leopoldo Lopez. Why things would dramatically change when Maduro still has the Presidency until 2019, and Judiciary is under his orders?
Why Maduro will not demand this current Congress before it ends this term, this December, to rule extraordinary powers before the new Congress is installed, is something that has happened before, and has given the government the opportunity to rule without control.
Can Maduro afford to subvert Venezuela’s democracy like this?
When this happened before, oil had a very different price, the rank of popularity of the Government was high, and there was not an inflation of 200%, as it happens to be today.
Maduro knows that the whole world is watching, and many countries are pushing hard in order that the results of the elections are duly respected.
Maduro and the opposition are before a test.
The opposition must administer the victory and learn to move forward step by step, because the country is deeply damaged, not only in its economy but also, and very importantly, inside its social relations. Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries of the world vis–à–vis insecurity.
If Maduro wants to stay as President until the end of his term, he will have to coexist with the Congress, put an end to the imprisonment of political prisoners and allow freedom of the press. Today, these things look really difficult.
The Jewish community has lived under heavy anti-Semitism for the last 15 years. Iranian penetration, Hezbollah penetration, anti-Semitism from the government, media, academy, have made Venezuela a very hostile country against Israel, and a dangerous place for the Jewish community. Today, there are expectations of big changes. The future will tell us all if those changes are possible in a short and medium term. So far, the right thing to do would be to open the eyes and wait. Iranian, Cuban, and Hezbollah people will not vanish overnight, and danger and threats are still fresh and on the table.
The new members of the Parliament will be sworn in on Jan. 5, 2016. The weeks before then will be critical for determining whether Maduro will prove that rule of law exists in Venezuela, or if he will insist on fighting wars “against the empire” that exist only in his imagination.
The expectation: that he will sit down with the opposition.
The big question: will it happen?
Images via Flickr, Wikimedia
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.
Behold, the "Liberty Bell Chanukah Lamp"
Specializing in rare and important Judaica in all its diversity, Kestenbaum & Company is a New York auction house whose Nov. 19 sale offerings attracted the attention of collectors, curators and archivists around the world. Included among the treasure trove of sacred and secular books, manuscripts, fine art and objects like the guitar once owned by the celebrated performer Shlomo Carlebach, was the “Liberty Bell Chanukah Lamp”. The lamp was created in 1990 by noted folk artist Manfred Anson. Craft and sculpture are blended in this work, which represents a continuation of themes explored in the artist’s iconic, widely known “Statue of Liberty Menorah,” a heartfelt but whimsical tribute to the monument’s 1986 centennial, often seen on display in the collections of the Jewish Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Regarded as an ingenious metaphor for the overlapping trajectory of American and Jewish history, it also references the ways in which Jews, as an itinerant people, have perpetually incorporated the culture of the land in which they have settled into that of their own. A terrific holiday gift which ultimately sold for $8,000, the “Liberty Bell Chanukah Lamp” conflates the Chanukah celebration, commemorating the first successful fight for religious freedom, with the democratic ideals fostered by the American Revolution. It is symbolized by the Liberty Bell souvenir on which the lamp is literally and figuratively based.
Cast to the artist’s specifications, the lamp’s nine candleholders are miniature replicas of the Liberty Bell souvenir. Underscoring the roll that Jews played in American history, each of these is engraved with the name of a Jewish patriot—including Haym Solomon, Uriah P. Levy and Rebecca Gratz—honored for their heroism and beliefs.
Born in Berlin, Manfred Anson (1923-2012) made his living as a successful importer/exporter in Australia for thirty years before immigrating to the United States in 1962. In his later years, he created original works of modern Judaica, in which he incorporated elements taken from the large collection of American memorabilia he had acquired over time.
The Revival of the Celebrated Yiddish Musical, "The Golden Bride"
More than thirty years after a part of its libretto was discovered at the Harvard Music Library, the once celebrated Yiddish musical “The Golden Bride” (“Die Goldene Kale”) has been revived by a team of talented and knowledgeable writers and musicians under the guidance of Zalmen Mlotek. Mlotek is a conductor known for his expertise in the orchestration and performance of repertory from the Yiddish stage. Presented in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles by the 101 year old National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the fully-staged orchestra production will run from December 2, 2015 through January 3, 2016 in the Edmond J. Safra Hall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. A PDF of the playbill can be accessed at by clicking here.
Written by lyricist Louis Gilrod and Joseph Rumshinsky, Second Avenue’s leading theater and film composer, “The Golden Bride” features a young heroine, Goldele, who emigrates from Russia to America to claim an inheritance and find her long-lost mother, with a love interest thrown in for some good duets. An immediate sensation when it premiered in 1923, the show drew thousands of people nightly and later toured worldwide. Enjoying numerous revivals, the musical continued to be popular over the next twenty-five years. After that time, declining numbers of Yiddish-speaking theater goers caused “The Golden Bride” to fade from view.
Maestro Mlotek has noted that “there’s a world of historic works from the Yiddish canon that are just waiting to be repaired and brought to live audiences. [“The Golden Bride” is] culture, it’s education, it’s entertainment.”
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.
B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield highlights the anti-Israel actions and statements of the Swedish government in a blog that originally appeared in The Algemeiner.
In the blog, Fusfield details Sweden's placation to the Nazis during World War II and points to instances in which the ministers of defense, housing and foreign affairs have all fed the anti-Israel sentiment pervading the country.
This is all on top of the closing of synagogues following the terror attacks in Paris, as they were considered "highly vulnerable targets."
It was a familiar slogan throughout war-time Sweden: en Svensk tiger, which can be translated as “a Swedish tiger” — or, more to the point: “a Swede keeps secrets.”
The so-called Swedish Vigilance Campaign made this expression the focus of its effort to prevent Swedes from spilling secrets that could harm its national defense during World War II.
But the World War II silence campaign is best understood in the context of Sweden’s complicated relationship with Nazi Germany. Despite its neutrality, Sweden sold iron ore to Germany and allowed Hitler’s regime to use its railways when Germany invaded Norway. In 1943 the Swedish government instructed its central bank to ignore evidence that the Germans were paying Sweden with looted gold. Swedish silence, it seems, applied to more than just national security secrets.
Whether Sweden’s actions during the war were a product of weakness or indifference to German aggression — or both — the country’s history makes its role today as self-appointed moral arbiter in the Middle East all the more puzzling. The Swedish tiger has awakened, but is using its voice to lash out at the Jewish state.
In 2012 a group of Swedish politicians with extreme anti-Israel views formed an organization called the Jerusalem Committee. Its supporters include current Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist.
In 2014 Sweden recognized a Palestinian state, saying that the criteria for statehood had been fulfilled, even though the Palestinians had not negotiated an agreement with Israel.
Swedish Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan participated in an anti-Israel flotilla from Turkey to Gaza in 2010. This past summer, a similar fleet left Sweden before being intercepted by the Israeli navy en route to Gaza.
Following the ISIS attacks in Paris, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom bizarrely responded by linking the atrocities to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Here again, you come back to situations like that in the Middle East where not least the Palestinians see that there isn’t any future (for them),” she said. “(The Palestinians) either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
Such actions follow a longstanding tradition of anti-Israel bias in Sweden, whose government has yet to condemn the ongoing terrorist onslaught against Israeli civilians, even as it rationalizes the attacks in Paris by citing the situation of the Palestinians. Unfortunately for Sweden’s beleaguered 20,000-member Jewish community, the government’s anti-Israel rhetoric is feeding a climate that has severely compromised Jewish security.
On November 19, synagogues in Sweden temporarily shut down in response to the Paris attacks, as Jewish institutions in that country were seen as highly vulnerable targets. Sweden has seen a pronounced increase in antisemitism over the past decade, caused largely by a highly radicalized Arab and Muslim community, a neo-Nazi political party called the Sweden Democrats, and a steady drumbeat of anti-Israel criticism in the media. A 2013 European Union survey indicated that one third of Swedish Jews had experienced antisemitic harassment in the previous five years.
This is a form of linkage that Swedish politicians should better understand: the demonization of Israel and the double standard consistently applied to the Jewish state have consequences for the security of Jewish communities around the world, with Sweden as a notable example.
And as they contemplate that very real contemporary dynamic, Swedish officials should further consider: How does a country that remained neutral during World War II, cooperated with the Nazi regime, and allows antisemitism to thrive, still feel it has the moral authority to lecture the Jewish State on how to defend itself?
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 previously served as assistant director of European affairs at the American Jewish Committee. 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. To view some of his additional content, Click Here
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