Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day) in Israel is not something that can be ignored. All the newspapers and broadcast outlets are dedicated to it. In thousands of ceremonies across the country, schools, academic institutions and government offices solemnly mark the murder of one third of the Jewish people during World War II. Traffic comes to a standstill and everyone—or nearly everyone—stops in their tracks while a piercing siren is heard across the land. I very much doubt that there is another nation in the world that shows greater respect for its national tragedy than Israel does towards the victims of the Holocaust.
Although the main thrust of the commemorations remain on the crimes of the Nazis and the devastation they wrought to a world of Jewish communities, rites, learning, traditions and individual victims, the B'nai B'rith World Center has been at the forefront of an effort to use these tragic events to fittingly turn the spotlight on Jews who went beyond the call of duty, endangering themselves and their families to rescue other Jews. Little known to most people today, thousands of Jews were engaged in such rescue activities in Germany, in the Axis states and in German-occupied territories. Together with a dedicated group of volunteers, members of the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B'nai B'rith World Center have held annual large scale events on Yom Hashoah in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. JRJ was established over 15 years ago at the initiative of Haim Roet, who survived in Holland as a child through the heroic efforts of two non-Jews who were subsequently recognized as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem and a Jew, Max Lions.
This event is, to the best of our knowledge, the only annual tribute dedicated to Jewish rescuers anywhere in the world. Through it we strive to inspire the nearly 1,000 school students and border police cadets present with the understanding that contrary to the popular perceptions validated by some Holocaust historians, Jewish solidarity did not die in the Holocaust—although it was, undoubtedly, put under tremendous strain. In reality, thousands of Jews rose to the challenge and, when the opportunity arose, found ways and the wherewithal to help fellow Jews.
The contemporary message we wish to promote is clear: these days when divisions among the Jewish people are escalating and dialogue has become polarized, the example of those Jews who rescued others in the face of annihilation should encourage us to rally our sense of solidarity and common Jewish destiny. Hundreds of thousands more in Israel are exposed to this message through the press coverage the event receives and other initiatives undertaken by the Committee.
Another 8,000 young German Jewish men released from Nazi imprisonment—many ransomed using his own fortune—were rescued through a scheme he proposed to establish internment camps in Britain. Israel died on June 1, 1941 along with actor and British intelligence office Leslie Howard when their plane was brought down in the Bay of Biscay by the Luftwaffe on a flight from Lisbon, Portugal. At that time Israel was busy planning the rescue of children from Nazi-occupied Europe to pre-state Israel for the Jewish Agency. He is credited with saving 50,000 Jewish lives. Each rescue story—like these two examples—is a narrative of heroism and selfless dedication to fellow Jews.
Through the efforts of the World Center and the Committee, key institutions and leading figures have become aware of the phenomenon of Jewish rescue. Writing to me and to Roet last month, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot noted that “our letter to him (about rescue by Jews in the Holocaust) brought home the importance of memorializing the Jews who endangered their lives to rescue the lives of their brethren during the Holocaust. As a result of this I found it appropriate to note these heroic rescue activities in my comments at a symposium of the General Staff at Yad Vashem prior to Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. We must remember and not forget the bravery that was shown alongside the pain. The principals of courage and camaraderie upon which the Jewish people acted in order to rescue their brethren, accompanies us—the commanders of the IDF and its soldiers…”
Also, in a letter dated May 17, Asa Kasher, professor emeritus in philosophy at Tel Aviv University and the author of the IDF’s code of ethics and a leading moral voice in Israel, wrote to the Committee in support of its initiative to amend the Yad Vashem Law and charge it with recognizing Jewish rescuers.
Another recent breakthrough is the acceptance of an MA thesis by the University of Haifa Faculty of Humanities, Multidisciplinary Program in Holocaust Studies by Noa Gidron, “Jews Saving Jews—individual initiative during the Holocaust 1939-1945” in which the World Center’s work on this issue was recognized.
These developments have inexorably set Jewish rescue on a path to become the next major topic of Holocaust research and attention.
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Nearly all of the 10 presentations have been made to victims of Palestinian terrorism, and not one of the encounters, usually in their living rooms, was an easy experience. The process begins with a cautious telephone call to broach our intention to make the grant (at least one guardian refused our largess) and set a meeting to hand over the grant check. I made the latest, particularly heartbreaking presentation, last week just before the Passover holiday to Yael Weissman for the benefit of her 7-month old daughter, Neta. Their husband and father, St. Sgt. Tuvia Yanai Weissman (21), was murdered on Thursday, Feb. 18, while trying to protect them and other shoppers from two 14-year old, knife-wielding Palestinian terrorists at the Rami Levy supermarket at Sha’ar Binyamin.
Weissman—a combat sergeant in the IDF’s Nahal Brigade, was on a week-long leave, shopping for the upcoming Shabbat with Yael and Neta when he heard screams from a different aisle. Realizing immediately that a terrorist attack was in progress, Weissman, unarmed, ran to confront the terrorists as other shoppers fled. He was the first to reach the terrorists who had begun their stabbing spree but he was the only victim to die of his wounds. I made the drive to the secluded Binyamin settlement of Ma’aleh Michmas in the quiet, late morning—the Judean Hills were vibrant in the spring sun. With Neta—a sweet, calm, playful infant—embraced in her arms and Yael's older sister, who had just undergone an operation to remove a grown from her head' in the kitchen, Yael told me that she and Yanai were childhood sweethearts who grew up in Michmas, married, and made their home there near both sets of parents. A witness herself to the attack, she vividly remembers every detail as it unfolded. The investigation confirmed that the death toll would have been much higher had Yanai not bravely confronted the terrorists barehanded. She was overwhelmed with the expression of support for her and Neta by B’nai B’rith and other organizations and individuals.
The hardest part of this and my other encounters with these bereaved families is bringing the meeting to an end and continuing with my day’s work, knowing that that while perhaps momentarily buoyed by the expression of care and concern by a major international Jewish organization, I would rejoin my hectic reality while the victims will need to spend a lifetime confronting their loss.
This was the case with previous years' recipients. Laren Sayif’s father, Druze Police Sgt. Zidan Sayif, was killed in November 2014 as he confronted two Palestinian terrorists who were engaging in a gruesome knife and meat cleaver attack on worshipers at the Kehilat B’nai Torah synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. That attack left 24 children without their fathers and, in recognition of the scope of the tragedy, B’nai B’rith used the B’nai B’rith International Emergency Fund to make an exceptional second grant that year to the four children of one of the four victims, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, Chief Warrant Officer Kasahun Baynesian, 39, of Netivot, served in the Northern Brigade of the Gaza Division and was killed during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, along with three other soldiers, when his military jeep was hit with an anti-tank missile fired by a Gazan terrorist squad, which used a cross-border tunnel to infiltrate southern Israel on July 17. He left behind four children—the youngest born after his death. Yossi Shushan was killed on Augusut 20, 2011 by a Grad rocket fired from Gaza and left behind three children. Udi and Ruth Fogel who were murdered, along with three children, in their beds in the settlement of Itamar on Friday night, March 11, 2011. They left three surviving children. These heartbreaking stories repeat themselves for all of the ten victims whose orphans the fund has touched over the years.
The Edith “Pat” Wolfson Endowment Fund has become an expression of caring for the victims of some of the worst terrorist atrocities that have left orphans over the last decade. The B’nai B’rith World Center will continue to execute this difficult and humbling task while seeking ways to maintain a meaningful relationship with those we have touched.
The B’nai B’rith World Center has administered the Edith “Pat” Wolfson Endowment Fund for Israeli Youth since its inception in 2005, with Schneider personally presenting the grant to the orphan’s surviving parent or legal guardian each year. The fund supports Israeli youth orphaned by war or terrorism.
A geopolitical triangle: Israel, Greece and Cyprus lay foundations for new level of regional cooperation
Over the last two months, B’nai B’rith International has been at the cusp of an important emerging diplomatic development in the turbulent area of the Eastern Mediterranean—the establishment of a regional geopolitical consensus among the only three stable democracies in the area: Israel, Greece and Cyprus.
As other countries in the area, including Libya, Syria and Lebanon, deteriorate into chaos and as the United States continues to reduce its footprint in the region leaving open a vacuum that is being filled by other state and non-state players, the emerging partnership among these three countries, nurtured by their respective political leaders—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades—holds out the prospect for ensuring a degree of stability and security in what has become the world’s most volatile neighborhood.
B’nai B’rith’s most recent contribution to this welcome development—after decades during which Greece and Cyprus were firmly in the pro-Palestinian camp—came on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 when it co-organized an international conference entitled “Strategic Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean” together with the eminent Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. While conference presenters also discussed broader historical, superpower and regional perspectives, the meeting provided a platform for leading Israeli, Greek and Cypriot figures—including Greek Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos, Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Israel Ministry of Defense Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, Former Israel National Security Advisor Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former Greek Minister of Internal Security Vasilis Kikilias and long-serving DCM at the embassy of Cyprus in Tel Aviv Michalis Firillas—to focus on the interplay between these three key countries.
The conference came on the heels of B’nai B’rith’s most recent engagement with the tripartite Israeli-Greek-Cypriot relationship when it organized the second Greek American-Jewish American Leadership Mission to the three countries held in January in cooperation with the Conference of Presidents and two leading Greek American organizations. Taken together, the mission, which included meetings with the leaders of all three countries, and the conference helped to buttress one of the few promising signs of good neighborly relations in a region overrun with strife and rivalry
In opening comments, B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin set the tone of the conference by correctly noting that the situation in the region is deteriorating quickly and that as possible solutions to stemming that tide seem far out of reach “some countries in the region are taking matters into their own hands, looking to forge joint efforts to stabilize the regional environment. The [historic] signal sent by the leaders of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus when they signed a joint cooperation declaration last month was unmistakable…The Tripartite Summit comes against the back-drop of chaos and uncertainty that it roiling the region. The list of challenges and threats is lengthening: ISIS and a coterie of Islamic radical and terrorist organizations, the break-up of Syria and Iraq, the problems in Sinai and Yemen, and the on-going presence and continuing militarization of Hezbollah and Hamas. And then there is the growing Russia factor. And casting a shadow over all of this is the re-entry of Iran into the international community, flush with cash as a result of the nuclear agreement, and which will surely increase efforts to advance its interests, and its hegemonistic aspirations in the region.”
In the absence of credible international initiatives to stem the tide of instability, the joint declaration stressed that the new trilateral cooperation is not closed to other countries with similar goals. Egypt and even Turkey—a country whose behavior and regional aspirations loomed over the conference—could find their way into the club, as could countries further afield in the Mediterranean, such as Italy.
Granted, Minister Kammenos and other speakers asserted that Turkey’s policies in this unstable region have been harmful to bringing about regional stability. However, Turkey is now seeking allies as its foreign relations with all bordering countries disintegrates, and as it faces a new superpower enemy, Russia, Whether that would open the door for Turkey to be part of this alignment in the eastern Mediterranean has yet to be seen.
While the two countries have been conducting a series of joint air and naval exercises annually, defense collaboration is just one of many new areas of cooperation between these new partners. Other dimensions include plans for joint development of the proximate significant natural gas fields discovered in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Israel and Cyprus that could be transported to an energy-hungry European market through Greece, the sharing of Israel’s impressive success in entrepreneurship and economic development and in the promotion of Greece and Cyprus as welcoming tourist destinations for vacationing Israeli who used to fill the hotels of Antalya until relations with Turkey went sour.
In the diplomatic field, Greece has already proven to be a reliable ally of Israel at the European Union, leading opposition to the EU’s initiative to label settlement products in a grossly discriminatory manner and to a resolution that would have committed the EU to continue to clearly and unequivocally differentiate between Israel and the disputed territories. Greece’s rejection of labeling and successful efforts to amend the resolution, later joined by Cyprus, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland, represent a sharp and welcome departure from past Greek policy within the EU.
With Israel now ranked as eighth most powerful country in the world (in a study published in late January by the prestigious Wharton School and U.S. News and World Report) this alliance also has clear benefits for Greece and Cyprus.
Mekel says that stronger tripartite relations may also serve to encourage Turkey to show more flexibility in negotiations regarding normalization of ties between Ankara and Jerusalem. He also believes that the hardiness of the relationships has already been tested, withstanding three changes of government in Greece—from Papandreou’s Socialists, to the Conservative government of Antonis Samaras and through to the two successive governments of current prime minister Tsipras from the Left-wing Syriza party that was very critical of Israel in the past. It also weathered unscathed the unanimous vote by the Greek parliament in December calling on the government to recognize the State of Palestine—a nonbinding resolution condemned by the Israeli government as being contrary to existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that rule out unilateral steps towards Palestinian statehood. In the case of Cyprus, the defense relationship between the two countries started under left-oriented President Demetris Christofia, and continues at full speed under current conservative leader Anastasiades.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the summit in Nicosia on Jan. 28, the meeting of interests between the three countries is indeed remarkable: “I believe this meeting has historic implications. The last time Greeks, Cypriots and Jews sat around a table and talked on a common framework was 2,000 years ago.” Coupled with reported engagement between Israel and some Gulf States in reaction to common fears of both ISIS and a nuclear Iran following the adoption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and plans to launch a major reengagement with African countries announced last week during the visit of Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta to Israel that reportedly include military dimensions to help these countries counter Iranian and radical Islamic expansion in the continent, it would seem that Israel is anything but isolated in today’s complex geopolitical environment.
While multiple threats remain the government seems agile in taking advantage of changing landscapes to position Israel as a pivotal country for all peace-seeking countries within a wide radius, not only because of its geographical placement but also because of its proven capabilities and success against all odds.
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Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
For more than four decades—since the disengagement of forces following the 1973 Yom Kippur War—the Syrian border was unquestionably the quietest of Israel's frontiers. Despite its periodic saber rattling, rejectionism, pan-Arabism and support for Palestinian terrorist organizations, the Assad dynasty—Hafez and then son Bashar—strived to keep Syria out of direct military confrontation with Israel—particularly after the trouncing of the Syrian air force during the 1982 First Lebanon War. Contrasted with the recurring rocket fire, snipings, kidnappings and outright wars that remain the norm along the Israel-Lebanese border—first with Palestinian terrorist organizations and then with Iran-back Hezbollah—the Israeli Golan was the epitome of pastoral tranquility, Israel's veritable Switzerland, with the Israel Defense Forces’s (IDF's) eavesdropping devices on the winter-snowcapped Hermon Mountain keeping watchful eye as far as Damascus and its environs.
As 2016 commences, this long-enduring serenity is being threatened by Iranian intensions to take advantage of the presence of its proxy for foreign adventurism and terrorism—Hezbollah—in Syria to shore up Bashir Assad against Daesh (the Islamic State), to ignite the Israel-Syria border too.
The Iranians are striving to use Hezbollah to bring about the collapse of the two main principals that have guided Israeli policy since the beginning of the civil war in Syria: 1) That it will not allow weapons that could tip the strategic balance in the area to be shipped into its fronts with Syria or Lebanon. To this end, Israel reportedly launched 10 air attacks between January 2013 and October 2015 against convoys in Syria and even as far as Somalia carrying weapons to Hezbollah; and 2) To prevent the Syrian Golan from becoming a zone for launching offensive operations against Israel, as is the Lebanese border already. This, ostensibly, was behind the elimination of the Lebanese Druze Hezbollah terrorist Samir Kuntar, reportedly by Israeli Air Force jets that attacked a building in Damascus from Israeli airspace on Dec. 15, killing Kuntar and eight others including Farhan Essam Shaalan, a senior commander in the Syrian anti-Israel resistance militia.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to avenge Kuntar's death, putting the IDF on high alert along the Lebanese border. Kuntar already had a record of terror, having kidnapped and murdered the policeman Eliyahu Shahar and the Haran family in 1979, which earned him notoriety as one of the most ruthless terrorists in Israel’s history. Since being released from an Israeli prison in 2008 in an exchange with Hezbollah for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Kuntar had been at the forefront of efforts to establish a Hezbollah clone in the Syrian Golan. Iran's attempt to ignite the Syria-Israel border will probably slowdown in Kuntar's absence, but experts expected that it will remain a strategic goal of the Iranian regime.
The limited scope of Israel’s offensive posture in Syria to weapons transfers and terror infrastructure directed against Israel, has led it to a hands-off policy regarding the much broader issue of the dissolution of the Syrian state and the ascendance of numerous other players, international, national and local, in the Syrian arena since the start of the civil war in March 2011.
Speaking recently to Makor Rishon, Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the long-serving director of Policy and Political-Military at Israel's Ministry of Defense, reiterated this position in referring to the tragedy in Syria and its possible spill-over into the Golan Heights: "There is no such thing today as Syria. A human tragedy of major proportions is taking place there. Hundreds of thousands of dead, millions of refugees, fine cities with tremendous historical significance destroyed. Bashar Assad controls only a quarter of Syria and he is completely dependent on Iran and Hezbollah. At this juncture the only exit from the war is political, as was seen in the talks in Vienna. Some say that if Assad is out an arrangement could be found, but the truth is that there are not a lot of people jumping for the job of President of Syria. There are no quick resolutions, everything is complicated. Syrian is erupting lava, with partition on the horizon."
In a new paper entitled “Syria: New Map, New Actors Challenges and Opportunities for Israel” published (in Hebrew) this month by Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, former head of Strategic Planning in the IDF’s General Staff and researchers Nir Boms and Ofir Winter argue that, considering the multitude of state and non-state actors (estimated at 1,500 groups of widely varying political leanings, according to a February 2014 estimate by James R. Clapper, U.S. director of National Intelligence), now vying for territory and power in what was once Syria, it is time for Israel to abandon this no-interference policy and to actively engage ‘positive’ local and foreign elements with which it has common interests.
These players impact on the current reality in Syria and are expected to play a significant role in the stabilization and redesign of the Syrian space if the Assad regime falls or if the current entity still known as Syria breaks up into Alawite, Kurdish, Druse and Sunni enclaves. The writers argue that Israel should consider adopting a more robust policy, in coordination and partnership with positive elements in the Syrian arena that will promote both its long and short term goals.
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Identifying such extant elements, the writers contend that “This policy will be part of a broad strategy that will allow Israel to build more effective leverage on the Syrian arena, create a region of influence in southern Syria (including the Syrian Golan – A.S.) and to promote its vital tactical and strategic interests – first and foremost keeping the peace on the Golan Heights and preventing ‘negative’ forces from becoming entrenched on the Syrian side…At this juncture, Israel should engage in deep consideration about the impact of changes in Syrian and the danger that pro-Iranian or Salafist-Jihadist elements will feed into southern Syria, the only area free from their overbearing sway, and to consider the possibility of establishing an area of influence in the arena adjacent to the border in cooperation with relevant Syrian, regional and international players...Despite their relative military weakness and the limited influence in the current reality, the ‘positive’ players represent the ‘silent majority’ in the Syrian people that despises both the Assad regime and the Jihadist forces, and are interested in the end of the war, rehabilitation of the country and the creation of a new political reality that will afford the citizens of Syria stability, security and prosperity after years of displacement, destruction and pain. The significant presence of relatively moderate and pragmatic elements in southern Syria in general and near the border with Israel in particular, makes the question of cooperation with them significant and concrete due to the immediate and future impact of Israel’s actions (and its inaction) on the security situation in the Israeli Golan Heights.”
The imperative for Israel to review its policy vis-à-vis southern Syria now is reinforced by research published by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point that found that Islamic State is currently looking to build on what it has already accomplished since it restarted in southern push a year ago.
Another new element in the region is Russia's direct intervention on behalf of Assad with the deployment of fighters to the Syrian airbase in Lattakia on Sept. 30, that by now have flown hundreds of missions against Syrian rebels and ISIS. The Russian deployment ostensibly came in response to an appeal by Assad for help and to hit radical Islamist terrorists so it does not permeate and reach Russian territory.
Some believe, though, that these have provided Russia with the opportunity to once again stake a claim in the region it had left to the Americans in 1973. Ironically, the downing of the Russian jet fighter by Turkey has provided Russia with justification for introducing into the battlefield their most advanced anti-aircraft systems—the
S-300 and S-400—that Israel had successfully blocked from going to Iran for years.
Now these systems are on our doorstep. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the prescience to visit Moscow just 10 days before the Russian deployment in Syria and to conclude with Russian president Vladimir Putin parameters for the IAF’s freedom of action. Israeli Russian expert Yasha Kedmi, head of "Nativ,” Israel's outreach organ to Russian Jewry, has said that Putin's intervention in Syria is much more global than the conflict in Syria. "The conflict there is merely a demonstration of the huge military moves that Russia has made in recent years," he told Israel Defense in late November. "They reached an assessment that in the current reality, the American will accept any solution the Russians impose on Syria," Kedmi said. Former head of IDF Intelligence Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin has clarified that while the rationale of the Russian move, its strategic objective, scope and duration are not yet sufficiently clear, “it is obvious that the move places Israel in a new reality that requires reconsideration of the ways to confront the challenge and opportunities brought on by the new reality.
Yadlin says that the real threat of the Russian gambit in Syria for Israel is that Hezbollah could be strengthened should Russian arms trickle into its arsenals or be intentionally supplied to the organization. Furthermore, if Assad survives, Russia’s involvement is liable to provide a seal of approval for Iranian activity in Syria in years to come, as well as or Hezbollah forces armed with the best of Russian’s weapons on Syrian soil, Yadlin warns.
Despite this, Israel has avoided making moves that could have contributed to the efforts to topple Assad and thus undermine Iran and Hezbollah presence in Syria. He concludes that in the case of failure in moving the Western coalition into concurrent action against Assad and ISIS, “Israel should strive to realize…an Assad-free Syria as an arrangement reached in partnership with Russia. In any case, Israel must gear up for active efforts to topple Assad, based on the understanding that beyond the moral imperative, Assad’s ouster will lead to a strategic loss for Iran and Hezbollah in the bleeding Syrian state.”
As 2015 drew to a close, Israelis received a chilling reminder that although they had largely been spared ISIS-inspired violence until now, they were my no means off the Caliphate’s radar. In a new audio statement released last Saturday and attributed to the Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi, he warns that "ISIS will soon be heard in Palestine. The Jews thought that we forgot to Palestine and that they had diverted our attention from it. Not at all, Jews. We have not forgotten Palestine. Allah will not forget it. Soon soon, with Allah: Listen to the boiling emotions of jihad fighters. We will soon meet in Palestine. Israel will pay a heavy price. Palestine will not be your land or your home, but for you it will be a graveyard. Allah has gathered you in Palestine so that the Muslims may kill you. The leaders of the jihad fighters will surround you on a day you think is far, but we see it as close. We are coming closer to you day by day,” Al Baghdadi vowed.
Although this is not the first threat against Israel from the militant group, it is the most specific regarding ISIS plans to attack Israel military. Analysts believe that while its assets in the Sinai might be in easier striking range against Israel in order to put this threat into effect, it is not impossible that the Syrian Golan will be al-Baghdadi’s preferred staging area for an attack.
According to reports that appeared at the end of the year, the ISIS-affiliated Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade is operating in the border area and although it is relatively small, with 600 fighters, the group controls a significant 15-kilometer stretch of border with Israel and some 40,000 civilian residents (out of the 750,000 residents of the Syrian Golan). Like other terrorist organizations operating in the area, such as the far larger Jabhat al-Nusra, Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, conquered posts abandoned by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force and has been using them as bases for numerous types of weapons, most of them captured from the Syrian army, including light guns, heavy machine guns mounted on trucks, anti-tank missiles and even a few tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers.
With all this in mind, 2016 will undoubtedly be a pivotal year for Israel’s relationship with all the actors in the Syrian catastrophe—from the great powers to local militias—and the government will be called upon to utilize all of its assets—intelligence and analysis alongside overt and covert hard power—in order to steer Israel through this complex matrix.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
B’nai B’rith World Center – Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider delivers a speech to New Knesset Caucus (Hebrew)
B’nai B’rith World Center – Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider delivers a speech (Hebrew) at a conference held at the Knesset to launch a new caucus. Schneider warns against the increasing missionizing of Jews that is taking place today in Israel by outwardly pro-Israeli Christian groups.
The current wave of Palestinian terrorism that has targeted Jewish Israelis across the country, particularly in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria but also in central Israel, has taken Israelis by surprise. Starting on April 15, 2015 with a car ramming that killed Shalom Yohai Sherki (age 25) at a bus stop at the French Hill intersection in Jerusalem and critically wounded a young woman, and then picking up steam with the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin on Oct. 1, the wave—that has largely taken the form of knifing attacks but also includes car rammings, rock and Molotov-cocktail throwing against moving vehicles and drive-by shootings—has left 15 Israelis dead and some 150 wounded. In addition, wide-scale rioting on Temple Mount and at Judea and Samaria friction-points, and also for a time in Israeli Arab towns, have caused deep apprehension among Israelis and have forced changes to their daily and leisure activities. Still, even in Jerusalem, I can attest that at least when I have been out and about during day and night, Israelis are not hiding at home. Millions are taking public transport to work and school, restaurants are still relatively full and cultural events continue unabated. And in our particular reality, where Jews and Arabs mix widely at work, at school and in the public sphere, it was not particularly surprising that the chief surgeon who saved the life of a 13-year old Jewish boy knifed by two teenage Palestinian terrorists on Oct. 12 was Professor Ahmed Eid.
Taking April 15 or any other date as the kick-off point for this wave of terrorism—or the “Third Intifada” as some prefer to call it—is arbitrary and only serves to point to our short collective memories; 1,282 Israelis have been murdered since Sept. 2000 (the “Second Intifada”) in terrorist attacks, among them suicide bombings that took the lives and injured dozens at a time. And only five months before Sherki’s murder, five rabbis at prayer and one traffic policeman who came to their rescue were shot and butchered in the Kehilat Bnei Zion synagogue—the last victim, Rabbi Haim (Howie) Rothman, succumbing to his wounds only last week.
Standing in the front line of defense, Israel Police and Border Police have to be credited for responding quickly and assertively to the changing landscape posed by the new form of terrorism—no longer organized attacks that utilize material and infrastructure that could be detected and thwarted by Israeli intelligence assets in Judea and Samaria (rebuilt since Israel’s "Defensive Shield” operation of 2002 launched in reaction to the Second Intifada when the IDF was at a disadvantage after these assets were abandoned under the Oslo Accords) but impulsive “lone wolf” attacks on Israel’s roads, streets and bus stops with little or no intelligence signature. The officers’ increased presence and quick reaction in neutralizing the terrorists, along with the heroism of many bystanders, have saved lives. At the same time, some say that the government response was not as quick as needed in adopting and implementing more general policies aimed at taking the battle to the opponent’s territory to deter future attacks, such as house demolitions, curfews, travel restrictions and other means that are being widely advocated by concerned Israelis. Government spokesmen have explained that such measures could have the opposite affect and lead to frustration by the bulk of Palestinian population that has not yet participated in riots or violence. A similar dispute arose this week between Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon and Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan, with Erdan arguing against relinquishing the bodies of killed terrorists to their families for burial—funerals that inevitably turn into anti-Israel hate fests and opportunities for promoting further radicalization—and Yaalon insisting that retaining the bodies in the hope that they can be used in future swaps serves no purpose and only enrages the masses.
Local Arab rejection of Zionism and the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel can be traced back to the first large-scale Arab riots of 1920, led by none other than the notorious Haj Amin el-Husseini. Then, as today, the immediate trigger for the violence was incitement by the local Arab leadership that “al-Aqsa is in danger.” In pre-state Israel it was el-Husseini (who despite his conviction for fomenting the riots that left six Jews dead and 200 injured, was released and appointed Grand Mufti the following year by the British authorities) who inspired and organized Arab pogroms. Today the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Jihad Islami and an assortment of other terrorist organizations who lionize him do the same, utilizing mass media and social media to carry graphic images extoling martyrdom to every Arab household and cell phone, overheating religious fervor and driving individuals to violence. This extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic indoctrination pervades Palestinian society already aroused by the tragic fallout of the Arab Spring and by the atrocities of ISIS.
Although the recent attacks have been undertaken mainly by “lone wolves,” the instigators cannot be acquitted of responsibility for both the Jewish and Arab deaths in the current wave of violence. As detailed in a recent report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, a research institute with close ties to Israel’s intelligence community, Palestinian politicians and media commentators continue to exploit the events to promote Palestinian national objectives, with the PA favoring continued violence and terrorism based on the concept of "wise popular resistance" – the kind that can be maintained over time with increasing and decreasing levels of intensity, on the assumption that eventually the Palestinians will exhaust Israel and force it to make political concessions; and Hamas that calls for turning the "popular arising" into an "armed intifada" in which shooting attacks, abducting IDF soldiers as bargaining chips and suicide bombing would be combined with military-type terrorist attacks to launch the “Third Intifada.”
The sheer scope of Arab demonization of Israel has led Ambassador Alan Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former Israeli ambassador to Canada, to conclude in a recent article that “Arab anti-Semitism is not only a matter of government manipulation, Islamist demagogy, organized propaganda, social backwardness, or raw, primitive hatred – though all of these elements are indeed present. It has cultural and intellectual legitimacy. Moreover, the ubiquity of the hate and prejudice exemplified by this hard-core anti-Semitism undoubtedly exceeds the demonization of earlier historical periods – whether the Christian Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, the Dreyfus Affair in France, or Tsarist Russia. The only comparable example would be that of Nazi Germany, in which we can also speak of an ‘eliminationist anti-Semitism’ of genocidal dimensions, which ultimately culminated in the Holocaust.”
As Israel marks 20 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the current wave of violence has reinforced the deep confusion and cognizant dissonance felt by all Israelis, except for the most ideological committed on the Left and Right, about the future prospects for peace and security as the country also faces looming threats from ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas along its borders. A recorded message from President Obama and a live appearance from former president Bill Clinton at Saturday night’s rally marking two decades since the assassination—both of whom seemed, to many, to place the onus for the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace making on the Israeli government—rang particularly hollow in the face of continued Palestinian rejection of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer for condition-free negotiations and their failure to build on successive Israeli concessions to develop a trajectory for peaceful coexistence. Rabin’s parting, and therefore principal, legacy, the Oslo Accords with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat -remain a point of deep contention within the country and seem particularly valueless in the prevention of incitement, noted repeatedly in the Accords and subsequent agreements as an essential element to achieving any peaceful resolution to the conflict.
One of the more recent examples came on official Palestinian television on Oct. 23 when PA Chairman Mahmud Abbas' advisor on Islamic Affairs and Supreme Shari'ah Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash demonized Jews and Israel in a sermon using classic anti-Semitic hate speech, presenting Jews as "evil" and Israel as "Satan's project." According to the reliable Palestinian Media Watch, Al-Habbash described the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as an expression of "the historic conflict" between "good and evil, between two projects: Allah's project vs. Satan's project."
It is hard to envision how any progress can be made until a different kind of discourse prevails or is enforced.
For anyone who has served in the Israeli army or who has children in active service, the viral video from an August 28 altercation between a lone Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier and a swarm of Palestinian women and children pummeling, clawing and biting him in an eventually successful effort to free 12-year-old Muhammad Tamimi—who he intended to arrest for throwing stones at troops—was emotionally wrenching.
Having just arrived that morning back to a sweltering Israel after a holiday in pleasantly cool Norway and pastoral Scotland, the images of this soldier left on his own for long minutes by his comrades as he tries to shake off the assailants—aided by some foreign instigators—while he is filmed from every possible angle by multiple still and video cameramen—left me with a sinking feeling.
This leads one to ask what can be done to better protect soldiers caught in this situation, and what best practices can be employed to counter such Palestinian-initiated, staged clashes, while unfriendly cameras are whirring and snapping away in a game of gotcha employed by much of the media covering the territories.
Indeed the staged—and therefore predictable—nature of the incident was recognized even by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, two British newspapers that are quick to tar and feather Israel at every turn, usually without looking back, that were forced to change their initial critical headlines and even to remove the report entirely from their web site when it became clear that the soldiers' assailants are known provocateurs, particularly his teenage sister Ahed and their radical parents.
Some Israeli commentators such as Nachum Barnea in Yedioth/YNet used the incident to bemoan again the debilitating impact the "occupation" is having on the State of Israel and its young soldiers; others see an entirely different message in the images—that the fearlessness with which Palestinian women and children accost an Israeli soldier armed with an assault rifle proves that they know full well that even when being hit, wrestled to the ground and nearly disarmed, he will not use his weapon, debunking claims of widespread brutality.
A look at longer YouTube posts of the incident tells a more nuanced story, still undoubtedly partial and skewered: Nebi Salah, where the encounter took place, has been a focus of violent Palestinian demonstrations for a number of years. Fridays are their favorite days for instigators to drum up a few women and children, perhaps with the promise of monetary remuneration, to march down the short access road out of the village toward a spring over which the village and a nearby Jewish settlement, Halamish, have been feuding for years.
The video shows a handful of Palestinian young men using the children and women as cover as they target IDF troops in the distance using potentially injurious high-velocity slings. The troops respond with tear gas as the Palestinians use their slings also to throw the canisters back at the troops.
Eventually, the troops advance uphill on the group when the 12-year old is caught by the soldier. These are scenes that have repeated themselves almost every Friday (I was witness to one about three years ago), which have raised renewed calls to train and deploy for just these kinds of situations.
That incident at Nebi Salah seems to have been a teaser for what has snowballed in recent weeks into a significant spurt of Palestinian stone and Molotov cocktail throwing in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, resulting already in one death of innocent Israeli motorist Alexander Levlovitz in Jerusalem, injury to a woman whose car overturned in Samaria and damage to cars, buses, train carriages and homes.
A flashpoint of the disturbances is the Temple Mount where both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas have been agitating for violence in an apparent attempt to disrupt Rosh Hashanah and traditional Jewish mass pilgrimage to the Western Wall during the Jewish High Holidays and to revive attention to the Palestinian issue that has been overshadowed by events in Syria and the European refugee crisis.
Just weeks ago, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called for violence by praising 'martyrs' spilling blood in Jerusalem to prevent Jews from entering the Temple Mount, saying, "the Al-Aqsa is ours...and they (Jews) have no right to defile it with their filthy feet." Israeli officials have reportedly blamed Turkey for hosting senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri who is responsible for remotely organizing terrorist attacks and funding the organization's incitement of Palestinian youth to attack Israelis.
Granted the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, has been the focus of much more Jewish interest in recent years, stoking general Muslim hysteria going back nearly a century about imaginary Jewish plots to undermine the mosques there. But this is a poor excuse.
In recent comments, Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan has accused Islamic rioters of barricading themselves in the Al Aqsa Mosque and turning Temple Mount into a "terror warehouse," stockpiled with makeshift bombs and rocks to use on police and Jewish worshipers in the Western Wall plaza below. He vowed to meticulously maintain the status quo under which all those who wish to visit Temple Mount will be allowed to do so.
In a rare emergency Friday meeting a few weeks ago, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee authorized the call-up of 10,000 reserve Border Policemen in order to quell the violence. Other measures that are being considered are imposing a 100,000 NIS bond on the parents of all minors convicted of stone throwing that will be returned only if the child commits no further offenses for a year, reintroduction of the less-lethal Ruger small caliber gun for use by security forces and tighter restrictions on entry onto the mount by Palestinian agitators and lawbreakers. Recent restrictions, that permitted only men over 40 to enter, seem to have worked the trick and the crowd dispersed without incident after noon prayers.
True to form, Arab countries, even those Israel maintains close diplomatic relations with—Egypt and Jordan—and those who, it was thought, might be silent allies in the future against their common enemy Iran—were quick to join the choir condemning only Israel.
The U.N. Security Council played into this attitude the week before last, passing a unanimous statement that failed even to mention Palestinian violence and referred to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name. Israel’s United Nations Ambassor Ron Prosor reacted aptly to the Security Council statement saying that “When the Palestinians set the Temple Mount ablaze, Mahmoud Abbas fuels the fire, and the Security Council fans the flames, it is a recipe for a regional explosion.”
The coming days will tell whether the measures instituted by the Israeli government will quell the unrest that put a general damper on the Jewish High Holiday spirit and caused untold pain to the family of Alexander Levlovitz, and other injured Israelis. Short of a miracle, the only choice left to Prime Minister Netanyahu is to meticulously uphold the status quo that allows Muslims to pray and non-Muslims to visit what is potentially the most explosive site in the world, bar none.
Just in recent days, a drive by shooting killed two young parents in front of their four children. In another attack, two Jewish men were murdered by Palestinian terrorists and a teenager was seriously wounded. With Palestinian terror attacks on the rise, Israel’s military needs to ensure it has appropriate responses in place.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Over the last few weeks an Israeli soldier was stabbed in the torso near the settlement of Nachliel by a 15-year old Palestinian girl while he was standing by a pillbox guard tower, and the security forces announced the arrest of two Palestinians for the June 24, 2015 murder of 70-year-old farmer David Bar Kafra of Rehovot, who was killed while tending his vineyard in Moshav Pedaya. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition where he later died from his wounds.
Most likely these attacks will be attributed to "lone wolves"—persons not acting on specific orders from any particular Palestinian terrorist organization but who are compelled by some other motivation to commit murder. These lone wolf attacks increased during Ramadan, including the stabbings of a female soldier near Bethlehem and a yeshiva student at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, a drive-by shooting in the Shomron that left one dead and three wounded, a shooting near Dolev that left one dead and a driving "accident" in Jerusalem that left one Israeli dead and another seriously wounded.
The attacks have rekindled discussion about whether they should be ascribed to the ongoing incitement against Israelis and Jews in the Palestinian media, school system and speeches by Palestinian Authority (PA) officials.
Criticizing the PA for not distancing itself from these attacks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in late June: "The fact that up until now, the Palestinian Authority has not condemned these attacks needs to bother not only us, but also the international community as a whole. Those who do not take an unequivocal stand against terrorism cannot wash their hands."
A few days later, Minister of Defense Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon charged the Palestinian Authority with responsibility for the wave of attacks because of the incitement that has been carried on official PA radio and television.
The PA's responsibility to stop incitement and hostile propaganda goes back to the very early days of the “Peace Process” and has been recognized from the outset as essential to the achievement of any peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement stipulates that “Israel and the [Palestinian] Council…shall abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other and…shall take legal measures to prevent such incitement by any organizations, groups or individuals within their jurisdiction…Israel and the [Palestinian] Council will ensure that their respective educations systems contribute to the peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and to peace in the entire region, and will refrain from the introduction of any motifs that could adversely affect the process of reconciliation.”
In annexes to the agreement, both sides committed to “act with respect for the values and human dignity of the other side” to focus their educational cooperation on “other ways of promoting better mutual understanding of their respective cultures” to “cooperate in enhancing dialogue and relations between their peoples.”
Since incitement—and terrorism—continued unabated in the PA despite these undertakings, the Wye River Memorandum of Oct. 23, 1998 included a provision under which the Palestinian side agreed to issue a decree prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence or terror and an agreement to establish a joint U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli committee to monitor cases of incitement to violence or terror and to make recommendations on how to prevent it. With little—but continuous arguments—to show for its work, the committee disbanded after about a year.
The Quartet’s “Roadmap to a Permanent Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" of 2003 specifically required that both sides end all incitement against the other by official institutions. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1515 that endorsed the Roadmap reiterated the demand for an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction.
Unfortunately, all these bilateral and international instruments have remained a dead letter as incitement continues in the PA unabated, coming in many different—some seemingly innocuous—forms.
One of the bluntest forms of incitement to violence is hero worship of terrorists. In the course of June and July alone, PA television carried the expressions of joy by a Palestinian mother at the martyrdom-death of her son; a killer of 67 Israeli civilians was honored by independent Ma'an TV; A PA-Fatah summer camp for kids, featured on various Palestinian news outlets, showed army-uniform clad kids brandishing AK-47 automatic weapons indoctrinated with slogans such as "What was taken by force, can only be restored by force," and youth football (soccer) teams were named for terrorists.
Another form of incitement is anti-Semitism, such as a PA TV program that carried a young girl reciting a poem calling Jews "barbaric monkeys," "the most evil among creations," and those "who murdered Allah's pious prophets." Jews are said to be "throngs... brought up on spilling blood... impure... [and] filth;" or a preacher at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque who told the crowd assembled that "[Jews] prepare their matzah... with the blood of children...They were burned in Germany because they kidnapped young children" to make matzah. (Compiled from Palestinian Media Watch).
Numerous cartoons in the Palestinian media also encourage terrorism. Another method that contributes to encouraging terrorism is the ongoing monthly payment--totaling an estimated $3-7 million annually from the PA budget—as salaries and other financial rewards to terrorists and their families.
Since taking office again in 2009, Netanyahu restored Palestinian incitement as a government priority, charging the Ministry of Strategic Affirms with maintaining an "incitement index" and raising the issue publicly and in official meetings. The last serious attempt to approach this issue was in February 2014 when the Israeli government rejected a Palestinian-American initiative to convene a tripartite committee to address incitement and education toward peace both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Then Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz made it clear to the American mediators that a condition for participating in such a committee would be a Palestinian confidence-building measure, like deleting provocative content from official PA websites. Steinitz argued that setting up such a committee would just allow the Palestinians to avoid dealing with the issue themselves on the grounds that there was a committee handling it.
A new, welcome, resolution (H.R. 293) titled "Expressing concern over anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement within the Palestinian Authority" submitted on June 3 to the U.S. House of Representatives by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) reiterates strong condemnation of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in the Palestinian Authority as antithetical to the cause of peace.
The resolution—after going through a long litany of examples of Palestinian incitement of the worst kind—also urges PA President Mahmud Abbas and Palestinian Authority officials to discontinue all official incitement and exert influence to discourage anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian civil society; and directs the State Department "to regularly monitor and publish information on all official incitement by the Palestinian Authority against Jews and the State of Israel."
With the Palestinian Authority now recognized as a state by the United Nations and by many individual states—including, most recently, the Vatican—it is high time to make it live up to its responsibility to curb deadly incitement. A good first step would be to throw support behind H.R. 293 and then keep Abba's feet to the fire by reporting every infraction to be included in the State Department's report.
Fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism: Will it Stem the Tide of Rising Hatred and Violence?
Spanning an unprecedented 1,200 participants from 80 countries and 7 religions, the fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism convened at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center on May 12-14 under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs Ministry. An impressive B’nai B’rith delegation, led by Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, took an active role in the forum’s deliberations and was noted by a number of key speakers as having made a significant contribution to the fight against anti-Semitism.
The gathering was arguably the largest-ever meeting of Jewish and non-Jewish experts, activists and government representatives single-mindedly dedicated to seeking ways to stem anti-Semitism. It took place in the foreboding shadow of growing anti-Jewish hatred and violence primarily in Europe, illustrated by three murderous, Islamist-motivated attacks in the past year against Jewish targets in Copenhagen, Paris and Brussels. The sheer magnitude of the gathering and the attention that it drew to the problem was the forum's initial success. A sense of urgency permeated the deliberations with the presentation of studies indicating that resurgent anti-Semitism is now at pre-Holocaust levels, with synagogues, schools, kosher markets, museums and other Jewishly-identifiable institutions coming under attack, along with individuals who are recognizably Jewish.
Two main themes—Confronting anti-Semitism and Hate Speech on the Internet and Social Media and The Rise of anti-Semitism in Europe’s Cities Today—helped to focus general discussion, but nearly a dozen other topics were tackled at the forum through a structure of regional and thematic working groups. Prior to the meeting, each working group submitted a well argued mission statement and they are now in the process of finalizing action plans based on intensive discussions held during the forum. As an example of the detail to which each of these groups delved, the working group on Internet and media, co-chaired by B'nai B'rith Canada Senior Honorary Counsel David Matas, formulated more than 65 recommendations for service providers, web hosting companies, social media platforms and search engines, governments and non-governmental organizations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the conference with a powerful warning that while many believed that after the Holocaust history’s oldest hatred would be discarded, “today there is no doubt that we are living in an age of resurgent anti-Semitism.”
“Jews everywhere are once again being slandered and vilified. This is taking place in the intolerant parts of the Middle East but it's also taking place in what otherwise would be expected to be the tolerant parts of the West. It's taking place in Beirut, in Damascus, in Tehran. But it's also taking place, violently so, in Toulouse, in Paris, in Brussels,” Netanyahu told the forum.
He cautioned, “contemporary anti-Semitism doesn't just slander, vilify and target the Jewish people. It first and foremost today targets the Jewish state … The demonstrations, the boycotts, the resolutions are all reserved for the Middle East's one true democracy, in fact it's the most beleaguered democracy on Earth, Israel … The sad truth is that no rational examination can justify the obsession with the Jewish state, and this obsession with the Jewish state and the Jewish people has a name. It's called anti-Semitism.”
Besides serving as a platform for devising a common plan of action for combating anti-Semitism for the participants and others devoted to this goal, the forum also provided an important opportunity for foreign political leaders to commit their countries and cities to the struggle. Tim Uppal, the Canadian minister of state for multiculturalism, said, “The anti-Semitism of old is re-emerging as human rights in an attempt to delegitimize Israel. This new anti-Semitism targets Jews by targeting Israel and attempt to make the old hatred and bigotry acceptable to a new generation. Our mission to fight the rise of the old and new anti-Semitism begins with acknowledging exactly what it is: racist, hate-filled and completely unacceptable. We as leaders must take a clear and unambiguous stand in support of Israel. For the government of Canada, Israel has an absolute and non-negotiable right to exist as a Jewish state."
Uppal ended by quoting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech to the Knesset in which he vowed, "Through fire and water Canada will stand with Israel.”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidlago reaffirmed that French Jews are French citizens and enjoy an inexorable right to live in France and to feel at home.
She declared that “without Jews, France would not be the same country and Paris would not be the same city. We do not want that to happen, ever. We will not tolerate any action against the security and religious freedom of the Jewish community. We will not tolerate anti-Jewish speeches and conspiracy theories. This is absolutely unacceptable. Violence against Jews in France calls for a national reckoning.”
Hiko Mass, federal minister of justice and consumer protection in Germany declared, “Although Hitler was defeated 70 years ago, his ideas unfortunately live on. 1,500 anti-Semitic criminal offenses were committed in Germany in 2014. Given our history, the fact that this sort of thing happens in Germany is a disgrace for our country.”
Speaking on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Nickolay Mladenov, recently appointed special U.N. coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said that the secretary-general wants to shine a torch on the problems of anti-Semitism, discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia and other challenges faced in today’s world.
Mladenov utilized his speech to announce that the United Nations will convene later this year a meeting of civil society leaders to confront anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. “We all share the responsibility to eradicate anti-Semitism and fight it at its roots …The U.N. believes that we must speak out against all forms of intolerance and stand firmly against those who deny the Holocaust. The denial of Israel’s right to exist is often a manifestation of exactly the same ugly bias. The pursuit of justice for all, including for the Palestinian people and the pursuit of peace in the Middle East must not be used to justify violence or hatred against Jews in their communities.”
He concluded by calling on communities to “close the empathy gap” between them and find common understanding.
Ambassador Szabolcs Takacs, Hungarian chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, warned that many forms of radicalism are on the rise in many European countries and societies. Takacs also called on every country to adopt rules and regulations that penalize anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Additionally, he stressed the need to adopt Holocaust education and to establish centers and museums that follow the internationally accepted narrative of Holocaust remembrance: "to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
And U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro pledged "You can count on the United States not to let up. You can count on the United State to be unequivocal wherever legitimate criticism of Israel degenerates into an excuse for anti-Semitism or incitement to violence. You can count on the United States to rally others to that cause and to pursue justice and accountability at home and abroad ant to speak truth in the face of anti-Semitic rhetoric, innuendo and conspiracy theories, no matter the source."
Notwithstanding the importance of these commitments by senior government officials, their significance was put into question by the doyen of the study of anti-Semitism, professor Robert Wistrich, head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of anti-Semitism and author of the most comprehensive book on the subject: A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad.
Wistrich asked: If things are so good and the Jews have so many strong supporters around the world, why are they so bad? He said that while traditional anti-Semitism in its various forms is still present, and in some places even resurgent, it is not the core issue today. Rather, since the beginning of this century, the focus of anti-Semitic attacks has been primarily directed against the State of Israel as the embodiment of collective Jewish existence and symbol of the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. This is the primary vector through which anti-Semitic ideas are expressed. And, Wistrich argued, it is radical Islam that spearheads this latest brand of Israel and Jew hatred around the world today. Professor Wistrich--who suddenly died of a heart attack while in Rome to address the Italian Senate less than a week after he spoke to the forum--stressed that his intention was not to attack Islam, but rather Islamism which constitutes the abuse or exploitation of one of the world’s great universal faiths for Jihad, with excesses the world can see.
“We cannot ignore the nexus that exists in recent decades between the most murderous, lethal forms of anti-Semitism and hostility toward other minorities that has spilled over into Europe,” Wistrich said.
Wistrich noted an axiom posited by many of the earlier speakers, that Holocaust education is an antidote to anti-Semitism. But he stated that Holocaust imagery and vocabulary are systematically abused today to brand Jews and Israelis as Nazis and Palestinians as victims of this new form of Nazism (“Holocaust inversion”).
Wistrich’s final point was that along with anti-Zionism and Israel-hatred as the central vector of contemporary anti-Semitism, a parallel phenomenon has emerged of Palestine as a kind of redemptive religion that can be realized only if it is fully liberated, completely supplanting Israel. Palestinian anti-Semitism can never be justified. Palestinian anti-Semitism becomes especially challenging as it takes the form of conspiracy theories of the most extreme and brazen kinds that are adopted to the needs of this political struggle. Wistrich urged the participants to confront this challenge, not ignore it.
The success of these deliberations on tamping down the rising tide of anti-Semitism will be tried in the coming weeks and months as each of the working groups submit their action plan to the forum. While no panacea for sure, the 5th Global Forum has the potential of serving as a major milestone in the fight against anti-Semitism, although the task remains daunting.
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