Lebanon’s new prime minister, Najib Mikati, made it clear in a press conference last week that he would do everything in his power to reverse his country’s descent into economic chaos. He said he’d cooperate with anyone and everyone to transform Lebanon’s current crisis, “with the exception of Israel, of course.”
Notwithstanding Israel’s offer of humanitarian assistance made weeks ago, Mikati’s throwaway dismissal of contact with his neighbor to the south is the stuff from which decades of Arab rejectionism of peace with Israel was made. It is a remnant of the Arab League’s “Three No’s” declared in Khartoum in 1967 in the aftermath of the Six-Day War: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiations” with Israel. Full stop.
Major breaches in that Arab League wall began with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s historic peace agreement in 1979, and then the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty signed by Jordan’s King Hussein and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin in 1994. But early optimism that set in after these two agreements dissipated with the intifadas from 1987-1991 and 2000-2005.
With two anniversaries in the history of Middle East peacemaking upon us this week, it’s important to praise those who have taken steps to break with nihilism and rejection, and to call out those who have made a business of perpetuating violence and hatred.
I was among those present on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, for the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
There was a sense of incredulity and of “did we ever think we’d see this day” in the air as the principals, led by US President Bill Clinton, and observed by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, signed the appropriate documents.
I did not have a front row seat, but I was close enough to see the pained look on Rabin’s face as Clinton encouraged the Israeli prime minister and PLO leader Yasser Arafat to shake hands. Not pained because of the historic moment, but most likely because Arafat’s hands were soiled by 30 years of terrorism, and responsible for the deaths of so many Israelis in some of the most heinous acts imaginable.
It had to have been one of the most difficult moments of Rabin’s life — and it showed. I’m sure many in the crowd were asking themselves if Arafat could be trusted.
The other anniversary, on September 15, will mark one year since the signing of the Abraham Accords, on the same White House lawn. Many of those in the assembled crowd had been there in 1993, as well, though this time, they were wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was also the same feeling of expectation and optimism, as President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain appeared on the White House South Lawn balcony, then descended the staircase to sign the Abraham Accords normalization agreement.
From my seat, I saw not pained looks on the faces of the principals, but a sense of breakthrough and accomplishment. In a way, the signing ceremony lingered, as if in slow motion, to allow all those present to savor the moment.
In the weeks that followed, Sudan, and Morocco — with its iconic Jewish history and ties to Israel’s hundreds of thousands of Jews born in that country and their descendants — joined in, pledging to normalize relations with Israel.
If there was anything discordant at all about the events of a year ago, it is because for the previous nearly three decades, the Palestinian issue was cast as being the indispensable icebreaker in Middle East diplomacy. It was seen as the Gordian Knot preventing Israel’s acceptance in the region. Policy maker after policy maker, in the US, in Europe, and at the United Nations, perpetuated this conventional wisdom. It became a mantra that guided any number of failed initiatives to push an Israeli-Palestinian agreement — by hook or by crook.
But, like the carefully executed back-channel Israeli-Egyptian contacts that produced the treaty between those two countries, forward-looking diplomats in the Gulf and in Israel saw solid reasons to find common cause to bring them together: a hegemonistic Iran and any number of economic and other joint ventures that just made plain good diplomatic sense.
The Oslo Accords held the same promise, but that was not to be.
Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas continuously played a double game, at times paying lip service to the idea of negotiations, but all the while making it abundantly clear that they were unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, keeping their hand in the business of demonizing and delegitimizing Israel at the United Nations, and either signing off on terrorist acts against Israel, or rewarding those (and their families) who carry them out.
The words “good will” were never part of either leader’s lexicon. Since Oslo, an entire generation of Palestinians has been raised on a succession of false hopes and expectations; on hatred of Israel and of Jews; and on zero-sum demands by leaders who themselves have become enriched by their titled positions and political clout.
In the past year alone, trade between Israel and the UAE and between Israel and Bahrain has grown exponentially. Banking, cyber security, and environmental quality agreements have been signed, and academic institutions are partnering with each other. An important agreement to advance the quality of healthcare, including pandemic research, has also been signed by Israel and the UAE.
But perhaps the most important developments of all have been in the people-to-people and getting-to-know-you realm. Exchange students are studying at universities in the Abraham Accords countries. Memoranda of Understanding on combating antisemitism and on Holocaust education have been signed with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. Air links have been established between Israel and these new partners; hundreds of thousands of Israelis have already traveled to all three destinations, and the prospect of thousands of visitors in the other direction — to Israel — shows promise as well, the pandemic notwithstanding.
It is currently impossible to write a paragraph about the Palestinian issue with any of the same upbeat sense of the future. The leaders in Ramallah have seen this parade passing by and it seemingly hasn’t opened any eyes about their own condition. They are mired in hate and rejection. Try as they did to push back against the Abraham Accords, wagging fingers and issuing empty threats at its participants, they have shown themselves to be angry and hateful, living in the past, and cultivating a profile of victimhood that they appear to want to very much perpetuate.
This being the Middle East, anything can happen on any given day that can change the immediate course of history. But these two anniversaries present a stark picture of what happens when one party makes intransigence a policy, and when others see the benefits not only in burying the hatchet, but in working to make the neighborhood a safer, more prosperous place for everyone.
For those who have chosen the second path, happy anniversary.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
Recently, my wife was reading an article in the New York Times, “How Deceptive Campaign Fund-Raising Ensnares Older People,” that details how political campaigns take advantage of seniors. As I work at the Center for Senior Services (CSS), she pointed me in the direction of the story, which grabbed my attention. After conducting further research, I discovered that seniors have been victimized by political campaigns that implement deceptive practices.
The article highlights that when individuals donate money online, campaigns employ prechecked boxes that automatically sign up donors for recurring payments. Donors have to uncheck the box in order to escape the recurring donation. According to the Times, it’s not just prechecked boxes, but seniors are targeted with headlines that reference “Social Security” and use provocative headlines like “Final Notice” and “lose the House for good” to encourage contributions. In addition, the Times reported on Victor Amelino, a California resident who is 78 and retired. He made a $900 campaign contribution that unknowingly increased to $8,000. Amelino said, “I’m retired. I can’t afford to pay all that damn money.”
According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Political Data Inc., in California refunds from political donations during the 2020 election cycle skewed heavily towards seniors. For example, the average age for refunds was about 65 and around 60% of refunds went to individuals aged 60 and over. Clearly this is a problem impacting older Americans.
However, hope is not lost! Recently the FEC, in a bipartisan unanimous vote, recommended that Congress pass legislation that bans political campaigns from automatically making one-time donations into recurring payments. Acting on the recommendation, Sens. Dick Durbin and Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation called, “Rescuing Every Contributor from Unwanted Recurrences” (RECUR Act) that forbids prechecked donation boxes from being used by political campaigns. “As we work to reform our campaign finance system, we must ensure that people are empowered to make their voices heard—but that will only happen if Americans trust that campaigns aren’t taking advantage of them through tactics like pre-checked recurring donation boxes,” said Klobuchar. “Following the FEC’s unanimous vote, it’s clear we should take action to ban this practice and ensure contributors are fully informed. This legislation will do just that.”
In addition, New York, Minnesota, Maryland and Connecticut’s attorneys generals have begun requesting documents from both political parties to investigate this practice. New York Attorney General Letitia James in a letter wrote, “Our offices have significant experience with prechecked solicitations and other forms of ‘negative option’ marketing to consumers. We believe that such solicitations can be inherently misleading, and result in consumers making unwanted and unintended purchases.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just political campaigns; political action committees (PACs) also prey on seniors. PACs are organizations that solicit money—depending on their classifications—for the purpose of spending the funds on candidates, political parties or independent political expenditures. According to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, reputable PACs spend less than 25% of their donations on fundraising and warn that most spending should be directed towards candidates and other political efforts.
In 2019, in Montgomery County, Maryland, the Government Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) conducted an investigation into Heroes United PAC, an organization that claimed to support the volunteer fire department. According to the OCP’s findings, 90% of their revenue was directed toward telemarketing vendors that solicited donations, which were connected to the PAC. Furthermore, the telemarketers used Montgomery County area codes and addresses to make the PAC look legitimate. Ultimately, the two sides reached a settlement where the PAC agreed to refund all donations since 2017 and to discontinue contacting county residents.
Fortunately, the AARP published articles, “Fraudsters Use Political Action Committees to Rip Off Older Americans” and "Political Scams," that provide useful cautionary information so seniors can avoid getting victimized. The AARP suggests visiting the FEC’s website to learn about how PACs spend their money, visit the PAC’s website to identify their senior leadership and warn against donating to organizations that contact you randomly and ask for private information.
About a year ago the Pew Research Center released a poll that indicated 20% of Americans “trust the government in Washington to ‘do the right thing’ just about always or most of the time.” While I believe the federal government never gets credit for its success stories, sometimes you read articles like the ones in the Times, and it explains people’s lack of faith in elected officials. Sadly, money in politics is not going away, which means that we must remain vigilant against misleading campaign practices. Hopefully, legislation like the RECUR Act can be signed into law, which is an important first step toward protecting people, in particular seniors, from deceptive campaign fundraising.
As we experience the trajectory of anti-Semitism in history and during one’s own life, it’s natural to feel hopeless. Hate will endure, but it’s still possible to celebrate and enjoy the efforts made to acknowledge the legacy of the Jewish people, as well as to take pride in the end result: contributions that improved life for all.
The city of Goerlitz in Saxony, a part of East Germany after World War II, had a Jewish population between 600 and 700 in 1888, when its B’nai B’rith Victoria Lodge first met. Fewer Jews were living there when a new synagogue opened in 1911. Adopted from the basilica plan, the structure was far from standard, boasting attractive modern additions. Contributing to its unique visual interest was a centrally located structure containing a space which congregants used. Its tiled, domed roof had been topped with a Star of David mounted on a pole. A then-cutting-edge feature of the building was the Art Nouveau and Secessionist elements applied to the exterior and places in the sanctuary. Yet, even in 1911, few of the assimilated Goerlitz Jews worshiped there.
Only 300 Jews remained in Goerlitz when the Nazis set the synagogue ablaze on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938. Thanks to the local firemen who disobeyed orders and extinguished the fire, it was the only synagogue in Saxony to survive. Farm animals roamed the damaged structure for years after the war, but eventually the East German government repurposed the space for public events. Genuine preservation efforts only began after the 1991 reunification. Now, thanks to efforts by Goerlitz’s 30-member Jewish community, its Christian groups and civic associations, the synagogue has been brought back to life. Known as the Cultural Forum Synagogue Goerlitz, it’s intended for both worship and performing arts, and its July 2021 opening was celebrated with a stellar concert, attended by German political leaders, clergy and other notables. Speakers included the prime minister of Saxony, Rabbi Akiva Weingarten of Dresden and the Mayor of Goerlitz.
Millions of euros for the 30-year project came from government grants, foundations and several anonymous philanthropists. Alex Jacobowitz, a cantor and president of the Goerlitz Jewish community, will pay to re-enforce the domed roof to support the Star of David. Parts of the synagogue, including the Exodus verse formerly inscribed on the lintel over the entryway—“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them”—intentionally remain in disrepair to evoke Kristallnacht. Jacobowitz, the historian of the Goerlitz Synagogue, has observed: “I have always found it important that the synagogue has continued to show its scars …”
As much as London was pivotal to the history of Zionism for its important Jewish leaders and as the location of the signing of the Balfour Declaration, the city of Manchester is even more connected with the genesis and the fruition of this important event. In the years before World War I, Zionist leader and German émigré Chaim Weizmann, teaching at Manchester University, served as the first president of the city’s constantly growing B’nai B’rith lodge. Its members—both emigres that had come to join him, and wealthy and influential merchants and manufacturers native to this industrial city—were all supporters of Weizman’s mission, the creation of a Jewish homeland. More than any other Jewish leader in England, it was his efforts that culminated in the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
Although Manchester’s reputation as a working-class city held true for many decades, gentrification has been impacting its changing neighborhoods. Dating to 1874, its oldest synagogue, located in a warehouse enclave, served as the Manchester Jewish Museum.
Funded by a two-year Capital Development Project, the synagogue/museum was restored and the museum space was expanded into a newly constructed adjacent building, highlighted by an attractive exterior fabricated in weather resistant, patinated steel. The eight-pointed star motifs punched into the façade, intended to welcome people of all backgrounds into the museum, also serve to emanate shafts of light from the museum’s interior. Its weathered, shed-like appearance harmonizes with neighboring warehouse buildings.
In addition to revamped exhibits and innovative spaces including a kitchen for interactive cuisine demonstrations, the museum has partnered with the 2021 Manchester International Festival to commission Turner Prize-winning British artist Laure Prouvost’s “The long waited, weighted gathering,” a site-specific installation fusing video, sound, and fine and decorative arts together with found objects from the synagogue and textiles woven by Manchester’s women congregants, which can be viewed this summer in the women’s gallery. Prouvost wanted her vision to meld to “the beautiful textures and architecture, to the history of this amazing place. I was inspired by the ideas of ceremonies and rituals that we bring from histories.”
CEO Op-ed in JNS: U.N. Human Rights Council: When It Comes to Israel, Still Driving on Biased Retreads
(July 27, 2021 / JNS) That “history repeats itself” is not only a shopworn axiom, it is, like other clichés, oftentimes true.
The appointment last week of Navi Pillay, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to head up an investigation of the “root causes” and “systemic abuses” emanating from the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May comes as no surprise.
The mandate of the investigation is to look at “all underlying root causes or recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systemic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
In other words, using kangaroo-court vernacular for singling out Israel for defending itself in the face of daily barrages of indiscriminate fire emanating from Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Furthermore, this newly named commission has no specified shelf life and can continue to investigate Israel indefinitely.
We’ve seen this call to criticize before, especially on Pillay’s watch at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). During her six-year tenure at the UNHRC in Geneva, she more than once held her thumb on the scale when opining on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2010, Pillay oversaw the work of the special commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, tasked by the UNHRC with investigating the fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2008 and 2009. That report, which was biased against Israel and distorted the facts surrounding that three-week war, concluded that Israel may have been guilty of war crimes.
In 2014, Pillay convened another investigation into fighting between Israel and Hamas, again showing her biased hand in evaluating the causes and the outcome of that war. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated,” she said, “in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She criticized Israel for use of disproportionate force and for its disregard for civilian lives. The UNHRC, in what has become the usual feverish diplomatic hysteria that surrounds fighting between Israel and Hamas, created “an independent commission of inquiry” that would look into “all violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”
Once again, the Human Rights Council demonstrated its bias and callous disregard for the facts. It should be recalled that Israel had actually withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, nine years before the 2014 resolution, citing “the occupied Gaza Strip,” was adopted. More important to note, though, is the broad band of responsibility that the resolution arrogated to the investigative committee: indeed, what did “East Jerusalem” have to do with Israel defending itself against Hamas rockets?
In both 2010 and again in 2014, Pillay did mention Hamas rocket fire into Israel. But given the heavy-handed focus on Israeli military actions, the reports’ references to Hamas had the look and feel of throwaways, as an afterthought placed in the texts of these resolutions to cover the UNHRC’s tracks.
Indeed, in 2014, Pillay accused Hamas of not practicing “the principle of distinction and precaution.” In other words, “disproportionate response” was being tossed around liberally by her and others with regard to Israel, while Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli population centers was lightly let off the hook with diplomatic language that required three readings to understand exactly what was “distinction and precaution.”
And if there is still any doubt as to where Pillay stands on the issue, consider this: In 2014, she pointedly criticized the United States for not sharing Iron Dome technology (that has allowed Israel to shoot down most incoming rockets targeting its populated areas) with Hamas. At the time, Pillay said, “No such protection has been provided to the Gazans against the shelling.” In other words, why isn’t the United States arming terrorists?
In May, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and an incessant critic of Israel in her own right, said that Israeli attacks on Gaza might constitute war crimes. That led to the appointment of one of her predecessors, Pillay, to begin the process of publicly flaying Israel for the third time in 15 years. Even though the naming of Pillay to the post was done in the name of the current UNHRC president, there is little doubt that Bachelet’s influence was in play.
The United Nations is now in its 76th year, but it has been apparent for decades that many of its agencies and committees, like the Human Rights Council, stocked as they are with countries that participate in bloc voting and who engage in oftentimes mindless herd mentality, can be counted on to pounce on Israel whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Investigations into Israel’s justified responses to rocket attacks from Hamas, or its earlier and current responses to innumerable terrorist attacks, only serve to politicize and marginalize the organization. The United Nations, whose original mission was to promote peace in the international community, now often appears as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian narrative—predictable and yet dangerous because such activity only serves to reward terrorism, and raises expectations of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that they have the international community at their backs.
We should not be surprised by the outcome of the upcoming UNHRC “investigation” into the recent fighting in Gaza. Indeed, this commission of inquiry will no doubt pull from the shelf reports filed by the Goldstone Commission and that which the UNHRC inquiry produced in 2014. Which is to say: The Pillay Commission’s findings are likely already written.
The good news, I suppose, is that the Abraham Accords, which brought four Arab countries into the peace fold with Israel, will soon observe its first anniversary. The spirit of those agreements represents the future; they are a promising pathway to cooperation and co-existence.
Rather than convene yet another commission to castigate Israel, the UNHRC would have done far better to establish a commission to investigate why the Palestinians—now approaching 28 years after the Oslo Accords—refuse to engage in serious negotiations with Israel. Or, perhaps, a report focusing on Hamas’s obsession with bringing about Israel’s demise.
Now that would be a real contribution to advancing human rights.
Read Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
The effects of the May 2021 continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been felt around the world. With the rise of criticism against the Jewish state, a predictable wave of anti-Semitism has followed. Beyond the anonymous fringe population that spouts anti-Semitism unabashedly on the internet, a new population has emerged; it is made up of individuals who have a face—my friends, my classmates and even my teachers—and who are hiding behind Israeli politics to marginalize the Jewish community.
I had already left campus when the new wave of anti-Israel “activism” hit social media. I opened my profiles on Instagram and Twitter, and overwhelmingly found my peers reposting one-sided infographics about the conflict on their stories. Then came a very popular addition to posts: “From the river to the sea,” the Hamas terrorist group’s motto which strives for not only the eradication of Israel, but also of all Jewish people. The virality of the subject quickly turned from Pro-Palestinian to anti-Jewish, from rewriting the history of the state’s establishment to comparing Israel’s discrimination of Palestinian citizens to the Nazi regime committing the atrocities of the Holocaust.
I asked some Jewish college students for their own perspective on the issue, as well as their experience of online anti-Semitism translating to its presence at their schools. Jake Egelberg, a sophomore at Northeastern University, responded “Why should Israel be wiped off the map for discriminatory policies, while countries like Yemen, Iraq, Myanmar, China and Sudan are actively committing genocides?” and shared his own experience after publicly supporting the Jewish state.
Jake writes for his school newspaper and published an op-ed in March 2021 titled “The anti-Semitism of the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement” for the Huntington News. The article was an elaboration of the criticism that the BDS movement singles out Israel’s political record as the world’s only Jewish state, and thus promotes anti-Semitic messaging. Jake faced a strong backlash on his posts sharing the story, including personal attacks. Huntington News elected to take down its promotions of the article on twitter, a first for the paper despite controversies surrounding other pieces going against mainstream opinions at the university.
“I worry which of the strangers around me thinks I support genocide. I fear that one day, one of these people will act on their belief,” he wrote in response to his situation. I share his worry. With the exponential rise of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide, these fears are not unfounded. Just a few weeks ago, a rabbi was stabbed outside a Jewish school by a college student in Brighton, a neighborhood west of the Northeastern campus in Boston.
It is still difficult for me to understand why all these people—people I know—continue to support a biased narrative that encourages anti-Semitic hate crimes while excusing the violent actions and violations of the other parties to the conflict. I’ve come to question whether I should be worried about going back to campus in the fall as a Jewish student. Can I mention to an acquaintance that a large part of my family was born, raised and lives in Israel? Should I hide the fact that I am hoping to do a Birthright trip to the country with my Hillel Chapter in the spring?
With the rise in tensions and violence toward Israel and Jewish people in the past months, it is unclear what the return to campus means for Jewish students like me. With universities like Pomona College beginning to refuse funding to mainstream Jewish organizations like Hillel and Chabad, safe spaces for our community on college campuses are actively threatened. Whether or not individual Jewish students support Israel, the criticisms against the state affect all of our safety and security at schools across the country. And the extent of student activism for minority groups seems to end at the Jewish community, right when it’s needed most.
Dianne Strauss works as a summer intern with B’nai B’rith International. She attends Johns Hopkins University as a rising Sophomore.
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