At the turn of the 21st century, much of the world feared computers around the world would crash, setting off all kinds of millennial chaos. It didn’t happen. Clocks continued to tick; computers continued to run.
For the United Nations, perhaps the time was right for another chance to rid the world of racism, end slavery, and sex trafficking of women and children. Perhaps it was time to conquer famine and disease. In 2001, planning for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance took shape. The site for this noble, if not symbolic event, was Durban, a location on the southern coast of Africa, a continent racked by all of the above problems.
As often happens with the United Nations, a space built on visions of peace, the event aimed at fighting humanity’s millennia-old maladies would devolve into a hatefest. Durban, instead, would become a battleground against an ancient people who’d build an identity from receiving a divine code of human behavior and entering a sliver of real estate bordering the Mediterranean. Four days into the event, the United States and Israel withdrew their delegations in protest.
Twenty years after Durban, the very United Nations that organized and promoted the original Durban Conference announced another round of fighting human rights and racism. Fast-forward 20 years into the 21st century. Something called the “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (DDPA) is planned to offer “discussions” that will become a report to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly at its 76th session in 2021 and the Human Rights Council’s 45th session. Can’t wait. And neither can Iran.
The representative of Iran requested that on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the DDPA, the Intergovernmental Working Group would “address the wide range of issues addressed in the DDPA, as well as the new manifestations of discrimination,” in particular issues of “xenophobia and Islamophobia.” So full of irony is this request from one of the chief violators of human rights in the world that one can only wonder if such a request from this member-nation makes the entire event a nonstarter, at least for the United States and Israel.
Other nations have requested that the 20th anniversary of Durban be celebrated with “one thematic event” in Geneva and one “high-level political event” in New York. Other groups requested producing promotional materials and “high visibility” from such countries as South Africa and Cuba, among others. Much, if not all, of the free world must wonder if the phrase “well-intentioned” has a chance to be relevant here. What’s more, the plans call for member states, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, of which B’nai B’rith International is so credentialed, to organize and participate in the Durban 20th anniversary programs.
The framework for this meeting is beginning to sound awfully like something the world has already witnessed in the first Durban Conference. Are we headed for Durban déjà vu—another hatefest?
When the governments of Iran, Cuba and South Africa figure prominently in the planning, it’s reasonable to feel skepticism. Will the funds budgeted for this conference perpetuate United Nations bias against Israel? This funding could surely be better spent on reducing famine and sickness.
What else would make such a conference fruitful? Dream about these developments: the U.N. conference opens with a salute to Gulf States and other countries seeking peace and normalized relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority declares the end of its covenant to destroy the State of Israel. Gone is the drumbeat of language declaring Israel an “apartheid state.” A new Palestinian government replaces its covenant and ceases uttering the refrain about how Israel targets innocent children and stops claiming the Temple Mount and the Western Wall have no attachment to the Jewish people. Imagine the progress in such a world. Nice dream. (Snap) Wake up.
Twenty years ago, while people from the free world were packing for Durban, pre-conference documents assailed Israel for “the racist practices of Zionism.” In 2021, contrary to popular belief, many in the world understand and appreciate positive contributions of Muslims and their faith in God. At the same time, no one can honestly deny Islamophobia or xenophobia of any kind, particularly when significant parts of the world live with extremist threats to kill other people, destroy other faiths or cultures and “annihilate” Israel.
Twenty years ago, delegations condemned Israel for her “treatment of Palestinians” in defending her borders. Never mind the relentless terror directed at Israel, the tunneling, kidnappings, stabbings of civilians, the firing missiles at Israeli towns from Gaza homes, schools, hospitals, even mosques.
The DDPA should try again to promote racial reconciliation, to construct a message of peace and harmony and do what the United Nations was designed to do since 1945 — “to prevent conflict, to help parties in conflict to make peace or to create conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish.” Avoid Durban Déjà vu.
Read President Kaufman's expert analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
Located in the Marais District in Paris, le Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme houses a superb collection of periodicals, photos, graphics and other materials connected to the Dreyfus Affair, which is remembered as critical to modern Jewish history, and as having a pivotal impact on Theodor Herzl—formerly an advocate for assimilation—and his intense desire to create a Jewish homeland. The museum has recently acquired a collection of 200 illustrations by journalist and artist Maurice Feuillet depicting the proceedings at the trial of Emile Zola in 1898, and at Dreyfus’ second court-martial in 1899.
An observant Jew and patriotic Army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted in 1894 of selling secrets to Germany after a sham trial in which witnesses lied and forged documents were submitted as evidence. In egalitarian France, his supposed crime opened the floodgates of hatred for the Jews as an ethnic group, revealed in the thousands of caricatures, anti-Semitic editorials and even board games preserved today. Two years later the real traitor was identified, leading to novelist Emile Zola’s open letter to the president of France, published on the front page of the journal L’Aurore in 1898. In it, he accused specific individuals in the French government of subverting the truth. Subjected to death threats and mob violence, Zola was tried and convicted for insulting authority. Dreyfus was pardoned and released from confinement on Devil’s Island after his second trial in 1899, but he was not exonerated until 1906.
A sampling of Feuillet’s sketches reveals his sources in Japanese art. With an economy of line, the young artist assigned to cover the trials conveys the stoicism of the physically deteriorated Captain Dreyfus, now ill and emotionally spent from his five-year imprisonment and the shame he had suffered. Her back to the viewer, Mrs. Dreyfus is rendered in profile, dignified and perfectly attired in a dark shirtwaist and plumed hat. At his 1898 trial, Zola glares at a man who is perhaps the prosecuting attorney. His expression defiant, the writer adopts a posture that may have been disrespectful in a court of law at that time, one leg crossed over the other. It is not difficult to discern that Feuillet was in sympathy with the innocent man and those who were fighting for justice.
It’s satisfying to learn that elsewhere in Europe, plans are going ahead to mount exhibits that were cancelled due to the pandemic. At London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, “Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty,” which was to have been on view in 2020, has been rescheduled and can now be seen from May through November of this year. A survey of the artist’s woodcuts, the show is comprised of art loaned from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.
As Elizabeth Smith, the Foundation’s director, has commented: “The extensive survey of Frankenthaler’s woodcuts is an exciting opportunity to introduce the artist’s printmaking to U.K. audiences through works from our collection. It will continue to advance the understanding and appreciation of her ground-breaking contributions to art.”
Celebrated for her lyrical interpretation of Abstract Expressionism and her impact on the New York and Washington Color Field School, Frankenthaler was born in New York City in 1928, and studied art at Bennington College. After she was discovered by influential critic Clement Greenberg early in her career, she became a star and exhibited her large-scale paintings widely. Referencing the methods of first-generation Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, her process involved pouring and dripping that resulted in an entirely different, lyrical effect, produced by the thinning of the paint absorbed by the raw canvas and her use of a wide range of translucent tonalities.
Later, Frankenthaler would expand her medium, even applying the juicy residue of crushed berries on the surface of the canvas.
Mounted a decade after her death in 2011, the Dulwich installation will shine a light on the artist’s constantly evolving style and experimental methods through its focus on her large-scale, fluid and painterly woodcuts, executed from the 1970s on. Employing innovative processes and unconventional tools, Frankenthaler continued to draw inspiration from the aesthetics of Japan. A number of the woodcuts in the installation—including the room-sized “Madame Butterfly” (2000), produced in collaboration with Tyler Graphics artist Kenneth Tyler and woodblock print specialist Yasuyuki Shibata—represent a fusion of American and Japanese printmaking methods.
At B’nai B’rith we are a proud sponsor of affordable senior housing across the country. The goal of our Senior Housing Network is to provide seniors with quality, affordable housing in a secure, supportive community environment. What makes many of our buildings special are the service coordinators who work at the properties and connect residents with services in the community that allows seniors to age in place and not move to more costly facilities. Service coordinators play a vital role in the operation of our senior housing buildings, and their work has never been more critical than during the pandemic.
Prior to the virus, interacting with residents was a big part of service coordinators’ job. Obviously, given rules regarding social distancing, speaking with residents in close proximity has become problematic. Along with the limitations the pandemic has put on older Americans, the role of service coordination has dramatically changed. Recently, the American Association of Service Coordinators (AASC) and Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies issued a report entitled “For Older Adults in Publicly Funded Housing During the Pandemic, Service Coordinators Help Build Resilience,” detailing the ways service coordinators’ jobs have changed because of the virus. Results are based on surveys from service coordinators in June and July who are members of AASC, with 79 percent of those surveyed being people who work with individuals over 62 years old.
For starters, service coordinators have been asked to perform work left vacant by in-person or personal care assistants that normally help residents with housekeeping, laundry and dressing. Because of the pandemic, this type of assistance has not been as accessible to residents. In addition, the study reported that many residents did not have enough food, medicine and household supplies to isolate for a week. Consequently, service coordinators worked to remedy these problems, in part by reaching out to local donor organizations and distributing resources once it reached the property.
The study further reports that 74 percent of service coordinators found their residents exhibited more loneliness and anxiety. One service coordinator who was surveyed wrote, “I have had many conversations with residents who are very lonely, anxious and tired of being isolated. A lot of our residents have positive attitudes during this time, but it has taken a toll on their mental/emotional health. [I have] observed residents who are sad and feeling desperate to socialize.” In response, service coordinators encouraged residents to decorate their doors and created writing contests. In addition, these coordinators scheduled activities like scavenger hunts and bingo that allowed residents to enjoy themselves and practice social distancing.
Samara Scheckler, postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and co-author of the study said, “For older adults living in publicly-funded housing, the early months of COVID-19 highlighted the critical role service coordinators played in maintaining the stability of resident housing and health through a period of major change. With interruptions in access to food, medicine, medical care, personal assistance and social supports, service coordinators filled in many gaps. They linked residents to community resources, managed public benefits, coordinated informal supports, facilitated residents’ access to and ability to use technology, communicated emerging public health guidance and knit together peer-support networks. Service coordinators ensured residents had access to the resources needed to manage their physical and mental health and maintain their housing through intense disruption.”
The study’s findings are similar to what the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services (CSS) is hearing from our Senior Housing Network. For instance, once the pandemic began we started a weekly B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network Zoom call, and we held our yearly Senior Housing Conference and Managers and Service Coordinators Meeting virtually. These meetings provide a forum for property managers and service coordinators to share new ideas, hear success stories and speak directly with their colleagues across the country facing similar challenges. Also during these virtual meetings, issues such as social isolation were addressed using case studies and by providing resources through our website.
Furthermore, we were able to discuss COVID-19 related scams with our building staff. As an example, we showed an email where the sender claimed to be from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and offered five million dollars in exchange for personal identifying information. Hat-tip to our sponsored building, B’nai B’rith Chesilhurst House, for bringing this scam to CSS’s attention and giving us the opportunity to make our network aware of the problem. The Harvard/AASC study also reported service coordinators making their residents aware of scams during the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, B’nai B’rith service coordinators have worked to combat social isolation and partner with community organizations to provide food to residents. B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pennsylvania and Covenant House in Tucson, Arizona have worked with community partners to ensure residents have groceries during the pandemic. Building staff have packed up food and other supplies, and then coordinated to have them distributed to residents while practicing social distancing. Regarding social isolation, staff have orchestrated activities like painting, exercises classes and bingo, all in a safe and distant manner. Service coordinators in these buildings have also spent hours with residents on the phone and try to communicate with the residents in person when feasible.
With all the work being done by service coordinators in federally subsidized senior housing, it’s time for Congress to appropriate additional money to be used for more service coordinators and supplies. Keep in mind only around fifty percent of federally funded senior housing buildings eligible for a service coordinator have one, and even buildings with one could use the additional help. Funds should also be allocated for increasing Wi-Fi accessibility that would enable service coordinators to speak with building residents while practicing social distancing, as well as make it easier for residents to participate in telehealth. Since the pandemic started, B’nai B’rith and AASC have advocated to Congress for maximum funding for affordable senior housing to combat the negative consequences of the pandemic. Alayna Waldrum, consultant to AASC said, “Service coordinators have been essential to the success of affordable senior housing across the country, and during the pandemic. It is imperative that Congress appropriates additional funding for resources to provide for more personal protective equipment, emergency service coordinators and increased Wi-Fi availability in senior properties. These resources would help alleviate some of the negative impacts of the virus and resulting isolation.”
Everyone who works with a service coordinator should take a second and appreciate the invaluable service they have performed during the pandemic. It’s not surprising that CSS has found our Senior Housing Network’s service coordinators’ experiences run parallel to the AASC/Harvard study. Ensuring residents have food, supplies, medicine and don’t suffer from social isolation are common themes. Service coordinators around the country have answered the call to best serve their residents during the pandemic and deserve our heartfelt gratitude.
More than two months have passed since Dick (as we called him) Schifter left us, at age 97. And even though it would be impossible to express in just a few lines what it meant to our organization, and to me personally, to work with him, I felt the need to write about how blessed we were to be able to meet him, and learn from him.
About 10 years ago, he came to B’nai B’rith as Chairman of AJIRI (the American Jewish International Relations Institute), an organization he had founded some years earlier, to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.
His profound knowledge of the United Nations system, a product of his years representing the United States at the U.N. in different capacities, was truly impressive. He was interested in working with B’nai B’rith, among other things, because of our name recognition and presence in so many countries around the world. But there was also, from the very beginning, a great personal connection between him and our CEO Dan Mariaschin, whom he often described as a “Mensch” (Yiddish for “gentleman”). For us, it was truly an honor to work with someone of his caliber, integrity and knowledge.
I was at the time B’nai B’rith’s assistant director for Latin American Affairs, and he was interested in working with me to try to change the way several Latin American countries voted at the U.N. General Assembly, on Israel-related resolutions.
Dick was a person who cared deeply about justice. His opposition to the grotesque mistreatment of Israel at the United Nations had to do not only with his desire to support Israel and the Jewish people, but also, and most importantly, with his deep conviction about the intrinsic justice of this cause.
He was also a deeply humble human being. He never spoke about his life achievements, which were too many to count. And every time I would tell him that he was too humble, he would tell me: “you know that I do not promote myself. Our cause is what really matters."
His preoccupation with the U.N. had to do with his strong belief that the powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that operates out of the U.N. building in New York hindered the prospects of a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He focused particularly on two U.N. entities, whose funding is yearly renewed by the U.N. General Assembly: The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR). He firmly believed that, by endorsing the most extreme Palestinian narrative, these two entities placed a serious obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.
Dick was absolutely right. CEIRPP and DPR work all year long to promote the so-called “right of return” of the more than 5 million Palestinians who are still considered “refugees” by the U.N., to what is now the State of Israel. In fact, only one percent of these people are original refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The other 99 percent are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original refugees, something that has no precedent in international law. The Palestinians are the only people in the world whose refugee status passes from generation to generation, indefinitely, along the paternal line.
The mass migration of more than 5 million Palestinians to Israel is something that no Israeli government—left, right or center—could ever accept as it would mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state, and the creation of yet another Arab state, “from the river to the sea.” This is why the insistence on the “right of return” is in fact a weapon to destroy Israel, and the single most important obstacle to the achievement of a peaceful solution to the conflict.
As Dick used to put it, as long as U.N. member states continue to endorse the right of return by re-authorizing the operations of CEIRPP and DPR, the Palestinians will continue to believe that the U.N. will help them destroy Israel through demographic means, and will have no incentives to enter into meaningful peace negotiations.
The many other anti-Israel resolutions that proliferate at the U.N. were of little interest to Dick, as he knew that they were mostly declaratory. But CEIRPP and DPR were at the heart of the U.N. anti-Israel propaganda apparatus, and conducted a yearlong anti-Israel campaign, paid with U.N. funds. They were also responsible for most other anti-Israel resolutions and initiatives within the U.N. system and beyond.
An expert on vote counting (something he had learned from his years in Maryland politics), and in possession of an extraordinary legal mind, he carefully studied the U.N. Charter and realized that, as these resolutions required funding, a two-thirds majority was needed to get them approved. Therefore, defeating them was not an impossible task. He decided to devote himself to this cause the last years of his life. And we at B’nai B’rith had the privilege of joining him in this effort. Over the years, we had several achievements in our diplomatic efforts, but a lot remains to be done.
The Abraham Accords completely reshaped the landscape of the Middle East, and we are witnessing how several Arab and Muslim countries leave their hostility behind to come closer to Israel. However, we don’t see this trend within the current Palestinian leadership. Dick was convinced that the U.N. was the last stronghold of support for the most extreme positions of the Palestinian Authority. And that only when the U.N. abandons this position will peace be possible.
Just a few days prior to Dick’s passing, B’nai B’rith and AJIRI formally partnered, and a new institute named AJIRI-BBI was formed. His son Rick has now kindly assumed the chairmanship and, together with Gil Kapen, a member of the board who has also been a great collaborator of Dick for over a decade, we will continue to work to make sure his legacy is preserved. But Dick's inspiration and wisdom will be forever missed.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
A recent New York Times Sunday section asked readers to describe the year 2020 in one word. It is tempting to use some negative ones, but I would like to use that question and describe B’nai B’rith’s community service agenda in 2020. The word is PEOPLE.
There are four groups that are represented in this one-word description. The first group is the people who need assistance. They may be a vulnerable population – children, single parent families or seniors. They may be a living in a place that is experiencing something particularly difficult, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster that occurred in their community. The second group is the people who are dedicated volunteers who carry out the projects that B’nai B’rith brings to the first group. These volunteers involve others to join them in delivering what people need. This group often works with the third group of people. This third group runs agencies and other organizations that work in a community. They become B’nai B’rith’s partner with boots-on-the-ground and experts who can deal with the situation faced by the first group. And finally, the last group is the people who make it all possible. This group is comprised of the individuals who contribute the funds used to purchase tangible items or pay for the services that are provided to the first group. It is also what keeps the physical locations within B’nai B’rith’s structure staffed and running, and what makes all of this possible.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster and Emergency Fund is a perfect example of this process in action. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, needs were addressed by the people who can help them utilizing the funds to make it all possible. A great example is the distribution of COVID kits containing a cloth face mask and hand sanitizer. Three thousand kits are being distributed across the U.S.; made possible by all of the people you see mentioned above.
The same can be said for the B’nai B’rith Center for Community Action. One program held in December has a story to share. Pinch Hitters, a Christmas-Day program carried out by members of the Achim/Gate City Lodge, has been a mainstay of the Atlanta community for nearly 40 years. It was recognized by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 as the 335th Point of Light award.
But what happens when volunteers and visitors cannot go into the locations that have been the usual places of service because of the pandemic? They get creative and seek out a way to fulfill their annual mitzvah. Volunteers worked with the Center for Community Action and the B’nai B’rith Communications Department to assemble talented people who recorded themselves performing songs or dances to share with us. These recordings became a two-hour video to be shared with the residents and patients of the facilities that had been visited in the past by B’nai B’rith volunteers. The video also shares an important message to the workers at these locations at this time. It is a huge thank-you to the staff of these locations who are not just essential workers—they are exceptional and always appreciated, especially now.
We learned that there are so many people who want to help others. This included young people, and a 96-year-old resident in a B’nai B’rith’s Senior Housing location and a staff member of the management office who arranged to record her at her piano keyboard. We heard from a member of the Achim/Gate City group who has been providing piano concerts for friends on Facebook since the pandemic began who offered to share his mini-concerts for this video. The Shalva Band from Israel allowed us to use a song that was shared at a recent award ceremony at the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. A runner-up in the first AEPi Talent Show submitted a clip of his guitar performance.
These are just a few of the 25 presentations that you can enjoy in the video. While many selections are holiday treats for Chanukah and Christmas, there are also love songs, cool jazz, salutes to the U.S.of A and interpretive dance. With the world continuing to face dark times until we see the end of this pandemic, we do not have to just enjoy this during the winter holiday season. It is a treasure to enjoy all year. You can watch the video here.
Please enjoy and share with others to show that PEOPLE are what B’nai B’rith is all about.
Analysis From Our Experts
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: