CEO Op-ed in The Portuguese News: Working Together to Face Challenges to the Portuguese and European Jewish Communities
Over 40 years ago, on a visit to Israel, I learned from my cousin Chaya that our forebears may have originated in Portugal.
My mother was born in Lithuania, as was Chaya, her first cousin. They came from a small shtetl not far from Vilna, and frankly, most of our relatives had probably not given too much thought as to where our family might have originated. After all, the first Jews are believed to have arrived in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the late 14th century. That was pretty far back in time.
Many in my mother’s family came to America decades before the Holocaust. Chaya made her way to pre-state Israel in 1934. We know of only one relative who survived the Shoah, who later made his way to Israel after the war. All of our other family in Lithuania was killed.
I was excited to hear that Chaya had done some research at one of Israel’s universities and was convinced that our origins were in Portugal. Her maiden name, and my mother’s, was “Berzak.” Chaya concluded that a Portuguese rabbi, Elkanah Bar Zera Kodesh, had been among those who left Portugal in the expulsion of the Jews at the end of the 15th century. The acronym for the rabbi’s name became “Berzak.” It is likely he or his descendants made their way to Hamburg, which was a jumping off point for many who arrived in Lithuania in the late Middle Ages.
I tell you all of this because I take a special pride both in the rich history of the Jews in Portugal, and today, in the rebirth of the Portuguese Jewish community. In Porto, which I had the opportunity to visit some months ago, the beautifully maintained Kedoorie Synagogue, the establishment of two excellent museums, a kosher restaurant and an active local community are all to be admired at a time when Jewish communities everywhere are debating the best way to ensure Jewish continuity and communal life in the still-new century.
But that is not the only challenge Portuguese, and by extension European Jewry, is facing. We have seen, over the past two decades, a tremendous spike in anti-Semitism—some of it emanating from the populist right or ultra-nationalist quarters, and some from the left and Islamic extremists. This perfect storm of Jew hatred has spread throughout Europe at viral speed, energized by social media and its “influencers.”
That anti-Semitism is present in Europe comes as no surprise to anyone. That it remains ensconced in country after country within the living memory of those who were victims of and witnessed Hitler’s barbarity, and with it the worst crimes ever perpetrated on the Jewish people, is reprehensible.
B’nai B’rith, founded in the United States in 1843, but which has been present on the European continent since the last quarter of the 19th century, knows of this hatred firsthand. We confronted and battled anti-Semitism wherever it manifested itself here in the United States and in those places where we established a presence abroad.
In 1933, on the eve of Hitler’s coming to power, our organization had more than 100 branches in Germany alone, and in many other countries throughout the continent. At the war’s end, and as a result of the Holocaust, we had to re-build on the ashes of the devastation that befell European Jewry in Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, former Yugoslavia and so many other places.
Anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest, most persistent and resistant form of hatred. It sprouts and flourishes where there are substantial Jewish populations—or no Jewish communities at all. It thrives on lies and distortions, on envy and a perverse taste for inflicting harm—mental and physical. And it often operates with the approbation of public figures and some in the media, who use it for political gain or to attract new followers, readers or viewers.
B’nai B’rith itself has been on the receiving end of this malicious, hateful behavior. In days past, it might be like that which used to appear in the Soviet press, when we were called “the first violin in the Zionist orchestra.” Today, you’ll see it on websites, even those which claim to be legitimate press outlets. Some continue to ply old, shopworn and outrageous tropes about us, and Jews generally, suggesting “secretive” powers of manipulation and control over the media, banks and everyone else.
Clearly, when it comes to anti-Semitism in Europe, the more things change, the more they stay in the same.
What can we do about all of this? Years ago, B’nai B’rith opened an EU Affairs office in Brussels, to create awareness of anti-Semitism on the continent at the European Commission, the European Parliament and other bodies (including the Council of Europe in Strasbourg). We work closely with the very able Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism and Fostering Jewish Life, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions (ODIHR) to create new approaches to confronting Jew hatred Europe-wide.
In recent years, in several countries in Europe, there has been an assault--in the name of animal rights-- on the right of Jews to engage in the practice of shechita, or kosher slaughter, abrogating our right to freely exercise our religion. Bans and restrictions have been imposed in a number of countries in Europe, most recently in the Belgian regions of Wallonia and Flanders, and in Greece. Other initiatives have been afoot to ban circumcision, or brit milah. B’nai B’rith has been in the forefront of those speaking out loudly against attempts to roll back freedom of religion in a democratic Europe.
B’nai B’rith was among the earliest advocates for a standard working definition of anti-Semitism that could be used to clearly identify its manifestations, and not allow political leaders, the media, judges and others to either deny it or to nuance it away. That definition was adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a consortium of 35 countries committed to Holocaust research and remembrance. Portugal is a member of IHRA and in 2019 adopted the working definition. A growing number of countries, provinces, municipalities, universities, sports federations and others are joining the list of those who endorse it.
Additionally, we have pressed various governments in Europe to facilitate Holocaust-era restitution to survivors and their families, and promoted Holocaust remembrance and education initiatives.
With all of this, so much more remains to be done. Much contemporary anti-Semitism emanates from various bodies of the United Nations, especially, but not only at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Israel is singled out continuously in resolution after resolution for carrying out the worst possible human rights violations. The lopsided votes against Israel often include many countries—some of them in Europe—who should know better. They often “go along to get along,” signing on to the annual festival of calumnies against the Jewish State. Recently, this activity has spilled over to agencies like the World Health Organization.
Which brings me back to Portugal. Our history there came to such an abrupt stop at the end of the 15th century. The thought has often crossed my mind, what if there had been no disputations, no expulsion, no Inquisition, no auto da fès and no burnings at the stake? Unfortunately, “what if’s” have no answers, just speculation. What we can imagine, with some certainty, is that the community would be one of the world’s largest and its contributions to Portuguese and Jewish life immense.
For the Jewish people, numbers don’t really speak to what we have contributed to civilization writ large, and to European culture, science, education and commerce over the centuries. That continues today. What we lack in size, we have been able to compensate by our solidarity, based on shared history, values, traditions, a common ancient—and modern—language and so many other intangibles that make us a justifiably proud and creative people.
B’nai B’rith is proud to be a partner in the renaissance of Jewish life in Portugal and an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism, one of the seminal challenges of the day. We’ll work together to find friends and allies who can join us in confronting it. We’ll continue to speak out in those fora in Europe to advance the message that anti-Semitism, in the 21st century, is totally unacceptable anywhere, anyhow. And we’ll be there together with you in support of Israel, our ancient homeland.
As we begin the new calendar year, let’s all pray that the year ahead is one of new accomplishments for your community, and for peace and security for Israel, and for each of us, wherever we call home—always in good health.
Read the op-ed in The Portuguese News.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
From this side of the ocean, attempting to analyze contemporary French antisemitism sometimes feels like a roller coaster ride.
The history of French Jewry, which has its origins in Roman times, is one of repeated ups and downs, exile and return, official discrimination and emancipation, searing antisemitism, accomplishment in many fields (especially, but not only, in politics, commerce, and culture), persecution and deportation, communal re-birth, and over the past 20 years or so, a compendium of violent acts committed against French Jews, against the backdrop of hatred from the far-left, the far-right, and, increasingly, from Islamists.
To demonstrate how much French antisemitism has shaped our view of Jew hatred over all of Europe, most conversations about the subject begin with offering examples of a never-ending string of violent acts against French Jews.
The list is lengthening, but most will recall these amongst the worst: the 2006 beating, torture, and killing of 26-year-old Ilan Halimi by assailants who held him for ransom; the killing of an adult and three children by an Islamist gunman in Toulouse in 2012; the 2015 killing of four and hostage taking at the Hypercacher market; the 2017 defenestration killing of 65-year-old Sarah Halimi by an antisemitic neighbor; the 2018 killing of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in her Paris apartment; and, just a few weeks ago, a 70-year-old Jew was beaten by intruders, demanding to know whether he was “a jeweler and a Jew” and where he was hiding “the gold.”
Indeed, it was from the French Jewish experience that we first heard warnings about wearing kipot or Magen David necklaces in public. Those admonitions have now spread worldwide.
That the story of French Jewry is one of contradictions makes the current explosion of incidents that much more difficult to absorb. Paris is one of the great centers of diaspora Jewry, with over 40 synagogues and a highly organized communal structure, including dozens of Jewish schools and community centers, numerous organizations (including my own), radio programs, and — some say — more kosher restaurants than New York City. Jews hold high positions in government and academia. In a country that places high value on intellectualism, France counts many Jews who figure prominently in national discussions and debates about politics, the economy, and values.
But there is a dark side that runs up against all the pluses. As we are now seeing right here in the United States, Jews in France are caught in a vise of vitriol and violence from the political extremes, and from a growing Islamist threat that finds its origins in many neighborhoods where Jews once, and still, live.
The new antisemitism has, some say, replaced that which existed in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish officer was convicted on trumped-up charges of espionage; a deep vein of extreme nationalism; and a proliferation of antisemitic newspapers and books only set the stage for the murderous period of the Nazi invasion and occupation, and the establishment of the collaborationist Vichy government. Of the 76,000 French Jews — 25% of the community — sent to the death camps, less than 500 returned.
Antisemitism in high places has affected French Jewry as well. The story of the thousands of French Jewish soldiers who fought valiantly in World War I and the community’s steadfast patriotism is well known. Yet, in 1980, after a terrorist attack on Simchat Torah at the synagogue on Rue Copernic in Paris — carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — killed four and injured 40, then Prime Minister Raymond Barre commented that “a despicable attack sought to target Jews who were in this synagogue and that struck innocent Frenchmen who were crossing Rue Copernic.”
That remark set off a global firestorm of criticism of Barre for suggesting that the intended victims — the Jews in the synagogue — unlike the passersby, were, indeed, not Frenchmen at all.
Some Vichy collaborators, who managed to get rehabilitated after World War II, had their protectors and defenders. Maurice Papon, who was the secretary general of police in Vichy-controlled Bordeaux, was initially charged in 1983 for the deportation of 1,690 Jews to the death camps. Papon, who after the war had entered politics and served in the French cabinet under Barre, was ultimately convicted in 1998 of crimes against humanity and served just three years in prison.
Today, elected officials, cabinet members, and law enforcement have been quick to condemn acts of antisemitism, including current President Emmanuel Macron. Indeed, just a couple of weeks ago, in response to the sentencing of a French schoolteacher who waved an antisemitic sign during a demonstration against the government’s Covid policies, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin stated that “Antisemitism is a crime, not an opinion.”
But are statements enough to turn back the tide of Jew hatred in France?
In the meantime, French Jews continue to leave on aliyah; many buy apartments in Israel “just in case.” There are population shifts in the community, with many Jews leaving their old neighborhoods for what they consider to be far safer areas to live. The leadership of the French community has been outspoken about the current state of affairs, and its relationship with the country’s top political leadership has generally been good. Unfortunately, the day-to-day situation is such that the community needs to speak out frequently as antisemitic incidents add up and as questions of security loom large.
The entry into next year’s French presidential election of Eric Zemmour, a far-right journalist and pundit, who is Jewish, has added a new dimension into intra-community politics, sparking debate by supporters and detractors, adding another layer of stress to an atmosphere already fraught with angst about what the future holds.
For much of its history, France has been an immigration nation. That said, it wasn’t that long ago that it was known for expecting of its population allegiance to its iconic motto of “liberte, egalite, fraternite.” Even with a growing, diverse population over the decades, that was the glue that held the nation together. That fabric is now being tested and frayed. The attacks on the Jewish community are a canary-in-the coal mine situation, which indicate that the generations-old common denominators that brought all French people together are in trouble.
In times like this, analysts often look to the educational system for answers. It is more than worrisome that some schools in certain French neighborhoods refuse to teach Holocaust education, because to do so might ipso facto create sympathy for Israel as a homeland for Jews, reinforcing in the process the anti-Zionism already present and growing in those communities. Paroxysms of antisemitic acts, as for example, after the war in Gaza this past May, speak to how hatred of Israel, and by extension French Jewry, drives violence against Jews and their institutions.
Others look to the judiciary. Many in the French Jewish community feel that in cases like that of Sarah Halimi, whose killer shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he took her life and who was not held criminally responsible because he was high on cannabis, Jews are also victims of imperfect justice. The immediate outrage in the community over what is seen as a legal technicality speaks to the need for the French judicial system to review how it tries those who perpetrate violent hate crimes.
And, as elsewhere, social media in France is a daily conveyor belt of antisemitism. France is not the United States, with its distinct constitutional protections. The opportunity to crack down on websites that thrive on Jew hatred is more readily available to French public officials. There must be a doubling down on identifying and tracking down those who traffic in hate on the Internet.
The combination of traditional, nationalist/far right antisemitism and militant anti-Zionism from the far left and the Islamists have produced a disturbing cocktail of hate in France. Contemporary antisemitism there affects us all. It’s not an overstatement to say the soul of France is on trial. Is the will and the means present to reverse the tide?
Going on 22 years into the new century, we anxiously await that answer.
Read the op-ed in the Algemeiner.
Dir. of Legislative Affairs Op-ed in the Algemeiner: Time for a New Chapter in German-Israeli Relations
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has taken office, becoming the first Social Democrat born after the end of World War II to head the federal government.
His rise to power comes during a year when thousands of protesters, many of them on the political left, demonstrated against Israel’s defensive operations in Gaza. Cities across Germany erupted in violence, as rioters burned Israeli flags, while flying Hamas banners.
Last year, Jusos, the Social Democratic Party’s youth wing, passed a resolution declaring its PLO-Fatah counterpart, which has called for Israel’s destruction, its “sister organization.”
Germany’s outgoing Chancellor, Christian Democrat Angela Merkel, repeatedly spoke about the crucial nature of Israel’s existence. But her statements were belied by Germany’s frequent votes in favor of one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. In 2019, German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen equated Hamas rockets with Israeli bulldozers at a time when Hamas was firing projectiles at Israeli civilians.
The growing normalization of anti-Israel activity in Germany tends to confirm the fears of Jews, who have long worried that the generational shift taking place in Germany works against the long-term German-Israeli relationship. With new leaders in power who neither lived through World War II nor its immediate aftermath, the lessons of the Holocaust might fade more easily — their resonance with a younger generation diminished or lost altogether.
The false perception of Israel as a colonial occupier in the Middle East, nurtured on the European left since the 1967 Six-Day War, has made German support for the Palestinian cause, and even open hostility toward Israel, increasingly palatable. Gone for some is the once bedrock assumption in German politics that Germany owned a special responsibility for maintaining Israel’s security.
The rise in Muslim immigration to Germany has helped shape this dynamic. Refugees and migrants from the Middle East often bring with them a viewpoint that is decidedly anti-Israel. They consequently resist the sense that they are integrating into a country with a historic responsibility to protect Israel.
Chancellor Scholz has said some encouraging things about the German-Israeli relationship. At an Israel solidarity rally near the Berlin Holocaust memorial in May, he affirmed Merkel’s famous pledge that Israel’s security is Germany’s “reason of state.”
But a look at the coalition agreement the Social Democrats have formed with their governing partners, the Free Democrats and the Greens, reveals some disturbing departures from former pacts. Israel is not referred to as a Jewish state in the document, while language critical of settlements and calling for a return to 1967 borders suggests the West Bank will be a sticking point in bilateral relations. Also, the agreement insists on negotiations with Iran, but does not decry the Iranian nuclear program.
The passage of time and the increasingly casual embrace of anti-Israel public attitudes in the country that gave rise to the Holocaust has hastened the need for the new left-of-center government to reassert Germany’s position as Israel’s leading defender in Europe. The German government should vote against anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, and persuade other European Union countries to follow suit. In a country that refuses nuclear weapons of its own, the government should insist that Iran be barred from acquiring nukes. And Germany should focus its attention on terror, incitement, and the Palestinian Authority’s consistent refusal to negotiate as the biggest obstacles to peace — not Israeli settlements.
Germany’s “reason of state” ethos demands that it take these proactive measures and embrace its historic role as Israel’s principal ally in Europe. With anti-Israel sentiment increasingly morphing into antisemitism, the urgency in rebuking anti-Israel activity — at the UN, within the EU, and among the German public — is greater than ever. Germany’s new government should infuse the German-Israeli relationship with new purpose and vitality. Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, history, and the future, demand it.
Read Fusfield's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
Earlier this month, I visited Pittsburgh ahead of the anniversary of the Tree of Life tragedy.
Three years earlier, on October 27, 2018, a far-right extremist committed the deadliest attack against Jews in the history of the United States – killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger of blessed memory were beloved members of three different congregations. Other worshipers, as well as law enforcement officers and first responders, were seriously wounded. So too, the sense of safety of American Jewry.
The threat of antisemitic attacks is part of the day-to-day of Jewish life in Europe. Metal detectors and security guards are ubiquitous at all Jewish venues. A kippah is worn both with pride and with trepidation, as the numbers of recorded antisemitic incidents have steadily risen in recent years.
But the heart wrenching attack in Pittsburgh’s Squirrell Hill neighborhood – the same community Mr. Rogers’ spoke about – surfaced an unlikely question: Can Jews feel safe in the United States?
What I felt being in Pittsburgh was a reverberating communal “yes”.
U.S. statistics about Jews’ sense of safety mirror those in Europe. A large majority of Jews feel antisemitism is a real and present danger, a reflection of the staggering rise in violent incidents.
The resounding, collective “yes” from the Jewish community and its many allies in Pittsburgh is not ignorant to this reality – on the contrary – it is determined to overcome it: not just survive, but thrive – openly and without fear.
A community of solidarity
The outpouring of love and solidarity following the attack three years ago was experienced not only in Pittsburgh, but around the world. I was truly inspired. Yet in hindsight, I didn’t fully understand the nearly-universal show of support until I was there in person.
It’s been three years, but Squirrell Hill houses on every block still boast signs: Stronger Than Hate. The city symbol, the Steelmark – continues to lend one of its four-pointed starlike figures to a Star of David. At the Tree of Life Synagogue, a long fence surrounding the building is covered in drawings sent in from schools across the country, turning security into solidarity and inspiration.
I had the chance to see once again a full-page newspaper ad in memory of two victims, Cecil and David Rosenthal. It read: “The entire Rosenthal Family wishes to extend our sincerest thanks and gratitude to the Pittsburgh community and around the world for your outpouring of support and kindness. Your thoughts, prayers and kind gestures have given us strength to get through this difficult time.”
In the town of the Steelers – #PittsburghStrong has a new meaning, and it has nothing to do with metal. It’s a collective commitment to beat back hate.
The Eradicate Hate Global Summit
One of the ways in which this commitment materialized was the inaugural edition of the Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which took place just last week in Pittsburgh. This was an unprecedented effort to convene leading researchers, practitioners, journalists, law–makers and tech companies to develop collaborative and multidisciplinary responses to hate. Among speakers were UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Judge Theodor Meron, President and Judge, International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, heads of policy for major tech companies, and, most importantly, the family members of the Tree of Life victims, who were the driving force and beating heart of the event.
Panels explored novel civil and criminal law remedies to hate, the role of tech and the ability of the justice system to address extremism, the role of COVID-19 in accelerating hate, community preparedness, free speech protections, the role of art, and many more and diverse themes.
During the Summit, I had the opportunity to share insights from Europe as part of a panel reflecting on global government responses: the state of antisemitism, but also what’s being done, what works, what can be modeled elsewhere. I spoke about the new European Union (EU) Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, the collaborative approach between policy-makers and civil society, the significant advancements by EU legislators in placing liability on platforms through new reporting and due diligence obligations, important data collection commitments, and the Strategy’s cross-cutting approach, mainstreaming the topic across policy areas.
Antisemitism serves as a foundation for most conspiracy ideologies. It cuts across the political spectrum, is fueled by polarization, accelerated by algorithmic augmentation, and rests on Holocaust denial, distortion and trivialization. In that, antisemitism is ultimately the epitome of hate. Ensuring that experts in diverse fields understand it in its complexity is essential not only to providing a sense of safety and security for the global Jewish community, but to maintaining an open and democratic society all together – a premise that the Summit built on.
Now back home, taking stock, a key take away stands out beyond all others – the solidarity and kindness still emanating in Pittsburgh can serve as a motivating force for all of us.
Read Bricman's reflections in the Times of Israel.
Alina Bricman is the Director of EU Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. She formerly served as president of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) from 2017 to 2019 and worked for the Representation of the European Commission in Romania and for the Median Research Centre, a Romanian civil society NGO focused on civil engagement and combating xenophobia. She studied political science at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and at the Central European University in Budapest.
In 2001, anti-Israel and anti-Zionism sentiment roared with a vengeance at the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa (the Durban Conference). As president of B’nai B’rith International and as chairman of the United Nations Committee of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, I served as head of the delegation for those organizations to the Durban Conference, a true hatefest toward Israel, Zionists and the Jewish people.
Indeed, it was at Durban, which occurred during the Second Intifada, that the seeds of hate were planted to launch a malicious, multi-pronged diplomatic, academic, legal and economic boycott, and campaign of demonization against Israel in the court of public opinion.
Intended to explore ways to end racism and promote awareness of intolerance, the Durban Conference quickly devolved into a public display of anti-Jewish rhetoric and an ugly anti-Israel agenda. Copies of the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion were sold on the conference grounds, and anti-Israel protesters resurrected the “Zionism equals racism” charge, further demonizing Israel and the Jewish people in every possible way.
Both at the official UN member conference in Durban and the NGO Forum that aimed to “publicize the voice of the victims,” blatant antisemitic hate toward Israel was rampant. The forum consisted of tables, posters and people working to rile up the crowd with images that made it very clear that they considered Israel to be an apartheid Nazi racist criminal state unworthy of standing at the United Nations or equality in the family of nations, notwithstanding Israel’s member-state status at the UN.
At this forum, the Jewish Caucus proposed and is believed to have cast the only vote in favor of labeling Holocaust denial and anti-Jewish violence as forms of antisemitism. In addition, the forum and conference representatives rejected efforts by the US and other democratic allied governments to seek the inclusion of a key paragraph on antisemitism in the final outcome document of the conference.
After four days in which the US attempted to end the blatantly antisemitic attitudes and displays of hatred toward Israel, Zionists and the Jewish people, the US and Israeli delegations, along with the Jewish NGO organizations, held a press conference and staged a walkout in protest.
I am proud to have led that walkout along with Lord Janner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and leaders of the various Jewish NGOs present at the UN Conference Forum, joined by the US and Israeli ambassadors and delegations. It is important that the Jewish people stand together in such times and circumstances; and important that we speak out with dignity in protesting the injustices of false accusations and outright hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people.
The final resolution of the NGO Forum called Israel “a racist apartheid state,” guilty of the “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing… and state terror against the Palestinian people.” This document is wrongly heralded as a guideline for action against Israel. It is a manifesto to be rejected, not commemorated.
In 2009, in Geneva, as head of the delegation for the Durban Review Conference, I witnessed the continuation of hatred toward Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish people, which further advanced the Durban agenda of castigating Israel in every possible avenue and venue.
What occurred on the grounds of the United Nations conference in Durban and at the recent “Durban IV” commemoration, was not by chance, but rather was a well-planned and designed gathering with the purpose not of standing against racism, but rather of singling out and accusing Israel as an apartheid criminal racist state. Understanding the absurdity of this charge and the depravity behind its origins, 38 countries boycotted the Durban IV event. Nevertheless, both the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have in recent days passed resolutions continuing to endorse the Durban Program, tacitly applauding rather than castigating the hatred espoused there.
Over the past 20 years, the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people have followed that line, taking to the International Court of Justice a request, via the United Nations General Assembly, for an advisory opinion on the “legality” of Israel’s construction of the “wall,” which is truly a terrorism prevention security fence, and taking to the International Criminal Court the issues of Israel’s neighborhoods and communities in the ancient homelands of the Jewish people, further accusing the IDF of violations of international law with regard to the IDF’s military response to the kidnapping and murder of Jewish teenagers and civilians in the West Bank.
Those of us who attended Durban and experienced the rampant hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people must remind others of the need to stand up against such hatred and do so with pride, strength and knowledge; and do so with a commitment to making our voices collectively heard around the world, as B’nai B’rith International recently did in its highly acclaimed series Durban Revisited, broadcast by JBS TV.
The legacy of Durban must be recognized as one of hate, not of tolerance nor of a commitment to advancing education, democracy, equal rights and respect for the dignity of all people.
Read Heideman's insights and recollections in The Jerusalem Post.
Richard Heideman is honorary president of B’nai B’rith International; chairman of The Israel Forever Foundation; senior counsel of the Washington law firm Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, PC, which represents American victims of terror in cases against states and others who support and sponsor acts of terror and hate; and author of The Bloody Price of Freedom, recently published by Gefen and now available for purchase through the website BloodyPriceOfFreedom.com.
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