The Algemeiner ran an op-ed written by B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, and the current tensions between Iran and Israel.
You can read the full op-ed below or click to read it on algemeiner.com
The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War will be commemorated in many ways in the coming days. Media retrospectives, conferences, new documentaries and first person remembrances of the battles and their aftermath will be seen and heard in Israel, here in the United States and elsewhere.
For those of a certain age, we’ll be asking each other: “Do you remember where you were on June 5, 1967?” I do.
I vividly recall being in my high school cafeteria waiting for the bell to ring for first period. Each morning, a group of us would gather at the back of the cafeteria, just shooting the breeze, as high school seniors do. But this morning was different; one of my friends, who had obviously seen the news before leaving for school, perhaps on the Today Show, said to me, “You guys are really beating the Arabs.”
I knew immediately that the war had begun. It was the culmination of more than three weeks of threats to destroy Israel emanating from Cairo and Damascus. Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Syria’s President Nureddin al-Atassi, and those who represented them, were clearly signaling their intention to finish off the Jewish state.
Actually, these threats began months earlier. A New York Timesheadline on October 15, 1966, read: “Israel Tells UN Syria Plans War to Destroy Her.” Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, addressed the Security Council, referencing dozens of Syrian threats against the Jewish state.
Between then and May 1967, hardly a day passed without threats from Nasser. On March 8, he declared: “We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand, we shall enter it with its soil covered in blood.” A month later, Syria Information Minister Mahmoud Zubi predicted that, “this battle will be…followed by more severe battles until Palestine is liberated and the Zionist presence ended.”
The pace picked up throughout May, with both official radio outlets in Cairo and Damascus promising to defeat the “Zionist entity.” Egypt demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula, who had been stationed there since the Suez campaign of 1956. Then Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, considered by some to be an act of war. Neither the UN, nor the international community, seemed willing — or even the slightest bit interested — in taking Israel out of its isolation. The best UN Secretary-General U Thant could utter, after Egypt’s demand that the peacekeeping forces leave, was a weak, “…may I advise you that I have serious misgivings about it… [the] withdrawal may have grave implications for peace.”
The closing of the Straits was criticized by both the United States and the United Kingdom as contravening international law, with Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson stating “[Egypt’s blockade] must not be allowed to triumph; Britain would join with efforts to open the Straits.” But, in the end, nothing was done to stand up to Cairo and Damascus’ march toward war.
The Egyptians and Syrians were so confident of victory that Hafez Assad, then Syria’s defense minister and later its president, said on May 20: “Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse any aggression, but to initiate the act ourselves, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland of Palestine. … I believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”
Sitting in our living room in New Hampshire, my family watched and listened to this litany of threats unfold, one more belligerent than the next. Egypt’s UN Ambassador Mobared El-Kony and Syria’s, George Tomeh, were particularly threatening in Security Council debates on the crisis. We worried endlessly about our relatives living on a kibbutz not far from the Syrian border.
Each day brought even greater boasts from the region, and we took them all seriously. We comforted ourselves only by watching and listening to the oratorical skills of Eban, whose speeches at the UN Security Council not only outlined the Arab threats, but the rightness of Israel’s cause.
On May 30, Nasser ratcheted up the tone even more: “The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. The act will astound the world…”
And Iraq’s President Abdul Rahman Arif couldn’t have been more direct, when he said on May 31: “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear — to wipe Israel off the map.”
The rest is history. Israel’s defense forces routed the Arab armies in six days, and the war — which was named for its length — has been enshrined in Jewish history as one of its most glorious chapters.
I rushed home from school on the afternoon of June 5, turning on CBS News on our local station, WKNE, to hear Michael Elkins reporting from Israel that the Israeli Air Force had destroyed the combined Arab air forces on the ground. We were jubilant.
Back at school the next day, I was able to follow events on the radio in the high school office. In the small city in which we lived, my father took a petition supporting Israel to merchants and friends on Main Street, asking that they sign in support of Israel. Nothing else in our lives mattered that week. As the days passed, the feelings of relief turned to triumph and then to pride in what we never imagined happening.
Today, it is the Iranian regime that is making the threats to annihilate Israel. The Jewish state is a “cancer” that needs to be eradicated, its leaders say. Tehran paints those very words on the sides of ballistic missiles that it parades, with hubris, in full sight of international TV coverage. Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and it makes no difference, really, if it is in mothballs for a few years. Already, European officials say that Tehran is shopping for dual use technologies to utilize when it is ready to do so. And Iran provides thousands of rockets to Hezbollah, and mentors and supports Hamas, both of which call for Israel’s destruction many times daily.
And the United Nations, which stood idly by in 1967, today has under its roof agencies like the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which year after year have sought to delegitimize, demonize and marginalize Israel. In 1967, Britain’s Sir Alec Douglas-Home, speaking about the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, presciently said: “…the first casualty (of this crisis) had been the United Nations. It would need an immense effort, an almost superhuman effort, to restore the prestige of that organization.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. The UN continues to risk irrelevancy by allowing the pummeling of Israel to continue.
The Six-Day War was a miracle, aided by courageous leaders and soldiers who had no choice but to win. It was a defining moment for young Jews of our generation. And it fortunately established the Jewish state as the regional power it is. But the battles that followed, including the Yom Kippur War, the First and Second Lebanon Wars and the Gaza campaigns, attest to the continuing desire of Israel’s enemies to bring it down — one way or another.
Iran is only the latest of these foes to threaten Israel, and its newfound bounty, by way of the nuclear agreement, has left it flush with cash to attempt to carry out its objectives. While we observe those momentous six days, let us all be sure to sleep with one eye open.
On July 29, 2014 three Palestinians, according to their own testimony, highly intoxicated, filled six bottles with petrol and threw them against the synagogue in Wuppertal. One of the perpetrators was arrested on sight while filming the arriving firefighters and commentating in Arabic.
The district court of Wuppertal sentenced the three young men to suspended sentences for up to two years, largely due to the fact that they did not have a previous criminal record, the marginal damage at the synagogue and the fact that they were apologetic and covered for the caused damage.
More surprising than the verdict and mild punishment itself was the opinion given by the court: The judge ruled and sentenced the accused only for arson, believing the defendants claim that they did not have anything against Jews and just wanted to raise awareness of the war in Gaza, therefore ruling out any anti-Semitic motivation due to lack of evidence.
Unlike many European Union member-states, Germany does not explicitly punish hate crimes as such. But it does allow for hate motivation to be taken into account in assessing sentences.
Following the ruling, an outcry went through the media and Jewish communities, especially the small community of Wuppertal. Most of them of Russian origin, they had escaped persecution and discrimination in the former Soviet Union and came to Germany in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the hope of a better life, now left in shock and traumatized.
The state of Germany and its police and judiciary had, as in many other cases over the summer and during anti-Israel demonstrations, abandoned their obligation to prevent or at least prosecute obvious anti-Semitic attacks and slander.
Once again shouts such as “Jews to the Gas” or “Kill the Jews” could be heard in the streets of major cities, without the police that accompanied the protestors making any attempt of holding the shouters responsible or stopping and prosecuting them.
But what’s even more worrisome and troubling than the misguided and flawed court ruling of 2015 is the confirmation, in second instance, by the higher district court and Judge Thomas Bittner, who ruled on an appeal on points of law by the prosecution. The court only slightly increased the sentence, again on parole, but followed the reasoning of the previous court decision:
“The attack on the Wuppertal synagogue cannot be defined as anti-Semitic, there is simply no proof for an anti-Semitic motivation,” states the official court ruling.
“Can there be a clearer indication for anti-Semitism than trying to burn down a synagogue?” rightfully asks Leonid Goldberg, the Jewish Community leader in Wuppertal, in an interview with German magazine Spiegel.
This was not an Israeli embassy, but a house of God, used by Jewish German citizens, not Israelis, to practice their faith. If one were to make up a textbook definition of anti-Zionism becoming anti-Semitic, this would be it.
The judge also missed out on the opportunity to respond to the summation of the prosecutor Kiskel, in which he stated that the attack was obviously anti-Semitic.
The now legally binding and confirmed regional court decision is a final confirmation of a clear case of German jurisprudence’ surrender towards anti-Semitic hate crimes motivated by a distain for the state of Israel.
A devastating and shocking signal to German Jews, not only due to the fact that a German synagogue was in flames once again (the original Wuppertal had been burned down during the infamous Kristallnacht) but for the incomprehensible court decision that refused to make the shockingly obvious connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
But this case just makes the real underlying problem obvious once again:
The lack of a working definition on anti-Semitism that encompasses all forms of old and new anti-Semitism, including forms of anti-Zionism, that can be used as a guideline and tool.
Another failed attempt to adopt such a definition had just been made by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during its annual conference in Hamburg in December of 2016 (decisions are made unanimously, and out of the 57 member states only one, Russia, opposed the adoption).
Germany itself as rotating chair of the OSCE had prioritized and lobbied for the adoption of an anti-Semitism definition. The same definition which the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) had adopted already earlier this year, and which includes, among others, two paragraphs that would have helped the judge in Wuppertal to not make such a terrible mistake:
To be fair, the appeal on points of law was in regards to the length of the sentence, and not regarding a re-evaluation of the motivation behind the attack. The court in Wuppertal also did not, as claimed by the Jerusalem Post and other media articles, claim that the attack was a justified criticism of Israel, the contrary was the case: Judge Bittner recognized the heavy traumatization of the Jewish community and made clear that this was no juvenile prank but a serious crime.
He nevertheless did not follow the prosecutors demand for a sentence without parole. What the new appeal ruling also failed to do, despite getting a second chance to correct the terrible mistake of its predecessor, was point out the obvious anti-Semitic character of the attack and thereby send an urgently-needed, strong message to the Jewish community that the German judicial system is able to recognize and prosecute anti-Semitic incidents against its Jewish population.
Not once did Judge Bittner mention the word anti-Semitic in his ruling.
This case is another instance that proves and drives B'nai B'rith's work and engagement in pushing for an official definition on anti-Semitism to better protect our Jewish communities and prevent such attacks from not being labeled for what it really is: another shameful anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish community in Europe.
Despite an astounding array of conventions, covenants, directives, framework decisions, case law and other existing legal instruments meant to ensure human rights and freedom from discrimination in the European Union, Jews continue to face high levels of anti-Semitism in nearly all of the 28 EU member states.
I had the privilege of participating recently in the 10th Israel-EU Bilateral Dialogue on Combating Antisemitism, Racism and Xenophobia at the invitation of the Israeli Foreign Ministry (MFA) in Jerusalem earlier this month. The forum was established to allow Israelis and representatives of the European Commission—the government of the European Union—to discuss their ongoing work in combating antisemitism, exchange experiences and compare best practices. Participants included high-ranking European Commission and Israel Foreign Ministry officials, experts and practitioners in the field of education and social media.
The meeting occurred after the failed attempt by the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to adopt the long-awaited Working Definition of anti-Semitism. Researchers, lawmakers and law enforcement practitioners have long complained that the lack of a generally agreed-upon definition of anti-Semitism—even if not legally binding—has helped confound efforts to combat the issue. So long as there was no definition, one man’s anti-Semitism could arguably be another man’s legitimate, albeit judgmental, opinion about Jews or Israel.
READ: A Potential Breakthrough in Defining Anti-Semitism
The definition proposed to the OSCE—only one sentence long with no mention of the State of Israel—goes on to provide 11 illustrative examples, most of which reference different manifestations of anti-Israel prejudice as forms of anti-Semitism: “Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust;…Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor; Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis; Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis...” – while adding the clear caveat that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
The definition was adopted in May by the 31-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (encompassing European states plus the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Israel), but due to an obstructionist role played by a single member, the Russian Federation, the definition did not pass muster at OSCE, leaving states wanting to do utilize this new tool in the fight against anti-Semitism to adopt it individually as local legislation. The UK’s new prime minister Theresa May has committed Great Britain—faced with an alarming 61% increase in anti-Semitic crime over the past year—to being the first country to formally adopt the definition as law.
Despite the palatable disappointment at the OSCE vote, the Israel-EU dialogue provided a useful opportunity for officials to restate the Union’s commitments to counter anti—Semitism. Daniel Braun, the deputy head of cabinet for Věra Jourová, the European Union's commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, declared that combating anti-Semitism is not the responsibility of the Jewish community alone but an assault on fundamental rights that affects all people and not only minorities. Paul Nemitz, director for fundamental rights and rule of law, said that the Holocaust is part of European citizenship and that everyone, not only Jews, suffer from the effects of anti-Semitism, adding that the dialogue on combating the issue must continue irrespective of the state of the political dialogue between Israel and the EU.
The dialogue also provided a platform for an exchange of views on best practices, latest research and technological advances in combating anti-Semitism and also for a reality check on the efficacy of some long-held axioms.
For example, the EU has put much hope—and funding—into education and youth action as a means of tackling radicalization and anti-Semitism. Indeed, the concluding sentences in the extensive 10-year review on anti-Semitism in the EU, published last month by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, states that “Education is essential to prevent intolerant attitudes. Through education that fosters socialization, tolerance, universal values and encourages critical thinking, children and young people can bring change to their families and communities, and ultimately to the broader society.” This was reflected in the message of Katharina Von-Schnurbein, coordinator for combating anti-Semitism, who said that to change attitudes in the long term, EU member states need to tackle hate through education by working among teachers and principals. Braun also said that tolerance education must involve the whole spectrum of Jewish history in Europe, not just the Holocaust, which has been the focus of EU efforts until now. He was concerned by reports of anti-Semitic acts in schools and universities in Europe, adding that newcomers to the continent are bringing anti-Semitic attitudes with them and that it is Europe's responsibility to inculcate its basic principles of respect and tolerance into these newcomers.
But putting this approach into question, Dr. Eyal Kaminka, director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, argued that in the current hyper-charged atmosphere at many schools across Europe today, it is doubtful that meaningful change could be affected in schools since, as reported by many of the European teachers his school trains in methods for teaching the Holocaust, they are unable to implement any Holocaust curriculum in the face of student’s raucous objections, fanned by attitudes of Holocaust denial at home. Kaminka called on the EU officials to review the telling testimonies he has compiled of teachers across Europe that reflect the true face of intolerance and anti-Semitism in the classroom.
Perhaps the most hopeful news at the dialogue came from reports on implementation of the new Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online reached this May between the Commission and four major IT platforms: Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Social media is widely recognized as the principal platform for the promotion of anti-Semitic attitudes today. Under the Code, the IT companies must put in place a clear and effective process to review notifications regarding illegal hate speech on their services so they can remove or disable access to such content. Von-Schnurbein said that the Code establishes that the internet is no longer a legal black hole—, as it has been since its inception some 15 years ago, but that standards of incitement and illegal hate speech apply there too as it does in the print and broadcast media, terminating the privilege IT companies had claimed until now that they are not responsible for 3rd party content.
Although much hope was put in the Code, Von-Schnurbein expressed disappointment at the findings of the first review of implementation undertaken in October that indicated that only 28% of flagged entries have been removed by the platforms, a percentage she admitted did not meet expectations. When the fact that the flaggers are all vetted and paid for by the IT companies themselves, the percentage of takedowns pales even further (takedowns of flagged offensive material from non-vetted sources is even lower).
This led a number of participants in the dialogue to express incredulousness at the IT company's continued insistence on using manual flagging while objecting to the institution’s use of more uniform and reliable technological solutions for automatic removal as they already do to generate individualized advertising and content. As reported recently by Digital Trends, Google recently made improvements to its algorithm that will prevent Holocaust denial websites from appearing in search results. This improvement in the algorithm was made after Google came under fire for enabling neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denying websites to rank high up in search results for questions such as: "Did the Holocaust happen?"
Some of the most advanced technology available to cleanse the web from hate speech has been developed in Israel. One of these is Spot.IM—a fully automated tool that monitors the comments sections in online media outlets for hate and verbal violence, identifying individuals who prowl the internet hoping to spark violent discourse or aggravate them. The platform, now used by over 5,000 active news sites and online magazines in the U.S., Israel and Europe—automatically filters their activity up to and including blocking them and deleting their entire comment history.
Israel is also in the process of falling in line with the U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK after a new legislation, the Removal of Terror-Inciting Content from Social Media bill, dubbed the “Facebook bill,” passed first muster last week in the Cabinet. Under the bill, courts will be empowered to order social media companies to remove posts that the authorities consider “a criminal endangerment to personal, public or national security." Although in the past year, 71% of 1,755 requests made by the Justice Ministry to providers to remove content were met, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that while internet companies were cooperating with the government in cleansing the web of content that violates defamation, adoption, Holocaust denial, incitement and anti-terrorism laws, "it is important that this cooperation be required, and not according to their whims.” The bill would apply to posts that “call for an act of violence or terrorism" and demands that posts are removed from visibility in Israel.
The Jewish community in general and B'nai B'rith in particular, along with other watchdog agencies, have a responsibility to ensure that the Commission keeps up pressure on the providers to make the Internet and social media a safer environment. In fact, speakers at the dialogue expressed that the dedication and commitment exhibited by Jewish interlocutors on this issue could be duplicated among other targeted minorities in Europe. This is a distinction I believe many of us would be only too happy to concede.
Nov. 29, 1947 is a date the United Nations should always remember as a day of serious accomplishment of the principles on which it was founded.
This was the day Resolution 181 established the Jewish State and an Arab State.
But, in the last 40 years, the U.N. changed its own history. Every Nov. 29, the UN General Assembly celebrates the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” a shameful fabrication.
History has been erased by the U.N.
When the USSR vanished and Iran penetrated Latin America, perpetrating two terrorist attacks in Argentina (in 1992 and 1994), anti-Israeli leaders came out. First, it was Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, who was faithfully followed by his heir Nicolas Maduro. Evo Morales from Bolivia, Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua followed the same steps. Venezuela and Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel; Chavez cursed Israel and other Latin American presidents did the same. Even a president who did not break relations with Israel took the opportunity to curse it: Jose Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, said that “Israel was perpetrating a genocide in Gaza (2014)” and anti-Semitism came out in Uruguay as it was never known before.
In this frame of anti-Semitism, hidden behind the mask of anti-Israelism, it is not surprising that Horacio Sevilla Borja, the Ecuadorean ambassador to the U.N., equated Israel with Nazism last week on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It is not only the Iranian style of Jewish hatred but also the Jewish hatred experienced in several Latin American countries over the last decade.
Sevilla Borja said: “We repudiate with all our strength the persecution and genocide that in its time unleashed Nazism against the Hebrew people. But I cannot remember anything more similar in our contemporary history than the eviction, persecution and genocide that today imperialism and Zionism do against the Palestinian people”.
On Monday, Dec. 5, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned Ecuadorian embassy’s third secretary, Enrique Ponce, for an “urgent meeting,” to protest Sevilla’s remarks.
Diplomatically, this is what Israel has to do and can do.
But let´s clarify a little more. Sevilla Borja is not a newcomer in diplomacy. He has been an ambassador in Latin American and European countries. He has been serving Ecuador a long time in the international field. He is a very distinguished and awarded lawyer and professor in international law.
The decision to equate Israel with Nazi Germany is a perverse diplomatic action which was carefully thought out before it was said. It was not his personal decision but a decision of the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador. Clearly, he spoke on behalf of his country. And he, of course, agreed to relay this message, full of hatred and incitement.
We do not know if Ecuador is going to excuse itself. If it does not, it would be much more sincere than if it does. The spreading of Jewish hatred has not diminished. During the 2014 Gaza war, the accusations against Israel in the region came from unions, academia, the media, but first were presidents like Rafael Correa, among others.
Ambassador Sevilla Borja is to be blamed. He expressed his hateful message because he believed in it. But let´s not stop with the messenger. His statement has not been an exception or an accident. It has been the result of policies of hatred which will not stop. Not soon, at least.
The U.N. and its system of “specialized agencies” is famous for barring down indiscriminately on the world’s only Jewish state—Israel—and serving as a kangaroo court to heap abuse on the only country in the Middle East that boasts democratic elections, peaceful transfer of power and an independent judiciary that ensures equality for all citizens. According to figures compiled by Fiamma Nirenstein, a journalist and former Italian parliamentarian, the U.N. Human Rights Council has adopted 135 resolutions from 2006 to 2015, of which 68 have been against Israel; the General Assembly has approved 97 from 2012 to 2015, of which 83 have been against Israel; and UNESCO adopts ten country-specific resolutions every year, and all of them against Israel.
This travesty continues despite the U.N.’s abysmal failure, since its establishment in 1945, to achieve its chief goal to “maintain international peace and security.” The number of deaths attributed to the 100-year old Israeli-Arab conflict are estimated at some 120,000—compared to the grotesque number of deaths attributed to other wars, massacres, slaughters and oppressions are upward of 200 million in the 20th Century. Still, the U.N. system continues to undermine its credibility by finding new and imaginative ways to attack Israel, serving as one of the chief enablers of anti-Semitism—a term which today includes, by most versions, anti-Israel bias.
The most recent series of tainted resolutions have come from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is headquartered in Paris. In October, the Executive Board voted three times on resolutions that have denied the Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site—the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The resolutions, promoted by the Palestinians (which became a full member state at UNESCO in 2011), the Arab bloc and others, were allowed to pass—with diminishing majorities—by the feckless abstentions cast by many member states. This included Christian-majority countries that ostensibly have a vested interest in maintaining the Judeo-Christian historical narrative of the late Second Temple period in the cradle of Christianity.
These resolutions were so outrageous that they even elicited a rare written condemnation by UNESCO Secretary-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and expressions of remorse by the presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Italy at their country’s vote. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went as far as to tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a subsequent telephone conversation that: “To say that the Jewish people have no connection to Jerusalem is like saying that the sun creates darkness.” Renzi promised to vote against such resolutions in the future, and to act to convince other European governments to adopt his position.
All of these efforts by world bodies whittle away at the legitimacy of Israel's presence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region, but they have little impact on the ground. These resolutions in fact are so outrageous that they have provided Israel with a perfect cover for keeping out recurrent committees of investigations that the U.N. has tried to send here—usually populated by "experts" whose anti-Israel bona fides are quite evident— in an effort to ignite an already flammable situation.
The UNESCO resolutions could in fact be credited for the record number of Jewish visitors to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount during the Sukkot holiday. On Oct. 23, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) called on all Israeli Jews to converge on the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing. On a Facebook post he said: "This year, we’ll come, in our masses, to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall, to the Priestly Blessing. This Wednesday…we’ll all be there. We’ll send a clear message—nobody will separate us from our holy places.”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western Wall, responded to the UNESCO decision by saying that, "In all of world history I don't know of an 'occupying power' whose land is full of the relics of its ancestors. The holiness of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall for the Jewish people goes back many generations. It does not need anyone's approval. It is ridiculous to deny the (archaeological) discoveries that are occurring all the time. The millions of worshipers who come to pray at the Western Wall in front of the Temple Mount are the Jewish answer to UNESCO."
And as if in perfect timing, two major archaeological discoveries that reinforce the Jewish narrative and connection to Jerusalem came to light just as the international community sought to deny it. On Oct. 27, compelling evidence of the breaching of Jerusalem’s so-called “third wall”—which was said to have surrounded the city during the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.—was announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The new archaeological find included scores of ancient ballista and sling stones that the Romans fired from catapults at the Jewish guards stationed on top of the tower to defend the wall.
The excavation directors described the find: “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple.” And a day earlier the IAA displayed an unprecedented document containing a reference to Jerusalem from the First Temple period.
Written in ancient Hebrew script and dating back to the Kingdom of Judah during the 7th century B.C.E., the rare relic—a shipping document made of papyrus—was seized from now-jailed Palestinian antiquities plunderers in a complex IAA unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery operation. The papyrus was pillaged from a remote Judean desert cave and represents the earliest extra-Biblical source yet found to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.
While UNESCO's words might not yet have caused any physical harm, they do undoubtedly provide the grist for ongoing Palestinian efforts to engage in widespread damage to the physical elements of Jewish patrimony in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. Those archaeological finds provide incontrovertible evidence of Jewish primacy in the Holy City from the time of King David and beyond.
As an avid hiker in the less traversed mountains and valleys of Judea and Samaria, I am confronted with this sad reality on a regular basis in all areas under Palestinian control: plundered Jewish burial caves, mikvas and wine presses. Nowhere is this destruction more prevalent than on Temple Mount controlled to this day by the Muslim Waqif (Holy Trust). In an article released on Oct. 27 at an IAA conference in Jerusalem spotlighting major archeological finds over the past decade, Yuval Baruch, IAA Jerusalem Region director, describes the vast destruction caused by the Waqif in 1999. Heavy machinery was used on the Temple Mount to dig out an entrance to "Solomon's Stables," which turned it into the largest mosque in Israel. In 2007, the Waqif dug a channel for laying electrical cables on the mount.
The debris from the first incident—dumped unceremoniously in the Kidron Valley—is still yielding artifacts that corroborate the biblical story. One of the most significant discoveries was presented by experts just last month—geometrically patterned marble floor tiles believed to have covered the porticos atop the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period. The tiles are so vivid, intricate and novel in design that you can still read the Talmudic teaching that “whoever has not seen Herod's building has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”
The second incident was approved and overseen by Baruch and yielded some of the only First Temple artifacts to be found in situ on Temple Mount. But other senior archaeologists fault IAA for what they argue is a continuing pattern of non-intervention in the Waqif's design to damage and destroy vestiges of Jewish presence on and around Temple Mount. They fault the state for allowing the Temple Mount artifacts to remain buried due to considerations of expediency (i.e. that such digs would cause turmoil in the Muslim world).
While confronting—with considerable success—the diplomatic war against the Jewish people's chronicle in Jerusalem, the State of Israel must do more to ensure that our physical patrimony is not eliminated under the same motivation. If Israel is unable at this time to engage in a comprehensive expert and vetted archaeological dig on Temple Mount—something which is long over do—due to political, diplomatic and other temporal considerations, it must ensure that these artifacts remain in situ until future generations will have the fortune to do so.
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.
Promoting Education And Anti-Discrimination Legislation: Two Important Ways To Combat Anti-Semitism And Other Forms Of Bigotry Globally
The Case of a Small City in Argentina
A few weeks ago, there was an anti-Semitic incident in the city of Bariloche, a major tourist destination in the southwestern part of Argentina. It is common for Argentine students to travel there when they graduate from high school.
A group of Jewish students from the ORT School in Buenos Aires were at a disco when they started to receive insults from another group of students, from a German School, who were wearing swastikas and Hitler costumes. The students from ORT alerted the managers of the disco but nobody took the appropriate measures and, therefore, there was apparently a fight between the two groups.
Officials from the city apologized later on and the German school took appropriate disciplinary measures. But the incident sparked a number of other of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country.
One of them happened in my hometown, Salta, a relatively small city in the northwestern part of the country. Carlos Paz, the ombudsman of a district called Cerrillos, allegedly posted an outrageous anti-Semitic message on his Facebook page, stating:
"Sh***y Jews, I am tired of them, always appearing as the victim. They are the ones that segregate millions of Palestinians, build walls, have racist laws, murder and advise terrorist organizations and murderous States, like they did with Apartheid South Africa. Now they are judging young people for wearing German clothes from WWII. And we cannot even say ‘sh***y Jew’ because we are labeled as racists and human garbage…”
The post went on to imply that the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish center was a self-inflicted attack and that the Jews want people to believe Iran was responsible. The message ended again with the phrase "sh***y Jews, I am tired of them," and was accompanied by several articles, one of them stating that the Holocaust was a lie.
Paz is not only the ombudsman of the district but also teaches philosophy at several local high schools.
Fortunately, INADI, the country’s agency that combats discrimination, xenophobia and racism (created after the AMIA bombing) acted immediately and joined the local Jewish community in its denunciation of the incident. Several government officials strongly condemn the incident as well.
As a result, the ombudsman is now suspended from his position and will apparently face an impeachment process through the local legislature. He was also suspended from his teaching positions and is facing criminal charges (because of an existing anti-discrimination law).
Independently of what ends up happening with this particular person (who is now orchestrating a pretty clever defense by stating that his Facebook account was hacked), it is important to note the swift and positive measures that the local government, the judiciary and the nation’s anti-discrimination agency took. Some years ago, an incident like this would have not generated such a strong response, particularly in a city like Salta, a small and traditional place where anti-Semitic manifestations were not at all uncommon.
There are three factors that, in my opinion, contributed to these very positive developments. The first one is the anti-discrimination law that the Argentine Parliament passed back in 1988, which has gradually become more widely known and used. The second one is the creation of INADI, in 1995, which has not only played a key role at creating awareness among the general population about the need to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance, but also expanded the use of the existing anti-discrimination law in a considerable way. And the last factor is Argentina’s decision to join the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2002. Until then, the Holocaust was either absent in the curricula of most schools or studied in a very tangential way.
As this case shows, anti-discrimination laws can play a very important role in the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance. Anti-Semites and bigots of all kinds will continue to exist but these laws can certainly force them to watch what they do and limit the negative effects that their hateful acts can have in society.
In this regard, it is worth noting that B’nai B’rith International has long advocated for the approval of anti-discrimination legislation in many countries throughout the region, working in conjunction with other minorities and vulnerable groups. And—at the hemispheric level—B’nai B’rith has worked for many years at the Organization of American States to make the approval of two major Inter-American anti-discrimination conventions a reality.
The other—and perhaps most important—tool in the fight against bigotry is, of course, education. And B’nai B’rith can be proud of its work in this field as well. Our districts and units across Latin America have not only advocated for the passing of legislation that makes Holocaust education mandatory in schools but also played a very active role in promoting educational programs that teach respect for diversity and human rights. As the case of Salta demonstrates, this is definitely something worth continuing.
Across Latin America, Iran presents itself as a very normal country wanting to deliver its culture and share it with ordinary people.
Mosques and cultural centers want to show Iran´s point: “We are peaceful and we want to spread peace all over the world.”
Iran wants to distract from its nuclear race and the terrorist attacks in Argentina in 1992 and 1994.
Venezuela opened its doors to Iran 10 years ago and Iran took advantage of it, directly or through Hezbollah in South and Central America. But, Iran envisioned that allies like Venezuela or Bolivia may not endure forever as authoritarian regimes, so it has also advanced its agenda with mosques and missionaries.
Tehran’s use of clerics as unofficial agents of the Iranian revolution started in the 1980s and Latin America was not forgotten in this field. The first cleric to reach Latin America was Mohsen Rabbani, who, in 1983, went to Argentina to lead the Al-Tawhid mosque and serve as a halal meat inspector in Buenos Aires. Both tasks appeared innocent, but Rabbani was deeply involved in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured over 300.
In 1984, Sheikh Taleb Hussein al-Khazraji made his way to Brazil. Both Rabbani and Khazraji were cited by the Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman (found dead in his apartment a year and a half ago, two days before he was expected to present criminal charges against the former Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner) in his 2013 report on Iran’s Latin American networks.
According to Nisman, “Interpol [Brasilia] informed that Khazraji was an employee of the Iranian government and ... was engaged in recruiting highly politicized believers to get them close to Teheran.”
Though Rabbani left Latin America due to the accusation of his involvement in the AMIA bombing, he continues to run his recruitment program from Iran’s center of religious learning in Qom.
Khazraji remains in the Shia community of São Paulo, Brazil, where he pursues his “clerical tasks.”
According to a very serious investigation of Emanuele Ottolenghi, an expert in Islamic penetration in Latin America, “another cleric reportedly linked to Hezbollah is Sheikh Ghassan Youssef Abdallah. Abdallah is active in Chile, in Brazil (frequently visiting the tri-border area), and in Paraguay (where he once ran the Iranian mosque in Ciudad Del Este).”
Ottolenghi explains: “They are not alone. Alongside dozens of Iranian and Lebanese Shia clerics, there is also a new generation of locally born clerics who have joined their ranks. Converts are routinely sent to Qom, all expenses paid, to attend Iranian seminaries specially tailored to Spanish and Portuguese speakers, before they return home to act as Iran’s unofficial emissaries in their countries of birth.”
During his term, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the region numerous times, attempting to influence the region, including: Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua. Iranian influence and Hezbollah activities use religious envoys to deliver messages of hate toward the Jewish people and Israel.
In June 2014, the Imam Ali mosque in Curitiba hosted a well-attended memorial service for a young Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria in March 2014. His Brazilian uncle, wearing a Hezbollah scarf, led the memorial, and praised his nephew as a martyr.
Latin American governments should recognize the threat posed by a foreign power spreading hatred to local populations.
The bombings in Argentina in 1992 and 1994, the freedom of Hezbollah members to traffic drugs in Venezuela and Central America, the anti-Semitic hatred in social media; the murder of a Jewish businessman this year in Uruguay, stabbed by a converted Islamist who said “he had received a call from Allah to kill a Jew,” are enough examples of hate crime, terrorism and hate speech.
And hate crimes and hate speech are a threat for all countries and their populations. If governments and civil society recognize that everybody is under threat, more tragedies could be avoided.
Did Islamic terrorists ask permission to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and to bomb the AMIA in 1994? No. Neutrality only opens doors for insanity.
In January of this year, before the massacre in Belgium but after the terrorist attacks in France in 2015, a major daily in Uruguay interviewed French Ambassador Sylvain Itte to Uruguay in Montevideo.
“Of course Uruguay is not outside terrorist threats. It would be very wrong to think that way or to think that any country can be free of such a threat,” Itte said. “Terrorists have no borders and their message is the same all over the world. You can´t live thinking 24 hours a day that there will be a terrorist attack, but if you compare 20 years ago, you must admit that there is no place on earth free from terrorist threats and attacks.”
Itte didn’t realize that this was basically a premonition.
15 years ago, Uruguay approved an anti-discriminatory law to combat hatred and anti-Semitism, defending the society against hate crimes. This was not a response to terrorism at the time but there were strong signs of intolerance and the approval of the law was essential.
On March 8 of this year, incitement progressed to murder, hate crimes and terrorism.
David Fremd, an extraordinary, devoted Jewish community leader in Paysandu, a city 400 kilometers from Montevideo, was stabbed to death. The killer admitted this was because he was Jewish.
Abdullah Omar, 35 years old, a school teacher, converted to Islam 10 years ago. His original name is Omar Peralta. He told the judge before being sentenced that he received “a call from Allah” to kill a Jew, so he went to the shop where he knew a prominent Jew worked and stabbed him.
Latin America is surrounded by incitement. From social media to the awful language used in political discussions in the media to the Uruguayan Congress, etc. We can watch it through the lens of the frenzied, radical left, which separates the world into good people and bad people, and blames Israel for all the evils on earth.
More from Eduardo Kohn:
During last war in the Gaza Strip in 2014, then-President of Uruguay Jose Mujica took part in the incitement, saying that Israel was “genocidal.”
In a blink of an eye, anti-Semitism rose like flames of a great fire and graffiti with the phrase, “Get out Jews from Uruguay” were painted in roads, streets, avenues and walls. Once incitement comes out, it does not go back.
The signs of hatred are out there. There are laws to fight discrimination and cyber harassment. But waiting for turmoil is not prevention as requested by the law.
Now that hate crimes and terrorism have taken place in Latin America, there have been some positive reactions.
The Uruguayan government, through its President Tabare Vazquez who took office a year ago, has promised that the administration will use its tools to combat all sorts of racism and discrimination at all levels.
But let´s be clear. Neither the state nor the civil society alone will be able to heal these deep wounds separately. The work must be done together.
Is it possible? We all hope so. Except for the ALBA countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela), democracy prevails.
In this fight to defend democracy, it’s not simply the future that is at stake. It is also the present.
“And if a foreigner sojourns with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. Like one of your citizens shall be the foreigner who sojourns with you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
“And you shall guard your lives exceedingly” (Deuteronomy 4:15)
Long before this past weekend’s terrorist attacks in Paris, French and other Western European Jews acutely felt the conflicting pulls of an instinctive empathy for the plight of refugees but also of a particular vulnerability to the security risks accompanying a substantial, let alone uncontrolled, influx of migrants and others from the Middle East. These Jews bear memories of not only the Holocaust but also, often, their own immigrant experiences originating in North Africa and elsewhere. On the other hand, the eventual arrival in Europe of a very large Arab-Muslim population was marked by the dwarfing of domestic Jewish communities’ relative size; much more importantly, the growth in numbers of the Middle Eastern newcomers, rarely as well-integrated as their counterparts in the United States, correlated directly with a continuous intensification of anti-Jewish hostility and violence.
As a result, the focal point of continental anti-Semitism has decisively shifted from Eastern Europe, where “traditional” religious and ethnic animus long pervaded, to Western Europe, to which the Middle East’s toxic anti-Zionism was, already well prior to the recent waves of asylum-seekers, imported in significant volume by the immigrants. Critically, moreover, many of these immigrants were the product of societies that make little distinction between “Zionists” and Jews in general: stark Pew Research Center surveys have found negativity rates of over 90 percent toward Jews--not even simply Israelis—in most Muslim-majority countries the group examined.
And so, with publicly wearing yarmulkes or Star of David pendants having increasingly become a genuine safety hazard in much of France and Western Europe, Jewish anxiety over the expanding presence of Islamic radicalism predates the current moment of collective European alarm. What has over recent months fragmented and stymied European officialdom as a massive humanitarian, socioeconomic and political challenge—the flood of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans and others crossing Europe’s shores and borders—could easily have been recognized by many European Jews as also being a signal security crisis. Over recent months and years alone, after all, they experienced shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse, the Jewish museum in Brussels and a bat mitzvah celebration in Copenhagen; open expressions of anti-Semitism in Malmo, London and elsewhere; and a litany of attacks in the French capital, whose large Jewish population has slowly declined through aliya, that included the gruesome kidnapping and murder of Ilan Halimi, a synagogue besieged, a Jewish woman raped and (in the shadow of the Charlie Hebdo killings this year) Hyper Cacher grocery shoppers slaughtered.
Meanwhile, the one Western European country where, for obvious historical reasons, overt bigotry toward both “Zionists” and Jews still remains substantially inadmissible, Germany, is for those same and additional reasons bearing the lion’s share of European absorption of Middle Eastern refugees—refugees that, at some 800,000 this year alone, will alter Germany’s demographic landscape, quickly constituting around 1 percent of the country’s populace. If history and the fundamental rules of politics are any guide, many of these immigrants will not so easily depart even if the severe upheaval in their homelands is ever settled, and they will inevitably exert influence on their adopted countries’ societal culture and political policies—including those impacting to what degree Jews still consider Europe a viable and hospitable home, as well as those with regard to the unceasing jihadist onslaught faced by Israel. Sadly, too many French and Belgian policymakers, whose countries were most directly impacted by this week’s tragedy, have frequently failed to afford the Jewish state the principled, unwavering support and solidarity that they have received following atrocities that lack any legitimate justification.
But if the latest carnage in Paris has provided searing affirmation for those fearing the “overrunning” of Europe by people who might include more of those committed to striking Western civilization from within, Jews in particular could not and cannot help but be indelibly impacted by other images that have emerged from the Middle Eastern exodus to Europe over recent months. The sights and sounds of refugee families traversing hundreds of perilous miles by sea and on foot, desperately cramming into overheated trains or reception camps—in one country, migrants even briefly had numbers written on their arms by local officials—have been, plainly, unbearable. And the photograph of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach cried out to the collective conscience of humanity.
Reports now indicate that at least one of the perpetrators of this past weekend’s Paris attacks may indeed have infiltrated Europe on the pretext of (or hidden among those) seeking asylum. But, real security threats notwithstanding, international unresponsiveness cannot be the lot of all those genuinely seeking nothing but to escape their hellish circumstances at home and to find for their families a better life. The solution to their predicament, and that of those responsible for the welfare of the migrants’ intended destinations, is not at all clear. It should be remembered, though, that while many Middle Easterners do hail from settings where antagonism to various Western values, and certainly to Jews, is common, the vast majority of these individuals are not themselves disposed to engage in violence. And, certainly, a deep divide between people will not be overcome simply by ignoring or wishing away immense human suffering, especially that of innocents.
However it ultimately grapples with next-door calamities that continue to spill over onto its terrain, Europe—not enjoying the distance provided by oceans that bring some security even in an age of air travel that is easy and online communication that is even easier—is not likely to be the same as it was five or 25 years ago. And, with enduring implications for the vital and historic Jewish presence on this continent, Jews are likely to continue to be the first to experience trends that stand to remake Europe as a whole.
In striving to preserve both their societies and essential human values, European leaders cannot be envied for the policy dilemmas that they face. It should by now be clear, though, that morality and security alike require equally confronting the scourge of violent fanaticism irrespective of whether it targets Israelis or Frenchmen, Jews or simply anyone. In a globalized world, ideological wildfires cannot easily be contained in someone else’s domain.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University.To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
A recent international conference in Warsaw, Poland provided an opportunity to take inventory of the struggle against anti-Semitism. While the U.S. and European governments have made progress in addressing the problem, evidence of anti-Semitism’s persistence is in ready supply.
2014 saw a breakthrough at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a multilateral organization charged with, among other priorities, combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. For the first time in more than a decade of tackling modern incarnations of Judeophobia, the 57 governments that make up the OSCE codified core principles of the fight against anti-Semitism in a high-level ministerial declaration. “We reject and condemn manifestations of anti-Semitism, intolerance, and discrimination against Jews,” the document intoned.
2014, meanwhile, was also a year that saw a spike in anti-Semitic incidents across Europe and the former Soviet Union. A wave of anti-Israel demonstrations has swept the OSCE region in 2014 and 2015; these gatherings typically have featured blatantly anti-Semitic themes and often have turned violent. Attacks on Jewish individuals and institutions have increased in frequency and intensity, as the landscape from Belgium to Bulgaria, Germany to Greece, Holland to Hungary, and Ireland to Italy has witnessed violence against Jewish targets. This spread of hatred has been accompanied by a corrosion of the public discourse with respect to Jews and Israel and has left European Jewry fearful for their safety and security.
The rise of anti-Jewish hatred also has resulted in a proliferation of anti-Semitic propaganda, much of which is directed against the State of Israel. Tragically, the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state has become a daily occurrence, as Israel’s enemies repeatedly accuse it of being a Nazi-like occupier and an apartheid state that disenfranchises the Palestinians. Falsehoods about Israel are repeated so often that they become widely accepted in the popular culture and sometimes impact government policy. The effort by Israel’s relentless critics to denigrate the Jewish state is not only evidence that anti-Semitism is alive and well 70 years after the Holocaust—this new variation of the world’s oldest social illness actually poses a security threat to the Jewish state by intensifying its international isolation.
Against this backdrop, an OSCE human dimension implementation meeting that B’nai B’rith attended in Warsaw this month underscored that while much has been done to fight anti-Semitism in the past decade or more, much work remains. The need for practical and effective strategies to combat and defeat this pathology is still crucial.
B’nai B’rith’s recommendations to the Warsaw gathering included a call for OSCE member-states to affirm commitments made at the landmark 2004 Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism— and reiterated in last year’s ministerial declaration—and assess the implementation of those commitments. B’nai B’rith also urged:
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He previously served as assistant director of European affairs at the American Jewish Committee. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, Click Here
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