(June 27, 2021 / JNS) Young adults fresh out of school understand the anxiety associated with taking a test. The amount of preparation can be daunting. But when it comes to taking a test about anti-Semitism, Judaism or Israel, how much do young adults really know these days? I framed this question at the first B’nai B’rith Portugal European Young Leaders Program on June 21 at the new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the first such institution in the country.
The adults in the audience, young and older, certainly could relate to the universal pressures of taking an important test, whether their subjects were marketing, management or dentistry. But in a time when young adults generally are far less knowledgeable or savvy about such matters as Judaism and the Jewish state, one wonders more broadly how prepared the next generation is to handle the challenges facing them on college campuses or in the workplace, where Jews have felt pressures heaped on them recently by antagonizing and attacking anti-Israel/anti-Semitic forces.
Sadly, most students are woefully ill-prepared or ill-informed about such matters, leaving them vulnerable to believing whatever they are told by peers, and fearful as to what attacker may lurk around the corner. Perhaps students, armed with the truth, would be able to defend themselves.
Clearly the Jewish people have been tested through time. They have survived adversity through great civilizations, tyrants, impossible circumstances, expulsions, pogroms and gas chambers. Amid all of their wondrous achievements and successes, they have faced inexorable pain. Portugal witnessed 20 percent of its population evaporate in 1497 from the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews, and Europe lost at least 33 percent of its Jews from 1933 to 1945.
For thousands of years, Jews have absorbed being demonized, persecuted and subjected to blood libels that stripped them of their humanity. The defense in common libel matters of American jurisprudence is the truth.
So, the young adults in Porto’s Holocaust museum this day were advised that the truth is readily available, and that they must pursue it to counter—and hopefully reduce—damaging falsehoods. The test for which they must prepare will require time and commitment for study. They must have the mentorship and guidance of an older generation, thus making this process something that is delivered from generation to generation.
The Porto conference taught them about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism from Ambassador Luis Barreiros, Portugal’s delegation head to the IHRA committee. The definition has been adopted by more than 30 countries, universities, organizations, large businesses, even premier sports leagues.
However, some groups, even Jewish groups, have considered it “not perfect,” as it is “misunderstood and misused” because of its support for the existence and defense of the State of Israel. “But it is the best tool,” Barreiros said, “to fight the scourges of anti-Semitism, so let’s use it.”
He added that the definition helps identify warning lights and signs against Jew-hatred. “Half-truths are more dangerous than a full lie,” he said.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, whose organization endorses and promotes the IHRA definition, praised the measure and actually participated in the earliest meetings in Stockholm during the late 1990s.
“Israel’s enemies and those who seek to undermine it consistently hide behind the “free speech” argument,” Mariaschin said. “Theirs is surely not critical opinion; it is the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. Their language is that of incitement. When one says that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ that it engages in ‘state terror’ and that its security fence is akin to the Warsaw Ghetto, they are deliberately engaging in what amounts to anti-Semitic smear tactics.”
Other red lines crossed, Mariaschin said, included a U.N. resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism, suggesting that if you are a Zionist—someone who identifies Israel as the eternal homeland for the Jewish people—then you are a racist. The effects of that resolution are very much with us today. He said that Jews need to re-double efforts at educating ourselves about Jewish and Israeli history to counter the verbal assaults.
“We live in a time when historical context is deemed expendable,” Mariaschin said. “We mustn’t allow those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel to selectively put forth wildly biased narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why it is vitally important to know our own history, if we are to push back effectively in a time when Israel is demeaned daily, especially on social media.”
Raphael Gamzou, Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, reminded the audience that Israel was bombarded mercilessly with “moral equivalency arguments” in assessing responses to thousands of missiles raining down on Israel from Gaza.
“I never claim Israel is a flawless country, but the missile attacks were such a flagrant violation, and to follow up with comments about moral equivalency is outrageous,” he said. “There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF. Our enemies are going to complain that we have a weapon that not only keeps rockets from falling on its own people, but keeps rockets from falling on Palestinians. We wish we didn’t have to protect ourselves from missile attacks, but we do. This is war.”
Asked about the prospects of another Holocaust against the Jews and the rise of anti-Semitism, he said, “With Israel as a thriving nation, I see no option for another Holocaust against the Jewish people,” he said. “We will have to continue developing Israel as a moral and democratic country to encourage additional agreements, such as the Abraham Accords. And we will need to continue building bridges between the Diaspora and a healthy Israel. As for anti-Semitism, we’ve faced it for thousands of years, and I’m afraid it is here for the long haul … unfortunately.”
Jews will continue to be tested, so you are urged to study Jewish and Israel history very diligently. Only with such preparation will today’s and tomorrow’s generations be able to survive.
The conference concluded the next day with roundtable discussions and congratulatory messages from Porto community benefactors Michael Kadoorie and Jacob Safra.
Read President Kaufman's analysis on JNS.org.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
The pages of the Winter 2020 issue of IMPACT contained a From the Vault column focusing on the cleaning, repair and rededication of the 19th century Moorish-style synagogue in Verdun, France by American soldiers during World War II, who were the first to revive Friday night worship services there. The building had been destroyed by the Nazis before the American troops arrived.
The story of the events in Verdun had originally been published as a first-hand account by Army officer, surgeon and B’nai B’rith member Col. Joseph Haas in a 1945 issue of B’nai B’rith’s American Jewish Monthly.
With funds raised by France’s heritage organization, Fondation du Patrimoine, the synagogue has now undergone a major restoration by the architectural firm Grégoire André. A short film on the foundation’s website details many aspects of this project and includes footage of the restoration process, as well as visuals of the building’s exterior and sanctuary.
Designated as an historic landmark, the Verdun synagogue is owned by Verdun’s Jewish community. Many dangerous leaks from the roof and elsewhere had forced the synagogue to close to the public.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
You wouldn't know it from the Human Rights Council -- which ritualistically adopted multiple anti-Israel resolutions last week, yet only lone ones on such scenes of unsurpassed carnage and deprivation as Syria, Iran and North Korea -- but the most elemental human right of Israelis, the right to life, has been denied and threatened in a particularly relentless and vicious way for about half a year now. The council was not even embarrassed to condemn Israel for its possession of, and human rights record on, the strategically vital and essentially tranquil Golan Heights at a time when religious minorities and the U.N.'s own personnel enjoy refuge there from the bloodletting by regime forces and terrorist groups alike across the border in Syria.
In a true manifestation of insult added to injury, and of abdicated political and ethical leadership, apathy in Geneva to Palestinian terrorism comes as little surprise, though, since the United Nations as a whole is all but explicit in its indifference to violence against Israelis -- unless and until Israel responds forcefully, at which point Israel itself is subjected to especially wild opprobrium.
A running compendium by the world body, "UN Response to Acts of Terrorism," lists its reactions to acts of violence against civilians globally -- from France to Lebanon to Mali to Afghanistan to Egypt to Turkey to Belgium and beyond -- and yet manages not to note even a single one of the stabbings, shootings or car rammings that have afflicted innocent Israelis on a near-daily basis over the last six months.
Forget solidarity marches by world leaders, the superimposing of the Israeli flag on social-media profile photos or declarations of "Je suis Jerusalem"; after all, even a fresh target of Islamist terror like Belgium continues to be among those denying Israel any understanding or decency in its voting at the Human Rights Council. Instead, the UN secretary-general recently rationalized Palestinian acts of terror as "human nature" -- and went as far as to respond to the subsequent objections of Israeli leaders by publishing an op-ed castigating them for "lashing out at every well-intentioned critic," among them "Israel's closest friends." When a few weeks ago I accompanied a group of diplomats on a visit to Israel -- one that was illuminating in its revelation of the country as a democratic, pluralistic haven amid upheaval, so humane as to be unassumingly treating wounded arrivals from hostile Syria -- UN officials stationed there did not let reality disrupt their relaying of a well-practiced narrative in which only Palestinians are associated with grievance and only Israelis are saddled with obligations.
For these bureaucrats, Palestinian suffering was worthy of detailing and magnification, while Israeli suffering was minimized or ignored completely. Indeed, with the UN never considering all those Israelis maimed or traumatized in terrorist attacks, the ongoing wave of Palestinian violence, we were told, does not rise to the level of a "political crisis." Meeting the same day with a non-religious Jewish girl and an Orthodox man who had been wounded in horrifying attacks -- by sheer randomness, in different areas that we ourselves had visited in Jerusalem that day, including the vicinity of the UN compound itself -- I found myself growing emotional in decrying the failure of UN data and officialdom to see any "crisis" in an untold number of Israelis whose scars, physical and otherwise, will permanently testify to their neighbors' conviction that their lives are somehow deserving of being brought to a cruel and arbitrary end.
Putting aside cruelty, today's multiplying Palestinian assailants, whose precursors had inaugurated in earnest the era of modern political terrorism, particularly the use of plane hijackings and suicide bombings, have again honed their brutal craft. Following phases dominated by cross-frontier rocket fire, hostage-taking and other tactics, ordinary Palestinians, endlessly incited to violent hatred not only by Hamas but also by the purportedly moderate Fatah, can now harm and terrorize Israelis with little training or resources, and little possibility for a decisive Israeli response. After all, will Israel deny all Palestinians access to steak knives or to automobiles that can then be exploited as weaponry? And whom can Israel effectively confront when any Palestinian youth rifling through a kitchen drawer is a potential perpetrator of warfare? Not least, by anonymously taking cleavers to Israelis one at a time -- without the dramatic footage and gore of ISIS decapitation videos -- Palestinians can broadly victimize Israelis, day after day for months on end, without the world's so much as taking notice, let alone discerning a crisis.
Which is why, if UN officials do actually care about peace in the region or at least about the stated aspirations of mainstream Palestinians, they must finally stop coddling the Palestinians, denying them all sense of responsibility or agency, and insist that they end the crude, ubiquitous incitement against Israel that inevitably results in the deaths of Palestinians.
The UN itself, for that matter, must stop serving as a global purveyor of such incitement.
A senior UN official, explaining in a New York Times essay this month why he was walking away from a long career at the organization, wrote: "If you lock a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again." At the UN, he acknowledged, "too many decisions are driven by political expediency instead of by the values of the United Nations or the facts on the ground." He concluded: "We need a United Nations led by people for whom 'doing the right thing' is normal and expected."
Serial abuse of Israel was not the subject of the former UN official's piece, and -- no surprise, since it is likely the most entrenched and politically untouchable of UN dogmas -- it was nowhere mentioned in it.
However, indifference to and complicity in the deep injustice that is bigotry against Israel are central to the departure of the UN from its intended purposes and from its real potential.
The UN will remain fundamentally corrupt, and most certainly a failure at peacemaking, until it is finally able to treat the deliberate murder of Jews as it does that of others among its constituents.
“This latest Palestinian uprising is a Facebook intifada” (USA Today 10/15/15) mimics the Palestinian narrative instead of presenting the facts.
The article ignores organized incitement from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and others at the top levels of the PA and in the terrorist group Hamas. Instead, it explains away the latest murderous attacks on the Jews of Israel in the gentlest terms.
The report states: "Like the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 and the recruitment success of the Islamic State, the spreading violence against Israelis in recent weeks seems to have been sparked by spontaneous combustion on Twitter and Facebook, rather than by organized political groups.”
When Hamas urges Palestinians to form “stabbing squads” and then praises the attackers and honors their families, and when the head of the PA publicly denies Jewish historical ties to the land of Israel and warns Jews to get their “filthy feet” off the Temple Mount, which is considered the holiest site to Jews, that is hardly the foundation of a “spontaneous” uprising.
Palestinian incitement has been a major obstacle to peace for decades. But that fact is not in the report.
The reporter ignores the daily reality faced by Israelis when she characterizes the “weapons of choice” in the attacks on Jews as “rocks, knives and social media.” In reality, Palestinians are using knives and meat cleavers to repeatedly stab Jews, they have driven cars into groups of people standing at bus stops and they have used fire bombs.
The real cause of the rise in these murderous attacks is not social media. It’s deep-rooted, officially sanctioned anti-Semitism and anti-Israel fanaticism and incitement.
Daniel S. Mariaschin
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the Executive Vice President at B'nai B'rith International, and has spent nearly all of his professional life working on behalf of Jewish organizations. As the organization's top executive officer, he directs and supervises B'nai B'rith programs, activities and staff in the more than 50 countries where B'nai B'rith is organized. He also serves as director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Human Rights and Public Policy (CHRPP). In that capacity, he presents B'nai B'rith's perspective to a variety of audiences, including Congress and the media, and coordinates the center's programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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