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.
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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