At the turn of the 21st century, much of the world feared computers around the world would crash, setting off all kinds of millennial chaos. It didn’t happen. Clocks continued to tick; computers continued to run.
For the United Nations, perhaps the time was right for another chance to rid the world of racism, end slavery, and sex trafficking of women and children. Perhaps it was time to conquer famine and disease. In 2001, planning for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance took shape. The site for this noble, if not symbolic event, was Durban, a location on the southern coast of Africa, a continent racked by all of the above problems.
As often happens with the United Nations, a space built on visions of peace, the event aimed at fighting humanity’s millennia-old maladies would devolve into a hatefest. Durban, instead, would become a battleground against an ancient people who’d build an identity from receiving a divine code of human behavior and entering a sliver of real estate bordering the Mediterranean. Four days into the event, the United States and Israel withdrew their delegations in protest.
Twenty years after Durban, the very United Nations that organized and promoted the original Durban Conference announced another round of fighting human rights and racism. Fast-forward 20 years into the 21st century. Something called the “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (DDPA) is planned to offer “discussions” that will become a report to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly at its 76th session in 2021 and the Human Rights Council’s 45th session. Can’t wait. And neither can Iran.
The representative of Iran requested that on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the DDPA, the Intergovernmental Working Group would “address the wide range of issues addressed in the DDPA, as well as the new manifestations of discrimination,” in particular issues of “xenophobia and Islamophobia.” So full of irony is this request from one of the chief violators of human rights in the world that one can only wonder if such a request from this member-nation makes the entire event a nonstarter, at least for the United States and Israel.
Other nations have requested that the 20th anniversary of Durban be celebrated with “one thematic event” in Geneva and one “high-level political event” in New York. Other groups requested producing promotional materials and “high visibility” from such countries as South Africa and Cuba, among others. Much, if not all, of the free world must wonder if the phrase “well-intentioned” has a chance to be relevant here. What’s more, the plans call for member states, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, of which B’nai B’rith International is so credentialed, to organize and participate in the Durban 20th anniversary programs.
The framework for this meeting is beginning to sound awfully like something the world has already witnessed in the first Durban Conference. Are we headed for Durban déjà vu—another hatefest?
When the governments of Iran, Cuba and South Africa figure prominently in the planning, it’s reasonable to feel skepticism. Will the funds budgeted for this conference perpetuate United Nations bias against Israel? This funding could surely be better spent on reducing famine and sickness.
What else would make such a conference fruitful? Dream about these developments: the U.N. conference opens with a salute to Gulf States and other countries seeking peace and normalized relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority declares the end of its covenant to destroy the State of Israel. Gone is the drumbeat of language declaring Israel an “apartheid state.” A new Palestinian government replaces its covenant and ceases uttering the refrain about how Israel targets innocent children and stops claiming the Temple Mount and the Western Wall have no attachment to the Jewish people. Imagine the progress in such a world. Nice dream. (Snap) Wake up.
Twenty years ago, while people from the free world were packing for Durban, pre-conference documents assailed Israel for “the racist practices of Zionism.” In 2021, contrary to popular belief, many in the world understand and appreciate positive contributions of Muslims and their faith in God. At the same time, no one can honestly deny Islamophobia or xenophobia of any kind, particularly when significant parts of the world live with extremist threats to kill other people, destroy other faiths or cultures and “annihilate” Israel.
Twenty years ago, delegations condemned Israel for her “treatment of Palestinians” in defending her borders. Never mind the relentless terror directed at Israel, the tunneling, kidnappings, stabbings of civilians, the firing missiles at Israeli towns from Gaza homes, schools, hospitals, even mosques.
The DDPA should try again to promote racial reconciliation, to construct a message of peace and harmony and do what the United Nations was designed to do since 1945 — “to prevent conflict, to help parties in conflict to make peace or to create conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish.” Avoid Durban Déjà vu.
Read President Kaufman's expert analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
Who says the pandemic has killed theater in New York? It thrives at one of the world’s largest stages – the United Nations. In no other place in the world does comedy and tragedy mix with such demonic fanfare. While the ever-popular Lion King is scheduled to resume in June 2021 at the Minskoff Theatre, the Lying King continued its notorious run last week at the UN General Assembly.
What began with “Palestinian Solidarity Day” weeks ago ended with nothing more than another round of votes to appease Palestinians and allow them to perpetuate their victim-for-profit campaign. As the dust settles from the latest round of UN voting, we find nothing has changed, albeit the number of “Yes” votes is declining. The “All The World’s a Stage Theater” allows Palestinians merely to add to the list of anti-Israel resolutions and build on anti-Israel bias. Beyond screaming headlines, not much else is reality.
This year, my fellow theater-goers, the plot thickens. In the 2020 version of The Lying King, the early acts are the same as the days of Partition on November 29, 1947, a day celebrated by Jews and condemned by Arabs. The story line is summarized this way: Out of disgust with Israel’s existence, Arab nations wage war on their enemy, hoping to push the Jews into the sea. Military defeats to Israelis fuel the Arab world to wage future conflict, all the while using the UN as a platform for demeaning the Jewish state with a series of resolutions and a fruitless boycott movement.
With every subsequent scene to this play, maps get redrawn to reflect conquests of 1948, 1967 and 1973. The West Bank, once part of Jordan, changed title to Israel in 1967. Land once belonging to Jordan suddenly became “occupied” by Israel. The Six Day War that year delivered Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. In the Yom Kippur War, the Golan Heights, once used by Syria to attack the north of Israel, would become prized territory. A couple of parcels would become bargaining chips for treaties. The Sinai returned to Egypt and, as agreed, the Jordanian Wakf would govern the Islamic holy site on the Temple Mount. The peace holds with Egypt and Jordan. Accords in Oslo reimagined the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. These accords were violated as the Palestinians ushered in an era of intifadas, replete with suicide bombings and other terrorism. Who did the UN condemn? Israel, of course, in a landslide.
Act III begins with failed negotiations and a rise in terrorism, including stabbings and kidnappings facilitated through tunneling, which prompt disputed Jewish settlements in Area C. A hopeful turn of events in Gaza led to Israel withdrawing Jewish settlers from the slice of land along the Mediterranean. Enter Hamas.
As the play moves along, Gaza becomes a launching pad for more terrorism and retaliation by Israel, which leads to heightened and increased drama in the UN with more resolutions condemning Israel. From 1967 to 1989, the UN Security Council adopted 131 resolutions addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict. Each year, 20 pro-Palestinian resolutions are passed by the General Assembly. At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the notorious “Item 7” is the only permanent agenda item, and it is designated for criticism of Israel. The rest of the world is collectively submitted under “Item 4.”
OH, AND the story gets better. The Palestinians get a boost from Iran and Syria as their leadership uses the United Nations to gain nonmember observer status (2012). Economic relations among nations on all continents with Israel, leading to a warming of relations, have been doused with cold water in the UN by yet the next round of resolutions and false narratives, including resolutions that argue Israel has no historical claim to the Western Wall or the Temple Mount. The “State of Palestine” argues it is exclusively a Muslim site. Of course, this is simply false.
The Palestinians, still floating rounds of rhetoric and propaganda – invoking such inflammatory verbiage as Nazis, apartheid and worse – reject recent normalization treaties with Israel by Arab states, the UAE and Bahrain. While these Arab states embrace a two-state solution, they also see the great short-term benefits building enterprise with Israel.
The normalization narrative weakens Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as it is a departure from the PLO mantra, much less the PLO charter, which denies the legitimacy of Israel, the existence of a historical or religious ties to “Palestine” and labels Zionism a racist, imperialist, fascist and colonialist political movement. At the very least, archaeological finds have given the Lying King a long run at the United Nations. As for colonization, Israel is slightly larger than New Jersey.
Palestinian and Arab rhetoric seeks to revert to the 1967 borders and designate east Jerusalem (the Old City) as a capital. Turning back the clock 54 years is unlikely, if not impossible. Truly, it is mere staging for Israel’s destruction.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric by Afghanistan, Iran and other outliers make glorifying speeches at perennial Palestinian pep rallies. They cry out against “denying the historical and legal rights of the Palestinian people... It is time to stand for justice.” These lines get delivered with perfection and even a straight face. The story of lies and deception is flawless.
At the United Nations, art does not imitate life. The refrain to the Palestinians simply falls on deaf ears. Come to the negotiating table and negotiate face-to-face with Israel. You will get less than what you want but more than what you have today.
Read President Kaufman's expert analysis in the Jerusalem Post.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
President Op-ed in InsideSources: Facebook, Twitter on the Right Side of History With Bans on Holocaust Denial
Anti-Semitism’s lengthy history is built on ignorance and the perpetuation of lies by people who hate Jews. It’s a disease far more incurable than a pandemic.
Over the centuries, despots disliked a people whose theology introduced a code of morality and justice that flipped civilizations. From pharaohs to Hitler and too many others to name, rulers responded with force and power, mostly sentencing Jews to slavery, ghettos and death.
Today, people continue to foment hate fueled by ignorance and lies, and still targeting Jews. The weapon of choice for ignorance and lies is a platform of recklessness called social media. Oh sure, when used responsibly, social media is a very productive tool. Such responsible behavior is not common these days.
But on Oct. 12, Facebook, with its users representing one-third of the world’s 7.8 billion people, decided to do something really bold about this recklessness by simply acting responsibly — the social media platform decided not to allow people to lie about the Holocaust.
Days later, Twitter announced its “hateful conduct policy” issued its own prohibition of “attempts to deny or diminish” violent events, including the Holocaust. Twitter has taken aim primarily at white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Facebook’s Monika Bickert announced in a blog a hate speech policy update, specifically “to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”
The company’s decision was prompted by the recent rise in anti-Semitism, not just vandalism or insults, but shootings and physical attacks, and an “alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust.” Bickert noted a recent survey that showed that one in four American adults between ages 18 and 39 believed the Holocaust is a myth.
One might wonder how on earth is this ignorance possible in the United States?
For decades, survivors have made presentations. Newsreel footage starkly shows the horrifying, shocking images. Books on the subject fill libraries. Two-thirds (34) of the states in the U.S. mandate some form of Holocaust or genocide education.
About the same number of states have impressive museums, mostly in major population centers, or monuments seen by many others. The 16 U.S. states without such mandates have less population cumulatively than California.
There are 43 countries in the world with Holocaust museums or memorials. In Europe, Germany boasts 22 memorials and museums. France has 13 Holocaust memorials or museums. Greece has 10 museums and monuments. Those numbers don’t include memorials and displays in synagogues and temples.
Yad Vashem — The World Holocaust Remembrance Center — makes available “ready to print” exhibitions. Auschwitz-Birkenau is widely visited, but the solemnity of this hallowed earth is lost with eye-catching signage that welcomes tour buses.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has exhibitions ready for travel. Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation has created captivating holographic interviews of survivors that will give life to eyewitness accounts long after survivors take their final breaths.
The United Nations and its agencies, notably UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization), with all of its flaws, embraces Holocaust education with permanent displays of art and various publications.
In May, the latest Holocaust-related legislation passed in Congress was the Never Again Education Act. More than 30 countries have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
Despite all of the access to information, what has the world learned? It has learned that ancient hate thrives in the modern world.
So, Facebook’s banning of Holocaust denial is an important, courageous act of media leadership.
It’s been a long time coming and B’nai B’rith International has long advocated such a move. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is to be commended, though the company admits that enforcing the policy, policing the platform, will be quite a challenge.
Twitter’s announcement is equally welcome. But if the bright Facebook and Twitter coders can write algorithms and direct users with hashtags and other tools, they should be able to identify keywords that will curb the volume of hate posts before they hit the digital universe.
Germans worked hard to keep the Holocaust secret.
Rumors swirled as work camps becoming death camps — Dachau, Chelmo, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Auschwitz — were shockingly real. But the Nazi’s own record-keeping carefully lays out the horrific truth of the Holocaust.
Nazis even documented mass shootings, starvations, experimental surgeries, the crematoria, the piles of skeletal bodies. Thousands of camps dotted Nazi-controlled European countries. Eleven million people, more than six million Jews, were systematically murdered.
Of course anti-Semitism didn’t begin, or end, with the Holocaust, and rulers have been complicit in Jew hatred for thousands of years.
With the modern Jewish State of Israel maturing nicely at 72, the lies that generated anti-Semitism continue today from across the political spectrum, from extreme Islamists and with U.N. resolutions denying any ancient Jewish connection to the Western Wall, not to mention any Jewish roots there in general.
The United Nations could and should learn from the example of Facebook. Resolutions that deny undeniable Jewish history insult the U.N. mission. As for other media — all media — they should learn from the Facebook and Twitter examples.
For a media platform that could never police itself adequately from lies, rage baiting and hate — all things wrong — Facebook got this one right.
And Twitter followed.
Read Charles' expert analysis in InsideSources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
(July 8, 2020 / JNS) No ethnic group has stood stronger with the black community in America than the Jews have. From the early days of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Jews supported black civil-rights organizations before the civil-rights movement crystallized and beyond. Jewish civil-rights attorneys numbered prominently among lawyers who opposed the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas and throughout the South. They also battled Jim Crow laws in Mississippi in 1964.
Everyone who dismissed or minimized their roles might appreciate some glimpses of how Jews have interfaced with just a few legendary black Americans who themselves have made an indelible mark on not only the United States, but the world.
Albert Einstein, soon after he arrived at Princeton University from Germany in 1933, ahead of the Holocaust, immediately related the Jewish experience of the seething hate in Germany to the hate and discrimination against blacks in the United States. The famous professor quickly became friends with actor Paul Robeson. He opened his home to Marian Anderson when the famed opera singer was denied hospitality at a Princeton hotel. Einstein was close friends with W.E.B. DuBois, a co-founder of the NAACP. It was even rumored that Einstein became a member of the NAACP in 1933.
In 1946, before the civil-rights movement, Einstein was invited to Lincoln University to offer a commencement speech. He took advantage of his visit to give a presentation in a classroom to a dozen or so black students. Einstein wanted to inspire young minds of his brilliant world of relativity and, in general, his scientific world of physics. Many colleagues reportedly criticized the gathering and the mainstream press chose not to cover the event.
In the arts, Louis Armstrong, who arguably blasted a trumpet with the strength and passion unlike any other jazzist, lovingly wrote about a Jewish family in New Orleans that adopted him as a youth in 1907. The immigrant parents sang to him, recognized and nurtured his love for music, and supplied his first instrument. The young and eager Armstrong even learned Yiddish from his family from Lithuania, people who escaped pogroms. Armstrong found refuge from his own broken family—and that’s putting it kindly. To honor his adoptive parents, Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck and proclaimed that the Karnofsky family taught him “how to live real life and (with) determination.” By the way, Armstrong’s famous nickname “Satchmo” is Yiddish for “Big Cheeks.”
In August 1963, B’nai B’rith headquarters served as one of the staging grounds for the historic March on Washington. Standing before hundreds of thousands of people at the March, prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Rabbi Joachim Prinz made remarks; Rabbi Uri Miller gave the opening prayer. Sixteen prominent rabbis from around the country accepted Dr. King’s invitation to join him in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1964 for a peaceful demonstration. All were arrested for engaging in civil disobedience.
In June 1964, three civil-rights workers, James Chaney (a black man) and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (both white Jewish men) were brutally murdered by white supremacists in Neshoba County, Miss. The crime later became known as the “Mississippi Burning” murders.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with civil-rights leaders from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., on March 21, 1965, joining King, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Bunche and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Beyond this seminal moment in civil-rights history, rabbis also participated in lunch counter sit-ins and “Freedom Rides.”
While there’s no denying that some Southern rabbis were reluctant to take as high a posture with civil rights in the 1950s and early 1960s—and some Southern Jews were part of the South’s practice of slavery—Southern rabbis did participate in the movement, as noted in “The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights 1880s to 1990s.” For their support of the movement, many Southern synagogues were bombed, notably Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation.
Over the years, B’nai B’rith International has saluted and honored civil-rights leaders, including the establishment of a Heschel-King Award—in memory of two giants of the struggle for civil and human rights—for those who have contributed to join black-Jewish efforts in the fight for equal justice and racial comity.
Fast-forward to 2020: B’nai B’rith International’s executive committee, speaking for Jews throughout the world, issued a strong resolution on June 7 expressing outrage in the brutal killing of a 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. B’nai B’rith pledged to use its extensive contacts in the civil-rights community, as well as the intercommunal and interreligious fields, “to strengthen relations between Jews, black people, and other minorities and increase mutual understanding about issues of shared concern.”
The resolution cherished the right to assembly and peaceful protest and also condemned “senseless destruction of businesses,” particularly noting those owned by people of color and immigrants. It also expressed appreciation and the importance of having committed police personnel to protect communities and other individuals, human and civil rights.
In 2016, a coalition of more than 50 organizations known as the Movement for Black Lives released a policy platform, titled “Vision 4 Black Lives,” drew sharp criticism from the Jewish community. The platform condemned the U.S.-Israel relationship; referenced the “genocide taking place against the Palestinian people”; branded Israel an “apartheid state”; and endorsed the anti-Israel BDS movement.
Hate groups, from white supremacists on the right and leftist extremist organizations, generally operate from a foundation of bigoted ignorance. While the extent to which those in the Black Lives Matter movement and some of its followers have embraced the “Vision 4 Black Lives” platform is unclear, it’s disheartening to observe some Americans ignore the long history of successful cooperation between blacks and Jews on civil rights and turn instead to vitriol. History is laced with endless examples of Jewish ties and empathy with the black community. Identifying with the Jewish people, Robeson richly sang “Go Down Moses” to acknowledge Jewish bondage in Egypt and those who suffered from excommunication, racism, pogroms and extermination attempts. Certainly, Jews and blacks are undeserving of hatred, even if it emanates from within marginal movements in this country.
Today, again, blacks and Jews should embrace the current social atmosphere of openness and change and rekindle the spirit of black-Jewish cooperation that animated the civil-rights movement in the 1960s … and can once again.
Read Charles' expert analysis in JNS.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
President Op-ed in the Jerusalem Post: Germany can carry the banner of free expression without flag burning
When freedom of expression edges into flag burning in the United States, particularly as it concerns Old Glory, most Americans are offended and appalled, if not mortified. Despite the disapproval percentage for torching the flag ticking a few points above 60%, according to Gallup polling, burning the American flag is protected by the First Amendment.
So, when Germany recently proposed making the burning of the Israeli and other national flags illegal, the country’s anti-Israel protesters lost a popular and prominent tactic, one that plays vividly to television cameras for the world to see as it did in 2017 at the Brandenburg Gate.
Naturally, this news was fuel to the antisemites of the world whose default position is to protest the false notion of Jews controlling events or exercising power or buying influence. We know these tropes only too well. Many Americans learning about this news in Germany might reflexively wonder about free speech. In the US, flag burning as an expression of free speech won the minds the Supreme Court in the 1969 ruling Texas v. Johnson, (491 U.S. 397).
These days, Germany cherishes free speech and freedom of the press. Considering the history of antisemitism in Europe over millennia and the surge of antisemitism there in recent years, however, it’s clear that anti-Israel sentiment, including the BDS movement, is just one form of antisemitism. Legal precedent in America might be a good enough argument for some in defending flag burning, but much has changed since 1969. Flag burning no longer is reserved for singular events, the nightly news, a film or a front page.
Always staged, flag burning is a form of hate speech as it sparks violence, which typically exceeds free speech protection. In Europe or in most countries that can or are willing to identify Israel on a map, the Israeli flag rightly represents the sovereign Jewish nation, going back 3,500 years. The reason why people burn the Israeli flag is that they disagree with or ignore the facts of history, reject Israel and hate Jews for a myriad of blood libels, which have culminated in pogroms, expulsions and, of course, the Holocaust. This is a mere snapshot of a long, long timeline of sordid inhumanity.
Of course, what the Nazis perpetrated from Germany to poison Eastern Europe from 1933 to 1945 was to exterminate more than six million Jews and five million others. They also brought shame to many nations with hundreds of thousands of loyal Jewish citizens.
So as organizations like B’nai B’rith International confront antisemitism in all of its forms and work constantly to erase generations of hate through education and legislation, even by drafting and building consensus over a definition, one wonders how necessary it is to use inflammatory and incendiary tactics such as flag burning to make a point?
Clearly national flags set ablaze burn hotter and more destructively than speech or the printed word. Images filling television, computer and smart phone screens permanently scar memories. Words can and do raise the temperature among people, but those arguments can be debated in private quarters or public spaces. Thus, visuals are unforgettable; some words are unforgettable, too, but tend to evaporate far more quickly.
Could it be that one way to slow hatred, particularly antisemitism, would be to prohibit such a powerful act as flag-burning? Fires, like hate, are less likely to spread if they don’t burn in the first place.
Lest we forget how fire was used in Germany to spread hatred toward Jews. The mere mention of bonfires of books, grand synagogues, Jewish-owned storefronts, then millions of people conjure up powerful images that we’d just as soon forget, but we must remember and teach others so history won’t repeat itself.
Fire used to burn lives, livelihoods and flags that are all-encompassing, national symbols is not free expression. It is an affront, a weapon, an incitement for physical acts of hate. In this context, one can understand why Johannes Fechner of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), introduced this amendment recently in the German parliament. As Christine Lambrecht, Germany’s justice minister, told The New York Times, “The burning of flags in public has nothing to do with peaceful protest. Burning flags hurt the feelings of many people.” Well, the last part of that comment is an understatement, and one gets the feeling that something was lost in translation. But the fact remains that flag burning does far more than hurt one’s feelings.
Flag burning alone is a powerful image: That’s why people do it. It doesn’t only take place to whip people on the ground into a frenzy or even play to news cameras. Today, flag burning attracts a world of cameras – smartphones – for instant and continuous sharing. With recklessness on full display on social media, freedom of expression is under microscopic scrutiny.
Protests can occur without the burning of national flags. That demonstration is a far different expression and should be made illegal, and the equivalent of the Senate in the German government will have an opportunity in June to advance this measure into law. Perhaps other countries that espouse freedom and harmony, but where extremism is fomenting hate, should take note and follow suit.
Read Charles' expert analysis in The Jerusalem Post.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: