Two events last week have illustrated, once again, how much Europe’s tin ear on Iran, and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to function, despite a rapidly changing geopolitical environment in the region.
The United Nations Security Council, in a 2-2 vote, with 11 abstentions, refused to support an extension of the arms embargo on Iran, which has been in place since 2007. Russia and China voted against, which came as no surprise. The only country that joined the United States, which has for some time supported the extension, was the Dominican Republic. But among the countries casting an abstention were Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Nine votes were needed to adopt an extension of the embargo.
The embargo not only prohibits the sale of conventional weapons to Iran but also prohibits Iran from transferring weapons to its proxies. It’s been in violation of this provision through its repeated delivery of rockets and other weaponry to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
In their explanation of why they voted as they did, the Europeans expressed concern that an embargo extension would chase Tehran away from the discredited 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), ostensibly agreed to in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The United States withdrew from the plan in 2018, citing its loose provisions and loopholes that would allow, after a period of 15 years, Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program. Effective, unannounced inspections of military sites, for example — a provision touted by supporters of the JCPOA — could not be carried out under the plan because of an arcane protocol of advance notice to the Iranians. Nor was Iran’s ballistic missile program, focused on being able to carry nuclear warheads as far as the heart of Europe, dismantled.
With cover provided by the JCPOA, Iran has set about to militarily and geopolitically meddle in the affairs of its neighbors. Its presence, or proxy connections in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and of course Lebanon are there for all to see. Lebanon has become part of “Iran Inc.” with its terrorist proxy Hezbollah having insinuated itself into the cabinet, and the terror group’s influence on the Lebanese army growing year-to-year. Not to mention its relationship with Hamas, in what amounts to a real time Shia-Sunni demonstration of the dictum, “the enemy of my enemy [Israel] is my friend.”
The final straw for those who cling to the JCPOA should have been Israel’s carrying off that trove of documents last year from a Tehran warehouse, that makes it abundantly clear that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons. What more could the Security Council want for evidence of Tehran’s intentions?
And as if that weren’t enough, the Gulf Cooperation Council, representing six countries with varying interests in the region, supported the extension of the embargo because of Iran’s constant threats to most of its member states.
So instead of sending a clear message to Iran that its malign behavior will no longer be tolerated, whether it be its nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism or its hegemonist sweep across the region, by not voting to extend the arms embargo, Europe once again punted. Its lack of principle is not only disheartening, it is frightening.
Notwithstanding European expressions of “concern” over Iranian behavior, the real test — voting for the continuation of the embargo — has been failed miserably by governments whose modus operandi on this and many other vital issues is to do some can-kicking down the road of international diplomacy.
The other major event involving the region last week was the tremendously transformative announcement of the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Along with the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian peace agreements which preceded it, the Abraham Accord is the third pillar of diplomatic achievements to bring stability to the region.
For decades the conventional thinking was that if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be achieved, peace between Israel and the rest of the Arab world would soon follow (see: the Fahd Plan, later called the Arab Peace Initiative, which promoted that approach to peacemaking). In fact, the 1979 agreement with Egypt, and the 1994 pact with Jordan did not wait for an agreement with the Palestinians, making the point that procrastination, where real strategic interests are at stake, makes no sense.
The Palestinians have walked away from numerous opportunities to negotiate a deal with Israel. Now, time has moved on, and they are looking at a train that is rapidly moving out of the station.
That approach has now been validated by the normalization agreement announced by President Donald Trump. Reaction among most European states was favorable. For months, though, the European Union and most of its member states were obsessed with warning Israel against an annexation plan in the West Bank that they were absolutely sure would happen. They might have spent that time more productively urging the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table with Israel, but preferred instead to browbeat Israel, in the-sky-is-falling rhetoric.
Notwithstanding the encomiums that have flowed in from most European capitals, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn introduced a jarring assessment of the normalization agreement, in language reminding us that old speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still alive and well in Europe.
Said Asselborn of the diplomatic breakthrough, speaking critically of the UAE with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio: “…I think you can’t just let down your own brothers [Palestinians] in order to pursue economic interests and perhaps also have more security for yourself.”
Never have more hypocritical words been spoken. If Asselborn is right, what is Luxembourg doing in the European Union or as a member of NATO? Of course nation states pursue economic and security interests. Some also pursue policies aimed at bringing peace and stability to their neighborhoods, which is what the normalization agreement looks to accomplish.
Asselborn didn’t stop there; it gets worse: ”I am not an expert in theology, but I think that in all cultures and religions there is a well-established norm against theft. This is one of the basic norms of human co-existence….” He went on to say that “notwithstanding the Ten Commandments, seizing territory by force is a violation of Israel’s obligations under the U.N. Charter…and goes against a host of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Not only are Asselborn’s remarks an expression of sour grapes, but he has crossed a red line in diplo-speak. He is charging Israel, citing none other than the Ten Commandments, with stealing from the Palestinians, which takes it dangerously into blood libel territory. The old Yiddish expression — “vos iz oyfn lung iz oyfn tsung” — or what it is you breathe (really believe) is what you say,” — has never been more apt.
How can countries whose representatives hold such views, given the history of the region and the complexities of peacemaking, ever present themselves as honest brokers or even objective observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum?
The European abstentions in the Security Council vote on extending the arms embargo on Iran, and the Asselborn comments on the Israel-UAE normalization pact are stark reminders that in parts of Europe old attitudes and biases die hard. It’s not only imagination that’s lacking in Europe, it is an inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to act on principle. Standing up to bullies like Iran or recognizing that the diplomatic winds blowing out of the Gulf represent initiatives that might in fact lead to some kind of accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians, are the shape of things to come.
Stuck somewhere in the 20th century, Europe is late to the game, the one where tectonic shifts which present new opportunities to bring about positive changes in the world order, are taking place every day.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
CEO Op-ed in Fox News: Europeans Continue Unjustified Criticism of Israel but Ignore Real Middle East Threats
A new coalition government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz is expected to take office in Israel Sunday, soon after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Jewish state.
Pompeo met with Netanyahu and Gantz on Wednesday week to discuss Israel’s plan to annex part of the West Bank and the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Netanyahu said he was “confident” President Trump will honor his commitment to help Israel carry out the annexation, which will be done in coordination with the U.S.
But while American support for Israel remains strong, the same can’t be said for European nations.
Even as the coronavirus pandemic rages globally and is hitting several European countries fast and hard – and when the global economy is teetering in response – Europe still has time to engage in one of its favorite pastimes: criticizing and opposing Israel.
It is not surprising to see the European Union and some of its member states trying to outrace each other on warning Israel’s new government against annexation of part of the West Bank.
A major provision in the new Israeli coalition’s agreement includes a July 1 green light on annexation of territory in the so-called Area C in the West Bank, an administrative section delineated in the 1993 Oslo Accords. It is administered by Israel, and contains several clearly defined Israeli population centers, most of which are contiguous to Israel.
But while European nations are quick to criticize Israel, they are passive about the real threats to stability in the region.
Just last week, Mohsen Rezaei of Iran’s Expediency Council threatened to “raze Israeli cities to the ground” even in the event there is a U.S. response to Iranian attacks against American forces in Iraq.
These threats – to destroy Israeli cities filled with civilians and wipe out “the Zionist entity” and the “Zionist cancer” – are made on a regular basis by leading Iranian officials like Rezaei. The response in Europe to such genocidal rhetoric is essentially a collective yawn.
It reminds one of similar language used by the Palestine Liberation Organization in the years when it was hijacking airliners, attacking synagogues in Rome and Antwerp, planting bombs in buses in Israeli cities, and calling for Israel’s destruction. At the time, much of this was dismissed by European governments as “Israel’s problem,” or minimized as just being for “home (Palestinian) consumption.”
In other words, don’t take it seriously. That, while Iran continues its malign presence in Syria, attacks American bases in Iraq, re-stocks the arms depots of the terrorist group Hezbollah, counts the terrorist group Hamas as a willing ally, sends a military satellite into space, and marches on in its ultimate goal of developing nuclear weapons.
Indeed, most European states are still not sure whether or not to call the nuclear deal with Iran – the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) – a failed enterprise, even while Iranian efforts to dominate the Middle East proceed apace.
And yet, Europe always has time to express bias against Israel.
Pronouncements out of Brussels from the European Union’s top foreign policy chief, Joseph Borrell, called annexation by Israel “a serious violation of international law” and said the EU “will act accordingly.”
Similar warnings have come from Paris, Berlin and other capitals. Threats of imposing sanctions on Israel and the recall of ambassadors are being made, all in the name of protecting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Europe’s admonitions against Israel ring hollow.
Since the-then European Economic Community (the forerunner of the EU) 1980 Venice Declaration that endorsed Palestinian self-government, Europe has been largely supportive of the Palestinian narrative to the conflict.
When the EU has imposed discipline of voting at the United Nations, member states often abstain on Israeli-Palestinian issues, which to the Palestinian camp is seen as wavering support in Europe for Israel.
When left to vote on their own, some European countries have voted with the Palestinian side on issues concerning Jerusalem, for example, at UNESCO or even at the World Health Organization.
There is also an interesting breakdown when no EU bloc voting is imposed at the U.N. Most countries in Central and Eastern Europe are more inclined to be supportive of Israel. But instances of such “open voting” are few and far between.
If Europe wanted to be helpful it would have been pushing the Palestinians from the time of the 1993 Oslo accords to resolve their conflict with Israel by going to the negotiating table and making reasonable and reciprocal compromises with the Jewish state.
It has been repeated often, but bears saying again: opportunities for the Palestinians to make a deal have been presented numerous times over many years – at Camp David, after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, at Annapolis and with then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. But the Palestinians have always walked away, because making peace would require their taking less than the zero-sum result they have been promising their people.
The Europeans know full well – as the Palestinians certainly do – that the Israeli population blocs close-in to Israel will not be relinquished in any negotiated settlement. This became clear during the Annapolis conference in 2008 and at all attempts at talks since then. And even if annexation were to occur, that would not preclude the formation of a Palestinian state at some point in the future.
For the past almost four years, the Palestinian Authority has given a cold shoulder to the Trump administration’s efforts to get peace negotiations with Israel started, and then shut down completely on Trump’s “deal of the century” peace plan.
The Palestinian Authority made it clear that it would simply wait out the Trump administration. The old line that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” has never rung truer.
In the meantime, the world has moved on. Iranian aggression in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen has recalibrated threats and challenges in the region.
Regional strategic alignments are changing, and Israel’s place in the region – in that camp that recognizes the Iranian threat to what we used to call pro-Western countries – has marginalized the decades-long urgency to place the Palestinian issue front and center.
Except in Europe. Its recent threats and bullying of Israel suggest a disconnect from the strategic reality on the ground. A two-state solution today may mean something different than it did 10 or 20 years ago.
The decades-long absence of goodwill on the Palestinian side, and the continued presence of Hamas in Gaza, means Israel must have a security presence in the Jordan Valley. For the same reasons, demilitarization of whatever Palestinian entity that may result from a negotiation is now a given. And a right of return for Palestinians and their descendants who fled the state of Israel when it was created in 1948 will not happen.
Two months out, we still have no clear indication of exactly what “annexation” will actually mean. It might include the Gush Etzion bloc and the city of Maale Adumim only, both large population centers very close to Jerusalem. Other options abound. Or, the whole idea could become moot, with the can being kicked down the proverbial road.
What we do know is that Europe, which has nothing to show for its now four-decade support of Palestinian statehood, has failed in getting any return on its investment by convincing the Palestinian leadership to drop its nihilistic war against the existence of a Jewish state and negotiate an end to the conflict.
As important, Europe seems incapable – or worse, unwilling – to persuade the Palestinians to do what they’ve refused to do until now, which is to finally level with their people about what is do-able and what is fantasy. Only by doing this will Palestinian leaders begin bettering the lives of those they’ve used over decades to advance their own positions of status and power. The way to do this is by ending the conflict with Israel.
Europe has not held the Palestinians accountable, despite protestations to the contrary. As they give a free pass to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – which continues to glorify and venerate those who have carried out acts of terror not only against Israelis, but Europeans and Americans as well – European governments have retreated into their familiar role of hectoring Israel.
Whatever one might think of annexation, Europe’s sanctimonious threats to Israel of sanctions, recalling ambassadors and worse will not move the conflict one inch closer to resolution. Israel deserves better from Europe, where anti-Semitism is rife.
Much of European anti-Semitism is connected to the steady drumbeat of anti-Israel rhetoric on the Internet and over the public airwaves – and from statements of political figures – that have created a threatening environment for Jewish communities across the continent.
To use a cliché from our times, it’s time for Europe to get real. With all the uncertainty swirling around us, are bluster and threats to a sister democracy – which happens to be sandwiched in the midst of chaos on all sides – a constructive use of its time? Better to level with the Palestinian leadership, rather than indulging it and raising its expectations.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis on Foxnews.com.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
In the Times of Israel, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin writes:
The best word to describe it would be chutzpah.
In a letter to British daily newspaper The Guardian, 50 former European foreign ministers and government leaders castigated the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The letter asserts the Trump plan favors one side, and “has characteristics similar to apartheid — a term we don’t use lightly.”
Amongst the signatories are a number of longtime, incessant critics of Israel who, when in power, seemingly did little to hide their bias toward the Jewish state. Indeed, some – early on – applied “apartheid state” to describe Israel and rarely, if ever, criticized the Palestinian side for its intransigence toward good faith negotiations with Israel.
Read the full op-ed here.
My earliest recollection of hearing about the Holocaust came in the mid-1950s, as our family sat around the Passover Seder table. My parents had invited my mother’s best friend to join us that evening, and I remember listening intently to the discussion about families lost and the devastation wrought by Nazi rule throughout Europe.
That mental image reappeared when I read that Amazon UK had taken down a promotion by the company Harma Art for the sale of T-shirts and hoodies bearing a silkscreened reproduction of “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa,” one of the most widely circulated photos of Nazi brutality.
A lone Jewish victim sits on the edge of a ravine with his face to the camera, as a member of a Nazi Einsatzgruppe (the SS paramilitary death squad) is about to shoot him in the back of the head. Fourteen other Einsatzgruppen troops stand behind the one with the pistol, about to witness just one more brutal killing in a day that must have taken hundreds, if not thousands of innocent victims.
That photo always gets to me. It personalizes the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust to one terrified victim. For a brief moment, you can try to imagine the fear that each individual experienced just before death.
What did Harma Art intend when it had those T-shirts and hoodies manufactured? Was it looking to market that apparel to Neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic far-right operatives who might don the shirts at rallies and demonstrations?
It’s not readily apparent. The blurb that accompanied photos of the merchandise promoted it this way: “Choose from our great collection of authentic designs and stand out from the crowd!”
Shock value! Be the first in your neighborhood to wear a hoodie with a photo of a Jew about to be shot!
The ease with which this marketing pitch was made tells us volumes about the global trivialization and desecration of the Holocaust, even while there are still survivors with tattoos on their arms who witnessed the worst moral depravity in history.
We saw an early indication of what was to come in 1965, with the airing of the comedy series “Hogan’s Heroes” on CBS, with its bumbling Nazi characters. Later, in 1995, “Seinfeld” undermined the depravity of Nazis by introducing a mean shop proprietor, labeling him “the Soup Nazi.”
In the nearly 25 years since, we’ve seen dozens of examples of Holocaust-related terms, or the word “genocide” being applied to situations that are neither appropriate nor analogous.
Israel often is the target of such intentionally misplaced opprobrium. Its defensive barrier is compared to being akin to the Warsaw ghetto.
Editorial cartoonists have been engaged in this for some time, with depictions of Israeli soldiers as Nazis. One that I particularly recall was in the Danish newspaper Politiken. In a play on another famous photo from the Holocaust, in which Nazi soldiers, with guns pointed, are rounding up Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and a young boy has his hands up, this cartoon substitutes Palestinians for Jews, and Israeli soldiers for Nazis.
And then there was the homework assignment in Oswego County, New York, that asked students to make arguments for or against the “Final Solution.”
Even members of Congress are not immune to the spread of this kind of trivialization. In the debate over health care reform, members from both parties traded barbs that contained Holocaust-era imagery, including references to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, “the big lie,” and appeasement (as in the Munich Pact, which preceded the outbreak of war in Europe).
Comparisons of undocumented immigrant detention centers to Nazi concentration camps is the most recent example. Pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) legislation introduced in Congress only weeks ago alluded to the need for imposing an economic boycott of Israel, just as we had done with Nazi Germany (and the Soviet Union and South Africa).
Notwithstanding efforts in many places to institute Holocaust education programs, the passage of time has presented Jewish educators and organizations with a tremendous challenge.
A poll commissioned by the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) found that among American millennials, “22 percent have not heard of or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.” Further, 41 percent in the poll “believe that 2 million Jews or less were killed in the Holocaust.” And 49 percent could not name one concentration camp or ghetto. An astounding 66 percent were not able to identify the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Research in Canada, Austria and Germany revealed somewhat similar findings. Millennials in the latter two countries felt overwhelmingly that Holocaust education was important (many had participated in such programs); yet in Austria, 17 percent of those polled believed that only “100,000 or fewer Jews were murdered” in the Holocaust.
And that brings us back to the Internet offering for clothing adorned with the searing photo from Vinnitsa. The passage of time, 24/7 coverage of civil wars, executions and a daily plethora of amateur videos of shootouts and shoot-ups that come to us as “Breaking News” have dulled the senses to genocides and violence of historic proportions.
And though there are dueling arguments about the effect of video games, can one really doubt that such fare at least makes young people inured to violence, past or present?
Four decades ago, when I began my career in community relations, I used to have a line in my speeches that said: “There’ll come a time when the last survivor, who was there and could tell us about what he or she experienced, will be gone. And then there will be no one here to answer, with first-person authority, the Holocaust minimizers and deniers.”
We’re close to that point. We need to redouble our efforts, at every level, to educate and remember. Media outlets cannot be flippant or careless when these images and comparisons are aired.
The mega-Internet community, already under fire for allowing “anything goes” content policies to prevail over common sense and good taste, needs to be far more vigilant than it claims it is. And officeholders, at every level, need to dial back completely the kind of harmful hyperbole which often gets a pass for being just good old political rhetoric.
The slippery slope of Holocaust trivialization is upon us. We owe it to the victims, and ourselves, to ensure now that it be reversed.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
Op-Ed By CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin In The Jerusalem Post - What I Learned At The Dinner Table: Talking About Antisemitism
Growing up in New Hampshire in the 1950s and 1960s, we received most of our international news from our trusty, burgundy Bakelite GE radio that sat on our kitchen table. Our local radio station was a CBS affiliate, and I ate many a breakfast and dinner hearing broadcasting icons like Lowell Thomas, Charles Collingwood, Dallas Townsend and Alexander Kendrick.
Most mornings, my father would pick up a copy of the New York Herald-Tribune at Donahue’s, a newsstand on Main Street, and in the afternoon, he’d buy the Keene Evening Sentinel, our main source for local news. But it was at the kitchen table, with the radio on most of the day, that we’d discuss the important events of the day.
For Jews in the 1950s, memories of the Holocaust were fresh, already indelibly etched in the psyche not only of those who experienced it, but also those who had the good fortune to be living in the United States. My parents frequently referenced it: my mother would often mention her having received letters from relatives in Lithuania who passionately asked for help in coming to America. No one in our family knew anyone – a politician, someone high up in the federal government, even a journalist – who could move heaven and earth to issue visas to get them out. It always bothered my mother that she was helpless to save them.
So we talked a lot about the Holocaust and what brought it about. My father came to America from Czarist Russia when he was 13, and while he had no first-person stories about pogroms, he would frequently mention them as a point of reference in any discussion about antisemitism. My mother had a copy of John Roy Carlson’s Under Cover in our bookcase, which focused on the German-American Bund and other pro-Nazi organizations that thrived in the United States in the 1930s. She would also mention the pro-fascist, antisemitic radio broadcasts of Detroit’s Father Charles Coughlin, whose rants ruled the airwaves at exactly the same time.
We also talk about the Virginia-based American Nazi Party, led by George Lincoln Rockwell who would lead his arm band-clad “storm troopers” at demonstrations in the Washington, DC area and elsewhere. My mother would cite Rockwell as an example of how antisemitism was still not stamped out, despite the Holocaust, and that he was operating here in America.
We were keenly aware of discrimination against Jews in hiring, public accommodations, and higher education. I heard the word “quotas” at a very early age. Friends and relatives went to certain schools because other universities just wouldn’t admit many Jews. Indeed, you’d have to state your religion on your college application, and paste on a photo as well. Bank hiring? Forget it. Hotels and resorts? Some welcomed Jews as guests; many didn’t. Private clubs were notorious for excluding Jews as members. Jewish actors and actresses had, for years, anglicized or changed their names based on the belief that Jewish-sounding surnames could be a bar to popular success.
It wasn’t that many years before I was sitting in on these discussions at the dinner table that the motion picture Gentleman’s Agreement pulled the curtain on the extent of antisemitism – genteel or otherwise – that existed in post-war America. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of a non-Jewish journalist, posing as someone who was Jewish, testing the restrictive, antisemitic social environment that prevailed, was a monumental breakthrough in mainstreaming popular understanding of an age-old scourge.
A check of the B’nai B’rith archives came up with three examples of this kind of discrimination; they are typical of thousands of other instances of everyday antisemitism that the American Jewish community experienced.
A letter dated March 3, 1947, from the Hotel Winona and Park Hotel in Winona, Minnesota, responded to an inquiry for rooms from Mr. Nathan Scharf. The hotel’s representative wrote that “First, due to restrictions around our lakes, I must know whether you are Jewish or not, as Jewish people are not allowed….”
Another letter, from the Woodland Lodge in Elcho, Wisconsin, dated July 10, 1947, advised Mrs. R. Uslander that “We are returning your check for $5, for we cannot provide for you at the time requested. After seeing your letter we note that you are associated in some manner with Camp Maccabee. Perhaps we should advise you that we do not cater to people of the Jewish (sic) race.”
And this, dated July 29, 1959, from the headmistress of a girl’s school in Charleston, South Carolina to a mother who had submitted an application and entrance fee for her daughter:
“We appreciate your interest in the school but we have found that it is a wise policy not to accept students of religious faiths different from the majority of the girls here….
“While we are a non-sectarian school, our resident girls are all members of Christian churches. Past experience has taught us that the Jewish girls find it difficult to fit into our schedules because of different times of church services and religious holidays.”
These were the very visible barriers that beset an otherwise well-educated, hardworking, patriotic Jewish community. At dinner, or later in the living room, we’d discuss these kinds of stories and met them with a mixture of shrugs and some anger, always accompanied by an expression of hope that things would change for the better.
In fact, they did.
There were many contributing factors, among them Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or religion in public accommodation and hiring. Pope John XXIII’s determination to address centuries of antisemitism within the Catholic Church, culminating in 1963’s Nostra Aetate declaration, opened the doors to other advances in interfaith relations. In the process, non-Jews became more accepting, and Jews, more confident.
Into the 1970s, barriers began to fall. In 1974, there were three Jewish members of the United States Senate, one of whom was filling a vacancy, and just 12 Jewish members of the House of Representatives. One Jewish political figure, interviewed in Stephen Isaacs’s Jews and American Politics (1974), said Jews were hesitant oftentimes to run for office, so worked on campaign fund-raising or as media advisors. Fifteen years later, the numbers were eight in the Senate and 23 in the House. And into this century, those numbers grew even larger.
Today, entertainers use their own names, and no one blinks an eye. Yiddishisms have entered the vernacular, and many universities offer Jewish and Holocaust studies programs. Quotas in university admissions are long gone. And corporate suites in businesses that were previously off-limits to Jews have opened, as well.
That’s why the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue came as such a body blow to our community. The warning signs were definitely there. Even before that horrific day, three separate Jewish community centers had shooting incidents, in Los Angeles, Seattle and Overland Park, Kansas. The Tiki-torch-bearing demonstrators in Charlottesville shouted, “Jews will not replace us.” The Internet is chock full of websites, blogs and comments that trumpet unadulterated hatred of Jews. And the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, which calls Israel an “apartheid state,” and which uses Nazi imagery to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, only thinly veils the antisemitic tenor of its campaign to delegitimize the world’s only Jewish state.
If my parents were here today, there’d be plenty to discuss at the kitchen table. We’d surely talk about the threats and the challenges to our community. The spike in antisemitism in Europe, from the Left and the Right, would be a main topic of discussion. We might, at a certain point of discouragement, even repeat the Passover Haggada admonition that “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us.” But then we’d be grateful for good friends, personal as well as in the broader community – who speak out, as they did after the Pittsburgh shootings, about the dangers posed by the new antisemites. What separates this country from others when antisemitism rises to the surface is the breadth of solidarity that results when it occurs. In the wake of the Tree of Life horror, I heard words of outrage and comfort from classmates, foreign diplomats and others whose first reactive response was to reach out to the Jews they know.
With that, we’d rise from the table, secure in our Jewishness, worried about what might come next after Pittsburgh, pledging to do what we could – letters-to-the-editor, conversations with neighbors, keeping up on the latest reports of antisemitic acts at home and abroad – to meet the challenge when antisemitism “rears its ugly head.”
We certainly have our work cut out for us. We need to re-double our efforts to greatly expand the number of public schools that have Holocaust education programs. We need to confront, head-on, the explosion of hate on the Internet, notwithstanding First Amendment guarantees of free speech; privately-owned companies whose platforms allow this kind of verbiage to proliferate need to police themselves. This is a “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” moment. And we must see the BDS movement for what it is: the next level of global antisemitism.
Looking back, that small kitchen was indeed my classroom, preparing me well for the difficulties that lie ahead.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the CEO and Executive Vice President of B'nai B'rith International.
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