(July 1, 2021 / JNS) Last month, I participated in a conference for young adults on the current Jewish agenda, hosted by the Jewish community of Oporto, Portugal.
Three of the speakers were asked if they thought there could ever be another Holocaust.
The answers were uniformly “not likely,” the reasoning being that we are now living, after two millennia, in an era when there is not only a sovereign Jewish state, but one with the wherewithal to be a haven for those escaping oppression and the ability to project its military and other forces to save and protect those in danger.
The upcoming 45th anniversary of the rescue of Israeli hostages being held by terrorists at Entebbe, Uganda, is perhaps the best case in point.
That story began on June 27, 1976, when terrorists connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Germany’s radical Revolutionary Cells organization hijacked, on a stopover in Athens, an Air France Airbus A300 flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. The terrorists demanded the plane fly to the airport in Entebbe, where demands were made for the release of 53 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel and several other countries.
At Entebbe, 148 non-Jewish hostages were separated from the 94 Jewish passengers, most of them Israeli nationals, and the Air France crew. The non-Jewish hostages were released within two days; the terrorists made clear the Jewish passengers would be killed if their demands were not met. The Ugandan government, led by its infamous leader Idi Amin, announced its support for the hijackers, punctuated with an appearance by Amin himself in the airport terminal hall in which the hostages were being held.
That set into motion an intricate rescue plan conceived by the Israel Defense Forces and the Mossad, which sent, on July 3 and 4, some 100 commandos over 2,500 miles, flying at night, to rescue those being held. The 90-minute raid was successful, though Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, who led the raid on the ground, and three hostages, including Dora Bloch — a passenger who had been taken earlier to a local hospital and later killed — lost their lives in the operation. In the raid, seven terrorists were killed.
Without exaggeration, it was a glorious moment in Jewish history — one of those “where were you when you heard about…?” instances that you recall as if it were yesterday.
That day, I was at Boston’s Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River, on the first date with my wife-to-be, taking in the Boston Pops Orchestra celebrating America’s bicentennial. (It was an extraordinary month for Israel; Miss Israel, Rina Messinger, would be crowned Miss Universe at the competition being held in Hong Kong a week later.)
The message of the Entebbe rescue immediately resonated.
The separation of Jewish passengers from all others, coming 31 years after the Holocaust, recalled Nazi-like tactics still fresh in the minds of Jews, and especially survivors of that barbarity.
This was an era of airline hijackings and high-profile terrorist attacks, many of which were carried out in Europe. The message that Israel’s long arm could be projected anywhere to rescue not only Israelis but Jews in danger reset the counter-terrorism table.
The rescue also instilled pride in Israel among Jews worldwide. Even today, people still shake their heads in amazement that daunting logistical challenges were overcome in such a short period to allow the operation to take place. This came only three years after the Yom Kippur War, which, though Israel was ultimately victorious, had shaken the confidence of some after setbacks for the Jewish state in the early days of fighting in that conflict.
That said, the rescue at Entebbe should not have come to us as a complete surprise. The biblical injunction “Pidyon Shvuyim,” or redemption of those taken prisoner or hostage, was clearly on the minds of those who planned and carried out this historic mission.
I can think of other Israeli-organized or led operations, perhaps somewhat less daring but equally essential, that redeemed Jews in peril: Operation Magic Carpet (also known as Operation on Eagles’ Wings), which airlifted more than 50,000 Jews, mainly from Yemen, to Israel in 1949; more than 120,000 Jews were airlifted from Iraq in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah; and 1991’s Operation Solomon, which in a 36-hour timeframe brought nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
For two millennia, Jews lived either at the sufferance of potentates, autocrats or dictators, or in societies where they were tolerated minorities. Occasionally there were benevolent leaders who protected the Jewish minority, but pogroms, harsh discriminatory restrictions and other limits on basic freedoms consigned Jews to life on the edge.
For those fortunate to have immigrated to the U.S. or to some countries far from the horrors of World War II, the idea of being “protected” became less of an issue, but for millions of others, there was no place to turn. The rise of Hitler and the Holocaust that followed, when collaboration with the Nazis, apathy or indifference to their fate were the attitudes of the day, underscored the tragic powerlessness of Jewish communities in Europe. This, notwithstanding the tremendous courage of Jews who fought as partisans or who rescued other Jews from annihilation.
The re-establishment of the State of Israel changed that equation.
There is a photo that constantly stands out in my mind when asked the question, “Do you think it can happen again?” The photo shows Israeli F-15 fighter jets flying in formation over Auschwitz on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2003. The crew members were all children of or related to victims of the Holocaust.
One of the pilots involved in the flyover that day, Avi Maor, said, “I felt that I was in the skies with the strength of the IAF, the IDF and the entire State of Israel, and that down there were the relics of our people. It hit us when the flyby ended, and there was silence on the radio and in the cockpit. Each one of us was absorbed in thoughts about the sortie and its significance.”
Forty-five years on, the memory of those two overwhelmingly intense July days, when four Israeli Hercules transports emerged in darkness at Entebbe Airport to free nearly 100 captives who were being held and threatened simply because they were Israelis and Jews, needs to be conveyed to new generations as an object lesson in Zionism and the need for a Jewish state.
Our people should never again be placed in such danger. But just knowing that the “Entebbe principle” is there to be exercised should the need arise again is a comfort to us all.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
As far back as I can remember, my mother would always make us aware of anti-Semitism. Not necessarily from a historic perspective; her admonitions were about what she had seen and experienced in her life. One of the first stories I recall her telling was about a group of boys in her Maine neighborhood, after church let out on Sunday, who would throw snowballs at the Jewish kids, including her brothers, who lived nearby.
Or, she might talk about the German-American Bund, the pro-Nazi organization whose paramilitary-dressed thugs would hold rallies in New York in the 1930s, spouting the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Occasionally, she would tell us about Detroit’s Father Charles Coughlin, an early manipulator of the radio airwaves, who held millions in thrall with his raw brand of classic anti-Semitism, including charges of Jewish control of the banks and for bringing about the Bolshevik Revolution.
And then, there were real-time accounts of a customer who might come into our clothing store who complained about another shop owner who had just “Jewed” her on the price of some purchase. This didn’t happen often, but I heard it enough to be aware that these kinds of tropes were still on the lips of many in the 1950s and 1960s.
I knew, too, when my older sisters were applying to college, that certain schools imposed quotas on Jewish enrollment. Many hotels and resorts made no bones about the fact that they were unwelcoming to Jewish guests. We heard that banks, big insurance companies and other sectors of the economy were largely off-limits when it came to hiring Jews. There were neighborhoods and clubs where it was known Jews were not welcome. Jewish actors and entertainers chose to Anglicize their names so as to make their career paths less obstructed.
I think of all this when I try to comprehend and analyze the explosion of anti-Semitism we have experienced in the United States over the past few weeks. Our focus has been so much on European and Islamic anti-Semitism, that we may have become inured to it as hiring and other forms of day-to-day discrimination nearly disappeared, and over the past two generations life became immeasurably better for Jews. We concluded that we had entered a circle of acceptance we had never before reached.
When it comes to the rise in European anti-Semitism we’ve witnessed over the same period, I have often thought that it stems from two sources. One, is that there is a deep-seated resentment of Jews for reminding Europeans that they stood by, or actively participated in, the persecution of its Jewish community. Holocaust remembrance is not only for us, it is for everyone to know exactly how Jews became victims, with few hands to hold and to help during the attempts to exterminate us as a people. I’m not a psychoanalyst, but my sense is that many otherwise reasonable Europeans see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict an opportunity to simply level the playing field. Yes, you were victims, but now you are the victimizer. End of argument.
Connected to this is the other source for so much of the anti-Semitism we’ve seen in Europe and now in the United States. It is the cover that “legitimate criticism of Israel” gives for those who think the creation of Israel was a grave mistake, or which for some reason it shouldn’t be allowed to be stronger than those who wish to destroy it. There is a perniciousness in this patronizing view of the Jewish state and of all the reasons why it came into existence in the first place.
But now, we are way beyond that.
The Jewish connection to Israel (it is, after all the Jewish state) has opened the floodgates of what appears to be bottled up hatred by a dizzying array of accusers that each day brings us new verbal and physical attacks we never thought possible in the United States. Beatings in New York City, the largest Jewish community in the world. Jewish diners being terrorized in laid back Los Angeles, a mob demanding to know which of them were Jewish. Members of Congress, filled with hubris from their-elected positions, lecturing us on dual-loyalty and Israel of being an “apartheid state” and engaging in “state terror.” University chancellors and mayoral candidates who first try to condemn anti-Semitism, but are later cowed into retracting, clarifying or apologizing for their remarks. So-called “influencers,” many of whom I am certain would have trouble finding Israel on a map of the world, shaping millennial and Generation Z public opinion into a chorus of rabid denigration of Israel and those who support it.
There is a piling on aspect to all this that cannot simply be laid at the feet of the proliferation of social media. I don’t know if it is resentment of what a small, historically persecuted people have been able to do with their lives to make the world a better place. Or, as many have said, it is the product of a progressive worldview on steroids, including intersectionality, which mindlessly, and in an ideologically hollow formula, places Israel in the role of “colonial oppressor.”
I do know this, for sure: we will not emerge from this well, unless respected voices and figures from outside our community, who see what is happening to us and know it is unacceptable, join the fight. What seems to be missing over the past few weeks are more of these folks, whether public officials, faith leaders, top CEOs, heads of leading non-profits and others. We have friends out there, but my sense is there is a strong measure of trepidation when it comes to incurring the wrath of progressives and the woke crowd or, that Jews can take care of this themselves, and don’t need assistance to win the day.
In our own community, we need to reassemble the kind of solidarity American Jewry has demonstrated in the past, but surprisingly seems to be out-of-date or anachronistic to some. Let’s be clear: the attacks on Jews in America’s cities, the demands by roving mobs to tell them if we are Jewish, and the swastika and graffiti daubers, are not making distinctions about our ideological proclivities, the level of our Zionist inclinations, or our party affiliation. This is everyone’s battle, and those who think they are immune from it, should immediately Google “recent acts of anti-Semitism.”
My mother would be tremendously disappointed by the anti-Semitism we are seeing today, but not completely surprised by it. She was brought to America as a child by parents seeking a better life, from a place that was sodden for centuries by anti-Semitism. They found it here, too, but the promise of a better day — for Jews and everyone else—was just around the corner. She lived to see tremendous advances over the decades, but realized that anti-Semitism is a virus that takes little to bring to the surface, to burn again, another day.
This is one of those times. Stunned as many are by it, this latest incarnation of the world’s oldest hatred mustn’t be allowed to fester and grow in a cloud of debating points over whether this is “anti-Semitism or is it just anti-Zionism.” Just ask the folks who were dining out when the passing mob demanded to know if they were Jewish or not.
It is not a cliche to say we need all hands on deck to fight this. We’re not living in 19th century or mid-1930s Europe. But this is a time for friends and allies to join us in calling out and acting against those who are engaging in these daily acts of intimidation and violence. We ourselves are capable of standing up to it, but to really send a message, it is vital that others be roused from complacency, and he heard.
As a community, we have given much to the building of American democracy and civilization. We took the promise of America at its word and have done everything imaginable to have it apply not only to us, but to all who live here. The strength of the Republic has been its diversity, and unlike the world of our forefathers in Europe, being Jewish means not living in fear of who we are and, in the case of the State of Israel, whom we choose to support.
In this hour of challenge, it is not too much to ask friends, neighbors, colleagues and so many others to join us in extinguishing the hatred that has manifested itself so blatantly, and in so many places and so many ways, in our very own country.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
With Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting the Middle East this week, it’s time to do some real-time stock-taking before plunging into initiatives or prescriptives that could lead quickly to yet another round of fighting.
Unfortunately, the series of battles between Israel and Hamas invite the worst kind of conventional wisdom, which has been disproved time and again over the past 20 years: the moral equivalency, the rote professions of “Israel has a right to defend itself,” followed a week later from the same quarters by statements that the Jewish state must demonstrate restraint and that its response to Hamas must not be “disproportionate.” This is followed by the media’s near total ignoring of the lengths to which the Israelis go to protect civilians during warfare, and then facile calls for a two-state solution as the remedy for all this.
This horrible cycle of events suggests that few lessons have been learned over time.
Now, let’s take a look at some of these steps in greater detail.
Moral equivalency: it beggars the imagination that after all we know about Hamas — its charter (which calls for the destruction of Israel and is filled with antisemitic language), that it cynically uses human shields to protect its missile launchers and leadership hierarchy, and the fact that the organization is on the terrorism lists of many countries — why it is not held to account in the court of international public opinion?
The United Nations Security Council statement calling for an immediate ceasefire could not even bring itself to mention the word “Hamas” in its text.
When some members of Congress, in their Twitter hemorrhaging, can’t find a few characters to unequivocally condemn the indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians by 4,000 Hamas rockets, what should we expect from those in the media who react similarly in their coverage — or from the pro-Palestinian mobs that have begun attacking Jews in New York, Los Angeles, and in cites large and small around the world?
Rote professions: With the exception of countries like Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, which flew Israeli flags from government buildings in solidarity with the Jewish State, and Germany, which issued a strong statement in support of Israel, most democracies uttered only feeble confirmations of “Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Of course Israel has a right to defend itself; but this has become an obligatory and hollow statement, especially when followed only days later by calls to stop the fighting, interrupting Israel’s attempt to fully degrade Hamas’ ability to strike again.
If Hamas is on so many state terrorism lists, why not demand that Israel finish the job?
And this leads in to another glossed over aspect of the fighting: the extraordinary attention Israel pays to avoid civilian casualties.
The media plays, ad infinitum, video clips of imploding and bombed out buildings in Gaza. Notwithstanding Israel’s detailed explanation of how it deploys the “door knock” method of warning building inhabitants of imminent strikes, accompanied by drone surveillance to make sure civilians are not in the area; phone calls and text messages that are also sent as warnings; and Israel’s pinpoint identification of hundreds of military targets spread amongst Gaza’s civilian population, it seems that such care is dismissed — or, perhaps more to the point, gets in the way of the story the media wishes to tell, which is that Israel is callous (and often worse) when it comes to protecting civilians on the ground.
The rush to a two-state solution: in a perfect world, this would be the answer to resolving such an intractable conflict. But since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, we’ve learned a lot about Palestinian resistance — not reluctance — to concluding an agreement. The prospective partner in this case, the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected numerous attempts brokered by the United States and others to resolve the conflict. Not at Camp David in 2000, nor after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, not at the 2008 Annapolis Conference, nor after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conciliatory speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, nor during the Kerry Initiative of 2013-2014, did Abbas show serious interest in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and getting down to the business of concluding an end of conflict and renunciation of claims.
Just weeks before the disturbances on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the White House announced that it would resume funding to the PA, as well as resuming its substantial contributions to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which serves Palestinians in the region. The aid to UNRWA will resume, despite its innate corruption and its incitement of hate toward Israel and Jews in its network of schools and other organizations.
But despite the renewal of American aid, Abbas failed to send any signals to calm the situation. Instead, knowing his Fatah faction would be badly beaten in elections slated for March 22, he called off the vote, blaming Israel and, to boot, inciting and exhorting the mobs on the Temple Mount as a means of deflecting an outcry over his electoral decision.
A two-state solution, in the context of the current crisis, now seems more than unrealistic. Given the crisis of the past few weeks, we might one day be looking at Hamas rule not only to Israel’s south, but also to its east, in the West Bank. Why would any Israeli government, having lived through decades of terror and rocket attacks, look to make itself even more vulnerable?
And there’s one other abashedly glossed over and ignored piece of this puzzle: Hamas is in the thrall of Iran, which is seeking to completely surround Israel by well-armed proxies, all the time genocidally calling for “Zionism’s excision” from the Middle East.
All this, while the United States and its P5+1 partners (the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) eagerly pursue negotiations with Iran and a return to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement), which would remove sanctions imposed on Tehran for its nuclear program and its blatant attempts to advance it.
Many Hamas rockets and missiles are surely stamped “designed in or made in Iran.” Did the P5+1 condition future discussions with Iran on a cessation of its military relationship with Hamas and its other Gaza proxy, Islamic Jihad?
Hamas has thanked Iran for its help, and the Iranian leadership has congratulated Hamas on its “victory.” Need we better proof of what is going on here?
Simple formulations like “restoring calm,” reviving negotiations with rejectionist partners, and refusing to call out Iran’s role in the fighting will only bring about another round of battles, unless they are accompanied by tough and unequivocal demands. Hamas must be disarmed, the Iranian missile pipeline to Gaza must end, and the Palestinian Authority must get out of the business of speaking one way to Washington and European capitals, and another way to the people it says it represents.
This means recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, ending its call for a “right of return” for millions of refugees (now numbering over 5 million, according to a biased and hypocritical count by UNRWA), and an end to glorifying terrorists and riots, and paying salaries to terrorists who kill and attack Jews.
And one reminder to US policymakers this week — Israel is our ally and friend. Take a look at the correlation of voting at the United Nations; Israel votes more with the United States than our European allies. It shares our values, including the premium placed on human life. It is the only democracy in a Middle East filled with autocracies and worse. It has made tremendous contributions to improving the lives of all through medicine, science, technology, and more. And it is a country, ancient in time, but re-established in the last century on the ashes of a 12-year attempt to eliminate the Jewish people in its entirety.
It’s time to discard the “conventional wisdom” on Israel.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
The decision to resume American aid to the Palestinians is a classic example of cart-before-the-horse thinking that has existed in one form or another for the past seven decades. Upwards of $235 million dollars in aid has been proposed by the White House, $150 million of which would be earmarked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
In exchange for this gesture, it appears there will be no quid pro quo.
Since 1993, the year of the signing of the Oslo Accords — the agreement that was to set in motion an end-of-conflict between Israel and the Palestinian — the conventional wisdom has been that providing financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) would incentivize it to reach a settlement with the Jewish State.
Actually, American assistance to the Palestinians goes back long before that. Since its establishment in 1949, UNRWA — set up to provide aid to Palestinians who fled during Israel’s War of Independence — has received over $6 billion from the United States, by far the largest single international contributor.
UNRWA was originally intended to be a temporary assistance program — until the Palestinians it served were absorbed into the Arab countries to which they fled. It became instead a bloated (it has more than 30,000 employees) and corrupt operation, adding generations of Palestinians to its refugee rolls (now numbering more than 5 million “registered refugees”), politicizing education to the point of teaching hatred of Jews and Israel, and holding out the promise to its beneficiaries that one day they will all return to what is now Israel.
While wealthier Arab countries contributed little to UNRWA, the international community became comfortably accustomed to the organization’s wayward ways, without raising a call for reform. And US financial support continued unabated.
Fade to the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in September of 1993. I was there to witness what for many of us was a very hopeful day. We sensed that while this would not necessarily portend a warm peace, it could establish an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a renunciation of claims and the prospect of normalcy for Israel and its people that had eluded it for decades.
It was not to be.
Still, American administrations and Congress provided generous assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA), now totaling more than $5 billion since 1994. The general assumption is that this financial aid, combined with that contributed by European countries, Japan, and others would not only help meet humanitarian needs, but would also fund infrastructure projects and civil service salaries. The idea being, with that aid, and an economic stake in their future, the Palestinians would be incentivized to conclude a deal with Israel.
In fact, the opposite has taken root. The litany of missed opportunities at the negotiating table is well known: Camp David, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Annapolis Conference, the Kerry initiative, all came and went like late winter squalls. It became evident that the Palestinian side wished to pursue a zero-sum approach to peacemaking, a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, that somehow received a pass from many in the US and Europe.
Years ago, I was present at a meeting of Jewish leaders with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who was asked if he recognized Israel as a Jewish state. His response, with a self-assured, cavalier shrug was, “Israel can call itself anything it wants to.” He still refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and demands a “right of return” for over 5 million Palestinians to Israel.
At the United Nations, the Palestinians have gamed the system, with their narrative promoted daily in the organization’s major agencies. At the United Nations Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and its World Heritage Committee affiliate, resolutions that demonize and delegitimize Israel, and which seek to erase Jewish history in ancient Israel, are adopted year-in and year-out. The UN General Assembly each year funds specialized committees established for the expressed purpose of advancing the Palestinian cause through conferences, photo exhibitions, publications, and other means.
And then there is the issue of “pay-for-slay,” a long-term arrangement whereby the Palestinian Authority pays salaries and money to convicted terrorists or the families of terrorists who’ve been killed, in honor of their “martyrdom.”
In response to this outrage, the US Congress adopted the Taylor Force Act in 2018, named in memory of an American citizen and army veteran who was stabbed to death on a study trip in Israel by a Palestinian from the West Bank. The killer’s family, as do so many others, receives a stipend from the PA. Despite entreaties from the US and others to end this practice of glorifying terrorism, Abbas and his circle of PA lieutenants have steadfastly refused to end the practice. Until then, by law at least, there can be no direct aid to the PA.
Another constant over the nearly three decades since Oslo, has been the Palestinian media and education systems, which on a daily basis promote hatred of Israelis and Jews, using tropes and canards, along with cartoons of Jews and Israelis which evoke Holocaust themes, and stereotypical features, such as hooked noses and dollar signs festooned on overweight figures, right out of Der Sturmer. Teaching hate — and glorifying and inciting the murder of Jews — has been a staple in Palestinian textbooks and children’s TV programs and online postings, and continues unabated.
In response to the PA’s pay-for-slay program, its utilization of the UN system to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and its clear-as-day aversion to a real negotiation with Israel, the Trump administration began a cutoff of aid to the Palestinians. It also cut off aid to UNRWA, citing its innate corruption and politicization.
Earlier this month, the White House announced a resumption of aid to both UNRWA and to the PA, embarking on yet another effort by a series of American administrations to pull or push the Palestinians back into something resembling a peace process. The bulk will go to UNRWA, with the remainder going for a range of other programs. To get around the Taylor Force Act restrictions, it appears that aid to the PA will be directed to non-governmental organizations working in the West Bank.
In announcing the resumption of aid, a State Department spokesperson said, “By resuming this assistance today … we have a seat at the table. We can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think is in our interest … Obviously, there are areas we would like to reform … We will continue to be in a better position, an even greater position to drive and steer UNRWA in a direction that we think is productive and useful…”
With this restoration of aid, a tremendous opportunity to condition assistance on serious changes both in the PA and UNRWA has been lost. Our previous $6 billion to UNRWA clearly was never used to end the organization’s excess and its promotion of hatred. Why should we assume UNRWA’s way of doing business will change, now that it knows American assistance is back?
And as for the PA, why not have conditionality there as well? Close down pay-for-slay, end the campaign against Israel in multilateral forums like the UN and the International Criminal Court, stop promising a right of return that simply will not happen, end the backing of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, cease antisemitic incitement against Israel and the Jewish people. And, for goodness sake, stop educating your young people to hate. Without education for peace, any process that seeks to end this conflict will never succeed.
In a normal world, the Abraham Accords would serve as a roadmap for the Palestinians — a way out that promises economic success, and a stake in a brighter future for all. The Palestinians are mired in a cycle of victimization, promoted and manipulated by leaders who have a bigger stake in the status quo, than in ending this seven-decades-plus conflict. More than willing to take the aid funding, they see no reason to compromise. And that, finally, needs to be called out.
Throwing good money after bad, as we’ve seen over these past decades, has produced high expectations and low returns. A resumption of aid to the Palestinian leadership based on hope, trust, and luck, will likely be dashed.
A more certain path might have been taken: we’ll consider the help, but not until this checklist of hatred, corruption, glorification of terror, and constant attempts to delegitimize Israel ends. For what is being offered now, this is surely not too much to ask.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
By the time I was six years old, some 10 years after the Holocaust, any discussion my parents would have about it invariably ended with them lamenting the failure of the Roosevelt Administration to save the Jews of Europe.
I never heard a single word at the dinner table against any of FDR’s domestic policies, nor, of course, his stewardship of the allied campaign to defeat the Nazis. But on the question of not speaking out forcefully on Hitler’s drive to annihilate the Jews, or doing anything to impede it, or to save them, my parents were not forgiving. My mother’s family in Lithuania, with one single exception, was wiped out like so many Jews there and in the rest of occupied Europe. So, 10 years on, this was very much on her mind.
Recounting these tragic episodes of official indifference to the fate of European Jewry is worth noting today in how the international community has reacted not only to the Iranian regime’s nuclear program and its malign behavior, but also to its now 42-year campaign of genocidal threats against the State of Israel and its incessant, daily spewing of anti-Semitic invective.
I was reminded of the dangers of indifference again when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered remarks last week on the occasion of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The stepson of a Holocaust survivor who authored a moving personal account of his years as a victim of Nazi barbarity, Blinken went beyond the usual expressions on the need to remember.
The secretary zeroed in on the failure of the State Department to save Jews during World War II when an open-door policy could have allowed in untold numbers of European Jews facing certain death at the hands of our enemy.
Referencing then-Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, Blinken said that “He had immense power to help those being persecuted. Yet, as the Nazis began to systematically round up and execute Jews, Long made it harder and harder for Jews to be granted refuge in the United States.” Long served as a special assistant secretary of state for war issues, before being named assistant secretary in 1940.
Actually, this indifference began before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. In July 1938, at the initiative of the United States, 32 countries and 24 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) convened in Evian, France to discuss the growing issue of Jews seeking to flee persecution in Nazi Germany and in Austria. Despite the ruffles and flourishes of this international gathering, only the Dominican Republic, among all the countries present (including the United States) offered a specific proposal to admit Jewish refugees.
The message was not lost on Nazi Germany.
Nor was the case of the SS St. Louis, less than a year later, in May 1939. The Hamburg-America line vessel, sailing from Germany to Cuba with over 900 Jews aboard, was ultimately denied entry at Havana, despite strenuous efforts by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to negotiate with the Cuban government to allow them in.
The ship then made its way to the Florida coast, within view of Miami, hoping for a positive decision to allow the passengers to disembark. Denial to dock in the U.S. was the answer at the State Department, which said the refugees “must await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for, and obtain immigrations visas before they may be admissible to the United States.”
Ultimately, the ship returned to Europe. Though some passengers found refuge thanks to efforts of the JDC, less than half survived the Holocaust. Hitler’s “test” to prove that Jews would not find a haven, even in the Western Hemisphere, succeeded.
For sure, 2021 is not 1938. But the vehemence and the nature of Iran’s rhetoric leveled at the only Jewish state bears striking resemblance to that in Europe over 85 years ago. Israel is described by Iranian leaders as a “cancer which must be excised.” The Nazis used the word “vermin,” but the message is the same. Every week, one Iranian official or another – from the top down – threatens to level Israel’s second-largest and third-largest cities, Tel Aviv and Haifa. The Holocaust is not only denied in Tehran, it is used as a club against Israel, claiming the “Zionists” hide behind it as a rationale for their illegal existence.
The current rushed effort to engage Iran in a resumption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks on Iran’s nuclear program raises many questions, the first of which is do we really believe, after nearly 30 years of developing a program focused on producing nuclear weapons, the Iranian regime intends to trash it, in order to be considered a member in good standing of the international community?
Beyond that though, is the businesslike way this is all being carried out. Tehran, since the U.S. elections in November, knowing that a more favorable approach toward it by the U.S. and its P-5+1 (U.S., United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, plus Germany) partners was in the offing, has done everything to stick a finger in our collective eye, by raising the level of enrichment of nuclear fuel, introducing advanced centrifuges, testing ballistic missiles, and denying snap inspections of military sites. Do we really think this is just brinkmanship?
There is an infinitesimal chance that any of the P5+1 players will ever be the target of a campaign that calls for its annihilation as a “cancer” that must be removed. Or, that a multi- stage inter-continental ballistic missile will ever be fired from Iran into the heart of any of its capital cities.
But Israel has sound reasons to be worried. The current JCPOA agreement is replete with holes and sunset clauses that would allow the Iranians, patient and not worried about calendars or clocks, to eventually find a path to a nuclear weapon. Its missile program already has produced weapons that can reach the heart of Israel and its friends in the Gulf.
And the rhetoric out of Tehran about destroying the “Zionist entity” continues unabated.
Even with statements noting the JCPOA needs to be strengthened (begging the question as to why the 2015 agreement was so porous to begin with) there is a nagging sense that Israel’s justified mistrust of Tehran is seen as an annoyance, or that it is simply spoiling the party, with reconciliation within reach. Israel of course, is in Tehran’s crosshairs, and by extension, the Jewish people must not have to sit by and watch another outlaw regime, this time in the 21st century, threatening to annihilate Jews.
In the 1930s, all of the signals relating to Nazi Germany’s designs on European Jewry were as obvious as a neon sign on a clear night. Words do count, but few were listening, and even fewer did anything about it.
Secretary Blinken’s candid remarks about indifference to such threats which were carried out on European soil over 75 years ago have implications for the present. All policymakers now making their way to the table with Iran should heed that message.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
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