Dir. of Legislative Affairs Op-ed in the Algemeiner: Cultural Trends and Jewish Academics Give New Lifeline to Antisemitism
The recent struggle to remove antisemitic and anti-Israel content from a California ethnic studies curriculum demonstrated the formidable challenge posed by the academic doctrines of Critical Race Theory and “intersectionality.”
To the extent that Israel is depicted as a white colonial occupation project and the pro-Palestinian cause as a proxy for racial equity in the United States, the Jewish state will be stigmatized and Jewish individuals and institutions will suffer.
The fight to overhaul earlier drafts of the California curriculum opened a window into the difficulty of the Jewish predicament.
Jews are frequently portrayed as part of the privileged dominant class, while their status as targeted victims is often ignored Israel is seen as a European, colonial outpost, while the fact that most of its Jewish population is descended from communities that lived for centuries in the Arab and Muslim world before their expulsion from those countries, is hopelessly obscured.
In other words, Jews are losing further control of the public narrative about them. This point is underscored by the incursion of antisemitic violence into racial justice protests in the US and Europe. The death of George Floyd was followed by attacks on synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in a number of cities, most recently three Israeli restaurants in Portland, Oregon, in January. The frequent appearance of the slogan “Free Palestine” in graffiti on Jewish targets showed the popular tendency to register discontent with the Jewish state by harming Jews in the Diaspora. An anti-racism rally in Place de la Republique, in Paris, featured signs with directives such as “Stop collaboration with Israeli State terrorism” as the crowd chanted “dirty Jews.”
Enter into this demoralizing picture two new proposed definitions of antisemitism, one offered by Jewish academics on behalf of the Nexus Task Force; the second, titled the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, presented by a group of progressive Jews under the aegis of the Van Leer Institute. Both documents profess to serve the cause of confronting antisemitism by identifying its contemporary manifestations — unless, of course, those manifestations take the form of anti-Israel demagoguery.
Why would Jewish critics of Israel feel the need to offer these re-imagined definitions of antisemitism?
B’nai B’rith has long advocated for broad usage of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is steadily gaining acceptance around the globe. The IHRA definition illustrates how criticism of Israel can (and all too frequently does) cross the line from legitimate policy debate into antisemitic hatred.
Demonizing Israel by calling it a racist or Nazi-like state, or simply denying Israel’s right to exist, would be examples of antisemitism under the IHRA definition, because such language is intended to undermine Jewish self-determination and relegate the Jewish state to pariah status, thereby gravely threatening its national security.
Such limitations, however, cause Israel’s most vociferous critics to bristle.
Those who see a basis for comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa no longer wish to feel inhibited about drawing those analogies by a definition originally adopted in 2016 by the IHRA — an international organization comprised of 34 member countries — and since then, by many individual governments around the world. Instead, they would prefer to say, as the Jerusalem Declaration does, that nearly any criticism of Israel is fair game, and is not per se a form of antisemitism.
Both the Nexus Task Force definition and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) open the door for abuse toward Israel, but the latter does this with a disturbing level of specificity.
What’s acceptable under the expansive JDA definition? “Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism.” In other words, Jews are the only people, one could argue without being accused of antisemitism, who are not entitled to a homeland or national movement of their own.
The JDA further tells us that “it is not anti-Semitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.” Meaning, hurling the most insidious possible allegations against Israel, as its critics frequently do in an attempt to challenge the Jewish state’s basis for existing, is not antisemitic. And so on.
According to the JDA, anti-Israel boycotts “are not, in and of themselves, anti-Semitic,” even though the stated intention of the BDS movement’s founders is to eliminate the Jewish state. Nor is imposing a double standard on Israel an act of antisemitism: “In general, the line between anti-Semitic and non-anti-Semitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.” Thus, Israel’s critics need not be “reasonable” to wave their free pass when charges of antisemitism surface.
The timing of these two alternative definitions of antisemitism is highly lamentable. With Jews already losing the rhetorical war around social hatreds, the authors are handing out newly minted permission slips to Israel’s harshest critics, as though anyone whose goal is the demonization or outright elimination of the Jewish state would ever strive to be reasonable.
Grotesque distortion of Israel in school curricula is, by the new logic, not antisemitic. Nor is BDS, or incendiary anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and other international fora.
Anti-Israel hatred that finds expression in the public square or on university campuses, whether such venom explicitly holds Jews accountable for Israel’s actions or not, too often is simply hatred of Jews in another guise. This sinister strategy of using Israel or Zionism as a proxy for Jews has just been infused with new vitality by two new antisemitism definitions that may purport to identify and combat antisemitism, but in truth help facilitate it.
Read Fusfield's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
I encouraged our leadership last week to call people in their B’nai B’rith circle, simply to find out how they were faring in the Land of the Quarantined. No, we were not asking for money. These calls were casual, “just checking in” phone calls. As a service organization with roots in people-to-people contact, this was a natural outreach for us.
I made 15 calls over barely two days. They were a chance to say, “Thank you,” “Happy Passover” and “Stay healthy.” One person in suburban Philadelphia was so pleased to receive the call that she volunteered to make calls. “We aren’t going anywhere and are looking for things to do,” she said.
One of the calls turned out to be the best kind of call one could hope to have. It was to a household in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The person I was calling was not in, but in the course of sharing my message, I quickly learned that I was speaking to Boris Moroz, 98, who said he was a lodge president in B’nai B’rith Canada in 1943. Yes, you read the year right.
Boris left his birthplace of Lodz, Poland, in 1935, and moved to Montreal one year before his bar mitzvah. He left behind “a lot” of family who perished in the camps. Eventually, Boris would become a homebuilder in Canada and continue in the construction business in Florida, and along the way he learned French, Hebrew and English to go along with his native Polish and German.
His lodge presidency as a young man in Canada (Mount Scopus Lodge) coincided with B’nai B’rith’s centennial. Wrap your mind around the fact that that was 76 years ago. This fact would make Boris as close to a lifer as anyone could be. Perhaps he’s the longest-ever member of B’nai B’rith International.
Boris remembers where he was when the United Nations voted on statehood for Israel. “I called a B’nai B’rith meeting to listen to the vote,” he recalled. “Of course, there was a time difference, but this was so important to us, so we stayed up for it. It was terrific.”
Other phone calls to people in the Land of the Quarantined yielded fascinating nuggets about our brothers and sisters. One person is writing a book; another person who I had heard was not feeling well said he was feeling “great.” He had just had a heart valve replacement.
So, these small “just checking in” phone calls took less than two hours to make over not even a two-day period. They delivered wonderful results. The value of such good will and chesed is, well, priceless. Let this time of quarantine be a time of connection among our B’nai B’rith family.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
There is an official Random Acts of Kindness Day celebrated every February. The concept has also found a home during the “season of giving,” so whether you choose to observe on the official day, (February 17, 2020) or when it works for you, we encourage you to connect these acts with B'nai B'rith. Our organization has a long history of bringing acts of kindness to the world and initiating new ideas. There are hundreds of ideas about what one can do to be part of this initiative, as individuals and as a group. It can be just one thing you do, or it can become a tradition. You can do it alone, with your family and with a B’nai B’rith group.
A new film about Fred Rogers turns a spotlight on his life teaching generations about kindness. He said, "There are many ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. A similar thought has been attributed to the novelist Henry James, who said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” An eight-year-old girl has written a book called “BE KIND, Silly: A Child’s Quest for a Kinder World” to combat bullying. A young man who lost his life to mental illness is remembered by his family with an organization and award in his name called Matt’s Kindness Ripples On.
Kindness has its roots in the Torah, as many of the deeds of our forefathers and mothers stressed their acts of kindness for others. Kindness is also emphasized in Perke Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers. It tells us that the world is upheld by three things - Torah, Service and Gemilut Chassadim (Acts of Loving Kindness).
At B'nai B'rith, we can say that most everything we do is because it is the right and kind thing to do. Our founders based their mission on kindness for widows and orphans, providing for their financial needs. We offer kindness, community and a home to senior citizens via B'nai B'rith housing. We support the people of Israel as they deal with daily attacks against their country. We join with our fellow community members to stand up against hatred and violence against others by providing disaster funds to support projects that help the community heal. Our community service programs are daily, weekly or annual events filled with kindness. Volunteers bring breakfast to children in schools and shelters in the Greater San Fernando Valley in California. Hundreds of families receive Passover food each year to help them celebrate the holiday, recognizing that without this project, they could not provide this for themselves. We bring assistance to people who are dealing with devastation and destruction due to natural or man-made disasters. We are on the scene when it counts, at the time of a disaster and long after it has occurred during the recovery and rebuilding stages.
The kindness meter in B'nai B'rith heats up during Christmas, when volunteers make sure that workers or volunteers who want to be home with their families can do so because a B'nai B'rith volunteer is stepping in for them that day. It has also become a time to thank community workers serving in VA hospitals and the veterans who are receiving care in these facilities. We bring teddy bears to children who need a loveable hug to help them face difficult situations. Volunteers collect and deliver books, clothing and household goods in their communities and support food banks and schools with the donations.
Do we need a day to remind us to be kind? Looking at the wide assortment of service events in the B'nai B'rith community, we can say that we remind ourselves of this every day of the year. But sometimes, it is nice to point out something we take for granted. This year at the B'nai B'rith Leadership Forum, International President Charles Kaufman instituted a President's Award for individuals who went above and beyond in their efforts to provide leadership and service. Of the thirty awards presented, more than half were for volunteers who make community service programming a reality.
Kindness Day can be a time for those who may have been thinking about getting involved to help make something happen in their community. Lodges and units can support these efforts by providing the link individuals are looking for something meaningful to do and funding for the project.
So yes, we need to remind ourselves and others that B'nai B'rith has kindness at its core. It confirms that kindness is the way to ultimate success and doing something important. Come get started and be kind with us.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai B'rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B'nai B'rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
Last May, I wrote a blog called “Grandmothers and The Fight Against Gun Violence,” which highlighted the important advocacy work seniors are doing to stem the tide of firearms violence. Since writing that blog, I have wondered about other issues that have spurred on senior advocacy throughout America. My first thought was there had to be seniors’ activism around global climate change. A threat to our planet as serious as climate change must have caused a spark in activism in the senior community, no? Unsurprisingly I only had to perform a simple Google search to find countless articles and information regarding ways climate change has impacted older Americans and how they are fighting for a better environment.
So what is climate change? The short answer: Climate change is an increase in the earth’s temperature which has caused sea levels to rise, ice masses to melt and highly concerning weather patterns to emerge. In addition, the U.S. Global Research Program concluded that human beings are the overwhelming cause of climate change, particularly because of the production of greenhouse gases.
Unfortunately, these dramatic changes in the earth’s climate can lead to dire consequences for older Americans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), climate change conditions like extreme heat, poor air quality and hurricanes can be particularly problematic for seniors. All too often, seniors suffer from heart conditions and diabetes, which can be exacerbated because of the heat. Increasing temperatures also cause ticks and mosquitoes to increase their geographical reach and remain for longer periods of time. Older adults with already-weakened immune systems are at greater risk of being bitten by ticks and mosquitoes if rising temperatures continue. In addition, during hurricanes, seniors often need to be evacuated, which causes obvious obstacles. Around half of the people who died for reasons related to Hurricane Katrina were over the age of 75, with people over 65 accounting for half of the fatalities during Superstorm Sandy.
However, seniors are taking action! Predictably, older Americans are not advocating for their own self-interest, but speaking up for policies that protect the planet for future generations, like their grandchildren. Groups of senior citizens like Elders Climate Action (ECA) are strongly advocating for policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This group, consisting of 3,300 people, advocates their positions to members of Congress, gets their message out through social media and has monthly calls regarding ECA’s priorities. Furthermore, in 2017, ECA visited Washington DC, taking their message directly to the offices of every member of Congress, and participated in the People’s Climate March.
Given climate change’s devastating impact on our planet, how seriously is this crisis being taken by our elected officials? As is always the case, the answer is a mixed bag. The House of Representatives has taken encouraging steps by establishing the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which will help raise public awareness about climate change by holding hearings and organizing fact-finding trips. Sadly, some federally elected officials don’t believe action is required. Many politicians in Washington, D.C., despite scientific facts, have purposefully turned a blind eye towards climate change’s impact on our planet.
Like gun control, older Americans are picking up the slack for some of our elected officials, whose response on global climate change has been unacceptable. However, it’s nice to know we can count on the wisest people among us to lead the charge for a cleaner and better tomorrow.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
This month (November 2017), we mark the anniversaries of two pivotal milestones in Jewish history: the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which declared the British government’s endorsement of the creation of a nation-state for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland, and the 70th anniversary of the passage of U.N. resolution 181, in which a majority of U.N. member states approved of a plan to create that nation-state, which became the State of Israel.
B’nai B’rith International is celebrating both anniversaries, organizing an event at the Knesset on the Balfour Declaration and co-sponsoring with the Permanent Mission of Israel to the U.N. and other Jewish organizations an event at the original site of the passage of resolution 181.
At B’nai B’rith, we take pride in our historical role in both events. See B’nai B’rith Magazine’s latest issue for background on the role of B’nai B’rith leaders in the Balfour Declaration. B’nai B’rith was active in the U.N. from its founding, attending the 1945 San Francisco conference and gaining accreditation as an NGO in 1947. A key moment in B’nai B’rith history is the intervention of B’nai B’rith President Frank Goldman and B’nai B’rith lodge member Eddie Jacobson with U.S. President Harry Truman, which led to the U.S. decision to support partition. And, B’nai B’rith has had an active presence in Israel since 1888, helping to build the state.
As these important anniversaries arrive, it’s important to celebrate and reflect on the advocacy efforts that led to these key moments in history. We also need to realize that, as important as these events were, they did not in themselves create the State of Israel. That job was done by the Zionist pioneers that settled the land, the leaders of the Yishuv (the Jewish government in waiting in pre-state Israel), the Haganah and other armed groups (and later, the IDF) that defended the nascent state, and the support of the Jewish community outside of Israel. Balfour and 181 did, however, give vital international recognition and legitimacy to Zionism at critical times to the development of the eventual State of Israel.
The Palestinians would do well to finally reckon with this history and with the fact that Israel is here to stay. Instead, the Palestinians are still battling the battles of the past — demanding that the current British government renounce the Balfour Declaration (the United Kingdom forthrightly refused to do so). At the U.N., the date of 181’s passage (Nov. 29) has been turned into the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” whereby the U.N. delegations of countries hostile to Israel make incendiary speeches that few people outside of the U.N. building pay any attention to and resolutions are voted upon that do not bring the region closer to peace and only serve to discredit the U.N. The U.N.’s anti-Israel bureaucratic machinery also recently hosted an event attacking the Balfour Declaration.
While some delegations at the U.N. mourn, we in the Jewish community will continue to celebrate our return to sovereignty in the land of our ancestors and pledge to rededicate ourselves to the cause. Israel grows stronger economically, culturally, technologically and militarily, as a diverse democracy with flourishing diplomatic opportunities in countries throughout the world while the Palestinians play games at the U.N. When the Palestinians realize that seeking to delegitimize and isolate Israel via international institutions and/or seeking to destroy Israel with military force or terrorism will not lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, perhaps they will start to negotiate in earnest with Israel on a true, meaningful peace.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
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