Hardly a day passes without reading of someone, somewhere uttering an antisemitic trope. That part is not new; for millennia, this has been the norm. In the pre-Internet era, one could read, primarily in the Jewish media, about an antisemitic public official, a neo-Nazi, or a desk clerk at a restricted hotel uttering hateful comments or spinning conspiracies about Jews.
What is new, or relatively so, is that today we’re learning of Jew-hatred in real time, within hours of it being spouted. It comes from expected, and from unexpected, quarters. And sometimes it’s simply the portrayal of Jews that sends an antisemitic message.
Take the recent Canadian-produced NBC series “Nurses,” whose premise centers around five nurses and the lives and people they interact with. The most recent episode involved a young Hasidic accident victim named Israel and his father, whom we meet in a hospital room, where they’re engaged in conversation with one of the nurses.
The young Hasid needs a bone graft, he is told, and that will require using the bone of a cadaver. Israel expresses shock at the idea of having a “dead leg” inserted into his body, to which his father — dressed in a Hasidic black hat and coat, and wearing payot — says disgustedly: “A dead goyim leg — from anyone. An Arab, a woman.” The nurse, belittling both the father and son, responds: “Or, God forbid, an Arab woman.”
Never mind that Orthodox practice would allow for this graft, much more important, is that the picture presented to the viewer is classic antisemitism. Dressed in black and closed-minded (with one of them literally named Israel), the message is that these Jews are both peculiar and bigoted.
Any stereotyping is dangerous. But the Orthodox community often gets the brunt of this kind of instant presumptuousness. They are portrayed as an oddity or as an easy foil. The show made no attempt to give any kind of context to Orthodox Jewry or its medical worldview. The writers of this episode needed highly identifiable Jews to make the story work — and who cares about who might be hurt as long as it fits neatly into the one-hour timeframe.
But murderous attacks on Jews in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Poway, California, or Monsey, New York, are just a few examples of how antisemitic rhetoric can turn violent.
My guess is that most viewers of this program are not Jewish. Those who know us only at a distance would understandably not know about how diverse we are. We have a communal spectrum that runs from left to right, and everything in between, and includes the religious and the secular. Is the viewer’s education about the Jewish people to be gleaned from the likes of “Nurses” and other highly watched programs that traffic in biased presentations about sectors of our community?
I’m old enough to remember episodes of “Dr. Kildare,” “Gunsmoke,” and other TV dramas, that treated Jewish subjects with compassion and a seriousness of intent. That those programs aired at a time when Jews were subjected to admissions quotas, restricted neighborhoods, corporate glass ceilings, and other forms of discrimination made this treatment of Jews all-the-more important in fostering mutual respect.
Today though, in the broader world around us, there seems to be a growing tolerance toward anyone saying anything about whomever they wish, without any filter or fear of opprobrium. And increasingly, Jews have become the target.
“Saturday Night Live’s” Michael Che delivering a blood libel about Israel and the COVID vaccine masked as a “joke”; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)’s assertion that a Jewish space laser and the Rothschild family were responsible for California’s wildfires; and Lowell, Massachusetts, School Committee board member Robert Hoey’s referring to a former city employee as a “kike” on live public access TV are just a few very recent examples of what is becoming a frightening trend.
The Canadian producer of “Nurses” has apologized for the offensive episode, and NBC has pulled this episode and others from the air.
“Contrition tours,” where networks, politicians, comedians, and others offer a quick, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry,” or give apology interviews with friendly journalists, is one way of getting these kinds of controversies quickly out of the way. But that is not enough.
The media can play a large role in sensitivity training for the public at large, but first it needs to take a course or two itself. Playing off Jewish stereotypes for shock value, or for a few laughs, is both irresponsible and reckless.
We need to see more positive programming about the Jewish community and its many contributions — in so many fields — to this country. School systems need to utilize textbooks that teach about our story as an immigrant people who came to America from dozens of countries to find a land of opportunity denied to them in the darker corners of Europe and elsewhere. And while people may know a bit about the Jewish religion, more attention needs to be paid to its history, customs, and traditions. Doing that might prevent a repeat of the “Nurses” debacle.
In May, we will observe the 15th anniversary of Jewish American Heritage Month. While positive programming about our community should be a 12-month-a-year endeavor, this special designation on the national calendar offers many opportunities for educators, government officials, media operatives, and others to spotlight our community in a positive way.
The danger we face is the mainstreaming of antisemitism. Where once these expressions of hatred were confined to the margins or were never discovered because there simply was no Internet megaphone, today they are seemingly everywhere, including network television.
As is often said, it may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. It’s not just about us: just follow what is written or said on social media, TV and talk radio, statements from political figures, and off-handed comments by celebrities; they are everywhere. It is one long parade of insults, put-downs, threats, loose talk, and worse.
Is the “Nurses” episode a wake-up call, or just another statistic in a week or month of egregious incidents? Our task is to speak up each time this happens, and as important, to ensure that our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others beyond our community do not become inured to the threats before us.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has just published a report “Democratic Institutions, the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Venezuela.”
The report addresses the human rights situation in Venezuela by analyzing the impact that the weakening of the country’s democratic institutions has had on those rights. This report is organized around four main areas of focus, which correspond to the IACHR’s core concerns with respect to Venezuela: democratic institutions; social protest and freedom of expression; violence and citizen security; and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.
It also includes a cross-cutting analysis of the specific harm done to individuals, groups and communities that are at greater risk and are victims of of historical discrimination and exclusion. These include women, children and adolescents, older persons, human rights defenders, persons deprived of liberty and migrants, refugees, or those in a similar situation, among others.
The IACHR report reveals severe restrictions to freedom of expression in Venezuela through censorship of media outlets, attacks on journalists, the criminalization of dissident opinions or of those who disseminate information contrary to government officials’ versions and the punishment of whose who spread what are considered hate messages on the internet. The report also examines the excessive use of firearms and tear-gas bombs against demonstrators, as well as the participation of members of the armed forces in controlling demonstrations.
The Commission expresses its strongest possible rejection of the harsh measures taken by the state in response to social protests, which left hundreds of people dead; thousands arbitrarily detained; allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and sexual violence perpetrated by state agents; and people unjustly tried on criminal charges in military courts.
Compounding the critical situation of democracy and political rights is a socioeconomic crisis characterized by widespread shortages of food, medicine, and medical treatment, materials and supplies. The rights to education and housing have also been seriously impaired. The rates of poverty and extreme poverty in Venezuela are alarming, as are the serious impediments to the exercise of people’s economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, especially for groups that have traditionally faced exclusion and discrimination.
Are there enough reactions before such a tragedy?
The Peruvian government, backed by 17 Latin American countries, has decided to ask Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro not to attend the Summit of the Americas in April (Peru will host it). Maduro challenged the resolution and threatened to attend “at any cost.”
Elected Chilean President Sebastian Piñera asked Maduro not to attend his inauguration because “he is not welcomed in Chile” (Piñera will take office on March 11).
The overwhelming report of the IACHR, the rejection of 17 countries to the Venezuelan dictatorship, the sanctions determined by the United States and the European Union against Venezuelan officials and economic sanctions too, nothing is enough to relieve the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
Venezuela’s close relation with Iran and Russia essentially protects the dictatorship. Almost 10 percent of the population has fled from the country, mostly to neighboring countries in South America and also to the United States. But proxies and indifference let the tragedy of Venezuela move forward.
Anti-Semitism is not forgotten in the official policies of the Venezuelan regime. A few days ago, Maduro announced that “he has ordered his envoys before U.N. to report the xenophobic campaign against Venezuela in different countries all over the world,” and also “Such campaigns are similar than those made by the Nazis against the Jews.”
It is not the first time that Maduro trivializes the tragedy of the Shoah. Some months ago he also said that “Venezuela is being attacked as Jews were attacked by the Nazis. We are the Jews of the 21stcentury,” he added.
This brutal way of banalizing the Shoah is not the only attack Maduro has recently made against Jews and Israel.
When the United States decided to announce the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem, Maduro made a speech before the Non-Aligned Movement and said that the U.S. decision is “a provocation and a declaration of war against the entire Muslim world, against the good people, one more in decades of ongoing aggression against our beloved historical Palestinian people.”
Several tragedies in history have been possible due to indifference, among other reasons. But indifference is very strong. We can watch it in the Syrian tragedy today. And we can also watch it in Venezuela.
If rogue governments which support those tragedies overcome indifference, hope is very little. So far, indifference prevails.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
In an op-ed for The Times of Israel, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin has returned from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and he can report: It’s business as usual. Agenda Item 7 persists as the only country-specific item, maligning Israel year-in and year-out, while a number of regimes around the world violate their own people’s human rights. While in Geneva, Mariaschin spoke with a number of foreign representatives and diplomats, urging them to say “no” to Item 7.
Click here to read the op-ed on TimesofIsrael.com
It has been business as usual at the U.N. Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva this month.
Here’s why it matters.
Notwithstanding the need for urgent attention to such serial abusers as Syria’s Assad regime, which continues to barrel-bomb its own citizens in the midst of a destructive civil war, and Iran, which most certainly vies for the lead in any number of human rights abuses, including the execution of juvenile offenders, Israel is still singled out for special opprobrium.
If this sounds like a broken record, it is. Each year, all countries up for discussion are lumped together into one agenda item, while Israel is always separated out from the rest for individual scrutiny under Item “7” which applies solely to the Jewish state, the only democracy in the Middle East. Subsumed under that item this year are a basket of separate resolutions, as well as six reports. The resolutions, which make no pretence at being objective, hammer Israel for “the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” settlements, human rights abuses in the Golan Heights and a call for Palestinian self-determination.
The special reports include updates on the infamous Goldstone Commission Report, which was written in the wake of the 2009 Gaza war, and which suggested Israel might be guilty of war crimes. Judge Richard Goldstone, who chaired the group which wrote the report, ultimately backed away from its one-sided findings. In the U.N. system, however, vituperation against Israel has a life of its own, so the report lives on.
What does all of this have to do with the real world in 2016? The Middle East is not only in chaos, it is in meltdown mode in Iraq and Syria. Libya has now become the new ISIS target of opportunity. Iran, soon to be flush with cash from the nuclear deal with the P5+1, sends its Revolutionary Guards to Syria, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that has taken over control of Lebanon, to back the Assad regime. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in this conflict, Christians and Yazidis have been massacred and subject to humiliation, eviction and dispersal, with millions becoming part of the biggest refugee migration in decades.
This situation has received scant attention from a U.N. body “re-formed and reformed” 10 years ago to address real human rights crises. Its 47 members have really done no such thing. It is dominated by countries from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, and something called the Like-Minded Group of Developing Countries, said to represent 50 percent of the world’s population, whose worldview includes protecting many of those countries who are in the first line of human rights abusers.
This session, as a result of membership rotation, the United States is not on the Council. Nevertheless, it has spoken out strongly against the double standard Israel receives at the hands of the members of the body. Neither is Canada, which has been a staunch defender of Israel over the past decade. The EU countries choose not to participate in the debate on Item 7, though several of its member states, critical of Israel, find a way to do so. The EU could act more forcefully against this on-going diplomatic charade, but it refrains from doing that—another example of how its actions often don’t measure up to the values it claims to uphold.
As for the Palestinians it once again proves that, though largely crowded out of the news because of events in the region, their ability to manipulate the U.N. system continues. Whether it was attaining full membership at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), non-member state status at the General Assembly, or getting its flag flown in front of the U.N. in New York and other U.N. venues (including Geneva), they continue to plug away, not feeling any pressure to return to the negotiating table with Israel. And why should they? The Palestinians feel they have the international community’s blindly supportive wind at their back—even at a time when the Middle East neighborhood in which the Palestinians are based, is imploding.
One European diplomat I met in Geneva, after a spirited discussion about how annual denunciations of Israel only embolden the Palestinians and discourage the Israelis, told me point blank that if they were to say “no’ to Item 7, “the Palestinian door would be closed to us.” My rejoinder was that if the EU—which has often been the Palestinians’ friend in court and which has for years funded the salaries of Palestinian Authority (PA) civil servants—really sought to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, they would spend their time urging the PA to move to the negotiating table, rather than allow this yearly lacerating of Israel to continue.
So as the Middle East burns, Nero—in this case—the Human Rights Council, fiddles. An aversion to doubling down on real abusers of human rights, and a propensity to let the anti-Israel rhetoric flow in Item 7 and its accompanying reports, speaks to the hypocrisy and emptiness of the Council and the system that has produced it.
Living in a time where, from our smart phone screens we can learn, real time, about the abuses of human rights everywhere, a global conscience is AWOL. Each day it stays that way, real opportunities to help those who suffer, pass. Instead, at the Human Rights Council and elsewhere, there is always time to unfairly castigate Israel.
What a terrible waste.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the Executive Vice President at B'nai B'rith International, and has spent nearly all of his professional life working on behalf of Jewish organizations. As the organization's top executive officer, he directs and supervises B'nai B'rith programs, activities and staff in the more than 50 countries where B'nai B'rith is organized. He also serves as director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Human Rights and Public Policy (CHRPP). In that capacity, he presents B'nai B'rith's perspective to a variety of audiences, including Congress and the media, and coordinates the center's programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Earlier this month, the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) commemorated the 70th anniversary since its founding meeting in 1946. That meeting was held not in the city most associated with the institution, New York, but in London, a city still recovering at the time from heavy Nazi bombardment. Anniversaries are a good time to reflect and analyze about the past, and to look forward to the future. Unfortunately, when it comes to the UNGA, the list of shortcomings is long, while accomplishments are few.
At the outset, it should be noted that the General Assembly played a role in the independence of the State of Israel. The British relinquished to the U.N. the decision of what to do with the British Mandate over pre-state Israel after rising tensions. The UNGA passed a resolution in November1947 that the land should be partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish government) accepted the partition and declared independence for the State of Israel. The Arabs rejected the plan and launched a failed war of annihilation against the fledgling Jewish state. Zionism did not need the U.N. to create a state (indeed, there was already the Yishuv, a pre-state government, and the Haganah, a pre-state army, to create and defend the Jewish state), but the legitimacy granted by the community of nations approving of Jewish self-determination in our ancient homeland was important. Israel was admitted as a U.N. member state in 1949, following approval by the Security Council and General Assembly.
After that point, however, the relationship soured. By the 1960s and 1970s, the U.N. General Assembly became an intensely hostile venue for Israel and the Jewish people. The low-point was the “Zionism is Racism” resolution (see prior blog post on this resolution). The UNGA also created during this period a set of Palestinian propaganda units housed within the U.N. bureaucracy: the “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People” and the “Division for Palestinian Rights.” These units, whose combined yearly budget is over $6 million, continue to be active participants in the global Palestinian propaganda campaign against Israel from within U.N. Headquarters to this day. In the 1980s the Arab states, along with some Third World dictatorships and Soviet states, tried, unsuccessfully, to remove Israel from the General Assembly.
The 1990s saw the repeal of the “Zionism=Racism” resolution (one of the few resolutions ever to be rescinded) after concerted effort by Israel, the United States., other allies and B’nai B’rith and the Jewish community. Israel’s diplomatic horizons expanded dramatically in the 1990s, thanks in part to the end of the Cold War and the peace process. At the U.N., however, the only tangible benefit was the repeal of the patently absurd “Zionism=Racism” resolution. The number of annual biased resolutions attacking Israel did not decrease. For perspective—there are now around 20 resolutions each year that condemn Israel. A handful of other states (and only the most egregious ones—Iran, Sudan, Syria, North Korea) will be condemned by one resolution apiece.
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The General Assembly has called Emergency Special Sessions to discuss urgent issues relating to peace and security only 10 times. Six of these 10 sessions have been called on issues relating to the Middle East. In 1997, the UNGA called the Tenth Emergency Special Session (to condemn Israel for building in Jerusalem), and then decided to suspend the session so that it could be re-opened later. In the years since, it has been re-opened 13 times to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel for counter-terrorism activities during an onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombings in the early 2000s and rocket attacks. Needless to say, the Palestinian violence that necessitated measures such as Israel’s security barrier and counter-terrorism operations was routinely ignored.
The situation at the UNGA in the last 10 years is very serious, but not utterly bleak. The General Assembly passed, 60 years after the fact, resolutions on Holocaust remembrance and Holocaust denial, and created a program within the United Nations to educate about the Holocaust throughout the world. The assembly also passed, by wide margins, for the first time two Israeli-initiated resolutions on agricultural technology and entrepreneurship. A series of Israeli diplomats have also been elected by their peers to important positions at the General Assembly, a recognition that diplomats recognize that Israel has contributions to make at the U.N. beyond the conflict.
Overall, however, the persistent anti-Israel obsession continues to plague the General Assembly, which radiates outwards throughout the U.N. system since the assembly controls the budgeting and prioritization of issues at the U.N. The UNGA also is the parent body of the discredited Human Rights Council, and conducts elections for seats at the Human Rights Council, Security Council and other bodies. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding and do not carry significant weight in international law when compared to Security Council resolutions, but we must not fall into the trap of believing that because of this that the UNGA is completely irrelevant.
The UNGA gives those who are hostile to the existence of the State of Israel a global platform from which they try to legitimize their hateful bigotry. Israel and other democracies engaged in counter-terrorism efforts will continue to feel negative effects from the endemic bias and corruption of the General Assembly until the many nations who are not hopelessly anti-Israel, but vote against Israel in order to avoid making waves in the powerful regional groups, stand up and refuse to take part in the relentless campaign against Israel at the UNGA.
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. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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