(October 11, 2020 / JNS) As the Jewish people close the book on the last year and look ahead to the new one, there is much to be grateful for, especially as Israel seems closer to regional peace than ever before. But, while Israel celebrated its historic normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Hamas marked the occasion with a salvo of rocket attacks on the southern Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod. Hamas’s frequent targeting of civilian areas will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the terror group.
For decades, Hamas has perpetrated gruesome and unprovoked attacks on Israeli civilians, leaving no demographic unharmed. Its long list of victims ranges from infants to the elderly. Further aggravating these acts of terror is Hamas’s pathological rationale that no one in Israel is considered a non-combatant, or to quote Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar during a 2016 conversation with an international human-rights group: “There are no civilians in Israel.”
This “principle” extends beyond terror victims and is currently being used to justify the incommunicado detention of Avraham “Avera” Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, two young Israeli citizens who have no affiliation with the Israel Defense Forces and documented histories of mental illness.
Mengistu was born in Ethiopia and made aliyah with his family at age 5. After settling in Ashkelon, the family endured a series of hardships, both economic and personal. Mengistu’s older brother, Masrashau, died in 2011. According to friends and family, it was around this time that Mengistu began to exhibit a psychological disorder that purportedly intensified in the months before his detainment by Hamas in Gaza and his subsequent disappearance.
On Sept. 7, 2014, the then 32-year-old Mengistu crossed the border into Gaza of his own volition. Despite a series of warning shots fired by an IDF patrol, he continued over the border fence. He has not been seen by an Israeli since then. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know his current condition because in the six years since he is believed to have been captured and held captive by Hamas, there has not been a single detail about him or even confirmation that Hamas is holding him.
Al-Sayed, the young Israeli Bedouin from the southern town of Hura, who also crossed the border of his own volition in 2015, is in a similar situation. According to al-Sayed’s family, he, too, suffers from mental illness. For years, his family has pleaded publicly to Hamas for his release; five years later, his fate is still unknown.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms on its website that Hamas is holding captive the two men.
Hamas also refuses to return the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza during the 2014 “Operation Protective Edge,” Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, 20. A few hours into what was to be a ceasefire, Hamas attacked a group of IDF soldiers working to demolish a network of the terror group’s cross-border tunnels.
It is believed that Goldin was killed during the attack and his body dragged into the tunnel from which Hamas militants had emerged. Two other soldiers died along with Goldin. The previous month, Shaul and six other IDF soldiers were killed in their armored personnel carrier by an anti-tank missile fired by Hamas. Shaul’s body was never found. The Goldin and Shaul families have endured years without proper closure.
Hamas’ complete disregard for the ethical norms that most of the world abides by is not surprising considering it is a terror organization. The interminable length of being held incommunicado, to say nothing of the unlawful detainment of mentally ill non-combatants, is in flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under this covenant, Mengistu and al-Sayed must be brought before a local judge shortly after their initial detention, thus revealing and confirming their identity, as well as charging them with an offense.
Failing even this, their detainment now falls under the classification of an enforced disappearance. Hamas has also refused to allow the International Red Cross, or any other organization, to check on their health and well-being, yet another indication of Hamas’ depravity.
This indefinite and surreptitious confinement, coupled with troubling psychological distress, amounts to cruel and inhumane torture. Violating international law further still, Hamas is attempting to use any information on the captured men as a bargaining chip in a prisoner swap for members of Hamas currently held by Israel. It appears that neither Mengistu nor al-Sayed would actually be surrendered in exchange for the Hamas prisoners; instead, Hamas would only reveal the most basic information confirming the captivity and proof of life of the two Israeli men.
Hamas’s kidnapping and detaining of civilians in secret captivity is an appalling violation of human rights. Six years later, the international community remains silent on the situation. There has been a virtual blackout in the international media, as well.
While major news outlets disproportionally and unfairly focus on Israel, one would think that the enforced disappearance of two civilians at the very least would warrant a mention. Disappointing, yet not surprising, Hamas’ human-rights abuses continue to go largely ignored by the media.
The Mengistu and al-Sayed families, with their limited financial resources, have reached out to countless international humanitarian organizations and attempted communication through several diplomatic channels over the years to no avail. The movement to #FreeAvera, #BringHadarHome and #BringOron home is large in Israel, and a determined group of those fighting for the return of all four refuse to give up hope. But in today’s political climate, with social-justice organizations marching for the human rights of all—where is the public outcry in the West over these blatant injustices?
Those of us who engage in advocacy for Israel are not surprised by the inhumanity of Hamas, which is responsible for incessant terror toward all Israelis. We are well aware that Hamas does not play by the rules of war or the norms of humanity; that its children’s television shows glorify suicide bombers; that it lynches LGBTQ people publicly; that it imprisons journalists; that it sends incendiary balloons to Israeli kindergartens; that it spends humanitarian relief funds on building underground tunnels to attack Israeli civilians instead of feed its people. But it is not the sole responsibility of Israel or its advocates to tell this story.
The Jewish people have just spent 10 days reflecting and asking forgiveness from God and from one another. As we move forward in the new year, we commit ourselves to helping, in any way we can, bring Mengistu and al-Sayed—and the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul—home to their families.
The topic of their return is on our agenda each time we hold policy meetings with diplomats asking them to raise their voices over this travesty. We must do all that we can to increase public outcry and demand their release. We owe it to these helpless young men who have no voice to ask.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.org.
In the last days of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decided to discuss and vote on “issues linked to human rights violations”. However, the council did not say a word about violations to human dignity and human freedom in Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Somalia, Argelia, Turkey, Russia, China or Iraq.
The UNHRC passed very soft and useless resolutions on North Korea, Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Iran. These will be forgotten soon.
Ignoring the egregious human rights violations of countless other countries, the UNHRC devoted most of its attention to one single country: Israel. The council passed five resolutions on Israel; one on Friday, June 19, and four on Monday, June 22.
This situation is not new. Unfortunately, it will happen again in the short-, mid- and long-term. This council is not doing anything different than its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. In fact, it is worse. It has among its members the worst human rights abusers in modern times, and the council gives those countries the power to condemn democracies.
Last June 19th, the council decided to discuss one resolution against Israel. Some years ago, the council’s resolution used to focus on settlements; some short time ago, the council added to it the boycott of products made by Palestinian workers in Israeli factories. The goal of the resolution is to punish Israeli factories, but what would really be doing (if their resolutions were not toothless) would be leaving thousands of Palestinians unemployed.
Who cares that Palestinians become unemployed if the council can score points with a shameful resolution that attacks Israel? Almost nobody cares. The Palestinian Authority does not care; they promote the resolution. The “international community”?. It would be great to know what the term really means. What about the council, the high commissioner? Worst. The council is following dangerous paths on Israeliphobia and the high commissioner – believe it or not - has agreed to make a list of Israeli businesses which should be boycotted.
The resolution (not binding) passed with less votes than the Palestinians hoped. But there was more: the council decided to ask the high commissioner to present a full report on Israeli settlements…in March 2021. At a time when nobody in the world has a real idea when the pandemic and its consequences may end, in times of world economic recession and world unemployment, we can be sure that the UNHRC will ask for a useless report in nine months’ time.
The resolution had 22 votes in favor (which is less than half of the 47 members of the body), 8 votes against and 17 abstentions.
The Latin American members of the council overwhelmingly voted to unjustly condemn Israel.
Among the council’s 8 votes against the resolution, the only Latin American country included was Brazil.
The Bahamas and Uruguay abstained.
Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela voted for the resolution.
What are Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru thinking when they vote with undemocratic human rights violators like Qatar, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and, of course, Venezuela? That they are helping to achieve peace? That they are delivering a message of sanity to the Middle East? That they are really supporting and helping the Palestinian people? How is it possible that they do not see that pushing for boycotting Israeli products made by Palestinian workers is exactly the opposite of working towards peace?
Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Schechter was very clear: “This Council has an item which has been exclusively designed to condemn one state. Item 7 is a systematic mechanism of discrimination against Israel which is a feeling that is deeply rooted in the culture of this Council and several of its members. Let´s call Item 7 by its real name: it is the item of institutionalized antisemitism.”
Not one Latin American country answered the Israeli ambassador. Australia and the Czech Republic loudly and clearly rejected Item 7and the litany of votes against Israel.
Venezuela is ruled by a dictatorship which allies itself with Iran, violates human rights and has created a health turmoil in the region. We can expect nothing from such a regime, especially because it is also institutionally anti-Semitic. However, it is unacceptable that democracies join dictatorships and human rights abusers to single out Israel.
But it happens all the time in the U.N. agencies. It is time for those democracies to decide on which side of history they want to stand, because they can´t be in two places at the same time. If they keep standing together with Venezuela, Qatar, Somalia and others, it will be very difficult to see what differentiates these democracies from noted human rights violators.
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.
Last week, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)—one of the main pro-Palestinian propaganda bodies housed within the U.N. system—hosted an event (virtually, of course) on the “threat” of “annexation” by the new Israeli government of the Jordan Valley and settlement blocs as part of the United States administration’s peace plan. This meeting was unintentionally revealing in that it showed that the issue is not really annexation at all.
The panel for this event was composed of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Hanan Ashrawi, former Israeli MK Yossi Beilin and president of the Arab American Institute James Zogby.
Beilin, a former justice minister and deputy foreign minister, is a veteran of the peace camp in Israel and is widely known as one of the architects of the Oslo process. Beilin is a Zionist who ardently opposes annexation. For him, it as a threat to the survival long-term of a state that is both Jewish and democratic. His fellow co-panelists also oppose annexation, but not for the same reasons. Zogby even criticized annexation critics in the U.S. for often couching it in terms of Israel’s security. Beilin, in seeking a way to prevent annexation (which could in theory come as early as July 1st), sought to put forward a deal to resume negotiations without preconditions or unilateral steps in exchange for shelving annexation.
Ashrawi predictably responded that the “last thing we need” is more negotiations; what is needed is “accountability” (i.e. processes like the proceedings at the International Criminal Court [ICC] to harass Israeli military and political leaders and citizens with lawfare) and sanctions. Zogby concurred, adding that Israel is like a “spoiled child” because the U.S. and the Europeans do not sufficiently punish Israel for every (and any) policy disagreement.
Why would Ashrawi be so adamantly against Beilin’s proposal? If annexation is the primary overriding concern of the moment (and it clearly appears to be so for Beilin, whether one agrees with his positions or not), why not grasp at an alternative plan to delay? Perhaps because Beilin is a self-described “retired” politician and the left in Israel is not currently a political force that has majority support to govern. Removing the considerations of practicality, though, Ashrawi, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority have no interest in negotiations without pre-conditions and with a halt to unilateral actions.
Unilateral actions are the basis of the Palestinian “foreign policy” of the last decade. It’s how they got to the ICC in the first place. As in many matters relating to Israel at the U.N., there is a great deal of hypocrisy regarding unilateral actions. The very possibility of an Israeli decision to apply sovereignty in some areas as part of the U.S. administration’s peace plan (so, not actually a unilateral action) is raising hackles at the U.N. But the Palestinian attempts to make an end-run around negotiations by asking for recognition of a non-existent state (very much so a unilateral action) raised little concern about the serious harm to peace prospects. CEIRPP, in fact, is a cheerleader for Palestinian unilateral actions. The European states who are now apoplectic over the idea of Israeli sovereignty over settlements blocs that will likely never be part of a Palestinian state were not similarly as dismayed by the Palestinian attempt to gain U.N. non-member state status. To the contrary, 12 EU member states voted in favor of that recognition (only the Czech Republic voted against). That U.N. status allowed the Palestinians an entryway to the ICC.
Further, the idea of attacking Israelis with either economic warfare or legal warfare is not tied to annexation. The Palestinians and their co-conspirators have been pushing this exact agenda for years—decades, really—regardless of Israeli policy or Israeli government. If the Israeli government took a decision not to apply sovereignty over settlements that will in all likelihood remain under Israeli rule even if there were a final peace agreement with the Palestinians tomorrow, would those individuals and countries at the U.N. that are targeting Israel with BDS or lawfare reverse course, or even pause the barrage? Unlikely.
Yossi Beilin may not have been setting out to do so, but he ended up revealing the true situation Israel faces in regards to dealing with the Palestinians and the U.N. Whether one agrees with the Israeli government’s plan (whatever that will end up being), the Palestinians are continuing to prove that they are not currently a true partner for peace, and the U.N. will continue to enable their worst ideas.
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.
By Richard Schifter and Adriana Camisar
Every year, around this time, numerous newspapers around the world publish articles that mark the commemoration of the Palestinian “Nakba.” The word Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic, and is used by the Palestinians to refer to the creation of the state of Israel and the beginning of the problem of the "Palestinian refugees."
The trouble with these articles, nearly identical versions of which are published by different international news agencies, and then replicated by newspapers around the globe, is that they repeat, and therefore promote, extreme Palestinian propaganda that is completely counterproductive to the beginning of any peaceful path between Israelis and Palestinians.
The vast majority of these articles contain a false account of the historical events that led to the creation of the state of Israel. According to this narrative, Israel’s creation was to the detriment of a “historic Palestine” populated almost exclusively by Arabs. And the ancestral ties of the Jewish people to that land are either ignored or denied.
There never really was a "Palestinian state" from which Israel took territory away. When the United Nations (U.N.), in November of 1947, recommended the partition of the area then called Palestine into two states, one Arab and the other one Jewish, all that territory was part of the British Mandate (and had previously been part of the Ottoman Empire). There never was Arab-Palestinian sovereignty over that territory and, in fact, back then, the Arab inhabitants of that area did not call themselves "Palestinians."
The U.N. partition plan, which had the approval of most of the nations of the world, was constructed on the basis that both peoples had a right to a portion of that territory, and it recommended that the Jewish state be established in those areas where the Jewish population was a majority. Even though the horrors of the Holocaust precipitated the decision to finally facilitate the creation of a Jewish state, the historical, religious and legal ties of the Jewish people to that land are ancient and well documented.
While the Jews accepted the partition plan, the Arab countries rejected it, even though the plan also provided for the formation of an Arab state, and despite the fact that numerous and vast Arab states already existed in the region. That was the first missed opportunity for the creation of an Arab-Palestinian state bordering the state of Israel.
Immediately after the establishment of the state of Israel, in May of 1948, five Arab states (Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq, whose armies were also joined by volunteers from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Libya), started a war with the declared intention of annihilating the nascent state. With enormous effort and the loss of 1% of its population, Israel was able to defeat the Arab armies, and a series of armistices were signed.
As a consequence of this war, Israel not only kept the area granted to it in the partition plan of 1947, but its territory expanded by 23%. The area known today as the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt, and the West Bank was occupied by Transjordan (later named Jordan).
During the conflict, approximately 700,000 Arabs left Israel. The majority of them did it of their own free will, because their leaders exhorted them to abandon the land in order to facilitate the killing of the Jews. On the other hand, starting in 1948 and continuing in the following years, around 800,000 Jews were unfairly expelled from the Arab countries where their ancestors had lived for centuries.
As we look back at this time period, across the years, there was a similar number of Arab and Jewish refugees. And there is no doubt that the problem of the Palestinian refugees was generated by an armed conflict initiated by the Arab countries against Israel. If the Arab states had not attacked the newly created state of Israel, there would have been no Palestinian refugees.
Inexplicably, though, the Arab countries have historically been exonerated from any responsibility in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. They also have not been held responsible for the expulsion of thousands of Jews from their lands.
It is important to note that the descendants of the approximately 160,000 Arabs who remained within the borders of the nascent Jewish state in 1948, currently number almost two million people, about 21% of the total population of Israel, and have full civil and political rights.
It is also important to note that the Palestinian refugees were treated differently than any other refugee group in the world. The U.N. created in 1949 the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to provide relief for all the refugees of the conflict. But since Israel absorbed most of the Jewish refugees, the agency was left to deal with the Palestinian refugees only.
As its name implies, UNRWA was to provide assistance and jobs. But it was meant as a “temporary” organization, which would make sure the number of refugees decreased over time. This is why it was originally intended to resettle the refugees in the communities to which they had fled. About 40% of them were in areas that had been a part of the Mandate of Palestine, namely Gaza and what came to be called the West Bank. Most of the other 60% were in Jordan and Syria, countries whose people were of the same ethnicity and religion and spoke the same language.
But the Arab countries refused to resettle the Palestinian refugees (because they wanted them to be available to return to Israel and continue to be of help in efforts to destroy it). Through clever manipulation of the U.N. system, UNRWA was turned into an organization that assumed the task of preventing the integration of the Palestinian refugees into the communities in which they lived. That was done by setting up, under UNRWA auspices, a segregated system of medical, educational and social services for Palestinian refugees. Children were taught in UNRWA schools that their home was Palestine, the place to which they were to return so as to end Israel’s existence. When the operatives who had changed the very objective of UNRWA’s existence recognized that their goal might not be reached soon, they succeeded in creating for UNRWA an exception to the general U.N. rule, by providing that Palestinian "refugee status" would pass from generation to generation (along the paternal line).
The Palestinians are the only people in the world whose refugee status passes from generation to generation. By virtue of this, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original refugees, who today number more than 5 million people, are still considered "refugees”, and the U.N. continues to promote the so-called "right of return" of these refugees to Israel.
This massive migration program is something that no Israeli government would ever accept, because it would imply the liquidation of Israel as a Jewish state, the only Jewish state in the world, to become yet another Arab state.
While the Palestinian leaders say that they are in favor of a two-state solution, by not giving up the "right of return," what they are really seeking is the destruction of Israel through demographic means. This is the main reason why so many attempts to reach a peace agreement have failed.
By constantly repeating a historically incorrect and radical narrative, instead of making a fact-based, objective analysis of the conflict, international news agencies are contributing to the empowerment of the most rejectionist factions, and the unnecessary prolongation of this painful conflict.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
Richard Schifter, Chairman of the Board of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), has had a distinguished career as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and in government. Since 2005 he has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of AJIRI.
President Op-ed in the Jerusalem Post: Germany can carry the banner of free expression without flag burning
When freedom of expression edges into flag burning in the United States, particularly as it concerns Old Glory, most Americans are offended and appalled, if not mortified. Despite the disapproval percentage for torching the flag ticking a few points above 60%, according to Gallup polling, burning the American flag is protected by the First Amendment.
So, when Germany recently proposed making the burning of the Israeli and other national flags illegal, the country’s anti-Israel protesters lost a popular and prominent tactic, one that plays vividly to television cameras for the world to see as it did in 2017 at the Brandenburg Gate.
Naturally, this news was fuel to the antisemites of the world whose default position is to protest the false notion of Jews controlling events or exercising power or buying influence. We know these tropes only too well. Many Americans learning about this news in Germany might reflexively wonder about free speech. In the US, flag burning as an expression of free speech won the minds the Supreme Court in the 1969 ruling Texas v. Johnson, (491 U.S. 397).
These days, Germany cherishes free speech and freedom of the press. Considering the history of antisemitism in Europe over millennia and the surge of antisemitism there in recent years, however, it’s clear that anti-Israel sentiment, including the BDS movement, is just one form of antisemitism. Legal precedent in America might be a good enough argument for some in defending flag burning, but much has changed since 1969. Flag burning no longer is reserved for singular events, the nightly news, a film or a front page.
Always staged, flag burning is a form of hate speech as it sparks violence, which typically exceeds free speech protection. In Europe or in most countries that can or are willing to identify Israel on a map, the Israeli flag rightly represents the sovereign Jewish nation, going back 3,500 years. The reason why people burn the Israeli flag is that they disagree with or ignore the facts of history, reject Israel and hate Jews for a myriad of blood libels, which have culminated in pogroms, expulsions and, of course, the Holocaust. This is a mere snapshot of a long, long timeline of sordid inhumanity.
Of course, what the Nazis perpetrated from Germany to poison Eastern Europe from 1933 to 1945 was to exterminate more than six million Jews and five million others. They also brought shame to many nations with hundreds of thousands of loyal Jewish citizens.
So as organizations like B’nai B’rith International confront antisemitism in all of its forms and work constantly to erase generations of hate through education and legislation, even by drafting and building consensus over a definition, one wonders how necessary it is to use inflammatory and incendiary tactics such as flag burning to make a point?
Clearly national flags set ablaze burn hotter and more destructively than speech or the printed word. Images filling television, computer and smart phone screens permanently scar memories. Words can and do raise the temperature among people, but those arguments can be debated in private quarters or public spaces. Thus, visuals are unforgettable; some words are unforgettable, too, but tend to evaporate far more quickly.
Could it be that one way to slow hatred, particularly antisemitism, would be to prohibit such a powerful act as flag-burning? Fires, like hate, are less likely to spread if they don’t burn in the first place.
Lest we forget how fire was used in Germany to spread hatred toward Jews. The mere mention of bonfires of books, grand synagogues, Jewish-owned storefronts, then millions of people conjure up powerful images that we’d just as soon forget, but we must remember and teach others so history won’t repeat itself.
Fire used to burn lives, livelihoods and flags that are all-encompassing, national symbols is not free expression. It is an affront, a weapon, an incitement for physical acts of hate. In this context, one can understand why Johannes Fechner of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), introduced this amendment recently in the German parliament. As Christine Lambrecht, Germany’s justice minister, told The New York Times, “The burning of flags in public has nothing to do with peaceful protest. Burning flags hurt the feelings of many people.” Well, the last part of that comment is an understatement, and one gets the feeling that something was lost in translation. But the fact remains that flag burning does far more than hurt one’s feelings.
Flag burning alone is a powerful image: That’s why people do it. It doesn’t only take place to whip people on the ground into a frenzy or even play to news cameras. Today, flag burning attracts a world of cameras – smartphones – for instant and continuous sharing. With recklessness on full display on social media, freedom of expression is under microscopic scrutiny.
Protests can occur without the burning of national flags. That demonstration is a far different expression and should be made illegal, and the equivalent of the Senate in the German government will have an opportunity in June to advance this measure into law. Perhaps other countries that espouse freedom and harmony, but where extremism is fomenting hate, should take note and follow suit.
Read Charles' expert analysis in The Jerusalem Post.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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