It has been known world wide in these last days that Human Rights Watch has accused both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas of routinely engaging in “systematic” unwarranted arrests and torture of critics, suspected dissidents and political opponents, and of developing “parallel police states” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In a 149-page report based on interviews with 147 witnesses, Human Rights Watch detailed a common method of abuse and torture known as shabeh — used both by the PA and Hamas — which causes distress and trauma to detainees.
The widespread occurrence of such brutality indicates that “torture is governmental policy for both the PA and Hamas,” Human Rights Watch stated.
According to the report, “Palestinian forces in both the West Bank and Gaza regularly use threats of violence, taunts, solitary confinement, and beatings, including lashing and whipping of the feet of detainees, to elicit confessions, punish, and intimidate activists.”
Saying the systematic use of torture could amount to a crime against humanity under the United Nations’ Convention against Torture, Human Rights Watch called on the United States, the European Union and other international powers to halt all aid to the Palestinian agencies responsible for persecution and “until the authorities curb those practices and hold those responsible for abuse accountable.”
As everybody could imagine, both Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority denied the accusations. For more than a decade, Hamas has maintained an iron grip on power and suppressed any signs of public dissent, including street protests and on social media.
On the other side, despite having Western backing, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has also silenced dissent in the areas of the West Bank he administers under past agreements with Israel. Last year, he clamped down on social media and news websites with a vaguely worded decree that critics say allows his government to jail anyone on charges of harming “national unity” or the “social fabric.”
In this regard, this news is not new. In spite of shameful silence, complicity and indifference, no U.N. agency, political leaders and media can say they do not know the reality of brutality and violation of human rights from Hamas and from the PA.
However, last June, when the United States gave the possibility to all U.N. General Assembly members to vote loud and clear that Hamas is a terrorist organization, the result was very modest.
And from Latin America, the result of the voting was disgraceful.
It was not surprise then, and it would not be today, that Venezuela and Cuba supported Hamas. Venezuela is a haven for Hezbollah, and its activities in drug trafficking, arms sales and money laundering.
But most Latin American countries abstained. How is it possible to “abstain” before terror? How is it possible to show such indifference before a clear and present danger? It is possible because Latin American countries do not see with clarity that their votes are harming the Jewish communities which are living in those countries and are always at danger together with the whole population if terrorist movements are free to move around.
Uruguay is an example of the mixture of wrong steps and unconsciousness. Uruguay voted “no” at the U.N. The meaning of such a vote is that Uruguay showed last June before the General Assembly that it does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Uruguay always declares in international forums that it is in favor of two-state solution and insists in peace accords and understanding. Where is the gap for such contradiction? That Uruguay is including Hamas as part of the Palestinian side who should be sitting at the table discussing with Israel.
All those Latin American countries which “abstained” in the voting of Hamas as a terrorist group and Uruguay going beyond and voting “no” are far from helpful to get some step forward in a road for peace. It is hard to believe that they do not know that Hamas is a terrorist organization because Hamas has claimed openly since its beginning that its goal is the complete destruction of the State of Israel. So, it is very dangerous and useless to believe that Hamas could be sitting at any table to deal with peace issues.
If there is going to be a slim possibility in the near future to restart conversations between Israelis and Palestinians, pushed by the U.S. administration, Hamas will not be at the table and Latin America will watch from far away what may happen because its behavior is also far away from reality and seriousness.
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.
An eight-member B’nai B’rith International delegation participated in meetings of the Zionist General Council that convened this week in Hadera, Israel under the title “Building One Nation.”
The meeting was launched in the Druze village of Hurfeish with a salute to the Druze minority for its contributions to the state, and included the adoption of wide-ranging constitutional amendments and discussion of the significance of the Declaration of Independence and new Jewish State Law for the future of the State of Israel.
Incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog addressed the body, noting: “The Jewish people are on brink of a disaster; simple mathematics show that in two generations, only a fraction of the current Jewish population of the United States will remain Jewish.”
Herzog argued that to confront the crisis in Jewish identify, the gates that have made access to Judaism arduous should be opened, warning that separation between Israeli and American Jewry would be a disaster for the Jewish people.
The meetings also included panel discussions on Israel-Diaspora relation with Members of Knesset and with chairman of the Zionist Federations, among them Honorary B’nai B’rith President Richard Heideman, who is chairman of the American Zionist Movement.
Heideman called for a less vociferous discourse when representatives of the various political parties and organizations that make up the World Zionist Organization convene at meetings of the Zionist General Council. Members of the B’nai B’rith Delegation included B’nai B’rith International Executive Board of Directors member Ira Bartfield; B’nai B’rith Europe Board member Valerie Achache; B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Board Member Dr. Baruch Levy; B’nai B’rith Israel mentor Michael Natan; B’nai B’rith Israel President Dani Gratz; former Young Leadership Network Chair Elana Heideman; Batsheva Schwartz, young delegation member; and B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider, who coordinates B’nai B’rith activities at the National institutions (WZO, JAFI and KKL).
During his remarks, Herzog also congratulated B’nai B’rith International on its 175th anniversary.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, click here.
The law recently approved by the Israeli Knesset, reaffirming that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, sparked a heated controversy not only inside Israel but also throughout the world. Some of the things that have been said about this law though, are inaccurate and, therefore, it is necessary to carefully analyze what the law is really about as well as the reasons behind its approval.
First of all, it is important to understand that, unlike the United States, Israel does not have a written Constitution. But it does have a number of “basic” laws, which have been given a “quasi-Constitutional” status over the years. The recently approved Nation-State Law is one of them.
Until this law was enacted, there was no legislation in Israel referring to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But what exactly does this means?
Actually, this is nothing but the basic principle of Zionism and the very foundation of the creation of the state of Israel. It means that Israel is the realization of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. It also means that it is the place that every Jew in the world can call home, and where any Jew can go to in case of persecution.
This concept is also the basis of the almost universally supported two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the United Nations General Assembly recommended, back in 1947, the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, this is exactly what it had in mind. Israel was always meant to be the nation-state of the Jewish people.
So what is it that bothers some about this law? Many believe that the inclusion of the "Jewish" character of the state in a basic law could have a detrimental effect on the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities, particularly the Arab minority, which today constitutes 20 percent of the population. But the truth is that Israel has always defined itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and this has never affected the individual rights of its non-Jewish citizens. This is so because Israel is not only a Jewish state but also a democratic one and, therefore, all Israeli citizens have the same individual rights, regardless of race or religion.
What is also important to understand is that when we refer to Israel as a Jewish state, the word “Jewish” does not refer so much to religion but to a much broader concept: the concept of Jewish “nation.” In this regard, to say that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people is no different than saying that Spain is the nation-state of the Spanish people or France the nation-state of the French. And in fact, unlike many other states, Israel does not have an official religion.
But why is it that the Israelis felt the need to translate this concept into a law? The answer probably lies in the fact that today, more than ever, many Israelis feel that the Jewish identity of the state is under attack. There is a movement, led by the Palestinians but supported by many around the world, which seeks to delegitimize Israel’s existence. They say they are in favor of a two-state solution but categorically refuse to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. In other words, they seek to establish a Palestinian state but want Israel to stop being a Jewish one.
This is so because they promote the so-called "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees to what is now the state of Israel. And by Palestinian refugees they not only mean the surviving refugees of Israel’s 1948 war of independence but also their paternal-line descendants, numbering today more than five million people.
Naturally, the “right of return” is something that no Israeli government would ever accept, as it would mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state. The Palestinian refugee problem (a problem that started because the Arab countries decided to fight a war against the newly created state, Israel, with the intention of annihilating it) has to be resolved inside the future Palestinian state, in the same way the problem of the Jewish refugees (who were expelled from the Arab countries where they had lived for generations when Israel was born) was resolved mostly inside Israel. (It is estimated that the original Palestinian refugees were about 700,000 while the Jewish refugees were approximately 800,000).
But the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel is fully supported by the United Nations, as the current debate on UNRWA (the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency) underscored. While UNHCR, the U.N. agency that deals with all the other refugees of the world, strives to reduce the number of refugees by resettling them in the countries that received them (when repatriation is not possible), UNRWA does not try to resettle the Palestinian refugees. It maintains that, until a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reached, their refugee “status” should not only continue indefinitely but also pass from generation to generation. It is for this reason that today, the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of the original refugees are still considered “refugees” by UNRWA, and the U.N. continues to promote their return to Israel.
The recent decision of the Trump Administration to stop the funding of UNRWA was, in this regard, a step in the right direction. The "right of return" that this entity promotes (a “right” that has no real basis in international law) constitutes today the single most important obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.
But UNRWA is not the only problematic U.N. entity when it comes to this issue. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (which was created by the U.N. General Assembly in 1975, together with the infamous resolution that declared that Zionism was equal to racism), and the Division for Palestinian Rights (which was established within the U.N. Secretariat in 1977 to assist the Committee) are two entities that actively promote the right of return while engaging in the most radical anti-Israel propaganda activity throughout the year, in the name of the U.N. The funding for these entities is renewed – year after year – by the U.N. General Assembly and is something that should be disrupted.
All of these clearly explain why so many Israelis felt the need to secure the Jewish character of the state through the enactment of a basic law. It was clearly a reaction to the increasing attempts to transform Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, into another Arab state. It was also a reaction to some of the decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court, which have been perceived by many as not safeguarding the Jewish character of the state.
Many well-intentioned critics though, feel that the law is missing two important words, which, in their view, would not detract from all that is right about it. After a thorough analysis of the text, I agree that perhaps the words democracy and equality should have been mentioned, even when these concepts are already enshrined in Israel’s brilliant declaration of independence and also embodied in other basic laws. Because this is a law that defines Israel’s identity, it might have been advisable to mention not only its Jewish character but also its democratic nature. This would have made the Druze minority, for example, feel less uneasy, and the law would have probably gathered wider support at the Knesset.
Having said that, the international criticism of the law was absolutely out of proportion, as is often the case with every piece of news that involves Israel. Israel has been accused of racism and apartheid, and there were outrageous comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. All of these characterizations of Israel are nothing but vicious manifestations of anti-Semitism. Israel, with all of its flaws and imperfections, is an extraordinary democracy, the only true democracy in the Middle East, and this will not change with the enactment of this law.
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.
Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (People's Council –May 14, 1948)
"… We, members of the People's Council … hereby declare the establishment of the Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel … The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience and culture."
British Mandate for Palestine (Council of the League of Nations – July 24, 1922)
"Where as the Principal Allied Powers have already agreed that the Mandatory shall be responsible for putting into effect the [Balfour Declaration] … and whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection for the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country… the Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home … and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion… The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudice, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage …. close settlements by Jews, on the land, including state lands and waste lands not required for public purposes."
Sam Remo Resolution (Four Principal Allied Powers of World War I – April 25, 1920)
"… The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on Nov. 2, 1917, by the British government and adapted by the Allied Powers in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine…"
Balfour Declaration (His Majesties Government – Nov. 2, 1947)
"… His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…"
United Nations Special Committee on Palestine Report, adapted as UN Partition Plan for Palestine (UN General Assembly, Nov. 29 1947)
"Palestine within its present borders… shall be constituted into an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the city of Jerusalem…"
Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty (Knesset, March 17, 1992)
"Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free; these rights shall be upheld in the spirit of the principles set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state".
Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People (Knesset, July 19, 2018)
"The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established. The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People in which it realizes its national, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination. The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People … The State shall be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the Exiles… The State views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening…"
I chose to open this article with quotes from the instruments of the international community that set the foundation for the creation of the State of Israel and the Declaration of Independence, in order to re-establish the obvious — that Israel was always conceived as the nation-state of the Jewish people; not a bi-national or multicultural state devoid of any controlling identity and purpose and whose failure across Western Europe is now clear. In such a state, affirmative action for a small, persecuted minority — in the region — the Jews, should not raise such hackles.
Yet, the Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People (the Law), has engendered more vociferous debate and demonstrations than any legislation passed by the Knesset in recent memory, surpassing by far the recent surrogacy and IDF draft laws that also tackle significant moral and national issues. Not only has it galvanized Diaspora Jewish sentiment — on both sides of the isle — but it has raised from relative slumber Israel's most loyal minority — the Druze, whose religious and political leaders have very publicly declared war on the Law, in addition to leaders of the Bedouin minority, many of whose members serve in the IDF. Nearly a month after being passed, even massive Hamas rockets attacks and the specter of another retaliatory Israeli ground offensive have not changed the level of discourse about the Law.
Last Wednesday's special Knesset debate, called despite the summer recess, offered another opportunity for both sides to restate their positions. Newly-elected Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) who sees opposition to the Law as a strong rallying point in the next election, whenever they are held, excoriated Prime Minster Netanyahu for the "damage [the Law] is causing to the values of equality and democracy."
Arguing that it runs counter to the Declaration of Independence and causes undue strife, she challenged him to immediately call elections that would serve as a referendum for the Law. Ahmad Tibi (Joint [Arab] List), who has accused Israel of being an Apartheid state, slammed the Law for anchoring a classification of citizens. Citizens who have everything are raised above other groups, a collective with high status, and below that is everyone who isn't Jewish and has no rights. Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid accused the prime minister of "eroding one value after another" — this time the value of friendship with regard to the Druze.
Offering a rebuttal on behalf of the government, Minister Zeev Elkin explained that just like the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty took principals from the Declaration of Independence, and anchored them as Basic Law, so too does the Jewish Nation State Law. "Just as the rights of the individual were entrenched [in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty], we are making sure that the picture is in balance … When you go over the law article by article, there is nothing here that someone who still has a grain of Zionism in him could disagree with … [The] vast majority of the Israeli public is Zionist and is not ashamed of the fact that we are the nation state of the Jewish people."
The Law was first proposed nine years ago to fill a legal void left by the passage of a series of Basic Laws (that make up Israel's piecemeal constitution) that determined the powers of the three branches of government, assured the freedom of occupation, human dignity and liberty but did not establish the identity and purpose of the state — a cornerstone of any constitution.
Already back in 1948 the High Court of Justice found that the Declaration of Independence — that eloquently established Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people while assuring personal and religious freedoms and rights to all its citizens — has no constitutional or legal consequence. Furthermore, iconic and long-serving Supreme Court President Aharon Barak declared in 1995 that the two Basic Laws passed in 1992 — Freedom of Occupation and Human Dignity and Liberty — laid the foundation for a "constitutional revolution," appropriating the right of judicial review of all Knesset legislation in the light of these two Basic Laws.
Furthermore, when Jewish and democratic values collide — both of which appear as foundations of the Human Dignity and Liberty Basic Law — Barak ruled that the court would interpret the Jewish value with the highest level of abstraction, meaning — according to Tel Aviv University lecturer Emmanuel Navon — that it shall be ignored. This judicial revolution had very practical impact, as Barak's court and those that followed in his image, decided in favor of an Arab petitioner who sought to purchase a home in a village established by the Jewish Agency for Jews, but that a Jew could not purchase land in a Bedouin village, and has struck down dozens of other laws and amendments, some of which were showcase legislation for the government dealing with the illegal migrants and Haredi draft.
This judicial activism by the court irked many legal and political conservatives who accuse the court of being an unelected bastion of the Left that has won only two general elections since 1977 and is therefore out of touch with the majority of Israel society today. The Basic Law now gives the court — which is evolving into a more ideologically balanced bench under the hand of Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked — the tool to rule that the Jewish character of the state can rightfully take precedent over demands that the Jewish flag, anthem, calendar, immigration, settlement and Jerusalem should be replaced with an all-inclusive alternative.
On the issue of Arabic as an official language, this dates to an archaic Mandatory law dating back to 1922 which actually established English as the predominant of three official languages, alongside Arabic and Hebrew. When the official status of English was abolished as part of the first act of the provisional Knesset in 1948 immediately after Independence, Hebrew and Arabic remained as equal official languages. The Basic Law recognizes the fact that Hebrew is the leading language in Israel but assures Arabic a "special status." Furthermore, the law states that setting Hebrew as the state's sole "official" language "does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect."
Also, as David Hazony points out in a recent Forward article, the Jewish State Law communicates favorably with constitutions and laws of ethnically and historically based democracies across Europe where the nation of nation and state are well understood and entrenched, as opposed to the United States where it understandably is not, even among many Jews in relation to Israel.
So in light of all this, why the outcry now that the principle of a Jewish state has been codified in actionable legislation? Demonstrators at Saturday night's anti-law rally at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square may have provided the answer. Chanting the Palestinian rallying call for violence against the State of Israel ("with spirit, with blood, we shall redeem you, Palestine") while waving the Palestinian flag (which, according to professor Eli Carmon, is a version of the rejectionist pan-Arab flag that symbolizes rejection of everything but Islam, these Israeli citizens showed that like many across the Arab world they are yet to come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state and still seek to "redeem" it — all of it — even 70 years later, through violence.
Speakers at the rally — organized by the "High Monitoring Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel" all supported the notion that Israel become “a state of all its citizens” — a specter that the leadership of the Arab minority and some in the Radical Jewish Left have actively promoted over the past decades, as reflected in the four "Arab vision" papers published in 2006 and 2007 by Arab civil society organizations, alongside support for the "Right to Return" by millions of Palestinian refugees and their decedents that together would put a quick end to the Jewish state. Many Israelis fear that these are the true sentiments held by many Israeli Muslim citizens, and has had a numbing effect on genuine efforts at civic co-existence and integration.
Two major questions remain: First, how to placate the loyal minorities who — looking at the plight of minorities across the Middle East — recognizes that their personal and collective future is inexorably linked to continued Jewish control of Israel. This is particularly true of the Druze who, since Israel's independence, have served the state bravely and with distinction. Netanyahu has taken their concerns — that have lead to threats by Druze diplomats and officers to resign their posts in protest — to heart and has already made a number of proposals, including special legislation to recognize the status of the community, grants for programs etc. while not conceding on the integrity of the Law.
Another tack the prime minister could take to recognize the significant increase in Christian enlistment in the IDF could be to acquiesce to petitions to establish a community in the North for indigenous Christians who have utilized the new nationality option in the Citizens Registry and have as Arameans.
Finally, the prime minister will have to find the right words to explain to segments of the American Jewish population that while Israel cherishes their support, they should not be mistaken that Israel was created in the image of the multicultural United States melting pot (a notion that is failing in many Western European countries, reeling from the results of mass Middle Eastern and North African immigration). Instead, Israel should be celebrated universally by the American Jewish community as having prevailed as "a villa in the jungle" (a term coined by Ehud Barak) for seven decades against all odds and for providing the best chance for Jewish survival into the future.
MASHAV — Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation — this year celebrates 60 years of critical development work in fields ranging from agriculture to health and from community development to entrepreneurship. As a part of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the agency set out with the aim of transferring expertise to developing countries that have assisted Israel on its own path to development. Today, Israel cooperates with over 132 countries providing trainings in Israel and abroad, and operating long-term on-site projects.
The guiding principles of MASHAV are directly informed by and intertwined with Jewish value of “tikkun olam.” It provides the foundation for Israel’s commitment to contribute to the fight against poverty and global efforts to achieve sustainable development, and it is reflected in our own mission at B’nai B’rith to dedicate resources to make the world a safer, more tolerant and better place. Fundamentally, we agree that development cooperation can and should be used to forge bonds of peaceful cooperation between Israel, the Jewish community and our neighbors.
David Ben-Gurion, the founder and first prime minister of Israel, recognized the importance of development work as both a moral and a political issue for Israel. Even in the early 1950s, shortly after gaining precarious independence, Israel’s leaders knew that their experience was relevant for Africa. Foreign Minister Golda Meir set out with the blessing of Ben-Gurion to establish close relations with emerging African countries and to fortify those relations with material assistance through MASHAV.
Though the nascent state of Israel was still very much a developing country itself — dealing with food security, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who had been forcibly expelled across the Middle East, water scarcity and a plethora of health and social ills — they understood the value of their expertise for young emerging countries facing similar challenges. Israel was still a growing country but had already so much to offer in the way of knowledge regarding agriculture, water conservation and equality in the labor force.
Due to such similar conditions Israel has been, and effectively still is, a laboratory for development solutions, and indeed makes the nation well positioned to support sustainable development worldwide. That Israel is able to serve in this capacity with such a small budget is a remarkable testament to the ingenuity and values of the Jewish state.
What started as a modest program focused on grassroots-level human capacity building — at a time when Israel itself was still very much a developing country — blossomed into an extensive program of cooperation throughout the developing world with the aim of ensuring social, economic and environmental sustainable development.
With a presence in countries all around the world, one of the pillars of B’nai B’rith’s own work is helping communities. Our disaster relief program has raised funds to help the victims of disasters around the world since 1865. While not first responders ourselves, we work closely with first responders in answering the call to the world’s most pressing emergent challenges.
B’nai B’rith has made its own contribution to Israel-Africa ties by helping to establish and sustain IsraAID — the largest Israeli civil society organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid around the world. In Africa, we have partnered in response to famine, the Ebola crisis and the Kenyan school massacre.
IsraAID was established as a partnership between Israeli and Diaspora Jewish organizations — including B’nai B’rith. In its 17 years, IsraAID has engaged in hundreds of projects in dozens of countries around the world, bringing Israeli professionals and volunteers to assist in solutions to natural and man-made disasters.
The impact of these combined development efforts is two-fold, as Ben-Gurion suggested: both in the direct development outcomes, but also in establishing closer ties for Israel and the Jewish people around the world. In the work of B’nai B’rith, the impact of MASHAV is far reaching and often presents in unexpected places. Many of the diplomats that we engage in our advocacy work — based in Washington, D.C., New York at the United Nations and abroad — have participated in a training program by the agency. MASHAV is a pioneer in institutionalizing this type of “aid diplomacy” and we consistently see it reflected in our relations with foreign governments.
The return on investment has been immense, and the program continues to be a remarkable success. MASHAV’s signature approach is truly a model for the world.
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and Director of the Cuban Jewish Relief Project at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
Last week, the American veto stopped yet another dangerously misguided U.N. Security Council resolution from passing. The resolution was tabled by Kuwait, the current non-permanent member of the council from the Arab states. The U.S. was the only state to vote against it, but the resolution was unbalanced enough that four other states (Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Poland and the U.K.) on the 15-member council also chose not to support it, and abstain. A resolution needs nine votes to pass, as long as none of the permanent member of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) votes against it, so this resolution was close to failure on its own, but it did require a U.S. veto in the end.
The resolution was typical of what comes out of the U.N. whenever aggressive provocations by Palestinian terrorist groups lead to a crisis situation. Israel was roundly condemned for defending Israeli citizens and soldiers against Palestinian rioters — often Hamas fighters — trying to storm the border and murder Jews. Hamas was never mentioned by name in the resolution; neither was Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which only days earlier had launched a barrage of rockets toward Israeli communities near Gaza, a situation which could have easily spiraled into yet another war. The resolution does deplore rocket launches from Gaza, but the way it is worded it sounds as if the rockets are magically launching themselves. There is no actor responsible for the terrorism. Some states criticized this lack of naming-and-shaming terrorist groups, but shamefully voted for the resolution nonetheless.
The U.S. proposed a resolution that would have condemned Hamas by name at the same council session. Unfortunately, the U.S. stood alone in voting for it. Russia, Kuwait and Bolivia voted against and the rest of the council abstained, many complaining that enough time was not given to negotiate on the text to “balance” it. In U.N. terms, balance is only achieved when Israel is viciously criticized for defending itself and Palestinian terrorist groups are either ignored or are lumped in on calls for restraint by “both sides.”
Beyond this phenomenon, which — sadly — appears all too often at U.N. bodies, this resolution was notable for its efforts to create an international protection mechanism for Palestinians. The resolution would not have created the mechanism, but rather started the process: it called on the U.N. Secretary-General to report back on recommendations for such a mechanism. Such a mechanism would be unhelpful in the extreme, and Israel would never allow it, especially given the history of ineffectual international missions being stationed between Israel and its neighbors.
In Sinai, U.N. forces withdrew at Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser’s demand as Egypt and other Arab countries moved in on Israel in what turned out to be another failed attempt to annihilate Israel. In Syria, the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights fled early in the Syrian civil war. European Union observers on the Gaza border also fled after the Hamas coup in 2007. Finally, in Lebanon, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has not lifted a finger to stop the growing Hezbollah arsenal of thousands of rockets pointing at Israel. Israel knows that in these sensitive areas, only Israel can provide for its own security. An “international mechanism” would only put Israeli (and, ultimately, Palestinian) lives in greater peril.
The Palestinians have been issuing calls for international protection for a while at the U.N. So, in essence what we have is the Palestinians asking for a certain policy, which is rightly ignored by the international community as unworkable. Palestinian terrorists then instigate violence and create a situation where the Security Council feels the need to respond, and the Arab states are there to offer a resolution with the solution that the Palestinians wanted all along. Some of the states on the council that voted in favor of the resolution fooled themselves into thinking that it was a balanced text (though, of course, it was not), and that they were voting to urge a stop to a terrible situation. In reality, they were only making the situation worse in the long run by encouraging Palestinian intransigence and, indirectly, violence.
Finally, there is a real question of whether or not the riots from Gaza warranted this much Security Council attention in the first place. When there are instances of actual peaceful protests being suppressed by authoritarian states, the council tends to ignore it (see, Iran, Venezuela, and most recently, Nicaragua). Palestinian protesters are only cared about if they appear as a violent riot rushing at Israel’s border; the right to protest against Hamas brutality in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority repression in the West Bank is not important to the international community. At the U.N., hypocrisy is the norm and the U.S. veto is the only check against double standards and delegitimization and demonization of Israel.
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.
As ever in the Middle East, it would be overly simplistic to assert that any power, including the regime in Iran, is purely on the rise or on the wane. But the radical, adventurist theocrats in Tehran have recently been feeling the proverbial heat. While allies of Iran’s especially lethal proxy, Hezbollah, gained strength at the expense of relative moderates in last week’s Lebanese election, the so-called “Party of God” remained roughly unchanged in its own share of officeholders. While Syria’s Assad regime now seems entrenched in power, its Sunni resisters scattered and ravaged, that country’s civil strife appears fated to persist indefinitely and Hezbollah’s centrality to the bloodletting has sapped the “resistance movement” of its inter-sectarian appeal. While the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers was ostensibly never popular with Iran’s powerful revolutionaries, who balk at any restriction on military endeavors and detest any accommodation with Western countries, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the compact has embarrassed the Iranian ruling class, as did Israel’s earlier disclosure of extensive intelligence proving Tehran’s nuclear duplicity.
Fear of the nuclear deal’s substantial weaknesses – and of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, weapons accumulation and mischief-making more generally – has united Israeli and key Arab leaders in remarkable, and increasingly unsubtle, ways. Meanwhile, the Iranian state’s continuing oppressiveness, corruption and failure to achieve economic growth have again spurred open domestic discontent to an extent not seen in almost a decade.
Faced with this pressure from within and without, Iranian leaders have felt compelled to project strength and extract a cost for recent setbacks. Iranian missiles and a drone from Syria were launched at Israel, prompting a furious Israeli counterattack aimed at thoroughly degrading a menacing Iranian military infrastructure being erected in Syria to mimic that which has been amassed in Lebanon. Analysts believe that Iran has also stoked and escalated support for the deliberately provoking Palestinian rioting on Gaza’s border with Israel. Although Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is Sunni, it remains estranged from the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, and has sought to direct Gazans’ frustrations at Israel, not itself, particularly as wider Arab attention has shifted elsewhere and the Trump administration took the occasion of Israel’s 70th anniversary to relocate the United States Embassy to Jerusalem.
Undoubtedly, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah badly now want to be seen as scoring some victories, without going so far as to prompt a devastating, all-out Israeli or U.S. counteroffensive. But this dangerous “dance” remains unpredictable and of grave concern. Iran is expected by many to increase cyber-attacks, like a series of those recently aimed at Saudi Arabia, which have potential to sabotage varied forms of critical infrastructure in adversary countries. No less, terrorism abroad has long been a favored tool in Tehran, giving it the possibility of concealing its fingerprints from such violence but inflicting death and panic among targeted populations, including non-Israeli diaspora Jews. And if Iranian decision-makers, egged on by the ideologues of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, soon conclude that the benefits to Iran of the nuclear deal without U.S. inclusion are too limited – especially since European companies, prioritizing their access to American markets, want to avoid running afoul of sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington – Tehran could again make a mad dash for nuclear weaponry, prompting acute alarm and counter-measures across the region.
Finally, although Hezbollah knows that any massive attack, of which it is now capable, against Israelis would result in a fiery response from Israel unlikely to please the people of Lebanon, Hezbollah remains answerable chiefly to its patrons in Iran and is also desperate to reclaim Arab “legitimacy” as the leading non-state threat to Israel. Accordingly, especially if direct Israeli-Iranian skirmishing (with little precedent) continues in Syria, the potential for Hezbollah to be activated against Israel – and thus for outright war – is real. Add acute tension between the U.S. and Iran, and red-hot recrimination (over rivalry in Syria, Qatar, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere) between Gulf Arabs and Iran, and the possibility exists for regional conflict unlike that experienced in the past.
To make matters worse, those jihadist groups more focused on destroying Israel than on containing Iran will want to force Sunni leaders away from a tacit alliance with Jerusalem by stage-managing a propaganda spectacle whose primary victims are ultimately Palestinian.
In this – and, most recklessly, in turning a blind eye to the looming danger posed by a foremost terrorist army, Hezbollah, just subjected to intensified U.S. sanctions – the United Nations and other willfully oblivious members of the global community can sadly be expected to play right along.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
Yesterday’s massive reception in Jerusalem at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs in honor of the visiting delegation from the U.S., here to help inaugurate the new American embassy in Jerusalem later today, was a celebration of new heights in U.S.-Israel relations reached under the Trump-Netanyahu partnership. Not only were the speeches rendered — by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin — mutually supportive, but there were moments of candid camaraderi, such as when the prime minister recognized White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, saying that he has known him for “105 years and there is a special bond between our families” — that must convince any observer that this is no normal diplomatic relationship based solely on state interests, but one that bores down to the kishkes of both governments.
The relocation of the embassy to Israel’s capital should give Israel’s enemies (Iran and Hezbollah) and detractors (the EU and U.N.) good reason for conjecture about what coordinated steps they might face as they continue to threaten joint Israeli-U.S. strategic interests.
The relief felt by most Israelis who have carried the 70-year old burden of this unique boycott by the international community against its capital and other hurtful diplomatic anomalies was reflected in the words of Netanyahu, who set the tone for the event:
“I call on all countries to join the U.S. in moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it’s the right thing to do…Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it advances peace, and that’s because you can’t base peace on a foundation of lies. You base peace on the foundations of truth, and the truth is that not only has Jerusalem been the capital of the Jewish people for millennia and the capital of our state from its inception, the truth is that under any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital.
It took President Trump, a President Trump to enunciate this simple, basic truth. And once enunciated, that truth will propagate…
And to achieve peace, we have to do one other thing: We must confront the enemies of peace, and I thank President Trump for his decision to confront Iran rather than to appease it…With all due respect to those sitting in European capitals, we here in the capitals of the Middle East — in Jerusalem, in Riyadh and elsewhere — we’ve seen the disastrous consequences of the Iran deal. And so when President Trump decides to pull out of this deal, to walk away from it, we know that when he walks away from a bad deal, he’s doing a good thing for our region, for the United States and for the world.”
While the U.S. will not be alone in Jerusalem — Guatemala will reopen its embassy here on Wednesday (after opening its embassy in Jerusalem in 1959 and moving it to Tel Aviv about 20 years later) and Paraguay will relocate next week — a signal that the going will still be tough, which was reflected in the dearth of foreign ambassadors who accepted the Foreign Ministry’s invitation to honor Israel and the U.S. with their presence at the reception. Of EU states, only Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic — three countries that blocked an EU draft resolution condemning the U.S. move — and Austria were present, alongside a number of African and Latin American states. Even countries famous for their friendship with Israel such as Germany, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus — the latter two who held their fourth summit with Netanyahu just last week in Nicosia — stayed demonstratively at arm’s length.
Besides the upbeat atmosphere of the whole affair — that included a great performance of Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” by an Ethiopian vocalist and ended with Netta Barzilai’s winning Eurovision song “Toy” — the reception engendered particular pride for me and anyone affiliated with B’nai B’rith. A special exhibit on former U.S. President Harry Truman was displayed in the expansive reception hall. Guests were able to view the pen used to sign the de jure recognition of the State of Israel, which occurred on January 31, 1949. They were also able to view the famous photograph from that occasion showing Truman with the only three invited guests: B’nai B’rith President Frank Goldman, B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President Maurice Bisgyer and B’nai B’rith Kansas City member Eddie Jacobson.
It was Jacobson — Truman’s WWI comrade-in-arms and lifelong confidant — who, acting at the request of Goldman, successfully appealed to the president to meet with World Zionist Organization President Dr. Chaim Weizmann when the State Department was lobbying Truman to rescind U.S. support for the U.N. Partition Plan in favor of a U.N. mandate over “Palestine.” This was anathema to the Zionists who viewed this looming threat as the possible end to the Zionist endeavor of the creation of a sovereign Jewish state. Truman agreed to see the ailing Weizmann — who was ushered in through the back door of the White House secretly, and lodged at a hotel under the alias “Frank Goldman” — and his impassioned appeal to the president to maintain U.S. support for partition won the day.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
As director of B’nai B’rith’s “embassy” in Jerusalem, I am acutely aware that the relocation of the American embassy to Israel’s capital — slated for this coming Monday — has special significance for our organization. It was at the September 1980 International Convention that B’nai B’rith International decided — perhaps the first by any U.S.-based Jewish organization — to establish a “permanent and official presence” in Jerusalem. This was B’nai B’rith’s robust refutation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 478 that just weeks earlier had called on all 13 member states with embassies in Jerusalem at the time (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela, the Netherlands and Haiti) to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city.
The U.N.’s excuse for this assault was passage of the Jerusalem Law by the Knesset in July of that year which declared Jerusalem to be Israel's "complete and united" capital, declaring it a violation of international law. At its height, Jerusalem boasted 16 embassies — the above plus Ivory Coast, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Kenya. But since 2006, Jerusalem — the Jewish capital since the days of King David and never declared the capital of any other people, despite having been occupied by many — has been bereft of any embassies and official recognition as Israel’s capital.
Jerusalem was long the seat of B’nai B’rith in Israel. It was where the Jerusalem Lodge — the first lodge to be established in the Land of Israel — was inaugurated in 1888 (nine years before the founding the Zionist movement by Theodore Herzl) and undertook some of the most significant civic projects at the time: sending clandestine missions to establish lodges in Jewish communities across the Ottoman Empire; founding the first library in the Land of Israel; setting up the Committee of the Hebrew Language and battling Christian missionaries by providing alternatives to Christian education and medical services, among others. But leadership — both in Israel and internationally — recognized that the U.N.’s affront could not be left unanswered, and the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem was founded.
Since then, successive chairmen and directors have implemented its role as the organization’s public affairs arm in Israel and permanent and official presence in Jerusalem. One of our declared goals was, indeed, to encourage countries to move their embassies to the city or establish new one’s here, instead of in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan. While we cannot claim success in this endeavor, the World Center did submit a white paper to the Foreign Ministry that identified strategies for attracting embassies to the city, although this never seemed to be a priority for Israeli governments faced with a multitude of bi-lateral and multi-lateral diplomatic challenges throughout its 70 years.
Finally, on Monday, this will change as President Donald J. Trump makes good on a 23-year promise by Congress and successive presidents. By also recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital de jure, Trump will blaze new, significant ground that was not engendered by the presence of embassies in the past. All praise for these courageous steps, long-awaited by the people of Israel, is deserved. The move has already had a ripple effect — albeit modest at first — with Guatemala and Paraguay following suit. The fanfare of Monday’s events will undoubtedly convince other countries that the rightful place for their legations is in Jerusalem — at least 10 are reportedly considering an imminent move — and this will have a positive effect on this fascinating, but challenging city.
Certain questions remain about the full significance of the embassy move as U.S. State Department officials insist that the administration will continue long-standing policy not to note “Jerusalem, Israel” in official U.S. documents, but only “Jerusalem.” There is also the cloud cast by the long-awaited U.S. proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians that according to news reports, will call on Israel to relinquish control of four Arab neighborhoods in favor of the creation of a capital for “Palestine.”
These questions will undoubtedly be dealt with after sometime after Monday — perhaps even far in the future. But in the meantime, we will bask in the knowledge that Jerusalem has begun the long journey to its rightful place among the great capitals of the world.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
A few weeks ago, several media outlets in Argentina reported about a recent meeting between an Argentine journalist and a man named “Ibrahim Yassin” in Israel.
Yassin is well-known in Israel, but almost nobody knew about him in Argentina. Originally a Shiite Muslim from Lebanon, this man told the Argentine reporter the amazing story of how he became an Israeli citizen and an Orthodox Jew, changing his name to Abraham Sinai.
The story of his transformation began during the civil war in Lebanon, in the 1970s and 80s, when he witnessed the atrocities committed by the Syrian army and also by Hezbollah combatants. When the Israeli army entered Lebanon, Yassin was able to confirm that they operated under a different set of values, especially when an Israeli army patrol, putting his own life at risk, rescued Yassin's pregnant wife and arranged for her to be taken to Haifa, where she was able to give birth safely. According to Yassin, she would have died if left in Lebanon.
Yassin’s closeness to the Israelis generated the suspicion of members of Hezbollah, who kidnapped and tortured him for months. According to Yasmin, a man named Imad Mughniyeh, tired of not getting the information he was expecting to get from him, burned Yassin’s 8-month old son alive in front of his eyes.
After a while, and convinced that Yassin was innocent, they decided to release him. According to reports, it was then that Yassin decided to infiltrate Hezbollah and spy for Israel. He did so for 10 years, and the valuable information he provided to the Israelis saved the lives of many Israeli soldiers.
In 1997, when the Israelis felt that Yassin was in serious danger, they took him and his family to Israel, where they have lived since then.
Yassin’s story is relevant in Argentina, not only because it is not very common to find stories in the local media where the Israeli army is portrayed in a positive way, but also — and most importantly — because of the connection between Yassin’s testimony and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires.
According to Yassin, Mughniyeh, the same man who tortured him and murdered his son, was the person that ordered the AMIA attack, as Hezbollah’s global operations chief. Yassin in fact states that he was there when the attack was ordered.
Even though this is probably not news for many Israelis, in Argentina his testimony is very important. In fact, Alberto Nisman (the federal prosecutor that conducted the AMIA case investigation for over ten years before being murdered in 2015) had accused Mughniyeh of being one of the masterminds of the bombing, and had even secured an Interpol red alert against him.
Mughniyeh, who is widely believed to have also participated in the planning of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and a number of other terrorist attacks around the world, died in a car blast in Syria in 2008, so he will never be interrogated for his crimes. But Yassin’s testimony should serve as both a vindication of Nisman’s courageous work and a reminder of the dangers of Iran’s global terror activities.
Adriana Camisar is an attorney by training who holds a graduate degree in international law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University). She has been B'nai B'rith International Assistant Director for Latin American Affairs since late 2008, and Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs since 2013, when she relocated to Argentina, her native country. Prior to joining B'nai B'rith International, she worked as a research assistant to visiting Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo (former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), at Harvard University; interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; worked at a children's rights organization in San Diego, CA; and worked briefly as a research assistant to the Secretary for Legal Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS). To view some of her additional content, click here.
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