In late December 2019, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague, Fatou Bensouda, announced that a “basis” exists to investigate the “situation in Palestine” and whether Israel committed war crimes during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, as well as the Gaza border conflict of 2018-2019. Earlier this month, the court gave the green light for Bensouda to open an investigation of alleged war crimes committed by American servicemen during the United States’ war with Afghanistan.
If it sounds worrisome for Israel and the U.S., that’s because it is. Both Israel and the U.S. are not members of the ICC and did not ratify the court’s founding Rome Treaty, precisely because both countries feared it was a structurally biased institution and would become the politicized body it has. The ICC does not try states, but individuals. That means although the U.S. and Israel are not parties to the Rome Treaty, their citizens, leaders and soldiers are not immune from indictment, prosecution and arrest warrants in countries that are parties to the treaty (and there are 123 member countries of the ICC).
The International Criminal Court was created in 2002 to prosecute individuals for international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The institution was meant to function as a “court of last resort," which means it should step in when rogue nations do not hold ostensible perpetrators of war crimes accountable. In this sense, the ICC is a powerful resource to maintain law and order around the globe and to serve as a deterrent to tyrants from committing grave crimes. However, as we have witnessed another international body, the United Nations Human Rights Council, stray from their noble cause into a political farce, so too has the International Criminal Court.
The United States and Israel both have vibrant democracies, each with some of the world’s most respected judicial systems that investigate alleged wrongdoings by their militaries. The notion that the ICC would open inquiries into both countries is obscene. The U.S. and Israel currently view the court as a politicized and illegitimate institution. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called the most recent ruling on Afghanistan a “truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body,” and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon referred to the investigation of Operation Protective Edge as “diplomatic terrorism.”
For years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) along with several Palestinian NGOs, backed by thousands of euros from European governments, has threatened to open a probe of war crimes against Israel. In 2015, the PA joined the Rome Treaty and several countries recognized Palestine as an independent state. However, contrary to some wishes, Palestine is still not a sovereign state according to the Vienna Convention, upon which the Rome Statue is based. Therefore, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has argued that “only sovereign states can delegate criminal jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court. The PA does not meet the criteria.” It’s quite straightforward. The ICC has no jurisdiction to investigate the PA’s request, and it certainly has no jurisdiction over Israel, which is not a party to the institution.
In over two decades, the ICC has only ever convicted three people in trials of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given the last decade and the atrocities out of Syria or human rights abuses out of Iran, let alone the nearly daily war crimes committed by Hamas, e.g. sending incendiary balloons across the Gaza border to land in school yards, that there has been little interest in prosecuting such crimes speaks volumes about the political agenda and anti-Israel bias of the court.
Israel's short history has been consumed by Palestinian warfare since before the state’s creation, from terrorism to the battlefield, to the media and the BDS and delegitimization campaign and now through lawfare. We cannot underestimate the use of lawfare as a weapon against the Jewish State and dismiss it as mere politics. It may be a political show, but this time Israel cannot dismiss the ICC’s legal positions in the same way it dismisses rulings by the U.N. General Assembly. International law carries with it very real consequences and not just from a P.R. perspective of assigning the label of war criminal to an Israeli leader. If said person refuses to submit to interrogation by the ICC prosecutor and travels to an ICC member state like Germany or England (as well as much of the rest of Europe, South America and Africa), that person could theoretically be arrested as soon as their plane lands on foreign soil. That scenario would lead to an international scandal of epic proportions, causing severe diplomatic rifts—rifts Israel cannot afford.
The ICC Pretrial Chamber is expected to decide sometime after this month whether or not it will recognize a “State of Palestine,” (meaning whether or not it actually has jurisdiction), and determine if they will proceed with a full criminal investigation. For now, we will watch as things unfold, continue to advocate on Israel’s behalf and hope Israel continues to mount a multi-layered defense against this delegitimization.
For years, we have made the case that Israel continues to be subjected to unequal footing and outright systemic bias within the international community. The latest moves by the ICC add it to the growing list of anti-Israel, arguably anti-Semitic, international bodies. The real tragedy here is that victims of actual crimes against humanity may never see justice because a pervasive international obsession with the one Jewish State trumps all else.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Development & Special Projects at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
The reaction was both peremptory and predictable: Critics of Israeli and U.S. policies firmly snapped back against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration that the U.S. no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal.
“The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said. “All settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by U.N. Security Council resolution 2334.”
“Another blatantly ideological attempt by the Trump administration to distract from its failures in the region,” tweeted Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading Presidential candidate. “Not only do these settlements violate international law — they make peace harder to achieve.”
“Egypt is committed to the resolutions of international legitimacy on the status of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, being illegal and inconsistent with the international law,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry declared.
One hundred and seven House Democrats wrote a letter to Pompeo to express their “strong disagreement with the State Department’s decision to reverse decades of bipartisan U.S. policy on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank by repudiating the 1978 State Department legal opinion that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are ‘inconsistent with international law.’”
In many cases, critics of the shift in U.S. policy cited their support for a two-state solution as an alternative to the State Department’s new position. “As President, I will reverse this policy and pursue a two-state solution,” Warren said, while the German Foreign Office intoned, “The construction of settlements is in the federal government’s opinion illegal, undermines the peace process, and complicates talks on a two-state solution.”
What is the basis for presuming that Israeli settlements in some parts of the West Bank are antithetical to the peace process? It would seem that the stigmatization of the word “settlement” has much to do with this position, as “settlements” have come to be associated with dark notions of colonial occupation, perhaps even racism.
But Israeli communities in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem are not illegal, as Secretary Pompeo has affirmed. According to Article 80 of the United Nations Charter, the U.N. cannot transfer any part of the former Mandate for Palestine, which was dedicated at the 1920 San Remo Peace Conference for the creation of a future Jewish state. Furthermore, Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the Oslo agreement’s Declaration of Principles established that a land for peace deal must be based on direct negotiation between the parties – one that would determine territorial boundaries that might not strictly adhere to the 1967 lines.
The Ottoman Empire, which governed Palestine, dissolved after World War I. Since a Palestinian state has never existed and the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem ended with the Six Day War, the status of those territories is clearly disputed until negotiations have resolved outstanding questions about sovereignty.
But critics of the Pompeo announcement seemingly would prefer to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations. By declaring Israeli settlements illegal, these voices are stigmatizing any Israeli presence in disputed territories as somehow acquired through evil or at least improper means, as opposed to through a defensive war. This sinister characterization of Israel’s predicament, which would forever deem Israeli settlements illegitimate, underlies the suspect claim that the State Department’s new position is at odds with the two-state solution.
This argument does not hold up, though. Serious negotiations must take place in the realm of fact, not ideological fantasy. Israel has a credible legal and historical claim for inhabiting at least part of the territories.
Furthermore, the primary obstacle to Middle East peace is widespread rejection of Israel’s right to exist. When Israel’s critics accept the obvious reality that some settlements will remain in place in the wake of a final peace agreement and that those communities are not the main roadblock to peace, a two-state solution will become more likely, not less.
The rhetorical war on Israeli settlements has fueled anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Israel boycotts for years. Tragically, it has also become a major impediment to peace.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
In April 2017, Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was beaten and thrown out the window of her building in Paris in a shocking anti-Semitic murder. The suspect claimed insanity and was hospitalized. For a long time, French authorities refused to recognize the anti-Semitic nature of the attack. They were eventually forced to do so by a court ruling later in 2018.
Looking back, the Halimi case seems to be the first of a long series of abhorrent anti-Semitic attacks that were covered extensively in the media and gave expression to the 74 percent statistical rise in anti-Semitic incidents from one year to the next reported by French police.
In March 2018, Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was stabbed 11 times in her home in Paris by two neighbors. In February 2019, 96 graves in a Jewish cemetery in the town of Quatzenheim, north-east France, were desecrated and covered in swastikas. Just days later, a monument at the site of the Old Synagogue of Strasbourg, which was burned down by Nazis, was itself destroyed. The yellow-vest protests, initially working-class protests against rising fuel taxes, became a repository of anti-Semitic sentiment from across the political and ideological spectrum, bargaining in globalist conspiracies and financial domination tropes. As recently as a few days ago, on Dec. 3, in Westhoffen, Alsace, more than 100 graves in the Jewish cemetery were defaced and covered with swastikas.
These chilling incidents did not pass without public outcry and strong declarations by leading political figures, public protests and marches of solidarity - comforting signs for a Jewish community seriously contemplating leaving France.
Yet there seemed to be a manifest reluctance toward taking one of the most basic steps in the fight against this blooming hatred: defining the problem. More precisely, there seemed to be no traction in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, the gold standard in the field. So obscure was this idea that even the Jewish community did little by way of demanding the definition be adopted.
I submit that three main unspoken arguments hid behind this reluctance: the freedom of speech argument, a perceived competition of victimhood and the omnipresent concerns about Israel-speak.
The freedom of speech argument. In the country of some of history’s greatest thinkers, in a place that arguably fetishizes debate and deliberation, any sniff of the stifling of freedom of speech is viewed with much skepticism. To answer this criticism, one must emphasize that the working definition is a legally non-binding tool that allows us to have an informed discussion about what constitutes anti-Semitism. It does not ban one from speaking in anti-Semitic terms; it merely helps us identify and flag the speech as such.
The perceived competition of victimhood. “If we adopt a formal definition of anti-Semitism, each minority community will demand the same,” goes the argument. On one hand, to this one must say: Yes, we must strive to understand each form of discrimination thoroughly, in all its complexity. On the other hand, we must acknowledge the difficult situation that France’s political leadership finds itself in. The country is home to the EU’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations as well as many other large minority groups - ethnic, religious and otherwise.
The Nov. 10 March Against Islamophobia highlights a worrying competition of victimhood: photos surfaced of Muslim activists wearing yellow stars, suggesting the circumstances of Muslims in France today are equatable to those of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. A bewildering implication, but one that highlights real sentiments among large swaths of France’s population. However, such pervasive realities make the definition - and, generally, action against anti-Semitism - all the more necessary.
The right to criticize Israel argument. Of course, one of the most prevalent arguments used against the IHRA definition is a concern with limitations on criticizing Israel. Now, the definition clearly outlines the following instances related to Israel as being anti-Semitic:
Thus, as much as the definition curtails demonization of Israel, it in fact takes explicit steps to ensure criticism of Israel may be leveled.
Alas, in the midst of escalating anti-Semitic incidents, on the Feb. 20, 2019, at the annual dinner of the CRIF - the federation of French Jewish organizations, President Emmanuel Macron had little choice but to announce that his government would adopt the definition. Months later, MP Sylvain Maillard submitted a piece of legislation that had the definition as a centerpiece (however, without its important examples made explicit) in front of the National Assembly, the French Parliament. The review of his proposal was postponed multiple times and eventually put to a vote on Dec. 3. Ahead of the vote, a broad campaign against the proposal surfaced on the Internet, brochures making the case against the IHRA definition emerged and there was real concern the proposal wouldn’t pass.
Fortunately, it has since been voted for - with a solid majority. Now, France has an important and absolutely necessary tool in its portfolio to tackle anti-Semitism. It shouldn’t have taken so long, it shouldn’t have been so hard, but the effort was certainly worth it.
Alina Bricman is the Director of EU Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. She formerly served as president of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) from 2017 to 2019 and worked for the Representation of the European Commission in Romania and for the Median Research Centre, a Romanian civil society NGO focused on civil engagement and combating xenophobia. She studied political science at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and at the Central European University in Budapest.
In recent weeks, I found myself inundated with front page news headlines, opinion pieces and press releases on the Israeli government’s decision to bar entry to two American congresswomen to the country (it just so happened that these congresswomen also attempted to bring the unfathomable thought of boycotting Israel into the halls of Congress). The outpour of reactions, ranging from disagreement to outrage, from the American Jewish community was striking to me, because in real-time over in Israel, it appears the country could once again be on the verge of war, and this time on several fronts.
Last fall, I attended a briefing on a report by the Jewish Institute for National Security in America (JINSA) titled, “Israel’s Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges.” A fundamental issue the report articulates is that because Hezbollah cannot defeat Israel by force, the Iranian proxy will exploit its next war with Israel in the court of public opinion, further delegitimizing the Jewish State in the international community, even if Israel decisively wins in battle.
Publicly lambasting the Israeli government on the issue of the congresswomen simply gave more fuel to the fire to a media and world community that takes any opportunity to criticize or condemn the one Jewish State. It doesn't seem wise to do so at a time when we should be advocating in the public sphere about the intensifying crisis on Israel’s borders. Perhaps we in the Diaspora need a refresher on Israel’s security concerns. It may not be public knowledge, but Israel cannot afford to lose one battle.
After decades of war, neighboring states in confrontation with Israel realized they could not conquer Israel through the conventional methods of military, air and intelligence warfare. Therefore, Israel’s enemies focused on long-range ballistic missiles and terrorism. In formulating Israel’s security doctrine, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion knew that military victory would always be limited and temporary at best due to the enormous size of the Arab world and geographic and population asymmetry in comparison with Israel. Israel’s single defense goal, therefore, is to ensure its preservation, and as such, it cannot afford to lose one single war. In the decades since Israel’s major conventional wars, and with the ongoing phenomenon of hybrid warfare (where a law-abiding army is confronted by non-state actors and guerilla militias that do not abide by the laws of war), and after the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War, the IDF expanded the security doctrine and developed a new concept of preemptive warfare: the Campaign Between Wars (CBW). The strategy’s goals are to delay and deter war by weakening the enemy’s force buildup and capabilities, exposing the enemy’s clandestine military activities and creating optimal conditions for Israel if it should face war.
The CBW strategy has been successful thus far in delaying war as it continues to meet its objectives. However, the threats continue to grow, and with recent escalations, the region is arguably ripe for war. Here is a brief rundown on the challenges Israel currently faces on its five fronts in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula: As most of us know, at the center of all Israel’s perils lies Iran’s desire for hegemonic control of the region and its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Through Iran’s militias supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, Iran’s presence is ever-growing in the region and preventing its military entrenchment (and its unrelenting desire for nuclear weapons) has been Israel’s top priority for years. Israel is currently engaged in a shadow war with Iran through its proxies and forces surrounding Israel’s borders and in Gaza. The risk of a multi-front war is very real.
To Israel’s border in the north with Lebanon sits Iranian--backed Hezbollah—arguably the most powerful non-state actor in the world--which has been stockpiling missiles since the last war in 2006. According to Israeli officials, Hezbollah is currently estimated to have as many as 150,000 missiles, many of which are now much more technologically advanced precision-based missiles, which have the capability to be guided to a specific site—like major Israeli cities. Therefore, in recent months, Israel has made its primary focus thwarting the Hezbollah/Iranian precision-guided missile program. According to the aforementioned report by JINSA, Hezbollah now possesses more firepower than 95 percent of the world’s conventional militaries, and more rockets and missiles than all European NATO members combined. Several serious tit-for-tats with Hezbollah over the last couple of weeks have put the country—and region—on edge, as any escalation can very quickly turn into full-scale war. With Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the north threatening to destroy Israel, this time with the capabilities to wage a damaging war, Israel (and the world community) is on high alert.
To Israel’s northeast, the vacuum for power in Syria has enabled Iran’s ascension. Iran has sought to establish offensive drone bases and military posts in Syria near the Israeli border, and it continues to be met with Israel’s zero tolerance policy. Iran has also attempted to build a land corridor linking Iraq to Syria in order to transfer weapons and move its militias, bringing Iraq into the fray. With the CBW strategy, Israel has been both clandestinely and openly destroying Iran’s encroachments.
It’s been five years since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, the war with Hamas in Gaza, and though there has been relative quiet over the years, Israel has been tolerating missiles, incendiary balloons sparking dozens of fires, violent border riots, etc. Every so often, due to rocket attacks into Israel, there are skirmishes between the IDF and Hamas, which can very easily spiral into another war campaign. Other Islamist extremists have also found their way through Egypt to the Gaza strip and are now vying for power against Hamas. Believe it or not, Israel faces the threat of even more extreme groups if Hamas should fall.
In the West Bank, violence is mostly contained, though terror ensues on Israeli citizens always. The Palestinian Authority, led by the weakened Mahmoud Abbas and backed by the militant Fatah, could face off with Hamas (they are at war with each other as well) if Abbas should lose power or die in office. The risk of chaos in the West Bank with Iran looming large is a very real threat to the stability and safety of Israel. There is also a soon—to--be unveiled peace plan created by President Trump, which invariably comes with the prospect of unpredictable responses from the Palestinians. If history tells us anything, these responses are usually violent.
To Israel’s southern-most border with Egypt, in the Sinai Peninsula, there remains an ongoing jihadist insurgency due to Egypt’s weak control of the area after the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. This means groups like ISIS and other Islamist militant militias are active, vying for control and fighting Egypt’s security forces right on Israel’s border.
As you can see from this very brief synopsis of the security situation along Israel’s borders, the reality is forbidding. Through the IDF’s strategic “Campaign Between Wars,” they have been mostly successful keeping war at bay, but the reality is that when dealing with irrational actors, it is often very hard to predict tomorrow. So shouldn’t we be spending our time and energy with opinion pieces and press releases on Israel's serious security concerns until that becomes the front page of The New York Times, and not the outrage over two congresswomen? If we don’t spread the knowledge on what Israel’s enemies are up to, who else will? It is our job, as we sit in the safety of the Diaspora, to show the world just what Israel is up against. Without our advocacy, the world’s indifference is deafening.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Young Leadership & Development at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
Boris Johnson has finally fulfilled his political ambitions by becoming the U.K.’s 77th Prime Minister. His biggest short-term priority will be ensuring that the U.K. leaves the European Union by October 31st in as orderly a fashion as possible. But it is a fair question to ask whether the new PM, who is an avowed philosemite and admirer of Jewish culture, will look equally with favour on Israel. When one looks back at Johnson’s record, one finds a rather mixed picture and one which reflects the inconsistencies for which he is sometimes accused.
Firstly, it is necessary to dispel a myth: that Boris Johnson is nothing but a British version of President Trump. Certainly, there are superficial similarities. Both have a somewhat maverick and ebullient style, and both are willing to ride a coach and horses through their respective political establishments. But the similarities mask obvious differences.
For one, Johnson is a classically trained scholar whose knowledge of modern history and culture is compelling. For another, he is an experienced politician, having served as an MP since 2001, Mayor of London for 8 years and, most recently, as Foreign Secretary. Moreover, Johnson’s occasionally offensive remarks mask the fact that, as a classical liberal, he champions individual freedom and liberty and has often been positive towards ethnic minorities and LGBT people. He specifically condemned President Trump’s Muslim migration ban. And as a journalist of 30 years standing, he has little time for the incessant attacks on the press which have become routine in Washington.
This makes a difference to the Jews in one important sense. Johnson is a Brexiteer because he believes that E.U. membership is anti-democratic and undermines Parliamentary sovereignty. He champions liberalism, openness and democratic institutions, the kind of political environment in which Jews traditionally thrive and to which they make the most positive contribution. It helps that he is proud of his Jewish maternal great grandfather, a Lithuanian rabbi.
In the past, Johnson has lauded Israel as a ‘great country’ and described himself as a ‘passionate Zionist’. He visited the country as a university student in 1984 and spent some time volunteering on Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi in northern Israel. He would later speak of the ‘bonds of hard work, self-reliance and audacious and relentless energy’ holding together ‘a remarkable country’ and, in a comparison of Israel with Churchill, praised the ‘daring, audacity, derring-do and indomitability’ of the Jewish state. As Mayor of London, he arrived in Israel for a three-day trade mission in November 2015 with a team of high tech entrepreneurs. He later said that London was the ‘natural tech partner for Israeli firms.’ This extensive economic and technological collaboration is likely to increase now that Johnson is Prime Minister.
Johnson has also condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the strongest terms, describing it as a ‘completely crazy’ campaign led by ‘ridiculous, snuggle-toothed, corduroy-wearing lefty academics.’ Those comments, made in 2015, led to a series of meetings in Ramallah being cancelled. He has also understood the endemic anti-Israel bias found within the U.N. In a visit to the U.N. Human Rights Council in its first session of 2018, he urged the body to ditch Item 7 (which singles out Israel for criticism) as it was ‘disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace.’
But at times, he has said things that have offended supporters of Israel. In 2014, at the height of Israel’s war with Hamas, Johnson deprecated Israel’s actions as ‘disproportionate, ugly and tragic’ and described the war as ‘utterly horrifying and unacceptable.’ He has condemned ‘incitement and rocket fire against Israel’ but also called for an ‘independent inquiry’ over 120 Palestinian deaths on the Gaza border. Johnson was also seen as playing an important role in drafting U.N. Security Council resolution 2334, which said that all settlements established since 1967, including in East Jerusalem, ‘were a flagrant violation under international law.’
The resolution was widely condemned within the U.K. Jewish community, whose representatives considered it a betrayal and disgrace. He is a strong supporter of the two-state solution, which marks him out as having a thoroughly conventional perspective on the conflict. But this led to a somewhat nuanced celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in which he lamented that the Arab population had been denied self determination, even though the declaration did not speak of the ‘national rights’ of the Arab population.
On Iran, it is hard to read the exact contours of a foreign policy. In the past, he has expressed support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Deal, which was signed in 2015. He rallied round the E.U. in rejecting Trump’s decision to leave the agreement. In 2018, he said that Britain had ‘no intention of walking away’ from the nuclear deal and as recently as July 2019, urged Iran not to abandon the JCPOA. In a recent interview with the U.K.-based Jewish News, Johnson continued to defend the agreement but hinted that if there was evidence of Iranian non-compliance, Britain stood ready to re-impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Yet this can only mean that, contrary to all previous positions, the U.K. would be abandoning the JCPOA. Now that tensions between Iran and the West have ramped up in recent months, it remains to be seen whether Johnson’s government will pivot more towards Europe or the USA.
When it comes to terror groups, his record is again inconsistent. He rejected calls consistently to ban Al Quds Day marches in London or to prevent the Hezbollah flag from flying, despite the raucous antisemitic rhetoric on display. Yet when the Muslim Home Secretary did proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, Boris Johnson tweeted his congratulations.
What are we to make of all this? It is fair to conclude that Johnson is a friend of Israel and a man committed to its peace, security and prosperity. But in his views on settlements, Gaza and Iran, his perspective is largely aligned with that of the Foreign Office.
Jeremy Havardi is a historian and journalist based in London. He has written four books, including ‘The Greatest Briton’, a volume of essays on Churchill’s life and political philosophy, ‘Projecting Britain at war’, a study of British war films and, most recently, ‘Refuting the anti-Israel narrative.’ He is currently working on a project that examines the Jewish contribution to modern civilisation. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
The moon is celebrating an anniversary.
We are fascinated by the moon. It is referenced in song lyrics and featured in works of art called moonscapes. We look for the face of the man in the moon, perhaps recalling the opening visual of The Honeymooners. The distance from the earth to the moon is often used to define the depth of our love with the statement, “Love you to the moon and back.”
The moon will celebrate a 50th anniversary this year, recalling July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon. I remember watching the landing live on television, the words of Neil Armstrong (“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’’) and the reaction of the newscasters and the NASA engineers and scientists at mission control. This gives the event its place in history for me and many others. It was not to be the only news event of the summer of ‘69. I did not get to Woodstock, but I really love the music and the significance of what brought people together for that gathering.
Israel’s recent mission to the moon connected every Jew to Israel’s attempt to land the Beresheet robotic spacecraft this past April. Funded by private investors, it evoked the positive feelings we share about Israel and the challenge of space. Watching live coverage, this time online, the sign attached to the spacecraft defines the nation of Israel for many Jews: “Small Country, Big Dreams.” The landing turned into a crash, but this setback has not stopped the plans to try again. The investors are prepared to put in more money to make the next landing a successful one.
The moon is a celestial body that waxes and wanes. It appears each night, providing light in the darkness. It plays a role in Judaism as the regulator of the Jewish calendar. Each month begins with the appearance of the new moon and ends when the next moon appears.
There is a prayer to bless the new month called Kiddush Levanah. It is expected to be one that is fulfilled as early as possible when the new moon is visible at the end of Shabbat. The prayer is said under the night sky and provides the opportunity to acknowledge one of G-d’s creations. It also recognizes the importance of the community, as it is said with a minyan, and as the prayer ends, the participants greet the others they are with by saying Shalom Aleichem, wishing them peace.
Anniversaries of historic events are internalized as we remember our own experience when the subject is called to mind or what we may have heard about from a parent or someone from another generation. That is how history is taught as we share information about an event in history that is remembered. That memory is usually followed by where they were when they heard the news. This brings us closer together with the people we know, as well as with new connections as we share something about our own life experience.
Memories of experiences within B’nai B’rith help us keep and grow our collective memory. As B’nai B’rith continues to observe its 175th anniversary year, we hope to capture the memories that members and supporters have about their own experiences in B’nai B’rith. Please consider sharing your thoughts about memorable B’nai B’rith milestones, people or other influences on your B’nai B’rith experience with us. We will share them on the BB and I Blog page on the B’nai B’rith website, which brings these memories together for our B’nai B’rith community. You can even write them under a moonlit sky for additional inspiration.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai B'rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B'nai B'rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
Anyone driving near Jerusalem’s government district cannot miss it. On a triangle-shaped lot bordering the Knesset, the Israel Museum and government ministries (did anyone say “location, location, location”?), a magnificent addition to the capital city’s landscape is taking shaper under a jumble of cranes, earthmovers and other heavy machinery: The National Library of Israel building.
In the scintillating promotional material posted on the library’s web site, the futuristic design is described as follows: The building’s curved, elevated and cantilevered form necessitates a contemporary take on the cut Jerusalem limestone found throughout the rest of the city …Openings and carvings, whose shapes are derived from a projection of erosions on ancient stone walls, are designed to minimize solar heat gain on the windows behind. The pattern is reminiscent of culturally specific imagery and text but remains abstract in origin. The mineral surface continues to the vitrine legs below…Uncommon in contemporary Jerusalem, the wood brings a human scale and detail to the pedestrian experience while linking the building to timber traditions important to the local vernacular from ancient to early modern times…Our design responds to the context and reflects the ambitions of the National Library of Israel. It is open and transparent but grounded in the traditions of great libraries and the city itself. As in the past, books will remain at the center…”
The National Library’s new building – which, like the Knesset and other monumental projects in Israel, is being funded by the Rothschild Foundation – is ambitiously slated to open in 2020.
But this institution has its foundation 108 years earlier in a historic decision by members of the B’nai B’rith Jerusalem Lodge to establish a library in Jerusalem that would be the home to the huge fountain of Jewish wisdom contained in its great written tomes. Led by visionary and pragmatic figures like David Yellin, Zeev Hertzberg, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Yosef Meyuchas and Yehiel Michel Pines – all leaders of the “New Yishuv” - who were inspired by the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the Jerusalem Lodge (est. 1888) succeeded where two earlier attempts had failed to establish a sustainable library in the cradle of Jewish renaissance then stirring in the Land of Israel – Jerusalem – after libraries had been established by B’nai B’rith lodges in Jaffa and Tzfat (both chartered by the Jerusalem Lodge). Founded to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World and the Spanish Inquisition, the library in Jerusalem was named for the great Jewish statesman and scholar Don Isaac Abravanel, who led the convoy of denuded Jews out of the Spanish kingdom. It opened with 947 books donated by lodge members and other Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Two years later, 2,000 books from a defunct library established earlier by Eliezer Ben Yehuda – the father of modern Hebrew – were gifted to the B’nai B’rith Library, and in 1895, Dr. Josef Chasanowich augmented the collection with his private corpus of 10,000 Jewish books, sending them from Bialystok to Jerusalem. The library was officially renamed “Midrash Abravanel ve’Ginzei Yosef” (Abravanel Seminary and Yosef Archives”). In 1899, Theodor Herzl, in the name of the Zionist Congress, sent Chasanowich a congratulatory letter and a donation towards the library, to which Chasanowich remained committed. By 1886, the rented quarters had become cramped and the lodge began to plan a purpose-built facility which opened in 1902 to great fanfare. The building, which sits on B’nai B’rith Street in the center of the historic district surrounding Prophets Street, is still owned by the Jerusalem Lodge. In 1920, the collection was transferred to the World Zionist Organization and subsequently (in 1925) to the Hebrew University, at which time it took on the name Israel National and University Library. The next year, it opened in its new venue as the Israel National Library.
Leading historians have long recognized the role of the B’nai B’rith Library in the development of Jewish culture and education in Jerusalem and as the foundation of the National Library. Writing in The Book of Jerusalem, Yosef Salmon writes “…the ‘B’nai B’rith’ library…served at the time also as a community center for the New Yishuv in Jerusalem and eventually became the National Library…”. Dov Sidorsky, writing in Libraries and Books in Eretz Israel at the Close of the Ottoman Period, notes “The ambition to establish ‘the treasury of Jewish books’ in the city, which is a center for Judaism, indicates the primary purpose of the library and was a guiding light of the board of the B’nai B’rith library…” Writing in “New Jerusalem at its Beginning”, Yehoshua Ben-Arie writes, “Behind the idea of combining the two libraries in Jerusalem and the addition of Sirkin’s books to the ‘B’nai B’rith’ library in Jerusalem stood Zionist ideology about creating a national library in Eretz Israel.” Finally, writing in “Prophets Street, Ethiopia Neighborhood and Musrara Neighborhood”, David Koryanker writes “In 1892…the third attempt [to establish a library] … was crowned with success at the initiative of B’nai B’rith …The establishment of the library – the nucleus of the National University Library – was the fruit of a determined decision by Jerusalem intellectuals and Hovevei Zion in the Diaspora, who believed that a library is one of the important symbols of national renaissance…’”
The significant contribution made by the B’nai B’rith Jerusalem Lodge and subsequent B’nai B’rith lodges established in Jaffa, Zichron Yaacov, Tiberias and elsewhere at the end of the 19th century, to the Jewish renaissance in Eretz Israel, even before the establishment of the Zionist Movement, is indeed well-documented. These contributions include the establishment of the first Jewish settlement in the Jerusalem area (Motsa), the first Hebrew-speaking kindergartens and adult education in Jerusalem, hospitals and civic institutions. They also made clandestine missions to Jewish communities throughout the Levant with the purpose of drawing them into the modern era and harnessing their support for Jewish renaissance in Eretz Israel and fought the discriminatory decrees of the Ottoman authorities against Jewish immigration and property ownership. Many of their initiatives were designed to counter the Christian mission to the Jews, very active at that time. They laid the veritable building blocks upon which the “state in the making’ was founded at a time when Jerusalem’s Jewish population stood at a mere 15,000.
Together with Jerusalem Lodge President Zvi Rotenberg, and with the support of B’nai B’rith President Charles Kaufman, we are currently engaged in an effort to ensure that B’nai B’rith’s critical role in the founding of the National Library will be recognized in the permanent exhibit that will be a major feature of the new building, and we are seeking other opportunities to bring this proud history to the fore. As President Kaufman concluded in his letter to Library chairman David Blumberg: “This important legacy is too precious for us to ignore and I am sure that you too wish to strive for historical accuracy and recognition for the accomplishments of those who came before us.”
Ma’ase Avot Siman L’Banim (The actions of the fathers are a signpost for the children – Rambam).
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.
By Adriana Camisar
The recent visit of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to Israel is a very important development.
For years, Brazil’s diplomacy took a rather hostile stance toward Israel. In fact, the government of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2003-2011) got very close to the Iranian regime and, in 2010, even tried to prevent the United States and the European Union from sanctioning Iran for its nuclear development program. Brazil was a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council at the time and certainly helped Iran evade international sanctions, at least for a period of time.
Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor, distanced herself a bit from the Iranian regime but kept the anti-Israel stance of her predecessor, voting against Israel in virtually all international forums.
The traditional anti-Israel posture of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) responds in part to a third-worldist worldview, deeply rooted in Latin America, which has sought to keep distance from the United States, and therefore from one of its main allies, the state of Israel. This worldview is based on a somewhat simplistic understanding of Latin American history, according to which the United States is to blame for most of the region’s problems. This ideological position has been disastrous for the region since it generated a culture of victimization and the distancing of many Latin American governments from the democracies of the West in order to get close to dark regimes such as Iran, Russia and China, among others.
In the case of Brazil, Itamaraty's anti-Israel posture had also to do with the desire of the Brazilian career diplomats to get Brazil elected as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, in the highly improbable case that the council gets reformed to include new permanent members one day. To achieve this, these diplomats thought it would be necessary to get the votes of the countries that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But the truth is that such a reform of the U.N. Security Council would be impossible to achieve without the agreement of the United States government, which would in turn need to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, something extremely unlikely.
In any case, this anti-American and anti-Israel worldview seems to have received a major blow since Bolsonaro took power. His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, said in a recent tweet that the discriminatory treatment of Israel at the U.N. had been a Brazilian foreign policy tradition, and that this government is determined to break with this "spurious and unjust" tradition, in the same way it is breaking with the anti-American and third-worldist tradition that prevailed.
Bolsonaro's campaign promise to move the Brazilian Embassy to Jerusalem will apparently have to wait. But his recent announcement about the opening of a trade office in Jerusalem and his visit to the Western Wall in the company of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (an unprecedented gesture) are very strong signs of change.
The recent vote of Brazil at the U.N. Human Rights Council is another sign. For the first time in the history of the council, whose anti-Israel bias is both shameful and notorious, Brazil voted against two anti-Israel resolutions.
In November and December this year, Brazil's new, warmer relationship with Israel will be put to a test. This is so because two important resolutions will be re-introduced at the U.N. General Assembly. As every year, member states will decide if they want to renew the funding and mandate authorization of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights, the two entities that make up the most powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that exists under the U.N. roof.
In addition to demonizing the state of Israel, in the name of the U.N., these entities promote the most extreme Palestinian positions as they question Israel’s very right to exist and advocate for the right of return of the more than five million people of Palestinian ancestry (who are still wrongly considered "refugees" by the U.N.) to the State of Israel. This radical stance is clearly against the two-state solution that the U.N. claims to support, as the mass migration of these people to Israel would mean the destruction of Israel as a majority-Jewish state and the eventual creation of one Palestinian state "from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea."
Brazil votes, year after year, in favor of the continued funding of these two entities, creating among the Palestinians the illusion that the U.N. will eventually grant them a state “from the river to the sea,” and directly discouraging genuine peace negotiations with Israel. A change in the way Brazil votes would undoubtedly be a breath of fresh air and would send a positive message not only to other countries in the region but also to the entire world.
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.
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Israeli political leaders have doggedly held to the position that the Palestinian Authority (PA)/PLO and its leading faction Fatah – all headed by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) - remain Israel’s best and perhaps only partner for reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians. They excuse contrary evidence – including the launching and condoning of deadly waves of terrorism, the continuous diplomatic offensive and the promotion of violence and rejectionism in the Palestinian media and school system – as mere symptoms of the lack of agreement between the parties and argue that these irredentist actions would end as soon as a final status agreement is signed and the “Occupation” ended. An opposing view contends that continued Palestinian rejectionism, incitement and delegitimization poison any chance for reconciliation between the two peoples for generations into the future and insist these come to an end before any further concessions are made towards further Palestinian independence and statehood.
A recent report entitled “The Palestinian Authority and Hamas: Promoting Terror in Tandem” lends support to the second approach and points to a growing trend: incitement led by Hamas to terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria – alongside the PA and Fatah’s institutional embrace of terrorism.
Here are some examples:
Any renewed effort to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – whether directly or with the assistance of foreign bridging efforts – will have to tackle the effects of 25 years of intense incitement and embrace of terrorism since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and its various components as a first requisite step to reconciliation. The launch of the administration’s peace plan might have been postponed due to the recently-announced early Israeli elections, but when it is picked up again, identification with murderers and terrorists will have to be the first things dropped by the PA if it is to stand any chance of success.
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.
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.
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