Over two years of planning and hard work culminated on the evening of Nov. 7 when a whole-day program at the Knesset to mark the adoption of the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2, 1917 ended on a note of success. The B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem — leading an initiative on behalf of the Balfour Centenary Committee — was the first to raise the specter of the impending, but still distant, historic milestone with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at a meeting in his bureau back in 2014 — but not before pro-Palestinian organizations had already started their campaign to pressure the British government to rescind the Declaration. This petty stunt got zero traction with Prime Minister Theresa May who declared that Her Majesty’s government would “mark the centenary with pride”— which it in fact did, both in Israel and in the UK.
Our committee felt that the right place in Israel to reflect on the various aspects of the historic event and on the current state of UK-Israel relations was the Knesset, and were pleased to receive immediate support from Edelstein who endorsed a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, an international conference and a Knesset plenary session all dedicated to the Balfour Centenary.
While the excitement around the centenary was somewhat eclipsed just a month later when U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and adopted a new global strategy that no longer sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main cause of Middle East turmoil, the positive buzz left by these events persists: that Israel’s legitimacy, while constantly challenged, is firmly anchored in diplomatic convention going back 100 years and in the profound Jewish cultural-religious connection to this land going back thousands of years. These sentiments were borne out in many of the presentations made on Nov. 7.
The scope of this blog does not allow me to summarize all the many excellent speeches made during the day by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Head of the Opposition Isaac Herzog, Lord Jacob Rothschild and others. I would though like to share some of the poignant remarks made in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the most restricted of the sessions held that day.
Committee Head MK Avi Dichter opened the hearing, noting that the principal statement in the Declaration — that “His Majesty’s Government view with farvour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” — represented the beginning of modern Jewish history.
Lord Stuart Polak recalled the rarely-remembered end of the Declaration that states: “…nothing shall be done which may prejudice the …rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Polak argued that while some 170 U.N. resolutions, 13 U.N. agencies and billions of dollars have supported the Palestinian cause since 1948, nothing has been done in support of the 850,000 Jews forced out of Muslim lands after Israel’s creation who should have been protected under the terms of the Declaration that were later incorporated into international law.
Labour MK Joan Ryan, chair of Labor Friends of Israel, said she believed that in light of Israel’s progressive values and international humanitarian aid “Labour’s founding fathers would have felt their support for Zionism more than justified.”
Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum, chair of the Balfour 100 Committee in Britain, said that despite apprehensions the Balfour Centenary events in Britain were successful because it brought back to life the sense of shared purpose that Great Britain and the Zionist movement enjoyed 100 years ago, during the First World War period and shed light on the shared value, shared purpose and shared language that bind the two counties today.
Celebrated British historian professor Simon Schama interjected a more cautionary tone, noting that on the American and British campuses he teaches at, “Zionist is a title of honor one has to fight for.” He argued that in the context of Jewish history the “public knows only about the Shoah and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but has no sense of the richness of Jewish history, its complexity and above all its connection to some of the great epic moral dramas of the history of the world — particularly the epic of homelessness and not just about the decency and virtue of our political position and the right to our defense.” He argued that the Balfour Declaration succeeded in part, because there was an “educated sympathy” by its protagonists toward the destiny of the Jewish people. “That sympathy is under siege today and we have to think creatively how to fill the world with the story of the Jews.”
B’nai B’rith International CEO and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin expressed regret at the ongoing campaigns to erase both the intent and promise of the Balfour Declaration that prevail at the U.N., with that body’s 1975 “Zionism Equals Racism” resolution only the tip of the iceberg. Restating B’nai B’rith’s passionate support and devoted partnership with the State of Israel, Mariaschin said that “As we commemorate the Balfour Declaration as a monumental act of decency whose purpose was to recognize the injustices of the past and the legitimate right of the Jewish people to live in peace and dignity in its own nation, there are those who engage in global campaigns to turn the clock back in order to deny our people that right.”
The Balfour Declaration has engendered one hundred years of debate around the motivation, timing, relationships and interests that led to the decision taken by the British Government led by former Prime Minister Lloyd George. The policy shift taken by Trump will also inevitably be the source of vociferous debate into the future. In both cases, the responsibility lies with the leaders of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to make the most of these declarations and work with friends to ensure they will provide their intended benefits.
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.
sIt was a historic announcement: President Trump declared on December 5 that the U.S. now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, thus acknowledging a longstanding reality and seemingly ending 69 years of mixed signals from the U.S. government about Jerusalem’s status. The U.S. will eventually bolster this decision by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump indicated.
Trump’s announcement is consistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which required the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem but allows the president a waiver every six months in the interest of national security. For the past 22 years, presidents of both parties have relied on the waiver to delay the move.
But has the confusion over U.S. policy come to an end, or has it simply entered a new phase? Recent indications of a disconnect between the White House and the State Department over Jerusalem have raised questions about the meaning of the presidential declaration, even as supporters of the policy shift continue to embrace the symbolic change they have long sought.
Two days after the president’s announcement, Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield told reporters that “on consular practice there is no change at this time” in the wake of the White House declaration. This raises important questions about implementation of U.S. policy. For example:
1. Americans born in Jerusalem have never been allowed to designate Israel as their country of birth in their U.S. passports; rather, their place of birth is merely identified as “Jerusalem.” Will this change in light of President Trump’s decision to “finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital”?
2. The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem has always reported directly to the State Department instead of the U.S. embassy to Israel, as though Jerusalem were a separate country. Will the consulate now report to the embassy, which is set to move to Jerusalem?
3. White House and State Department official documents have until now identified Jerusalem simply by the name of the city, rather than by “Jerusalem, Israel.” Will U.S. government communiqués finally acknowledge what President Trump’s announcement did, namely, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, rather than an independent city?
Then there is the matter of when the embassy move, the most tangible symbol of the U.S. policy shift, will actually take place. Many procedural steps remain, such as finding a site in Jerusalem, securing funding, completing construction, and satisfying complex security requirements. This could take years. In the meantime, it is possible Trump will continue exercising the presidential waiver, as he has done twice this year. Until the move is finalized or at least well underway – until the U.S. policy shift becomes grounded in steel and concrete – America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will seem more ephemeral than permanent.
Nevertheless, the United States has crossed a threshold of sorts. The administration has conceded that Israel, like any other country in the world, is entitled to select its capital and have that choice be honored by the international community. On Israel’s path toward the long-overdue normalization of its place in the world, this step cannot be discounted.
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.
This month (November 2017), we mark the anniversaries of two pivotal milestones in Jewish history: the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which declared the British government’s endorsement of the creation of a nation-state for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland, and the 70th anniversary of the passage of U.N. resolution 181, in which a majority of U.N. member states approved of a plan to create that nation-state, which became the State of Israel.
B’nai B’rith International is celebrating both anniversaries, organizing an event at the Knesset on the Balfour Declaration and co-sponsoring with the Permanent Mission of Israel to the U.N. and other Jewish organizations an event at the original site of the passage of resolution 181.
At B’nai B’rith, we take pride in our historical role in both events. See B’nai B’rith Magazine’s latest issue for background on the role of B’nai B’rith leaders in the Balfour Declaration. B’nai B’rith was active in the U.N. from its founding, attending the 1945 San Francisco conference and gaining accreditation as an NGO in 1947. A key moment in B’nai B’rith history is the intervention of B’nai B’rith President Frank Goldman and B’nai B’rith lodge member Eddie Jacobson with U.S. President Harry Truman, which led to the U.S. decision to support partition. And, B’nai B’rith has had an active presence in Israel since 1888, helping to build the state.
As these important anniversaries arrive, it’s important to celebrate and reflect on the advocacy efforts that led to these key moments in history. We also need to realize that, as important as these events were, they did not in themselves create the State of Israel. That job was done by the Zionist pioneers that settled the land, the leaders of the Yishuv (the Jewish government in waiting in pre-state Israel), the Haganah and other armed groups (and later, the IDF) that defended the nascent state, and the support of the Jewish community outside of Israel. Balfour and 181 did, however, give vital international recognition and legitimacy to Zionism at critical times to the development of the eventual State of Israel.
The Palestinians would do well to finally reckon with this history and with the fact that Israel is here to stay. Instead, the Palestinians are still battling the battles of the past — demanding that the current British government renounce the Balfour Declaration (the United Kingdom forthrightly refused to do so). At the U.N., the date of 181’s passage (Nov. 29) has been turned into the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” whereby the U.N. delegations of countries hostile to Israel make incendiary speeches that few people outside of the U.N. building pay any attention to and resolutions are voted upon that do not bring the region closer to peace and only serve to discredit the U.N. The U.N.’s anti-Israel bureaucratic machinery also recently hosted an event attacking the Balfour Declaration.
While some delegations at the U.N. mourn, we in the Jewish community will continue to celebrate our return to sovereignty in the land of our ancestors and pledge to rededicate ourselves to the cause. Israel grows stronger economically, culturally, technologically and militarily, as a diverse democracy with flourishing diplomatic opportunities in countries throughout the world while the Palestinians play games at the U.N. When the Palestinians realize that seeking to delegitimize and isolate Israel via international institutions and/or seeking to destroy Israel with military force or terrorism will not lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, perhaps they will start to negotiate in earnest with Israel on a true, meaningful peace.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
By Adriana Camisar
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Argentina yesterday after a very successful visit.
The visit was historical because it was the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister visited the country. The trip also showed the great shift of Argentina’s foreign policy since President Mauricio Macri’s inauguration.
During the previous government, the bilateral relationship with the State of Israel had deteriorated considerably, given the close relationship between the government of former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Iranian regime. Indeed, the Argentine government and Iran signed the shameful Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which sought to withdraw the investigation of the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building bombing from Argentina's jurisdiction, and to grant "investigative" powers to the Iranians.
In fact, Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who had conducted the AMIA investigation for 10 years, was found dead, under very suspicious circumstances, after denouncing that the president and her officials had negotiated the agreement with Iran in order to get impunity for the accused Iranians. Today, Kirchner is being tried for treason by virtue of Nisman’s complaint.
The rapprochement with Israel is the clearest evidence of the desire of the current Argentine government to distance itself from dictatorial regimes like Iran, Syria and Venezuela and to get closer to Western democracies and the free world.
The Jewish community in Argentina is the largest in South America and the 6th largest in the world, and, undoubtedly, for the majority of Argentine Jews it is a source of great joy to witness the warm reception that Netanyahu received in the country and to see the flags of the two nations displayed together, after so long.
The opportunities for cooperation between the two countries are enormous in the areas of innovation and technology, cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, health and education. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a very fruitful relationship.
In addition to Argentina, Netanyahu is also visiting Mexico and Colombia, before heading to New York to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
In addition to strengthening ties with these Latin American countries, Israel is certainly seeking to confront Iran’s infiltration in the region, which took place in the last few years, particularly with the help of Venezuela, and to gain greater support from Latin American countries at the United Nations, where Israel has historically been unfairly treated. Hopefully, this renewed friendship with the nations of the region will indeed be reflected at the U.N. and other multilateral forums.
By Oren Drori
Over the past few years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has fallen deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole by actively participating in the Palestinian campaign to delegitimize Israel at international institutions (see prior blog post on the subject here). In the UNESCO context, the Palestinians have been trying to erase immutable facts of history—specifically, the ties between the Jewish people to Israel, our homeland—through various libelous resolutions that either try to obfuscate the Jewish connection to holy sites (for instance, only using the Arabic name for the Temple Mount or putting “Western Wall” in quotes and giving preference to an obscure Arabic name for the site), and/or falsely claiming that holy sites are in danger. A shameful, albeit steadily decreasing, number of UNESCO member states have been far too willing to go along with these outright lies.
The events of this summer, however, are a warning signal to UNESCO on the perilous route that the membership is taking. Last month, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) voted to approve an anti-Israel resolution that, among other attacks, claimed that Israel had no sovereignty over Jerusalem—the eternal heart of the Jewish people and the capital of the State of Israel—and a second decision to add Hebron’s Old City (and the Tomb of the Patriarchs within it) as a Palestinian site to the list of World Heritage Sites in danger, even though the site is in no apparent danger.
Shortly following the conclusion of the WHC session, Palestinian violence flared up in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The cause of the violence? Metal detectors.
Following a terrorist attack in which the terrorists hid their guns in al-Aqsa Mosque and then murdered two Israeli policemen, Israel closed the Temple Mount temporarily, and installed metal detectors. Similar security measures are used at holy sites throughout the world—the Vatican, Mecca, and at the Western Wall, to name a few. These installations were added to ensure that all visitors to the Temple Mount are safe, regardless of faith.
The reaction was immediate and without any proportion to reality. Muslims refused to pray at the site if they had to deign to walk through measures designed for everyone’s safety. Violent protests followed, egged on by Palestinian and Muslim leaders. Both Hamas and Fatah called for a “Day of Rage” on the next Friday. That night, at a Shabbat dinner table, a terrorist went on a rampage, murdering Yosef Salomon and his children Chaya and Elad. The violence went on for nearly two weeks, and has only recently gone down, although one would be hard-pressed to call the situation “calm” yet.
This reaction was a direct consequence of the lies told by the Palestinian leadership to its own people (and the rest of the world) for decades—that holy sites, and specific to this case, al-Aqsa Mosque—were in danger. This, plainly, is fiction. Israel does not engage in activities that endanger holy sites. To the contrary, Israel has made extraordinary efforts to discover and preserve cultural, religious and historic sites throughout the country, while making them safe and open for visitors of any faith.
The world has seen, once again, who is truly creating the instability at the holy sites—it is the side that stored weapons in a mosque of significant importance to the Muslim world (a mosque which sits upon the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism), carried out a terror attack from that site, and then erupted in violent protests and further terror when common sense security measures were introduced following the murder.
The Palestinians know that this lie is a touch point that can lead to open conflagration when manipulated, as it has on previous occasions. The question is—how far is UNESCO willing to go to push the Palestinian narrative when real world consequences are at stake? When will responsible member states at UNESCO, which, incidentally, is tasked with creating peace in the minds of humanity, take a stand against extreme historical revisionism?
We’ve seen UNESCO bodies push forward a truly absurd narrative in many previous resolutions (once even complaining that Israel was planting fake Jewish graves at a cemetery in Jerusalem). But, claiming that Israel is putting holy sites in danger is a real threat to the peace and stability in region. When UNESCO bodies accept this destructive narrative, they make the world body complicit in the explosive violence that is then borne of this lie.
By David Michaels
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the prime minister of Georgia, visited Israel late last month.
Sadly, the visit was overshadowed by the violent attack on a security officer at Israel’s embassy in Jordan and tensions attributed to the short-lived introduction of basic security measures at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after the gunning down of two (non-Jewish) Israeli policemen there. Coming in the run-up to Tisha B’Av, the date marking the destruction of Judaism’s single holiest place, the crisis again encapsulated the deadly consequences of wild anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement. Mainstream Palestinian leaders have both denied Jewish history on the Mount and claimed Israeli designs to “Judaize” it, even as Israel has remarkably preserved Islamic clerical administration of the site for 50 years and disallowed Jewish prayer there.
If widespread international ignorance of this Israeli conciliation weren’t enough, Palestinians again set a new standard for chutzpah by warning that the use of metal detectors outside the site—ubiquitous at vulnerable places worldwide, including at the adjoining Western Wall—would intolerably violate Muslim worshippers’ rights. The Palestinians have already long rejected the presence of cameras on the Mount to further document the vile agitation by clerics that ensures unending warfare against and with Israel.
While foreign capitulation to the Palestinian-led regional saber-rattling has been as dispiriting as it has been unsurprising, the overlooked visit to Israel by Georgia’s head of government deserves positive attention disproportionate to the size of a Georgian citizenry less than half that of little Israel. The trip, one of repeated and reciprocal high-level visits between the two countries, testifies to the strength and significance of Israel’s bilateral relations with an increasingly diverse set of states, even as conditions in the Middle East remain so precarious.
Although Israeli ties to foremost world powers, above all the United States—but also now India, whose prime minister made his own historic journey to Israel last month—will always be considered vital, some less powerful countries, particularly in Israel’s near-neighborhood, offer distinct importance on account of their geographic situation, natural resources, intelligence capabilities, market potential and shared strategic concerns, to name but a few tangible assets.
And so, size doesn’t always matter most in international relations; where once “traditional” powers like France and Germany, their continuing importance notwithstanding, may have privileged them among foreign policy priorities, today Greece and Cyprus, far smaller and less affluent than their northwestern neighbors, take a back seat to no one as focal points of Israeli diplomats and policymakers.
Similarly, the measure of Israel’s relationship with other countries cannot be contained to those countries’ votes on rote motions on Israel at the United Nations—even as there is cause for hope that member states can pull loose from ossified patterns of bloc voting on biased U.N. resolutions related to the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—serving also as foreign minister—has sought positive voting trajectories in his broadening global outreach whose capstone undertaking, aside from the trailblazing alliances with India and the Aegean countries, has likely been the restoration of Israel’s long-dormant partnership with African states. Accordingly, now counted among Israel’s friends even at the inhospitable U.N. are not only the U.S., Canada and Australia but Togo and Burkina Faso. And these join Pacific island states like Micronesia and the Marshall Islands and such Latin American states as Guatemala and Paraguay, as well as central and southeastern European states including Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Albania. And Georgia.
Some of these countries are courageous enough to vote outright against discriminatory motions at the U.N., while others at least begin to pull their neighbors in the right direction by refusing to support texts that recklessly malign Israel’s record or even whitewash Jewish history, discrediting the U.N. itself in the process.
Last month, B’nai B’rith leaders concluded a visit to Georgia, where we met with Kvirikashvili, and also to Azerbaijan—which Netanyahu recently visited in a first for an Israeli premier. Georgia is a historic Christian land, while Azerbaijan is predominantly Shiite Muslim; both are home to substantial, well-integrated Jewish communities largely spared the anti-Semitism found elsewhere, and both Caucasus countries maintain exceptionally close, critical ties with Israel. Tbilisi, Georgia, and Baku, Azerbaijan, are rare world cities where a visitor senses genuine safety in synagogues—and, even rarer, these are places where, walking down the street, one might come upon an Israeli flag flying side by side with a Georgian or Azeri one. Such a display of genuine international pluralism would not likely be found today in Brussels or Stockholm.
The upshot of Israel’s relationship with Georgia and Azerbaijan, as with so many other countries of varied location and culture, is that comity between peoples is possible. Indeed, it is here, even across faith boundaries. Israel is proud and eager to cultivate bonds of friendship with fellow members of the international community, whether of Muslim, Christian, Hindu or any other stripe. All that is needed for the achievement of a mutually rewarding coexistence in the Middle East is for Israel’s neighbors to recognize that it is at home in the region just as they are.
By Rachel Knopp
College students have become emblematic elements of nonviolent resistance throughout the world. Perhaps most famous were the anti-Vietnam protests when college campuses in the United States transformed into hotbeds of political activity. Students would organize “teach-ins” to rally against the escalation of the war. In Europe, Serbian university students organized poster campaigns and satirical concerts against the oppressive Milošević regime. Just two years later, these ‘unruly’ young people had successfully overthrown a dictator.
Today, we see that same trend of student activism visit another country with a democracy on the brink of collapse: Venezuela. In Venezuela, supermarket shelves and pharmacies are virtually empty. Due to the lack of food, medicines and medical equipment, people are dying of easily preventable causes. The Venezuelan economy is heading in a nosedive, evident in a current unemployment rate of 17 percent and an inflation rate that is expected to hit 481 percent by the end of the year, per Ian Bremmer of Time.
The severity of the humanitarian crisis is felt by many, with two million Venezuelans taking refuge in neighboring countries throughout recent years. Yet, the dire situation continues to grow. The Maduro-led government refuses to accept humanitarian assistance from the international community. Refusals indicate a blatant disregard for human life, amid an increasingly tense political climate.
According to Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, President Nicolas Maduro has deliberately dismantled the democratic institutions of his country since his election in 2013. The Venezuelan constitution, which safeguards the most coveted freedoms of democracy, has overtly been disregarded. Maduro and the executive branch now enjoy a strong-hold over all key government institutions. The Supreme Court has stripped powers away from the legislature and the military has become government cronies in quashing opposition.
Maduro has explicitly stated his contempt for dissent. “Prepare for a time of massacre and death if the Bolivarian revolution fails,” he warned. Sadly, Maduro’s warning has come to fruition, with university students bearing the brunt of this burden. Of the 92 dissidents who were killed from April 1 to July 10, 31 of them were aged 21 or younger.
Even with Maduro’s grave forewarning and demonstrated commitment to stamp out opposition, many students have nevertheless left their lecture halls in favor of the streets. "We just couldn't sit calmly in class when down the road fellow youths were being killed in clashes with the security forces," Gabriela Sayago, a 24-year-old dentistry student at the University of Merida. told the BBC News. Students like Sayago have vowed to complete their studies, but only under a free and fair Venezuela.
To achieve that goal, student organizers have partnered with the opposition party to resist the regime and its grim promise to rewrite the constitution. According to David Gonzalez of The New York Times, the recent opposition-led referendum voted 98 percent in favor of rejecting Maduro’s efforts to rewrite the constitution, of nearly 7.8 million votes. These Venezuelans demanded that the current constitution be respected in order to prevent Maduro’s path to dictatorship.
The student activists are being credited with utilizing more sophisticated tools of protests, including psychological sessions and civil disobedience workshops on their university campuses. In conjunction, the opposition is organizing a nationwide 24-hour strike, which is expected to be a “massive, nonviolent protest.: In some areas, the movement has even adopted a database to track the safety of protesters who continue to take to the streets.
Almagro recognizes the grueling, historical struggle that Latin American countries have faced to achieve democracy. Many of the region’s most respected leaders have their own memories of participating in popular protest. Yet the case of Venezuela demonstrates the fragility of even an established democracy.
Still, the Maduro government claims to be a representative voice of its people on the international stage. Particularly, the Venezuelan government has used its position at the United Nations to criticize and condemn Israel. Venezuela uses the same institutions, in which it refuses to accept humanitarian assistance to save its own people, to turn the focus toward the State of Israel.
In May the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations raised in the Security Council whether Israel intended to “wage a final solution sort of solution [against the Palestinians] as was perpetrated against the Jews?” The comparison to Nazi-Germany was quickly condemned by the United Kingdom and the United States and distinguished as anti-Semitism by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Anti-Semitism has become a flagrant issue within the country itself. Since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, took power in 1999 nearly 50 percent of Venezuelan Jews have left the country. During that time, Chávez took steps to deepen relations with the Palestinian leadership and Iranian government. He viewed Israel as a Middle Eastern proxy of the United States and thus adopted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments in his rhetoric. Chávez’s rhetoric spilled over into government-sponsored media and local governments thus creating an intolerable space for Jews in the country.
The January appointment of Vice President Tareck El Aissami has reiterated concerns over Venezuela’s connections in the Middle East. From a testimony last year at the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Joseph Humire detailed the vice president’s complex financial network, which includes laundering millions of dollars on behalf of organizations like Hezbollah. Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terror organization, has called for the destruction of Israel since its founding. El Aissami’s financial dealings point to the infiltration of Islamic extremism at the highest levels of Venezuelan government.
In June U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for Venezuela to step down from its position at the United Nations Human Rights Council if it could not put an end to its own human rights abuses. Haley continued to express her frustration that not a single resolution had been considered by the council to address the Venezuelan abuses, yet five had been passed against Israel in March alone. This, she said, marked another example of the anti-Israel bias that has long plagued the U.N.
Various human rights violators of the world have used United Nations institutions to divert attention from their own records of abuse and shift the focus toward Israel. Venezuela has been a leader in this diversion tactic, yet the popular protests that ensue within the country suggest that these accusations do not represent the concerns of the people.
Those who follow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement have seen student activism as a tool to delegitimize Israel in the region. In particular Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East has answered the BDS call. Chile’s votes against Israel at the United Nations mirror the Pontifical Catholic University student body vote to reject ties with Israeli academic institutions. Not coincidentally, anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have risen within the country. Schools, synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalized and the president of Chile’s Jewish community has been provided police protection.
Observers of the BDS movement may regard university campuses as a battle to be lost, but that fear may not be warranted elsewhere in the region. The young people of Venezuela continue to carry out the fight of their lives, with July 9 marking the 100 consecutive day of protest in Caracas. This past Sunday marked the deadliest day yet, following the fraudulent election to move forward with the Constituent Assembly. The election results ensure that a return to democracy through traditional democratic channels is impossible, now making the protest movement indispensable.
Evidence from other countries in the region suggests that the students who are protesting in the streets today will become the key decision-makers of their countries tomorrow. We must look beyond the votes of diplomats and recognize the strength of the movements that are fighting against this phony representation. The current standoff between the government and its opposition may signify a change in who will speak on behalf of Venezuelans in the future—and how they will exercise that voice on the world stage.
Photo via Flickr
The Algemeiner ran an op-ed written by B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, and the current tensions between Iran and Israel.
You can read the full op-ed below or click to read it on algemeiner.com
The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War will be commemorated in many ways in the coming days. Media retrospectives, conferences, new documentaries and first person remembrances of the battles and their aftermath will be seen and heard in Israel, here in the United States and elsewhere.
For those of a certain age, we’ll be asking each other: “Do you remember where you were on June 5, 1967?” I do.
I vividly recall being in my high school cafeteria waiting for the bell to ring for first period. Each morning, a group of us would gather at the back of the cafeteria, just shooting the breeze, as high school seniors do. But this morning was different; one of my friends, who had obviously seen the news before leaving for school, perhaps on the Today Show, said to me, “You guys are really beating the Arabs.”
I knew immediately that the war had begun. It was the culmination of more than three weeks of threats to destroy Israel emanating from Cairo and Damascus. Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Syria’s President Nureddin al-Atassi, and those who represented them, were clearly signaling their intention to finish off the Jewish state.
Actually, these threats began months earlier. A New York Timesheadline on October 15, 1966, read: “Israel Tells UN Syria Plans War to Destroy Her.” Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, addressed the Security Council, referencing dozens of Syrian threats against the Jewish state.
Between then and May 1967, hardly a day passed without threats from Nasser. On March 8, he declared: “We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand, we shall enter it with its soil covered in blood.” A month later, Syria Information Minister Mahmoud Zubi predicted that, “this battle will be…followed by more severe battles until Palestine is liberated and the Zionist presence ended.”
The pace picked up throughout May, with both official radio outlets in Cairo and Damascus promising to defeat the “Zionist entity.” Egypt demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula, who had been stationed there since the Suez campaign of 1956. Then Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, considered by some to be an act of war. Neither the UN, nor the international community, seemed willing — or even the slightest bit interested — in taking Israel out of its isolation. The best UN Secretary-General U Thant could utter, after Egypt’s demand that the peacekeeping forces leave, was a weak, “…may I advise you that I have serious misgivings about it… [the] withdrawal may have grave implications for peace.”
The closing of the Straits was criticized by both the United States and the United Kingdom as contravening international law, with Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson stating “[Egypt’s blockade] must not be allowed to triumph; Britain would join with efforts to open the Straits.” But, in the end, nothing was done to stand up to Cairo and Damascus’ march toward war.
The Egyptians and Syrians were so confident of victory that Hafez Assad, then Syria’s defense minister and later its president, said on May 20: “Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse any aggression, but to initiate the act ourselves, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland of Palestine. … I believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”
Sitting in our living room in New Hampshire, my family watched and listened to this litany of threats unfold, one more belligerent than the next. Egypt’s UN Ambassador Mobared El-Kony and Syria’s, George Tomeh, were particularly threatening in Security Council debates on the crisis. We worried endlessly about our relatives living on a kibbutz not far from the Syrian border.
Each day brought even greater boasts from the region, and we took them all seriously. We comforted ourselves only by watching and listening to the oratorical skills of Eban, whose speeches at the UN Security Council not only outlined the Arab threats, but the rightness of Israel’s cause.
On May 30, Nasser ratcheted up the tone even more: “The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. The act will astound the world…”
And Iraq’s President Abdul Rahman Arif couldn’t have been more direct, when he said on May 31: “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear — to wipe Israel off the map.”
The rest is history. Israel’s defense forces routed the Arab armies in six days, and the war — which was named for its length — has been enshrined in Jewish history as one of its most glorious chapters.
I rushed home from school on the afternoon of June 5, turning on CBS News on our local station, WKNE, to hear Michael Elkins reporting from Israel that the Israeli Air Force had destroyed the combined Arab air forces on the ground. We were jubilant.
Back at school the next day, I was able to follow events on the radio in the high school office. In the small city in which we lived, my father took a petition supporting Israel to merchants and friends on Main Street, asking that they sign in support of Israel. Nothing else in our lives mattered that week. As the days passed, the feelings of relief turned to triumph and then to pride in what we never imagined happening.
Today, it is the Iranian regime that is making the threats to annihilate Israel. The Jewish state is a “cancer” that needs to be eradicated, its leaders say. Tehran paints those very words on the sides of ballistic missiles that it parades, with hubris, in full sight of international TV coverage. Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and it makes no difference, really, if it is in mothballs for a few years. Already, European officials say that Tehran is shopping for dual use technologies to utilize when it is ready to do so. And Iran provides thousands of rockets to Hezbollah, and mentors and supports Hamas, both of which call for Israel’s destruction many times daily.
And the United Nations, which stood idly by in 1967, today has under its roof agencies like the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which year after year have sought to delegitimize, demonize and marginalize Israel. In 1967, Britain’s Sir Alec Douglas-Home, speaking about the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, presciently said: “…the first casualty (of this crisis) had been the United Nations. It would need an immense effort, an almost superhuman effort, to restore the prestige of that organization.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. The UN continues to risk irrelevancy by allowing the pummeling of Israel to continue.
The Six-Day War was a miracle, aided by courageous leaders and soldiers who had no choice but to win. It was a defining moment for young Jews of our generation. And it fortunately established the Jewish state as the regional power it is. But the battles that followed, including the Yom Kippur War, the First and Second Lebanon Wars and the Gaza campaigns, attest to the continuing desire of Israel’s enemies to bring it down — one way or another.
Iran is only the latest of these foes to threaten Israel, and its newfound bounty, by way of the nuclear agreement, has left it flush with cash to attempt to carry out its objectives. While we observe those momentous six days, let us all be sure to sleep with one eye open.
This week, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the U.N. body overseeing the work of the better-known World Health Organization (WHO), voted on yet another resolution targeting Israel. Let the complete absurdity of the situation sink in: Israel, a leader in the medical field, which provides medical aid throughout the world, likely including in countries that shamefully voted in favor of the resolution, was singled out for scrutiny.
No other state was on the agenda; there were also no other WHO reports on a specific conflict situation. Not even Syria received this kind of attention—and the Assad regime has been bombing hospitals this year as part of its ongoing military campaign/humanitarian catastrophe.
At last year’s WHA, the European Union states voted en masse for the anti-Israel resolution saying it was technical in nature. Even if this were true—and it was laughably false—the very nature of having only one country-specific resolution, and having that resolution attack the sole democracy and medical leader in the Middle East region, is inherently political. More to the point, it is a symptom of the dangerous selectivity and special standards that apply only to the Jewish state at the U.N.
This year’s resolution is more bare boned than resolutions from past years, but the main problem persists, and is a grave threat to the credibility of the WHO. After this year’s vote, in which most of the EU states again voted in favor (with the notable exception of the United Kingdom voting against and abstentions by Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary), the German delegate made a statement on behalf of some of the European states that voted in favor urging the Israelis and Palestinians to work together on a text that could reach consensus. That request is bizarre and insulting—asking Israel to participate in a process where the designated end goal is a resolution that again perpetuates the singling out of the Jewish state.
The question that those that care about world health must ask is: Does the WHO/WHA want to go down the road of other politicized agencies at the U.N.?
We have seen this before, most notably at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), two agencies so well-known for being mired in obsession with Israel (UNHRC) and/or denying the history of the Jewish people (UNESCO), that the work of the entire organization is under threat of becoming delegitimized.
And, while human rights and preservation of history and culture are a vital part of our human existence, these two agencies have been problematic for a while now. The UNHRC, which has always had a special agenda item solely dedicated to attacks on Israel, was a politicized body from its birth over a decade ago. UNESCO has also had its own share of issues before. The United States stopped paying dues after UNESCO allowed a still-not-existent Palestinian state to join as a full-fledged member state, and the U.S. also refused to be a member of the organization for a long stretch of time due to what was a notoriously anti-American orientation at UNESCO in the 1980s.
The WHO, though, should be different. It must be above petty political attacks because millions of lives are at risk. We all need the WHO to improve lives and to stop the spread of communicable diseases before they become epidemics or global pandemics. Instead, the WHA stopped everything to engage in an hours-long session of speaker after speaker (mostly from dictatorships with appalling human rights records and health situations) bashing Israel. Does anyone aside from the Palestinian representatives and their allies in states hostile to Israel believe that this is the best use of the time of an expert health body?
After the vote at the WHA, the representative of the United Kingdom put it best by saying, “If we politicize the WHO, we do so at our peril.” Sadly, only six other member states had the fortitude to stand up to this politicization by voting against the resolution: Australia, Canada Guatemala, Israel, Togo and the United States.
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