In December, the White House announced that it was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would aim to move the United States Embassy there.
I happened to be in Jerusalem that very day, and was with an Israeli government minister and a group of senior international religious leaders as several of us listened live, over dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Old City walls, to the announcement in Washington, D.C. Soon afterward, I took a scenic route through the picturesque Yemin Moshe quarter in order to get a view of a laudatory message beamed near the Tower of David in honor of the decision.
The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jewish organizations, B’nai B’rith included, greeted the White House decision with strong praise. In principle, the U.S. move stood, any foreign grumbling aside, on about as firm a ground as it comes: If the Jewish state cannot legitimately claim its capital in Jerusalem, where can it? And if the Jewish people cannot look to Jerusalem as a focal point, no people can really lay claim to any city, anywhere.
As Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s would-be first president, once told a British dignitary who asked why Zionists — Zion, of course, being another name for Jerusalem — would not settle for a different place, he responded that Jews were in possession of Jerusalem when London was still a marsh. Separately, it was Winston Churchill who said, “You ought to let the Jews have Jerusalem; it is they who made it famous.”
King David established Jerusalem as Israel’s seat of government some three millennia ago, well before the other major faiths cherishing the city came into being. The Temple Mount has served as the perennial epicenter of the Jewish world, the place toward which Jews pray daily and have looked with longing for thousands of years. Jews have never had any other capital, and no other nation ever made the city its own capital. As even the diplomats stationed in Tel Aviv know, Jerusalem has served since Israel’s founding as the site of practically all the country’s foremost national institutions: the Knesset, the president’s residence, the prime minister’s office, the Supreme Court and nearly every government ministry. And it is precisely under Israeli sovereignty that Jerusalem, for all its fissures, has remained diverse and a place of religious freedom rare in the annals of the city.
Indeed, in contrast with the pre-1967 era, when Jews were expelled and attacked from Jerusalem’s ancient center, and barred from their holiest of places, some of which were ravaged and desecrated, Israel has with negligible international acknowledgment gone to the unparalleled lengths of maintaining the Temple Mount under Islamic clerical administration, thus preventing non-Muslims from praying openly there.
And so, as a Jew, Jerusalem has always been at the center of my consciousness — and I have always believed, in keeping with very broad, long-standing communal consensus, in the utter irreplaceability of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But I, like a fair number of others, received the news of the American “recognition” decision with a bit of misgiving. Would there be negative implications to the decision’s having been made by the U.S. at a time of exceptionally acute political divides? Would the embassy actually move in the foreseeable future (and to what part of the contested city)? Would the decision have any practical impact on strengthening Israel’s hold on Jerusalem in eventual final-status peace negotiations? Might there, in the nearer term, be an international diplomatic backlash that would undercut, rather than cement, the status of the city as Israel’s capital? Would U.S. warnings about “taking names” of countries lashing out in response have any effect on efforts to rally United Nations condemnation of the Jerusalem recognition?
And, not least, would the decision provide a pretext for yet another wave of deadly Palestinian terrorism against Israelis?
Now, to be sure, it was clear from the outset that global alarmism about the recognition decision was both highly overblown and hypocritical. After all, few objected, let alone predicted or justified any violent Israeli response, when the U.N. prematurely recognized a “State of Palestine,” when some European and other states did likewise (even in some cases exchanging embassies with the Palestinians), when the Vatican signed an agreement with “Palestine” that seemed to assign it oversight of Jerusalem, when Iran and various Arab governments deed all of Jerusalem to the Palestinians and when Russia independently announced recognition of two capitals in Jerusalem. Widespread media reports of the White House “reversing decades of U.S. policy” omitted all nuance and context — particularly the fact that the U.S. Congress had more than two decades earlier overwhelmingly recognized Jerusalem’s status as capital, while urging the relocation of the American Embassy there, and that both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates had repeatedly pledged to fulfill this bipartisan commitment. Moreover, there is surely some truth to the administration’s argument that more than 25 years of denying Israel’s capital had not prevented the Oslo peace process from grinding to a halt.
And one can only describe as chutzpah the fact that a U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted to berate the U.S. decision was sponsored by Yemen — a country torn between those merely belligerent toward Israel and those so belligerent that their official flag reads, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse to the Jews” — and Turkey, which, even as the motion itself demanded that countries desist from establishing diplomatic facilities in Jerusalem, said that it planned to open its own embassy to the Palestinians in the holy city.
As to my initial misgivings, it appears that the U.S. plans to actually expedite the opening of an embassy in Jerusalem, at least in temporary facilities, this May. At the same time, the Trump administration has gone out of its way to indicate that its recognition would not prejudge the contours of any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
The U.S. decision has been panned internationally, but two countries, Guatemala and the Czech Republic, have echoed the American recognition, with the former also planning to locate its own embassy in Israel’s capital. While the General Assembly reprimand, with a pro-Palestinian automatic majority in that body, did advance (following a failed effort in the Security Council, where the U.S. has veto power), U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s pledge of consequences for those denying America’s right to make sovereign diplomatic decisions did at least shift the voting considerably, relative to that on a rote prior U.N. resolution on Jerusalem. Even Arab states essentially limited their protests to rhetorical ones — and the popular Palestinian response was relatively subdued, notwithstanding the open fanning of flames by both Hamas and Fatah.
We can only hope that senseless, self-defeating Palestinian violence will not reignite in May, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
At a most fundamental level, though, while there may be no perfect manner or timing to assert what is right amid daunting threats and complex circumstances, the assertion of Jerusalem’s centrality to Jews and of Jews’ centrality to Jerusalem has never been as necessary as it is today. Where once this bond was universally recognized and even celebrated — among Christians as well, who trace the origins of their faith to a Jew in Jerusalem, but also Muslims — today a whitewashing of Jewish religious identity and national history, and thus of Jews’ basic rights and legitimacy as a people, is underway with unprecedented brazenness.
Too many influential Islamic figures not only deny Jews an entitlement to pray at the Temple Mount but that the historic temples ever existed there, all archeological and other evidence to the contrary. And a dominant Muslim bloc at the U.N. has had even UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — engage in this bigoted revisionism through resolutions that belittle (with parentheses), call into question (with quotation marks) or erase entirely the original Jewish names of the Mount as well as the Western Wall and other sacred sites.
Passover is one of the three yearly pilgrimage festivals when, in ancient Israel, all Jews would ascend to the Temple Mount — and when Jewish families worldwide continue to culminate their Seder with the exclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
During this holiday, it is especially fitting to welcome any contribution to restoring acknowledgment of the holy city as the beating heart of the Jewish people, and of the world’s only Jewish state.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
This article by B'nai B'rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs Adriana Camisar originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
U.S. President Donald Trump did the right thing when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem has been central to the Jewish people for 3,000 years and the capital of the State of Israel since 1949. And it will remain the capital of Israel under any peace agreement, even if the definitive boundaries of the city are subject to negotiation.
Trump was also complying with US law, as the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 called for the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In addition, last June, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem that called upon the president and all US officials to abide by the provisions of the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Therefore, this was a legitimate, sovereign decision by an American president. In this regard, the UN General Assembly resolution adopted on December 21 that opposed this decision was presumptuous, to say the least.
An analysis of Latin American and Caribbean votes, though, shows an important number of countries did not oppose the US decision.
In fact, of 19 Latin American countries, nine did not support the resolution: Guatemala and Honduras voted against; Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay abstained; and El Salvador was suspiciously absent.
With regard to the 15 members of the Caribbean community, also known as CARICOM, seven did not support the resolution: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago abstained; and St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia were absent.
Before the General Assembly vote, both Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the US would cut off financial aid to any countries that voted in favor of the resolution. This message was heavily criticized by the press and in diplomatic circles.
After the vote, many commentators said the strategy did not work. When it comes to Latin America and the Caribbean, this is not quite true. Let’s analyze each case: Guatemala and Honduras, which voted against the UN resolution, both have long-standing relationships with the State of Israel that have become even stronger in the last few years. Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales, it is worth noting, recently announced his decision – which could be followed by other countries in the region – to follow the US example and move the Guatemalan Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The abstentions of Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay, on the other hand, can be mainly explained by the general worldview of these governments and their fairly good relations with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to strengthen ties with Latin America and his recent historic trip to the region – in which he visited Argentina, Colombia and Mexico and met with Paraguay’s president while in Argentina – could have had an impact, too.
But there is no doubt the administration’s message had an impact on the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, two countries that have consistently voted for every anti-Israel resolution at the UN CARICOM members that did not to support the resolution against Trump’s Jerusalem decision – with the exception of Haiti – usually vote at the UN against the US position on Israel. The fact that they were either absent or abstained from this resolution is striking and shows the administration’s message had a strong effect on this group of countries.
Adriana Camisar, is an attorney by training who holds a graduate degree in international law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University). She has been B'nai B'rith International Assistant Director for Latin American Affairs since late 2008, and Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs since 2013, when she relocated to Argentina, her native country. Prior to joining B'nai B'rith International, she worked as a research assistant to visiting Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo (former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), at Harvard University; interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; worked at a children's rights organization in San Diego, CA; and worked briefly as a research assistant to the Secretary for Legal Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS). To view some of her additional content, click here.
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
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