CEO Op-ed in JNS: U.N. Human Rights Council: When It Comes to Israel, Still Driving on Biased Retreads
(July 27, 2021 / JNS) That “history repeats itself” is not only a shopworn axiom, it is, like other clichés, oftentimes true.
The appointment last week of Navi Pillay, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to head up an investigation of the “root causes” and “systemic abuses” emanating from the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May comes as no surprise.
The mandate of the investigation is to look at “all underlying root causes or recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systemic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
In other words, using kangaroo-court vernacular for singling out Israel for defending itself in the face of daily barrages of indiscriminate fire emanating from Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Furthermore, this newly named commission has no specified shelf life and can continue to investigate Israel indefinitely.
We’ve seen this call to criticize before, especially on Pillay’s watch at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). During her six-year tenure at the UNHRC in Geneva, she more than once held her thumb on the scale when opining on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2010, Pillay oversaw the work of the special commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, tasked by the UNHRC with investigating the fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2008 and 2009. That report, which was biased against Israel and distorted the facts surrounding that three-week war, concluded that Israel may have been guilty of war crimes.
In 2014, Pillay convened another investigation into fighting between Israel and Hamas, again showing her biased hand in evaluating the causes and the outcome of that war. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated,” she said, “in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She criticized Israel for use of disproportionate force and for its disregard for civilian lives. The UNHRC, in what has become the usual feverish diplomatic hysteria that surrounds fighting between Israel and Hamas, created “an independent commission of inquiry” that would look into “all violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”
Once again, the Human Rights Council demonstrated its bias and callous disregard for the facts. It should be recalled that Israel had actually withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, nine years before the 2014 resolution, citing “the occupied Gaza Strip,” was adopted. More important to note, though, is the broad band of responsibility that the resolution arrogated to the investigative committee: indeed, what did “East Jerusalem” have to do with Israel defending itself against Hamas rockets?
In both 2010 and again in 2014, Pillay did mention Hamas rocket fire into Israel. But given the heavy-handed focus on Israeli military actions, the reports’ references to Hamas had the look and feel of throwaways, as an afterthought placed in the texts of these resolutions to cover the UNHRC’s tracks.
Indeed, in 2014, Pillay accused Hamas of not practicing “the principle of distinction and precaution.” In other words, “disproportionate response” was being tossed around liberally by her and others with regard to Israel, while Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli population centers was lightly let off the hook with diplomatic language that required three readings to understand exactly what was “distinction and precaution.”
And if there is still any doubt as to where Pillay stands on the issue, consider this: In 2014, she pointedly criticized the United States for not sharing Iron Dome technology (that has allowed Israel to shoot down most incoming rockets targeting its populated areas) with Hamas. At the time, Pillay said, “No such protection has been provided to the Gazans against the shelling.” In other words, why isn’t the United States arming terrorists?
In May, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and an incessant critic of Israel in her own right, said that Israeli attacks on Gaza might constitute war crimes. That led to the appointment of one of her predecessors, Pillay, to begin the process of publicly flaying Israel for the third time in 15 years. Even though the naming of Pillay to the post was done in the name of the current UNHRC president, there is little doubt that Bachelet’s influence was in play.
The United Nations is now in its 76th year, but it has been apparent for decades that many of its agencies and committees, like the Human Rights Council, stocked as they are with countries that participate in bloc voting and who engage in oftentimes mindless herd mentality, can be counted on to pounce on Israel whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Investigations into Israel’s justified responses to rocket attacks from Hamas, or its earlier and current responses to innumerable terrorist attacks, only serve to politicize and marginalize the organization. The United Nations, whose original mission was to promote peace in the international community, now often appears as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian narrative—predictable and yet dangerous because such activity only serves to reward terrorism, and raises expectations of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that they have the international community at their backs.
We should not be surprised by the outcome of the upcoming UNHRC “investigation” into the recent fighting in Gaza. Indeed, this commission of inquiry will no doubt pull from the shelf reports filed by the Goldstone Commission and that which the UNHRC inquiry produced in 2014. Which is to say: The Pillay Commission’s findings are likely already written.
The good news, I suppose, is that the Abraham Accords, which brought four Arab countries into the peace fold with Israel, will soon observe its first anniversary. The spirit of those agreements represents the future; they are a promising pathway to cooperation and co-existence.
Rather than convene yet another commission to castigate Israel, the UNHRC would have done far better to establish a commission to investigate why the Palestinians—now approaching 28 years after the Oslo Accords—refuse to engage in serious negotiations with Israel. Or, perhaps, a report focusing on Hamas’s obsession with bringing about Israel’s demise.
Now that would be a real contribution to advancing human rights.
Read Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
(July 1, 2021 / JNS) Last month, I participated in a conference for young adults on the current Jewish agenda, hosted by the Jewish community of Oporto, Portugal.
Three of the speakers were asked if they thought there could ever be another Holocaust.
The answers were uniformly “not likely,” the reasoning being that we are now living, after two millennia, in an era when there is not only a sovereign Jewish state, but one with the wherewithal to be a haven for those escaping oppression and the ability to project its military and other forces to save and protect those in danger.
The upcoming 45th anniversary of the rescue of Israeli hostages being held by terrorists at Entebbe, Uganda, is perhaps the best case in point.
That story began on June 27, 1976, when terrorists connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Germany’s radical Revolutionary Cells organization hijacked, on a stopover in Athens, an Air France Airbus A300 flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. The terrorists demanded the plane fly to the airport in Entebbe, where demands were made for the release of 53 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel and several other countries.
At Entebbe, 148 non-Jewish hostages were separated from the 94 Jewish passengers, most of them Israeli nationals, and the Air France crew. The non-Jewish hostages were released within two days; the terrorists made clear the Jewish passengers would be killed if their demands were not met. The Ugandan government, led by its infamous leader Idi Amin, announced its support for the hijackers, punctuated with an appearance by Amin himself in the airport terminal hall in which the hostages were being held.
That set into motion an intricate rescue plan conceived by the Israel Defense Forces and the Mossad, which sent, on July 3 and 4, some 100 commandos over 2,500 miles, flying at night, to rescue those being held. The 90-minute raid was successful, though Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, who led the raid on the ground, and three hostages, including Dora Bloch — a passenger who had been taken earlier to a local hospital and later killed — lost their lives in the operation. In the raid, seven terrorists were killed.
Without exaggeration, it was a glorious moment in Jewish history — one of those “where were you when you heard about…?” instances that you recall as if it were yesterday.
That day, I was at Boston’s Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River, on the first date with my wife-to-be, taking in the Boston Pops Orchestra celebrating America’s bicentennial. (It was an extraordinary month for Israel; Miss Israel, Rina Messinger, would be crowned Miss Universe at the competition being held in Hong Kong a week later.)
The message of the Entebbe rescue immediately resonated.
The separation of Jewish passengers from all others, coming 31 years after the Holocaust, recalled Nazi-like tactics still fresh in the minds of Jews, and especially survivors of that barbarity.
This was an era of airline hijackings and high-profile terrorist attacks, many of which were carried out in Europe. The message that Israel’s long arm could be projected anywhere to rescue not only Israelis but Jews in danger reset the counter-terrorism table.
The rescue also instilled pride in Israel among Jews worldwide. Even today, people still shake their heads in amazement that daunting logistical challenges were overcome in such a short period to allow the operation to take place. This came only three years after the Yom Kippur War, which, though Israel was ultimately victorious, had shaken the confidence of some after setbacks for the Jewish state in the early days of fighting in that conflict.
That said, the rescue at Entebbe should not have come to us as a complete surprise. The biblical injunction “Pidyon Shvuyim,” or redemption of those taken prisoner or hostage, was clearly on the minds of those who planned and carried out this historic mission.
I can think of other Israeli-organized or led operations, perhaps somewhat less daring but equally essential, that redeemed Jews in peril: Operation Magic Carpet (also known as Operation on Eagles’ Wings), which airlifted more than 50,000 Jews, mainly from Yemen, to Israel in 1949; more than 120,000 Jews were airlifted from Iraq in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah; and 1991’s Operation Solomon, which in a 36-hour timeframe brought nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
For two millennia, Jews lived either at the sufferance of potentates, autocrats or dictators, or in societies where they were tolerated minorities. Occasionally there were benevolent leaders who protected the Jewish minority, but pogroms, harsh discriminatory restrictions and other limits on basic freedoms consigned Jews to life on the edge.
For those fortunate to have immigrated to the U.S. or to some countries far from the horrors of World War II, the idea of being “protected” became less of an issue, but for millions of others, there was no place to turn. The rise of Hitler and the Holocaust that followed, when collaboration with the Nazis, apathy or indifference to their fate were the attitudes of the day, underscored the tragic powerlessness of Jewish communities in Europe. This, notwithstanding the tremendous courage of Jews who fought as partisans or who rescued other Jews from annihilation.
The re-establishment of the State of Israel changed that equation.
There is a photo that constantly stands out in my mind when asked the question, “Do you think it can happen again?” The photo shows Israeli F-15 fighter jets flying in formation over Auschwitz on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2003. The crew members were all children of or related to victims of the Holocaust.
One of the pilots involved in the flyover that day, Avi Maor, said, “I felt that I was in the skies with the strength of the IAF, the IDF and the entire State of Israel, and that down there were the relics of our people. It hit us when the flyby ended, and there was silence on the radio and in the cockpit. Each one of us was absorbed in thoughts about the sortie and its significance.”
Forty-five years on, the memory of those two overwhelmingly intense July days, when four Israeli Hercules transports emerged in darkness at Entebbe Airport to free nearly 100 captives who were being held and threatened simply because they were Israelis and Jews, needs to be conveyed to new generations as an object lesson in Zionism and the need for a Jewish state.
Our people should never again be placed in such danger. But just knowing that the “Entebbe principle” is there to be exercised should the need arise again is a comfort to us all.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
(June 27, 2021 / JNS) Young adults fresh out of school understand the anxiety associated with taking a test. The amount of preparation can be daunting. But when it comes to taking a test about anti-Semitism, Judaism or Israel, how much do young adults really know these days? I framed this question at the first B’nai B’rith Portugal European Young Leaders Program on June 21 at the new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the first such institution in the country.
The adults in the audience, young and older, certainly could relate to the universal pressures of taking an important test, whether their subjects were marketing, management or dentistry. But in a time when young adults generally are far less knowledgeable or savvy about such matters as Judaism and the Jewish state, one wonders more broadly how prepared the next generation is to handle the challenges facing them on college campuses or in the workplace, where Jews have felt pressures heaped on them recently by antagonizing and attacking anti-Israel/anti-Semitic forces.
Sadly, most students are woefully ill-prepared or ill-informed about such matters, leaving them vulnerable to believing whatever they are told by peers, and fearful as to what attacker may lurk around the corner. Perhaps students, armed with the truth, would be able to defend themselves.
Clearly the Jewish people have been tested through time. They have survived adversity through great civilizations, tyrants, impossible circumstances, expulsions, pogroms and gas chambers. Amid all of their wondrous achievements and successes, they have faced inexorable pain. Portugal witnessed 20 percent of its population evaporate in 1497 from the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews, and Europe lost at least 33 percent of its Jews from 1933 to 1945.
For thousands of years, Jews have absorbed being demonized, persecuted and subjected to blood libels that stripped them of their humanity. The defense in common libel matters of American jurisprudence is the truth.
So, the young adults in Porto’s Holocaust museum this day were advised that the truth is readily available, and that they must pursue it to counter—and hopefully reduce—damaging falsehoods. The test for which they must prepare will require time and commitment for study. They must have the mentorship and guidance of an older generation, thus making this process something that is delivered from generation to generation.
The Porto conference taught them about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism from Ambassador Luis Barreiros, Portugal’s delegation head to the IHRA committee. The definition has been adopted by more than 30 countries, universities, organizations, large businesses, even premier sports leagues.
However, some groups, even Jewish groups, have considered it “not perfect,” as it is “misunderstood and misused” because of its support for the existence and defense of the State of Israel. “But it is the best tool,” Barreiros said, “to fight the scourges of anti-Semitism, so let’s use it.”
He added that the definition helps identify warning lights and signs against Jew-hatred. “Half-truths are more dangerous than a full lie,” he said.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, whose organization endorses and promotes the IHRA definition, praised the measure and actually participated in the earliest meetings in Stockholm during the late 1990s.
“Israel’s enemies and those who seek to undermine it consistently hide behind the “free speech” argument,” Mariaschin said. “Theirs is surely not critical opinion; it is the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. Their language is that of incitement. When one says that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ that it engages in ‘state terror’ and that its security fence is akin to the Warsaw Ghetto, they are deliberately engaging in what amounts to anti-Semitic smear tactics.”
Other red lines crossed, Mariaschin said, included a U.N. resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism, suggesting that if you are a Zionist—someone who identifies Israel as the eternal homeland for the Jewish people—then you are a racist. The effects of that resolution are very much with us today. He said that Jews need to re-double efforts at educating ourselves about Jewish and Israeli history to counter the verbal assaults.
“We live in a time when historical context is deemed expendable,” Mariaschin said. “We mustn’t allow those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel to selectively put forth wildly biased narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why it is vitally important to know our own history, if we are to push back effectively in a time when Israel is demeaned daily, especially on social media.”
Raphael Gamzou, Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, reminded the audience that Israel was bombarded mercilessly with “moral equivalency arguments” in assessing responses to thousands of missiles raining down on Israel from Gaza.
“I never claim Israel is a flawless country, but the missile attacks were such a flagrant violation, and to follow up with comments about moral equivalency is outrageous,” he said. “There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF. Our enemies are going to complain that we have a weapon that not only keeps rockets from falling on its own people, but keeps rockets from falling on Palestinians. We wish we didn’t have to protect ourselves from missile attacks, but we do. This is war.”
Asked about the prospects of another Holocaust against the Jews and the rise of anti-Semitism, he said, “With Israel as a thriving nation, I see no option for another Holocaust against the Jewish people,” he said. “We will have to continue developing Israel as a moral and democratic country to encourage additional agreements, such as the Abraham Accords. And we will need to continue building bridges between the Diaspora and a healthy Israel. As for anti-Semitism, we’ve faced it for thousands of years, and I’m afraid it is here for the long haul … unfortunately.”
Jews will continue to be tested, so you are urged to study Jewish and Israel history very diligently. Only with such preparation will today’s and tomorrow’s generations be able to survive.
The conference concluded the next day with roundtable discussions and congratulatory messages from Porto community benefactors Michael Kadoorie and Jacob Safra.
Read President Kaufman's analysis on JNS.org.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
(February 3, 2021 / JNS) The question now is not if the United States will return to negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but when. Notwithstanding reports that the Biden administration has too much on its plate right now to move up talks with Tehran as a priority, it certainly seems like that process is underway. That would send Washington back to the table for the first time since an agreement was concluded in 2015.
The Trump administration withdrew from the pact in May 2018, citing inherent weaknesses and loopholes on such issues as Iran’s ballistic-missile program, snap inspections of nuclear sites and sunset clauses, as well as its malign behavior in the region. In tandem with that decision, it imposed a policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, including a series of sanctions on an array of Iranian political, quasi-military and commercial figures and front organizations.
The regime in Tehran has clearly been waiting for the day these policies will be reversed and has positioned itself steadily over the past few months by playing hard-to-get. Reverting to form and week by week, it has generated new developments designed to make Western negotiators (the “P-5+1” made up of the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia, plus Germany) nervous.
First, it was increasing enrichment of nuclear fuel to the 20 percent level, followed by reports of the installation of more advanced centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear installation. That was followed by reports that Iran had begun production of uranium metal, which can be used as a component in nuclear weapons.
All of these developments are in breach of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement touted as keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but in fact only sidelining it because of sunset clauses that are getting near to expiration by the day.
Less than two weeks ago, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported on a list of seven conditions laid out by Tehran that must be met before it returns to a negotiating table. Among them, the demand that the United States lift all sanctions imposed against it; that there be no connection made between Iran’s nuclear program and other issues, such as its ballistic-missile program or its support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas; that it will not permit other regional actors to enter into the JCPOA discussions; and that it refuses to back a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Already, angst on the part of our P-5+1 partners is being felt. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Iran “is in the process of acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity,” due largely to the previous administration’s maximum pressure policy. He called for a quick resumption of the JCPOA talks.
That begs a question: If the original agreement, in which France was a participant, was as watertight as it was marketed at the time, why is Iran moving headlong into developing nuclear weapons?
The answer lies elsewhere, in plain view. As the treasure trove of documents on Iran’s nuclear program—ferreted out of Tehran by Israeli agents in 2018 show—the Iranian regime never had any intention of exiting the nuclear-weapons business to begin with. With stealth and a measure of patience unknown in the West, Iran has been willing to wait out “maximum pressure” while raising the temperatures of its threats and its international bullying, hoping that appearance of its headlong drive to produce a weapon will instill enough trepidation for the P5+1 to prematurely offer a basket of incentives, including the removal of sanctions, to return to the table.
The Biden administration has said that before there is any resumption of talks with Tehran, it must return to full compliance with its assurances on enrichment, the installation of centrifuges and the production of uranium metal, among other provisions.
But so brazen is Tehran in believing that the P5+1 is eager to have it back at the negotiating table that the leading Iranian nuclear official recently told the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) that in order to prevent “any misunderstanding,” it should avoid publishing “unnecessary details” of its nuclear program.
Much has been written of late about how much things have changed on the ground, and that lessons have been learned since the JCPOA agreement was announced five years ago.
Time passes quickly: Sunset clauses agreed to in 2015, after which Iran can proceed with its objective of producing nuclear weapons, are now five years closer to expiration. Iran continues to pursue a ballistic-missile program unfettered.
It also continues to build up Hezbollah’s arsenal with shipments of precision-guided missiles and to be present in Syria, where it has no business other than to expand it hegemonistic objectives. Its terrorist friends and proxies—Hamas in Gaza, and the Houthis in Yemen—are also beneficiaries of its cash and weapons. It is seeking to establish a naval presence in the Mediterranean. And the regime remains a serial abuser of the rights of women, LGBTI, juvenile offenders and, of course, its political opponents.
Meanwhile, hardly a day goes by that the Iranians are not making genocidal threats “to level Tel Aviv and Haifa,” and calling for the “Zionist cancer” to be excised. Policymakers in London, Paris and Berlin may pass this off as simply rhetoric for home consumption, but Israel, its supporters and Jews everywhere take it seriously. If an Iranian bomb were to become a reality, these threats would dramatically affect the stability of the entire region.
Iran’s intentionally ratcheting up its threats and its nuclear program tells us precisely about its real intentions. If it feels pressure to agree to talks on an “improved JCPOA agreement,” in its mind it needs to be wired in such a way as to repeat what happened in 2015—gain advance concessions in exchange for talks, and then to prevaricate and obfuscate its way into another loophole-filled agreement that will be just enough to satisfy our nervous partners in Europe.
Iran has demonstrated—and not only in these past five years—that it cannot be trusted. Our objective should be to put it permanently out of the nuclear-weapons business. It is on that objective that our eagerness should be focused.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis on JNS.org.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
(July 8, 2020 / JNS) No ethnic group has stood stronger with the black community in America than the Jews have. From the early days of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Jews supported black civil-rights organizations before the civil-rights movement crystallized and beyond. Jewish civil-rights attorneys numbered prominently among lawyers who opposed the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas and throughout the South. They also battled Jim Crow laws in Mississippi in 1964.
Everyone who dismissed or minimized their roles might appreciate some glimpses of how Jews have interfaced with just a few legendary black Americans who themselves have made an indelible mark on not only the United States, but the world.
Albert Einstein, soon after he arrived at Princeton University from Germany in 1933, ahead of the Holocaust, immediately related the Jewish experience of the seething hate in Germany to the hate and discrimination against blacks in the United States. The famous professor quickly became friends with actor Paul Robeson. He opened his home to Marian Anderson when the famed opera singer was denied hospitality at a Princeton hotel. Einstein was close friends with W.E.B. DuBois, a co-founder of the NAACP. It was even rumored that Einstein became a member of the NAACP in 1933.
In 1946, before the civil-rights movement, Einstein was invited to Lincoln University to offer a commencement speech. He took advantage of his visit to give a presentation in a classroom to a dozen or so black students. Einstein wanted to inspire young minds of his brilliant world of relativity and, in general, his scientific world of physics. Many colleagues reportedly criticized the gathering and the mainstream press chose not to cover the event.
In the arts, Louis Armstrong, who arguably blasted a trumpet with the strength and passion unlike any other jazzist, lovingly wrote about a Jewish family in New Orleans that adopted him as a youth in 1907. The immigrant parents sang to him, recognized and nurtured his love for music, and supplied his first instrument. The young and eager Armstrong even learned Yiddish from his family from Lithuania, people who escaped pogroms. Armstrong found refuge from his own broken family—and that’s putting it kindly. To honor his adoptive parents, Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck and proclaimed that the Karnofsky family taught him “how to live real life and (with) determination.” By the way, Armstrong’s famous nickname “Satchmo” is Yiddish for “Big Cheeks.”
In August 1963, B’nai B’rith headquarters served as one of the staging grounds for the historic March on Washington. Standing before hundreds of thousands of people at the March, prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Rabbi Joachim Prinz made remarks; Rabbi Uri Miller gave the opening prayer. Sixteen prominent rabbis from around the country accepted Dr. King’s invitation to join him in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1964 for a peaceful demonstration. All were arrested for engaging in civil disobedience.
In June 1964, three civil-rights workers, James Chaney (a black man) and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (both white Jewish men) were brutally murdered by white supremacists in Neshoba County, Miss. The crime later became known as the “Mississippi Burning” murders.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with civil-rights leaders from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., on March 21, 1965, joining King, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Bunche and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Beyond this seminal moment in civil-rights history, rabbis also participated in lunch counter sit-ins and “Freedom Rides.”
While there’s no denying that some Southern rabbis were reluctant to take as high a posture with civil rights in the 1950s and early 1960s—and some Southern Jews were part of the South’s practice of slavery—Southern rabbis did participate in the movement, as noted in “The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights 1880s to 1990s.” For their support of the movement, many Southern synagogues were bombed, notably Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation.
Over the years, B’nai B’rith International has saluted and honored civil-rights leaders, including the establishment of a Heschel-King Award—in memory of two giants of the struggle for civil and human rights—for those who have contributed to join black-Jewish efforts in the fight for equal justice and racial comity.
Fast-forward to 2020: B’nai B’rith International’s executive committee, speaking for Jews throughout the world, issued a strong resolution on June 7 expressing outrage in the brutal killing of a 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. B’nai B’rith pledged to use its extensive contacts in the civil-rights community, as well as the intercommunal and interreligious fields, “to strengthen relations between Jews, black people, and other minorities and increase mutual understanding about issues of shared concern.”
The resolution cherished the right to assembly and peaceful protest and also condemned “senseless destruction of businesses,” particularly noting those owned by people of color and immigrants. It also expressed appreciation and the importance of having committed police personnel to protect communities and other individuals, human and civil rights.
In 2016, a coalition of more than 50 organizations known as the Movement for Black Lives released a policy platform, titled “Vision 4 Black Lives,” drew sharp criticism from the Jewish community. The platform condemned the U.S.-Israel relationship; referenced the “genocide taking place against the Palestinian people”; branded Israel an “apartheid state”; and endorsed the anti-Israel BDS movement.
Hate groups, from white supremacists on the right and leftist extremist organizations, generally operate from a foundation of bigoted ignorance. While the extent to which those in the Black Lives Matter movement and some of its followers have embraced the “Vision 4 Black Lives” platform is unclear, it’s disheartening to observe some Americans ignore the long history of successful cooperation between blacks and Jews on civil rights and turn instead to vitriol. History is laced with endless examples of Jewish ties and empathy with the black community. Identifying with the Jewish people, Robeson richly sang “Go Down Moses” to acknowledge Jewish bondage in Egypt and those who suffered from excommunication, racism, pogroms and extermination attempts. Certainly, Jews and blacks are undeserving of hatred, even if it emanates from within marginal movements in this country.
Today, again, blacks and Jews should embrace the current social atmosphere of openness and change and rekindle the spirit of black-Jewish cooperation that animated the civil-rights movement in the 1960s … and can once again.
Read Charles' expert analysis in JNS.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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