One of the 21st century’s first important speeches on antisemitism by a world leader was given by then secretary of state Colin Powell, in April 2004.
The occasion was the second dedicated conference on antisemitism, organized in Berlin, by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a group of then-56 countries whose mission is to “work for security, peace and stability” for the billion people living in Europe, Eurasia and North America.
I served as an advisor to the United States delegation to the 2004 gathering, which was headed by former New York Mayor Ed Koch. The host was Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister; the conference was chaired by Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, who was the OSCE chairman-in-office, the title given to the foreign minister of the country that chairs the OSCE that year.
The Berlin Conference, as it became known, materialized only three years after the infamous UN Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, which turned into a week-long hate fest of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The rhetoric which spewed forth at that meeting, including branding Israel an “apartheid state,” also led to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign which has incessantly sought, to this day, to demonize and delegitimize Israel and its supporters.
Powell had planned to speak at the Durban conference, but decided against attending when it appeared that it would spin out of control, which it did. In the interim, as the antisemitism pot began to boil globally, the OSCE, whose agenda includes human rights issues, announced its conference in Berlin, tying the focus on antisemitism to the place from which the worst crimes against the Jewish people originated. Said Powell in his opening remarks: “Berlin is a fitting backdrop for our meeting. The firestorm of antisemitic hatred that was the Holocaust was set here in Berlin.”
“Now, in the opening years of the 21st century,” Powell said, “we…have come to stamp out new fires of antisemitism within our societies, and to kindle lights of tolerance so that future generations will never know the unspeakable horrors that hatred can unleash.”
Powell decried the dramatic rise in antisemitism that was occurring within democratic nations, saying, “We must send the clear message far and wide that antisemitism is always wrong, and always dangerous.”
He stated that “we must not permit antisemitic crimes to be shoved off as inevitable side effects of inter-ethnic conflicts. Political disagreements do not justify physical assaults, against Jews in our streets, the destruction of Jewish schools, or the desecration of synagogues and cemeteries. There is no justification for antisemitism.”
And then, perhaps the most telling line in the speech: “It is not antisemitic to criticize the policies of the state of Israel. But the line is crossed when Israel or its leaders are demonized or vilified, for example by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures.”
The “crossing the line” concept was groundbreaking. Hitherto, those who engaged in castigating Israel for racist policies had hidden behind the “legitimate criticism of Israel” fig leaf. Now, Powell had lifted a veil that would more easily reveal the antisemitism intentions of those who engaged in such rhetoric. The Berlin Declaration, issued at the conclusion of the conference basically incorporated the secretary’s very words: “…International developments or political issues, including those in Israel or in the rest of the Middle East, never justify antisemitism.”
Powell’s speech would help to pave the way for important advances in the fight against antisemitism. In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a consortium of now-34 countries committed to programs of remembrance, research and education, adopted a “working definition of antisemitism.” It serves as an invaluable baseline for addressing classic antisemitic stereotyping and tropes, accusing Jews of collective guilt and dual loyalty, denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, or accusations that Israel is a racist endeavor.
In recent years, the definition has attracted the endorsement of an increasing number of nation states, provinces, non-governmental organizations, universities, sporting associations and others. After hundreds of years with no frame of reference to define this ancient hydra of hatred, the IHRA document has been, and will continue to be, an essential tool in combating it.
Powell closed his speech with a prescriptive for the future: “It is especially important that we instill in our children values and behaviors that can avert such calamities….Tolerance, like hatred, is learned behavior passed from one generation to the next unless the new generation is educated differently. Let tolerance be our legacy. May future generations of schoolchildren read that in the early decades of the 21st century mankind finally consigned antisemitism to history, never to darken the world again.”
Seventeen years on, no truer, or more prescient words, were spoken. Powell’s words are more relevant—and more needed—today, perhaps—then they were in 2004. Driven by social media, by doctrinaire politics and by extremists from the left, right and the Islamic world, antisemitism is seemingly veering out of control.
It’s good today to recall Powell’s speech, with its incisive analysis and his instinctive understanding of how to confront the problem. His voice may have been stilled, but the message he left is as meaningful as ever.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
In the Times of Israel, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin writes:
The best word to describe it would be chutzpah.
In a letter to British daily newspaper The Guardian, 50 former European foreign ministers and government leaders castigated the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The letter asserts the Trump plan favors one side, and “has characteristics similar to apartheid — a term we don’t use lightly.”
Amongst the signatories are a number of longtime, incessant critics of Israel who, when in power, seemingly did little to hide their bias toward the Jewish state. Indeed, some – early on – applied “apartheid state” to describe Israel and rarely, if ever, criticized the Palestinian side for its intransigence toward good faith negotiations with Israel.
Read the full op-ed here.
The Times of Israel ran an op-ed written by B'nai B'rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin on Europe's tilt toward the Palestinian's and how many EU countries help the Palestinians game the the United Nations against Israel in the conflict.
You can read the full op-ed below or click to read it on TimesOfIsrael.com
Through this summer’s din and uncertainty of Brexit, the migration crisis and a wave of terror, Europe has remained constant in one respect: its singular fixation on a wrong-headed policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
If the Middle East were an arrivals and departures board at a train station, the Israeli-Palestinian question would be down somewhere at the fifth or sixth spot, behind the war on ISIS, the Syrian civil war, the Libya fiasco and Iranian hegemonism. All those decades in which the mantra “if you solve the Palestinian issue, all outstanding issues will fall into place,” has been proven to be nothing more than hollow conventional wisdom. The Sunni-Shia divide has become a roiling ocean, creating aftershocks in nearly every corner of the region — and beyond.
For years, the Palestinian leadership has become accustomed to “pride of place” on the issue, picking up supporters and apologists globally, but no more so than in Europe itself. Explanations for this are varied: some countries were concerned at one point about the spread of PLO terrorism in Europe, and sought accommodation with the terrorist organization. Some European governments were driven by ideological considerations and looked the other way at the thuggery, then the obstructionism of the PLO and its successors, while coming down hard on a succession of center-left and center-right Israeli governments. Some European leaders saw themselves as mediators and interlocutors, worrying that a shortage of obeisance to the Palestinian narrative would disqualify them from being “honest brokers.”
Indeed, since its 1980 Venice Declaration, in which the then-EEC (European Economic Community) supported the Palestinian’s call for “self-determination,” Europe has always tilted to the Palestinian side, despite the existence of generally good bilateral relations between a number of European Union (EU) countries and Israel.
As the EU grew in size, some differences in this approach became discernible. After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, a number of the new democracies could be found voting against, or abstaining on issues considered to be biased against Israel at the United Nations (U.N.) and other international fora. Increasingly, though, the demand for consensus in EU voting has seen the voting independence of the former Central and Eastern European states dissipate in the face of pressure from Brussels and from a number of the senior EU member capitals.
The 2012 decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to “non-member state”—despite the EU’s call for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, with the object of reaching a two state solution—was supported by no less than 14 EU members. Only the Czech Republic voted against; 12 others abstained. The message to the Palestinian Authority couldn’t have been clearer: why negotiate with Israel when the international community, including key European countries, could do the heavy lifting for it?
Gaming the U.N. system has become a PA specialty.
One recent case in point is a resolution singling out Israel recently adopted at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly in Geneva. The measure, introduced by Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group and Palestine, singled out Israel for “physical and procedural barriers to health access” in the territories, east Jerusalem and what they call the “Syrian Golan.” The text also cited the “prolonged occupation and human rights violations on mental, physical and environmental health…”
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians knows that emergency rooms and hospital wards in Israel treat Palestinians on a daily basis. Indeed, the Israeli organization, Save a Child’s Heart, which performs, gratis, pediatric cardiac surgery, has treated more than 2,000 Palestinian children since its inception in 1996. Beyond that, Israel has been treating hundreds of cases of civilians from across Syria who have been wounded in the barrel bombings and other carnage of that bloody war in medical facilities in the northern part of Israel.
And yet, 107 countries supported this libelous WHO resolution, including all 28 EU member states. On a continent where the blood libel against Jewish communities was a prominent fixture of life in the Middle Ages, and on the basis of facts widely known in European capitals, it is both incomprehensible, and reprehensible that Israel should be castigated in this way.
Another recent example of Palestinian influence at the U.N. is the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Executive Board’s vote in favor of a resolution on “Occupied Palestine.” There are 40 points in the resolution, some of it rehashing previous resolutions condemning Israel for all manner of absurd accusations of “desecrating” holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. But this measure makes no reference at all to the Temple Mount, only to its Islamic/Arabic name, Al-Haram Al-Sharif. In the resolution, the plaza in front of the Western Wall is referred to as the Al-Buraq Plaza; “Western Wall Plaza” is noted in quotes only.
This isn’t only a matter of semantics, or “sensitivity.” In the past, the United Nations documents have referenced the holy site by both the name recognized by Judaism and Christianity (the Temple Mount) and Islam (Al-Haram Al-Sharif). This current re-writing of history, and the elimination of both the Jewish and Christian places in that history, was supported by 33 countries overall. Four EU countries actually supported the measure, and five did oppose, with two abstentions. But why was there a division in Europe over this blatant historical revisionism?
To the Palestinians, all of this has a purpose: to erase or delegitimize Israel’s, and the Jewish people’s claim to the land. That European countries, no strangers to either the Jewish narrative on their own continent or to the ancient connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, would, for the sake of diplomatic expediency, dismiss that history with a simple keystroke or a voting show of hands, is unacceptable.
There’s even more counterproductive meddling beyond the U.N. system. Case in point: Last fall’s EU directive to label products from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights prejudges an issue (settlements) that belongs in a direct negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. The EU itself, as a member of the Quartet (which also includes the United States, the United Nations and Russia), wants to have it both ways. Calling for face-to-face negotiations but siding with the Palestinians before those talks have even begun on this issue.
This all amounts to flawed diplomacy. Those European countries which engage in this kind of voting behavior or in extra-curricular diplomacy could better spend their time encouraging the Palestinians to end their quixotic sullying of Israel, rather than enabling it. These resolutions set back what remains of the peace process, they don’t advance it. Palestinian expectations are inflated when Europe backs these initiatives, and in Israel, the belief that it can never get a fair break at the U.N. and other international fora is reinforced.
It’s time for Brussels and other European capitals to send a simple message to Ramallah: if you’re serious about peace, get to the table. If not, there is no shortage of crises to occupy our time and attention.
In an op-ed for The Algemeiner, Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin that Iran President Hassan Rouhani is on a victory lap following the lifting of sanctions and that Tehran’s friends in Latin America will be sure to bask in the glow.Mariaschin details which Latin American countries will continue to support the regime in Iran, and why even though we’re often transfixed on the chaos of the Middle East it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening south of our border.
Click here to read the op-ed on The Algemeiner's website.
The sight of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani now globetrotting his way to world capitals on what he surely sees as a victory lap after signing the nuclear agreement is yet another reminder of how quickly the Tehran regime is being rehabilitated.
He’s not yet made his way to Latin America, but he may yet do so: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have been staunch friends of Iran over the years. Surely those countries will want to bask in Tehran’s newfound diplomatic luster and supp at the trough of its economic promise, now that most sanctions have been lifted.
Iran’s penetration of Latin America goes back more than 20 years. The bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, and the attack on the AMIA social welfare building in 1994, which killed more than 80 people, can be laid at the doorstep of Iranian operatives and their terrorist proxies, Hezbollah.
With the coming to power of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Iran ratcheted up its operations in the hemisphere, including the infamous Tehran-Caracas IranAir flight, which symbolized the close ties the two regimes established. Fellow travelers Bolivia and Ecuador — part of the South American anti-West club — soon joined eagerly, surely benefiting from Tehran’s “walking around” largesse, used to expand its influence in the region.
Indeed, Venezuela has fallen further into an economic abyss under Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, making more likely Caracas will become even more indebted (and not just financially) to the Iranians.
The result has been not only an Iranian friendship circle, but a bloc of countries pledged to anti-Israel rhetoric and activity at the United Nations and other multilateral fora.
A recent report in London’s Al-Awsat Arabic newspaper speaks of Hezbollah cells operating in at least five countries in the hemisphere, which comes as no surprise. Similar reports have been cropping up over the now nearly 25 years since the terrorist acts in Buenos Aires.
Against this backdrop of Iranian activity in our backyard, there is some encouraging news. The new government in Argentina, led by Mauricio Macri has rolled back a “memorandum of understanding” between the previous Argentine government and Iran, the purpose of which was to bury the longtime investigation into the AMIA bombing — and with it Tehran’s clear fingerprints — and its terrorist presence in that country. It has also given new impetus to an investigation into the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, the chief Argentine prosecutor in the case — and who was on the verge of disclosing details that may have incriminated Argentine government operatives, as well as the Iranians.
As a result, Argentine-Israeli relations are expected to vastly improve. That may also be the case in Uruguay, which now holds a UN Security Council seat, and whose previous government was often seen as sympathetic to Palestinian and radical positions on a wide range of issues. Uruguay’s new (and former) President Tabare Vazquez did post-doctoral work at the Weizmann Institute years ago, and takes a much more open-minded view of Middle East issues than his predecessor.
And then there is Paraguay. For years, the locus of one third of the infamous tri-border area (together with Brazil and Argentina), a lawless center for smuggling and hospitable to radical elements, the country is led by a president, Horacio Cartes, who has taken principled stands — at odds with his neighbors — including votes at the United Nations relating to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Our attention is often so riveted on the concentric circles of chaos, terrorism and violence in the Middle East and North Africa, we sometimes lose sight of what transpires south of our border. For more than two decades now, Iran has seen our neighborhood as a target of opportunity, and has cultivated it with impunity: terrorist bombings for which it has never paid a price, flattering the likes of Chavez and his circle for strategic gain and creating cells of agents moving about from here to who-knows-where.
Now out-and-about that they are free of official international opprobrium, the ties they have created in Latin America bear special scrutiny. Rather than having to work largely out of the public eye, they can do so now to a large extent above board. Look for “official visits” of Rouhani and others to our hemisphere, in short order. Ignoring this threat, like so many others that characterize the regime in Tehran, would be at our peril.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the Executive Vice President at B'nai B'rith International, and has spent nearly all of his professional life working on behalf of Jewish organizations. As the organization's top executive officer, he directs and supervises B'nai B'rith programs, activities and staff in the more than 50 countries where B'nai B'rith is organized. He also serves as director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Human Rights and Public Policy (CHRPP). In that capacity, he presents B'nai B'rith's perspective to a variety of audiences, including Congress and the media, and coordinates the center's programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield highlights the anti-Israel actions and statements of the Swedish government in a blog that originally appeared in The Algemeiner.
In the blog, Fusfield details Sweden's placation to the Nazis during World War II and points to instances in which the ministers of defense, housing and foreign affairs have all fed the anti-Israel sentiment pervading the country.
This is all on top of the closing of synagogues following the terror attacks in Paris, as they were considered "highly vulnerable targets."
It was a familiar slogan throughout war-time Sweden: en Svensk tiger, which can be translated as “a Swedish tiger” — or, more to the point: “a Swede keeps secrets.”
The so-called Swedish Vigilance Campaign made this expression the focus of its effort to prevent Swedes from spilling secrets that could harm its national defense during World War II.
But the World War II silence campaign is best understood in the context of Sweden’s complicated relationship with Nazi Germany. Despite its neutrality, Sweden sold iron ore to Germany and allowed Hitler’s regime to use its railways when Germany invaded Norway. In 1943 the Swedish government instructed its central bank to ignore evidence that the Germans were paying Sweden with looted gold. Swedish silence, it seems, applied to more than just national security secrets.
Whether Sweden’s actions during the war were a product of weakness or indifference to German aggression — or both — the country’s history makes its role today as self-appointed moral arbiter in the Middle East all the more puzzling. The Swedish tiger has awakened, but is using its voice to lash out at the Jewish state.
In 2012 a group of Swedish politicians with extreme anti-Israel views formed an organization called the Jerusalem Committee. Its supporters include current Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist.
In 2014 Sweden recognized a Palestinian state, saying that the criteria for statehood had been fulfilled, even though the Palestinians had not negotiated an agreement with Israel.
Swedish Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan participated in an anti-Israel flotilla from Turkey to Gaza in 2010. This past summer, a similar fleet left Sweden before being intercepted by the Israeli navy en route to Gaza.
Following the ISIS attacks in Paris, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom bizarrely responded by linking the atrocities to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Here again, you come back to situations like that in the Middle East where not least the Palestinians see that there isn’t any future (for them),” she said. “(The Palestinians) either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
Such actions follow a longstanding tradition of anti-Israel bias in Sweden, whose government has yet to condemn the ongoing terrorist onslaught against Israeli civilians, even as it rationalizes the attacks in Paris by citing the situation of the Palestinians. Unfortunately for Sweden’s beleaguered 20,000-member Jewish community, the government’s anti-Israel rhetoric is feeding a climate that has severely compromised Jewish security.
On November 19, synagogues in Sweden temporarily shut down in response to the Paris attacks, as Jewish institutions in that country were seen as highly vulnerable targets. Sweden has seen a pronounced increase in antisemitism over the past decade, caused largely by a highly radicalized Arab and Muslim community, a neo-Nazi political party called the Sweden Democrats, and a steady drumbeat of anti-Israel criticism in the media. A 2013 European Union survey indicated that one third of Swedish Jews had experienced antisemitic harassment in the previous five years.
This is a form of linkage that Swedish politicians should better understand: the demonization of Israel and the double standard consistently applied to the Jewish state have consequences for the security of Jewish communities around the world, with Sweden as a notable example.
And as they contemplate that very real contemporary dynamic, Swedish officials should further consider: How does a country that remained neutral during World War II, cooperated with the Nazi regime, and allows antisemitism to thrive, still feel it has the moral authority to lecture the Jewish State on how to defend itself?
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 previously served as assistant director of European affairs at the American Jewish Committee. 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. To view some of his additional content, Click Here
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