The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (often referred to as “the Special Committee” or SCIIHRP) is one of the most anachronistic and absurd anti-Israel entities that still exists at the United Nations, spreading unsubstantiated charges against Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, and wasting valuable U.N. resources.
The U.N. General Assembly established this Committee in 1968, in the aftermath of the 1967 war (a war of self-defense in which Israel had to fight against the armies of three Arab states sworn to its destruction: Egypt, Jordan and Syria). After miraculously winning the war, the anti-Israel forces at the U.N. sought to “punish” the Jewish state by establishing this committee, with the mandate to investigate alleged human rights violations by Israel in the territories occupied as a result of the war.
The Committee is formed by the representatives of three member states, who have themselves very poor human rights records: Malaysia, Senegal and Sri Lanka. From its inception, it was not an impartial body but a highly tendentious one, tasked with finding Israel guilty first and looking for the evidence later, while ignoring gross human rights violations, not committed by Israel, on that same territory. And so, with good reason, Israel has refused to participate in its inquiries.
The Special Committee is one of the entities that comprise the powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that operates out of the United Nations building in New York. The other two entities are the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights of the U.N. Secretariat (DPR). In addition to treating Israel as an illegitimate entity and a “racist” state, the three entities advocate for the “right of return” of the millions of descendants of the original refugees from Israel’s 1948 war of independence to what is now the state of Israel. The implementation of the right of return would destroy Israel as a majority-Jewish state, creating yet another Arab state — “from the river to the sea”— and effectively killing the two-state solution that the U.N. claims to support.
The report that the Special Committee issues every year is so biased against Israel that it could not pass any serious scrutiny. The 2020 report, for example, which was submitted to the General Assembly last August, includes the claim that Israel is “legally responsible” for ensuring the right to health for all Palestinians in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is, of course, not true, as the Oslo Accords, which governs Israeli-Palestinian relations, clearly establishes that all responsibilities in the sphere of health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip belong to the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, the Palestinians, who preferred to make their own arrangements, repeatedly rejected Israel’s overtures for cooperation. Despite this, Israeli hospitals were always available to Palestinian COVID-19 victims and Israel quietly provided vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in the months after this report was issued, even as reports came out about the corruption in the handling of the COVID-19 crisis by the Palestinian Authority, and despite the continuous practice of the Palestinian Authority to pay millions to the families of terrorists who killed Israelis.
The Special Committee 2020 report goes as far as to blame Israel for the increase in “domestic violence against women” in the West Bank and Gaza, suggesting an absurd linkage between the “prolonged occupation” and the violence committed by local Palestinians against Palestinian women.
None of the egregious human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or by Hamas in Gaza (which, according to the State Department’s 2020 Human Rights Report, include arbitrary killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, forced child labor, etc.) are mentioned. And Israel is repeatedly condemned for its “occupation” of the Golan Heights, without any mention of the atrocities that the Syrian regime is still perpetrating against its own people or the fact that, at the height of the Syrian civil war, Israel provided invaluable humanitarian aid to thousands of Syrians in need, including unaccompanied children.
The resolution that renews the mandate and the funding authorization for this committee is put to a vote every year at the U.N. General Assembly. The U.S. State Department has for years included this resolution on its short list of important resolutions, particularly because of its very detrimental impact. And, when explaining its vote against this committee last year, the U.S. representative stated the following:
“…The resolution on “The Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories,” (SCIIHRP) for instance, makes no mention of human rights violations by Hamas. There is no reference to a Gaza court that convicted three Palestinian peace activists on the charge “weakening revolutionary spirit” for the simple act of Skyping with Israeli peace activists. None of these resolutions address what human rights organizations identify as Hamas’ persecution of journalists, opponents and activists who do not toe the Hamas party line.
These anti-Israel resolutions recycle the tired, habitual rhetoric that only lock both sides into the same intractable conflict. They presuppose the outcome of final status issues that can be resolved only through negotiations between the parties. They also damage U.N. credibility, casting into doubt the impartiality of the U.N. These resolutions also waste limited U.N. resources better devoted to international priorities. This one-sided approach only undermines trust between the parties and fails to create the kind of positive international environment critical to achieving peace. It also rewards the obstructionism that continues to impede real progress toward peace. As the United States has repeatedly made clear, this dynamic is unacceptable…”
Even though an increasing number of states are realizing the detrimental nature of the Special Committee, the resolution authorizing its continuous operation still gets approved. This is so because of the large number of abstentions, which are, unfortunately, not counted at the General Assembly. Last year, only 76 countries voted in favor — far less than half of the total membership of the General Assembly (which has 193 states). This is why it is so important for responsible, peace-loving nations to start voting against this anachronistic and highly counterproductive body.
Just over a year ago, an extraordinary series of violent attacks against local Jews hit the New York area—by far the largest Jewish population center in the diaspora. In response, one large rally was organized to call out the acts of hate. Months before the killing of George Floyd had prompted mass demonstrations against racism around the country, the protesters seemed overwhelmingly to be members of the Jewish community itself, with a few exceptions. One such exception stood out to me: a young person holding a hand-written sign that read, “Asians Against Anti-Semitism.” That one demonstrator’s solidarity meant a lot to me, as surely it did to others present.
Sadly, but unmistakably, it is now time to reciprocate the solidarity.
As a country and an international community, we now mark one year since an epidemic, first detected in east Asia, quickly became a global pandemic, the first of its kind in a century. Over the course of the year, people of Asian descent have suffered two-fold: first, the health, emotional and economic implications of the pandemic like virtually everyone else, but also a spate of assaults, harassment and stigmatization that has again intensified recently even as COVID-19 vaccines have provided hope in an eventual end to the coronavirus-related disruption.
In the United States alone, there were 2,800 reported attacks against Asian-Americans from the start of the pandemic through the end of 2020. Last year, in just the New York City area, an astonishing 867% increase in such attacks was logged. People of Asian ancestry have publicly and without provocation been accosted, shoved, slashed, spit at, told to “go home” and blamed for the public health crisis.
And this may well not tell the full story. Undoubtedly, some people may not have reported their victimization out of shame, fear, a sense that criminal behavior could not or would not be effectively prosecuted or not knowing where to turn. Even among those not targeted but whose ethnic origin cannot be concealed, a sense of trauma risks taking root. It has not helped that even some media outlets have spoken of victims as “Asians” as if most or all weren’t fellow citizens, that those of disparate Asian backgrounds have sometimes been lumped together outside the Asian community, that rhetoric like that concerning a “kung flu” has been spouted by public figures and that it has proven difficult to support hate-crime charges without elusive evidence of victims’ targeting specifically on account of their ethnicity.
Of course, the pervasive nature of the pandemic and its effects has also created for some members of Asian diasporic communities a feeling of being under siege or at least acutely vulnerable, and with suddenness, even as wider awareness of this feeling is limited. Before face coverings became far more commonplace, some community members reported discontinuing mask-wearing precisely so they might not stand out or be suspect as diseased, thus putting their own health at greater risk.
Fortunately, a growing coalition of groups and an increasing number of elected officials are standing up to denounce prejudice against and animosity toward neighbors of Asian descent. As with the fight against anti-Semitism and against racism, our societies will only be free of violent xenophobia when those who are subjected to incitement and abuse are joined in common cause by those who, at least at the moment, are not. The Jewish community knows particularly well that bigotry and discrimination are viruses not likely to be contained to any one population.
Let it be clear: We stand resolutely with our friends of Asian heritage—and for their right to equality, safety and dignity.
Hardly a day passes without reading of someone, somewhere uttering an antisemitic trope. That part is not new; for millennia, this has been the norm. In the pre-Internet era, one could read, primarily in the Jewish media, about an antisemitic public official, a neo-Nazi, or a desk clerk at a restricted hotel uttering hateful comments or spinning conspiracies about Jews.
What is new, or relatively so, is that today we’re learning of Jew-hatred in real time, within hours of it being spouted. It comes from expected, and from unexpected, quarters. And sometimes it’s simply the portrayal of Jews that sends an antisemitic message.
Take the recent Canadian-produced NBC series “Nurses,” whose premise centers around five nurses and the lives and people they interact with. The most recent episode involved a young Hasidic accident victim named Israel and his father, whom we meet in a hospital room, where they’re engaged in conversation with one of the nurses.
The young Hasid needs a bone graft, he is told, and that will require using the bone of a cadaver. Israel expresses shock at the idea of having a “dead leg” inserted into his body, to which his father — dressed in a Hasidic black hat and coat, and wearing payot — says disgustedly: “A dead goyim leg — from anyone. An Arab, a woman.” The nurse, belittling both the father and son, responds: “Or, God forbid, an Arab woman.”
Never mind that Orthodox practice would allow for this graft, much more important, is that the picture presented to the viewer is classic antisemitism. Dressed in black and closed-minded (with one of them literally named Israel), the message is that these Jews are both peculiar and bigoted.
Any stereotyping is dangerous. But the Orthodox community often gets the brunt of this kind of instant presumptuousness. They are portrayed as an oddity or as an easy foil. The show made no attempt to give any kind of context to Orthodox Jewry or its medical worldview. The writers of this episode needed highly identifiable Jews to make the story work — and who cares about who might be hurt as long as it fits neatly into the one-hour timeframe.
But murderous attacks on Jews in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Poway, California, or Monsey, New York, are just a few examples of how antisemitic rhetoric can turn violent.
My guess is that most viewers of this program are not Jewish. Those who know us only at a distance would understandably not know about how diverse we are. We have a communal spectrum that runs from left to right, and everything in between, and includes the religious and the secular. Is the viewer’s education about the Jewish people to be gleaned from the likes of “Nurses” and other highly watched programs that traffic in biased presentations about sectors of our community?
I’m old enough to remember episodes of “Dr. Kildare,” “Gunsmoke,” and other TV dramas, that treated Jewish subjects with compassion and a seriousness of intent. That those programs aired at a time when Jews were subjected to admissions quotas, restricted neighborhoods, corporate glass ceilings, and other forms of discrimination made this treatment of Jews all-the-more important in fostering mutual respect.
Today though, in the broader world around us, there seems to be a growing tolerance toward anyone saying anything about whomever they wish, without any filter or fear of opprobrium. And increasingly, Jews have become the target.
“Saturday Night Live’s” Michael Che delivering a blood libel about Israel and the COVID vaccine masked as a “joke”; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)’s assertion that a Jewish space laser and the Rothschild family were responsible for California’s wildfires; and Lowell, Massachusetts, School Committee board member Robert Hoey’s referring to a former city employee as a “kike” on live public access TV are just a few very recent examples of what is becoming a frightening trend.
The Canadian producer of “Nurses” has apologized for the offensive episode, and NBC has pulled this episode and others from the air.
“Contrition tours,” where networks, politicians, comedians, and others offer a quick, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry,” or give apology interviews with friendly journalists, is one way of getting these kinds of controversies quickly out of the way. But that is not enough.
The media can play a large role in sensitivity training for the public at large, but first it needs to take a course or two itself. Playing off Jewish stereotypes for shock value, or for a few laughs, is both irresponsible and reckless.
We need to see more positive programming about the Jewish community and its many contributions — in so many fields — to this country. School systems need to utilize textbooks that teach about our story as an immigrant people who came to America from dozens of countries to find a land of opportunity denied to them in the darker corners of Europe and elsewhere. And while people may know a bit about the Jewish religion, more attention needs to be paid to its history, customs, and traditions. Doing that might prevent a repeat of the “Nurses” debacle.
In May, we will observe the 15th anniversary of Jewish American Heritage Month. While positive programming about our community should be a 12-month-a-year endeavor, this special designation on the national calendar offers many opportunities for educators, government officials, media operatives, and others to spotlight our community in a positive way.
The danger we face is the mainstreaming of antisemitism. Where once these expressions of hatred were confined to the margins or were never discovered because there simply was no Internet megaphone, today they are seemingly everywhere, including network television.
As is often said, it may start with the Jews, but it never ends there. It’s not just about us: just follow what is written or said on social media, TV and talk radio, statements from political figures, and off-handed comments by celebrities; they are everywhere. It is one long parade of insults, put-downs, threats, loose talk, and worse.
Is the “Nurses” episode a wake-up call, or just another statistic in a week or month of egregious incidents? Our task is to speak up each time this happens, and as important, to ensure that our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others beyond our community do not become inured to the threats before us.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
Among the tenets most central to the practice of Judaism are kosher religious slaughter (shechita) and circumcision (brit milah). Both are based on our history throughout the millennia and have been codified in Jewish law. The first references to the practice of kashrut, or kosher dietary practices, appear in the biblical book of Deuteronomy. And some 4,000 years ago, Genesis tells us, G-d directed Abraham to be circumcised, creating the founding covenant with the Jewish people.
During times of dispersal, exile, persecution and discrimination—right down to the present—the ability to carry out the biblical injunctions to engage in these practices has served to hold the Jewish community together and has contributed greatly to shaping its collective identity.
In recent years however, there have been attempts—some of which have been successful—to curb the right of Jews in Europe to observe these obligations. Animal rights groups and anti-circumcision activists are lobbying throughout the continent, pressing parliaments and governments to ban shechita and brit milah.
Circumcision, the first right of passage for Jewish males, is a practice observed and venerated down through the generations by religious and secular Jews alike. From Moses to Einstein to untold millions of others, it is the act that ensures the continuity of our people.
The first intent of kosher ritual slaughter is to act in a humane way toward animals. Those who perform these acts are highly trained and specifically instructed to avoid inflicting undue suffering. The stunning of animals, which normally precedes non-kosher slaughter, is prohibited precisely because of the uncertainty of whether or not the animal would be suffering.
In 2014, Denmark banned non-sedated slaughter. Finland's Animal Protection Act demands stunning as well, with an exception for concurrent sedation and religious slaughter—which, again, is contrary to the very laws of shechita. Sweden's law banning religious slaughter goes back to 1937 and makes no exception for those who do not allow for either stunning or sedation. Last year, Belgium's Flanders region followed its Walloon region in adopting decrees that require electric stunning.
Belgian officials are quick to note that the import of kosher meat is permissible, which seems to accomplish two negatives: It places an undue burden on its Jewish communities and effectively says, "let this be some other country's problem, not ours."
In 2018, the Belgian Jewish community brought the prohibition of shechita in Flanders to the Belgian Constitutional Court, which in turn submitted the case in 2019 to the European Court of Justice in order to clarify EU law on the matter.
Despite an opinion issued by the Court's Advocate General Gerard Hogan, which stated that the Flanders law flies in the face of EU laws regarding religious freedom, countries are at this time still permitted to massively impinge on religious slaughter requirements. The case is now back before the Belgian courts.
To make matters worse, and in a blatant display of hypocrisy, the Court's decision allows an exception for hunting: "the Court points out that cultural and sporting events result at most in a marginal production of meat, which is not economically significant. Consequently, such events cannot be understood as a food production activity."
Indeed, if food production is the measure by which this is being judged, the total production of kosher meat on an annual basis in Europe is infinitesimal. And as for hunting, many might be forgiven for thinking this was supposed to be all about the humane treatment of animals.
Five years ago, then-United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt issued a report on his visit to Denmark. Speaking about the ban on shechita and the growing public opposition to brit milah, Bielefeldt said, "In order to find out what actually matters religiously to various communities, the culture of trustful communication between state authorities and religious communities is crucial and should be further cherished." He recommended that the Danish government reconsider its ban on ritual slaughter without requiring stunning.
But this discussion is not only about decrees and legislation, or even about the rights of states to declare this or that practice legal (or not). It is about the fundamental right of religious freedom—and beyond that, the long-term sustainability of Jewish communities across Europe.
These are unwelcome challenges for Europe's Jewish communities and another step on the anti-Semitism ladder. When the Holocaust ended 76 years ago, most of the storied Jewish communities of Europe had been decimated. Reconstituting the Jewish place in Europe has been a tenuous affair, but it has occurred in places that had been given up for lost. That even tiny communities can celebrate our biblical tradition of brit milah, or that those who seek to live by our laws of kashrut are able to do so, have been hallmarks of that communal rehabilitation. Without guarantees to maintain these practices, what kind of future is in store for those communities affected by decrees that transgress these fundamental religious obligations?
The Jewish communities of Europe are not seeking to force our laws and traditions onto others. Whether it be for Jews or other religious minorities, where is the sensitivity to their freedom to observe religious practices that, in fact, predate by millennia the modern European states that have enacted such odious bans?
Modern democracies should not be bartering away religious freedom. Protecting it, rather, should be their first priority. The European Union and its member states need to revisit this issue, make exceptions for those who seek to observe their religion without interference and ensure, at the same time, the future of its Jewish communities, only decades removed from near extinction.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in Newsweek.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
On Dec. 2, 2020, the Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro and OAS Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Jared Genser released a report that reaffirms that there is a reasonable basis to conclude the regime of President Nicolás Maduro has been committing crimes against humanity in Venezuela since Feb. 12, 2014 and condemned the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for inaction in the face of these crimes.
The new document notes that, since the publication of the original 2018 report, the crimes against humanity in Venezuela have increased in scale, scope and severity as the country faces a humanitarian crisis caused by unprecedented political and economic turmoil, along with food and medical shortages. Drawing on the work of the U.N. Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, NGOs, independent scholars and other credible sources, the new report paints a vivid portrait of a Venezuela wracked by state-sponsored violence and in the throes of a humanitarian disaster.
Among other findings, the report identifies 18,093 extrajudicial executions carried out by state security forces since 2014, and that tens of millions of people have suffered or been subjected to serious injury due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis created by the regime. This includes reports, such as one by the United Nations, which found 7 million people in need and more than 100,000 children under the age of 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition. There have been outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and malaria, the highest in Latin America, with almost 1,000 reportedly dead because of a lack of anti-malaria medication.
The report identifies enforced disappearances in 2018 and 2019, documented cases of torture since 2014, and that rape and sexual violence have been weaponized by the regime, including as a method of torture.
The report highlights the failure of the Prosecutor of the ICC Fatou Bensouda (the prosecutor that has decided that there is a “Palestinian State” according to International Law and accused Israel of “war crimes”) to conduct her preliminary examination expeditiously and to open an investigation despite overwhelming evidence of crimes within the court’s jurisdiction.
The OAS report recommends the prosecutor proceed as rapidly as possible to open an investigation into the situation in Venezuela and, in the meantime, has requested immediate, full and open access to Venezuela, issued a detailed public statement about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and highlighted the true scope and severity of the situation in Venezuela in the forthcoming “2020 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities.” Bensouda has never responded.
The report also presents actions by the Maduro regime that have facilitated and prolonged Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian disaster.
Government institutions, including the security forces and the Judiciary, have been used as weapons against citizens. For the people of Venezuela, the rule of law domestically no longer exists. For members of the regime, the State empowers them to operate with total impunity. The pursuit of international justice is the only recourse left.
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said “the Venezuelan regime has been allowed to operate with impunity. Every day of inaction from the international community increases the suffering of the Venezuela people. We call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to take action and show the world that crimes against humanity will not go unpunished.” But Bensouda did not listen.
Jared Genser, OAS special adviser on the responsibility to protect wrote: “It is therefore as inexplicable as it is shocking that after almost three years examining the situation, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has still failed to even open an investigation into the alleged crimes.”
Bensouda began investigating the Venezuela case in February 2018 and, in the nearly three years since, has only completed two of four stages of her “preliminary examination.” Instead, contrary to her office’s stated goals of promoting prevention, deterrence and putting perpetrators on notice, she has failed to act, as she has repeatedly done in other cases. As a result, the regime has been emboldened to commit more crimes in the belief it can act with impunity.
“Crimes Against Humanity” are defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, as the crimes specified there on the condition that they were “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population with knowledge of the attack.”
Venezuela signed and ratified the Rome Statute and, as a result, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the territory of Venezuela or by Venezuelan nationals since July 1, 2002.
Maduro and his proxies have felt that the inaction of the ICC and the world’s silence backed the regime to move forward in its alliance with Iran and the terrorists of Hezbollah. Most experts on Hezbollah in Latin America have concluded that it is primarily raising money, particularly in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, through all sorts of illicit commercial activities—money that’s increasingly needed as Iran, as a result of sanctions and low oil prices, has less money available to subsidize its proxies worldwide.
The fact that Hezbollah has freedom to operate in Venezuela makes it presumably easier for its operatives to travel around Latin America. Iranian friendships in Latin America, particularly in Caracas, have facilitated Hezbollah’s presence in the Western Hemisphere, as well as that of Iranian officials who coordinate Hezbollah operations.
The Venezuelan regime is also a drug-trafficking organization. It not only harbors Colombian guerillas, but also meaningfully benefits from its role in the shipment of cocaine from South America abroad, including to the United States and Europe. In March 2020, the Justice Department indicted Maduro and other top-ranking officials for coordinating the transport of cocaine with Columbia’s FARC guerrillas. Two nephews of Maduro are in prison in the United States for their role in the export of cocaine. The Treasury Department has repeatedly designated senior officials—including Tarek El Aissami, the former vice president of Venezuela—as major drug dealers.
The pandemic has not changed the starvation, malnutrition, poverty and the violation of human rights. On the contrary, things are worse, and the 5.4 million Venezuelans that have fled in recent years to the United States and mostly to Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are increasing dramatically. According to experts, by the end of 2021 the number of Venezuelan refugees will rise to more than 6 million, outnumbering Syrian refugees.
On Feb. 22 the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will start its forty-sixth regular session. Another round of shame will be the main input. Among the shameful behavior of the UNHRC, there will be another litany of alleged “resolutions” against Israel based in outrageous item 7. Venezuela today and for another year will be a member of the UNHRC. Venezuela will vote and speak against Israel, as other dictatorships like Cuba will do. Maduro will have the floor of the UNHRC. And Venezuela and the other dictatorships that are members of the UNHRC will again feel that the current hypocritical international system is protecting them.
History shows that impunity of dictators does not last forever. But meanwhile, millions of people keep suffering brutally and needlessly. It is the case of Venezuela, the dictatorship that enjoys the silence of the ICC Prosecutor and shameful UNHRC, which has no limits to hosting human rights abusers as full members.
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